Sunday, December 1, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #19

Death of a spymaster

Count Kird, it seems, is very well informed. He knows that the party accepted a commission to murder the leader of the Order of the Tower. He confiscates all the tael from the battlefield and demands that the party surrender into his custody.

They agree, and not just because they are currently weak. They think they can face a court trial and prove that they were only acting under duress. The ranger asserts they were going to be double agents. This faith in the system convinces Kird of their honesty, though he doesn't tell them that.

Instead, Kird points out that they are terrible double agents, in that they didn't come and report to him, but instead spent the last few weeks larking about in a dungeon. "But..." he adds, "if you are willing to prove your loyalty to Edersarr, I do have a proposition in mind."

He offers them a job: murder the man who hired them for murder. They are to travel back to Varsoulou, meet the Minister of Coin, and kill him. Then they must fight their way past the city's defenses and escape as best they can. Kird can only offer them the most minimal aid: he will convince the Order of the Tower to seal its doors and fly the mourning flag, so as to convince Varsouloean spies that the Viscount is dead. He tell the party he can maintain the deception for only three weeks; this gives them enough cover to at least arrange a meeting with Erligil.

The party is dubious; Erligil seems like a dangerous and well protected foe. Count Kird sweetens the pot: if they succeed, he will enoble them as landlords. They will receive the village and as much land to the south as they can hold. More importantly from their point of view, they will no longer be subject to the king's tax. All of their old tax debt will be wiped away, and even their status as escaped peasants will cease to matter.

After this, they bargain only for the mundane necessities. Horses, rations, and more arrows for the ranger. Kird readily agrees to such simple requests. He rides away, cautioning them to lay low, and the next day a trader wanders into town with six horses to sell. The trader takes only a single copper piece to make it a legitimate transaction. The party, now rested, recovered, and respelled, mount up and travel west again, with murder on their mind. They take poor Lodvun's head as a prop, knowing that pretending it is the Viscount's head will only buy then a brief opening.

The journey is without incident (they've already cleared a path, and new monsters have not had time to move in). In County Kaewaey they trade their foreign horses for local ones, recognizing that the Edersarrian beasts are dead giveaways. They also split up, seeking to hide the barbarian, their most powerful weapon, from Erligil's spies. The cleric goes with the barbarian to keep him out of trouble with his diplomatic skill, the wizard goes alone since he is a member of the Golden Library and thus has a legitimate reason to be in Varsoulou, and the ranger and druid travel under the bard's guidance. Since the bard can speak with the local accent, they still have their desert robes from last time, and they are on local horses, they travel into the capital without any trouble.

There the three members take up residence in the inn they had patronized before. The wizard also stays at the inn, but in disguise and separate from the group. The other two find lesser quarters down by the docks.

The bard spends money freely, seeking to appear as a man about to come into wealth and thus unconcerned with penny-pitching. Although this physically pains the druid, it is a good plan. The innkeeper gives them the best of everything and they rest in luxury for a day. At lunchtime a messenger arrives and lets them know that an old friend will be at a popular theater later that night. This is obviously an invitation from Erligil.

The party comes up with a complex plan to meet Erligil and try and win his trust. Still split up, the wizard goes to the bawdy house but is denied entry; unable to warn his mates he has to watch helplessly as the three enter and find a seat at one of the long tables. Shortly after that, ten knights in armor march in and take a table near them. Erligil appears next to the party, casting off his disguise.

"You look well," he says. "Though fewer in number."

They acknowledge the fact. "There were losses," the bard says.

"So you succeeded? Did you bring proof?"

"We might have a head hidden somewhere," the bard answers. "Did you bring our gold?"

There is a brief discussion over terms. The bard is adamant that the party is owed 60,000 gold; Erligil contends that the deal was 10,000 each, and since there are only three of them, that is 30,000. In the end he offers a compromise: a half-share for the dead, bringing the total to 45,000 gold. This is over 200 lbs of the stuff, so it's literally a staggering fortune. Despite that the bard is annoyed, and only concedes once he realizes it's the best deal he'll get.

"Tomorrow, then," Erligil says. "Bring your proof and I will take it to the castle. If it checks out, you can come to the castle and collect your pay. I might even arrange a meeting with the queen, if you ask nicely."

He leaves then, suggesting the party do the same, as the quality of the house's entertainment leaves much to be desired. The druid sticks around till closing time so he can scope out the entrances and exits. The bard hatches a clever plot; he approaches the barkeep and asks how much it would cost to rent out the entire hall for tomorrow night. "A private party," he says, "Just me and my friends." The barkeep suggests the outrageous price of five gold; the bard slides ten across the counter.

When they reunite with the wizard, he tells them that he couldn't get inside. They realize that virtually everyone in the bar was an agent of Erligil's. The three show up half an hour early the next night to make sure the barman keeps his word, but he silently slides the ten gold coins back across the bar. He forgot that he had a "prior engagement." To appease the bard he gives them free drinks all night.

At the appointed time the bar fills up with rough-looking men. Among them are the wizard in disguise and the cleric and barbarian, all at different tables. Ten armored knights march in, surrounding Erligil. Four take a seat at each table. The spymaster joins the main party at their table with six knights at his back.

The bard mentions that he's slightly offended by the show of force. Erligil apologizes; he never goes anywhere without a honor guard, and as for the rowdies, if a troop of the Queen's dragoons wants a night out on the town, who is he to say no?

The bard distracts Erligil by bringing up Count Wraythas' name. Erligil admits he would pay well for proof of the man's treachery, but first they should conclude the current deal. The bard slides a sack under the table; Erligil peeks inside to see the severed, preserved head; and the party attacks.

