Friday, February 28, 2014

SSoI - Session 28: Airstrike!

Our Heroes (10th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, owlbear paratrooper) 
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Torin Tsai, Half-Orc Slayer
  • Xyla, Drow Vampire
Note: Full Attendance! Just to restate, standard 4E encounter balance is built around a 5-man party. I stayed with this as we had six players when we started. So I build for five - if six show up they have an advantage, five is even, and if only four show then they are at a disadvantage. If only three or less can make it we just don't play that week.

This worked really well for much of the campaign but we're down to five players now and two of them are involved in an organization that has out of town weekend events fairly often. That means that quite a bit of the time I either have all five or I have only three. With six players it just meant a weaker party sometimes, but now it means no game. Add this unusual wrinkle in to the usual job/kid/family/holiday schedule complications in trying to get six adults together regularly and we had a very spotty latter half of 2013. I haven't fully solved it at this point so it was good to have a full team this time.

As the last of the fire's from Abrithiax's rampage are stamped out the bucket-brigading townsfolk raise a cheer for our heroes. Appreciating the appreciation is short-lived though as a telepathic contact comes in form Lord Cartwrtight that the western gate is under heavy bombardment. Some hellish green flame is being catapulted in and it's clinging to everything it hits and even the gatehouse is beginning to melt under the assault. He asks the heroes to risk an airborne trip outside the walls to destroy the infernal siege engines that are behind the attack. naturally, our heroes agree. Whistling for the owls, they leap into the saddle and are airborne in minutes.

They easily spot the launching point of the blazing green hellfire, but as they angle towards it other winged shapes are rising to meet them. As the gap closes they become familiar leonine beasts - manticores!

While a few combatants hang back and shoot, an aerial joust shapes up between the three biggest manticores and the four close-combatant party members, slashing and striking as they flash past each other hundreds of feet above the ground. Thinking outside of her usual melee box Xyla focuses her glowing eyes on one manticore and dominates it, sending the beast to attack one of its own. Aiming for the wings, the slayer and ranger both manage to send manticores spiraling down out of the fight, sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good as two of them plummet straight into the ground to their deaths! One beast gets tangled up with the slayer who goes after the wings (hey it worked the first time) and then realizes his mistake as the manticore, the slayer, and the owl all begin falling from the sky. He manages to break free before impact, but it's a near thing. 

Stay in formation!
Blasting through the manticores, the party reorients themselves, climbs back up out of bow range as they cross over a group of hobgoblins, then dives down over the artillery site. Leaping free they take stock of the opposition - dwarves! Strange dwarves with infernal symbols operating large mechanical siege engines - Charduni? No, Duergar!

There are 3 of them, one working each machine, plus a clear leader type shouting orders and one tough-looking customer with a big warhammer who is already eyeballing the party in general and Gartok in particular.

Starting things off right No-Name plants an arrow in the leader with his usual style as he gracefully leaps from his mount. The evil dwarf staggers back but is then charged by the slayer who is winding up for a ferocious fullblade strike. Desperate, the dwarf summons a legion devil between him and the onrushing half orc. One swipe of the blade cuts the devil in half, the follow through bloodies the duergar, and a final slice puts the dwarf down for good - and the fight has only just begun!

Gartok moves to engage what is clearly the duergar champion and the two go at it like angry blacksmiths, hammers ringing. He is aided by Xyla who is happy to meet a victim that doesn't drop at the first hit - finally a challenge! 

Gravis and Ivan, quickly joined by Torin and No-Name, begin attacking the artillerists to put a stop to the bombardment. They prove to be no weaklings themselves as they back off and team up, wielding frost-weapon morning stars and tossing explosive devices whenever the heroes group up. It's an unpleasant new tactic, as the dwarves are willing to grit their teeth and drop bombs in close, counting on their innate resistance to fire to protect them form the worst of it. The battle is mobile, shifting in and around the massive siege engines. The explosions take their toll but the defenders of Brindol are not deterred and one by one the duergar fall, leaving only the champion upright.

Battered but not beaten, the champion suddenly grows to the size of an ogre, slashing out with his spiked beard and laying about with rapid strikes from his hammer. If he can't save the others he can at least destroy these upstarts. Xyla and Gartok take some hits but the rest of the party rushes in after felling the last engineer and under the weight of those  attacks the dwarf staggers. Torin goes for the killing stroke, misses, but an incredible shot from the ranger deflects his blade into the massive champion finishing him after all. 

