In the Sabratha Coliseum, the champions of the White Rose fought for their rights to claim the city, first against other eladrin, then against their shadow cousins, before the planned finale which would be against the chosen bodyguards of the Templar of Tyr Insadorous, governor of the eastern Wastes. But as afternoon turned to evening with no sign of Insadorous, there were whisperings of trouble brewing.
Meanwhile, miles away, 5 weary explorers crested a dune to finally gaze upon the sight they sought: a deep valley in the dunes was filled with the stone remnants of a petrified forest, ringing the ancient wind-swept streets of a deserted city. To the south, hours away through the jagged pillars and beams stood the cities largest intact structure, the coliseum, and smoke fires could be seen rising from the area. Suddenly, an eladrin stepped out of the dunes and asked the party if they were there to rob and plunder or if they were seeking freedom, and they replied appropriately. (By hemming and hawing, and beating around the bush of course.) The eladrin warned them that tyrants of Tyr were approaching, but that if they proclaimed themselves for the White Rose when in need, then they would be saved from the Templar.
As the eladrin vanished, thugs of the templar appeared, riding on their harnessed war-birds. They are a familiar sight in the city of Tyr, who suffer under the oppression of a tyrannical sorceror king, but they are a surprise so far from the city walls. The templar thugs surrounded the Wastewalker Furiosos and marched them to the templars camp in the market square out front of the Sabratha Coliseum. Insadorous tells them they must fight for him in the arena tonight, but that if they are victorious, they shall be rewarded with gold and riches from the plundering of Nazerak. They had little choice but to obey.
Meanwhile, the champions of the White Rose met with her as she joined in the crowded stands. She told the party that there was intrigue afoot, and that she had prepared a healing ritual that would protect them by healing anyone who called out to her while in the arena. This would prevent foul play, but it could only be invoked if the sanctity of the lawful combat were broken.
Soon Insadorous marched in carrying a bag of gold coins. He tossed them carelessly into the silt sand in the center of the arena, where burnished gold dazzled in the reflection of the four flaming braziers in the corners of the arena. Old Ocham, the one eyed ancient elf peddler had a look of shock and dismay and uttered a squeal of pain as he recognized the vintage of the elven stamped gold. These coins were minted by his ancestors a millennium or more removed. Part of the reason Ocham signed his elves up for this mission was the hope of finding the lost elf hoard of Nazerak, and here was a bag of that hoard thrown casually into the dust. His jaw yammered as he searched for the words to express his outrage but Insadorous gave him no time. Call this fight! My champions have arrived, and I am adding this bag of gold to the victors as incentive.
In one corner, with home field advantage, we have the champions of the White Rose. 4 strangers to the land who have managed to survive and even prosper in the harsh world. Poppy the little elf with a big sword; Felipe the fierce, and lover of pink; Thokk the Half Orc, the one and only orc (or not orc, depending on where you side in that debate) and Sharia the Paladin Princess of the Flame. In the other corner we have Insadorouses conscripted combatants, a motley group of 5 toughened survivors. Two were halflings, of the non cannibal tribes, Midget the intimidating sorceress and Kina the paladin, in shining chitinous armour of insect plates. In front stood the warriors, one one side Hex Hackenstab (amiright?) the githyanki space cowboy swordmage-warlock and on the other end loomed the rocky outcropping that is Kindrock. Navarra held the central position, an eladrin practitioner of the arcane arts from a distant clan.
The White Rose sent out a telepathic communication to every one on the field that she suspected foul play. They must follow the ancient rules of the arena and fight to their best abilities, but that if foul play occurs, a ritual is prepared that will heal any of her allies of injuries suffered through the interrupted match.