They win initiative, which turns out to be crucial. The bard casts Hideous Laughter on Erligil and the man collapses in a heap, unable to fight, flee, or even give orders (a classic trope of D&D: the save-or-die spell). The cleric casts a strength spell on the barbarian and tells him to cut loose. He does, literally. Leaping on top of a table, he draws his axe and spins, killing five men in a single continuous blow (the Great Cleave feat was expressly designed for murdering mooks). Blood spatters everywhere and the rampage only stops on the knight, who staggers back barely alive. The ranger also leaps on his table and stabs at the laughing Erligil, though the outcome is not quite as impressive as the barbarian's.

The knights spend the first round readying weapons and shields, as they had relaxed a bit when Erligil appeared to be in friendly conversation. The soldiers, being common men, are even slower to react.

The ranger continues stabbing at the helpless Erligil, and for once his dice do not betray him. The druid summons his most potent weapon, the dreaded bat swarm. It temporarily cripples two of the knights but the rest battle on. The barbarian murders another five men like a farmer reaping wheat. The wizard starts throwing sleep spells around, which is a mercy compared to many horrible ways to die currently being employed.

Now the knights react, rushing to cover Erligil and hacking at the ranger. They are well armored and well-trained (and first level), so the ranger finds himself in a proper fight. The barbarian tries to intimidate his foes; it buys him only a momentary advantage as the wounded knight at his table backs up until he is joined by more knights.

Two separate battles occur, with most of the party trying to kill Erligil through his screen of knights and soldiers, and the barbarian fighting half the army on the other side of the room. The soldiers have gotten into formation now, so the barbarian's slaughter spree has trickled into mere murderosity.

The party can no longer reach Erligil, so the druid summons wolves behind him. They leap on the helpless man, biting him; yet Erligil is a hero of some rank. He survives the round, the crippling spell is about to wear off, and he has a healing potion hidden in his jacket. The wizard blinds him, which is not as debilitating to a master rogue as one would think; but then the cleric sends in a ghostly hammer, the physical manifestation of his war god's wrath. This puts Erligil deep into negative hit points. But he's still not dead yet; a knight might break off the combat and sprint the bleeding man out of the room; until one of the summoned wolves sinks its teeth into Erligil's neck. The cleverest man in the kingdom has died in half a minute, unable to resist a simple spell from a low-level caster. Truly, the bard has discovered the Killing Joke.

The ranger is struggling with the remaining knights, a task not made easier when the druid's swarm moves onto him, seeking fresh flesh after killing several of the knights. The druid lets the swarm dissipate and the wizard ends the fight by putting the knights to sleep.

The bard cuts off Erligil's head and makes his own intimidation check, raising the severed head high. The common soldiers throw down their weapons and flee. A few knights remain on the other side of the room, fighting the barbarian, but the party's combined might dispatches them quickly.

Now it is time to retreat. The wizard pleads mightily for the chance to loot the tael from all the bodies, asserting that a few paltry seconds spent picking up loot is worth the risk, but the party has learned to value caution over greed. They grab only the tael from the ranked knights and Erligil's head, not even searching his body for treasure.

They rush back to their inn, with the druid summoning water to try and clean up the blood-soaked barbarian so as to not draw more attention that absolutely necessary. The party almost makes it out of town before a squad of mounted knights spots them, sets lances, and charges.

Despite the surprisingly easy fight in the bar, the party knows that lance charges are a thing to fear. They burn through magic, throwing up a web across the road, turning the dirt to mud, and flooding the area with opaque mist. All of this allows them to escape in the night.

Now they face hourly checks for patrols. Several they hide from, despite their miserable skills; two they avoid by use of the Entangle spell. Only at a check point do they find the need to fight another troop of dragoons. The ranger sneaks off to steal their horses while the barbarian simply wades into battle.

These men are armored and prepared. They are not nearly so easy a target as their mates in the bar. Still, the druid's flames and the barbarian's axe are too powerful, and the wizard still has sleep spells. The troop is broken and destroyed with only minor damage to the party - though the barbarian and ranger are running dangerously low on vitality.

Across the border, however, the pressure drops off and the patrols are less frequent as they have more territory to cover. The party finds a place to hide, avoiding one patrol, and only being confronted by another dragoon troop in the morning.

The casters have not yet had time to prepare spells, so the party forms a battle line. This fight is a drudging affair, with heavily armored troops in good formation. The party is slowly being whittled down, but the bard has regained his magic (since he doesn't have to prepare spells) and the barbarian makes his intimidate check. Soon half the dragoon troop is retreating, leaving the other half dead on the ground.

The party steals as many of the dragoon's horses as they can handle and press on. The next challenge gives them pause: ten armored knights, but not the Queen's. These men belong to Count Wraythas, and the leader of the troop is a highly ranked paladin. The party prepares for a desperate fight, but the paladin wants to talk.

"We had no love for that miserable sneak-thief you murdered," the paladin tells them. "From our perspective you have done us a favor. In return I can offer you a small favor. I will have you escorted to the borders of our lands without interference, on the condition that you never return."

The party, fearing both the lances of the paladin's knights and continued attacks by royal forces, agrees. The paladin has a wagon brought up, with a deaf and mute driver. The party is instructed to hide under the hay, where they must remain for two days. They bargain only for a set of horses and the bard's right to ride with the wagon-driver, as his disguise skill and ability to speak the accent makes him unlikely to be discovered. Of course the bard has to toss his weapons and armor under the hay, but he trusts to the power of his wit more than his halberd anyway.

