Archive for May, 2010

Week 11, the penultimate encounter.

Overtime at work meant running late and rush-hour traffic – I sacrificed a few minutes for Starbucks, dinner. With little time to spare I made my down into Undermountain to find the table set up and waiting, along with the majority of players, including Jonathon Sloan with a brand new second level deva wizard. That was an auspicious beginning, as I feared no one would return after the beating they took last week. But once again I underestimated my players, they all made their fortitude saves and our table of 8 was present and ready for action.

Everyone also had 2nd level characters, which was great. I began by taking a quick inventory of healing surges. A few players were low on surges, while Shivra made a 2nd level return with a full supply – I made note of that for later. A few other tweaks were made to some of the PCs – Steve adjusted some of his battleminds feats (I think the avenger muticlass was a great choice) while Hax became Hex, a hybrid swordmage/warlock, or sword-lock.

The party formed up and went to the ladder. Then down. They formed up again at the bottom. We rolled initiative, but no monsters were apparent, so the PCs investigated. They decided to pull the ladder down and use it to go down into the ravine, which seemed like a fine idea. The monsters showed themselves as the ladder was lowered, and so battle commenced.

Let me just start off by saying that for whatever reason, the shadow-motes were useless this encounter, and neither damaged nor altered the battle in any way, other than to soak up a few secondary or burst affects, possibly one desultory dagger tossed by the assassin. However, there was a surprise in store for Shivra. What began as a drop of green on her shoulder guard soon started to sizzle and hiss. Within 6 seconds, Shivra was engulfed in green slime. Luckily, the assassin was able to teleport out of the engulfment, but was bloodied by the attack. Shaman John, as I call him, came to help and he was soon engulfed. The slime was able to bloody Shaman John before being cast off by a successful save. John soon bloodied the slime in retort, and with Shivra and Stilgar the rogues help, the slime was soon toast, or possibly pistachio pudding.

Down below, other than the motes, never spoken of again, the three main melee masters, Hex, Torak, and Kantash duked it out with three straight up soldier skeletons. These werent lumbering, clumsy skeletons, oh no, these skeletons hearkened back to earlier times when skeletons were done with stop-motion animation and had quickness of the dead. They wore sagging mail and carried rust-pitted but sharp long blades. Amongst them was a creature stitched together of slain foes and shrunken in necromantic darkmagic into this quick slashing undead, known as a witherling. It is known for its extremely long slashing claws and its ability to jump, as we shall soon see.

Across the ravine in the far shadows another skeleton revealed itself as it ignited into glaring fire – a blazing skeleton. It would raise its arms and gather flame into a ball before hurling it at the party, first at the wizard, then at the rogue. The flame would ignite the PCs causing further ongoing damage. This went on for a few rounds before some one, Hex I believe, finally climbed the far side and slew it.

Meanwhile above them on the ledge, the sorcerer and wizard stood side by side, unleashing deadly magic on their foes. Midge could barely announce “Zap” before throwing the dice and striking with her lightning bolt, whilst the mage launched magic missiles and shadow bolts. During one exchange, the witherling leapt and provoked an attack opportunity against the Shaman’s spirit companion in the charnel pit, which in turn granted a free basic attack to an ally. The wizard launched a bolt which would have missed due to the witherlings ability to defend itself against those it provokes, however, since the wizard was technically not the one provoked, the witherling lost its +5 bonus and was pegged in mid air PEW-PEW! Finally these arcane casters linked arms and flew across the ravine to land on the other side, now that is awesome magic. They also had the fortune of over-hearing Xeres and Fayne struggle, and the wizard Erranus retrieved the crown of the apprentice. We joked that one more step and he would enter the 12th encounter.

While the spellcasters were casting spells, a wild melee was taking place amongst the gory inhabitants of the charnel pit. The battlemind marked as many of the skeletons as he could, while Hex cursed and cast his aegis, teleporting at least once to make a free attack. The witherling leapt about, and tried to get to the ardent, recognizing it as a healer. He was largely unsuccessful, while Kantash was very successful in dealing out the damage with his swinging pole-arm, possibly a glaive-guisarme. or Bohemian ear spoon.

Stilgar entered the pit and picked his targets. He stepped up with a rattling attack against the skeletons which, if he successfully hit both, would do sneak attack damage to both. He hit both, slaying one and bringing the other within striking range. The sorceress was only happy to oblige, and with a zap, the last foe fell.

One more encounter awaits before the Dawn of Dark Sun.

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After spending the past 4 months intimately involved with this seminal Dungeons and Dragons 4E Introductory adventure, I have learned many things about 4e, and it has helped me to grow and become a better DM. With the exception of a handful “playtest” 4e sessions around X-mas time 2009, my group began our 4e campaign with Keep on the Shadowfell.

The adventure had been out for 18 months by this time, and I had heard many stories about the adventure, some good, some bad. It was invariably compared to the original dungeons and dragons basic set adventure Keep on the Borderlands. Some reviews skewered it for inconsistencies with the rules of 4e (it came out a few weeks before the core rulebooks) and for requiring to much “prep work” to fit it into workable shape. Indeed, a year after its release, Wizards of the Coast re-released it as a freely downloadable adventure, and updated much of it based on user feedback. I used an original store-bought version of the adventure, but I did print out specific encounters as they were updated in the online version.

We suffered few problems while playing through this adventure, and thoroughly enjoyed it.The adventure showcased much of what was new and exciting to the 4th Edition. We learned much in those first few weeks of play, and by the mid-point of the adventure I was champing at the bit to design my own encounters, as we’ll also see.

