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Archive for December, 2010

Retro Holiday Image

Set snugly between Christmas and New Years, Wednesday Week 15 of Encounters Keep on the Borderland provided a great chance to hack and slay with a party of 5. Knight, slayer, cleric and 2 mages stormed a tunnel entrance, surprising the lackadaisical lizard man guards. They were hot on the trail of their betrayer, but fearful of the pair of dragons said to lurk therein. The party was soon embroiled in a tense fight for survival, but pulled through without casualty.

The encounter began with wrapping up the questioning of a lizard man captive from last session, whose fate shall remain a mystery, but before he met it, the lizard man divulged the general layout of the entrance, and so allowed the party a chance to sneak up and gain a surprise round. The lizard mans last words to the party were to watch out for Bruiser. They soon learned the meaning of those words as they rounded a corner to spy a clearing ahead. An old stone foundation lay crumbling with some stone walls and a raised dais with a wide set of steps leading up to a dark hole into the underworld. Standing atop the stone platform was the biggest, fattest lizard brute they had ever seen. He was ripplingly disgusting brute who wielded a dead tree shorn of branches as his makeshift club. He stood head and shoulders above any of them, and was twice as wide as the dwarf. On a rock near the edge of the woods a lizardman lay on his back,his yellow belly exposed to the weather. Another lizard man lurked through the trees nearby.

The party sneaked to the edge of the forest and launched a surprise assault. Two magic missiles led the attack, eah silvery arrow streaking towards a lizard man guard. The knight and cleric each charged the same two, and each of them fell prone at their feet, sliding through the damp grass. The slayer maved half the distance to the great grotesque beast that could only be Bruiser. His suspicions were confirmed when the beast shouted “Me Bruiser… uh… Me kill!” and charged the dwarf, pounding him with his club until the dwarf saw stars. The dwarf was near a stone altar, and used it to his advantage, gaining some partial cover against the lizard freak he fought.

The cleric and knight were each grabbed by the lizard brutes, and their arms wrapped around them, crushing ribs. The knight Kwynn was able to break free with a great heaving of his mail clad arms, bt the cleric was neither strong enough physically nor agile enough to free himself from the clutches, and he was subsequently squeezed until he had to heal his own cracking ribs in order to continue to draw breath. Eventually the wizard Lucan freed the cleric with his beguiling strands, which caused the lizard man to go tumbling through the forest.

After he charged, Bruiser remembered his guard drakes, and whistled for them. Out they came, tearing around the back wall. They looked rather draconic with the twin green strands of smoke coming from their nostrils. The first ran forward to the edge of the foundation and stopped, sat up on two legs, and its throat began to expand like a bullfrog. It then spat a green hissing globule of spit towards the wizard Faverel. The second drake leapt up atop the dais, and feeling cocky, leapt the pit as well, to land on its edge. From their it launched a great glob of spit over the heads of Bruiser and Glaurung engaged in epic battle, anfd through the trees, to come splashing down on Lucan. Lucan cast shield at the next opportune moment, and so was spared from the next glob of corrosive saliva.

Kwynn went down three times over the next 3 rounds, but always managed to leap back up in time for action. He had dreams of never being able to get to the bacon he craved. He got the second to last hit on almost all the monsters, but no kills. Pol Pot almost went down if it werent for some great healing and then a helping push from Lucan. Faverel eventually had to stand up when attacked by a drake forgoing its spit to charge and bit at him. It looked grim, but then Bruiser went crashing to the ground under the mighty axe of Glaurung, who grabbed the mighty beast and swung up onto its back to pummel cleave its skull. Faverel used a freezing attack that knocked a lizard back, and soon the two lizard man guards also lay dead, each felled by a magic missile by the same wizard who first struck them.

The two drakes had no idea they were doomed, and spit their spit, before one was killed by the slayer, who then used a final bull rush to knock the last remaining drake squealing into the pit. The battle was won.

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Example of Play: I would like to suggest some sort of adversarial shift in the fabric of the universe to allow for a temporal flux. Perhaps these … are actually solid chunks of compressed residuum, and indeed, they form the crust of the bubble that begat all creation? it could be a world-destruction event, like those outlined in a supplement I cannot remember which. Ah, the hilarity will ensue when they crack (the pc’s of course) thru the last layer of protective residuum and unleash the big-bang!

Player1: I deflect the emerging blast of the big bang with my silvered mirror.

DM: You dont have it equipped.

Player1: I drop the pick-axe as a free action, and my mirror is always swinging on a leathern thong about me wrist.

DM: For what purpose?

Player1: Such as this.

DM: Roll acrobatics check

Player1: I am untrained in acrobatics, but I do know dance!

Player2: Why would you need to dance?

Player1: Out of the way of the emerging big bang.

Player2: You could just hold the mirror in front of you.

Player1: OK I do that.

DM: Roll.

Player1: What?

DM: Acrobatics!

Player1: I thought I was dancing!

DM: Whatever. Where do you deflect the blast?

Player2: Back into the cauldron’s inferno.

DM: It isnt a cauldron, it is a globe, now cracked open, a geode of all existence.

Player1: I deflect the blast back into it and then plug or seal, as needed.

DM: Excuse me?

Player1: Ya, the glue stuff.

DM: OK.

All: What happens?

DM: The universe ends.

All: !

On a late spring Friday Night in 2008…

Once upon a time in a tavern in a village...

Game Night No. 1

So, King’s gate is a tiny town, probably too tiny considering all the trade that would pass thru this bottleneck. It could actually be an enormous tax revenue bringing colony… but its not. It is little more than a village. The tavern Frank’s Place (joke) was a sturdy tower, to which the old wooden gates from the Ancient Barricade, were made to add the two-story inn. It is across the doorway, to the other side is attached the guardhouse, attached to the Tower-wall. and next to it the mayor’s home.