The wagon travels without incident, avoiding detection by several royal patrols. Their driver takes them into the city of Kaewaey, where the bard spends the night shoveling out stables while the rest of the party hides uncomfortably in the hay. At least they have a chance to heal up and renew spells.

The next day the wagon reaches the border of civilized lands. The bard sees a mounted party waiting for them on the other side. It is Count Wraythas himself, with his priest and a troop of knights. The party is concerned but decides to hope he has come to offer them a bonus.

Instead, the moment they cross over into wilderness, the priest casts the dreaded Entangle spell, trapping the wagon in a sea of grasping grasses. Two troops of crossbowmen rise up on either side of the road, having successfully hidden from the bard's view (they rolled a 20 for their ambush!). The bowmen begin launching flaming bolts, setting the wagon on fire and killing the driver, while the Count and his knights wait to ride down anyone escaping the Entangle spell.

This is a bleak moment, with the powerful Count and his well-executed ambush being the most dangerous battle the party has ever faced. If they stay in the wagon they will burn; if the leap out they will be caught by the grass and become targets for the archers; if they escape the grass the knights will run them through. And then (in classic D&D fashion) the wizard makes it all go away with a spell. Under the cover of the smoke from the burning wagon he casts Rope Trick, creating an extra-dimensional hiding place. The party climbs inside and seals themselves off from the rest of the world. The trick works because the Count's priest is a Warrior Monk, the kind of cleric who favors practical theology over academics and thus has the spell-craft skill of a squirrel. After a brief search the Count's men leave, unable to guess where the villains have gone.

Four hours later the party drops back into the real world, into a pile of cold ashes and dead horses, and begins the long trek home.

Back in Edersarr they stop at their little village inn, where they are greeted warmly. In the morning they march up to the city. Count Kird pays them no special attention in public; he can hardly admit that he sent them on a mission to assassinate a foreign minister without starting a the very war he was trying to avoid. But in private he expresses his gratitude, summoning a clerk and writing out their patents of land on the spot. Tonight they will dine with the king as new nobles of the realm, recognized for their general and unspecified activities to the benefit of the kingdom, and of course for their specific and very visible rank.

Our boys have risen from peasant to peerage, and they still haven't turned 17.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #18

The Lake of Ill Repute: final chapter.

The party takes the bard's words seriously. Rather than plunge directly back into the dungeon, they decide to rest up and regain spells first. This proves to be a fateful decision.

In the morning their leisurely breakfast is interrupted by a scream. The barbarian heroically rushes out to the rescue. The druid takes a moment to finish off the barbarian's scrambled eggs while the rest of the party casually makes their way to the door.

A group of villagers are running up from the shore, pursued by a squad of heavily armored zombies. The ranger takes a firing position on the roof of the inn while the rest of the party fans out. Their plans for an easy battle are disrupted when the ranger calls out that there are two other squads of zombies up and down the beach. Despite this, the party seems quite unconcerned and most of them stand around waiting for the zombies to get closer.

The barbarian decides to intercept one squad all by himself. As he passes a house the occupants wave a cheery greeting. He tells them to shut and bar their door, for danger is afoot. However, he soon reverses course as the squad of zombies he was going to attack turns into three. More and more zombies are staggering out of the lake.

The ranger hits upon a clever plan: lure the zombies into the barn and then burn it down. Naturally the druid thinks this is brilliant, and he runs out banging pots and pans to capture the monster’s attention. Meanwhile the wizard and cleric start getting people out of their houses as zombies begin battering down the doors, attracted to the smell of live flesh. A good use of the Web spell traps a squad of zombies at the door to a hovel while the wizard sneaks the family out through the window. The cleric stands in the street and begins chanting, aiming to catch as many zombies as possible in his holy aura.

The barbarian realizes the plan is to set the barn on fire. He runs to save the animals, leaving the cleric and druid to play zombie-bait. Eventually they lure a dozen or so zombies in the barn, along with the cleric, barbarian, and ranger. The barbarian scuttles up to the hayloft, hauls the cleric up on a rope, and jumps out the window to the outside to close the barn doors. The cleric gingerly climbs down a rope to the outside while the ranger strikes a torch. Or rather, tries to. After three rounds of failure (apparently starting a fire with flint and steel while orc zombies mill claw at the wall trying to climb up and eat you is distracting), the ranger gives up and resorts to magic. A blast from one of Rialto’s rods sets the hay ablaze, and the ranger falls out of the window to the outside as gracefully as a sack of potatoes.

The town is now fully invested and the inn besieged. When zombies begin bashing at the inn door the party tries to come up with a plan. They hide the children in the cellar and the peasants on the second floor while watching the door slowly disintegrate under the continued assault. Finally the barbarian can’t stand it anymore; throwing the door open, he engages the zombies axe to axe.

The ranger is still on the roof and gives a good account of himself with his bow. This particular gang of zombies is defeated and the barbarian is pulled back inside while the others slam the door. Now it is a matter of stealth; the bard tells stories to keep the children quiet and calm while zombies wander around outside at random.

There are still villagers trapped in their houses, though. The party splits up and slips out to brave the streets, looking to lead villagers back to safety. The cleric discovers the power of Invisibility to Undead, while everyone else wishes they had invested more skill points in Move Silently. Every party member gets a chance to shine as they employ all the tricks up their sleeves to get the families safely back to the barn. One highlight among many: the wizard selflessly risks himself to cover a family’s retreat.

