The party began to trail in as I set up our table, and I was happy to see the majority of people who have been with me since the first couple of weeks. One of the real heroes of the game, Roy, with his Dragonborn ranger Geryon was unable to make it (we miss you Roy!) but we also had a newcomer, Sloan, who played an elf ranger. I joked about how the dragonborn unzipped his hide and out stepped an elven ranger, and we were good to go.
Aside: As long as the DnD has been around, gamers have had to contend with the jarring bit of reality that intrudes on a party of characters when the roster suddenly changes. It could be for a million different reasons: a player can’t make it, a new player joins, or even an old player with a new character. These things happen all the time, and really can’t be avoided, so I think for most DMs it becomes a sort of mini-game to come up with “rational” reasons why a new guy could suddenly show up 1,000 feet beneath the earth and immediately gain the trust and friendship of these professional psychotic killers with nary a hiccup. Usually we all turn a blind eye, since the other alternatives, such as running a person’s character while they are not there, or making a person wait until their character “has a chance to enter” are all good for verisimitude, but bad for fun. And this game is about fun, so we end up with elves zippered inside of dragonborn, and everyone is happy! Now, how will I explain to Roy next week that an elf popped out of him?
Also at many locations the table of players and DMs completely changes from week to week, so it must really make some one’s head hurt to try and rationalize that. In some ways, leaving aside the in-game problems, I think the switching it up is a good thing, as it allows players to experience many different DMing styles. I can imagine that individual DMs have a pretty big influence on a new player’s first impression. On the other hand, I love my group of players, and wouldn’t want to give them up for anything. I am more than happy to run over-size groups before I would ever consider sending one of MY players to a different table. Moving on.
Down Geryon and the drow assassin Shivra (miss u 2 Richard W) but gaining the elven ranger who we’ll call Stu, the party was 6 strong and was ready to rumble, and it would take all they had to defeat week 7’s foe. The party moved in marching order towards the one unexplored door, and as the others before it opened magically as they approached, showing a small antechamber on the other side of the doors that had a tiled room with a glowing sigil in each tile. Beyond the tiles, a wooden stair rose to meet an impenetrable wall of darkness.
And so began a bout of exploratory probing of the sigil-tiles that filled the area between the door and the stairs beyond. Finding them magical in nature, and more of a ward than a trap, they turned to the darkness, casting a sunrod (road flare) into the darkness, which swallowed it. Soon the ranger and battlemind jumped across and were stumbling up the stairs into the inky darkness.
Before long much of the party was playing blind tag upstairs, until Hax became weary of the sigil mystery and stepped onto a tile. Everyone waited with bated breath… the moment dragged… would he erupt into a pillar of fire?…. what were we doing wandering around in this room up here?… and he heard a click and the sigil brightened slightly, nothing more. He tried another tile – it brightened, the first dimmed. Soon another joined him, and before you know it, kaplowee! Sealed in!
I really love traps like this. There are plenty of skill checks to make, which can give you clues, but it is a basic problem or riddle that after awhile, just clicks and the players solve it and everyone cheers and we move on. For some reason my traps always become convoluted, difficult to understand affairs (just like most things in my life hmm) and I like the simplicity of this one. In fact, it reminds me of a trap I was especially proud of in Encounter Week 3, the electric statue. The cool trap, followed by the mind-blowingly cool monster we’re about to meet, made this my favorite encounter to date, as far as encounter-design goes. Way to go Erik Scott De Bie.
As the characters were jumping across to the stairs and climbing them in the dark I had them make DC5 agility checks to avoid damage, such as barked shins, etc. One PC, I forget who, suffered 2 points of barked shin damage. Once the darkness was dispelled and the encounter proper began, the stairs became difficult terrain. This meant that for many PCs he first turn was spent moving up to the glowing blue globe which spun off sparks of blue plague-fire and lightning.
The batlemind was able to charge, and as he struck, he felt himself wrapped in the loving embrace of a poison-fire aura, but managed to put a crack in the globe. His perceptive eyes picked out the hint of a humanoid figure floating within the globe. Then the sorcerer, still angry that she was not able to intimidate the darkness, let loose with everythig she had, including an action point. The globe rocked with the lightning blast, pushed back a square. Then it was lashed by some other attack of the sorceress, this time pulling it forward 3 squares.
The rest of the characters moved forward, with the elven ranger beginning his first round of a battle’s worth of twin-strikes, every other one hitting. The rogue moved slowly up the stairs, and the ardent scaled the stairs.
More lighting flashes, the aura gathers up he majority of the party afer its pull forward, and healing potions are quaffed. The lighting arc made a point of striking characters normally out of range, like the sorceress and rogue. Soon the front line warriors were hurting, but a well placed arrow from Stu the elf finally shatters the bubble (just as he rogue is preparing to sneak attack.)
The bubble bursts, showering everyone with with energy shards and an eladrin emerges, in shining chainmail and holding a longsword that flickeered with energy. She ripples with energy, and blue flame fills her eye sockets and mouth, as she screams “Save me!” and continues to attack. She then instantly teleports to one corner of the room.
Behind the scene
This plaguechanged eladrin was a fun and exciting solo enemy. Its powers were imaginative and challenging. My most recent experience with a solo enemy was the blue slime from Keep on the Shadowfell, and this eladrin was tons more fun. She shot fire and lightning and screamed and her psychic aura was a nasty surprise. This foe was a challenge to run as well, with the amount of stats it had, but it was well laid out and all tied together well. The chainmail and sword were additions of my own made for a couple reasons. One, with a larger than usual party the solo had to be “bumped up” to a challenging level, but it is hard to do when the party was going to be 5-8 people, possibly more. As a solo, it is not as easy as adding minions, which would have reduced the coolness factor of the encounter. SO I gave him a lightning sword +1 and a suit of magic chainmail. (I cant remember which type of chain I handed out, but I wish it was Joyous Chain +1, which would be perfect for the ardent, who got the item. I think I will print a second card showing Joyous Chain +1 and let him choose between the two next week.) The other reason for the items was that these would be the treasure for the encounter. I like to add the magic stuff into the encounter whenever possible, rather than under a pile of rags in the corner or in a chest. In this case it was especially difficult, as the room was empty until the globe materialized.
Back to the game, the ardent, wearing his cloak of resistance, stepped up toe to toe with the eladrin and fought with her whilst within her damaging aura, but he laughed off her madness inducing psycho-damage, and it gave the battlemind a chance to recover. The rogue had been moving inexorably forward, and now he stepped up and with a well placed blow, he gave the eladrin what she wanted, sweet release from her mortal coil. The party was victorious once again! This battle really was a challenge, and for the first half, there were some worried looks. But with the right combination of action points and daily powers, they pulled it off. By the mid-point the tactics came together and they finished her off quickly
Even with the eladrin dead, the longswod continued to flicker with an electric current of its own, and the genasi swordmage snapped it up. So began a round of trading where all of the magic items were distributed to who could use them best. So far 5 of the characters have an item, Roy and Eddie being the only members without from our core group. Let see if I have it straight: Hax has he new longsword, Ardent has the chainmail, Midge has the staff, and Battlemind has the mantle. Wait, there was one more the ardent had that cloak. He might have given it to someone. Cant remember.
As the party was busy stripping her corpse of all it was worth, the blue ghostess appeared, cradling the Eladrins head for a moment, whispering sweet nothings into her ear, before disappearing again with a wink and a nod.