Sadly, this retrospective is especially necessary due to the fact that those first few weeks were not recounted in prose. Therefore this shall serve a dual purpose as a rettelling of those first few weeks of our adventures in 4e.

What came before

The campaign officially began on the second Friday in January. Prior to that, we had a few playtest sessions. Halloween themed 4E playtest of 1st Edition classic adventure The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, converted in a semi-improvisational manner. In November we played Dungeon Delve’s initial offering, but only made it through the first two encounters. twice I played a delve I had written High Noon on Ant Hill in December. The first time was for my son’s Star Wars RPG group of junior-high kids. We only experienced the first encounter, but it was great fun. The second Ant Hill was stretched over two nights and the final encounter resulted in the death of the party.

Between these Friday game night playtests, we were wrapping up our 3rd edition game. Or I should say I was becoming increasingly frustrated with our 18 month long campaign as the characters advanced to tenth level and beyond. A fresh break was needed, and while the Ant Hill fiasco soured many of the group on 4e, I was both confident, and just as important, invested in 4e. So after X-mas break, we started up the game. The players had been testing different character concepts over the past few months, and now they settled on a race and class and built characters over the break. The entire group used the Character Builder to create their characters, for which I have a subscription.

Aside: The Character Builder by WotC is an incredible resource, and almost reason in and of itself to switch over to 4th Edition. it is a breeze to use and practically eliminates much of the time consuming, confusing paper-work of character creation (at least until you get to the feat section, but thats another story.) This program also allows for easy updating of characters. Often, my players will arrive 10-15 minutes early to update their characters and reprint them before the game starts. The fact that all the math is done really helps speed up some of the slowness of combat at the table. Great program, and special thanks to Tim, one of the players in my game who offered to pay half the cost of a yearly subscription.

Kobolds are exciting little buggers

It started with a kiss
(Kobolds In Some Shrubs)

It started with a kobold ambush, an iconic low level trashy little mob of beasties attacking from hidden positions, the main twist being that it is an outdoor map, much to the delight of the elves and primal characters in the party. The battle was difficult for the party as they learned their skills, powers, and other abilities. The dragonshield Kobolds especially, with their high armor class and hit points were especially challenging, while the minions were an instant hit and were also pretty much instantly hit and killed. After months of practice games, this was the first real test for the party with characters who “mattered” so to speak, and I would categorize it as a success. The party was caught off guard by the toughness of their kobold opponents, but succeeded in killing hem without any serious injury.

The awesomeness of 4e monster design was really showcased here. Multiple kobolds of varying abilities – some incredibly hard to drop with their shields fabricated from a dragon scale, to the one-hit wonder minions. Multiple types of individual monsters in each broad category is a great way to design monsters, and I think, to keep selling future monster manuals. I hope to have 100 unique types of kobolds eventually.

After the fight, the party arrived at Winterhaven and sought out Douven, an elder of their guild. The party members were each new members of the Vanguard Society which was a loose affiliation of groups and establishments banded together in a guild for the purpose of carving civilization out of the dark age that the world of D’ Erte has fallen into. Reaping the treasures of a lost age was a major draw for the employment of adventurers.

These new members were sent far north from our previous stomping ground of Greater Shalazar, into the northernlands to meet with an elder member of the Society named Douven who happened upon a worrisome but mysterious discovery. Meeting his wife in the tenements that lined the heavy stout walls of Winterhaven, they learned he had been missing a week while scouting a supposed dragon’s burial mound he had discovered. Meeting the town’s Lord Padrag, they spoke of the kobold infestation and he offered them gold to rid Winterhaven of the pests.

The party spent the night in the inn and the next session saw them in town preparing to leave. They decided they would investigate the burial ground first, then head over to the kobold lair, which they were told lies somewhere to the south-east. They meet two elves who live in the town, Delphina the moon-eyed elf who spends her days picking flowers and forest herbs in the surrounding woods, and Ninaren the mysterious scowling elf, who speaks little.

Following the king’s road out of town, they soon tun onto a side trail to the south and are once again ambushed by kobolds. One of them shouting “You killed my brother!” before attacking. More dragonshields and a wyrmpriest. A legendary joke came out of the beginning of this battle. We had a guest player who was playing a human wizard named Mad Martigan. This person was new to the game, and was worried, but another player assured him that he would protect him. So as they were talking Tim said “I will protect the wizard,” and placed his miniature at the rear of the party, just behind the wizard. Just then I announced their surprise by the kobolds. After the wyrmpriest attacked, it was Tim’s turn to go first, who promptly announced “I am going to stop protecting the wizard now” in order to run after the wyrmpriest.

The kobolds were dispatched with alacrity.

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Farewell dear comrade we hardly knew ye

You’ve been reduced to difficult terrain.

Its hard to say, and Im sure even harder to hear, but sometimes our heroes fall. Such was the case this week 10 of DnD Encounters, for one unlucky adventurer, but I should start at the beginning…

Special Note: If you are playing at my table, please feel free to bring 2nd level characters to week 11 and 12. Even if you havent technically scored the correct amount of XP, the climax of the adventure is written for 2nd level characters, and anyway, you’ve all earned it, especially after this encounter.

Even Specialler note:
If you come with a first level character I will make you level him up at the table while we play! By hand!! With books!!! And I dont use exclamation points lightly.

