Friday, April 29, 2011

Tomb of Horrors: Session 3

Marrak watched with growing dismay as, one-by-one, his companions disappeared through the swirling white mist within the archway. Zanfire had gone through first, Jack-style (that is, with a rope tied around his waist). After Zanfire stepped into the mist and disappeared, the rope had gone ominously slack. But pulling the rope back into the hallway minus one longtooth shifter didn’t stop Elric from quickly following Zanfire’s lead. Marrak’s words of caution also failed to dissuade Jack and Zerbitt from marching through the archway. After the last of his companions disappeared, Marrak moved up adjacent to the archway. He closed his eyes and slowly shook his head back and forth. A long-suffering sigh escaped the dwarf’s lips. After a moment’s hesitation, and with his eyes still closed, Marrak also stepped through the mist.

When Marrak opened his eyes, he noticed four things. The first thing he noticed was that he was standing in the bright sunshine on top of the barren, rocky hilltop somewhere above the tomb’s entrance. The second thing he noticed was that Zanfire, Elric, Jack, and Zerbitt were also there on the hilltop. The third thing he noticed was that all of them were buck naked. And I’m sure you can guess the fourth thing Marrak noticed.

When Marrak realized that he too was naked as the day he was born, the warpriest let loose with some salty dwarven epithets that aren’t fit to print here, dear reader.

For our third session of Tomb of Horrors, we once again met at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, CO. Ready, willing, and (maybe) able to tackle whatever Acererak threw at them were…
  • Elric (drow warlock)

  • Jack (revenant human assassin)

  • Marrak (dwarf warpriest)

  • Zanfire (longtooth shifter warden)

  • Zerbitt (human thief)

(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman
At the close of our second session, we ended with our heroes in an odd chapel they had discovered at the end of a long crawlspace off of the Great Hall of Spheres. Jack and Elric went through an archway filled with luminous orange mist and found out a little something about Acererak’s sick sense of humor when they were changed into Jacqueline and Elrika. So our third session opened with the party still there in the chapel, pondering what should/could be done about Jack and Elric’s dilemma. After much debating and theorizing, Jack went back through the archway. Yes, with a rope tied around her waist. Nothing happened except she took 5 damage (1d6 damage), so she took the opportunity to investigate the small room she was standing in. She didn’t perceive anything except that she was standing in a small room beyond the orange mists of the archway. After Jack returned from her second journey beyond the orange mist, there was once again much debating and theorizing, after which Elric also went back through the archway. Nothing happened except that she too took 5 damage (1d6 damage), so she also took the opportunity to investigate the small room she was standing in. Elric didn’t perceive anything except that she was standing in a small room beyond the orange mists of the archway.

With Jack and Elric back in the chapel, everyone got down to the business of actually looking up the Remove Affliction ritual to see exactly how it’d undo the curse afflicting the drow and revenant. I told them that I’d let both Jack and Elric be the target of the ritual, but everyone was dismayed to see how physically taxing the ritual would be on the characters. In fact, there was a chance one or the other might not survive the ritual. Once they realized that, both Jack and Elric decided to just continue play as chicks.

On a brighter note, the party’s systematic looting of the pews in the chapel had resulted in the discovery of an astounding 11,000sp and 7,000gp. After rolling around in the coins like Scrooge McDuck, the party decided to take a short rest and then head back out to the Great Hall of Spheres. Before they left the chapel, Elric decided to do one more close sweep of the walls in the room. Up near the southeast corner of the room, she found a circle had been carefully scribed in the stone wall behind the plaster. It was a large-ish circle, like perhaps where a large-ish magic ring might be placed.

Cruel But Most Entertaining…

Once they were back out in the Great Hall of Spheres, our heroes gave their attention to the archway at the southern end of the hallway. They checked it out, but couldn’t tell anything beyond what they’d found out about it in the last session (it was imbued with powerful teleportation magic; when someone moved adjacent to it, three of its stones began to glow). After another round of discussion (I’ll say one thing for this group: they’ve definitely taken to heart Gary Gygax’s admonition that ToH “is a thinking person’s module…”), the events you read at the top of the post unfolded. After I told the group what had happened after they stepped through the swirling white mist within the archway, I wrote “LOL” in big letters in my notebook. Gary Gygax famously described this cursed archway’s teleportation of the characters to one destination while all their gear is taken to another spot as, “Cruel but most entertaining for the DM…”

Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice, Shame On… Hey, look! Another archway!

Once our nekkid heroes scrambled down off the hilltop and made their way back to the entrance to the Tomb, they decided to spend some time trying to figure out the very first mist-filled archway. On a successful Arcana check, they found out that not only was the archway imbued with powerful teleportation magic, but that safely working the arch involved touching its glowing stones in a particular order. In no time at all, they’d pressed the stones in the proper sequence (yellow, blue, orange) and the mist disappeared. Beyond the archway, they could see a smooth-walled stone chamber, and the red mosaic path ended at the far wall. Zanfire once again volunteered to be the first one through, but he passed through off the red tile path and was teleported to the north end of the entrance hall. Hmm… Marrak went through next, but he also passed through off the red path and so he too found himself standing at the north end of the hallway. Oops. After that, the adventurers realized their mistake and they all passed through the arch on the mosaic path.

