planescapin' - editorials
Well, I finally decided to stop* griping about my DM and take up the reigns myself. Ironically, because I'm the only one in my group not taking 18 hours of 400-level courses, my player base is one that I've never before gamed with. The upshot of that is that they don't know what they should be expecting, but I'm just as in the dark about them. It should be a learning experience.
I've been spending the last couple nights building NPCs and baddies, while they've (theoretically) been finishing up their backstories. Without going into too much detail, the plan is for them to be sent on a mission prevent a disastrous end to a war. Said mission leads them on a chase through a portal and into the planes. Since no plan survives first contact with the players, though, I'll be sure to keep you updated with what actually happens.
To-date, character sheets (and not a whole lot else) are done. They'll be setting out with a half-elf melee ranger, a human paladin, a human barbarian, a human samurai, and a human sorcerer. Yeah, local priests are already brewing the cure potions and packing them in cases of twelve.
* -- By 'stop,' I mean 'continue indefinately.' What a powergaming twit he was.
I knew that the first session that I had planned was a bad idea. I knew that months ago, and it had me thinking of chickening out and moving the starting point to after the first encounter that I had planned. I designed the hostiles, and thought they'd be appropriate, but I was still shaky about a total-party-kill in the first session. Some sucker (that would be me) decided to throw level one characters into a mass-combat situation. I chose to send one-thousand orcs against two-hundred-and-fifty humanoids and the player characters.
Well, I'm not quite that stupid. A little bit of tactics and the power of suggestion were enough to turn that potential disaster into a pretty reasonable fight. I'm kind of jumping to the end, though.
The town of Aline (built around a castle) has recently fallen under siege. That might be overstating it just a bit, but a thousand orcs had massed several hundred yards away from the town's palisade. The response was a call for volunteers and the conscription of everyone else able to pick up a spear and a shield. Those who ran were run down by calvary elements and slain before they could make outside of an earshot of the town. It doesn't take too many pained screams to scare people into obeying the draft. Pavillions popped up along the outside of the palisade over the following nights.
The campaign began after the final day of training prior to a preemptive strike. The party had the evening to introduce themselves and get a sense of each other's motives. It's a diverse group. There's a half-orc barbarian, Ragnore, that loves war, despite barely being able to pronounce it. Next is the elf druid, who keeps Ragnore on a leash (albeit metaphorical). Next to her is our paladin, Zah, also a lover of battle, devoted to Heironeous. The two sorcerers are next, a dwarf and a halfling. The former, Pelgoar, is angry because he was drafted for battle, when he wanted to smith more weaponry, and the latter is uncomfortable with the notion of dying in battle. After them are the samurai, Saka and the ranger, Elrond (yeah, there will be a price in pain for that), who are following the theme of the other melee characters, really wishing for a fight.
And then there was sleep. No orc attacks in the night. No traitors fleeing for the orc lines. Just sleep. Well, until morning, when the sun came beaming into the pavillions. Shortly there after, the call to arms was issued, and everyone began lining up in formation. The archers and casters, with the exception of the party's druid (Ragnore was not going to allow her away from his side) were placed in a separate formation to the rear. Everyone else formed ranks. For several minutes, the formation grew, and the guard captain, on his mount, surveyed his lines and repeatedly glanced at the hostile lines. Almost reluctantly, he issued the charge order.
Charge or be trampled were the options, so everyone began running. After a few moments, a message began filtering through the lieutenants within the human ranks. The orcs had begun to flank. In response, the human line began splitting into two blobs, to match the two blobs of orcs, but as that was happening, everyone over five-feet, ten-inches was permitted a spot check. Except for Ragnore, who managed to get a negative result, all of the player characters in the melee line successfully noticed a detail that the lieutenants had missed. While the bulk of the orcs were splitting into two groups, several dozen were still plowing right down the middle, and would be able to massacre the archers, unless the party continued down the middle.
And continue down the middle, they did. Initially, they had only a few, poorly trained orcs to kill, but things got trickier. More orcs from the charge were continually arriving, and on their flanks, a few were breaking through the edges of the human lines. With orcs arriving faster than they could be killed, things were slowly becoming grim. The early advance stalled. An NPC that had followed the party died, and another was in terrible condition after taking an axe in his ribcage.
A round of listen checks was called for, with two DCs (the higher being impossible to hit). Elrond hit a lucky 20, for a total of 25 after bonuses, and could hear the guard captain's voice over the din of battle, but could not make out the words. They continued fighting, and more orcs came into the vicinity. Saka took a nasty hit to the shoulder and failed to deliver an effective reprisal. Ragnore and Elrond were stalled in an attempt to bring down an orc warrior. Pelgoar had run out of alchemist's fire, and neither the druid nor the other sorcerer were having any luck with ranged combat.
Again, listen checks were called for. Elrond hit a 17, and the halfling broke 21. Elrond could still hear the captain, but not the words. His short companion caught the four words that he had been waiting to hear since they formed ranks. "RETREAT! TO THE CASTLE!" He passed the word along, and the rest of the party was content to take that order from anyone, authority figure or not. Ragnore finished off an orc, and another orc finished off a human warrior, but besides that, all that remained was a full-speed sprint, into the palisade, over the moat, and into the castle. Being the ones that had charged deepest into the orc lines, the party was the last group of people to enter the castle wall, with the last straggler almost getting his heel caught in the portcullis.
Captain Maltaine (the party doesn't know his name yet, but no matter) rode over to them, ordered them to the healers, and then to the gate of the keep. At that point, we had to call it a night.
EXP: 200 per character for eleven kills, plus quest experience being held for later.
Loot: None yet.