The night began with our same 8 players and characters from the week before. We jumped right in with little delay, while around us 2 other tables-full were getting down to business. By this time, we are all hardened veterans, grognards of the DnD Encounters. Hearing the fading voice of Fayne crying to be saved (again) the party did a quick hurry up and rest. I said they were able to get it down to 2-1/2 minutes, heh, I should have had it a skill challenge – ok the sorceress is binding wounds while the rogue loots the bodies, the ranger is searching for secret doors as Fayne’s voice echoes of the chamber walls. Ok make your rolls people… great job, youre down to 2-1/2 minutes. Like a pit crew of a nascar racer these pros have the “five minute rest” down to a science. If only…

As usual, the encounter began, prior to initiative, with the battleminds wild dash into the room. I love that move. There is no indecision there, he flies into the room as far as he can go in a wild blind rush. its awesome. This room was dimly lit with weird psychedelic lights, making the evil mushroom men concealed until he came within a square of them, so his mad dash was re-directed to the left by a rotpriest rising up to block his initial line right down the center. Then practically all of the myconids went, due to some very bad initiatives on the PCs part.

The enemy this encounter was made up of myconids, a type of sentient mushroom creature. There were three types, the rotpriest who wielded a big damn staff, the guard who had spikey fists, and these non intelligent floating gasbag minions who won initiative.  They were hovering globes with vines trailing, exuding an acidic sweat. Two of them moved to block the doorway. The first gasbag quickly exploded, damaging most of the party. Then the main fighters, Hax, Stilgar, and Rossik all endured attacks as they rushed past the other blocking gasbag. Hax attacked the first of 3 rotpriests, who cunningly was able to absorb the damage of his blow, and redirect it through pulsating roots across the floor, and up the vines of another gasbag near the door, exploding him to great poisonous affect. Soon the last gasbag exploded, but they had done their jobs well, and everyone was whittled down in HPs at least a bit.

The ability of the myconids to redirect half of the damage they take to nearby allies completely changed the tactics of the party.  No longer were they able to count on focus fire taking enemies down one by one, because the myconids spread the love amongst them.  This increased the difficulty of the encounter, and coupled with the burst attacks in the small room which also increased the danger level, the encounter quickly became worrisome, as more than one player began to contemplate the risk of a TPK: Total Party Kill.  I too was worried about this, and you can read my DM wrap up at the end to see how I handled this risk.

Then 2 of the 3 rotpriest used their pacifying attack, which I described as being like the floating seedling things of Avatar, who caused one to become a bit out of it for a few minutes. This power caused much anger and gnashing of teeth to many players, as it caused them to lose precious time. This attack caused a strange divide to the game, as round 2 became strangely peaceful, but then when 3 came around, it was back to business.

The room was very small and cluttered, and there were many burst affects. It created a need for special tactics. The ranger was caught in a crossfire with his back against the wall. he soon fell, but miraculously rolled a natural 20 on his save. I have a houserule that in addition to immediately spending a healing surge, a PC can also leap to his feet as a free action. Because, what is cooler than that? Rossik was dropped 4 times this fight and twice TWICE he rolled a natural 20 to leap back to his feet.

Meanwhile the mushroom men continued to attack. Once the pacifying spores were spent, the rotpriests had two at-will attacks to choose from, the first was the big whopping 2-by-4 they carried. The second was a decomposing spray burst that I liked to call emerald showers. These attacks were decimating the party, and almost everyone went down at one point or another, except for Hax, Tordak, and the Shardmind. A myconid guard had somehow gotten through the doorway and was pummeling poor Midget with his thick spiked fists. She was reduced to zero and dropped, then he stepped forward to engage the shardmind, who kept retreating one shift at a time until eventually I joked we would be back in last weeks encounter.

Stilgar and Hax were on the right side of the room, fighting off a guard and rotpriest. They got Stilgar between them and knocked him out. On the left, the battlemind turned from the rotpriest he was attacking and chased the guard into the hallway, the rotpriest raining emerald showers down on them, knocking out the ranger for the 4th time. This rotpriest also knocked out the ardent. The battle was looking grim, with 3 characters down.

The turns moved faster as the PCs dropped. This time the ranger did not spring up, and it was soon the rotpriests turn again, who sprayed necrotizing emerald showers upon all, and the other rotpriest also sprayed, and the room was awash in emerald showers. The rogue dropped, now 4 characters were down, not to mention we had been playing 2-1/2 hours. Rossik was also caught in the radius of that decomposing spray, and he suffered for it even though he was unconcious. He was hit and hit again, and slowly, sadly, Rossik passed beyond his negative bloodied value, pissed to death by mushroom men. Silence fell across the table. Desperation set in.

I remember seeing the sorceress turn come up, and the worried discussion about which direction she should slide her targets. There was a nervousness in the air. I have to congratulate the player, Sloan, on handling the whole matter of character death well. It was stressful, and having been unconcious so much, he had very little actual combat action this encounter. This was not a fight well suited for an archer specced ranger. He suffered opportunity attacks and a definite restriction in his movement. Being stuck against the back wall, hemmed in, and subject to close bursts, the outcome was inevitable. I must say, the attempt was valiant, and Sloan won the moment of greatness award for the night, for his many recoveries on the battlefield, each one more amazing than the last, until the last. Rossik was a great character, and part of me hopes Sloan chooses to resurrect the fellow for next week, he deserves another chance.

The shardmind and the battlemind dealt with the guard on the bridge, while the shaman and swordmage finished off the guard and rotpriest. Meanwhile 3 unconscious characters made their death saves. They survived, but the ardent was one strike away, by the time the last myconid was stalk chopped and cap split. It was a long intense, and complicated battle, but I think the victory was well deserved. It was rough.  For me, as DM, it was one of the more interesting combats of the season, and I had more fun than I have in a long time.  Each week I have scads of fun, and I hope the players do too, but this week, I had a group of enemies with which I was really able to challenge the PCs like never before, and there were many rounds where the balance was clearly favoring the myconids with victory.  I only hope the players had as much fun, because I could tell that the complicated nature of the combat, the long time we had to play – almost 3 hours, the death of Rossik, and the peril all the other PCs were in could make it a real hard battle to love.