Realizing that the Red Hand army is all around them the group sets about destroying the hell-forged artillery and then escapes on their owl companions before the hostile forces can react, winging back over the walls of Brindol to safety.

DM Notes: This was a pair of battles in unusual conditions to change things up. First, the aerial battle with the manticores to try out the 4E flying combat rules. They worked pretty well but are very risky as "proned" = "falling" if the target is flying. This made for a very three-dimensional fight as the party does have some proning attacks. Some of the manticores had grab attacks which  led to some tricky situations as the grabbed character prones the grabbing manticore, sending both of them downwards. The mants have lots of ranged attacks too which meant they didn't have to close and our melee monsters had to work a little harder to jump on things. Even given that the fight only lasted 4 rounds, and these were not minions.

Exchange of the game:

DM: "...and these manticores attack the ranger" 

Gartok's player: "Yeeeeeeah yes yes yes!"

Gravis' player: "You're a terrible defender."

The duergar fight involved a new opponent for them and had a time limit, though they didn't know this had an actual mechanical element. It is night, but they are dropping in on a unit in the middle of the enemy army. Now that army has given the dwarves plenty of room to work, but if the engines stop firing and sounds of fighting break out, they will come to investigate. So, after the firing stops and combat starts, the party has ten rounds unmolested. After that, soldiers from the nearest units start coming to investigate. As it turned out it didn't matter as that fight only lasted 6 rounds, plus a few more to destroy the artillery. All the rest of the Red Hand got to do was shake their fists as the PC's flew off. 

Duergar are fun in 4E. This was my first run with them and I'm looking forward to more. The poor hellcaller died on round 1 but he did get to pop his fun power:

It didn't matter as the slayer still killed the devil AND the hellcaller but doing the facial expressions and (very short) conversation (BAMF! Yes o mighty mast-ACK!) as this all happened was quite a bit of fun.

The artillery crew had some fun stuff too.

Now these particular duergar had resist fire 5, and the champion had resist fire 10 - note the damage can exceed that pretty easily, but desperate times you know. The champion at one point was shouting at them to target him so the attackers would be getting hit as they ganged up on him and was just gritting his teeth as the 5-6 points punched through his tough hide and the push let him get some movement in that didn't provoke OA's - it seemed like a perfectly evil dwarfish thing to do. 

Also note: This pair of battles does not appear in the original adventure. I am freelancing quite a bit for the siege to make it appropriately climactic, to use some of the things 4E does well, and in some cases just because I want to. 

Everyone seemed to have fun, the good guys won pretty handily and the western gate was saved.

R.I.P. Aaron Allston

Very sad to see that Aaron Allston has left this world. There are only a few people in our hobby who's name on something means to me that it's worth a look, even if it's something I might not otherwise care about. His was one of those few names.

Champions is where I first ran across his name but he did good work on other games too. The book above turned a hexmap and a few paragraphs of text from the Expert Set into a full-on campaign setting with a really nice balance of detail and breathing room for a DM to use.

Heck, I even liked Wraith Squadron.

This was the first and most useful of the 2E brown books for me. His name's on it.

A lot of people think this is the finest version of D&D published yet, and he was the lead guy on it too.

He was a Texas guy too which made a little more of a connection for me. At a time when most of the gaming "names" seemed to come from the midwest, here was a guy right down I-35 that was putting out stuff with the best of them.

Anyway, so long Mr. Allston. I appreciate your fine work.

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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SSoI - Session 26: Red Hand Rising

Our Heroes (now 10th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, owlbear linebacker) 
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden (performing the ritual washing-of-the-beard after a defeat)
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger  (tracking the flying queen of dragons)
  • Torin Tsai, Half-Orc Slayer
  • Xyla, Drow Vampire
As Gartok and The Elf with no Name were both out for this session, Apprentice Blaster filled in with Maximus, Human Fighter (Gladiator).

We begin in the city of Brindol, Impiltur, Faerun. Still stinging from their failure to stop the summoning ritual that allowed an aspect of Tiamat into the world, our heroes stagger back out of the fane, down the mountain path, and use the old portal once again to return to the city. They are greeted by Lord Cartwright and his aide who are relieved to see them alive but have an urgent problem: the Lion Knights of Brindol are battling the encroaching Red Hand army to try and stave off a siege. Unfortunately a group of hill giants has separated from the main army. One mob is attacking one of the gates while others bombard a section of the city wall with boulders. The city watch is being overwhelmed and the rest of the defenses are still being organized - can the heroes help? With barely the time to catch their breath, the party agrees to check the raid with the aid of a well-known champion of the city - Maximus!