Party Deaths: None yet. (So much for a bad idea.)
Next Friday: A tunnel, a surprise, another surprise, and a portal.
[Note: Elrond's player was out today, but left his character sheet with me, so the character was able to participate in minimal capacity. Ragnore and the druid did not extend this courtesy and will not be receiving experience for tonight's encounter.]
...and Saka sought a priest. With a short prayer and a simple touch, his once savage wound was reduced to a mere scratch. After that, everyone met at the keep's gate, where Captain Maltaine was waiting. Quin (the halfling sorcerer) was really persistant about griping about the plan he'd seen nothing of. It seemed he didn't mind irritating his superiors.
Maltaine escorted the party into the heart of the keep, where there was a large dining/conference room. Lord Kirsching was poring over a number of documents, when the group entered. This time, Quin wanted to know about the remaining orc forces. The estimate that he was given was that there were still over 600 at the walls. (Actual numbers were 620 orcs remaining to 106 human survivors.) Quin then persisted about the plan, and Kirsching wasn't going to tolerate the pestering, so he thrust one of the documents into Quin's face. It was a detailed drawing of what appeared to be a level of the castle, except that certain rooms and one tunnel in particultar extended beyond the castle wall.
The plan was to send the party three-quarters of a mile behind the orc line, which had been lured to the castle wall by the retreat. Of course, nobody waited to listen to the rest of the briefing before assuming that they were being sent against the rear of a 620-orc line alone. Kirsching was already frustrated, so he let the party argue among themselves about death, honor, nobility, and stupidity. When that interlude was over, Kirsching explained that the party would be going to the abandoned Fort Carth, which it was believed that the orcs were housing siege weapons and the lieutenant in charge of this offensive.
This had a little more appeal, and that was sweetened even further, when Kirsching called out servants with a chest containing a number of pouches. The pouches had 140 gold for each character as payment for eleven dead orcs and a down payment on the head of the orc lieutenant. Naturally, this led to the question of what in the hells was worth that much gold. All that recon had been able to find out about the lieutenant was that it was smaller and had a much different anatomy than an orc, but it was still ugly and green.
Pelsoar (the dwarven sorcerer) rather unilaterally decided that it was go-time. Zah and Saka didn't mind, as they're rather single-minded about combat. Quin saw opportunity to escape the town, so he was pleased with this plan, right up until the 'move toward an occupied fortress' bit. Everyone headed for the basement, under the lead of Maltaine and Kirsching, but after passing through a small dungeon that had been sealed some years ago, they let the party head down the recently added tunnel.
They came up the third (and final) exit shaft. It was the closest they could get to the fortress from underground, but they were still several miles out. Throughout the afternoon, the party advanced, encountering no resistance on the plains, but as they closed in, the fortress looked to be still-abandoned. The timbers forming its outer wall had shown no signs of repair, and on the eastern wall, a twenty-foot gap was open, where a number of the timbers had had their mud foundations washed away in a storm.
Elrond was sent out to survey the interior, while the rest of the party waited. He returned two hours later, reporting rather minimal activity within the fortress. Orcs were moving about between buildings, but they were proving difficult to count. He saw no sign of the non-orc leader. The party put it to a vote, whether they should attack immediately or wait until nightfall, and most decided to use the setting sun, while they had it.
There was less movement between buildings, when the party arrived at the gap in the wall. In fact, there were no orcs visible at all. There were small buildings in each of the corners and a square building, sixty-feet on a side, in the center of the fortress interior. They advanced on the central building. The melee warriors cautiously approached the nearest set of double-doors (on the eastern side of the structure), while the two arcane casters inexplicably made their way to the south wall. While they were sneaking around, they began hearing some noise coming from behind the large structure. Pelsoar wanted to investigate, but Quin had the sense to regroup with the fighters.
Zah kicked in the doors, at which point, he and Saka (standing directly behind Zah) had to make reflex saves. After narrowly avoiding a heavy ballista bolt, the two charged in to attack the two orcs operating the weapon. Quin set the reloader on fire with a spell. While they dealt with the ballista, Elrond rushed to the north-east corner, having spotted an orc entering a perfect flanking position. He hadn't seen the orc's two buddies, though. About the same time, Pelsoar came around the south-west corner and spotted one of those two buddies, who was poking his head around the north-west corner to see Elrond and his fight. Got vertigo from the ring-around-the-rosery yet?
The third orc to the north moved on Elrond, and Pelsoar kept moving right behind him. Zah, Saka, and Quin finished off the ballista operators and had begun to advance into the structure, to a T-intersection. Elrond, meanwhile, retreated to the ballista, which the operators had just finished reloading before they died. Outside of the party's line of sight, two more orc siege engineers got spooked and burst out of the door, behind Pelsoar. Inside, Zah and Saka were being held up by orc warriors and poor attack rolls. Quin moved outside to fire a spell at an orc, but ran out of actions, so one of the orcs moved on Quin, while the other chased after Elrond. Elrond missed with the ballista. (That was not a surprising result by any measure. He took -4 for nonproficiency, -4 for inappropriate size, and I opposed the attack roll with a reflex save instead of armor class, since you really just need to get out of the way of a crossbow bolt as big as your head.)
This is where the battle really started to turn against the party. Zah took a battleaxe to his side, leaving him with a single hitpoint. Saka and Elrond were doing well, but their efforts were doing little more than help them hold their ground. Outside, Quin finally toasted an orc, and Pelsoar attempted to do the same, but his Burning Hands couldn't produce enough damage. Since it had a verbal component, it attracted the attention of the orc he had been following and gave the retreating engineers a reason to stop and fight. The engineers did not have any weapon's drawn, but the third orc had a handaxe, which Pelsoar destroyed with a spell. Suddenly, he was taking huge quantities of nonlethal damage (six, compared to his hitpoint total of seven) from the three unarmed orcs. Things got nasty, when the two engineers pulled out punch daggers, dropping Pelsoar, and leaving him for dead.