DM Aside: I went into this fight assuming I would have 8 players.  So I prepared by adding 3 creatures – this time I added one each rotpriest, guard, and gasbag.  Once the battle started, I realized the encounter was now-over-powered due to mistakes in the adventure – it is statted out for 6 pcs, not 5.  This led me to eventually scrap the green slime completely.  At first I was disappointed, since I wanted to use the slime, but in the end I think it worked out even better, because the battle became focused against the myconids, a solid enemy with great synergy.  The green slime would have added an unpredictability to the combat which would have made things even more complicated than they already were.

On the other hand, oh how I want to drop a slime on some one.  I am evil, that way.

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Bats cracking into charcoal and beholder being a blasted blob, the party paused to catch their breath. In burst the town elder, Hesta the Half Elf, in her night gown and heavy woolen cloak. She looks around and fastens her eyes on the elf Poppy. What happened here? she asked, suspicious of foul play. Seconds later comes a shout from outside the tavern. “The barn’s afire!”

So began a two-part skill challenge: Save the barn and Investigate the attack. They could be done concurrently or one after the other. The party decided to focus on saving the burning barn before dealing with the cause of the beholder attack. For the skill challenge we used the method of going around the room one by one and saying what they do and which skill they use.

Aside: I have issues with the way skills are done in 4e. There is usually a big difference between trained and untrained skill points, especially with attribute-optimized characters. The difference is large enough that most players will never attempt a skill that is outside their trained list. i have implemented two things to combat this. The first is that if the PC really wants to use a different skill than the situation or the dm is calling for, then I will suggest making two rolls. The first roll is the skill of their choice, and a success with this roll will provide a bonus to the next roll, the roll that the situation or dm calls for. A example of this would be trying to detect whether some one was telling the truth using perception rather than insight. I will let the PC make a perception check at a moderate level, and a success might garner a bonus (+2 or more) for the insight check to follow. This ties in with the second way of helping the skill system, and that is if a player wants to use a skill for which they are untrained, then they can look around for situational modifiers to boost their rolls. For example, if a PC with Hedge wizard gloves but untrained in arcana is attempting an arcana check, they might use their mage hand to add a bonus to the roll, if they can think of a creative way in which an extra magic hand could aid success. In some ways one could look at it in this way: a trained skill PC already takes into account all situational modifiers to their maximum potential, thus the higher bonus, but an untrained PC might be able to pick some or all of these bonuses up through usage of other skills or through good ideas.

Now then, in the first skill challenge, the system worked flawlessly. It was soon evident that the barn could not be saved, so the pc’s centered their actions around saving the various mounts and animals – 20 horses, 4 yaks, and their 2 mules and wagon. The flames were centered on the Bronzebottom brothers merchant wagon, and the loft above had already started to light. the elf Poppy unlocked all the gates while the bristling shifter druid Felipe roused the animals to flee. Meanwhile he two barbarians stalked among the crowd of gathering villagers, inciting them to action. The other elf managed to pull a single iron-bound trunk out of the inferno that was the dwarven merchant wagon. The burning barn skill challenge was a success: the animals and their wagon were rescued. the rest of the animals, including the dwarven yaks, and the rescued dwarven chest were also part of the success.

However, the problem arose when the party, fresh from their victory in the barn, were treated by the suspicious villagers as outsiders who brought the ruin with them. This problem was exacerbated by a few factors, including a critical failure intimidate check during the barn challenge – which I described as the half orc barbarian roaring at a frail old man to pick up buckets and start heaving until he had a heart attack and died on the spot. This seemingly innocuous flavor text, which I thought was hilarious at the time, turned out to cause some bad feelings among some players. A second intimidate by the same half orc was met with automatic failure during the second challenge, and a second villager death was clearly not funny the second time around. Then, when the elf ranger failed a diplomacy check while asking the town elder about the druid enclave nearby, it provoked feeling of more anger amongst the crowd, as they saw the party trying to shift blame. One bright note in the challenge is that Tara saved the Bronzebottom strong box of gold, thus the dwarves at least were appreciative of the efforts of the party. They opted to remain behind in Hommlet to study their opions (and apparently go on a long term drinking binge.)

Meanwhile, other characters were making progress on the Investigate the attack challenge. Poppy rolled a natural 20 on her check for tracks, and discovered two sets of humanoid-sized crows feet walking from the barn to the front door of the welcome Wench, and around the corner of the inn. A pair of booed feet walked amongst them. They led into a field behind the inn and stopped at a burned circle about 15 feet in diameter in the farmers field. It was determined to be a teleportation circle, used twice recently. Felipe discovered that while both their wagon and the merchant wagon were searched prior to being set ablaze, it was strange that their pathetic slave wagon should be the object of any scrutiny, especially since it was virtually empty, other than a few horse blankets and coils of rope. The party abandoned the challenge and left Hommlet to camp as far away as they could ride.

Aside: This encounter led to some drama during the game that detracted from the fun. It all came down to the way the villagers reacted towards the party. It was argued they should have been better disposed towards the party, especially since they defended the town against the recent beholder attack and saved the steeds from the barn. It is a good argument, to be weighed against the natural suspicion to outsiders the villagers have as well as the failed skill checks, letting the rolls count as it were. Perhaps through the parties good deeds they should have been given some bonuses to the social skill checks, I can totally see an argument made for that. It is important to remember the main purpose of playing this or any game is to have fun, and if anything is detrctin from that, then adjustments need to be made, the sooner the better. As dm, it is my duty to oversee the fun. I am the Fun Master, the FM as well as dm.On the other hand, sometimes failures happen, they make success all the sweeter, but it is my duty to make sure even failure turns to fun. But however it went, it led to a distinct lessening of fun, that could only be saved by a surprise attack of trolls from under a bridge.