Gravis wants a tactical advantage if they are going to be fighting giants and requests the aid of the Tiri-Kotor elves who have forces in the city. They agree and soon the team is mounted up and airmobile. they sweep over the wall and swoop in behind the giants attacking the gate. It's a small force of four brawny giants swinging a battering ram, a shaman-looking leader, and his pet - a monstrous scorpion beast.

Cue 'Ride of the Valkyries'

The defenders of Brindol dismount and charge! Torin, Gravis, and Maximus cut down the shaman almost immediately while Zarra uses her uncanny charms to dominate the giant scorpion pet, turning it against the other giants before leaping into the fray herself! Not the brightest of beings, and befuddled at the sudden assault and their turncoat pet the giants die to a man in front of the gate. The heroes are battered but driven to carry on, so they whistle for the owls and remount to extinguish the second assault.

The second group of hill giants is gathered in the ruins of an ancient shrine outside the city walls. They are picking up everything from fallen masonry to grave stones and hurling them at the wall and seem to be having quite the time doing so - it's possible alcohol is involved. The party is soon over though as the owls drop down out of the sky and five deadly warriors close in around them like the fingers of a deadly fist! Under Gravis' direction Maximus leaps in and draws their attention (gladiators!) while Zarra and Torin rip into the behemoths with no mercy. The giants fight back with clubs and boulders, knocking some of the heroes for considerable distances but the counteroffensive is unstoppable and this fight can only end in one way. Soon enough the giants are down while the party rests for a moment. Then they call the owls down and take flight back to the city, mission accomplished - for now.

DM Notes: This was a get-things-going-again session after schedule issues caused us to miss most of the summer. I normally want a minimum of four players to run (I build the crunchy stuff for 5 players - bring 4 and I have an advantage, bring 6 and they have an advantage) and that's been the rule since very early on. After losing one of our regulars though it got a little tougher to keep the schedule going if more than one person couldn't make it. Three were available so I drafted Apprentice Blaster to fill in with a new character and he did really well as 4E fighters are fairly complex in play with the whole marking thing. 

The session before this was a really tough marathon fight that ended with mixed results but the players felt like they had not succeeded. I wanted to keep it fairly simple with a straight-up (and more level-appropriate) fight to let us all get back in the groove again and that's exactly how it went. No time for dilly-dallying around with social interaction or skill challenges - we're under attack! Help us! 

(That other stuff will come next time)

One technical note: adding decent mobility to this all-melee party made it incredibly vicious when it came to inflicting harm. A fighter, plus a tac warlord and two nasty melee strikers meant they were not at all afraid to mix it up in close and they were easily peeling triple digit hit points off of the poor giants every round. Nasty. They are truly Savage.

So in the end the city is being surrounded but the heroes have returned and quite directly and visibly established themselves as the top defenders of Brindol. The siege is just getting started and it's going to be good.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SSoI - Session 25: The Inner Sanctum

Our Heroes (9th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, owlbear denture-wearer) 
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Torin Tsai, Half-Orc Slayer
  • Xyla, Drow Vampire
After a short rest the party advances into the finished area at the end of the cavern they see a group of robed hobgoblins, arms upraised, chanting something in Infernal. A red dragonborn in more elaborate robes leads them as two blue abishai, lightning crackling about them, watch. Energy streams from the five upraised dragon heads to the top of the high-ceiling-ed room The incoming group is immediately spotted, and the devils prepare to engage them. 

Thinking that interrupting whatever is going on here is a good idea, Torin leaps onto the platform, ready to lay about with the fullblade. He swings at one of the devils but is blasted by lightning and blown back off of the platform. Warned by the example, the rest of the party engages more carefully and it's an absolute slaughter. The cultists, their leader, and their guardians are hammered into oblivion in almost no time at all. The energy coruscating from the dragon heads to the top of the shaft flickers and diminishes but does not stop - they have had an impact, but more work remains.

DM Notes: This one is over in 4 rounds. By the end of round 2 all of the minions, the priest, and one abishai are all dead. It was pretty funny when the slayer took the backlash though. Here's the power:

A shaft leads up from this chamber and is clearly a place they need to go but the group is concerned about leaving an enemy behind them. The secret door (see above) is quickly located and through it they locate a summoning room, a treasure room, and what they suspect is Azarr Kul's personal quarters. They find no opposition other than some nasty traps, loot them thoroughly, and then come back to the round chamber with the shaft leading up into what they suspect will be their final confrontation with the high wyrmlord.

