Friday, April 27, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 7

Before we get to the highlights from the seventh session of our Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure, let’s review the members of our adventuring party:
  • Dagon— a watersoul genasi artificer (played by Robert)
  • Gaultis— a goliath warden (played by Chad)
  • Boojum— a pixie wizard (played by Steve)
  • Blake— a razorclaw shifter barbarian (played by Andy)
  • Silas—an eladrin vampire (played by Drew)
  • Lord Falkirk Bothwell is an NPC.  He is an aging knight of Bahamut who wishes to see evil purged from the ruins of old Gardmore Abbey.

Our last session ended with the players in the watchtower.  This towering spire at the south end of the abbey grounds allowed the knights to keep watch over the King’s Road from miles away, thanks to both its great height and magical aids to distant viewing in the topmost chamber.

Inside the watchtower entrance (Encounter14).
Unbeknownst to our heroes, when the Deck of Many Things was scattered throughout Gardmore Abbey, the resulting chaos seemed to concentrate in the watchtower.  The interior was suffused with the energy of the Far Realm, transforming it into a bizarre projection of that alien environment.  The tower interior is trapped between the Far Realm and the exact moment in time when the Deck was scattered, and it echoes features from both dimensions.  Manifestations of the three cards (Idiot, Euryale, & Vizier) inside the tower guide the party through the Far Realm toward them.

By the end of last week’s session, the party had successfully dispatched the monsters (2 object mimics and a black pudding & its spawn) which they found in the watchtower entrance (Encounter 14).  They then passed through the card portal at the opposite end of the room.

Encounter 15: Far Realm Sojourn

This encounter is a sequential skill challenge consisting of three stages.  As an added twist, a character who fails a skill check gains 1 chaos point.  As the characters traverse the Far Realm intrusion, they’re exposed to its reality-warping influence.  Chaos points represent this effect on their bodies and minds.  Any character who gains 3 chaos points is transformed into a Far Realm monstrosity.

Stage 1: The Rising Stair

I described this area at the very end of the last post, so I won’t repeat it here.
At this stage of the challenge, the adventurers must discover a way to ascend to the top of the tower.  Bothwell failed his Athletics check as he tried to climb up the churning walls.  The rest of the party watched in horror as Bothwell was absorbed into the wall and drawn upward.

Stage 2: Alien Space

The tower melted away beneath our heroes (Bothwell reappeared here), collapsing into an ocean of terrible amoeboid shapes.  That’s right, you heard me… “terrible amoeboid shapes.”  The everpresent black globules continued to drift up, becoming one with the sky.  The unearthly shrieking finally ceased.  Now from the darkness began an endless nonsensical babble.  The characters floated in the void, alone but for the cold, ageless order of the distant stars.

In this stage, the adventurers must navigate a path through the weird space of the Far Realms to reach the third level of the tower.  Bothwell also failed this stage, so he had 2 chaos points heading into the last stage of the skill challenge.

Stage 3: The Final Door

In this stage, the party must resist the forces of chaos and madness to reach the center of the tower, where rest the three cards.

The stars grew larger and clearer, resolving into bright rectangular shapes.  Cards.  Millions and millions of cards.  Three, larger than the rest, were clustered at the center of the vast starscape.

In one sweeping motion, all the other cards simultaneously turned like doors on a hinge, and a cosmic wind howled through the void.  Inside each dark doorway lurked some horrific, amoeboid shape… Ha, ha, ha! Just kidding! Inside each doorway lurked some horrific, tentacled thing that jabbered idiot rhymes as it reached forth.  Meanwhile, the three cards at the center still glowed, doors waiting open.

The adventurers must make it to the manifestations of the three cards.  First, they must resist the otherworldly wind blowing them toward the waiting beasts.  A couple of our heroes failed their checks here, so they were grabbed by a monster.  Bothwell failed for the third time, so he was transformed into a Far Realm monstrosity (I took away his mini and replaced it with a shardsoul slayer, which I thought looked appropriately otherworldly and monstrous).  Luckily for Lord Bothwell, the party quickly accumulated enough successes to arrive safely in the armory, so when that happened, he turned back into his studly self.

Encounter 16: The Last Defenders

The three cards grew ever larger until their cold radiance seemed to fill the universe.  The light suddenly grew brighter and brighter until it overwhelmed vision, then all was suddenly dark.

Slowly, a room came into view.  Our heroes stood in a round chamber encircled by a short flight of stairs leading up to a landing, upon which stood three glowing doors in the shapes of cards.  Four suits of armor decked in tabards of Bahamut stood at attention.  For a brief moment the environment seemed stable…

Then the suits of armor ripped open as if made of paper.  Twisted humanoid creatures emerged as the room shifted and morphed like a mad dream.  An unearthly wail erupted from the darkness as a floating horror of eyes loomed before the party.

Having made their way to the armory, the adventurers must battle the tower’s four original defenders, who have been stranded in time and transformed into horrors of the Far Realm.  A Far Realm monster, a terrifying beholder, had also appeared in the tower when the chaotic energy of the cards swept through Gardmore Abbey.  Unfortunately for the beholder, the defensive magic of the watchtower prevented the chaotic energy of the Far Realm from extending outside.  The building became a pocket dimension, a prison that allowed nothing to enter or leave.  The beholder, hungry to enter the natural world and transform the entire plane into a warped mirror of the alien Far Realm, was desperate to escape.
  • 4 Aberrant Wretches (Level 9 Minion Soldier)
  • Beholder (Level 9 Solo Artillery)

This was a villian encounter (see page 22, Book 1), since the beholder had three cards from the Deck of Many Things.  As soon as combat was joined, the Idiot card in its possession activated immediately.  The Eurydale card activated next, but the Vizier card never came into play.

Throughout the encounter, 3 morphic zones (represented by Warped Magic tokens) marked areas of shifting reality.  Each round, they would move randomly around the armory and weird stuff would happen in a burst 1 centered on each token.  (Weird stuff: alien brain tissue sprouts up, a mass of paralytic jelly appears, a dimensional hole forms, a rocky spur raises the area 20 feet, etc.)