Three-Armed Statue

Our nekkid heroes found themselves in uncomfortably close proximity to one another when they were all teleported into a small, utterly dark chamber. After a few moments of awkwardly bumping into one another (since Elric was the only one with darkvision), someone cast light on something (maybe the stick Zerbitt had found outside and been carrying around because it made him feel less naked and defenseless) and they saw that they were in a small room that contained an 8-foot tall statue of a four-armed gargoyle. One of its arms had been broken off, and it rested on the floor. They also noticed there didn’t seem to be any visible means of exit from the small chamber. Uh oh.

Not to worry, though. A successful Perception check uncovered a secret door in the room’s east wall. Opening the door revealed a 5-foot diameter crawlspace. Our heroes could see that after a short distance the crawlspace appeared to dead end at a stone wall with a 3-foot diameter gold sphere set in it. With a sigh of relief, they realized they were just off the Great Hall of Spheres. The successful Perception check had also revealed that each of the gargoyle’s three intact hands were carved with an indentation, as if some object were meant to be placed there. The fourth arm had no such indentation. The PCs could also tell that some rubble around the base of the statue contained traces of diamond dust and pulverized gems. A successful Thievery check revealed that both the statue and its broken arm were imbued with powerful magic and that activating the statue’s magic required a series of repeated actions. The PCs realized that they’d need to place the gems they’d discovered into the statue’s hands in order to activate it, but… but they no longer had the gems! The gems were in some unknown location, along with all the rest of their missing gear. Knowing there was nothing else they could do in the room with the three-armed statue, our heroes scrambled through the crawlspace and back out into the Great Hall of Sphere.

Once More, With Feeling…

Now knowing that pressing the colored stones of the entrance hall arch in a certain order had let them safely work it, our heroes now decided to try the same thing with the misty archway in the Great Hall of Spheres. They tried every possible combination, but the archway remained clouded and veiled with a haze that couldn’t be seen through. Based on the “oh-well-what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen?” line of reasoning, Zanfire then went through the cursed archway again. After a short while, he crawled back into the hall through the gold sphere and reported that the archway had once again teleported him to the top of the hill outside the entrance. Not knowing what else to do and not necessarily wanting to explore anywhere new while feeling all nude and whatnot, they decided to visit the chapel again and at the very least say a few desperate prayers that they’d somehow be able to recover their gear.


It turned out that the prayers weren’t needed, after all. As soon as they exited the crawlspace, the PCs could see that all of their gear was piled on top of the altar at the front of the chapel. After heartfelt exclamations of joy, they very carefully retrieved their weapons, armor, and other stuff (the altar was pulsing an opalescent blue, which the PCs thought looked ominous and so everyone was careful not to touch the altar itself). With smiles on their faces, they once again headed back out to the Great Hall of Spheres.

“Hey, y’all! This sphere is… Ouch!”

Finally, on their… what?... fourth visit to the hall, our heroes decided to check all of the spheres on the east and west walls. They split up and went about methodically checking each sphere by touch (the only way to detect an illusory sphere). They used ten-foot poles, shovels, etc but still Elric found out the hard way that two of the spheres (orange and bronze) were illusions covering spear traps. As the buxom drow poked each trapped sphere, she was attacked by glowing spears that erupted from the wall (+10 vs. Reflex; 3d8 damage, and ongoing 5 damage—save ends. Miss: Ongoing 5 damage—save ends). After the attacks, the spears faded to mist and disappeared. All of the other spheres were simply part of the frescoes painted on the walls, except for the red sphere held by the skeleton. Zerbitt discovered that the red sphere was an illusion covering a 5-foot-diameter crawlspace. After a short rest, Jack led our brave band of heroes as they entered the red sphere and made their way through 40 feet of rough passage that came to an apparent dead end at a blank stone wall.

Knowing by this time that when a crawlspace in the Tomb of Horrors dead ends at a blank stone wall, there is often more to the story than meets the eye, Jack rolled a Perception check to see what he could see. With her roll, what she saw was a crawlspace that came to an apparent dead end at a blank stone wall. Zerbitt squeezed his way past Jack and gave it a try. Nada. Blank stone wall. Elric was sure she could do better, so she made her way past Jack and Zerbitt and gave the wall a good once-over. Alas, she also didn’t find anything. Zanfire managed to carefully maneuver past Zerbitt, Jack, and Elric and with his excellent Perception check the warden found a secret door. Yeah!

Since Zerbitt had the party’s best Thievery, Zanfire let the thief sneak past him and check the secret door for locks or traps. Zerbitt found that the door appeared to be neither locked nor trapped, so he slowly opened it. Opening the secret door (onto a blank stone wall) caused the end of the tunnel to collapse under Zerbitt, unceremoniously dropping him into…

The Chamber of Three Chests

Despite being caught by surprise when the crawlspace’s floor collapsed underneath him, Zerbitt’s cat-like reflexes and agility allowed him to safely drop 10 feet into an empty chamber. Well, empty except for some piles of rubble and three closed chests that were set across the stone floor. The thief saw that each chest was 4 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 3 feet high. The first chest gleamed gold. The second chest was untarnished silver. The third was oak bound with thick bronze bands. Looking up and seeing Zanfire’s face peering over the edge of the hole in the ceiling, Zerbitt called up that it appeared to be safe to come down and join him.

