Saturday, February 18, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #43

Vampire Neighbors, part V

By daylight the keep is rendered sad and neglected, rather than haunted and spooky. The party wiles away the hours, waiting for darkness. Attacking vampires at night is dangerous, but also the only way to find their true lair. Also, this delay gives their Wizard time to wander into the city and join them, having finally been pulled away from Theodoric’s library by the call of duty (the Wizard’s player was able to make this session).

At sunset they head for the royal castle. As nobles known to the realm they easily talk their way through the gates. Just outside the throne room they pause to prepare spells and drink potions, knowing that on the other side of the wall Ragnar is surely making his own preparations. Then the Barbarian bravely opens the door and marches inside, where he is greeted by… a little old lady offering him a tray of teacups.

“No thanks,” he says, and continues into the room. The rest of the party follows, save for the Druid, who stays in the hall and continues casting predatory spells, and the Ranger, who elbows the little old lady in the face as he walks by. Ragnar and his retinue wait at the other end of the hall, at the end of a gauntlet of a half-dozen servants bearing trays of sweetmeats, pastries, and candies. The friendly image is only slightly disturbed by the hulking man-bull zombie hybrid abominations lurking at the edges of the room.

But the pleasantries are immediately discarded when Ragnar’s opening statement is a Dispel spell. He strips a few minor protections from some of the party while his servants turn out the lights, plunging the room into total darkness. The Bard rushes to a pillar and turns it into a giant neon tube of light, but this leaves him facing one of the zombie monsters and several servants. The Barbarian charges across the room to engage the second zombie; the Cleric blasts Ragnar in the face with a beam of light before the Wizard casts Wall of Fire and splits the room in half, trapping the third zombie on the other side. This turns out to be crucial, as it delays Ragnar’s retinue for two rounds and consumes two precious spells before the vampire king can bring down the wall.

The Bard finds himself in over his head as the zombie tears into his images; meanwhile, the Barbarian discovers his hit points are not unlimited as a zombie hacks at him with a massive axe. The Cleric and Wizard are left to fight off the vampire spawn, which they do poorly. The Ranger is still dealing with the old lady, and the Druid is still out of the room preparing.

Once the wall is down, Ragnar’s people join the fight. The third zombie charges in while Palek the sorcerer throws around scorching rays without hitting anything. Yeron the Skald provides musical accompaniment for his side, making the zombies even more painful. The Marichoness disappears into hiding, looking for a chance to backstab. Lady Night stands by, preparing to counter-spell the party. Ragnar starts throwing out Spiritual Hammers, because he has a lot of them.

The Cleric is casting his own hammers, while the Bard is renewing his images and getting seriously concerned for his health. The Barbarian is winning against the zombies but at considerable cost. Eventually the Druid-bear enters the battle, eviscerating one zombie, only to be ambushed by wraiths in the doorway. In the general melee that follows, the Barbarian is knocked unconscious three times, the Druid-bear once, the Wizard almost dies while fireballing Ragnar and others, the Cleric loses several levels, gets them back with a Remove Curse potion, loses some more, and gets those back with another potion. The Ranger is the only one who manages to avoid life-threatening injuries.

When Yeron and Palek finally wade into the melee, the Skald proves to be formidable, slapping levels off of the party left and right, and even the Druid begins to look weak after a surprise wraith attack. Eventually, however, all of Ragnar’s retinue are beaten down, leaving only himself and Lady Night. Tired of waiting for the party to charge his throne and trigger all the traps he has laid, he strides forward confidently to face the party mano-a-undead-cleric-o. He is layered in protections the party cannot even guess at and unconcerned about the death of his retinue, since after all they will return the next night; and the party is vastly weakened, low on spells, vitality, and even potions. Surely he can finish the fight on his own terms.

But no. The Druid-bear tears Lady Night apart in a single round while the Bard and Wizard riddle Ragnar with Magic Missiles, thus bypassing his fantastic armor. The Druid-bear even lands a claw attack, weakening the vampire king further; Ragnar responds by dominating the Druid (having earlier dispelled his Protection from Evil) and ordering it to kill the Barbarian. Out of spells and options, the Bard solves the problem with brute force: Magic Missiles reduce the Druid-bear to unconsciousness without quite killing him. And then the Cleric ends it all as it began: with a beam of light to the face.

(Note: Ragnar had various defences and traps against all the tactics they had employed in previous battles, none of which they used in this one.)

The vampiric smoke flees the room, once again chased by the Bard in gaseous form. And again he is foiled by the system of tubes running under the castle. The party splits up and searches far and wide for the vampire’s coffins: the Wizard searches for secret lairs beneath the castle dungeon, the Cleric searches the attics and towers, the Ranger searches the sewers in and out of the castle, the Barbarian returns to the Order’s keep, and the Bard roots through the Castle cemetery looking for fresh graves. All of these turn up empty and the party fears it might have to wait until the next night and do it all again, until the Druid recruits rats and sends them down the various tubes. One rat does not return; when the next two sent down the same tube also do not return, the party assumes there is a vampire on the other end (and not, say, a cat or rat-trap).

In an act of astonishing bravery, the Bard turns them all gaseous and they blindly enter the tube, to see where it will lead.

At the other end they find themselves in a small tunnel. This leads to a locked grate, which the Barbarian tries to force, only to suffer a crippling curse; after several rounds of unnecessary caution the party manages to make it through the gate and up the stairs into the crypt of Count Kird, their old friend and the kingdom’s most beloved hero.

Here they are flummoxed. Could the vampires have passed through Kird’s crypt and into the Church cemetery or the Church itself? Or does the answer lie closer to hand? The Bard convinces the handful of townspeople visiting the graves of their loved ones to leave, and the party steels itself to the unpleasant task of disrupting Count Kird’s mortal remains. But as they go to haul the first coffin out into the sunlight to inspect it, King Ragnar steps out of it and attacks, joined by the rest of his retinue stepping out of their coffins.

Everyone is all jammed together in a small stone crypt, which is made more claustrophobic by the fact that one of them is a giant dire bear. This should be a fight that favors the vampires and their close melee attacks, but what actually happens is the bear tears a hole in roof of the crypt, climbs on top, and jumps up and down until the entire roof caves in, crushing everyone underneath and exposing the interior to direct sunlight.

Of course our mighty heroes are barely discomfited by having a stone crypt collapse on them, while the vampires are almost instantly reduced to ash by the sun. The fight is well and truly done. The party returns to the castle, where a spirited discussion ends in a vote to liberate the entire royal treasury by 4 to 2. Having sequestered the cash, magic items, and tael, the party is happy to welcome the paladin Theodric and his armies a few days later and turn the crown over to him.

They have all the responsibility they want with their own county, and besides, someone needs to go straighten out Varsoulou before this demon thing gets out of hand.

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