Since the four aberrant wretches were just minions, the party actually took all of them out during the first round of the encounter.

The beholder, though, was another story. It wreaked havoc each round with its Eye Rays at-will attack power (the monster used two of its eye rays each round, using each against a different target).  It was especially fond of its Petrifying Ray attack… +14 vs Fortitude; the target is petrified (save ends).  And with its 392 hit points, it could absorb a lot of damage.

I won’t lie to you, dear reader, the beholder was handily kicking our heroes’ butts.  Not that I was enjoying that, mind you.  No, no, no, of course not; I’m not that kind of DM.  Well, okay, I am… kind of.  A little bit.

Finally, just before the beholder would’ve been bloodied, but just after Silas had been cut down (Dagon quickly healed him and brought the eladrin vampire back into play), I had the beholder speak to the party.  While warily carrying on a conversation with the monster, our heroes learned that the beholder was trapped in the tower and wanted to escape.  It said it would give them the three cards in its possession if they would then liberate it from the tower.  Silas, not wanting to die-die for the fourth time during the campaign, readily agreed to the beholder’s deal.  The rest of the party wasn’t too sure about this “bargain,” but in the end they followed Silas’ lead.

And so it came to pass that when our heroes reunited the beholder’s three cards with the rest they had already gathered, the tower’s connection to the Far Realm was sundered.  The beholder was freed from its timeless prison and it quickly made off out into the world beyond the watchtower.

The corpses of the four aberrant wretches transformed before the party’s eyes.  Three of the lifeless figures were human paladins of Bahamut, while the last was a silver haired eladrin who looked like an older version of Berrian Velfarran.  In fact, the eladrin was none other than Berrian and Analastra’s father, Zandrian Velfarran.  During the final siege of Gardmore Abbey, Zandrian and the three paladins defended this area.  When the Deck of Many Things was scattered, they were trapped in the transformed watchtower.  Their long proximity to the raw energy of the Far Realm had corrupted their bodies and minds, finally turning them into aberrant monstrosities.

After searching the watchtower and finding naught but a handy haversack, the party carried Zandrian’s body to the Feygrove where they regretfully informed Berrian and Analastra of their father’s fate.

There was just a bit more that took place before we wrapped things up for the night and took our leave, but I think I’ll save those events for the beginning of the next post.
Thanks for checking out our adventure!  Be sure to tune in next week to see what happens as the party continues to explore the ruins of Gardmore Abbey! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 6

As the large, formless black ooze and its smaller spawn attacked the party, Blake raised his cowbell.  “Gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen,” the barbarian intoned in a loud voice.  Then he started to rhythmically strike the cowbell. “Alright, I’ve got something to say. It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”  Although just mindless pieces of monstrous pudding, the oozes nevertheless recognized the song Rock of Ages from Def Leppard’s kick-ass Pyromania album, and they trembled, shook, and jiggled with fear.

Encounter 11: Bell Tower

Our sixth session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey started off with the continuation of the battle at the old bell tower.  Our heroes managed to fend off the displacer beasts while keeping the unconscious eladrin maiden safe from the stirges attempting to drain her.

Once the monsters were slain, Blake set to work skinning one of the displacer beasts (to be used to drive off the owlbears at the groundskeeper’s cottage) while the rest of the party attended to the young eladrin.  Analastra awakened, blinking.  “Thank you,” she said in a voice bright as silver. “You have saved my life, and I am deeply in your debt.”

The eladrin maiden was glad to hear that the party had already met her brother, Berrian.  She said that against her brother’s wishes, she had been patrolling the Feygrove alone, hunting for orc intruders, but instead she stumbled upon the displacer beasts.

The party escorted Analastra back to the eladrin camp.  Bringing his sister back safe and sound earned the party Berrian’s gratitude.  He gave them the Donjon card from the Deck of Many Things.  The eladrin knight explained that he had claimed it from an orc that ventured too far into the Feygrove several years ago.  Pleased with our heroes’ work, and trusting that they earnestly wanted to help him discover the fate of his father, Berrian asked them to return to him with any evidence they discover which sheds light on his father’s destiny.

Encounter 12: Groundskeeper’s Cottage
  • 2 Owlbears (Level 8 Elite Brute)

When the party arrived at the groundskeeper’s cottage once again, the owlbears were still there.  As Blake donned the displacer beast hide and pretended to be a large fey magical beast, I started to run the skill challenge found on page 20 of Book 3.  The skill challenge is presented in three parts: the party covering themselves in the scent of the displacer beasts, sneaking up on the owlbears, and finally scaring the monsters away from the cottage.  Obviously, by actually wearing the slain displacer beast’s skin, Blake went above and beyond simply covering himself in the scent. 

Anywaaay, after successfully frightening and driving off the owlbears (it’s too bad the party never started a fight with the owlbears since the nasty beasties have an attack called Beak Snap, which does 4d8+22 damage when it hits a creature grabbed by the owlbear!), our heroes searched the remains of the groundskeeper’s cottage.  They found some ancient books and journals, including the original plot of the grove and gardens with detailed information on each plant variety and the secrets of its cultivation.  The first groundskeeper’s journal described a friendship with Siravus Ardonnelle, an eladrin who donated plants from the Feywild to start the abbey garden.  The paladins of Gardmore, in turn, dedicated a portion of the grove to Siravus and his descendants forever.

When the party turned over the first groundskeeper’s journal to Berrian, they completed the “Establish a Claim” quest (page 13 of Book 2).

Encounter 10: The Whispering Grove

After leaving the eladrin camp, the party decided to follow the path past the bell tower and head back up to the Dragon’s Roost.  On their way, though, they unexpectedly arrived in the Whispering Grove, a haven for secret-loving autumn nymphs.

As our heroes entered the grove, soft music drifted on the air, its strains combining happiness and melancholy.  Beautiful and otherworldly voices accompanied the melody, singing of golden summers and the bitter loss of winter.  Five gorgeous women dressed in gowns of autumn leaves were singing beside a clear pond.  They giggled and whispered to each other as the party approached.  “Welcome, mortals,” one said. “Will you play our game?”
  • 5 Autumn Nymphs (Level 8 Skirmisher)

No one thought it was a very good idea to even talk with the nymphs… well, no one except Boojum.  The pixie wizard boldly asked about the game the nymphs wanted to play, and found out they wanted the PCs to tell them a dramatic secret.  A character who shared a secret that satisfied the nymphs received a useful piece of information in return.