Meanwhile, Saka and Zah busted into one of the closed rooms in the large structure. Expecting more opposition, Zah opted to arm his javallin and let Saka take the point. The room held only some unattended battering rams and a table with a potion on top. The move costed precious time, though, as Pelsoar was outside, being turned into a punching bag at this point, while Quin was the only one moving to help him. Quin went through the eastern door, just in time to take a punch dagger in the shoulder, staggering him. He got a spell off first, setting one of the engineers on fire, but things were looking ill for the two casters. Zah, in almost the same condition as Quin, led the charge against the two remaining orcs. In a near-critical, he finished off one orc that had been lightly roasted by Pelsoar. Saka maneuvered around Zah and did the same thing to the last orc.
The encounter isn't over, as they still have to finish off the lieutenant or start burning siege weapons, but we had to stop for the night. I asked Saka's player where he thought the lieutenant would be, and he pointed out the northern room in the structure, citing his videogame sense. I didn't have the heart to tell him that if the lieutenant was in that room, he would have heard the ruckus and come out to nuke the weakened party.
EXP: N/A, as we're still in the middle of an encounter. (Nine kills so far.)
Loot: 140gp per character, plus an unidentified potion, plus coin scattered with corpses that have yet to be searched.
Party Deaths: Three near-misses. (One unconscious and stable, one staggered, and one at 1HP.)
Next Friday: The second surprise and a trip to the center of the multiverse.
[Note: Ragnore and the druid's respective players both dropped. Apparently, one of them was so caught up in the combat chapter of the PHB, that he couldn't fathom the use of a whiteboard in place of a battlegrid. Zah and Elrond were sans player. Zah's player will be back next week, and Elrond's should be back the week after.]
The session opened, this week, with a little more exploration and a lot of poorly timed fire. There had been a room in the north-east corner of the central structure that had yet to be opened up. Saka took the point, poking his head in, and spotting two light catapults. There was also another table, with a vial, much as was in the other room, and a stick. Quin got a lucky spellcraft roll to figure out what the potion did, but there was no telling what the wand did, besides trying to activate it, so he pointed it at an orc corpse, did the best he could to take cover, and tried to activate it.
At this point, the three players present look at me, and Saka's player says he'll kill me if it's just a stick. I was tempted, but there will be time for evil DM'ing later.
Quin handed the wand off to Zah to see if a divine touch would coax it into functioning. It seemed to work well enough at waking the dwarf back up. I'm not sure that necessarily made anybody happy, though, as while he was unconscious, Quin and Saka were working on a plan. Pelgoar walked inside, doused the battering rams in the south-eastern room in dwarven spirits and set them aflame. He didn't really mind that the entire structure was made of wood or that the wall next to the nearest exit was what caught fire immediately after the battering rams. In the other room, Quin, Saka, Elrond, and Zah worked frantically to haul one of the catapults out the back door, with the fire nipping at their heels.
They made it out with one of the catapults and a few large rocks for flinging. The plan was to flush any remaining orcs out of the peripheral structures by raining boulders down on their heads. I hadn't predicted this strategy, mostly because none of the characters had any kind of experience or training with siege weapons. Nevertheless, Quin and Saka started making strength and profession checks to load and ready the catapult for firing against the north-eastern structure. The first shot went long, knocking some timbers out of the fortress' outer wall. The second shot went slightly to the right, dropping through the corner of the building. Satisfied that nothing was going to come running out, Quin snuck over to the building, leaving the sieging of the next building to Pelgoar and Saka.
Inside the door, he saw a recently converted chapel. Heironeous' icon had been pulled down some time ago, and Hextor's had been raised in its place. Quin decided to loot the corpse of the orc that got smushed by the rock (oddly, the only corpse that got looted in the whole session) and start burning the place down. He didn't need to set Zah into a frenzy about the chapel's nature just yet.
Outside, Pelgoar and Saka were having trouble grasping the concept of hefting a rock onto a catapult arm. Quin's expertise (and by that, I mean luck) was the edge they needed against that wily rock. Pelgoar decided this was another time to use spirits as a weapon again, dousing the boulder and lighting it before it went flying at the south-western structure. The walls caught, and the boulder rolled into the edge of a well inside. Quin's ears caught some angry words echoing up from the well. Saka went around to the door on the eastern side of the building, while Pelgoar approached the flaming hole. He stuck his staff in and swung it around. I responded, "There's either nothing in there, or nothing that stupid in there." Saka kicked in the door and found that, beside the fire, the damaged well, and the rock teetering on the edge there wasn't anything in the room. Saka braved the flames just long enough to look down the well, and saw where the side opened into a corridor.
That left the north-west building. They sent a rock into the corner of that one too, to no great effect. There was little more than carts filled with pry bars, hammers, and wooden planks in here, but at the back of the room was a stairwell leading downward. Quin mounted Saka on the way down the stairs (yep, ride checks and all). Both of the sorcerers used Mage Hand to levitate a pair of torches to aid the exploration of the wide hallway that they had found. They didn't get too far before their quarry came charging out of the shadows at Saka.