Once the villagers are all safely inside, the party tries to wait out the plague. Every hour or so zombies notice the inn and try to break in. At first the party uses magic like Ghost Sounds to lure the monsters away, but eventually they start worrying about running out of spells and switch to swords and arrows and clever tactics (at one point the wizard fights a zombie solo, relying on cantrips to destroy it). The ranger keeps sneaking out to recover arrows, only to stumble and attract more zombies.

At nightfall everything changes. The zombies begin systematically destroying buildings and it is clear they are under some kind of intelligent control. The party decides to sneak all the villages out to the cave above the lake. Once again ranger completely and utterly fails an easy Move Silently check.

The horde of zombies is now marching towards the party. After only a moment’s indecision the party stands its ground, covering the retreat of the villagers. The druid entangles about half of the monsters while the cleric and wizard go Invisible and try to seek out their leader in the darkness.

Meanwhile the true leader, the wight Xerxes, is seeking out the party who just the night before had destroyed the ordinary zombie he had left on a fake throne in the room above his real lair. His skeletal dire wolf flanks the party’s main battle line and drops the ranger in a single bite. The barbarian fights defensively, properly terrified of the creature’s incredibly brutal attacks. The bard heals the ranger, getting him back into action, but for once the mystical dagger of slaying does not appear to be enough. The druid and ranger burn through Rialto’s rods with abandon, fire off precious charges against the hulking undead wolf.

The cleric and wizard have indeed found the wight on his way to attack the party from the other side. Just like that scene in Game of Thrones (because obviously Aria had some kind of invisibility, right?), the undead stream around our two heroes without noticing them. They bravely back-stab the wight as he walks past… and miss.

Undeterred, they chase after him and try again. This time they inflict surprising damage between their Cure Light Wounds and Shocking Grasps. Finally the wight lands a good blow, dropping the wizard into negatives, and the cleric has to use his last spell to hide himself or face the wight and his zombie flunkies alone. Once invisible he uses a cantrip to stop the wizard from bleeding to death, but dares not do anything offensive lest it break the spell.

From across the field the druid turns his attention from the smoking pile of bones that was once the most fearsome monster the party had ever faced and uses the last charge of his rod to kill the wight. The foe is dead! And yet the party is still in dire straights. Squads of uncontrolled but still vicious zombies are staggering out of the Entangle spell, more are coming from the village, and the party is out of magic, items, and hit points.

They brace themselves for a final stand, knowing that some actual fatalities are almost certain given the depleted state of their hit points. A growing thunder emanates from the village; what new foe is this? Out of the village charges a troop of knights, led by the paladin Count Kird, Minster of War for the King of Edersarr. Magic and lances make short work of the remaining shambling monsters, and the Count rides up to greet the relieved party with unexpected words.

“You are… under arrest for treason!”

(GM Notes: the siege worked out wonderfully, with the roll for an encounter every hour building tension as they slowly ran out of resources. All of the players got to do something heroic at one point or another, whether it was rescuing villagers or battling monsters. And the final battle was properly terrifying; the wizard and cleric's sneak attack was both comical and effective. This was one of the most successful sessions we've had.)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #17

Return to the Lake of Ill Repute

The party returns to a warm welcome at their old village inn. The innkeeper has kept their room open, as promised, though given that this village is on the border of the kingdom and nothing but wilderness lies beyond it, there aren’t any other guests. There used to be various people visiting the sorcerer Grayson and the occasional merchant in the honey business, but those sources of revenue are gone now. On the other hand, the demons and giant bees are gone, so the innkeeper doesn’t complain. Instead he hands the party a package that had been mysteriously left on his doorstop. Although he can’t read the writing on the box he knows it’s obviously meant for adventurers.

The box contains a jar, and the jar contains a head: the boiled and burnt head of their old contact Lodvun, who had hired them to find a clear path to Varsoulou for the spice trade. The party doesn’t know what to make of this message. The cleric feels guilty that they took his down-payment and didn’t deliver, but mostly the party seems happy to consider that plot thread snipped off and sewn up.

Meanwhile the innkeeper, after serving them dinner for free, mentions that there is a small favour the village would like to ask of them. The victims from Grayson’s murder spree have crawled out of their graves and into the lake, and their relatives would appreciate the party returning their corpses for proper re-burial. Everyone would sleep more soundly if they knew their recently departed weren’t cavorting with a bunch of orcs and fishmen at the bottom of the lake, you know?

The next day the party descends into the dungeon and spends several days doing battle with various traps and undead monsters, including a giant spider (which naturally died to the ranger's epic dagger), but with their advanced rank and the remains of the blasting rods from Rialto they are never particularly in danger. One notable battle involves fifty heavily armed and armored zombies in a small room, which the party struggles to beat down with several wave attacks – and all to virtually no profit, as the constructs yield little tael and less gold. They do collect a sufficiency of corpse dust to return to the village, some of which even comes from the corpses of the villagers that got dusted during one of the cleric's many Turn Undead chants. When they find another room of full of the creatures they sensibly retreat and close the door. The monsters remain quiescent and the party moves on to the final room, where they encounter the master of the dungeon, the undead orc lord Xerxes and his massive undead wolf pet.

The wizard magically seizes control of the pet, and the skeletal lord goes down in the second round under a barrage of attacks. The party collects a handful of tael and the thousand gold coins that made up the studs on the skeleton’s armor. Exhausted with being underground in foul air and surrounded by dead things, they retreat to the inn where they left the bard to drink off his most recent romantic disaster.