Boojum was up for the game, so he told the nymphs a secret. In return, he found out that in order to enter the old watchtower (see the post for Session #5), the party would need to touch the ‘door’ with a card from the Deck of Many Things.  Silas chose not to follow Boojum’s lead, though. The eladrin vampire instead decided to attack one of the nymphs.  This brought down a barrage of Whisper Game psychic attacks upon the party as the nymphs responded to Silas’ hostile action.  

After a while, the other players realized the nymphs weren’t really interested in fighting, but instead were starting to slip away.  Before the nymphs left the Whispering Grove, the party managed to exchange a few more secrets for information & clues about the adventure… but then the nymphs were gone.

Encounter 14: Watchtower Entrance

Since they now knew how to gain entry to the watchtower, the party decided to scrap their plans to go back up to the Dragon’s Roost and pay a visit to the tower instead.

Once inside, our heroes found the inside of the watchtower was a warped reflection of the outside.  In place of a column of stone was a twisting conical dimension of unnatural shapes.  Instead of walls, a thick, globular slime slowly oozed up, then down.  Sometimes the goo strained inward in clusters of wriggling strands whose bright colors mocked the pennants that once hung there long ago.

The floor was elastic and membranous, bowing slightly beneath the characters’ weight.  Large, bubble-like nodes resembling flagstones shifted beneath the filmy surface and gradually slid toward a dark crevice, at the bottom of which oozed a sinister black lake.  From time to time, the lake would emit globules that drifted up through the still, stinking air.

Set in the membrane on the opposite side of this twisted realm was a luminescent door in the shape and design of one of the cards from the Deck.  The card-shaped portal opened and closed, morphing at intervals to resemble an oaken door.  The floating globules slowly slid up to disappear into the opening.  The chasm was spanned by a footbridge composed of two more large glowing cards, somehow joined end to end.

Oh, and a high, barely audible screech rang constantly from everywhere and nowhere, and nothing seemed able to silence it.

After taking in all of this weirdness, and realizing that they weren’t in Kansas anymore, the party discovered the “lake” was a black pudding spread thinly across the bottom of the crevice.  It oozed up to attack our heroes.  During the ensuing combat, each time the pudding was hit by a weapon attack, it spawned a little pudding ooze in an adjacent square.

Fortified by oreos, the party takes on the Black Pudding!

A bit later, the party found out that the bridge consisted of two object mimics.
  • Black Pudding (Level 8 Elite Brute)
  • 4 Black Pudding Spawn (Level 8 Minion Brute)
  • 2 Object Mimics (Level 8 Lurker)

After dispatching the monsters, the party pressed onward (not that they had any choice in the matter, since the ‘exit’ had disappeared and couldn’t be recreated, no matter what the party tried).

Encounter 15: Far Realm Sojourn

As soon as our heroes passed through the card-shaped portal, it vanished into a diaphanous, pulsating wall.  Black globules steadily permeated the membrane and drifted up through the column in which the party stood.  The globules vanished into a vast star-filled sky.

Everything in this strange area seemingly was drawn toward that sky.  Even the walls flowed upward, their surfaces randomly broken by enormous eyeballs that boiled through the walls in spiral patterns, staring madly at the party before being reabsorbed.  The place still seemed to retain some semblance of the old watchtower, but as though it was trapped somewhere… beyond.

The weird keening rose in pitch and intensity.

That’s where we had to wrap things up, so we could be out of our FLGS— Total Escape Games in Broomfield, CO— by closing time.  Thanks so much for joining us on our adventure!  We hope you tune in next week to see what happens as we continue to have fun playing through Madness at Gardmore Abbey.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 5

Our fifth session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey started with the party heading back to the village of Bree.  They needed to find someone to perform the Raise Dead ritual on their slain comrade, Silas.

While the rest of the party checked in with Lord Eric Harkness, Blake headed for Hoyt’s Inn.  He thought perhaps he could sharpen his budding bardic skills on the inn’s patrons, but instead he had an unexpected run in with the rival group of adventurers (Special B).

The Rival Adventurers

Sister Linora at the village temple was able to take Silas’ severed pinky finger and restore the fallen adventurer to life.  Once the resurrected eladrin vampire rejoined his companions, the party once again made the trek back out to the ruins of Gardmore Abbey.

Rather than return to Dragon’s Roost, the top of the hill where they had been clearing out the catacombs underneath the temple, the party decided to explore the mysterious Feygrove.  There they met Berrian Valfarren (Encounter 13: Font of Ioun), a noble fey knight searching for his long vanished father.  Several hours before our heroes appeared, he had also apparently lost track of his sister, Analastra.

After chatting with Berrian, the party went to investigate the watchtower that looms above the south end of the abbey grounds.  Our heroes, though, couldn’t figure out how to actually gain entrance to the tower (Encounter 14: Watchtower Entrance), so they eventually gave up and headed back to continue scouting the Feygrove.

The party came across the shell of an old fieldstone cottage which had been the home of the abbey’s former groundskeepers (Encounter 12: Groundskeeper’s Cottage).  Rumors say that the groundskeepers had received the aid of an eladrin when planting the grove and gardens.  Our heroes were prevented from searching the cottage by two owlbears who have taken up residence in the ruined building.

Rather than take on the oddly apathetic beats (and perhaps tipped off by the fact that I didn’t immediately have them roll initiative), the party decided to carefully back away from the cottage and see what they could discover in the rest of the grove.

As they approached the bell tower near the temple mount (Encounter 11: Bell Tower), our heroes saw a pale, slender figure with long silver hair fleeing through the dark grove, her desperate footfalls making hardly a sound.  Behind her and to either side, two feline monsters pursued her in eerie silence.  Their black, six-legged forms were hard to focus on clearly.
Spiny tentacles whipped forward from the back of one of the beasts and lashed the fleeing figure, who dropped to the ground with an agonized shriek.  A rustling at the top of the tower signaled the presence of a nest of stirges (DIRE stirges!), awakened to the scent of blood.  On the ground, the tentacled beasts moved in for the kill.