Xyla flies up the 100' shaft, carrying a rope and secures it so the rest can climb. Some other magical aid is used in this endeavor too so the whole party manages to gather at the edge, armed, armored, and ready.

In the center stands a figure that can only be Azarr Kul, leader of the Red Hand and the cause of the invasion. Arms raised and eyes closed he chants something in Infernal, clearly concentrating on whatever evil ritual he is performing, Hovering near him are two winged, female, angelic figures. The five stone dragon heads spew energy towards the domed ceiling of the room where a swirling ... something ... is taking shape.  A single green abishai stands between the shaft and the platform where this mighty figure stands.

Around the rest of the room are five dragon statues, one of each of the chromatic types that Tiamat rules. A female wrapped in chains is bound to each of the dragon statues, and a devil of some kind stands next to each one, holding a flaming sword.

Our heroes peek over the edge of the pit and take all this in, trying to decipher what's happening.

DM Notes: This is a large, complex encounter. It's their first direct confrontation with the chief enemy villain and he's in the middle of a massive ritual. There are some puzzle elements here too and there is a real payoff: there is a chance the party can stop the ritual from succeeding and what they do will have a big impact on how the coming siege goes.. It's going to be tough, but it is possible. The players have no advance knowledge of what's going on though they do have some suspicions. The winged females are succubi, consorts of the leader. They and the abishai will try to stop any interference while the rest of the participants complete the ceremony. 

The plan: The hostages will be killed, one per round after the first, and if five sacrifices are made then the ritual is complete. If the heroes manage to save one hostage Azarr Kul will kill himself - if left unmolested for a round. It's that important to him. If that happens he may show up as some kind of death knight later.

Though it's not obvious, the chains wrapping each victim are in fact a chain devil, adding an element of surprise to the fight. If the legion devils are killed (they are only minions) then the chain devils can complete the sacrifice. It's not completely hopeless as the victims are considered to be "grabbed" and forced movement breaks a grab, so many of the party's attacks can be extra useful here. 

Azarr Kul will take no part in the initial fight, even if someone moves up on him. If he is struck then he will come out of his ritual pose. Once the ritual succeeds he will come out of his pose and fight if necessary. 

This is way more complex than I typically make one encounter but I wanted this one to stand out and to give the players a chance to discover some of these things and a chance to affect the rest of the campaign. Hopefully this explanation makes it easier to follow.

With only a loose plan in place the slayer leaps onto the platform, slices through one of the angelic beings, then as she screams in pain and rage, his sword flashes again, cutting her down for good. Feeling a little competitive, the vampire launches herself at the abishai and tears into him. The rest of the party goes after the legion devils, correctly surmising that they are up to no good, and several of them fall. Then they watch in horror as the first sacrifice is made.

Cursing and raging, the other winged female flies up out of reach and begins sweet-talking various male members of the team into helping her out. Gravis directs his companions to finish off the legion devils, then realizes that may not be enough as they very chains that bind one of them move and slide and kill the second victim before shifting into a more humanoid form, blood-drenched links rattling as the thing shifts its shape.

The slayer and the warlord free one victim, slaying the chain devil in a flurry of attacks. Gravis notices that the blue half-dragon has not moved during all of this action and warns the rest of the group not to attack him, but to focus on freeing the victims. The vampire, the warden, and the warlord tear into the chain devils with a fury, ignoring the abishai and the bewitching female for the time being. The ranger and the slayer though are having a much tougher time ignoring her and their loyalties hang in the balance. The heroes are expending all of their energies to stop this terrible ceremony and it's going to be a near thing.

Soon all of the legion devils are slain as are all of the chain devils, but four of the victims are dead. Having freed the fifth sacrifice, the team tries to hustle her out of the room and back down the shaft as the second succubus dies screaming (revenge of the slayer, with help from the bow ranger!) but the green abishai takes to the air himself and kills her, completing the ritual.

Azarr Kul has not taken part in the fight at all, letting it pass all around him as he concentrates on the ceremony. As the group looks on the rock dome of the room changes to a starry sky - but not the starry sky of our world. Clouds gather and lightning clashes as time seems to stop. Then the top of the room explodes outward, and a titanic five-headed, multi-colored draconic form hovers in mid-air. One claw reaches down and snatches up the chosen of Tiamat as the armored figure roars in triumph. They fly off into the night sky, leaving the heroes battered, bleeding, and defeated - but alive.

