Tuesday, November 7, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #48

 Rise of the Domain Lords, part III: Snakes!

The map is ancient, but the location of the Naga nest is newly inked. The party decides to start there first, and now heads south.

Walking through the brush, the Barb spots a dire boar. It ignores him. Offended, he intimidates it into fleeing. A few rounds later it returns with few friends, and a herd of boars charge into the party, doing tremendous damage. As is typical in these situations the Druid turns into a bear, but this time the reaction is unique: the boards go berserk, ignoring every other threat, to attack the Druid-bear. He is almost instantly driven to the ground. Luckily he de-transitions once unconscious, and the boars go back to attacking everyone else instead of savagely goring his unconscious and helpless body.

This battle is still in doubt when a wolf whistle calls the herd off. Carefully hiding behind a tree, the winter wolf Scar attempts to interest the party in his problems - namely, killing his brother Mustafa and his pack of Dire Bears so Scar can regain control of the wolf pack.

He finds no takers; instead, the Cleric tries to silence him and the Ranger tries to entangle him. He slips away into the forest, and while the Druid can scan and locate the boards, they decide that these small beans are no longer worth their time. They push on to the mountains and the lair of the Nagas.

First Lizard Battle

Entering the rocky hills they are challenged by a trio of harpies. The Bard countersings and the Wizard launches a fireball. Immediately the birds turn and run. But the party knows that the enemy knows they are coming.

Halfway up the mountain they encounter squads of lizardmen and harpies. Again the a firewall shapes the battlefield to their advantage, while the Barbarian does his usual destruction of squads, though the Druid and Ranger are somewhat more challenged by a handful of lizardmen with advanced ranks. The Cleric deals with the harpies with his arsenal of spiritual hammers.

Suddenly a naga appears from nowhere and blasts half the party with a lighting bolt. The Wizard immediately blinds her; on the next round she turns invisible and slithers away. The party finishes off the lizards on this side of the wall of fire, and when the fire goes out, the battlefield is silent again. The party decides to hole up in a Rope trick and wait for morning, ceding the initiative for a chance to restore spells.

Second Lizard Battle

The next day they advance unchallenged. Finding a mysterious tunnel entrance, they debate closing it up or exploring it, but settle for the Ranger putting an alarm on it so they will know if they are flanked.

Soon they are ambushed by a huge troop of lizards, along with a dozen harpies. Worse, two of the harpies are archers. Again the Wizard uses Wall of Fire to stop the lizard heroes firing at them from atop a cliff face, but the heroes just leap down and join the battle with axes.

And then the invisible nagas appear, casting lightning bolts and enfeebling rays.

The Bard sends several squads and a hero fleeing with Fear. He then dances through melee, freely inviting attacks of opportunity because his new Mobility feat makes him nigh-invincible from such attacks. Once he puts up mirror images, the harpies start dive-bombing him, since stripping his images away is the only useful thing they can do (at one point they dive-bomb the Druid-bear, but his reach allows him to catch one as they fly by and bite it in half; after this they avoid the beast). They even manage to nick the  Bard once or twice with their glaives.

The Barbarian destroys several squads, but then a half-dozen heroes surround him and administer a severe beating while a naga repeatedly fails to weaken him with a ray (missing four times in a row!).

The Ranger finds himself targeted by one of the harpy archers and almost killed - again. He shoots back, crippling her to the point where she spends the next few rounds drinking potions.

The other harpy archer is deploying her arrows against the biggest threat each turn. Everyone feels the sting of her arrows over the battle.

The Druid-bear holds the rear, where a group of lizard squads and heroes and a naga have tried to flank them, thanks to the aforementioned tunnel. He slowly chews through the squads and then destroys the naga in a single round, despite her magical defenses.

The Cleric sends out some hammers, but soon finds himself healing the wounded or restoring their strength. He also spends several rounds healing himself, having been caught in the path of one too many lightning bolts.