They join him at the bar, hoping for a dramatic song about their exploits, but even in his cups the bard has a strong sense of the dramatic. “That can’t be right,” he slurs from the bottom of a mug of ale. “All that dungeon for a sack of gold coins? Something doesn’t add up…”

Saturday, September 21, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #16

Haggling Friends, abandoned

Mar the sea hag convinces the party to take off their metal armor and weapons and participate in a ludicrous arcane ritual (never underestimate the power of a hideous face). This does not go unchallenged; two air elementals come shrieking down out of the sky to put a stop to proceedings.

This does mean the elementals have to drop their latest victims - our missing wizard and bard! After several days of not hearing from their friends, the two ventured out to find them and were immediately snatched up by wandering elementals. Fortunately the elementals got distracted before they could carry out their plan of "drop two humans from 10,000 feet and see if the heavier one lands first."

Mar curses the elementals with her hideousness and then immediately jumps in the river. The party dashes back to their pile of weapons and begins to fight an exciting, danger-laden battle (the details of which I have forgotten since it was a month ago). A spell from the wizard blinds one of the elementals, which ultimately tilts the contest in favor of the party. The wizard also closes the portal to the elemental plane of air with an Arcane Lock spell, reasoning that it "holds portals."

When Mar returns she is upset that her portal is gone. She tries to convince the druid to sacrifice the two warriors for tael to re-open the portal. He considers the idea but ultimately rejects it. Instead, the party convinces Mar to wait until tomorrow, after they've healed and recharged their spells. The bard, true to form, strikes up a friendly conversation with the sea hag and accompanies her back to her underwater lair, where he entertains her until she falls asleep and then steals the Tome of Doors. She wakes up as he's sneaking out, but he placates her with another performance.

Meanwhile the party is attacked by a pack of rogue shadows. The cleric sends them packing easily enough. When the bard returns in the wee hours of the morning, the party has had enough. They immediately start hiking east to pick up the trail home. Along the way they are attacked by shadows every night, and eventually the cleric mispronounces one of the esoteric syllables of his protective chant. A brief battle ensues, only to end anticlimactically when the cleric properly invokes the power of his god and vaporizes most of the shadows. Heat rays from Rialto's rods finish off the last of them, but the rods are beginning to run out of charges.

This resolves the random attacks at night, but the area is still dangerous (and never mind they are trying to avoid Mar and her cousins). An air elemental shows up and is easy pickings after the wizard blinds it. Encouraged and greedy, the bard casts Summon Hostile Monster - a spell which consists of waving around a gold coin while shouting the mystical orcish phrase, "Meat's back on the menu, boys!" The spell works better than anticipated - three elementals descend from the sky in a fury. A tremendous battle ensues, with the cleric, barbarian, and ranger all going to negatives at one point or another. The ranger finally uncorks his mystic Dagger of Slaying and dissipates the last one, leaving the party severely depleted and out of spells. On the other hand they've managed to eliminate most of the wandering monsters in the area, earning enough tael to raise everyone to fourth level.

They pick up the golem's trail and evade every other potential encounter, making a beeline for home and their lost donkeys of gold. This journey is interrupted by a tower appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the plain (another random encounter provided by Sandbox World Generator). Five lamias in matching armor march out and the leader demands a toll for trespassing on their land - the party must choose one of their companions as a sacrifice. The party, however, is in no mood for this, and immediately attacks. An Entangle spell pins the foe in place, insect swarms reveal four of the lamia to be mere mirror images that are instantly destroyed, and barbarian and ranger swords put the lamia on the ground in record time (and it was supposed to be a CL 6 encounter!). The lamia begs for his life and the druid intervenes, sparing him. Unfortunately this is not due to some moral concern but rather due to the lamia's promise of hidden treasure.

The lamia almost makes it work, explaining that he knows where to acquire mass quantities of tael if only he had a few strong hands to help collect it, but the cleric thinks to ask if the collection of this treasure would be an evil act. "I guess," says the lamia, "but since you're in the business of wandering onto people's lands and beating them up, does it matter?" Realizing the moral hazard, the ranger puts an end to the lamia's tempting lies with his dagger. (Seriously, that thing should get a magical bonus by now.)

The very next day they cross the river from which they were originally kidnapped. Much to their dismay their horses and donkeys are long gone, and even the ranger can't find their tracks after the many weeks that have passed. The party decides to return to their original stomping grounds and finish exploring the dungeon under the lake, mostly because the wizard wants another skeleton to boss around.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Podcast with Beyond the Trope

I did a podcast with the lovely team over at Beyond the Trope. They were a lot of fun to talk to! Check it out if you have the time - they have a half-dozen ways to listen.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #15

Haggling Friends

(Note: this recap will be a spoiler for the adventure Haggling Friends, available at DriveThruRpg).

On their way out of town the party decides to indulge in the druid's favorite hobby, burning buildings. They work all day to pile wood inside the harpy's tower, ignoring her insults now that the burly fighting men are immune to her song. When they finally ignite the conflagration, the harpy rolls her eyes and flies away. Convincing themselves that they have won the encounter, they set out for home, following the distinctive tracks of the wheeled police golem that originally brought them here.

In the middle of the night they are (not) surprised by the return of the harpy, but the presence of Lady Night is different matter. The druid, demonstrating good instincts, offers a ransom if she will let them go. Surprised herself, the lady agrees to call off the harpy circling overhead in exchange for precious tael. Coming from the notoriously tight-fisted druid, this is a real sacrifice. But the party will have none of it; they hurled insults and then javelins and arrows when the harpy dives into an attack.