DMs Aside: Yes, you read it right, dear reader, I have set two groups of PCs up to fight each other. This is a tricky situation. There have been a few occasions where one characters has turned on another (usually some form of domination) but I have never played out an entire PvP battle before. In a way it was a risk as there is lots of tension in a battle, and it is possible for that to turn into annoyance or even resentment. Luckily none of that happened, an everyone had a great time with it, but it was a worry of mine beforehand. The telepathic message of the White Rose was the key to the two separate groups coming together, as they would be healed of injuries suffered together, and made allies as we shall soon read. Final thoughts on the experiment are that character vs character combat can be fun, but there are limits to how far it can go before fun turns into annoyance. I think that fun lasts until right about the bloodied level, possibly the knocked unconscious level, but never the coup de grace and loot the corpse level, at least for half those involved.
The first to act was quick Felipe who charged the center, where her clouds of boar-faced goring butterflies could do the most damage. Unfortunately for Felipe, the opponents were ready, and as she stumbled, they knocked her into the shifting quicksand in the center of the field. Restrained, immobilized, and chagrined, Felipe continued to fight from range until she could break free when the tables turned. Felipe took the center of the arena and stayed there until the very end.
The swordlock Hex attacked the elf avenger Poppy, and they traded blows on Poppys end of the field near the northwest brazier. Kindrock charged Thokk and the two massively built axe wielders held nothing back as they fought toe to toe. The wizard was next and she brought down the cold rays of moon magic on the heads of Felipe and Thokk, and the half orc howled in rage Thokk! as his sun burned skin peeled off and sheets of blood splashed into the sands of the Sabratha. The crowd erupted in cheers for Navarra, who felt the glory of the arena crowds for the first time.
Instantly the sands near the center of the arena erupted and two thorny brambles rose from the sand. They began rotating faster and faster until they tore free of the ground, and picking up sand, stones, and shards of obsidian, they flitted randomly across the field before exploding into an avalanche of blinding sands. Both Hex and Poppy were subjected to the first dust devils blinding attack. Only Poppys magic saved her, but Hex was blinded. Sharia attacked the dust devil nearest them. The other dust devil moved into the back ranks of the new arrivals, and both the wizardess Navarra and the halfling Kina were blinded by the wretched air spirits. Poppy saw her chance and slashed at her opponent and brought Hex to his knees in one final blow. Exaltation from the cheering crowds rained down glory upon her.
Almost as if some signal was given, the moment he falls, everyone on the arena floor hears a message from the White Rose. Proclaim yourselves and be healed, there is treachery… before her message is cut off by a scream from the stands. Looking over,the entire area is covered in a darkness deeper than mere shadows. A magical blackness has descended over the area. First one, then a second eladrin body goes flying onto the sands, slain.
Seconds later, the main gate slams open and in charges the templar Insadorous behind 4 of his men, the scourge wielding thugs. Near the pools of darkness that hangs over the area around the White Rose, 4 more of the Templars men leap down into the stands with their weapons drawn. The first is the dwarf chieftain. He has a red mowhawk, his beard is oiled into three long red spikes, and he wields a greatclub. Next to him leaps a mantis man, and then a half-dwarf mul, and a another thug wielding a length of chain with cruel barbs and spikes. In the stands a 5th thug could be seen strangling an eladrin bodyguard of the White Rose.
As Insadorous shouts out Put your weapons down and surrender! the darkness lifts, and the White Rose is nowhere to be seen. The gladiators on the field have each decided to work together, and proclaiming themselves for the revolutionary queen, every combatant is healed up to their first-bloodied level. Enemies instantly become allies as they see themselves surrounded by a greater evil. Now the real fight begins…
Afterword: The battle continues on for a surprise round and the first round of combat before we had to call it for time, so I will append any description of this battle against Insadorous and his thugs to next week. This week saw the addition of five new players to the game, bringing the number of characters to nine. It was incredibly fun to have nine players around my table, and I am so so glad, that after all the work and all the nervousness, and the preparation, and everything I went to wondering how to make sure that it was fun and awesome (which I really have to do every week so no big deal, but still…) after all that, Im just so glad my table was actually big enough to fit everyone.