With closing time at Total Escape Games fast approaching, we had to break off this encounter about halfway through, so we’ll pick back up at this point at the beginning of our next session.         

Friday, March 30, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 4

Let’s cut right to the chase, dear reader… One of the adventurers wouldn’t make it out of this session alive.  So who bit the dust?  Hint: Even before this, he had already died two times during the course of the campaign… and Boojum has been wearing a necklace made from two of his pointy vampire teeth.

Before we get to the highlights from the fourth session of our Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure, let’s review the members of our adventuring party:
  • Dagon— a watersoul genasi artificer (played by Robert)
  • Gaultis— a goliath warden (played by Chad)
  • Boojum— a pixie wizard (played by Steve)
  • Blake— a razorclaw shifter barbarian (played by Andy)
  • Silas—an eladrin vampire (played by Drew)
  • Lord Falkirk Bothwell is an NPC.  He is an aging knight of Bahamut who wishes to see evil purged from the ruins of old Gardmore Abbey.  The guys have taken turns playing Bothwell.

Our last session ended with the players in the Great Hall in the catacombs beneath Gardmore Abbey’s temple (see map below).  A mad priest of Tharizdun, Vadin Cartwright, had turned the enormous chamber into his lair.  Besides Vadin, our heroes had battled a venom-eyed basilisk, a snaketongue vampire, and 5 vampire spawn in Encounter 27: Great Hall.  Once they defeated the monsters and Vadin Cartwright, the party claimed 3 cards from the Deck of Many Things that had been in the crazed priest’s possession.

Since the players now have 4 cards from the Deck of Many Things (the Ruin, Skull, Sun, and Balance of Power cards), we spent the beginning of last night’s session reviewing how the cards work during an encounter.  On the way to the game, I had stopped at Staples and made copies of the cards’ powers (found in Book 1, pages 23-27) and gave the relevant ones to the players so that they’d have handy references to use during combat.

After taking an extended rest in the Great Hall and divvying up the cards, the party was ready to move on.  Rather than backtrack, they chose to investigate the closed set of doors in the southeastern corner of the enormous chamber.  Cautiously opening the doors, Boojum saw a small alcove.  To his left there was a dusty curtain composed of many dragon scales, blocking the pixie’s vision of what lay beyond.  Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Boojum backed off and let someone else take point.  Silas stepped forward and entered the alcove.

Inspecting the strange curtain, Silas saw that it was formed of small red, blue, black, green, and white dragon scales.  This curtain, and another one— also made from the scales of chromatic dragons— that the party would discover shortly, were the cause of much speculation during the course of the upcoming encounter.  The heavy curtains, though, were simply meant to provide testimony to the courage of the four knights who were laid to rest within the next chamber.  The four sarcophagi in that chamber all held the remains of knights who carried the honorific title of Dragonslayer.

Looking closely at the curtain in front of him, Silas saw that it was dusty but that in several small areas the dust had been smudged or wiped off. (Vadin Cartwright left those marks when he drew back the curtain to explore and loot this chamber.)  The eladrin vampire carefully parted the curtain and stepped through it into the next chamber.  This triggered the start of Encounter 26: Dragonslayers’ Tomb.
Silas saw that beyond the dragon scale curtain was a chamber containing more sarcophagi.  He also saw that emaciated undead creatures stalked among the stone coffins, looking at him hungrily as he pushed the curtain aside.  As Silas and Dagon boldly charged into the room, several creatures seemingly made of shadow rose from the sarcophagi.  Two of them resembled whirlwinds shot through with flashes of purple lightning.
  • 2 Vortex Wraiths (Level 9 Soldier)
  • 3 Ghasts (Level 6 Brute)
  • 2 Wraiths (Level 5 Lurker)
This encounter took up all of last night’s session!  Two hours into the session, the party had only managed to kill two of the monsters.  After that, things went a bit more quickly, but still… Yeesh.  The fact that the 4 wraiths were insubstantial, and therefore took half damage from all attacks (except those that dealt force damage), definitely prolonged the encounter.  Plus, the 2 vortex wraiths had regen 5.  I won’t lie to you, dear reader, this was a looong combat, and I thought of cutting it short several times, but a lot of fun stuff was happening, so I let it play out to the bitter end.

There was actually quite a bit of discussion among the players after the encounter had gone on for a while and they weren’t making much headway against the wraiths and ghasts.  Silas was the loudest voice advocating a retreat (especially after Bothwell discovered a secret door in the alcove back on the other side of the dragon scale curtain), but Boojum convinced the party to stay in the dragonslayers’ tomb and slug it out with the monsters.  The pixie said— and I quote: “These wings don’t run.”

Once the party decided to stay and fight, Blake rose to the occasion.  Taking advantage of the fact that he has multi-classed in Bard, the shifter used Skald’s Aura to inspire his allies with a song, allowing them to draw the strength to battle on.  He started to belt out, “Now you’re messing with a son of a bitch!” (from the title track of Nazareth’s 1975 album, Hair of the Dog).  The monsters must not have been very impressed with Blake’s singing (no doubt because there was no cowbell accompaniment) because the shifter soon found himself sprawled on the floor, unconscious and dying.  Seeing Blake fall, Silas quickly stepped toward his dying friend.  A pulse of shadow left the vampire’s hands, granting Blake strength and vigor, but leaving a dark stain on the shifter’s soul.  Despite the fact that we probably have over twenty years of higher education sitting around the game table, there was much middle school-ish joking about the nature of this “dark stain.” (This power was Silas’ Cleric Utility 2, Blackened Soul, which allows a dying comrade to spend two healing surges. Until the end of the encounter or until he regains full hit points, that comrade also gains a +2 power bonus to attack & damage rolls but grants combat advantage.)