What else, eh?

The next day saw the party on their way to Fallcrest, with Felipe scouing ffty feet or so ahead of the wagon. She crossed a small stone bridge of ancient dwarf craft and while she was at one end and the wagon just toipping the rise at the other end, 3 trolls gripped the sides with their long arms and leapt up. Her perception prevented the trolls, expert at ambushing from under bridges, from gaining a surprise round. We went to initiative.

With Felipe out front, she was assailed by two of the behemoths, while a hird one climbed up from he opposite end of the bridge near the wagon and adjacent to Thokk. In a twist from the previous encounter, the trolls were suscepible to fire, thus the party was quite adept at keeping them from regenerating, thanks to nature checks from Tara and Poppy to discover this legendary weakness of the beasts. evwertheless, they were able to dish out some serious damage, these 3 cave trolls. On a successful atack a PC was grabbed, first Felipe, then Thokk. Felipe broke free the first ime, bu Thokk kept hacking away with his devestating axe and ignored the fact that he was grabbed. At least until the troll’s turn came around again, at which poit, Thokk was used as a weapon to batter Tara, damaging the both of them.

Tara had her lion Glimmer out to help with flanking, and she attacked with her flickering quick-striking blades. At some point she jeered at the troll, provoking him to shift targets from the barbarian, then as an immediate interrupt did some big damage to the troll. On top of the wagon stood Poppy calmly firing here elemental arrows at the trolls, one by one setting them alight. Felipe followed with various firehawks and fireseeds. and in short order the first two trolls had fallen, leaving only the blue troll left. He was not even bloodied, but seeing his comrades fall, he decided o grab for Felipe and run for it. Unfortunately Felipe was having none of that ad stopped him cold, so he stood and fought to his grim death. It was a short but sweet battle that left the trolls slain and the party with little more than a scratch or two. With wide eyes and grasping hands they peered under the bridge to find what loot they might. Alas it was 10 pm, the loot would have to wait for next session.

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The midwest spring is a season of unreliable and often drastic weather. This Wednesday brought with it a day full of sudden and cold thunder and lightning storms, between which the temperature and humidity would rise to steamy levels. I was lucky enough to miss any bad weather before the Encounters, but on my drive home afterward I was caught in a downpour becoming a deluge the likes of which I have never experienced, nor hope too, again. It began as a rising crescendo of sheets of rain making max wipers and hi-beams all but ineffective, but I was close to home and I really didnt want my car damaged by hail, a likely occurrence since some of the “raindrops” striking my windshield seemed to be bouncing off. The almost constant lightning flashes allowed me to catch glimpses of the road ahead. But everything looked purplish-gray and it was hard to tell the road from not the road. Going up the final hill near my house, I crossed a side-street that had become literally a fast flowing river. Going about 30 mph, I hit this wall of water that seemed like it must have been 4 feet high, as it crashed over my windshield.

Within a second of hitting the wall of water I had come to a stop, and even seemed to slide a few inches to the side. It felt like water was pushing the car. Somehow the engine was still running, so I gunned it and my awesome little kubelversa* bucked forward and I swear it sort of hopped up and out of the water and then I was flying up the hill and these huge plumes of water were flying on either side of my car. I gained the top of the hill and was out of the water and my car shook itself off and within a minute or two I was home, but wow, that was a drive I will likely never forget. In my nightmares.

Ok I had to get that out of my system, but now we have a game to play.

*I call my Nissan Versa the Kubelversa because it reminds me of the german ww2 Kubelvagen.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
When the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger

Week 9 begins the final countdown to the finale of the adventure, with only four encounters left. The party is well rested and ready to adventure. Four of the characters have attained 2nd level – Hax, Kantash, Torak, Stilgar – and a 5th, the Midge, would by the end of the night. The thunderheads gathered and loomed, but safely ensconced in our tornado shelter-like play area, we were oblivious to he wailings of mother nature above. It would be a banner night, with a very full table of 8 players. I have what I consider to be 10 regular players to my game, though I have never had all 10 at once (that would be awesome.) People complain about large groups, but for some reason I rather enjoy larger groups. It is important to keep the game lively and full of energy, and I really owe it to a fantastic set of players that are full of energy and pizazz. In fact, the whole store radiates energy while we play and it is very upliftingin a weird sort of way.

So absent the dragonborne and deva, our party was made up of the 5 mentioned above as well as the shardmind mindshard named Shard, the human shaman John with his fire eagle spirit companion, and the elven Ranger Rossik. The party descended the stairs…

…Into darkness. Suddenly the stairs open into a vista of an underground cavern. A bridge leads over to a nearby dwarven tower of ancient construction. Beyond it numerous waterfalls cascade down into oblivion. As they make their way onto the tower, a teleportal springs to electric blue life and out pops… Fayne!

“Hey guys. Glad to see you made it,” or something to that effect. She was chipper and oblivious, “oh, I guess you must have disabled the the wards, tee-hee.” I’m, sorry, she may have been given some bad-ass stats at the beginning of this module, but so far this chick has dropped to her knees with every tap to the back of her head. She is always falling for the wrong guy, then getting knocked about, out, and up, and the party rushes in to save her. I hope she’s worth it, guys. tonight, just after a quick question and answer session, she was dropped by her own devilish brother, Xeres, who stepped out of the portal with his closest cronies. These cronies included 3 elven scouts, two drakes, and a… a… a beolder?! Oh my yes, the infamously unfamous beholder RUNT.