The Wizard attempts to blind one of the harpy archers. She responds by knocking him out. Once he is healed, he uses Soften Stone to destroy the arch that two nagas are perched atop, forcing them to retreat instead of attacking for a few rounds. When they do reappear, he blasts one with missiles, only to find it protected. It cripples him with a ray anyway.

Healed from that, the Wizard puts up mirror images, causing the harpies to swoop and dive on him, destroying his images but failing to do any damage to him. He stretches across a rock to rescue the beleaguered Ranger with a Displacement spell, but this exposes him to one of the lizardmen heroes, who abruptly cuts him in half! The first party member death has occurred.

The Ranger, wounded from his archery duel and surrounded by lizardman heroes, has been on the defensive. But with the Displacement providing him some protection, he returns to the battle, shooting the lizardman heroes in the face at point-blank range despite their best attacks.

One of the nagas that retreated now appears and catches several party members in a lightning bolt. The Druid-bear kills it, causing the harpy archer to shoot him into unconsciousness.

The Barbarian has, improbably, beaten down all of the heroes ganging up him. The naga hits him with a lightning bolt but his rage shrugs it off. He leaps on the rock she is perched on and attacks, but her Displacement nullifies his whirling blade. She finally lands a ray on him, making him weaker, but it is too little too late: he eventually gets through her defenses and destroys her.

Restored to consciousness by the Cleric, the Druid-bear kills another naga. The Wizard, Ranger, and Cleric combine their firepower and finally destroy the two harpy archers. The last enemy standing on the battlefield is the lizardman hero who has just slain the wizard; he is obliterated by a storm of arrows and blades while the remaining harpies flee, recognizing that the battle is lost.

A voice from a hidden naga calls out. Truce is offered; while the party has slaughtered many foes, the nagas warn they still have more to throw into battle. However, their losses have been heavy, and despite the damage inflicted on the party, victory is not guaranteed. They are willing to call a draw, splitting the treasure from the battlefield and offering the party information on a greater threat to humankind.

The party is divided, some wanting to push on and end the threat; but the loss of the wizard has sobered the rest. They accept the truce. The nagas then provide the party with a map that mirrors the one they have, warning them that an ancient and terrible kingdom of vampires that has been dormant for centuries has now awoken. While the vampires are enemies of all living things, humans are their food source: human realms will be prime targets of this new threat.

The party, having just recently destroyed a vampire invasion and already in possession of a map to the Kingdom of Blood, are not impressed, but a deal’s a deal. They collect their share of the tael and the two halves of their wizard and retreat. The Cleric will soon restore the Wizard to life and as he was the lowest level, restoring his lost rank will not be unduly onerous.

The party has negotiated its way out of the last three major encounters, and yet still seems determined to throw itself against the unknown might of the mysterious Kingdom of Blood. Of what stuff are heroes made!

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #47

Rise of the Domain Lords, part II: Spiders!

Continuing on, the party follows the harpies into a deep forest. The Druid spots something shiny, and with a quick search turns up a fistful of gold coins. Now the whole party has eyes on the ground, hunting for coins left behind by previous adventurers (every hour a Spot check would turn up 1-3d6 of coins). This incredibly cheap distraction serves its purpose, and soon the party is attacked by two dozen large spiders, four huge ones, and another flight of harpies.

Once again the Ranger is losing a fight with the airborne archer, until the Druid simply closes the canopy of trees, blocking the harpies out of the fight. The Wizard blocks off half the spiders with a wall of fire, bombards the back half with fireballs, and the party destroys the spiders in detail. Battlefield control for the win!

Which is made even clearer in the next fight, as the spiders manage to stage a complete ambush in the heart of their nest. This time, even tho there are less spiders, they are on top of the party at close range. They are in control of the shape of the fight, too close for the Druid to simply hide everyone from the monsters, and the results are dramatic. The Bard sees death but a blow away, the Ranger goes negative, and the Druid-bear is reduced to single digit hit points.