It was a nasty little half-dragon kobold, with the brightest emerald green skin. Clearly, this was the lieutenant commanding the orcs, according to the intelligence that Lord Kirsching had conveyed earlier. The fight went poorly, with Zah and Saka swinging and missing repeatedly. In fact, Quin's crossbow was second in damage only to Elrond (whose racial enemy choice was paying off). Pelgoar had the brilliant idea to shoot a ray of fire past three allies to try to hit the creature. He ended up setting Saka on fire, much to the dismay of both he and Quin. He made his reflex save to avoid catching fire himself, but failed his quick dismount check, when Saka dropped prone to smother the flames.
The creature took its last shot at Saka on the attack of opportunity for putting out the flames, then darted off, deciding that his current wounds were sufficient for one fight. Elrond dropped his sword, drew his longbow, and waited for Quin to give the word. Quin cast Light on the arrowhead, and Elrond let fly. There was barely a split second to spot their attacker, but they did narrow down his position, and the arrowhead was exposed enough after hitting the wall to provide bright light around the well at the end of the corridor. That's how everyone saw the beast jump into the well.
Everyone ran forward to listen for a splash, squish, or crunch, but nothing came. Above them, the flames roared, but instead of the wind drawing air upward to feed the fire, the breeze was downward, into the well. Nobody wanted to lead at first. Who wants to lead the group to a splattery end, when the DM says, "Falling damage," after all? Ultimately, Quin made a remark about Hextorans, and Zah was down the well, head-first, before Quin could finish his sentence. Saka followed, albeit feet-first. Quin decided that this was one of those situations that veteran adventurers talk about when touting how essential rope is. Pelgoar actually tried repelling down the line first, but missed his climb check, letting his spine lead the way. Quin laughed, then made the same roll, against the same DC, and got the same result. Elrond went down last, rolling a 25 against a DC 10.
In retrospect, I should have grabbed some d6's, just to see how many players I could get to wet themselves. Instead, I went into detailed description of the breakdown of Physics inside a portal. Are you familiar with the stretchy-effect they use in shows like Sliders? That's what I went with, but I spent a good three minutes describing the effect, and the audience was interested in coming back for a second episode.
At that point, it was half-past midnight, so I was content to give them their experience (which I did) and call it a night. They wanted to know where the hell they were, and in retrospect, I should have just left it for the next session, since I don't think I did their first impression of Sigil justice, being visciously sleep-deprived. (I redeemed myself to an extent, e-mailing them an extended description of what they saw.) I'm not the greatest at working entirely off-the-cuff.
Pelgoar, Saka, and some gold turned a surly bartender into a useful source of information. Twenty-five gold for in exchange for a tankard of spirits and a few words seemed too generous to just advise them to find a tout. The main things they were concerned with was a place to stay the night and the direction that their kobold attacker had run off toward. Unfortunately, the kobold made it out the door with nobody paying it any notice, and the streets were packed with merchant booths and shoppers. He did, however, direct them to a house in the Lower Ward, where a friend of his could offer some work and quartering for a night.
Saka did remarkably well following a bar-napkin map with a compass that he didn't understand. Einrik, the owner of the house and the small forge outside, welcomed them in, once his focus was taken off of his work, and explained a situation that had arisen. He explained an area nearby, where a mass of razorvine had exploded through the ground, leaving a massive hole in the ground. Originally, it was thought that part of the Undersigil was beneath the neighborhood, but this turned out to be a crypt, with undead prowling about inside. The party agreed to investigate matters, but required rest first. Inside the house, Einrik moved the dining room table aside and opened a trapdoor to the liquor closet. There were some cots at the end of the hole, but the room was clearly ment for booze, not people.
EXP: 1250 per character (lots of kills, surviving a ballista, and some quest experience).
Loot: Surprisingly little, since nobody bothered to search the dead orcs in the fortress. They only came out with the potions and wand in the end.
Party Deaths: None yet.
Next Friday: Grave robbing and a brief lesson about the Cage.
[Note: Attendence was under 50% this week. Saka and Pelgoar's players showed up.]
I can now say beyond any shadow of a doubt that I am a better writer than a set of d20s. There's really no sense dwelling on the details of this session because the next session is going to be essentially the same one all over again, but hopefully with some better rolls. Seriously, Saka needed a ten to hit most of the baddies this time out, and he couldn't pull higher than a six, and Pelgoar lost three of his first level spells to his 10% arcane spell failure and failed his touch attack rolls for the rest, resulting in Elrond being immolated, among other things.
That's jumping ahead of myself. Quin ran off to the library to do research. The rest of the party went down the hole that Einrik wanted investigated. Pelgoar torched Elrond; Zah got eviscerated by a critical from a ranseur; Saka had his jugular and most of his airway pulled out by a skeletal claw, and Pelgoar got cannibalized by a dead member of his own race. TPK.
It wasn't the players' fault for their characters' deaths. Nobody did anything exceptionally stupid (except allowing me to NPC their characters). I don't feel that this was my fault, as everything they fought (five skeletons) was fairly well spaced apart and had CRs of 1/3 or 1/2. That leaves the dice, and if you had seen the rolls, there could be no doubt what was at fault for this. Solution? Deus ex ****-the-dice. The following block of text is getting e-mailed to the party this evening...
Your point of view becomes detached from your body. As you begin to wonder if this is what the afterlife feels like, you realize you have no control over your movement. In the blink of an eye, you are wrenched to a position above Elrond's smoldering corpse. The scent of burnt carrion and hair nauseates you, but your gag reflex produces no vomit. After a moment of hesitation, you are pulled to Pelgoar's fallen body. One of the stout skeletons has set down its polearm and is hunched over the body, pulling flesh from the dwarf's stomach, placing it in its mouth and chewing. The act of 'swallowing' only serves to coat the skeleton's pelvis and the ground beneath it in a bloody mess. Your vision turns to Saka, and above him, the other skeleton leans over, digs its claws deep into his throat, and pulls out an enormous chunk, spraying blood from the open jugular and causing a barely audible puff of wind as the airway to his lungs is torn open. Finally, you hover over to the remains of Zah, though most of his torso has been reduced to sinew, stretched out over the length of a dropped ranseur.