Once the party was gathered in the 30’x30’ chamber, they examined the three chests. After Jack, Elric, Zanfire, and Zerbitt all failed to find anything fishy with their various Perception and Thievery checks, Marrak opened the oaken chest. And with a burst of bright light, an enormous skeletal figure erupted from the chest, its twin scimitars lashing out.

I’m not sure how it appeared to the players, but I thought they handled the fight with the Skeleton Blade Guardian (Level 12 Elite Brute) rather well. The monster bloodied several of them during the course of the encounter, but the issue was never really in doubt. However, that might have been because the players were pulling out Daily powers and action points and using them like there was no tomorrow. The very end of the fight was kind of interesting, though— at least from my standpoint. Zerbitt hit with some typically sneaky rogue-ish attack that did a ridiculous amount of damage and knocked the giant skeleton down to 1 hp. Now, all throughout the fight, the players had been doing this thing where they’d tell me the damage from their attacks, then ten seconds later go, “Oh wait, I forgot to add the bonus for Accurate Vampiric Strength of the Bear Clan, so add two more damage… oh, and three more for Shadow Kiss Wrath of the Sun…”, so I kind of waited for Zerbitt to do the same thing and belatedly take care of that one little lone hit point the skeleton had left. But he didn’t. And the skeleton was up next! Since Zerbitt was the last one to attack it, the skeleton targeted him with a scimitar attack. First, though, it had to weather a Warden’s Fury attack from Zanfire. When the longtooth shifter missed, the skeleton’s last gasp slash hit Zerbitt for 30 damage. Kaa-pow!

Okay, so anyway, that was the last of my fun with the skeleton because Marrak was up next and he got the kill on the party’s foe. There was then some debate about whether to take a short rest to heal up before opening the other chests (the oaken one turned out to be empty). I think it was Marrak that voiced a concern over there perhaps being more skeletons in the gold and silver chests and Elric who then said, “C’mon, what are the odds that’d happen?” Everyone laughed and agreed that was the line they’d put on Elric’s headstone.

After a short rest to lick their wounds, our heroes opened the other two chests. Elric opened the silver chest first. A pulse of shadow erupted as she opened it, and the air in the chamber was filled with a barrage of black darts (+15 vs. reflex; 4d10+1 force damage and the target is pushed 2 squares from the chest). The darts somehow missed Jack, but hit everyone else, even poor Marrak who by that point was standing inconspicuously over in the corner as far away from the chests as he could get. The dart attack caused Elric to stumble back into the gold chest and, as the chest popped open with a burst of green light, a swarm of hissing vipers poured forth. They immediately set about biting Elric (+18 vs. Reflex; ongoing 8 poison damage—save ends). Marrak charged over to smite the vipers, but he rolled a 1 and his attack went badly awry as the dwarf suddenly remembered he’s deathly afraid of snakes. Elric was up next and with her successful attack she discovered that the Horde of Vipers was a minion (Level 10 Minion Soldier). Scratch one mass of slithering, hissing snakes.

By that time the words “Extended Rest” were flying freely around the table. First, though, the PCs searched the two chests, and in the silver one they found a very large magic ring. Before heading to the chapel for their extended rest, Zerbitt decided to do one more check of the room. He rolled a nat 20 on his Perception check and darned if the thief didn’t find a crystal box with 3 gems hidden under some of the rubble. That discovery set off a flurry of “I also want to search” and “I want to search too,” but as everyone was grabbing for d20’s I assured them that there was absolutely positively nothing else to be found in the Chamber of Three Chests.

And so Session 3 of our most excellent Tomb of Horrors adventure ended with the heroes settling down in the chapel for some much needed R&R. Golly, after this extended rest, I sure hope nothing bad happens to them in the time before they can take another one. (Insert evil chuckle here.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MotPB, Session 11: To TPK or not to TPK

In Session 11 of March of the Phantom Brigade, the heroes moved deeper into the monastery. As they explored the Long Corridor and the Sleeping Quarters, they unexpectedly had front row seats to two visions involving the members of the Silver Company and events in the monastery some sixty years ago.

In the first vision, they saw Salazar Vladistone, Alorel Sirothien (eladrin knight), Milligan Three-Toes (gnome illusionist), and Tomas Alderson (human wizard) stumbling up the hallway as if they were pursued by some fearsome monster. One of our heroes, Thoradin (dwarf cleric), made an Arcana check and deduced that the entrance of living creatures into the abandoned monastery seemed to have triggered the residual magic of the arrow of time, which was competing with some kind of ritual that created a temporal stasis. Thoradin said that as our heroes explored more of the complex, they’d disrupt the stasis by making events of the past play out.