Was there ever a sorrier beholder to behold? Bloated, misshapen, wracked with eternal anguish, this small monstrosity (I’m sorry, did you say small? As in this is a small creature? I have a frakking beholder miniature, large, that gathers dust 99 encounters of 100 and I have a frakkin BEHOLDER encounter, and I have to use a random small R4 unit? No sir, I will be adjusting this encounter to use a Large Bloated beholder, thank you very much.) This bloated, floating ball of pain had a jaundiced eye and slavering jaws.

In one swift moves Xeres rushes forward, grabs the swooning Faye, and teleports to the far end of the visible area, at the end of a bridge leading into a second dwarven tower. Then it was up to the party to fight off his motley band of cronies, the truest and deadliest would end up being the elven scouts with their flickering, rending blades. These fellas are excellent opponents and the PCs were ofte surprised at the amount of damage they could dish out, often nearing 20 points per snicker-snack. They stood together for the duration of the battle, and were chopped down in noble confrontation.

To the other side of the portal were the guard drakes. I described them as doberman lizards. And behind them floated the large beholder. The battlemind, always the first forward, wound up between the drakes, where he spent most of the battle hacking at them as they lashed at him with their claws n fangs. The swordmage charged ino the elves and did some multi attacks to grea effect, before becoming the object of the beholder’s jaundiced eye. The beholderthen shot him with an eye ray, and finally charged Hax, spending its action point on round one, and then hovered over the swordmage chomping him with his fangs for the remainder of the battle.

The beholder was the forcus of everyone’s fire, and he did not live to see a round two. He did ave a pair of explosions over the course of the next round which caught may within its blast radius, Hax especially, who was coevered in the behoder’s gore as it exploded upon its demise. I joked that he exploded like a pinata of candy and that everyone should rush forward in hopes of catching some. The party, salty veterans by now, did not fall for my ploy.

The party spent its turn, and many of the PCs strongest resources to bring the beholder down quickly, and it left the elves and drakes free reign to maul the party, and maul them they did. The ardent was dropped to -7 by an elven attack, and the sword mage spent most of the battle bloodied. One of the elves arrogantly stepped up and slew the spirit companion, shocking both me and the shaman I think. I didnt realize i would do damage to the shaman, so I was mildly surprised, and I must admit, pleased by the outcome. The shaman, John, went on to do great deeds during the battle, and in fact won the Greatness award of the night, good going Jake! Sorry about killing the eagle I was just rying to “play it straight” by spending an attack on something nearly impervious, or so I thought, heh.

The sorceress used her wild lightning powers, and was the PC who first bloodied the beholder, though she was safe from the blast that interrupted her turn. Stilgar fought alongside Hax on the front lines against the elves, and he too was bloodied. Soon the shardmind started dropping bursts of crystal death on the enemy, while the ranger rained his twin strike across he battlefield.

With the beholder exploded, the party took on the last of their enemies with gusto. Healing was served by our leaders, Kantash, ad then John the Shaman once Kantash fell. They were victorious in the end, through their teamwork ad synergy that comes with experience. With victory come the spoils, and they received two items, a level 4 gloves, and level 3 to be determined. ese went to the Shardmind, and the rogue traded his cloak toi the ranger for the gloves, ding!

From the distant tower come the wails of a distant wanton waif “Save me, party of intrepid adventurers! You’re my only hope!” Oh, what will they do? After a five minute rest of course.

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Part One, of history and things to come

For real? Oh yes.

I have to admit I’ve never used a beholder before in battle in all my years dming. They were simply too powerful and risky to use. The eye rays had multiple way to insta-kill the PCs and none of them were fun to watch, to inflict, or I imagine, to have beloved characters disintegrated or turned to stone. Beholders were more mythical, either legend, rumored, or somehow kept indirect and in the shadows of the campaigns. Besides which, most of my campaigns never reached a level where a group of PCs had any hope against the full might of a Beholder Eye Tyrant.

Luckily for us, with 4e came a design change away from instant random events more towards skill and tactics which is one of the reasons I love it so. No longer will a medusa’s stare instantly slay the character a player has spent months or years working on with the roll of a single die. The 4e medusa offers 3 chances to save each with a 50/50 or better odds. Big change, and as the medusa goes,so goes the beholder. His eye stalks were still devastating, as we shall soon see, but none of them instantly killed the joy of any players. And what is even better is the Beholder Gauth featured in the Monster Manual 2, a level 5 elite. Perfectly suitable for a party of level 4 characters, about to turn 5. In fact, his will be the encounter that puts them over to 5th level.

DM Aside: Level 5 Beholder Gauth was actually a medium size creature, and my miniature was large, so… I ended up customizing the creature to Large Beholder Gauth a level 7 elite. Thiese added levels also gave him increased hit points which allowed him to last a bit longer. With the 2 fire bats, this made the encounter “challenging” but not “hard,” and as the PCs would be at full power, I wasnt worried about over-powering the encounter. In fact just the opposite – I worried that I needed 3 fire bats. Heh heh, not necessary…

The party stood in the smoking ruin of their deeds, their foes slain and the evil machinations thwarted. The ghost of the keep’s last commander, Sir Keegan, came to them and congratulated them for closing the rift. They then counted their loot and left the dungeon. The loot they received was thusly:

Gorilla Gloves
Predator’s Hide +2
Charm Bracelet
Horned Helm
Elven Cloak +2
Firestorm Arrow +2
Freezing Arrow +2
Spiderbolt +2
986 gp

Total 525 gp per PC to date.