To the north is a bazaar square, and north of that is a fair-ground, to which gypsie travellers and merchants come once per year for a great festival. They call it Night of the March Hare, in mid-spring, just before planting. East and west the town dwindles to farmhouses. A strict martial presence is kept about the town, and in times of danger, the town can evacuate into Inner Shalazar, and bar the gate. Not this time around, though…

The campaign begins on a dark and stormy night (of course lol) where the group all gathers at the tavern (of course again)

Generally it is caravans who travel the King’s Road as it is moderately dangerous, especially to small groups or slow individuals. Orcs send a constant stream of tribal warriors in from the east, and they often raid, as well as some others. A few of the characters met on the caravan. Another came from a distant land, and two elves had grouped up together.

It was awkward that first night playing, and there was a lot of taking of deep breaths, but we all got thru it. Half the party was in the tavern (elf rogue, gnome bard, elf wizard) one was across the street at the temple (human cleric) and on the portico of the temple human druid with riding dog companion. The sixth player – my wife(!) couldnt make it opening night.

The only NPCs were a priest in the temple and a bartender. Oh and also there was a hooded bard plucking at his lute idly. I should have added more for flavor, but my plan had so many variations, and I only settled on a final plan as I was setting up the board (battlemap of town pre-drawn. I used a piece of un-laminated architectural paper, and used all sorts of colors of pens. There was a fountain, a couple other building, it looked pretty good!

Well, thats where the characters were. When I had to descirbe the opening scene. It gets a little muddled but basically lightning cracks three times, the temple bell starts ringing, the bard NPC leaps up and runs into the street, and black clouds start brewing and swirling. The bell was pulled by the priest who comes careening out of the back room pursued by 3 ghouls. He pulls on the bell cord and dies. The human cleric witnesses this.

The druid witnesses clattering of bones and ranks of skeleton warriors come marching north out of the great barricade. 8 step forward, but ranks upon ranks line up just inside the wall. (Shalazar is captured by the undead. Orcus is attempting to take over the lands of Shalazar as his dominion on the prime material.) The armies of the undead are led by these Mummy Princes whose uneasy corpses rested in the many catacombs beneath shalazar.

A Mummy Lord commands the undead attacking Kings Gate (who are in actuality merely sealing off the wall in prder to prepare for an assault that must come.) He makes an appearance on top of the wall to prove a point but the elf mage shot her magic missile at him, so he retreated and cast a 30′ globe of permanent darkness on the gate.

So the bard npc dashes across the street, thru the temple and grabs this bronze ‘crucible,’ to St Cuthbert the temple deity, and exits thru the back. The ghouls attack him as he passes, but he evades. The cleric tries to turn but fails miserably twice in a row. The druid and dog rush in to fight with the ghouls and they slug it out, he goes down paralyzed for 2 turns, gets up and ends the battle at 1 hp I think. The cleric chases one into the back room, and finally downstairs into a crypt, where one of them lies open with a large 5′ wide hole in the bottom. the bard npc must have gon thru it.

In the street, the elf rogue and the gnome bard, both new players, spend the next 2 or 3 turns going to upstairs windows. The mage shoots an arrow thru the window. Then breaks out the window, casts mage hand on his staff, and wacks a skeleton (I gave him -4 but he rolled really well) doing 1 point of damage and killing it. The tavern-keep, actually a level 0 commoner holds off 4 skeletons until the mage kills one and the rogue shoots down on one and kills it with her heavy crossbow (I know -elf with crossbow lol) the tavern-keep takes down one with his club and I cant remember how the other one goes down. Anyhow, that is how the night ends, at the tail end of the battle, only 1 skeleton is left alive of the 4 that veered into the temple. Everyone lived.

In search of the unknown

Game Night No.2

Reconstructing the evenining… I believe everyone may have been in attendance. I started the game post-battle, joking that the barkeep took the last skeleton down and it was enough XP to take him to 2nd lvl Bartender. It was needless to set everything up and get the initiative order just to off one last foolish skeleton. No one seemed to mind.

So the first decision was, to follow the bard thru the hole in the ground immediately or wait till morning. They chose morning which I thought was a little timid considering only a few spells were cast, but on the other hand at 1st level, one doesnt get much more. So, they pile into the tavern and spend a tense night. There are a few roving bands of skeletons and much of the village is burned or destroyed. Those few survivors are either gathered in the fortress like tavern or cower in their darkened homes.

Next morning is grey. Roiling clouds spiral above the city of Shalazar, far to the south. The globe of darkness remains in place and at dawn the Mummy Prince stands on the towqer and proclaims the news about Orcus taking over. The characters rush across the street, meet a young priest cleaning up the gore, and go down into the hole.

While in the narrow tunnel they are attacked by 3 dire rats which ends up being a pretty funny encounter since they are in confined quarters and have no room to swing the larger weapons. The main fighter has to drop her bastard sword and fight with a dagger, but quickly dispatches 2 of the rats. The mage who only has a staff is out of luck. Wants to break her staff in half and use it as a club, but lacks the strength (lol I used that trick last night.

So they make it thru the tunnel which opens in the bole of a tree in a graveyard on the edge of town. They don’t know where to go, or what to do, but someone thinks of using the riding dog track skills to follow the NPC bard. Good thinking! Sadly, I forgot to note who made the suggestion, probably the druid.

They enter the woods I had intended them to enter hot on the bards tail the previous night, but the trail is cold now, so begins a random trekking about first to a druid enclave where the speak with an oracle who gives them some pertinent riddles. Then to a monestery where they learn the crucible is one of 4 magic items used to bring back the Forgotten King. And so the goal of the adventure materializes at last: to retrieve the 4 magic items and bring back the Forgotten King who will battle Orcus and free the land. (Heh heh, so they think. Its a lo-o-ong way to level 20.

The monestery points them to the Tomb of the Dwarf Lord, where one of the items, the Sword of Konnag, rests in the Dwarf Lord Konnag’s vault. Sadly, the tomb has been sundered and a tribe of orcs uses it aws their base of operations.