Our heroes saw the second vision when they entered the Sleeping Quarters. The four adventurers from the Silver Company were binding their wounds and resting in the chamber. Milligan Three-Toes said, “Actherimos is not too dangerous on his own. This deep into the mountains, however, his death throes could collapse every passage from here to the town. We cannot win this battle, not without dying ourselves and killing who knows how many others in Hammerfast.” After the vision faded, Jarren (human wizard) made a History check and recalled that Actherimos was the name of an earthquake dragon that plagued the Nentir Vale for a long time before it vanished without a trace about sixty years ago. Over the years, a few scholars suspected that the Silver Company had something to do with the dragon’s sudden disappearance, but that supposition had remained unconfirmed— until now.

Following the end of the second vision, our heroes found themselves in a tough fight against 2 Ravenous Ghouls, 2 Ghouls, and a Carrion Crawler. Six rounds into the battle, every one of the adventurers except Jarren was unconscious and dying. And I had to decide whether to go for the TPK or throw the party a lifeline.

Having been on the receiving end of an Encounters TPK during the latter stages of Keep on the Shadowfell, I know they’re not a whole lot of fun for the players. At least, it wasn’t much fun for me. It left a really sour taste in my mouth. I should also say that another factor in my thinking was the age of several of the players at the table. Three of them were young ’uns (pre-teen or early teens). If I threw them a lifeline and they managed to pull themselves out of the mess they were in, I knew it’d be a very positive experience in their burgeoning adventuring career. btw: Jarren, the only PC left standing, was being played by one of the pre-teens.

Well, I’m sure you’ve guessed by this point what I did. I threw them a lifeline. First, since the Carrion Crawler was next to Jarren and was going to chomp on him, I removed the monster from play, saying that it’d had enough and was scurrying back down into its burrow. Then, the ghouls amazingly missed on a few attacks. Next, since Jarren was standing near Thoradin (the party’s downed cleric) and was going to try and stabilize the dwarf, I told the wizard that if he passed the Heal check he’d suddenly remember a combat medic course he’d attended once upon a time and would heal Thoradin rather than just stabilizing him. And Jarren passed the Heal check! So that put the cleric back in action. And then… you simply aren’t going to believe this… two of the other downed party members rolled nat 20s on their next death saving throws. I mean, seriously, what are the odds?

Once everyone was back on their feet, they quickly defeated the remaining ghouls. As our heroes contemplated their narrow escape, Jarren confirmed that the duergar ghouls were created by the decaying temporal stasis field and that the party’s entrance into the monastery was causing the stasis ritual to fail more quickly. Okie dokie. Hey, I don’t write this stuff, I just nod my head sagely as I tell it to the players and act like it all makes perfect sense.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

tomb of horrors: session 2

Elric took a firm grip on the rope, stepped past the skeleton lying on the floor, and followed Jack through the glowing orange mist of the archway. After passing through the mist, the drow found himself in a small room that was already occupied by a human revenant that looked a whole lot like Jack, except… except this human revenant was a chick! With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Elric looked down and saw that he was now sporting quite a large set of, ah… well, let’s just say the word “buxom” immediately popped into his head.

“Hi, I’m Jacqueline,” the revenant said.

“Hi, I’m… Elrika, I guess,” the well-endowed drow warlock replied.

* * * * *

It wasn’t until the party found a third mist-filled stone archway that someone finally mustered up the necessary courage (or foolishness) to pass through one, but when they did it was worth the wait (at least for me!) since hilarity and mayhem ensued.

But the second session of our Tomb of Horrors adventure actually began back in the Gargoyle Lair, so let’s start there, okay?

As you’ll recall, our five heroes had just defeated the Lesser Gargoyle Mauler and then taken a short rest in their fallen foe’s lair. Rather than head back out to the entrance corridor, they decided to check out the two doors they’d found in the gargoyle chamber. Session #2 began with Jack opening the wooden door in the east wall and peering inside. He saw a 10’x10’ room, empty of everything except a fine layer of dust and grit. From outside the room, he checked it for traps and whatnot, but didn’t find anything.

Going over to the wooden door in the south wall, Jack opened it and saw that it also opened onto 10’x10’ room. This room, though, was filled with the same nasty Grasping Rubble they’d found strewn across the floor of the Gargoyle Lair. However, Jack also spied another wooden door on the south wall of the small chamber. From outside the room, Jack prudently checked the chamber for traps and whatnot, but didn’t find anything.

After one or two others confirmed that the first 10’x10’ room was really just an empty room (although, like Jack, they didn’t actually go into the room), Zanfire decided to take one for the team, enter the second small chamber with the Grasping Rubble, and try the other door in there. So he went in, opened the door with no problem, and found that it opened onto yet another 10’x10’ chamber filled with the same nasty rubble. He could see that the new room had a door over on the west wall. And then the longtooth shifter was attacked by the Grasping Rubble (+13 vs. Reflex; 4d6+6 damage). After the rubble grasped and chomped on him but good, Zanfire decided to back out of the chamber and rejoin his comrades.