After viewing the corpses, you feel reality as you know it pull away from you. It stretches away, just as your body felt like it had in the well, but the mausoleum simply blinks out of existence, and nothing but blackness comes to replace it. After some time (you cannot tell by any means how long) you begin to wonder if the legends of heaven and hell are false. Surely there should have been something more than a bleak reviewing of the bodies.
Then, a thick mist begins to reveal itself in a dim light. It is a thick, gray fog, with thin wisps of blue, and the light continues to get brighter, until it becomes just enough to see without straining your eyes. Out of the mist, floats a tall figure, robed in yellow. It wears a tall hat, just slightly darker than its gray flesh. Its eyes glow softly red, but the creature does not appear to be any kind of fiend that you are familiar with. After a few moments of scouring your memory, you realize that you have seen these creatures before, repairing a damaged building in Sigil. It hovers toward you silently, stopping a few feet away. You still seem to be missing your body, and are thus unable to react to its presence, but the way the creature stares past you, you wonder if it has noticed you at all. Again, time passes. The only motion is the swirling of the mist and the rise and fall of this robed figure's chest.
Rather suddenly, runes and figures begin materializing around the figure's head. This continues for some time, but all you can deduce is that this is how the silent figure communicates. The symbols are of no language you understand, and none of them remain long enough before fading for you to study them. This continues, and slowly you begin to notice a sound. It is not coming from the person before you, but rather it is intertwined with your own thoughts.
The voice is feminine, but carries an air of confidence that you have never heard before. No master, teacher, veteran, or superior you have encountered has ever spoken with such authority of tone. Her voice is quiet at first, but grows in volume as she speaks, "You have set down a path and will move inexorably forward along it. Let not this be the end of that path. Outside forces seek to disrupt MY realm. You will stop them." Her final words are spoken with thunderous force that would have shaken you to the bone, if you were not disembodied at present, "I have decreed it."
With those words, darkness suddenly obscures your vision again, and this semi-reality slips away. Again, you awaken to the sound of Einrik's boot against the cellar door.
EXP: Still deciding... The dream was vivid enough that I'm not erasing the dungeon map, but it was still a dream.
Loot: No, gold pieces will not manifest through force of will alone. Period.
Party Deaths: Five for five. Pretty impressive for two CR 1/3's and a trio of 1/2's against a second-level party.
Next Friday: Deja vu, but with a proper description given here.
Wand Uses: I'll be adding this for my own reference. To date, the Cure Light wand that the party found has been used three times, not counting the two charges used in the crypt.
[Note: Quin's player was absent for this session for reasons unknown. Zah's player was absent too, but I had a guest coming to observe, so I offered him the opportunity to substitute and gain some first-hand experience with the game.]
Again, the party, sleeping in Einrik's liquor cellar, was awoken to the sound of a boot against the trap door. Einrik called out, sounding quite irritated that the time was approaching peak. In the cellar, they still had no idea what that meant, but they could deduce that it probably wasn't early morning. Pelgoar went up to the dining room first and asked which way to the iron pods. Einrik assumed that someone had snuck a peek the night before, but the characters all made mental note that at least some of this dream was going to come true.
That seemed to be when most everyone perked up to the idea of buying new equipment. Saka now owes money to Einrik for a set of breastplate, Elrond is running around with a slightly-used buckler, and Pelgoar stocked up on some potions. Other than the purchases, the party's preparation was much the same as it was last time. That is to say, there wasn't any.
They started climbing into pods, and I started rolling d% to see how well the rope being used to hoist them down would hold up against the razorvine lining the hole through which they were descending. The rope didn't really stand a chance, but everyone at least got far enough down to avoid taking any significant damage. As the group stepped out of their pods, they saw the exact same room and heard the same clattering of skeletal feet as they had before.
Pelgoar was rather overconfident. Instead of waiting for the warriors to light up torches and begin advancing, he used his darkvision and left the entry chamber the exact same way he had gone before. The rest of the party followed after a moment, but only Pelgoar could see the crossbow-wielding skeletons at the intersections sixty feet in either direction. After crossbow bolts went whizzing both ways down the corridor, Pelgoar went charging off to the left. Remembering that the first casualty in the dream was caused by Pelgoar torching another party member, everybody else went to the right, led by Zah, with his shield glowing from Quin's Light spell, Saka, carrying a torch, and Elrond. Quin initially had some intent to assist Pelgoar, but after setting a skeleton on fire and watching Pelgoar go walking right past it, Quin decided that the warriors might be safer, saner company.
While Pelgoar made after another crossbow-wielder, the rest of the party stomped the elven skeleton that they had first approached, and went up a corridor to their left to smash one of the dwarven skeletons. So far, most of what they had seen mirrored the dream in a general sense, so they decided to continue up the corridor that had the first dwarven skeleton in it. One deviation calls for another, and the mausoleum reciprocated, when Elrond counted one too many shadows on the ground for the people in the area.
In the other half of the mausoleum, Pelgoar set the other elven skeleton on fire, and then started into one of the crypts. The place had been rather thoroughly ransacked, and Pelgoar was content to leave it be for the moment, so he went into the crypt across the hall. It was in similar condition, except that one of the skeletons was up and about. He drew his quarterstaff and stepped toe-to-toe with this one, and just started swinging. It was embarrassing for both of them. Shot after shot, and swing after swing, all I could figure out was that they thought there was an air elemental between them.