After this the harpies are done. The party eventually works it way out of the forest and to the lonely mountain peak, only to find the harpy's lair abandoned. All that is left behind is an old map... on human skin.

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #46

Rise of the Domain Lords, part I: Worms!

One way realms survive in the hostile world of Prime is foreknowledge: any decent kingdom has a cleric casting Divination once a week to see if there are any realm-threatening dangers on the horizon (predictions further out than that tend to not be useful, as other people might counter-predict and thus change their intentions, invalidating the original prediction). The Cleric has taken up this duty for the party's combined kingdoms, and soon gets a hit. The shake-up of power has not gone unnoticed, and now powers are moving to take advantage of the disorder.

The party only knows that the danger comes from the west in nine days. The party sets out, still walking, as no horse can match the 20 hours a day that they can jog. Once on the western border of Edersarr they plunge into the wilderness, only to meet a flight of harpies coming their way.

The harpies are traveling slowly, which is suspicious since their flight is normally much faster than walking, and low to the ground as well. The Ranger unlimbers his bow and proceeds to initiate a long-range archery duel that he almost loses to the harpy archer.

As the rest of the harpies ineffectually dive-bomb the party, the true threat emerges from under the ground. A purple worm, being lured by harpy song, presumably to be turned loose in the capital to smash the state and eat the high ranks, leaving a helpless population for the harpies to pick off.

This is a stupidly powerful monster, yet the Barbarian stands toe to toe with it for two whole rounds until finally lands a bite and swallows him whole. The monster then turns to dive deep under the earth, where it can digest the Barbarian in peace. This is an existential threat - even if the Barbarian kills the worm from the inside out, he'll still be hundreds of feet underground with no escape. The party won't even be able to find his body to raise him again!

But the party rises to the challenge. In the six seconds it takes for the worm to submerge, they reach deep into their bags of damage dice and slay the beast.

The remaining harpies flee, but leave a tracking detail on the party in the distance. The party in turn uses those harpies as a locator, assuming that as long as the birds retreat, they must be getting closer to their lair.

The harpies use this to lure the party into a pair of gorgons, which almost ends the story. For unclear reasons the party is dilatory about responding to the threat (perhaps because the Wizard is absent and they miss his wise counsel), allowing each gorgon to make a charge. Suddenly saves are failing all over the place and in moments the Bard, Druid, Ranger, and Cleric are all turned to stone. The  Barbarian manages to finish off the last gorgon, and just as he is trying to figure out what to do, another threat appears.

A Naga had been invisibly watching the battle, prepared to clean up after the mess. While the Barbarian was fighting, it used a magic item to re-flesh the Cleric and promptly charmed him to her side. Now there is a tense stand-off, but the Cleric, acting in his capacity as the Naga's new best friend, convinces her that the Barbarian is not to be underestimated. When the chips are down, he tends to come through with the slicing and dicing. She decides to negotiate: in exchange for each person's best magic item, she will restore the rest of the party and let them all go. 

The DM is very happy with this clever path to a reduction in power, until the Bard bluffs his way into surrendering a trivial item and the Druid simply ransoms all the rest back for tael.

The next trap is less of a danger than a public service: another random portal to the elemental plane of air. The three huge elementals guarding it are hardly a challenge now, and soon they are dead and the portal safely closed off.

Monday, May 15, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #45

The Celebration of the Red Moon, part II

As the party rouses from its power-nap they are greeted by an unexpected companion. The Wizard has arrived! His trip was uneventful, as he spent all of invisible. When asked what drew him away from the safety of his study room in their Keep back in Edersarr, he says, “I felt a great disturbance in the ether, as if thousands of books had suddenly been erased.”

The Druid hides behind a table while the Ranger fills the Wizard in. Next is the inevitable kidnapping of a Redshirt for questioning. Much effort is spent in determining who, exactly, is in charge of the whole situation. The sad truth turns out that it is apparently the demons running the show. How low Varsoulou has fallen; it is not even a nation now, just a ranch for extra-planar monsters.