Gauntlet of Doors

Realizing that no one had actually entered the first room, Zerbitt decided to go in and check things out. Whereupon the thief promptly discovered a secret door set in the small room’s southern wall. And so began the party’s long, arduous journey through the gauntlet of doors.
Each of the seven rooms in this area contained a secret door that required a minimum of three standard actions to detect and open. It took one primary skill check (Perception) to locate a secret door, followed by two primary skill checks (Athletics or Thievery) to identify both of the door’s opening mechanisms. Rather than roll initiative, we went around in table order and each character had his normal allotment of actions for each round (standard, move, minor).

Oh, I forgot to mention that each of the rooms that made up this gauntlet of secret doors was protected by a magical bolt trap (+15 vs. Will; 4d8+2 force damage). On initiative count 0, characters in any part of the gauntlet were subject to attack by the magic trap that filled the area.

Like I said, it was a looong, arduous journey through the gauntlet. And every once in a while, with a pulse of white light, bolts of arcane force would lance out from the walls and ceiling of a room and zap a PC. Jack and Zanfire seemed to attract more than their fair share of the bolts and they were each bloodied, twice!, while making their way through the rooms. It got so bad that Marrak used a daily power, Stream of Life, so that his life force would flow into his badly wounded companions, granting them the vigor to press on through the gauntlet.

Finally, though, they all made it to the seventh secret door where they discovered 7 hidden studs lined up across the midpoint of the door. Someone figured out that the studs needed to be pressed in a particular order to open the door. After several unsuccessful attempts (during which the magical bolts were still zapping them), everyone was growing a bit discouraged. In fact, Elric and Zanfire had decided to retreat and were heading back out to the Gargoyle Lair.
Then Zerbitt pressed all of the studs in reverse order (7,6,5,4,3,2,1) and… the door opened! Well, actually it fell inward on top of Zerbitt, Jack, and Marrak, knocking all three of them prone. But, hey, the door was finally open!

Elric and Zanfire were still close enough to hear a loud crash, so they came a runnin’ to see what was up. They found Zerbitt, Jack, and Marrak picking themselves up from the floor. Zerbitt was muttering, “What? I meant to do that.”

Everyone gathered at the empty doorway, beyond which they could see that a crawlway (about 5’ in diameter) extended for ten feet beyond the room they were standing in. The end of the crawlway appeared to be a blank stone wall with a 3-foot-diameter silver sphere set in it. Hmm…

Great Hall of Spheres

After much messing around in the crawlspace, including someone “accidentally” poking Jack in the bum with their ten-foot pole (ahem), Zerbitt went through the illusory sphere and found himself in a broad hall that was similar to the tomb entrance. The hall’s floor was set with inlaid tiles and the walls and ceiling were covered with painted frescoes.

Once Zerbitt told everyone that it was safe to follow him, they all piled through into the Great Hall of Spheres. Looking at the frescoes, they saw that strange glyphs, symbols, and faces were set within two ranks of humanoid and monstrous figures standing along both walls. Each figure appeared to hold a colored sphere. Turning back to the silver sphere they had just crawled through, they realized that it was held at the feet of a four-armed gargoyle. (Besides the map laid out on the table, I also gave each of the players a handout which told them what creature was holding which sphere, etc.) They could also see that a mist-filled archway opened up at the southern end of the hall.

After taking a short rest to heal up after their grueling passage through the Gauntlet of Doors, our heroes spent quite a bit of time consulting the message from Acererak that they’d found set into the mosaic floor of the entrance corridor. They had already decided that the warning to “Shun green if you can…” was a reference to the great green devil face in the tomb entrance. Now they homed in on the next part of the message: “…but night’s good color is for those of great valor.” Based on this clue, they focused their attention on the black sphere, which was sitting at the feet of a hydra.

They didn’t bother examining the black sphere with a Perception check, or even poke it with a pole, before Jack just crawled right into it, so with a totally serious face I told Drew, “Okay, you crawl through it and you’re dead.” The look on Drew’s face was priceless. Hee hee.

Okay, anyway, so actually Jack found that there was a crawlspace behind the black sphere. There was some discussion about whether they’d be able to survive an encounter with a hydra if that’s what they discovered at the end of the crawlspace (based on the fact that a four-armed gargoyle was holding the silver sphere through which they’d come into the hall), but eventually our heroes decided to just all pile into the crawlspace and damn the torpedoes.

As they all snaked through the crawlspace, it turned twice but maintained a generally southward course. Then suddenly, around the last bend, it stopped dead at a blank wall of stone. Jack did a Perception check, but didn’t perceive anything except that they were all piled into a crawlspace that had suddenly dead-ended at a blank stone wall. Elric wanted to have a go at it, so he wiggled past Jack and did a Perception check. The drow also didn’t perceive anything except that they were all piled into a crawlspace that had suddenly dead-ended at a blank stone wall. Zerbitt wanted to try, so after much jostling and stepping on toes, he managed to get to the front of the line. The thief took one look at the blank wall of stone and located a secret door that opened into…

The Chapel

After opening the secret door, Zerbitt noticed a mosaic path like the one at the tomb entrance running from the secret door to pass between two rows of great wooden pews. He saw that the walls in the large chamber were painted with frescoes of everyday rural life. However, the figures depicted there had rotting flesh and skeletal limbs, their features eaten away by worms.