Meanwhile, Elrond decided to try drenching the shadow in lamp oil, but it had sense enough to move out of the square in the time before the flask of oil was ignited. In head-to-head combat, it was far less successful, continually failing even to hit the touch ACs of the warriors in the party. Ultimately, it was sliced and diced, even despite its mostly-incorporeal nature.
[Note: Zah's substitute player left around this time.]
Again, the group, sans Pelgoar, continued up the corridor. When they reached another T-junction, they began moving parallel to the path Pelgoar had taken. On their way, they heard a tremendous howling sound from the opposite direction. Zah and Elrond also heard the sound of wooden doors shattering accompanying the howls. Zah stayed at the T-junction to watch for anything trying to sneak up behind the party, while Saka went looking for, and I quote, "higher ground." If that seems bad, Elrond was following him. They were about 180 feet from Zah, when a human skeleton with a form-fitting, purple aura* stepped around the corner.
Saka turned around and broke into a sprint, and though Elrond seemed to want to keep moving away, Saka's torch was the light source that he was relying on. The fight went a little quicker than I had intended, as Zah's hammer just crunched through the corporeal bits of the skeleton with no trouble at all. Saka and Elrond got up to the line just in time to block Quin's shot at the second one just around the corner, though. Down the corridor, they saw the two skeletons that had killed them in the dream step out of the doorway, where the wooden doors had been shattered earlier.
Pelgoar was finally making some contact against the skeleton he was awkwardly swinging at. First, he smashed one of the toes, and then another, and another. Finally, he managed to haul off and whack the spine, just above the pelvis, sending the skeleton to the ground.
There's still a fair bit more to go in this mausoleum. The party has not seen the third of the area furthest downward (ironically, both relative to Sigil's directions and the whiteboard), but I had to call it a night.
Loot: None yet, as it seems the party isn't the first to have robbed this tomb.
Party Deaths: Actually, I don't think anyone even got hit this time out, except for a bit of strength damage.
Next Friday: A slightly more significant sampling of Sigil's floura. (They say two things grow in Sigil: razorvine and more razorvine.)
Wand Uses: Just those earlier three.
* -- Don't bother wiffling through your various monster books. This is a little something special that I cooked up. I like confusing the guys who've memorized the Monster Manual.
[Note: Quin's player was absent today. Elrond's player was an hour and a half late and was instructed to leave the table after being an ass-hat instead of providing an explanation.]
Once again, Pelgoar was off exploring on his own. Having explored two burial chambers, he poked his head around the corner and saw another pair of skeletons. Neither reacted to his quick peek, which was lucky for him, as one of them was armed with a polearm. Not enjoying those odds, he tried to bypass those two by one of the corridors near their point of entry. As he came round, he saw another pair of skeletons, but since both were holding crossbows, Pelgoar favored his chances. He rushed forward, shrugging off one bolt to the shoulder, but the one that lodged between the halves of his brain sent him to the ground. On a lucky roll, he stabilized. (This was actually pretty fortunate, as Pelgoar's player really needed a nap to make it to 1:00am this time out.)
The rest of the party was staring down the corridor where they had met their end last time out. As a matter of fact, they were staring at one of the skeletons who finished them off. Well, Elrond, Zah, and Saka were perfectly content to bum-rush the thing. Zah, not finding much success with his drained strength, used his smite ability against this skeleton. Quin was up a bit of a creek, as he had scruples about shooting through party members, unlike Pelgoar. He ran off, intending to bypass the fight, come up on the other side, and shoot from the other side. By the time his scrawny legs got him around to the back, the skeleton had been cornered and killed.
The skeleton had been guarding a smashed door. Inside was a ceremonial chamber that, like the rest of the mausoleum had been fairly well looted already. Working from memory, the party headed downward, toward the skeleton that had eviscerated Zah in their dream. The battle played out about the same as the previous one, minus Quin wandering about. They cornered the skeleton before even seeing into the room it was guarding.
After collapsing it into a pile of bones, Zah led the way into the room. It was clear that this was the last room to be built before the mausoleum fell into disrepair. It was furnished with four torches in tall stands (recently placed) and a half-decayed gnoll. Problem was the half-decayed gnoll was a little more active than your average corpse. Saka took a couple hits from the gnoll's axe, then Zah smartened up and started using his wand instead of his hammer against the zombie. Elrond struck the [re]killing blow, sending a small key adorned with a small skull-shaped head, tumbling through the air. Saka picked it up, and the group began to head through the downward corridor.
At this point, I had a brain-fart. The dungeon was supposed to be a tick-tac-toe board, with crypts and ceremonial chambers in each of the squares and corridors forming the grid lines. Most of the downward-most row was going to be collapsed anyway, but as I was filling in the geometry on the whiteboard, I just totally forgot about the bottom row. It's not a big deal, granted, but the place would have had a bit more of an old feel to it with some caved in bits.
Also, I don't think I made this clear enough last time, for those of you unfamiliar with the city, Sigil has two well-defined compass directions: spireward and downward. Thus far, the mausoleum has actually had level floors, and I was using the word 'downward' to describe motion opposite of spireward, not deeper into the ground.
With those side-notes out of the way, the paty continued along the corridor, eventually stumbling upon Pelgoar and the skeletons who shot him. Zah healed his unconscious comrade, while Elrond and Saka dashed into melee. The skeletons' luck waned as the warriors smashed the first pair to bits, rounded the corner, and repeated the process on the two that Pelgoar had run from earlier.
Along the outer wall, where the corner should have been, there was a cylindrical tunnel, covered on all sides with razorvine. Throughout the rest of the mausoleum, it had been growing along the roof, rather harmlessly, but seeing it on the walls and floor of this corridor gave them pause.