The harpy dies pretty quickly. Without her song she is no match for the barbarian and ranger. Lady Night, on the other hand, turns out to be an incredibly dangerous foe (especially considering she is only a ECL 4 encounter!). She immediately summons multiple swarms of bats, which prove to be as debilitating to the party as all the swarms they have sent against their enemies. The druid struggles to get off a spell, the barbarian can't get past her armor and damage resistance, and the ranger is almost immediately dominated by her vampiric charm. Once again deafness plays to their advantage; she can't order him to attack his companions. It all comes down to a desperate Turn Undead from the cleric (who succeeds only after adding every imaginable bonus the party could scrape together). Even so the bats she left behind might have caused a death or two but for the druid wielding summoned flame - the only effective weapon they have against swarms.

The next day they hustle to put distance between themselves and Lady Night's resting place, which they assume must be somewhere in the City of Tomorrow. They know she won't risk being caught out at dawn, so if they can just get far enough away they'll be safe from her attentions. Of course this leaves Rialto to deal with the creature, but they seem remarkably unconcerned for his safety.

The plains stretch out wide and long before them, broken up by forests. In the distance they see a sphinx on the wing and decide not to head in its direction. When the golem tracks lead them into a forest, they hesitate; the dangers of the open plains and the sphinx seem less intimidating than whatever the trees are hiding. However, home, and more importantly the donkeys carrying all of their gold, lay on the other side, so in they go,

Where they are immediately attacked by what appears to be a tribe of pixies, small blue creatures that cast annoying spells on them and then disappear. They seriously consider retreating and detouring around the forest when they are saved by an attractive young woman who frightens the invisible creatures off.

Her name is Abby and she is currently engaged in some arcane magical research, hence the isolation of living in the forest. She invites them back to her humble hut for dinner and offers to brew up a potion to cure the two warrior's deafness - if they can provide her with the necessary ingredients of tael and an owlbear feather. The druid is carrying a bag full of various monster parts like a demented kind of trophy case, but Abby turns her nose up at the feather he produces. She says it must be fresh; and as luck would have it, she can give them directions to an owlbear's lair not too far away.

The party is pretty confident of their owlbear hunting skills, and as usual this one barely puts up a fight before the ranger kills it with his dagger. Seriously, that guy is just showboating now. The potion is successful and the party enjoys a nice dinner cooked over the fireplace outside her hut. The wizard engages her in interesting arcane discussions and the bard engages her in his usual ribaldry, both of which seem well-received.

In the morning Abby asks them for a favor in return. It turns out that she is not completely alone here; she has two sisters, one to the north and one to the south, who used to live with her. However, they had a falling out and not spoken for a few years. Her sister Bella accused her of stealing a precious unicorn horn and a set of wereboar teeth. While she maintains her innocence, she is ready to bury the hatchet, and the party can help. If they could rustle up a horn or some teeth, and take them to Bella with a note of contrition from Abby, perhaps the two sisters could repair their relationship. And as luck would have it, she can give them directions...

The druid and the cleric put their foot down at hunting unicorns. They are Good, after all. Most of the party sets out in search of the wereboars, leaving behind the wizard and bard who seem otherwise occupied (and whose player's missed this session). After a long day's hike they find the were-brothers digging for truffles in the dirt like a pair of half-naked savages (which, in fact, they are). Like any meeting in the wild, far from the influence of law and order, the situation is tense. The brothers are wary but are not overtly hostile. The druid becomes slightly uneasy and opens a discussion with the brothers to determine if they are evil enough to be murdered. Within a few minutes both sides are exchanging foodstuffs (mushrooms for ale) and in general having a good time.

So that puts that murder-for-hire contract off the table. The party decides to go off-script and search out the third sister (since they happen to be close to her territory) and see what she wants. (Again, this is both the danger and glory of the sandbox approach. Even when the rails are plainly marked - like three sisters named A, B, and C - the players can get themselves completely lost.) They find Crissy, a beautiful red-headed woman who frankly looks nothing like the younger black-haired Abby, and introduce themselves. She tells them a similar tale of woe, suggesting that they fetch a Dire Lion skin for their cousin, Mar, who lives to the west. And as luck would have it...

The Dire Lions, despite being huge carnivorous bags of teeth and claws, are no match for the dreaded Entangle spell coupled with the ranger's bow. Finally equipped with a suitable gift, the party heads for Mar's place. Along the way they get assaulted by a rogue air elemental, which gives them a serious beating and would have carried the cleric off to be murdered if the barbarian hadn't rescued him from the whirlwind with a well-timed grab.

Mar does not look like her cousins. She is a hideously ugly creature with yellowed, leathery skin and rotting seaweed for hair. She is also obviously deranged. The lion skin prompts a confession out of her; she was the one who stole all of the sister's missing components. But she had a good reason; she is trying to open a portal to the plane of water so as to flood the area and create a new sea. Apparently a band of Dark Naga had driven her away from the ocean far to the west, and living in a river just wasn't good enough. Mar has had some success, due to ancient text on gate magic called the Tome of Doors. Unfortunately her spellcraft is abysmal and what she accomplished was to open a portal to the plane of air, which accounts for all the rogue air elementals roaming around. She swears she knows how to fix it; if the party will help her in a new ritual she will convert the portal to water and reward them with as many pearls as they can carry.

The party is dubious but they agree to help her, secretly planning to wait until she goes through the portal to collect the pearls and then smash the portal, trapping her on the other side. She casts Water Breathing on all of them and leads them up-river to where the portal is located. They travel underwater so as to avoid the detection of the air elementals, who will surely view any attack on their doorway home as provocative. This, at last, is properly heroic - sacrificing their promised treasure to shut down a gateway to a hostile plane of monsters. But will they be able to pull it off? And what will they tell cousin Abby, when they go back to recover their mates?