After Zerbitt cautiously stepped into the chamber and the others followed him, they saw that they seemed to be in some kind of chapel. A wooden railing divided the room, with the mosaic path leading through it to a tiered dais set with a pair of brass candelabra and a blue stone altar. On the floor on each side of the dais was a large ceramic urn. To the west of the dais was a stone archway filled with glowing orange mist.

Since each of the pews had a bench with a hinged seat, Jack decided to open one. Choosing the back pew, he found that the storage space beneath the seat contained 2,000sp. Woo hoo! Loot! Going forward, he next tried the front pew. As the revenant lifted the seat, a cloud of acrid gas (+11 vs. Fortitude; 4d8 poison damage) filled the air. Woo hoo! A trap! That still didn’t dissuade just about everyone from running around and checking pew after pew, throwing them open, and finding thousands more gold and silver pieces.

Meanwhile, Marrak seemed to be the only one of the party not obsessed with pews. The dwarf warpriest went cautiously up the central aisle and surveyed the blue altar from a safe distance. He could see that it had the symbols of Pelor, Avandra, Moradin, and Bahamut engraved on its front. Doing a Religion check, Marrak found that powerful magic filled the room, and that its arcane essence was inextricably consecrated to good. Everyone puzzled over this discovery, since it didn’t seem to fit with the disturbing frescoes painted on the chapel’s walls. Being a devoted follower of Pelor, Marrak decided to go up onto the dais and say a prayer to the god of sun and summer. As he knelt down and lifted up a fervent and heartfelt prayer, the altar began to glow an opalescent blue.

Several of the adventurers, after advancing toward the front of the room, saw a humanoid skeleton in badly rusted black chainmail lying on the floor with one of its bony hands pointing toward the stone archway filled with glowing orange mist. Marrak did a Heal check on the skeleton, but couldn’t discern anything about how its owner had met his/her end. The mysterious skeleton apparently held no secrets, nor did the large urns on either side of the dais. Jack and Zanfire had thoroughly investigated them, but they didn’t find out anything besides the fact that the urns were empty.

Perhaps to make up for the non-event that was the urn search, Jack suddenly announced that he was going to go through the stone archway filled with glowing orange mist. The chapel went silent at this announcement and heads swiveled toward the revenant to see if he was joking (even Zerbitt looked up momentarily from his systematic looting of the pews), but no, they could see Jack was serious.

At that point, as DM, I really had to struggle to keep a poker face because inside I was so chuckling maliciously and thinking, “Oh please please please, let him do it!” And sure enough, he did.

After tying a rope around his waist and having Marrak secure it to the wooden railing, Jack strode through the orange archway. With that, I took Drew away from the table for a minute and explained to him what had happened after Jack stepped through the archway. Jack had found he was in a small room beyond the orange mist, that he was suddenly a she, and that she had the uncontrollable urge to go back through the archway and attack her nearest ally.

After Drew and I got back to the table, Elric was up next and he also went through the orange archway. So I took Robert away from the table and explained to him what had happened after Elric stepped through the cursed archway.

No one else wanted to go through the archway after that. Go figure.

And so it came to pass that Jack/Jacqueline and Elric/Elrika emerged from the archway and— as Marrak and Zanfire exchanged stunned and puzzled glances— the drow and revenant attacked poor Marrak, who just happened to be standing nearest to the archway. Luckily, they both missed, but that didn’t stop Zanfire (who was obviously thoroughly discombobulated by the surreal turn of events) from charging forward and attacking Jack. Jack used Slayer’s Escape as an immediate reaction, so after being struck, he folded shadows around himself and disappeared. The way that worked mechanically is that he teleported 5 squares and became invisible until the start of his next turn. A nifty move, except he still had the rope tied around his waist. Oops.

It needs to be said that during all of this sex-changing mayhem and murderous raging, Zerbitt had barely paused in his looting of the pews. But, hey, isn’t that exactly what you’d expect from a 9th level thief?

Alright, so Elric saved from the murderous rage part of the curse right away, but Jack didn’t snap out of it until Marrak used Soothing Light to give the revenant an extra saving throw. Once Elric was back in his right mind, he did an Arcana check and determined that once the rage ends, the sex of a character can be restored only by a combination of a Remove Affliction ritual and the character entering the archway again. However, he didn’t know the sequence in which those two actions needed to be performed. The warlock must’ve skipped Arcana class the day that information was imparted.

By that point, it was almost closing time at our FLGS, Total Escape Games, so our second session of Tomb of Horrors ended with Jack and Elric wondering aloud if going through the rest of the adventure as chicks would really be such a bad thing...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

march of the phantom brigade, session 10

We once again had a great turnout for Wednesday night D&D Encounters at Total Escape Games and had enough players to run two tables. The guys at my table played Belgos (drow ranger), Halitin (dragonborn paladin), Jarren (human wizard), and Norward (half-elf druid).

After battling through the streets of Hammerfast in Session 9, the adventurers finally made their way to the Great Library this past week in Session 10. At the Library, they found Faldyra at a table piled high with books. Although plainly exhausted, she musters up a smile for the heroes but then cuts right to the chase. She says, “I have found something. It seems that Salazar Vladistone is a great hero.”