Zah, Pelgoar, and Saka returned to the locked door from earlier. There wasn't much to behold. This room was a tomb with stone caskets shoved into the walls like drawers. This room didn't appear to be looted, but the corpses in the caskets carried nothing of particular value. Most of their flesh and clothes had rotted away with time, and they didn't seem to have been buried with anything that would have survived the forces of decay.
Zah and Saka took the opportunity to return to the pods and retrieve the ironclad boots that they had brought down and returned to the cylindrical corridor. There's not too much more exploring to do, but I was running out of energy at this point, so in the interest of not experiencing sleep-deprivation-induced halucinations a second time this year, I called it a night.
Loot: A key, and not a whole hell of a lot else.
Party Deaths: Two close calls.
Next Friday: The source of the trouble! Copious checks, using a skill nobody took ranks in! The end of this damned dungeon!
Wand Uses: Eleven. (Zah just couldn't roll higher than a three on the damn thing last night.)
Right, so I've been lagging on the updates a bit, so let me get you caught up...
Two weeks ago...
Another damn room in the same damn dungeon...
One more skeleton put back into the dead-book...
One mage penned into the dead-book...
Intra-party antics at a tavern (more on that below)...
Experience and treasure was had by all.
I'm never running another non-intelligent undead dungeon again. I was almost going to sleep in mid-session as that thing dragged on.
I also decided that enough was enough with the poor attendence and sent an angry e-mail regarding some nasty consequences to missing too many sessions and especially for doing so without letting me know in advance.
One week ago...
Last week was spring break, so since we were scattered across the state, we didn't have a session.
This week (and the important bits from two weeks ago)...
Quin, Zah, and Elrond's players ignored dire warnings in the last e-mail I sent out. They do not receive their share of this session's experience, as they all failed to contact me about missing the session.
Last time out, we finally finished the mausoleum. Einrik paid each party member fifty gold and honored his word about letting them keep the loot from within. He also invited them to a favorite pub of his, out near the Market Ward, for a round of drinks. Ignoring some failed scheming of Elrond's, everyone enjoyed some drinks and took note of some rather severe vandalism. It seemed to worry Einrik, so he stepped aside to have some words with the proprietor, as we called it a night.
Picking up there, Einrik came back to the table with Groshag, the Split Keg's owner. Groshag asked if the party had a background in mercenary work, and given their growing resume, Pelgoar and Saka figured that 'mercenary' was a reasonably accurate term. He then explained that the vadalism, including the broken windows, damaged furnature, and grafitti, has been a recurring problem. He had sought the assistance of the Harmonium, but Groshag was displeased with their investigation and its conclusion that these were random and unrelated acts. Groshag made clear that he was not seeking vigilante justice, but a proper investigation and conclusive evidence regarding the vandals' identity.
Once again, the lure of gold was enough to spur the two into action. They asked where to start, and Groshag suggested requesting information at a small Harmonium record repository in the area. The party took the chance to sleep in the rooms in the back, and Pelgoar and Saka set out in the morning. They did a little potion shopping first, getting a small lesson in portal-use and loitering in an imp's shop. As they left the shop, Pelgoar noticed a kenku and three halflings tailing them. He ignored them and did not bring the information to Saka's attention.
At the repositry (which seemed to be as much a barracks as a repositry) they had a bit of a wiseass clerk to deal with. Initially given only vague details of the case file he was to be looking up, he was just going to peddle the task off onto his superior officer. Moreover, he was being difficult about finding a time to fit the party into the captain's schedule. When Saka provided more information and the clerk realized that it had been a relatively low-priority vandalism case, he went to retrieve the record personally.
As the clerk was in the back room, Saka and Pelgoar noticed two of the halflings that had been tailing them peeking into the entry door. When Pelgoar took a step outside, they bolted to the nearby alleys. Seeing this reaction, he would step in and out of the building about every minute or so, just to screw with them. Meanwhile, at the back of the barracks area, a guard, whose armor did not quite match the Harmonium's normal style, was having a somewhat heated conversation with another officer. Saka took note that the one in oddly-crafted armor had a katana at his side, instead of an axe or greatsword, like the rest of the Harmonium seemed to have issued to them. Eventually, the clerk emerged from the back room with a box, containing the requested documents.
That's when the feces hit the fan...
...That's when the feces hit the fan. Apparently, the man in funny-looking armor said something outlandishly stupid to the officer he was speaking to. He and the four nearby guards realized that this man was not supposed to be here, and they snapped to attention, ready to fight. When his armor disappeared and then he disappeared, that suspicion was confirmed. He reappeared a moment later, behind the officer he had been speaking to, weapon drawn and in mid-swing. Saka saw this and moved to aid the Harmonium. (Pelgoar started reading the documents in front of him.) The ninja pulled his disappearing act three more times hitting Saka and two more guards, before being beaten into submission. Right about that time, a halfling came running out from behind a row of bunks, only to be intercepted by Saka and pounded until he stopped moving.
The Harmonium began managing their injuries and the two unconscious prisoners, when the kenku that had been following Saka and Pelgoar ran in and made a grab at the box of documents that the clerk had brought out. The kenku managed to avoid a Burning Hands spell, cast by Pelgoar on the way in, but got caught on fire by a Ray of Flame on his way out. Being on fire rather startled this bird-like man, causing him to throw the box of papers into the air and go bolting out the door like a scared child. In a bonehead moment, Saka, who had been stepping out to seek healing, decided to make a grab for the kenku's legs. Yes, he made a grab for the burning kenku's legs, succeeding his trip attempt, and failing his reflex save to avoid catching fire himself. Both took the opportunity to roll around on the ground, while the three halflings darted in, grabbed the box and the papers still in it and ran out. Saka had gotten to his feet, and took his attack of opportunity against the last halfling out the door, quite cleanly slicing its head off.