The group makes their way towards the monestery, and on the way met with a wandering party of 4 orcs just coming from there. They dispatch them with ease. Soon they come to a clearing in which is a rocky hill 30′ high maybe 100′ around. There are two partially worked cave openings, one at ground level one 20′ up the side of the hill. 2 orcs stand inside each opeing. Oh, and it is morning, they spent the night at the monestery.

Now it is important to remember that everyone is either new or rusty at this, I know I have made many errors since we started, and some make me cringe to think of them, I’m sure I’v emade just as many that I havent caught. But the players have made their share, and coming cockily off the qick 4 orc encounter, they rush willy-nilly into this one and it is almost their undoing. The orcs weild short bows and looted masterwork dwarven short swords. 2 more orcs and the orc lieutenant rush out of the lower cave on the 3rd turn. The druid and his dog charge up the hill, while the fighter charges up to the lower and is quickly surrounded by 4 orcs.

The elf mage wildly runs up to save the fighter (the mage feels guilty for not pre-casting mage armor, this is a trend so far) and miraculously rolls 18 to hit, and does 7 damage, killing an orc! And that is where we end the night (it had already run late) with the fighter surrounded and down to very few hitpoints and 5 or 6 strong orcs still alive. Ended up being a very cliff-hanger ending, unintentially, but it created some good buzz for next week…

Wondering whats around the corner

Game Night No. 3

Ok, it was a long week of strategic planning and worry for the players but Friday finally arrived and with it the weekly D&D game. One player was absent (the druid and his super-dog) so Jackson my 11 yr old son got to play the character. He did all the dice rolling and moving the miniature around, but decisions were made by committee. It worked out well and the boy enjoyed the game and came one step closer to being a ‘regular’. The fact that we have a full party of 6 players is the main reason he isn’t already a full player. In time.

So, the scene opens with the main fighter surrounded by 3 orcs. The wizard standing to her flank. The druid and dog was at the higher cave entrance holding off 2 orcs. We re-rolled initiative to get a fresh start. The elf rogue, who was absent the week before rushed towards the sound of battle and made her appearance and the tide of battle turned with the party victorious without anyone falling. The elf rogue and gnome bard then proceeded into the cave mouths to inspect the area before the party left to return on the morrow.

(I am glad I planned for this eventuality. With half the orc footmen down, the remaining orcs rig the barrow with traps throughout the day. I would have had to improvise rigged traps if I didn’t prepare for the possibility of them leaving without going on. It always pays to prepare!)

So the rogue and bard, two girls with the least experience, proceed into the cave mouth and into the now-deserted barracks room. There is a chest in one corner (trapped) and a door in the far wall. The girls make every mistake in the book, and try to open the chest without looking for traps, and then the thief has no thieves tools! Strangely enough the bard does have a set, so they manage to get it open and out leaps a poisonous spider (lol!) but they get some loot.

They listen at the door but hear nothing (it is just a hall) Then they go to the upper cave mouth and peer in. It is filled with bones and corpses,the floor is invisible from the gore. (that was a clue) Across the hall is a big dwarf-carved door. The bard, riding the druids riding dog, enters the hall and falls in a concealed 10’ pit, oh that was funny! She took 7 points damage from spikes at the bottom and was covered in gore. The riding dog, who made his save stopped and she flew over his head! It was rich.

So they decide that is enough for the day, though it was only 9 am, and retire back to the monastery to heal and memorize for another assault the next day. To wrap up, they come back, there is mo hijinx with even more traps. The funniest part was the same chest, the one they already looted, was re-trapped, and they went thru the whole rigamarole again, luckily disabling all the traps this time! They open the door, proceed down a hallway where 3 spiders are waiting to drop from the ceiling, 2 ppl get bit and lose Con. Then they barge thru a door and have the penultimate fight – an Orc Shaman and his two bodyguards. This was a weird battle where the elf rogue and elf wizard moved first so they ran into the room and each targeted the shaman. The shaman went down before he ever had a chance to make a move (argh!) but on the orcs turn, the two orcs each take down an elf before themselves dying. So the evening ends right at the end of this battle. Each elf had a Cure Light Wounds cast on him (from the absent Druid lol – make the guy who’s not there memorize all the cure spells) and so it ends.

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The party begins the battle surrounded: Kalarel at the dais, The wight at the other end, and 8 skeletons all around.

2010 brought about many changes, such as the beginning of a 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We started the year with fresh 1st level characters and closed it outas veteran 9th level heroes entering the paragon tier. Our first adventure was the seminal 4e starter module The Keep on the Shadowfell. The campaign also began before this very blog got its start, so that the first few sessions have no associated reports. Thats too bad.

The party of adventurers began their careers as part of the Pathfinder Society, a loose affiliation determined to bring back civilization by making the roads safe and driving back the darkness whenever and wherever they can. Their first mission was to the town of Winterhaven where they got caught up in the dreams of a death priest of the evil god of Orcus, who discovered a portal to the Shadowfell in the bowels of an old ruined Keep. He attempted a ritual to call the dark lord through the portal, which the heroes of Winterhaven strove to prevent. It is interesting to note that of all the original “Pathfinders” to set foot in the Winterhaven region, Felipe is the only one to remin from the beginning. Other players and characters changed over the course of those 9 levels and the year to form the current party into a veteran squad of fantastic adventurers.

A story from those early days relates to the kobold chieftain White Hand. The party was dispatched by the Lord Padraig of Winterhaven to see about the increase in kobold raids, and the party tracked the kobolds back to their lair. As they went down the path, they met a poor old one armed kobold. He told a sad story of being the chaiftain of the kobolds of the white hand, and that he had the white hand to prove his heritage. When the horrible goblin Irontooth arrived to take command of the tribe in Kalerels name, he hacked off the hand of the chieftain, and said now that he had the White Hand, he was chief. The decrepit kobold begs the party to bring back his hand if ever they defeat Irontooth, so that he may die with honor. They agree to do whatthey can, and eventually spare a young white handed kobold they find in the cavern complex, to honor the chieftain by sparing his heir, They do make sure the kobolds swear to leave the Winterhaven region, to which the kobolds heartily agree.