Or at least he had been a great hero at some point in the past. Now he was obviously just a big vengeful goob.

Faldyra had found out that Back In The Day, Salazar and Oldivya Vladistone had been adventurers. In fact, they were members of the famous Silver Company. While the group was exploring the Ghost Tower of Inverness, Oldivya died on the mission. After his wife’s death, Salazar’s behavior grew increasingly reckless. The final report of Vladistone’s adventuring career starts with the Silver Company investigating the duergar infiltration of a dwarven monastery. The Silver Company successfully cleared the area of evil, but during the encounter Vladistone sacrificed himself to save the other members of the group.

Faldyra told our heroes that she believes the key to stopping Vladistone’s ghost in the present is a powerful relic that the Silver Company took from the Ghost Tower of Inverness. The historical records call the item ‘the arrow of time.’ While the chronicles speak only in the vaguest terms about Vladistone’s death, Faldyra thinks the Silver Company left the arrow at the abandoned monastery with their leader’s remains.

“As far as I can tell, the arrow’s properties are completely untested. What we do know is that the arrow of time does not just slay an enemy. When the arrow is about to strike its target, powerful chronomantic enchantments embedded in the surface of the arrow send it back in time to a crucial moment in the target’s life. At that point, the arrow pierces the target’s essence, destroying it. The vicious weapon not only destroys the creature, but erases it from time, undoing much of what was done.”

Faldyra told the adventurers that the arrow will be of no use against Vladistone’s ghost, since the weapon can only be used against a living creature. But the elf wizard was still convinced that the arrow is the key to stopping Vladistone and the destructive march of the Phantom Brigade.
“As I see it, you have two options ahead of you. You can use the arrow to kill whatever slew Vladistone, destroying that creature in the past before it killed Vladistone and allowing him to die in his natural course. Or, give the arrow to Vladistone in the hope that returning the object to the Ghost Tower will remove the tower from Inverness and allow him to commune with his wife again. Neither option offers any guarantee.”

Faldyra sent our heroes on their way with directions to the abandoned monastery and the password they would need to speak at the doors to enter. The streets of Hammerfast were still in chaos when the party slipped out of the Great Library. They managed to round up some horses and depart the town, but Vladistone spotted them and gave chase. The heroes managed to stay just ahead of Vladistone as they crossed rough roads and winding paths deep in the heart of the Dawnforge Mountains. The harrowing journey took several hours, but eventually they reached the entrance to the ruined monastery.

Vladistone and his two companions, mounted on spectral horses, would not approach the monastery. “Were I you, I would proceed no further,” the ghost’s voice grates. “Inside you will find more than you bargained for. Trust me, I know.”

Guardians of the Mountain

After dismissing Vladistone as a big wuss, the heroes spoke the password at the entrance to the monastery and the stone doors opened with a scrapping sound. As Belgos cautiously made his way inside, he could see thick dust hanging in the air, and everything inside was covered with a fine layer of grit. The floor was tiled mosaic, damaged but still clearly depicting a struggle between a dwarf avatar of Moradin and the forces of Gruumsh. The room was nearly empty of accoutrements, as one would expect from an austere monastery.

Belgos thought his eyes were playing tricks on him when he saw movement in the far corners of the room, but then shambling out of the darkness came the rotting bodies of duergar, decaying flesh still hanging on their bones. As they shuffled forward, blue flames suddenly sprang up behind them, revealing a blazing duergar skeleton.

The blazing skeleton opened the fight by rolling a crit on Belgos, bloodying the ranger. Ouch! Belgos countered by carefully judging the skeleton’s stance and unleashing an arrow designed to send his enemy tumbling (Clever Shot). But it missed. Norward did the druid-thang, chanting “I am the seeker. I am the stalker. I am the storm.” and then letting loose with a bolt of lightning that speared toward the skeleton, charging the air around his enemy (Storm Spike). But it missed. Halitin finally got the heroes on the scoreboard by charging into the chamber and hitting one of the ghouls. The zombies must’ve thought that looked like a good idea because they both charged, attacking Halitin and Belgos. But they missed. Jarren hurled an orb of arcane power that exploded and engulfed a ghoul and a zombie in its electric embrace (Shock Sphere). The wizard then finished off the first round by using Spectral Image to create the illusion of a very fat man in the middle of the room. He hoped the ghouls and flesh-crazed zombies would ignore the heroes because they thought the fat man looked sooooo yummy.

The blazing skeleton opened the second round by rolling another crit! He bloodied Norward with that nat 20. Go, monsters! The two ghouls both ignored the fat man illusion and instead attacked and hit Halitin, bloodying the dragonborn paladin. Belgos put away his bow and took a swing at zombie #2 with his longsword. But he missed. So he used an action point to attack again. But he missed again. Bummer. Norward used Wild Shape to turn into a big ole bear, then used Pounce to attack the blazing skeleton. He also found out the hard way that the skeleton had a Fiery Aura (any creature that ended its turn in the aura took 3 fire damage). The druid ended his turn by burning an action point to use his second wind. Halitin attacked ghoul #2 and then he also used an action point to use his second wind. The zombies thought the illusion of the fat man was real and so wasted their attacks on Jarren’s spectral image. Jarren finished off the second round by using Arc Lightning on a zombie and the skeleton, but he missed them both.