Then, he chased after the two surviving halflings, as they turned down the nearest alley. The kenku was up and running too, overtaking Saka and the halflings, only to find that that particular alley was a dead end. Unperturbed by this, the kenku proceeded to jump and kick from one wall of the alley to the other three times, ending up on the roof of the Harmonium repositry. The two halflings each threw bolas at Saka, tipping him over. He was quick to free himself and was on his feet again before the halflings had a chance to get past him. The one leading the retreat, carrying the box, got sliced in two by a critical hit, while the other darted out of the alley. Saka left the box with the corpse, and ran after the last halfling, but he got to the street and escaped into the crowd. As Saka turned back toward the alley, the kenku was back, picking up the box. He started wall-kicking to the roof again, as Saka switched weapons and took a shot from his longbow. The shot went wide, but not by much, and the kenku made it back to the roof, offering a taunt, "The name's Altend Swiftfeet, if you ever decide to put some real effort into catching me!" With that, he was off. Saka, having lost his chance at Altend or his final companion, caught up with the rest of the Harmonium, wounded in the barracks, to seek healing.
Pelgoar, meanwhile, skimmed through the pages that had fallen out of the box and survived the Ray of Flame. They contained some background information about events surrounding the vandalism of the Split Keg. A few weeks prior to the vandals' first strike, Groshag had been pondering what to do with the small ampetheater behind his building. It had not been seeing much use for some time, so he planned to demolish it and extend his building into the space. Before he did, though, a traveling actors' troupe and was looking to earn some money. Groshag and the actors each saw the mutual potential of the other, so they signed a three week contract. The Fleet-Footed Vipers, as they were called, drew in a respectable crowd each night, so Groshag renewed the contract. Around this time, the vandalism began and slowly escalated in severity. The report mentioned that Groshag had some theory about who was causing the damage, but it seemed outlandish to the officer in charge of the investigation, so he did not detail it in the report or look into it before closing the investigation.
That left Pelgoar and Saka with two leads: Groshag's theory and the two captured infiltrators. Saka asked the Harmonium clerk how he might arrange to interrogate the two captives, and he was given a map to a holding facility in the Lower Ward as well as a letter authorizing the interrogation. The clerk said it was his way of thanking Saka for aiding the facility's defense.
Pelgoar decided to return to the Split Keg to find out what Groshag's thoughts were about who was attacking his establishment. Groshag explained that the Fleet-Footed Vipers had offered to stand watch at night, as an additional clause in their contract. When Groshag rejected this ammendment, the vandalism got worse, leading him to believe that this was all a contrived scheme to weasel protection money out of the Split Keg. Spurred by this, Pelgoar did some snooping about the ampetheater, but only found a few coppers that had been dropped and gone unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Saka went to the rather substantial detention center. Just being within several yards of the fence gave him the feeling of being watched, and the guards he could see made no secret that there was a reason for that feeling. He was led through a double-locked gate, into the building, and down to a cellblock with as many guards as prisoners. The cell doors were double-locked and solid, and it was clear that these cells were designed as places for men to sit and wither. Saka went to Amsig Cordon's cell first. This was the man who botched his infiltration and tried to slice and dice his way out. Saka was curious about the Amsig's katana and training. Amsig had to explain that, though martial artists might be rare on his home plane, there are neigh-on infinite planes, all of which feed into Sigil, so of course he's going to run into people with that type of weaponry and training.
Saka's questioning then shifted to why Amsig had been trying to get into the Harmonium office. Amsig explained had been getting paid to destroy the very records that Pelgoar and Saka had been searching for. He resisted the following questioning about who his employer was, but some liberal use of intimidation tactics made Amsig open up and speak about a black abishai, supposedly named Taal. Amsig mentioned two of their many meeting places: a remote part of the Undersigil and a place near the ruined temple in the Hive. Saka followed up by questioning Kalting, Amsig's halfling cohort, and most of his answers confirmed what Amsig had said about Taal.
With that information, Saka returned to the Split Keg to meet up with Pelgoar. They exchanged information and went nosing around the Fleet-Footed Vipers' setup. They were setting up for an evening performance at the time, but they were directed to the troupe's leader, in a tent across the street. He was rather negative about Pelgoar and Saka's desire to investigate their quartering and storage tents, but was forthcoming with answers to the party's questions. They discussed whether or not any halflings from the group had recently gone missing, whether they had ever worked with a kenku, recent contract disputes, even what they knew of the history of the ampetheater and there was very little said to even remotely link the actors to the vandalism. Pelgoar and Saka decided to sit through a performance and do some more snooping. All they turned up was a musty crawl-space with some props and an odd cranium rat here and there.
Their next idea was to try to catch the vandals in the act. They decided to take shifts watching the common area at night, for about a week. After the first two nights, all their presence succeeded in doing was limit the vandalism to rocks heaved through windows. On the third night, Pelgoar nearly caught a suspect, but the chase ended up luring him away, with the reward being only a quick glance at the man's face. Saka woke up and went downstairs to see a number of vandals fleeing the scene, and Pelgoar only got back in time to view the destruction that they had wrought. There was much more grafitti; the recently-replaced window had been broken out again, and the last table in the common room had been smashed to bits.
(XP and loot are compiled from the last two sessions.)
Loot: A chest, containing about 500gp and a brass mug.
Party Deaths: None
Next Friday: A taste of the lower planes.
Wand Uses: Thirteen.