Saturday, February 18, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #42

Vampire Neighbors, part IV

The party returns to the capital in the dead of night, avoiding the innocent soldiers and townsmen. Their only target is the ruling class.

They return to the Order of the Edge's private keep at midnight. The gates open at their touch; the keep appears deserted, or at least lifeless. Cautiously they creep onto the grounds and begin to search for monsters, prisoners, or just clues. They have prepared by drinking Hide from Undead potions, but in the end this turns out not to really matter, as the vampires generally see through it for the rest of the battle.

After a few minutes of investigating a barn door that is mysteriously barred from within, the Barbarian loses patience. Going to the next building, he pushes open the door, unwraps his light stone, and has a look around. The armory seems to have been used recently, implying that someone in the keep still cares about weapons and armor. Meanwhile the Ranger has climbed into the barn through a 2nd story window (it's only combat rolls he can't make) and discovered the barn is dusty with disuse and neglect. While he's opening the barn door for the rest of the party, the Barbarian comes out of the armory and makes a discovery.

Specifically, he discovers a critical strike from a lance wielded by a vampire on a nightmare. Two more make a pass with the lance, their mounts traveling on clouds of smoke five feet above the ground, and one of them hits. The Barbarian is now bleeding real blood, reduced to merely mortal flesh, and for once in his soon-to-be-brief life, chooses the better part of valor. He runs back into the armory to hide. The rest of the party, caught in the open and watching the three vampire knights wheel around for another charge, rush to join him, leaving the Ranger alone in an empty barn.

The knights land in front of the armory, issuing taunts and laughter. One has his horse knock down the door with a powerful lash of hooves. The others send in swarms of bats, but the Druid foils this with a simple spell while the Cleric and Bard put the Barbarian back into fighting shape. The Cleric then chants, driving two of the nightmares away; the knights, secure in their confidence, dismount to carry out the battle on foot.

A halting melee occurs at the door, with the Barbarian lunging out to attack the nightmare while dodging sword thrusts and hooves. The Ranger is sniping from the barn door, his arrows contributing damage but not revealing his location to the knights, who it must be said were not the sharpest fangs in the drawer. Eventually the nightmare is slain, enraging the knights; one walks around to the side of the building and begins smashing a hole in the shutters. Since the windows are barred with iron, the party wonders what he is doing. When they see him turn into mist so he can float through the hole and flank the doorway, the Druid sends his gaseous form packing with a Gust of Wind. Meanwhile, the party is winning the fight at the doorway; the Barbarian destroys one and the Bard drops another with Magic Missiles. They turn to mist and the Bard immediately follows.

The third knight solidifies on the other side of the courtyard, where the wind sent him, but finally realizes the fight is against him. He flees through a gate, locking it behind him.

The gaseous vampires float into the main building on the second floor, with the Bard following. Rather than deal with the gate and then the main hall door, the rest of the party decides to climb up to the second floor. This is easy for the Cleric, who Air Walks; the Ranger, who can climb; and the Druid, who cheats and uses a Spider Climb potion; but it is comically difficult for the Barbarian who fails his first attempt and falls to the ground. His second attempt is more successful, and he smashes open the window the Ranger was attempting to unlock.

The party climbs through onto a balcony over a perfectly dark room. The Barbarian throws his light stone into the darkness, only to reveal an empty hall.

"Try that again," comes a voice from the end of the hall. The Ranger does, hurtling his light stone in the direction of the voice.

This reveals a line of seven vampire knights waiting for them, along with their old foe Palek the sorcerer. The Cleric rebukes four of the lesser knights, driving them into the corner. Another one picks up the lightstone and puts it into his pocket while one summons a wolf and the others begin crawling up the support pillars to attack.

The Bard takes solid form, leaving him on the far side of the room from the party. He casts Sunlight on the nearest support pillar, thus solving the party's vision problems, but winds up in a fist-fight with a vampire. Somehow he manages to avoid losing any levels while still getting beaten unconscious over the next few rounds.

Palek the fire-sorcerer is blasting away at anything and everyone, and missing. Several vampires are on the balcony slogging it out with the Barbarian, Ranger and Cleric (who has successfully paralyzed one with Hold Person), when a wraith comes through the wall and strikes the Cleric. This is CON drain, not damage; another hit like that will suck the life-force out of the Cleric and leave him a rotting husk!

The Barbarian demonstrates his tactical wisdom by grabbing the cleric in one hand and throwing him off of the balcony. Sure, he takes damage from the fall, and sure, he lands sprawled at the feet of the vampire sorcerer; but neither of those is going to immediately kill him like the wraith might.

The Druid is equally concerned about the wraith, but has a different solution. He turns into a giant bear with the constitution of, well, a giant bear. Having previously cast Magic Fang on himself, he easily shreds the wraith (and the wall it is partially occupying). The Barbarian does the same for a second wraith that lunged out of the wall but fortunately missed.

The vampires realize they are not winning. Their leader crawls to the middle of the room, clinging to the ceiling like a bat and summons another wolf. However, the wolf is limited in its targets; only the Ranger is open to its attacks (the others are still protected by the Hide from Animals cast by the Druid back in the armory). Instead, the wolf grabs the paralyzed vampire and throws it off the balcony, thus damaging it and breaking the Hold Person spell. The Druid leaps from the balcony (which trembles but does not collapse) to a pillar near the leader (which also quivers but holds) and claws him into bits, using that Spider Climb potion to good effect.

But the Cleric is in trouble; he's on the ground, surrounded by vampires, and Palek finally manages to scorch him with a ray. The Druid-bear drops to the ground, where Palek futilely blasts it before being eviscerated by a flurry of claws.

Just as it looks like the heros are winning, the main door flies open and two nightmares charge into the room! Then the Barbarian obliterates them in two rounds with Whirlwind attacks, incidentally taking out a poor vampire who happened to get caught in the carnage.

At this point an invisible rogue stabs the Druid-bear in the back twice, but even her advanced Level Drain has no hope of affecting the bear. Still, her daggers do real damage, and he has to turn his attention to her, leaving the Cleric open to a level-draining sucker-punch from vampire that already beat the Bard unconscious. This turns out to matter because the other vampires that had been previously turned are now rejoining the fight, and the Cleric's new turn attempt is rendered totally ineffective. Perhaps you can't intimidate vampires when you are on the ground, bleeding, smoking around the edges, and pathetically low level - who knew?

The Druid-bear finally finishes off the rogue, whom by deduction must be the Marichoness, and by observation is clearly a vampire rather than a prisoner, and the Ranger has brought the Bard around with a healing potion, so the remaining low-level vampire knights have no real chance. The Barbarian and Druid-bear crush them in short order.

The mist forms of the Marichoness and Palek float up and out a window, while the others float down to the floor. The party discovers ten graves crudely concealed beneath the flooring, and stake the Order of the Edge's vampiric inhabitants while they are still reforming. The Bard, for once, does not go chasing after wisps of smoke, because he knows where they are going (the royal castle) and he fears following them in his depleted state.

Next comes the assault on the throne, as the evidence for Ragnar's corruption is no longer questionable. The party debates waiting for Theodoric's arrival and his allied armies, but is swayed to immediate action by two concerns. First, that Theodoric's civil war will kill hundreds of innocent soldiers on both sides; and second, that waiting for Theodoric's help means splitting the loot.

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