DM Notes: This was an epic battle that lasted 11 rounds and took several hours to complete. It's effectively a multi-stage encounter as there is the initial group of occupants and the sacrifices to stop, then the reveal of the chain-devils the running clock of the sacrifices, then a battle with Azarr Kul and/or an aspect of Tiamat - or both!

My players pushed their characters to the limit. They figured out the sacrifice plan pretty quickly and had all the legion devils down by round 3, but could not kill the chain devils fast enough as the ranger and the slayer kept getting pulled off track by the succubus' powers. With one or two of the strikers out of the fight for several rounds, there were just too many targets for them to stop them all. They left it all on the table though - they were out of daily powers, encounter powers, action points, healing, and magic item powers by the end, and most of them were bloodied too. They came very close, with the last victim descending down the shaft with the vampire when the abishai managed to line up a shot and blast her for the final kill.

I had no plans for them to fight Tiamat right here. If she shows up it means the bad guys have won this fight, one way or another. She has other business on this plane so she's simply going to fly off, regardless of what they do - by the end of a combat like this it's unlikely they will be able to hurt her anyway. 

Now they could fight Azarr Kul if they had chosen to attack him but it's debatable how that would have turned out for them as it was a tough fight already with almost two encounters worth of opponents. Adding a third (he's a solo) might have pushed it into a TPK, but it is a choice they have to make. Theoretically, if they kill him AND save at least one victim, then the ritual fails. It's a tall order, but that's the best possible outcome. 

I'll be honest - they were not happy at the end of this one. It was very quiet as everyone packed up and left. I think they felt like they had failed in the biggest fight of the campaign and who would like that? There might even have been some grumbling about what the DM threw at them in one encounter and I understand - it was pretty damn tough. By the time the next session rolled around everything was fine and it's been fine since. Could I have changed up the encounter? Sure, and if I ran it again I would probably tweak it at least - but I'd do that with any of them. I'd probably at least give them an action point (and maybe a healing surge or encounter power recharge) after the chain devils are slain as that's effectively two encounters right there. I might weaken the chain devils too, as they turned out to be fairly tough for a Skirmisher type, or maybe Kul only needs one consort. The encounter before this one might have been easier too. Regardless, I don't think it was drastically overpowered for a group that's been powering through everything I've thrown at them.

The original adventure has some environmental effects in the room but only Azarr Kul and 4 abishai are in it. Once he gets killed Tiamat automatically comes through and fights the party or flies off to be fought later. That seemed underwhelming to me, and it's supposed to be the big finale of the whole campaign! I wanted to have more going on and to have some potential impact from the players actions so I redid the whole thing. 

So now the party gets to deal with an army, it's divinely sanctioned warleader, and an avatar of an evil dragon god - it's going to be a lot of fun.

Monday, February 24, 2014

SSoI - Session 24: Temple of Death

Our Heroes (9th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, owlbear denture-wearer) 
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Torin Tsai, Half-Orc Slayer
  • Xyla, Drow Vampire
The party passes a tense but uneventful night in a guest room in the Fane of Tiamat.

(They don't know it but it's uneventful because they have killed everything that lives in the upper level of the fane. Most of the things that live in the lower level tend to stay there, and right now, the things that don't are in the middle of a huge ceremony and won't be leaving for some time. So they picked a pretty safe time to camp without really realizing it.)

After regathering themselves the team heads down an unexplored flight of stairs and comes to a large open temple chamber with a huge statue of a five-headed dragon. As they enter and explore, they hear noises from the balconies, and five winged draconian forms swoop down on them - wyverns! One of each color!

Melees break out in several locations around the room. The bow ranger contributes to all of them from some distance back but the rest of the party is in the thick of it with no "safe" area at all. Somehow, the slayer manages to land the finishing blow on all five of the things. Pleased with himself, Torin collects the five heads and stacks them up to gather on the way back out.

Xyla, nosing around after the fight, discovers a secret door and opens it. The heroes file through and come out in a large natural cavern - and not an unoccupied one! Two of the now-familiar greenspawn razorfangs await, along with a pack of hell hounds. The keenly sensitive beasts are already charging as the party spreads out on the upper terrace.

The first razorfiend to reach the group is brutalized by the waiting fighters, Gartok in particular showing his skill. Then the hell hounds close in and unleash their fiery breath, demonstrating the downside of a close formation. After only a short time three of the hounds are down but the fourth proves to be a wily opponent, as does the final spawn. The hound finally falls to a shot from the ranger. Torin is once again forced to resort to the WORLD SERPENT GRASP to tie down the spawn, calling for Xyla and Gartok to aid him and they do, finishing off the razorfang together.