Happier news is that the ceremony has been scaled back, implying it will be summoning a smaller demon than previously anticipated, presumably to replace the Vrock the party slew. Some discussion is had over whether or not to let the ceremony complete, so as to bag another demon and its tael; but as that path requires that hundreds of commoners be sacrificed it is eventually discarded.

They have to choose between three approaches to get into the ceremony, the better to disrupt it:

  • Dress as peasants
  • Impersonate officers of the Red Shirts
  • Arrive early and hide
As the first requires surrendering their armor, and the third requires some modicum of discretion, they opt for the second. One Prestidigitation spell later their chain-mail and plate are bright red.

They swagger up to the gate two hours before midnight and simply assert authority. Given the dysfunctional state of the Redshirt’s organization, this works splendidly. When the Bard loudly announces that the celebration has been moved to another night, the Redshirts simply walk off the job and head for a tavern. The Druid begins ushering peasants out while the rest of the party heads for the main Keep.

As they approach the building, a Redshirt comes out and demands to know what’s going on.

“Moved to another day,” repeats the Bard.

“Who told you that?” the Redshirt says. “I literally just talked to a Boss and he didn’t say anything about it.”

“Well, it’s what we were told. And our armor is better than yours, so clearly, we outrank you.”

This argument is hard to refute. “Come inside and let’s sort this out,” the Redshirt says, and goes back into the building. Most of the party follows, with only the Wizard balking at the doorway and staying outside (and the Druid, who is busy setting fire to the wooden altar in the middle of the courtyard).

Once again the Wizard’s intelligence is rewarded, when he is the only one not viciously clawed by hidden demons popping out of the shadows. The Bard is immediately rendered unconscious, though the other party members are a bit luckier. General combat ensues and it is discovered that the Ranger’s bow has been awakened to its true nature, mysteriously transforming into a +2 Holy bow overnight (probably as a consequence of fighting so many demons in such a selfless manner with no thought to profit or personal gain). The change is dramatic, as the Ranger rapidly decimates the Babau with a flurry of arrows, actually exceeding the Barbarian for damage output for the first time ever.

A group of Redshirts appears at the bottom of the stairwell and unleash a volley of debilitating rays of weakness, to no effect whatsoever. They are immediately obliterated by the Wizard’s fireball, as he steps into the room to protect the party’s marital prowess. The Cleric manages to heal the Bard just in time for the ceiling above the Bard to collapse and drop a Vrock on his head.

The Vriock screeches, stunningly loud, but the Druid-bear has now joined the battle and easily shrugs off the effect. The Barbarian slips out of the monster’s telekinetic grasp, the Ranger eliminates its image protections, and so its next action is to simply fly back up through the ceiling. The party chases it up the tottering stairs, sans Druid-bear, who knows the flaming wood can’t support his weight. He is rewarded when the demon swoops down again, evading the party, and flies out the front door.

The Druid-bear gives chase, but stops at the doorway when he realizes it is flanked by more Babau. They engage in combat and two more Babau run up from the field to help. The rest of the party looks out over the field of battle from balconies on the second floor.

The Ranger, Cleric, and Wizard have effective ranged attacks to reach the demon in the courtyard, especially when the Wizard blinds the creature and robs it of its own ranged attack. In response, the Babau leave off fighting long enough to magically aid their master, while the Ranger suddenly flies high up into the air above the building in the telekinetic grasp of a second demon! But the Wizard counters this new threat by casting Feather Fall on the Ranger, who continues to use his bow to good effect.

Despite multiple magical defenses, the demons are no match for the party. The Babau on the ground are quickly dispatched by the Druid-bear and the Barbarian, while the flying Vrocks are smashed by Spiritual Hammers, Magic Missiles, and holy arrows.

The aftermath is profitable; the amount of tael the creatures had saved in anticipation of luring over a bigger demon is staggering. In addition, the party has gained the broken remnants of an entire country, which turns out to be a prize they didn’t actually want. They have no desire to live in the desert and rule over a (technically) evil society; the number of Varsouloueans who could successfully emigrate and assimilate to Edersarr is low; and the party cannot in good conscience simply murder the common folk for the tael in their heads.