Shortly after helping Blake, Silas used some other tricksy power that allowed him to teleport and become invisible.  But as a vortex wraith rushed by him on its way to attack Dagon, Silas couldn’t resist taking an opportunity attack against it.  Silas missed the wraith, but his attack made him visible to the monster.  (This is when things started to go downhill for Silas.)  The wraith stopped in its tracks and attacked the now-visible eladrin vampire with its Spiral Strike.  It crit’d with the attack, doing 22 damage.

Meanwhile, Gaultis had activated the Sun card across the chamber, so if Silas— down to 7 hit points— could somehow make it to the card’s token, he would be able to use Sun’s Refreshment and spend a healing surge.  But Silas was almost surrounded by enemies who were closing in on him!  No problemo… Boojum was up next and helpfully sprinkled Silas with pixie dust so that the wounded vampire could soar to safety.  But first, Silas would have to survive an opportunity attack by the vortex wraith.  As Silas and his 7 hit points flew by the monster, it struck out and shot him down.  Ouch.

As Silas lay there in a crumpled heap, unconscious and dying, Dagon’s turn came up and the artificer managed to get to the fallen vampire and use a healing infusion.  Whew.

But then on the vortex wraith’s turn, it noticed that although Silas was still lying there in a crumpled heap, the vampire was no longer unconscious and dying.  So it used its spiral strike on Silas again.  And that quickly, Silas was once again unconscious and dying.  Bummer.

But! Dagon once again came to the rescue, drawing a healing potion and pouring it down his dying friend’s throat.  Yeah!

But but! The dastardly wraith once again noticed Silas moving around a bit, so it whacked the vampire yet again with spiral strike.  And that quickly, Silas was once again unconscious and dying.  That’s the third time in three turns, just in case anyone is counting.

And then Blake KIA’d a ghast, which meant the monster’s Death Burst was triggered.  As nasty ghast parts splattered all over, (and your humble DM thought this was sooooo funny) the unconscious and dying Silas was hit.  That attack did just enough damage so that when Silas started his turn in the vortex wraith’s vortex aura, the 5 force damage killed him.  Killed him dead-dead!  That’s the third time Silas has been dead-dead during the course of our campaign, just in case anyone is counting.

Silas immediately started to try and guilt Boojum over the not-retreating-out-of-the-room decision, and also over the more recent incident with the pixie dust, but since Silas was dead-dead, Boojum didn’t hear anything.

After combat was over, Boojum did helpfully chop off one of Silas’ pinky fingers so the party could take it back to Bree and hopefully find someone who will be able to perform the Raise Dead ritual.  (When no one was looking, the pixie also did a little postmortem dental work on Silas’ corpse, adding two more pointy vampire teeth to his necklace.)

While Boojum was attending to Silas’ body, Blake and Gaultis checked out the sarcophagi in the chamber.  They could see that although the stone coffins had elaborate carvings venerating Bahamut, someone had defaced the names on each of them.  They also noticed that small amounts of mortar, dust, and gravel were scattered around each sarcophagus, as if they had already been opened and resealed.  Deciding they had nothing to lose by opening the sarcophagi again, the two levered the lid off the one in the northeast corner of the room.  Inside it, they found the Bowl of Io’s Blood!  That’s one of the three sacred vessels Lord Bothwell needs to purify the temple.

Thanks so much for joining us on our adventure!  We hope you tune in next week to see what happens as we continue to have fun playing through Madness at Gardmore Abbey.   

Friday, March 23, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 3

The gaunt and hunched human advanced toward the conveniently clustered group of adventurers. The man didn’t seem all that imposing except for the madness in his eye and the unmistakable aura of evil around him… and also, of course, the wicked looking +2 vicious mace clasped in his sweaty hand. Stopping a short distance away from Dagon, Blake, and Lord Bothwell, the creepy Level 10 Elite Soldier (Leader) with 212 hit points opened his mouth and let loose with a Howl of Madness. Under the piercing psychic attack, the three heroes’ will defenses crumbled faster than Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations. Each of them took 1d8+8 psychic damage and was stunned (save ends), prompting a chorus of “Stunned? What does stunned do? … Whaaaat? NO actions?!?”

For our third session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey, the party was a man down since Drew couldn’t be with us, so you won’t find any mention of rash actions or snarky remarks by Silas, the eladrin vampire, in this post. But not to worry; Blake (razorclaw shifter barbarian), Boojum (pixie wizard), Lord Bothwell, Dagon (watersoul genasi artificer), and Gaultis (goliath warden) continued to explore the catacombs under the ruined husk of the abbey’s once-glorious temple. 

We started this session with the continuation of Encounter 24: Font of Divine Health, which we had to break off last week when we ran up against closing time at our FLGS, Total Escape Games. 

As the party battled the skeletons in this room, the first time one of the undead monsters was destroyed, the dusty and chipped mosaic depicting the dragon-head symbol of Bahamut began to glow with a dim golden light. Every time a skeleton was cut down, the light increased in intensity, small motes of fire burnt away the dust, and the damage to the mosaic began to magically repair itself. When the last skeleton fell, the mosaic was once again in pristine condition, and each member of the party regained hit points as if he’d spent a healing surge. 

Once combat was over, everyone drank from the font of clean, clear water bubbling softly on the northern wall of the chamber. As Silas had discovered last week, the font not only allows a character to regain hit points, but also allows him to gain resist 5 necrotic (until the effect has blocked 20 necrotic damage or until the character leaves the catacombs)

Besides the mosaic and the fountain, the only other objects of interest in the chamber were the two stone sarcophagi. Both were decorated with elaborate carvings venerating Bahamut. One bore the name “Errin of Moonstair,” while the other was inscribed with the name “Dorgia Vann.”

After taking a short rest, the party decided to head through the doors in the northeast corner of the room. That triggered Encounter 27: Great Hall. As they cautiously passed through the doors, their footsteps echoed throughout an enormous chamber. They could see at least half a dozen stone sarcophagi arrayed around the shadow-draped room, and more probably stood in the darkness deeper inside. A strange reddish glow tinged the shadows, apparently emanating from something near the wall across the way. In the glow, our heroes could see several dark figures moving stealthily toward them. Something heavy was also dragging across the floor nearby but out of sight. 