Really Terribly Evil

One of my favorite improvisational additions to the module was “the mystery of the black skull.” This “episode” took place between the outdoor encounters and the dungeon part of the adventure It seems a trade caravan arrived in Winterhaven. The Bronzebottom brothers, who were three dwarf brothers out of Hammerfast, had done some illicit trading with a group of hooded strangers in the woods, who offered them gold to deliver a sealed wooden crate to a certain house in Winterhaven. The dwarves couldnt turn down the lucrative offer, and they arrived at town early that morning, and two elves where there to pick up the crate: Delphina and Ninaren. in the wee hours of dawn, they carted the heavy container to her small home in town. There it sat taking up a good portion of the floor.

All that day a lethargy descended among the people of town, until by afternoon, as the characters returned to town, the people seemed to be walking around in a daze or stupor. It was a mystery that led the characters all over town, before resulting in the discovery of the crate in Delphinas shanty. While she was distracted by a meal in the inn, her house was vandalized, and the crate opened to reveal a glistening black skull that emanated dark magic in a very wide radius. Its large radius of evil is what made pinpointing its location so difficult. It was destroyed in a blaze that also destroyed Delphinas house, and at that moment, Delphina was discovered to be a changeling and Ninaren joined in on the changelings side, and they were chased out the front gates after a short battle. With the black skull destroyed the town was safe again from Kalarels machinations.

One tough cookie

After the episode of the black skull, the heroes of Winterhaven knew they had to take care of this problem once and for all. They hired a local woodsman to aid them in tracking Ninaren and Delphina through the woods to Ninarens cabin, which was built between the trunks of four young ash trees. On a cot the elf Delphina lay in a trance. As she sank into eternal slumber, she told a tale of woe. She was a Princess, the last elf royalty alive, and there was a prophecy that when the last royal elf leaves the world, all elves will follow. Ninaren had a magical artifact that was a soul-stealing dagger. Pricking Delphina she took the princess’ spirit, and planned to invade another world, the World of Dark Sun, with an army of Elves enslaved to her as long as she had the sould of Delphina rrapped in her dagger.

It didnt quite work out as Ninaren hoped. She was knocked out, blown up, shot down, torn up, and cut down in the deepest chamber of Kalarels temple to Orcus. Ninarens dagger was taken and Delphinas soul returned safely to her body. The party became the Heroes of Winterhaven. In addition, the heroes Poooy the Elf and the barbarian Thokk even bought the rights to the Keep for 500 gold, and were given titles and rights to all the land they could survey from the tallest spire of the Keep on the Shadowfell. They planned a VERY tall tower. For now, the party headed towards Fallcrest, the capital of the Nentir Vale.

The newly minted heroes were having other troubles. They brought suspicion upon themselves in the insular village of Hommlett, when they were ambushed in the Inn of the Welcome Wench by a hideous flaming Beholder with two fire hawk allies. The barn also burned down though the party managed to save the animals. The only evidence was a teleportation circle burned into a nearby field and some large black feathers. The next night, while camping outside Fallcrest, they are attacked by a flock of Crow people known as Kenku.

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

In the city they meet the White Rose, the commander of a mercenary company of mounted lancers who recently “came north” upon hearing rumours of war in the northern lands. On the second day, a strange dread overcomes them as a red star appears in the sky, faint by day but burning bright in the night sky. Fate draws them towards an inevitable event that they cannot avoid. They have an appointment with the wizard of Fallcrest, Vandaliance.

Cat like face in the clouds

On his tower they are surrounded by two of Ninarens half-sisters: one is the White Rose, the other is a hideous frost dragon who comes sweeping out of the sky just as the party examines the star through the wizards instruments. As the heroes defeat these two mad women, another face looks on from the clouds. He proclaims himself to be Gagnasdiak, lord of time and space, and that he has 7 daughters, that now 3 of them are slain. He casts a red lightning bolt which propels the party to a strange world of desert, where a dark sun beats down like a burning red eye.

Stunned, stripped of almost all of their gear, the heroes of Winterhaven limp through the desert nearly succumbing to the environment. At the end of their strength, they are attacked by a thundering herd of great reptiles, and great slaughter ensues, with the victorious draining and drinking of the great reptiles blood for sustenance. Eventually they come to a broken tower, and defend it from the mantis men who were trailing them. The next morning they look out over a valley that fills the southern horizon. It is a vast petrified forest, The ancient stone trees lean and crumble across the width and depth of the hidden valley with the desert sands weaving between their trunks and branches. In the center of this sharp edged forest is a ruined city. It is the Lost city of Nazerak.

The tower contains a raiders trove of treasure and the heroes re-equip before setting out to investigate the city. They soon meet the eladrin who call the sand blown avenues home. The city is under a curse where the surviving two factions of eladrin must forever fight a civil war through the streets of Nazerak. Even in death, the eladrin turn into Shadow eladrin, and continue the fight against all living creatures. It is a terrible fate, but a strange child recently appeared in the city. She is able to walk unmolested through the cursed city and avoid wards that only the blood of the citys last ruler, the tyrant Gagnasdiak, could overcome. The White Rose survived the battle and too was cast into the World of Dark sun when the fell red bolt was cast by her father. She had no memory of her past life as a mercenary.

The White Rose, with the characters help, re-unites the warring eladrin clans and ends the curse on Nazerak. While there, they se a vision of their world, and the town of Winterhaven is overcome and destroyed by an army of giants led by Gagnasdiak. They also soon discover that in the world of Dark Sun Gagnasdiak is a sorceror king of the city of Tyr far to the west of Nazerak. After saving the city of Nazerak, the White Rose sends them magically to infiltrate his palace to discover a way home. A portal in his lowest treasure chamber sends them to a lifeless world of horror. It is here Gagnasdiak has chosen to keep his soul hidden, in his tomb of Horrors.

...a hill of skulls stood out against the featureless plain of bone dust...