But neither can they walk away and abandon those commoners – and their tael – to whatever wandering monster happens by next. In addition to the moral lapse of duty, this would result in just another super-powered foe they would have to defeat when it inevitably turned its hungry gaze on their own kingdom.

Reluctantly they agree to a remarkable plan: the party will, from its own purse, promote a pair of clerics from the Varsoulouen population to the fifth rank, on the proviso that men or women of good (i.e. Blue) character can be found. This gives the community a chance to survive, as this rank of cleric can both cure plagues and provide the blessings that are necessary to make the desert bloom. Actually, one cleric could do this; the second is to revive the cinnamon fields. The party will draw a share of the profits only from the spice trade; in addition, they undertake to protect the fledgling nation until it can protect itself (i.e., until it can promote one of those clerics to the 9th rank). Now they cast their gaze eastward, wondering what threats slumber out there, waiting only for the news of the collapse of organized defense before swooping in to feed on a helpless populace.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #44

The Celebration of the Red Moon, part I

The party adopts a new disguise for this expedition– a traveling apothecary. They buy a pair of mules and a clap-board wagon, paint it in festive colors, and stock it with empty potion bottles. The Barbarian is security, the Druid is the drayer, the Bard is advertising, the Cleric pretends to make potions, and the Ranger is their wilderness guide. Although they are still obviously adventurers, they look like a low-level merchant party instead of the near-royalty they actually are.

After ambling across the familiar plains between Edersarr and Varsoulou their first stop is Count Wraythus’ town. They find the place much changed; the population is halved, and worse, all signs of authority have been replaced by red leather-clad goons that stroll the streets, abusing the townspeople with petty harassment.

These are not the strapping musclemen of a legitimate ruler, or even the hardened mercenary thugs of a bandit chieftain. Instead, they are the dregs of society, the crude, cruel, simple-minded failures that would normally be found sweeping the streets or breaking rocks. The source of their authority seems to be their bronze daggers and flashy leathers. When the party asks a pair of them for directions to the castle, the goons don’t even have the good sense to realize the danger they are in.

“Who wants to know?” one sneers, while the other leaves off berating a tradesman who takes the redirection of attention as an excuse to vamoose.

Needless to say, the party does not take well to this insolence. Still, the Bard puts on a charming response. The goon, thinking he’s clever, tells the Bard about the upcoming Celebration of the Red Moon, a huge midnight festival to which only 1,024 special individuals will be invited.

“If you can get ten other people invited, they’ll make you one of us,” the goon promises. The Bard can easily tell he’s lying about that, but not about the celebration or its very peculiar constraint on the guest list.

“What’s in the wagon?” the other one asks. The Barbarian, whose tolerance for insolence is exceedingly low, invites the fellow around back to see for himself. We can assume the goon did not expect the answer to be “a hungry dire bear,” but as soon as the door is opened, that’s what he finds. The second goon starts to balk, gets pummelled into unconsciousness by the Barbarian, and tossed in anyway. The only clue to their fate are the crunching sounds and the blood leaking through the wagon’s floorboards.

The Ranger decides to drive on to the castle. This seems to be counter-productive, in that the Count is likely to be one of the few people in Varsoulou that can identify them by sight; but when they arrive at the castle gates they realize this might not matter anymore. The gates are open and unguarded, a clear marker of anarchy. The party disembarks and enters, leading the Druid-bear on a chain like a pet (despite the fact that normally, pet bears are not almost as large as wagons).

Inside they find a half-dozen red suits arguing over a meal, and the Count sitting silently on his throne. The Count greets them with some familiarity, but when they assert their identity as mere merchants, he shrugs and plays along. The red suits attempt to exert authority, but pretty much everyone ignores them.