They also retrieved the spirit dagger, which they would soon discover was not intended as a combat weapon, but was for ritual magic. Hoping to revive Delphina, they went to her cabin first, and found the forester still watching by her side as she slept. They then returned to town and a band was playing, actually the Bronzebottom Brothers on drums and brass horns, and they were celebrated as “Heroes of Winerhaven.” They were honored guests at a feast given by Lord Padraig, and afterwards the party split up – half went to Valthrun the sage, while Poppy and Thokk had more business with Lord Padraig, pertaining to a certain message from Keegan.

When Poppy delivered Keegan’s message, that the Keep should be rebuilt, Padraig responded that he would love to rebuild the keep, but that his was a poor village – however, he would sell them the keep and lands there-abouts for a low price of 1,000 gold if they agreed to rebuild the tower and maintain the lands surrounding. They would even be knighted as lords of the realm, upon completion of the tower. Its lands should extend for as far as the eye can see from the top of the tower. Poppy and Thokk put their money together, and Thokk intimidated the old lord down to 900 gold and a tax of 100 gold per year.

Meanwhile, Valthrun studied the dagger and discovered the blade to be of dwarven manufacture – made in the magma forges beneath the ancient dwarven city of Forge Helm, now called the Damned Mansions. He then briefly described the history of fated Forge Helm.

The dwarves woke beneath the Dawnforge mountains and spent many millenia digging their way up to the surface, creating great mansions and wondrous caverns and mines along the way. They emerged under the skies of D’ Erte from the mighty peak of known as Forge Helm, and this mountain fastness became the greatest and only citadel of the dwarves, all other dwarven dwellings were mere colonies to great Forge Helm. From the depths of the magma seas to the hollowed mountain of Forge Helm, the dwarven nation spanned vast expanses.

The city fell when Moradin and Gruumsh fought during the great war of a century ago. The orcs had a host of unprecedented size, with alliances between goblins, kobolds, ogres and even teh giants, they broke through the defenses of Forge Helm and the armies fought in the carved tunnels of the dwarves. Bitter was the fighting, great were the losses, until finally the dwarves and orcs called upon their deities for aid. Moradin and Gruumsh grappled in Forge Helm, using the vast Central Court as their battlefield. Three times Moradin threw Gruumsh down, shattering age old buidlings as he rolled across the city.

Each time Moradin would bellow laughter and signal for Gruumsh to rise and try again. The final time, Gruumsh feigned to rise, but instead grabbed his black spear Cruex and stabbed it into the tiled boulevards of Forge Helm, breaking the city in two and driving the shaft down, down all the way to the magma pits. The eruption of lava and flame destroyed every living creature in the citadel and left it a smoking ruin.

The few survivors of the dwarves retreated north to defend the resting places of their fathers and miraculously held out until the war ended and the orcs retreated. They named this citadel Hammerfast, and it was across the Nentir Vale, a fortnight’s ride from Winterhaven.

The other unusual thing about the Spirit Knife is that the divine magic which imbues the blade is of Eladrin origin. Valthrun suggests heading to Hammerfast to discover who forged the blade, and how to release the trapped spirits within. So saying, the party returns to the tavern and they discuss riding together towards Fallcrest along the King’s Road. The Bronzebottom Brothers agree that they would be willing to go to to Fallcrest with the party as escort, but only if the party has mounts to keep up with the Dwarves hardy mountain-yaks. (They can also provide milk or meat as a minor action.)

Felipe handles the procurement of their mounts. She successfully retrieves the Hobgoblin slaver’s wagon, complete with iron slave cage, and buys two sturdy mules to pull it. With that done, the party retires to their room at Madame Gilroy’s for the night. When dawn arrives they will set out to Fall Crest.

Also many healing potions were bought: 6 for Tara, 2 for Thokk, 2 for Poppy, 2 for Felipe, and 2 for Mad Molly. Additionally, the Bronzebottom Brothers sold Molly a stick of magic chalk, and 3 magic nails to Tara.

Part two, the Beholder

For real for real? Oh yes, indeed.

The city of Fallcrest, capital of the Nentir Vale, was three days by wagon caravan. On the second night they stopped at the Welcome Wench in the unwalled village of Hommlett.

Spending the evening at the Welcome Wench, they talked amongst the patrons and tried o gather information. Felipe spoke with Elmo and learned that he was paid to report traffic on the king’s road to a certain noble of the region. Tara spoke to the innkeeper but learned little. AS she once ran a tavern, she helped out all the way until midnight’s closing up of shop.

The Bronzebottom Brothers were passed out drunk in the kitchen, and rumours of bandits were the only news of importance in the inn. All except Tara retreated to their upstairs bedroom. At midnight, Poppy, Molly, and Felipe all made perception checks (DC 30) to hear sounds of a scuffle, and some kind of muffled monster’s roar. They had a movement action before rolling initiative. Meanwhile Tara saw the front doors burst open and a great mass covered by a black sheet entered the Welcome Wench. The sheet was pulled off as to fiery bats swooped through the gaping door.

Tara swings from the beholder by the hilt of the Spirit Knife as Thokk looks on immobilized.

The beholder entered the room and immediately burnt three villagers to a crisp. Two bats entered behind him.one swooping left, the other right down the center. Poppy fired an arrow, drawing first blood on the beholder. Then she placed her spirit companion Vulpex next to him. Next to go was Thokk who charged all the way across the inn to attack the beholder.

The beholder then turned his eye on Thokk, immobilizing him, then gashing him with his long fangs, before moving off, raising twenty feet into the air. Thokk and the vulpex both attacked as the beholder moved past. Felipe moved downstairs, but fired her crossbow from a distance, fearing that her fiery powers would do no good.