The heroes learn that Dark Sun is the future for their own world, and that here at the end of this portal is the ultimate expression of Gagnasdiaks evil triumph. His black undead soul is the last thing to inhabit a cold lifeless world. The heroes of Nazerak have a thing or two to say about that. They commence to work their way through his elaborate traps and guardians, before finally destroying him in an epic battle.

Soon enough they are met by a strange figure in a sled pulled by polar bears. “Ho ho hail and well met, I am Santos!” He gives them each a (rather lame) gift, and takes them to the city of D Argent, a city outside the dimensions of time and space. An eternal city where heroes come to rest from their heroic deeds. The characters retire to D Argent for a few days of rest and relaxation. A festival is held in honor of the slaying of the Lord of Time and Space. Finally the heroes are shown a magical portal and told of a few possible destinations they can step through to return home. They choose an island off the coast of D Erte called the Isle of Dread. So ends a year of gaming.

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The new oldThanks must go out to Bill, the player of Quinn then Kwyn, who agreed to DM last week Encounters session. The run in with lizard men turned south and apparently resulted in them being chased through the woods by one of the big brutes. Thankfully this week the party was aided by two events. Firstly, the hobbit Merrick discovered that while climbing through some webs the previous weeks, he happened to pick up a mysterious potion. And the party was joined by the elf wizard Lucan.

The party was ambushed by lizard man needlers hidden in the forest. Surprised, darts flew out at the first rank of the marching order, which happened to be Faverel the wizard and Merrick the rogues. 2 darts hit each of them, fropping them to bloodied. Only Lucan was sharp enough to avoid the surprise, and slew a needler with his magic missile. Faverel was next to go and he ran towards the streams edge, fell prone, and shot a magic missile at the two club wielding lizard man brutes that just emerged from the murky edge of two brown pools in the clearing.

Merrick was next to go. He took a moment to point out that the background of his halfling tribe is a river culture, and wondered if this agave him any bonuses. I pointed out he could traverse a waters edge tile as non difficult terrain. This proved helpful, but for now he chose to climb a tree. Halfway to the first branch he had his hands and feet gripping a big chunk of bark that slowly peeled away and dropped him to the ground. Even with all these antics, he remained un-noticed by the participants of the battle, aand so he shot a lizard brute in the back with his crossbow, blood spouting through the torn scales of its scaly hide.

Kwynn charged forward to duel the lizard brute. But first he towered over the creature and attempted to intimidate the dumb brute. The lizard man laughed of his first attemp and when asked who his leader was, he said the partry would soon find out. Then Kwynn hacked away, cleaving the lizard man within inches of its life. Lucan cast bewguiling strands to push away the brute that charged too close for comfort, knocking him towards a blow gunner. He was unfortunately hit by a dose of poison dart that sent him sinking to the ground. Then Kwynn was pounded to his knee by the lizard brute, and suddenly the entire party was prone. Merrick was knocked unconcious by another darts.

It was at this moment the single blue scaled lizard man wizard crept slowly out of the mire to cast a bolt of acid at the knight. His shield scattered the vile hissing brew.

There are moments when a battle seems on the cusp of tipping out of the realm of survivability, and it seemed to be a dungeon mastering need at the moment to gently describe the possibility of character death. In three seasons of Encounters, three characters have been chronicled D.O.A. in these session reports. One of them was L’il Merrick himself a handful of sessions ago. I didnt want that to happen again, but I also needed to mention that a total party kill was possible, given the circumstances. Somehow, things turned around, and the party was victorious, but at great cost.

Two surviving needlers wrought havoc on the party for many rounds of combat before finally being taken out. Kwynn shrugged off darts, clubs, and claws to hack away inexorably at all lizard men to come his way. Merrick drank, the potion and it healed him. Out of surges, he climbed the tree and found himself in the perfect position to jumpon the lizard wizards back. He did, and wildly sucesssful, he slew the foul hexer right then and there with his deadly short sword. The wizard was on the edge of the pool though, and since the halfing had jumped from a tree branch onto the creatures back, he was in the pool. Luckily being a river halfling, he was able to step onto the shore next round.

The battle turned around with the lizard wizards death, and the in an excess of enthusiasm, Lucan eschewed his typical attack of magic, to go charging out of the woods at a lizard man, dagger held high. He instead rolled a natural 1 and in old school style, fell prone at the needlers foot. The needler clawed him in the face, looked around and noticed he was the only lizard left, and took off into the woods. Of course Merrick took chase,and after a short skill challenge, a quick battle ensued where Merrick was victorious. Instead of felling the hideous creature, he knocked it outl and dragged it back to the others. While they questioned the lizard man about what lay ahead, Merrick dove into the pool to check the lair of the lizard men. He saw the narrow tunnel went twisting between tree roots, and wisely decided not to follow.

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Player Handout B - The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread

An Expert level 4e Adventure site for characters entering the Paragon Tier.

An homage an old adventure from the Golden Era of Dungeons and Dragons. With pirates. And dinosaurs. And other furry, fuzzy, flying, fanged things. The entire island can be viewed from the top of the active volcano in the central north, and from there the furthest south-easternmost tip of the island just brushes against the horizon, while it spreads its craggy wings to the east and west. It could take many days to cross the island from one side to the next. Three major mountain range divide the island into regions, an any single region looks like a day or more walking to cross.

One of the rivers has carved a path through the mountain range that attempted to hem it in, and the gap over the river is crossed by a long swinging bridge of rope and wood. The other river begins in a deep lake and cascades into a waterfall before reaching the sea. A high-arching natural bridge is the only connection between the main landmass and the southern landmass.