Monday, June 10, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #14

The City of Tomorrow, Cont.

(Note: this recap will be a spoiler for the adventure The City of Tomorrow, available at DriveThruRpg).

The last few days have had a musical accompaniment from the bell tower as the bard and harpy sang duets. But this morning the bard finds himself alone and finally shrugs off the harpy's magically-induced fascination.

He calls out for help and soon the rest of the party is at the foot of the tower. There are a few words of recrimination, but as the bard was not being attacked by hordes of cannibalistic lizardfolk, and as the party agrees never to discuss the events of the last few days (in the same way they have agreed never to discuss the unfortunate affair of his fish-wife marriage), he quickly moves on to the problem of getting back on the ground. (In true D&D fashion he considers just jumping; it's only a five-story fall, after all. What's 5D6 damage among friends? As it turns out, quite a lot for a bard who only has 4D6 hit points.) Considerable discussion is had as the party attempts to find the most convoluted magical method for resolving the problem because why not? Eventually the bard decides to take his chances; he leaps from the window, trusting the wizard to time his Levitate spell to catch him halfway down (the spell's range doesn't reach to the top of tower). One dramatic Spellcraft roll later the bard executes a perfect landing. Now that's an entrance!

So much so that it elicits a round of applause from everyone, including the lizardfolk ambush party that has crept up during all the shouting back and forth. Quickly remembering their true purpose, they hurl a round of javelins and then charge. The wizard casts Sleep, knocking out four of the five attackers, and the fifth one is tripped by the druid's wolf. A comedy ensues as the lizardfolk manages to awaken one of his fellows before succumbing to the assault, and each lizardfolk does the same in turn. Eventually, though, all of them are accounted for.

The party then fills in the bard on the exciting events he's missed, including introducing Rialto and a quick re-telling of the ranger's epic duel with two owlbears armed only with a dagger while the rest of the party watches from behind cover, unable to assist. (The tale might have grown a bit in the telling). This discussion is interrupted by another lizardfolk ambush apparently armed with a plethora of luck. Not only have they crept past the druid's hawk undetected (no mean feat), they manage to land three critical hits from their opening salvo. The barbarian suddenly finds himself with a face-full of javelins. Nonetheless he bravely charges into battle, only to eat another critical. Now the bard has to sneak in and heal the barbarian before he bleeds out while the rest of the party beats down the foe, slinging spells with abandon.

They have gained another audience; the harpy has returned from hunting only to discover the party has stolen her bard. When they reasonably point out that the bard was theirs in the first place, she reminds them that the sack of jewels they took from her nest was hers in the first place. A mutually satisfying deal is struck with the return of each party's property, though the bard is somewhat disappointed to discover that apparently the harpy valued her jewels more than his company. They do try recruit the harpy to attack the lizardfolk, but she is totally unwilling - after some verbal sparring they discover that she is wary of the witch-doctors in the lizardfolk camp.

The only real sticking point in the negotiations is the harpy's insistence that they clear away all the dead lizardfolk from the base of her tower. The wizard takes umbrage at being harangued to take out the garbage by a (literal) harpy, perhaps reflecting some past-life trauma. In the end they leave with only one corpse and a vague promise to "take care of it."

The party has hatched a plan to recruit the lions to their lizard war (the things players come up with while the DM is fetching the pizza) and are taking one dead lizardfolk as an offering. Along the way they are jumped by yet another lizardfolk ambush; this time they rely on the rods of Scorching Ray Rialto armed them with and make short work of the enemy. The ranger uses his magic to talk to the lions and negotiates an alliance; at dawn the lions will attack the lizardfolk camp from the rear while the party charges from the front. As always an alliance with cats is a tenuous thing, assuming as it does that they will remember to show up and also remember whose side they are on, but the party leaves with a good feeling about their chances the next day. They retire to the library for the night, dispatching yet another lizardfolk ambush on the way.

As they are cooking dinner in the library they hear scratching on the walls outside. The ranger puts his stealth skill to use and creeps out to see what is going on. Turns out a squad of lizardfolk are scaling the walls, while an indeterminate number of additional squads are hiding in the forest. The party waits until the lizardfolk reach the top of the walls of the roofless ruin and engage in a missile duel. Though the lizardfolk receive a significant bonus by use the wall as a cover, their javelins are still no match for magic and they inflict only minor damage before being shot off the walls.

Several of the party then lay out their bed-rolls, planning to get a good night's sleep so they can refresh their spells. Their nap is rudely interrupted when a squad of lizardfolk bust down the doors and charge in to the attack. This fight ends like all the others, of course, but several members of the party are out of spells and the warriors are low on hit points.

So they are gratified that their next visitor, just after the sun goes down, is merely Lady Night rather than a squad of angry lizards. She compliments them on their success so far, but assures them the night has only just begun. Once more she tries to make an alliance that would see the Censer of Animation in her hands, but the party balks at her terms since she is unwilling to tell them to what purpose she would put that powerful artifact. Also, it would mean screwing over Rialto, who is right there in the library with them, and hasn't cast any of his spells yet (during the ambushes he mostly hung back, only employing his rod occasionally). She takes her leave with regret.