After resting briefly the team scouts ahead and finds a large passage of worked stone at the end of the cavern - they are not yet at the end of their quest, but judging from the chanting they are getting close.

DM Notes: Lots of combat in this one but they were being fairly cautious as they advanced - lots of old-school exploration and general testing/touching of things in the big temple. The 5 wyverns were not all that tough and the party killed 1/round. It was cool that the slayer landed the killing blow five times in a row. We're not obsessive about that kind of thing but it was a fun character note. And no, wyverns don;t have powers based on their color like dragons, I just thought it was a nice touch. The original adventure had 5 wyverns here and that fit perfectly as a single encounter in 4E's system.

In the other bigger-than-you'd-expect underground room the original adventure had greenspawn razorfangs but I didn't want an encounter solely with those - we've had that before. So I added the hell hounds that were pretty common with the hobgoblin raiders early on and we had a nice mix of ranged, close blast, and melee options. This fight lasted 7 rounds and was wildly swingy. Round 1 the wardne crit twice, the warlord once, and the slayer did as well. The bow ranger had 2 rounds where he missed completely, even after a reroll courtesy of elven accuracy on one of them. The vampire had a coupleof 2's in there too. Using the same creatures lets the party show off how far they've come - two of the spawn was a tough fight the first time, as were the hell hounds. Now a larger group with both is merely an even fight. 

Next time: The big confrontation    

Motivational Monday (later than usual edition)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

SSoI - Session 23: Chamber of Horrors

Our Heroes (9th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, owlbear striker/defender/leader) 
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Torin Tsai, Half-Orc Slayer
  • Xyla, Drow Vampire
Gathering up their gear the party leaves the guardroom and wanders through largely empty halls until they find a new door and kick it in. Some kind of ritual is happening here involving blood and chanting. A figure in robes turns to the door and takes hold of the ranger's mind.  Not waiting for further developments, Gravis shouts "Torin stop him!" as the slayer charges in and destroys the robed hobgoblin standing in a circle who is cutting himself with a dagger while glaring at the rest of the party and chanting. The twelve cultists standing on the outer perimeter of the circle take issue with this and their leader, an obvious cleric of Tiamat orders them to attack.

From the door the ranger begins mowing down cultists as Gartok, Gravis, and Xyla charge in. The dragon worshipers stand little chance and are cut down unceremoniously along with their leader. Barely winded, our heroes move on.

Realizing they left a door unopened, the team doubles back, forces the door in question, and emerges into a grim scene - a torture chamber run by devils.

A Vizier Devil, her Pain Devil second, and a trio of Pain Devils seem almost happy to have something to fight as they move to defend their lair.  The party charges in and are met with waves of pain as they close - apparently the devils radiate pain! The devil captain utters a word and his crew's scourges burst into greenish flame. The vizier devil stands safely behind her subordinates, throwing blasts of flame into the enemy ranks. One devil falls to the heroes' assault but Torin staggers and falls under the devils' defense and Xyla is battered and bloodied as well. 

Safely beyond the range of the auras of pain, the ranger drops one of the foul devils. Hurting, the vampire rips the last pain devil apart and then teams up with Gartok to slay the lead pain devil as well. The slayer climbs back to his feet as Gravis shouts encouragement, lashes out, kills the vizier devil but he falls to blood loss at the same time. 

Triumphant but having suffered serious wounds and running low on ways to heal them, the heroes make a hasty retreat to one of the empty guest rooms they discovered earlier. Holing up and resting up, their mission will have to wait for now.

DM Notes: This was another session with some exploration, a very short combat, then a better combat. 

The first fight was over before it started with the robed Talon of Tiamat dominating the ranger and then not living long enough to command him later in that round! The rest of those enemies was unable to even slow down the group with the cleric croaking on round 2 and the last of the minions dying on round 3.

The original adventure has a group of clerics in this room - I stayed pretty close to that, just using some of 4E's new options to make a more mixed set of bad guys.

The second fight was much more even with overlapping pain auras dropping the slayer and hurting the vampire and the warden. Flaming melee weapons with reach are pretty nice too. Combined with the vizier's ranged abilities this was a much tougher group of opponents.  They still pulled it out in 5 rounds but they were drained and feeling the pressure as they retreated for a long rest. 

The original module has a single bone devil as the occupant of the torture chamber. I wasn't looking for a solo monster here and the pain devils seemed especially thematic.