Land formations of the island
Rocky Mountainous coast
Immense active volcano
Steep-sided mountain chains
Misty Bog
Raised Plateau with cliff edges
Rolling Hills
Temperate rain forest (Jungle)
Huge lake with central island
Serpentine rivers
rolling grassland

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A faithful aqaptation

Our group spent a month exploring the Tomb of Horrors and it was the first time for all of us. 7 characters of 8th level spent four game sessions, or about 14 hours total, inside the Tomb. Their characters spent two full days, with one extended rest, within the tomb. For the adventure, we used the DM Reward “Tomb of Horrors”, revised for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons by Scott Fitzgerald Gray. Also on hand was the original module by Gary Gygax, creator of the original Dungeons and Dragons and founder of modern role playing games – both for the awesome artwork, as well as to cross reference any inconsistencies or questions of conversion between systems.

It is also important to note that the party only went through the first half of the trap-filled dungeon, up to the point of contact with the false lich with the crown of fear, which led directly to the final confrontation. A few legendary encounters were thus missed, such as the three vats, the rolling juggernaut, the slime room, the mummy lord, and the animated weapons, to name a few. However, the party successfully navigated many of the truly renowned encounters before having the climactic two-part battle, first with the false lich then without pause they fought the demi-lich himself, awakened by the false liches demise. This was done for a variety of reasons, but mainly I wanted to finish the mini-arc of the campaign before the holiday break. What follows is my personal take on what worked, what didn’t, and how it all went down, through the lens of the 7 great players whose characters risked it all for the glory of storming the Tomb of Horrors. Of course I didnt really give them a choice in the matter. For a play-by-play recap, consult the four part session reports:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The Thrill of Frustration
It is no secret that this adventure is diabolically difficult, with deadly traps galore. The preface to the original warns us that this is a “thinking mans game” and that hack and slashers will be disappointed. The two main frustrations from the players came from the “unsolvable puzzles” for one – which included the three armed gargoyle and the slot; and that some of the traps were very unforgiving, especially the teleporter and the gender changer. I can commiserate with my players on these two points, and agree that the frustration and anger they felt was justified. Many of the traps and hazards are unfair. In the original, most of the traps would lead to instant death, with a single save-or-die roll of the dice determining the outcome (sometimes not even that. Make a wrong step, and your character is toast.)

This adventure in its original 1st edition, is not suitable for characters involved in a long term campaign, or a high fantasy campaign, as the case may be. It was widely known as a killer dungeon. This and the fact that my players never got to high enough levels prevented us from playing it in its original edition of the game. My games have always been of the high fantasy fellowship with a story to tell and a world to save. It never occurred to me to play with pregenerated characters, even though the original comes with 20, and besides, the players always wanted to continue the story arcs with their beloved characters, not play something evil and painful with throwaway characters. This trend is as true today as it was then, which led to many moments of serious pissed-offness.

The 4th edition adaptation ameliorates the save-or-die problem somewhat. In a rather brilliant way, it turns the dungeon into a sort of race against resource depletion. Being able to take extended rests can reduce the deadliness even more, both in this version, and in the original, though it might mean days of rest, rather than a single night. Even still, the risk of fatality is ever present.

For example, the first gargoyle they fought did an amazing 72 points of damage in a single turn. It would have instantly slain many of the characters, but the barbarian was able to soak it up.

The other issue, that of “unsolvable puzzles,” comes in two types: those that do not hinder the continuation of the adventure, such as the three armed gargoyle, and those that do, such as the slot in the chapel of good. In the first case, the addition of a difficult riddle can be a great challenge that many players will want to investigate and solve. They can keep coming back to it, and indeed they did, until they solve it or give up. Clues might appear or they might have an inspired moment of “ah-ha!” This is the height of riddle design.

The second type of puzzle however, creates a bottle neck, where the players as well as the characters are prevented from continuing the adventure until it is solved. This particular riddle, with the slot in the chapel of good led to a 2 hour stand-still in our game, where no one had any fun, no one was rolling dice, and one person even nodded off! There are other riddles and puzzles of this nature in the module, including puzzles which will cause a character to be trapped in a room with no way out until they starve to death. Joy.

The world continues to speed up, and people’s time is the currency they spend on adventuring, especially for adults with professions, kids, and numerous other worries and time constraints, who have very little time each week to devote to their favorite hobby. Game design has come a long way since Gygax penned this classic, and bottle necks, especially ones that rely on a particular insight from players, is a pathway to failure. And failure is no fun. I would much rather behead my player’s characters with a short sharp shock than have them stumped in front of a puzzle, scratching their heads and trying unsuccessfully to solve it. Wrong or right, my games are about fun. If it lessens the fun, it doesn’t belong.

To clarify, I am not saying everything needs to be rose colored and happy – death should await behind every corner, every closed door – just that the frustration of banging your head against an immovable wall is the opposite of fun. Puzzles should be optional, able to bypass, or have alternate possible solutions. This is game design 101, and it is humorous that one of the most highly regarded modules in the history of Dungeons and Dragons breaks pretty much every rule in the game design manual. It is humorous until the players find out what is happening to their characters, then the humor seems to melt away.

Which leads us to the next level of frustration, this one the “Gotcha!” trap. Like much of old school DnD, the original adventure is CHOCK full of save or die effects: that is, the player may get to roll one (if any) dice to hopefully survive the trouble he has gotten himself into. Sometimes there is not even that. For example, in the original, if you jumped into the green devil mouth, you were disintegrated, just like that. Roll a new character. In the new version, you take massive damage, but can be rescued by others willing to lend a hand, before being fully disintegrated. This shows a more recent game design, and goes back to resource depletion (of hit points and healing surges) rather than character depletion. In our game poor Hex, while alive, will never be able to forget his few harrowing moments in that green devils mouth, Im sure.

Another trap, and the one that perhaps caused the most frustration of all, even more so than the ring, despite being over in seconds, is the misty archway that teleports you back to the entrance – without your gear! Ouch! One of my players almost walked out after losing his stuff. Granted, I had used that trick on them once before, and so the sting was especially bad, but in this game gear is so important, that without it, one can hardly expect to go on. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as one player mentioned they should all just pile through. If the entire party had lost all their stuff, the campaign would have ended. That is not a good trap. In a side bar, Gray mentions that magic items above a certain level could make a saving throw to remain with the character. This small saving grace made all the difference and allowed the unlucky characters to continue on.