Only minutes go by before the next assault. A flood of wolves charges through the open doorway. The druid tries to defuse the situation with Animal Empathy, only to discover these are not real wolves but summoned creatures. He calculates how much magic would be required to summon so many animals and starts to slightly freak out. Not for long, though, as yet another squad of lizardfolk follow the wolves in. Now the library is a chaotic swirling mess of dogs, lizards, and men. The party struggles to end the battle; while none of the threats are terribly overwhelming, there are a lot of them.

Inevitably, there are even more. Next two squads charge through the door. No worries, mate; Rialto fireballs the library entrance, destroying the reinforcements of lizardfolk before they can engage. Two more squads immediately follow, but these are different; they are clearly ranked warriors, not merely common soldiers. They are also crap at saving throws and succumb ingloriously to Rialto's second fireball.

But even the puissant Rialto has limits; when the chieftain and his four witch-doctors appear in the entrance, the warlock is out of spells and distracted by wolves. The bard, recently having discovered a way to engage in combat without fearing instant death, summons up five copies of himself and leaps into battle (Mirror Image is one of the stronger low-level spells in the game). The cleric shoots the chieftain with a Scorching Ray; the witch-doctors respond with Magic Missiles until the cleric takes a dirt nap. Then the witch-doctors turn their attention to the bard, slowly chipping away at his defenses. The druid and wizard summon help, in the form of wolves and a swarm of bats, to attack the witch-doctors from behind.

Meanwhile the chieftain proves to be a formidable foe. Even toe to toe with all of the martial prowess  of the party - the barbarian, ranger, and bard - he keeps standing. Worse, he hits like a ton of bricks (by sheer luck all of his damage rolls come up at the maximum). The barbarian takes a hit and goes down in a jangle of metal, his full plate armor no match for the chieftain's brutal strikes. Then the ranger gets slammed, taking him as close to death as any of the party has ever been. Three members of the party are now on the ground, the druid and bard are completely out of spells, and things look quite dire - until the druid's wolf manages to trip the chieftain and the wizard Dazes him. In that moment of opportunity the bard draws a bead and scorches the chieftain, ending his reign of terror in a gruesome, smoking barbecue.

A few healing potions later, every is at least awake and mobile. They quickly harvest the dead, dredging up the last of their cantrips to extract the tael from the corpses rather than going through the grisly and time-consuming process of boiling their heads. They barely have time for this before the return of Lady Night.

She looks over the broken and burnt party and makes one more offer: surrender the censer or have it taken. The party, in no mood for provocation, responds with a fusillade of Scorching Rays, and Lady Night disintegrates into a cloud of black smoke. Curiously, the same kind of smoke that the summoned wolves gave off when they were destroyed. The cleric finally makes his Knowledge: Religion check and deduces that Lady Night is a vampire. The fact that she left behind neither corpse nor tael when reduced to smoke tells the party that she is not done with them yet.


Rialto suggests retreating to the Cave of Refuge for the night, as the library is on fire, full of corpses, and no longer even remotely defensible. The party has a rare moment of disunion when half vote to stay, fearing the trek through the woods in darkness, and half vote to leave, fearing what might come to the library next. They let Rialto's vote swing the balance and set off into the night, carrying the heads of the chieftain and his witch-doctors as trophies.

Only to be met by the harpy. She congratulates them on dispatching the witch-doctors, whose spells were longer range than her song. As she clearly mulls whether or not the party is weak enough to attack, the druid, out of patience for threats pretending to be diplomacy, snaps off a quick shot from his rod. (Some people just can't be trusted with assault rifles.) He misses and the harpy flees into the darkness. Now music comes drifting out of the darkness, captivating half the party - the bard, ranger, and barbarian. The charmed characters begin trudging back to the harpy's tower, bemused looks on their faces. Rialto offers his profoundest sympathies, but now that the censer is in his hands, his duty is to his people. He continues on to the Cave of Refuge, leaving the party with the magic items he had lent them for the fight, and a standing invitation to return at any time.

The three spell-casters follow their friends through the night, trying to come up with a plan that doesn't involve magic (which they are virtually out of) or melee (which they are no good at). At the foot of the tower, watching their friends begin the dangerous climb, knowing that in their current state even one fall might kill them, to say nothing of the harpy that waits at the top, the wizard casts his last two spells: he Deafens both the barbarian and ranger. This is a brilliant defense, save for the minor fact that it is permanent.

This immediately breaks the harpy's control. The ranger easily plucks the bard from the wall and holds him down. The harpy soon realizes that she's lost; she stops singing so she can hurl insults and curses at them. The party trudges back to the Cave of Refuge, reaching it as the sun comes up. Rialto greets them warmly, offering a stew coated in enough magic to disguise its actual contents.

When they finally emerge from the cave a few days later, with spells and hit-points fully refreshed, they return to the lizardfolk camp, only to find a pride of lions lounging around and gnawing on bones. The lions kept to their agreement and attacked the camp at dawn, several days ago. Finding only womenfolk and hatchlings, the lions rampaged unopposed, exterminating the tribe and incidentally acquiring enough tael to promote the leader of the pride to a Dire Lion. Fortunately the creature remembers the profitable alliance with the party and greets them with reserve, issuing only a low warning growl when they get too close.

Rialto has reanimated half a dozen of his people now, men and women armed with swords and armor and steely glares, and his own spells are renewed, so the cave is a safe place to rest; but for the journey home he has little to offer the party beyond a few day's worth of boiled lizard meat. He can do nothing about their loss of hearing; for that they need to return to civilization and a priest of sufficient rank. It is a long trek through unknown wilderness, with an angry air-borne harpy and a vampire at their back, but at least the barbarian doesn't have to listen to any of the bard's songs.