  • Vadin Cartwright— Level 10 Elite Soldier (Leader)
  • Venom-Eye Basilisk (Level 10 Artillery)
  • Snaketongue Vampire (Level 10 Controller)
  • 5 Elder Vampire Spawn (Level 10 Minion Soldier)

This was a villain encounter. Vadin Cartwright had three cards from the Deck of Many Things: the Skull, Sun, and Balance of Power cards. In a villain encounter, the bad guy’s collection of cards enhances that creature’s power and its capabilities, exerting a powerful and dynamic effect on the battle. Each villain has a number of hit point thresholds determined by the number of cards in its possession, as specified in the villian’s statistics for the encounter. Crossing a threshold triggers the use of a card. Vadin used the skull card at the beginning of the encounter. The sun card triggered when Vadin’s hit point total dropped to 141 (out of 212). And then the balance card came into play when his hit point total dropped to 70.

This was a long, difficult encounter for the party— mostly because the players didn’t focus their fire once the minions were out of the way. Blake took on Vadin Cartwright. Bothwell tried to take down the snaketongue vampire. Gaultis and Boojum had their hands full with the basilisk. And Dagon was kept busy healing whoever needed it. Blake even went down at one point, but Dagon stepped in with a timely healing word and quickly brought the shifter back into the fight. 

Oh, and it warmed your humble DM’s heart when— after the vignette you read at the top of the post— Blake proceeded to fail 3 or 4 saving throws, so he was stunned for quite a while after Vadin’s howl of madness attack. Hee hee. 

I guess WotC felt they just had to insert something about the stupid abyssal plague into Madness at Gardmore Abbey because the strange reddish glow from across the room was coming from an altar to Bahamut that was now home to some of the Voidharrow. Vadin Cartwright was supposed to be a mad priest of Tharizdun who found his way into the vaults below the abbey and discovered the strange red substance in a tiny vial among the forgotten trophies of the knights. He was using it to experiment on the undead in the catacombs; he himself was at stage 1 of the illness. Ugh, enough about that nonsense. 

So after they captured Vadin, our heroes took a look around the enormous chamber where the encounter had taken place. It appeared to be a mansion for the dead knights of the abbey. The heavy stone sarcophagi were each decorated with elaborate carvings venerating Bahamut. Near the statue of Bahamut (depicted as a human knight in plate armor) in the northwest corner of the chamber the party found the resting place of Gardrin the Hammer, founder of Gardmore Abbey. Besides relieving Vadin Cartwright of the 3 cards in his possession, the adventurers also snagged his +2 vicious mace. In a sack near the Voidharrow were 850 gp and a magic longsword (special item: “Moonbane”)

Tune in to the next post to see what other trouble the party can get into as they continue to explore the creepy catacombs below Gardmore Abbey’s temple.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 2

Madness at Gardmore Abbey is a 4e D&D super-adventure that takes heroes of levels 6-8 into the ruins of a monastery that was once the base of a militant order of paladins devoted to Bahamut. According to legend, the paladins brought a dark artifact back from a far crusade and stored it in their abbey for safekeeping, and evil forces gathered to assault the abbey and take it back. What the legends don’t tell is that this artifact was actually the Deck of Many Things, a force of pure chaos. 

The party started our second session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey by conducting a more thorough search of the temple where they had just defeated the crazed harpies and angels (Encounter 21: Temple).

Though the roof was half collapsed and the building was blackened with soot and decay, some hint of its ancient grandeur still shone through in the abbey’s great temple. Mighty columns rose into the shadows beneath the crumbling roof, lifting the eye toward the heavens. Smaller pillars of graceful shape and elegant decoration hinted at the temple’s lost beauty. Altars to several different gods surrounded the towering statue of Bahamut, depicted as a human knight in armor. A pool of clear water stood near the south entrance of the temple. The water was bitterly cold, like the freezing breath of Bahamut, but a successful Religion check let our heroes know that anyone who drinks of the water gains a temporary blessing of clarity: Once before the character takes an extended rest, he can reroll a single d20 roll with a +2 bonus. A character can only gain this benefit from the pool once. Needless, to say, every single member of the party was immediately slurping up some of the water. 

Since the party had found the Ruin card from the Deck of Many Things in a hidden niche in Bahamut’s altar, I spent some time explaining to them how the environmental effects of a card manifest automatically at the start of a combat encounter. They thought it was interesting that a creature in the same square as the card token gains access to a power associated with the magic of the card. For example, any creature in the Ruin token’s square can use the encounter power: Touch of Ruin

After the party had thoroughly explored the temple, finding a stairway near the priests’ cells that led downward into the catacombs, everyone gathered back in the sanctum. Lord Bothwell sighed and said, “It is as I suspected, my friends. I cannot perform the ritual of purification without the temple’s sacred vessels. Our next task, then, must be to find them: a chalice, a bowl, and a brazier. In all my research, I found no mention of those items appearing outside the abbey, so I believe they are still here somewhere. It is only a matter of finding them and bringing them here to the temple.” Silas wasn’t very pleased with this news, but— in his defense— during the journey to Bree, Bothwell had told the party that he would need the 3 sacred items (Brazier of Silver Fire, Bowl of Ioun’s Blood, and Chalice of the Dragon) in order to complete the ritual. 

After discussing their options, which included searching the other 3 ruined buildings on the plateau, the party decided to stay in the temple, head down the stairs they’d discovered near the priests’ cells, and explore the catacombs. As our heroes descended the stairs, from somewhere ahead, they heard the unmistakable sounds of battle. From the bottom of the stairs, they were able to see into a chamber where another group of adventurers was locked in combat with undead monsters. 
(Encounter 23: Altar of Glory was the second time the players reached a marked encounter. Each marked encounter is keyed to a card from the Deck of Many Things in the rival adventurers’ possession. The party might come across these rivals— or signs of their passing— as many as four times over the course of the adventure.) 

One of the other adventurers, a woman with curly blond hair showing beneath her helmet, was already bloodied. When she saw our heroes descending the stairs, she exclaimed, “Thank the gods! Please, friends, help us!” Silas wasn’t certain that helping these strangers was such a good idea, but Boojum— noticing that the wounded woman was quite fetching— convinced his companions that assisting the other adventurers was a great idea. So our heroes entered the fray, helping the strangers battle the undead monsters.