The Agony of Character Death
The Tomb of horrors was written at a time when adventurers, and the players who created and played them, were still developing the methods of adventuring we all use and abuse now, 30 years later. From 10 foot poles, to listening at doors, to a small army of “red shirt” henchmen, the things that we take for granted now were being worked out for the first time by those hearty lads that forged ahead through dungeons like this one. In other ways, times have changed and they left some of the common practices of the old days behind. Two of these depopularized factors are henchmen, and rampant character death.

It was a brutal first decade of gaming, and tales abound of meat factory adventures where players are expected to bring two or three characters to the table, anticipating character death. One way around this trouble of ‘save or die’ affects is to have a slave army of hirelings, also known as “cannon fodder” to send ahead to their deaths and clear the way for the real characters. There are stories of players sending in veritable armies of hirelings and henchmen, and at least one story of a player who led a herd of cattle into the tomb in an effort to lessen the impact of deadly traps. Another story circulates about a player who lost his character to the disintegrating mouth of the green devil face, and promptly made a new character and sent it to the same fate; and another and another until he had to be forced to stop jumping into that devil mouth. This module does weird things to people.

Styles of play differ, and this can have a huge impact on how the Tomb of Horrors is received by the players. When the game first came out, about the only differentiation of the characters within a given class came through the random rolling of character stats, or ability scores. Being random, this led to the quick rolling up of many characters, all of them nearly identical. Even the advantages and disadvantages given out through high or low ability scores was smaller then than now. In the intervening decades, game developers have come to realize that players crave customizability and want unique characters that match their imagined ideas, and who can blame them? – the game has become more and more focused on character development.

The simple fact that in 1980, you could make a character with little more than 6 dice rolls, compared to today, when it takes a computer program and a good hour at least to make an optimized character, has led to a greater importance on characters as individuals, as more important, and therefore as more painful to lose. If a 9th level hybrid Warlock-Swordmage jumps into the green devil mouth and gets disintegrated, it is going to take quite a lot longer to rebuild than Fred the Fighter or Lackey #7.

This focus on character customization has led to characters being much more valuable than ever before, and their loss is a blow like never before. This type of gaming has also led to a greater investment in the story-telling aspects of the game. Players want epic stories for their epic characters. And epic stories do not usually end in a total party kill. Or I should re-phrase that: a total party kill ends epic stories every time. That is not to say that death is absent, characters can and should face the inevitable, either through stupid mistakes, extreme risk, or very unlucky dice rolling. But to have a character that was lovingly crafted over months of play wind up dead because you chose left instead of right is an style of game play that has slowly receded with the henchmen, the sheaf of ready to play characters, and the herds of trap-springing cattle.

What was Awesome
The 4th Edition re-make of Tomb of Horrors went a long way to curtailing much that has become maligned in recent years, but its foundation, that of a “killer dungeon” was still very much in the minds of the players as they sent their characters through the tomb. The challenges were difficult. There were few fights, many traps, and plenty of riddles and puzzles to solve. The adventure is very open ended, even though it is almost a perfectly linear “rail road” adventure. Almost every puzzle must be solved before getting to the next, but at the same time there is a move at your own pace feel to the adventure that is less common in recent editions.

The monsters in the adventure are exciting and challenging. Almost every creature is epic, so many of the fights get drawn out longer than they should, but this is a factor of 4th edition game mechanics, and not the module itself. That said, I might consider lowering some of the monsters defenses and hit points, and raise the damage they do even higher – but not too high, as these monsters can hit HARD.

The final battle with the demilich is suitably epic, and I am glad to see that Gray, when updating the adventure, went for an epic final battle, rather than the “puzzle-fight” that Gygax envisioned. It was a satisfying finale for the players, an enjoyable, yet intensely challenging battle, that had very real risks. I would rate the final battle with the demi-lich as one of the best fights we as a group have had in 4th edition. On the other hand, I always had a fondness for the crazy, almost impervious to harm demilich of elder days. Heroic sacrifice seemed to be one of the few ways to get the demilich in the original, which is an excellent climactic event for everyone.

One of the best aspects of the adventure is the atmosphere of the place. From the sparse descriptions, to the artwork, the place drips with malevolence. Just wandering through the halls is a creepy experience. The details stand out, and every one of them will be picked over by astute players, or promptly missed/forgotten and end in a terrible death or dismemberment. Creeping through the halls, prodding the floors, poking things with mage hand – only by carefully observing the surroundings and acting accordingly (and with fingers crossed) can the party make any headway through the tomb.

The Tomb of Horrors can be a fun adventure to experience, but it requires a group of players willing to spend a lot of time and patience. Some of the challenges are extremely difficult, and after a long week of work, they can be too difficult to solve, appreciate, and enjoy. On the other hand, as I kept reminding my players, getting through the tomb is a real DnD feather in your cap. Being able to say “I survived the Tomb of Horrors” is almost worth all the pain and agony of suffering through it.

For a story driven campaign of highly developed characters, Tomb of Horrors is going to sting. It is unabashedly unfair, and the original intent of the tomb was to create an adventure nearly impossible to survive. The 4th edition version is toned down to the level of “possible to survive but still unlikely” without losing much in the way of of its spirit or its ambiance. This tomb is one tough nut to crack. Player beware.

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The eternal city of D Argent

And so time, the task master who never sleeps brings us finally to the last game session of the year. It was a cold December night, and the DM was so sick none of the players wanted to be too near him. He was however stricken with a sickness that allowed him to suffer hunger and eat as usual, so the idea of pot luck, combined with the last session of the year, made him want to go ahead with the game, to muddle through with a full belly and a head full of cotton, as best he could. And really, it was the perfect session for it. Called the Ewok Dance of Victory session, it was made up mostly of gathering and counting loot, looking up items to buy, deciding where to go next, and a festival, but let us start at the beginning…

The lord of time and space is dead. His cracked skull of solid gold with ruby eyes and square cut diamond teeth lies in the dust. Picking up the skull, it is heavier than it should be. The invisible weight of immortal malevolence drapes the skull like a shroud. It is pocketed it for its value.