One of the fire bats swooped and attacked Thokk, setting him afire. The other bat had streaked across the room and now swooped down, getting Poppy, Stella, and Molly in a single swoop as they stood lined up along the railing. This bat continued to swoop down getting one or two PCs in each attack. This could have one very badly for Sella, but she kept being missed. Poppy and Molly, however, each suffered some severe burning. Molly fired magic missiles into the beholder while trying to avoid the worst of the fire bat.

Tara went next. Having the spirit knife in hand, she ran across the inn, up the stairs, and leapt onto the beholder, stabbing the spirit knife into it for minimal damage. The ranger then hung from the beholder. The beholder retaliated by turning a telekinetic eye-stalk on Tara, pushing her 3 squares to fall to the floor. Then it fired its fire-ray, engulfing Tara in flames, and finally with a rolling of its central eye, it immobilized Tara.

Thokk and Tara launched missiles at it while the beholder turned its attention on Felipe. Poppy made a wild dash across the room to save Thokk from the firebat who dropped him to zero. Poppy poured a healing potion down his throat and then fought off the firebat that now accosted them both. Eventually Thokk would drink another potion, and both of them would spend their second winds.

The party focused their fire on the beholder, and he was no match. Bloodied by their attacks, he sought to immobilize the PCs and destroy them with his eyestalks, but the PCs split up and attacked him from all sides. Finally Thokk slew the ghastly beast and the battle turned to the firebats.

Wounded and suffering, the battle was far from over. The bats continued to swoop, setting the PCs on fire with each successful attack. By the end of combat practically everyone was bloodied, though Thokk was the only one to drop below zero. On the other hand, rarely does a battle pass without Thokk taking a short nap at some point during the melee.

The battle ended, and the survivors began poking their heads out of the burning cinders. In the aftermath of the battle was much fire damage to the tavern, and many concerned and angry questions.

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A Slaughterhouse of Undead Necrotic Evil

Rotting necrotic shadow death fell magic - and zombies!

Tonight our doughty adventurers faced a veritable army of undead, arrayed in militaristic might. To the rear were the heavy hitters, the corruption corpses hurling gobs of rotting necrottting goo. In the middle were the wraiths, insubstantial and dangerous. Zombies held one flank and in the center was the dark shadow, beckoning, then promptly vanishing and only his deadly death-magic betrayed his presence.

The party of adventurers gathered into marching order in the hallway. In the lead, as usual, were the two insane brawlers, Hax and Torak. Hax and Torak have literally hax’d and torak’d their way through every encounter with wild abandon. Before the fight even began Torak would zoom his maximum range into the thick of it as some kind of battle-mania I guess, since he sometimes literally danced his enemies to death. And Hax used his powers like an executioner, methodically slicing and dicing his enemies as he waded through them, hip deep in blood and gore.

Next in line we have the ardent, who in all ways is the spirit of the group. Ardents inspire others to greatness, which Kantash can do with his healing and his pole-arm waving about. His moment of greatness came that time he hit an enemy, we still talk about it today. Beside him stands the archer, the elven ranger who may or may not be named Stu. And lurking in the shadows behind him is Stilgar the brutal rattling rogue. He thumps his enemies with a mace to great effect. And two newcomers stride forth from the shadows cast by some large odd looking crystals. In fact one of them is a crystal, the Shardmind Psion Ishunu joined the group (replacing Shivra) along with his ally, a new incarnation of the eternal champion githzerai monk Kalla.

The party was surprised at first, thinking that the zombies had to be minions, but they were tougher than expected. Then the main bad disappeared and let his necrotic aura do its trick as many of the players took damage from him that first round. But unfortunately, the rogue bumped into him, and he had no choice but to swipe out with an opportunity attack, thus revealing his position. He, who was meant to be the nuclear bomb that slew half the battle suddenly became an exposed weakling with half the initiative order left to pound into him. Needless to say he did not survive to take his turn in the second round, as the elven ranger used his daily power and missed but then used elven accuracy to roll a naturally 20 which dealt around 41 points of damage. His insubstantiality did not save him from that massive attack, what kind of arrows does that elf shoot? Maybe he ties sticks of dynamite around Dukes of Hazzard style.

The zombies were tough, but easy to hit, and Torak and the monk battled with them around the stairwell. Eventually the monk knocked one into the stairwell, killing it, but it severely damaged another zombie on the way down. At least two of the zombies were slain by critical hits.

The swordmage charged across the room to engage the wraiths, and slew one, only to find they were minions, and he was now in the debilitating aura of the corruption corpse. He used his aegis to good affect, and teleported multiple times throughout the encounter. Meanwhile the shardmind let loose a ranged burst to slay a wraith and damage some zombies. The wraiths retaliated by sending one through the party to the back lines to attack the psion and fail miserably. It did force the psion to move, though.

The spectre’s head was exploded by the ranger, but the corruption corpses were the real threat now. Zombies were falling right and left, the wraiths were history, and then one of the corpses blew up, damaging everyone, and soon after, the other one left his last mark on a party dazed, but intact.

It was 3 rounds (maybe 4) of intense undead action. Limbs flew, auras crippled, damaged, and slowed, but the PCs fought through it with great success. 4 of the characters gained a level: Stilgar the rogue, Kantash the Ardent, Hax the swordmage, and Torak the battlemind. These 4 earned every one of their 1,000+ experience points with grit and determination. They all have scars from the battles they have survived. But tonight it took teamwork and all 7 of them working together, so lets give a nod to the 270 experience points earned tonight by Ishunu the shardmind psion, Kalla to the monk, and the Elf Ranger.

The characters earned an extended rest, perhaps to compensate for the lack of treasure. Is there treasure inn the room? No, you searched it already. What about on the enemies? No, you searched THEM already too!

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