  •  Havarr, Pale Reaver Lord (Level 8 Elite Controller)
  • 2 Pale Reavers (Level 5 Lurker)
  • 4 Pale Reaver Creepers (Level 6 Minion Controller) 

As the party waded into the fight, Boojum attempted to use the Ruin card’s power, but since it was the first time anyone had tried to use the card, the pixie didn’t quite have a handle on the magic involved, and the attack sputtered and failed. A few moments later, our heroes noticed a pattern of light and shadow start to shimmer on the floor adjacent to one of the strangers, Kurik the dwarf, and they suddenly realized that the other adventurers must also have a card from the Deck of Many Things!

Once the PCs and Lord Bothwell were fully engaged with the pale reavers, the rival adventurers started to withdraw from the fight. With everyone else caught up in melee across the chamber, Boojum edged back toward the stairs to block the exit. But then, Lenna teleported past Boojum and up the stairs, Arvan used Cloak of Darkness to escape past the pixie, and Kurik the dwarf used Frightful Presence to stun our poor hero. As Kurik, Grosh, and Tam rushed by Boojum, Kurik tried to pick the pixie’s pocket and snag the Ruin card, but luckily the dwarf failed. Boojum was feeling rather dejected as the rival adventurers escaped up the stairs, but his heart lifted when he heard Tam whisper, “Sorry. Call me, sweetie,” as she slipped past him. 

Silas really wanted to charge up the stairs and chase after the dirty rotten so-and-so’s who had just done the party wrong, but the eladrin vampire was clear over at the northern end of the chamber, by the ornate altar, and so he himself really couldn’t do anything terribly vengeful. Bothwell, Dagon, Blake, and Gaultis were tied up with the pale reavers, so they couldn’t do anything about it either. And Boojum, of course, was just lying stunned at the bottom of the stairs, treasuring Tam’s parting words, even as he wondered what she meant when she said, "Call me."

After the party finally dispatched the last of the pale reavers (made all the more difficult by the monsters’ repeated use of their Insubstantial Transformation power), they investigated the irregularly shaped chamber where the battle had taken place. Four sarcophagi, one open, stood in the outer portion of the chamber. On each of the heavy stone sarcophagi, there were carvings venerating Moradin, Pelor, Ioun, and Erathis. Each sarcophagus also bore a name: Rombert, Toren, Fror, and Sefgar. During the course of the encounter, anyone who ended his or her turn within 2 squares of the open sarcophagus had taken 5 necrotic damage. Now, as they took a closer look at that particular coffin, our heroes could see that a shattered skeleton amid moldering burial garments lay inside it. They also couldn’t help noticing that the skeleton’s skull was missing. By that time, Silas, who had been over at the altar getting his implement buffed in some sacred fire, came back over to see what everyone else was doing. He went over to one of the closed sarcophagi and made as if to lift the lid off it. When everyone else started to back away, asking what exactly the vampire thought he was doing, Silas scoffed, “What’s the worst that could happen?” 

As he levered the lid off and to one side, the vampire could see that inside the coffin was a skeleton lying amid moldering burial garments, and this skeleton still had its skull. At the same moment that the lid hit the floor, Silas felt a painful tingling sensation run through his body. By opening the knight’s sarcophagi, he had just incurred Bahamut’s ire. Silas will take a -1 penalty to attack rolls until the catacombs are cleared of evil influence. 

After Silas’ little sacrilegious faux pas, the party took stock of their situation. They could head back up the stairs and attempt to pursue the rival adventurers, or they could explore what lay behind one of the doorways that led off this irregularly shaped chamber where they’d just defeated the pale reavers. They chose to take a short rest, stay in the catacombs, open the northern set of doors, and see what was on the other side of them. 

As they opened the doors and advanced into the chamber that lay beyond, our heroes could see two ornately carved sarcophagi occupying one side of the room. Past the sarcophagi, they could just see a font jutting from the opposite wall, bubbling with clean, clear water. And then, with a clattering of bones, skeletons attacked! 

  • 2 Blazing Skeletons (Level 5 Artillery)
  • 2 Skeletal Tomb Guardians (Level 10 Brute)
  • 4 Skeletal Legionaries (Level 7 Minion Soldier) 

On his first turn, with his companions already locked in combat with the skeletons, Silas made a beeline for the font bubbling on the chamber’s northern wall. Without even hesitating, he took a drink of the water. He found that any character drinking from the font (a minor action) regains hit points as if they’d spent a healing surge, and also gains resist 5 necrotic until the effect has blocked 20 necrotic damage. Each character can gain the font’s benefits only once per day.

As the clock ticked ever closer to closing time at our FLGS, Total Escape Games, the party had handily eliminated the 4 skeleton minions, but they were still locked in combat with the other monsters, so we had to break things off mid-battle. We’ll continue the encounter at the beginning of next Thursday night’s session. 

Thanks for joining us on our adventure. I hope you tune in to the next post and see what happens as Blake, Boojum, Dagon, Gaultis, Lord Bothwell, and Silas continue to explore the ruins of Gardmore Abbey!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 1, Part the Second

Note: This is the second post relating the events that occurred during our first session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey. The session took place on Thursday, March 8th at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, Colorado.

When our heroes arrived at Gardmore Abbey, they could see that the abbey grounds covered most of a hillside at the end of the overgrown path that led from the King’s Road. Surveying the scene from under cover, they noted that the main gate was flanked by squat, square towers. To either side of the gate stretched a curtain wall showing signs of its age, supported by occasional towers and buttresses. Above the wall, a caved-in temple yet stood proudly on the hilltop. 