The next few days pass slowly, as the party navigates through the tomb, drawing out its riches into a great pile near the entrance. The estimated value (besides any magic items) is 6,000 gp apiece. Food they have plenty, but they are forced to drink from the vat of holy water for refreshment, and worried glances show the vat ever depleting with little hope of relief on this lifeless rock. On the fourth day a far off soft jingling of bells can be heard and climbing to the highest point on the hill of skulls they see a strange sight.

A large skiff or sleigh, pulled by four large white bears is making its way towards the tomb. In the drivers seat is a large man in red. He whips the bears mercilessly and within an hour, the sleigh is pulling up near the heroes camp site. “Ho ho hail and well met!” the man says, leaping down from the sleigh. He pulls chunks of dried meat from the floor and throws one to each of the bears, who sit on their backsides and begin chewing thoughtfully.

The man puffs up to the circle of gaping mouths and wide eyes. “I am Santos, from the town of D Argent. Welcome to the end of the world.” After introductions he pulls a large bag from behind his seat and from it draws baskets of food and bottles of water and wine. “D Argent, also known as the eternal city, rests outside the fundament of time. It exists in all ages on this world, and we the guardians of that town rest in the peace of eternity. Sensing the death of the worlds last soul, evil as it was, alerted us to your presence, and I was dispatched to bring you hither, there to rest from your heroics. Load you gear and loot and lets be off. The End of the World Festivities begin soon!”

Prior to leaving, Santos gives each of them a gift from his great overflowing bag of goodies. Ria get a candle that never goes out and reveals all that is hidden, Hex gets a nice magic helm, Poppy gets a skeleton key that will open any lock, Felipe gets a never melting chunk of blue ice that will reveal a pathway from one area to the next, though it is not guaranteed to be the quickest, or the safest route. Thokk gets no physical object, but instead has bestowed upon him a fearsome reputation as a kingslayer, and Sharia the Flame Princess gets a magic fire horn that strips invulnerability to fire from her enemies, and gives invulnerability to fire to her allies.

For a day and a night the skiff slides onward over the ivory dust under a black sky. Ahead the black of night is broken on the horizon by a glow that grows steadily larger as they approach. Soon the squat, stone-walled town looms ahead, each of its parapets glowing with great burning braziers. A dry river-bed divides the city in twain, but only ultra-fine dust roils and sifts through it. The gates draw open as the sleigh comes near, and two guardsmen in shining silver caps and wielding long spears wave down as the sled passes inside the gates and skids to a halt on the cobbles.

As the party passes within, the day brightens, and the sky once black turns imperceptibly to cerulean blue. Looking back through the gates, the landscape has changed to rolling grass covered hills. There is no sign of the bleak world at the end of time. A man strides forward. He is part lion, covered in golden fur, and his mane is pulled back into cord wrapped braids. He wears an embroidered robe and though he is stooped with age, he walks with a stately grace.

“I am Rowthor, welcome to D Argent. It is a pleasure for me to see my good friends again. In your count of days, this is our first meeting, but in mine, this be our last. The next time we meet, you will know me already, but it will be my introduction to you.” Such are the vagaries and weirdness of time travel. “I am the seneschal of this town where heroes come to rest. You have earned your stay here. In addition, you have earned a mark of acclaim.” So saying he handed each of them a thin golden disk emblazoned with the seal of D Argent. “Give this mark to any citizen of D Argent and they will be glad to aid you any way they can.”

He leads them to the city, pointing out the master smiths, the fully stocked shops, and they personages of the city. The party meets the shifter Worgen brothers, the dwarf Hammergun clan, the elf Fluival, and the gnome Chownibulus to name a few. Any goods can be bought and sold in D Argent, and the heroes are welcomed to go exploring. A festival will begin soon, to which they are invited to participate, especially since they are the instigators of the Festival at the End of Time by slaying Gagnasdiaks undead soul.

The festival is made up of all sorts of contests. The prize for each is a potion of vitality. The first contest is a deity trivia game. Poppy wins the contest by answering knowing the god of magic – Ioun, and the goddess of the dead, the Raven Queen. The next contest is a 100 furlong footrace. Thokk makes an excellent showing, but is out paced by one of the Worgen brothers. Next comes the barrel jumping contest.

There is a grove of apple trees on the hilltop outside town, and tradition states that the barrels of cider are rolled down the hill to town, and it is the contestants job to jump them, last one standing wins. The first set of barrels rolls placidly down. The second set is lop-sided and bouncing. The third set is spinning as it rolls, and the fourth set of barrels is flaming. Thokk and Felipe are the only ones left, until the bouncing flaming barrel knocks Felipe out.

Then comes the monster spelling bee. Thokk is knocked out (trickily) by the word specter. The player is an anglophile, so this word was a trick to knock him out. Hex misses his space faring cousins the Githzerai, Ria fails to spell Gagnasdiak, Sharia loses to sphinx, and Poppy wins it with wyvern (I think.)

There was an obstacle course that was too poorly thought out to bother with, and the final contest was the wrestling match between Poppy and the gnome Chownibulus. The match went back and forth with each of them being able to squirm out of the others hold before they were pinned. Finally, winded, Chownibulus conceded the match to the elf.

As the festivities drew to a close, Rowthar came to them and told them that he would help them return to their own time in the world of D Erte, but in that time, the city of D Argent is practically abandoned and the portal circle is not working. There were three options open to the heroes. First, they could use the portal to be whisked away to an ancient temple on the edge of the North pole of D Erte called the Frostfell Rift; Second, they could be ported to a ruined monestary built into the face of an active volcano on an island off the coast of D Erte called by locals the Isle of Dread; or fanally, the Eternal city was about to shift in time and space to a version of D Erte that was the aftermath of a great war between man, machines, and magi-tech known as Gamma World.

With careful consideration, the party decided to try their luck on the isle of Dread.

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