The Bard can tell there is something wrong with Wraythfus: he favors his left shoulder, and he seems preoccupied. They have a discussion that is not entirely informative, although the Bard does find out that the Queen is dead and Wraythus claims to be King. And that he’s not invited to the Celebration of the Dawn of the Red Moon, which seems quite suspicious.

The Ranger suggests that the party has a barrel of wine in their wagon and offers to donate it to the ongoing party. Wraythus objects to this quite strenuously, suggesting instead that they should find some rooms in the castle for the night. The red suits line up, clearly expecting something to happen. And then the Ranger is flayed from behind, a pair of demons appearing out of the shadows and raking him with their claws (and their sweet, sweet sneak attack damage).

The bear is also flanked and flayed, and then the fight is in earnest. The Barbarian charges Wraythfus, assuming the Count will be a suitable foe for his blade. The Count laughably misses his first attack, almost as if he didn’t even want to fight. The Ranger is dismayed to discover that his weapons are almost useless against the demons, while the Druid is pleased to note that his claws cut right through their protection. The Bard attacks the flunkies, and the Cleric heals the Ranger.

The red suits respond with rays of weakness, reducing the Barbarian to merely mortal instead of superhuman. However, they are only first rank, and when the Ranger abandons the demons to fight against the humans, their line collapses. The Bard makes use of his Pipes of Panic and sends the survivors fleeing deeper into the castle.

The demons, however, prove more durable. After the Barbarian quickly dispatches the hapless Count, he and the Druid-bear struggle to put down the monsters. The Bard attempts to intimidate them by summoning an image of what they fear the most: a Vrock (the demon the party fought in Edersarr). But instead of being frightened by the image, the demons seem heartened and fight harder – at least until they are destroyed.

Sounds from the hallway harken the return of the cultists. The Druid, out of hit points, resumes human form and spike-traps the hallway, eliciting screams of agony. And then a large figure swoops out of the hallway and lands on the throne. This is a real Vrock, and through telepathic communication it informs the party of a pressing truth:

“That doesn’t look anything like me.”

And then it summons its own images, and now there are four Vrocks to contend against. Its stunning shriek leaves the Barbarian and Cleric helpless while its thorny spores once again infect the Barbarian.

The Ranger dispatches all of the images with arrows, the Barbarian recovers and hacks into the demon, and bear returns and joins the fight. In short order the demon is reduced to ashes, less of a threat apparently than its minions.

The party cleans up the mess – who are we kidding, they drain the heads and move on. Entering the capital a few days later they debate where to go next. Noting that the cathedral has been overtaken by red-suited thugs, they decide that Golden Library might still contain elements of resistance.

This hope is dashed when a red-suited thug greets them at the door. Nonetheless, they play along, pretending to merely be library patrons. The thug invites them upstairs, where they are ambushed by a squad of reds, which they demolish in such exuberant fashion – at one point the Bard terrifes several men into leaping to their deaths - that the Vrock and its lone Babau immediately retreat.

While looting the library they discover that the books appear to be all blank. This could be a fraud perpetuated by the reds, or some kind of magical protection on the library. The Druid convinces the party to deny the enemy a base of operations and sets fire to the building. Although the tower is stone, the interior floors are made of wood, and the building is filled with paper (some percentage of which have Explosive Runes cast on them). The building goes up like a torch, illuminating the night far brighter than its illusionary runes ever did.

This is an act of global significance: the destruction of the only known magical library on the entire Western coast. One wonders if it will have repercussions.

His arsonic lust still not satisfied, the Druid performs a drive-by fire-bombing of the cathedral, rattling his wagon down the cobblestone streets as the Barbarian hurtles pints of Greek Fire. A mass of reds come out of the building to fight the fire, only to find themselves fighting the party. Again the party makes such short work of them that the resident demon flees.

The party heads towards its old inn of respite for a few hours of rest before dawn. The innkeeper is too traumatized and too desperate for coin to ask questions. Now the party seems out of options: the next battle will likely be at the Celebration of the Red Moon.