Our heroes arrived at Gardmore Abbey about midday. After seeing movement atop the towers flanking the gate, they spent most of the rest of the day making a stealthy circuit around the ruins of the abbey. Besides the wall, they found that the natural features of the hill also formed part of the abbeys’s defenses. The western and southern slopes of the hill were steep enough to serve as walls in their own right. The northern and eastern slopes were gentler, and there lay the ruins of the village that once supported the abbey. The party didn’t see any guards stationed atop the walls or towers except at the main gate. Except for a breach in its southern extent, the wall remained mostly intact despite the siege that brought the abbey low a century and a half ago. Beyond the breach, our heroes could see a tangled expanse of forest sprawling over the hillside, wilder and far greener than the surrounding landscape.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” 

With the sun beginning to set to the west, our heroes decided to use the single breach in the wall to scout the abbey grounds. From atop the breach, the party could see that the entire southeastern part of the abbey grounds, from the lip of the temple plateau to the outer wall, was covered in a thick, riotous tangle of trees, bushes, vines, and ferns. The woods seemed ancient, undisturbed since the dawn of time, though the abbey wall hemmed it in and had checked its spread. Our heroes could see that a bell tower lifted its head above the canopy a short distance down the slope from the temple. The remains of a small cottage lay near the outer wall toward the northern edge of the grove. And a small stone building— a shrine or tomb, perhaps— stood in a small clearing near the south end of the forest. To the party’s left, near where the outer wall met the steep cliff of the hillside, a lone watchtower rose above the trees. 

As the sun slipped below the horizon, the party carefully made their way down into the abbey grounds. Brambles and vines clutched the boles of trees and, overhead, thick branches draped in silver webs hid the darkening sky. In the shadows beneath the trees, our heroes could see immense spiders lurking. Knowing of Silas’ almost crippling arachnophobia, everyone turned to look at the eladrin vampire. Silas shuddered and whispered, “Spiders. Why’d it have to be spiders?” As Silas started to back away, his companions noticed something strange about the spiders lurking in the deepening shadows— the big, creepy monsters were dead! The spiders’ slashed and blasted bodies were scattered about under the trees. 

Mea Culpa #1: I remembered that Encounter 9 was a marked encounter (four potential encounters with another group of rough-and-tumble rival adventurers), so that’s why our heroes found the spider threat already removed… but the party shouldn’t actually have been playing through Encounter 9 at this point. Once they made their way through the breach, they should’ve played through Encounter 13: Font of Ioun. Oops. Not a catastrophic mistake, by any means, since it can be easily rectified the next time the party enters the Feygrove, but it irks the perfectionist in me. 

Anyway, since night had fallen by the time they realized the spiders had already been slain, our heroes decided to retreat back out of the breach. Once outside the walls once again, they made their way back to the cleared area near the main gate. Blake and Silas used the cover of darkness to stealth closer to the two squat, square towers flanking the gate. Once they were close enough, the shifter and vampire could see several orcs and an ogre patrolling the gatehouse. After this discovery, the group decided to move a bit farther north, away from the main gate, and have Boojum fly over the wall and recon the ruined village. The pixie wizard found that among the sagging roofs and toppled wrecks of the houses, throngs of savage orcs made camp in filthy tents clustered around small, smoking fires. Boojum estimated about 150 orcs and associated human, half-orc, and hobgoblin mercenaries inhabited the village. In addition, it looked as if a handful of ogres, hill giants, and dire wolves supported them. 

Back to Bree 

Arriving back in Bree (a round trip to Bree and back typically takes about three days), the party reported to Lord Harkness with their assessment of the orcs’ defenses. He was very interested in their discovery of a breach in the southern wall and the overgrown area beyond. Harkness thought perhaps that approach might be the best way to approach the village and launch an assault, so he asked our heroes to enter the grove and scout it thoroughly when they returned to the abbey. He paid them 600 gp as an incentive to keep working for him. 

Rounding up a reinvigorated Lord Bothwell, the party headed back to the ruins of Gardmore Abbey. 

“Hey, I just remembered something!” 

As our heroes once again approached the abbey along the overgrown path, they stopped so that Bothwell could survey the scene. As Bothwell took it all in, he suddenly snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Now that I am here, seeing Gardmore with my own eyes, I have remembered an old story about the abbey.” Bothwell told the party that he had suddenly recalled how the knights of Bahamut had built a secret stair on the western hillside that led directly to the Dragon’s Roost. 

 After making their way over to the western slopes of the hill, it took the party about two hours to find the well hidden stairway. The stairway was steep and partially blocked in places, so climbing to the top required significant effort. About halfway to the top, the party noticed a cave entrance in the steep hillside, north of the stairs. Boojum flew over to check it out. He found a rough tunnel leading back into utter darkness. After casting Light on a coin and pitching it back the tunnel, he heard the sound of unseen creatures scurrying about and whispering to each other. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, the pixie left the tunnel and rejoined his companions on the secret stairway. 

Dragon’s Roost 

Dragon’s Roost, the plateau at the top of the hill, was once the heart of the abbey, the home of its monastic knights and the center of their worship. When the abbey fell, this area took the brunt of the damage. Fire consumed the wooden buildings that stood on the plateau and destroyed the roofs of the others, leaving the majestic temple gutted and scarred. Now only four structures remain.

Arriving at the top of the secret stairs, our heroes decided to head straight for the temple so that Bothwell could get started on the ritual of purification. Unfortunately, the party found that the ruined husk of the temple housed crazed harpies and maddened angels, as detailed in Encounter 21 of Book 4. 

  • 2 Harpies (Level 6 Controller)
  • 3 Angels of Valor (Level 8 Soldier) 

In a nice touch, story and roleplaying notes included with the encounter gave each of the harpies a distinct appearance and personality.

Mea Culpa #2: After combat was over, this is where the party found their first card from the Deck of Many Things in a hidden niche in Bahamut’s altar. However, I completely forgot that in every encounter in which one or more of the cards are present, the cards have a significant effect. In this instance, environmental effects should have manifested automatically since a card was located in the temple. During the encounter, I should’ve placed the token for the Ruin card in a square adjacent to the altar. My bad. 

We quickly were coming up against closing time at Total Escape Games, so we really had to hustle to conclude this encounter in the temple. After defeating the harpies and the angels, our heroes just had time to find the Ruin card, 1600 gp, and Dagon was lucky enough to claim a level 9 or 10 rare weapon of his choice. 

At the beginning of our next session, the party can make a more thorough search of the rooms in the temple and Lord Bothwell can get started on the ritual of purification.