The blazing skeleton kicked off round #3 by using Blazing Claw on Norward the Bear and knocking the druid down to 5 hit points. The ghouls both missed Halitin. Belgos went back to his bow and rocked the skeleton with 13 points of damage off a Clever Shot strike. At the beginning of Norward’s turn, the druid went down to 2 hit points after taking the ongoing 3 fire damage from the Blazing Claw attack. He attacked the skeleton, then decided that discretion was the better part of valor and shifted back to half-elf form. Halitin KIAd ghoul #2 on his turn. The zombies both missed with their attacks against Jarren and Halitin. Jarren sent a glowing blue bolt of magical energy hurtling from his fingers (Magic Missile), KIAing the blazing skeleton as his attack unerringly struck his target.

The fight took a grim turn for the heroes when Halitin went down in round #4 after being hit by both zombies. Then Belgos was cut down in round #6 after the remaining ghoul crit’d him. After that, the encounter turned into a nail biting, winner-take-all fight between two monsters and two heroes: zombie #1 and ghoul #1 vs Jarren and Norward...

And the heroes won by the skin of their teeth. Way to go, guys! Good job.

After taking a short rest, the adventurers will move deeper into the monastery, continuing their search for the powerful arrow of time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

tomb of horrors: session 1

The legend of the Tomb is an old story, with many parts, some of which are merely groundless rumors. The most reliable accounts relate that centuries ago a human magic user known throughout the Nentir Vale for his surpassing evil took the steps necessary to preserve his life force beyond the long ages he had already lived, and this creature became the lich Acererak. Over the scores of years that followed, the lich dwelled deep in the Witchlight Fens with hordes of wretched slaves and ghastly servants. For reasons unknown, Acererak eventually destroyed all of his slaves and servitors and hid the entrance to his halls under a lost and lonely hill of grim and foreboding aspect.

Since then, countless adventurers have been drawn to their doom by tales of rich treasures, both precious and magical, which fill the mad lich’s crypt. Other heroes, warriors of virtue and champions of righteousness, have arrived at the Tomb seeking to vanquish a legendary evil. Of all those brave or foolhardy adventurers who have entered Acererak’s final haunt, only a few broken souls have ever returned to spread the tales of dread which make up the legend of the Tomb.

Therefore be warned. The passages and rooms of the Tomb are fraught with deadly traps, poison gases, and magical protections. Furthermore, the demi-lich has so well hidden his lair that even those who enter the Tomb and avoid the many pitfalls will likely fail to locate their true goal. So only the most skilled and courageous parties should dare enter. Fame and fortune will be yours if you succeed in defeating Acererak… but if you fail, you will be destroyed like those who came before you.

* * * * *

Thursday night at Total Escape Games, five courageous (or foolhardy) players gathered to tackle the Tomb of Horrors. The original version of ToH was written by none other than Gary Gygax and first used as the official Dungeons & Dragons tournament adventure at Origins I in 1975. It used the original D&D rules, published just the year before the gaming convention. ToH has become a legend in gaming circles; its dark reputation built on the sense of ever-impending doom that dogs the footsteps of every adventurer who has ever braved the perils of Acererak’s crypt. In 2010 the classic dungeon crawl was faithfully recreated and updated for 4th Edition D&D rules by Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and then it was given out as part of the DM Rewards program. It’s the version that I’m using for our game.

One week before our game was set to begin, I emailed the adventure background you read at the beginning of this post to the five players who would be taking on the Tomb. Thursday night, however, at the beginning of our first session, I went old school and read them the famous introduction to ToH that was penned by Gary Gygax when the adventure was released to the public as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Module S1 in 1978. And with that, we were off to the Tomb of Horrors…

* * * * *

The five 9th level PCs embarking upon the adventure were…

  • Elric (drow warlock)

  • Jack “Nobody” Owens (revenant human assassin)

  • Marrak Sunhammer (dwarf warpriest)

  • Zanfire (longtooth shifter warden)

  • Zerbitt (human thief)

Knowing that it is all but impossible for outsiders to navigate through the Witchlight Fens (the vast and treacherous swamp at the confluence of the Nentir River and the White River), our heroes wisely hired a marsh guide to deliver them to the supposed location of the Tomb. The marsh guide and his cousin, quiet fellows but skilled boatmen, unerringly steered their craft through the swamp until the party arrived at a small, seasonal hunting camp just as darkness was falling. It was a miserable night filled with more mosquitoes than sleep, but when they did manage to drift off into a troubled slumber, they each had a troubling dream. In the dream, they were floating high above a lost and lonely hill surrounded by a great swamp which stretched for miles in every direction. From above, they could see that the hill’s distinctive black boulders formed the eyes, nose, and jagged teeth of a grinning human skull. When one-by-one they woke from this unsettling dream, they were loathe to fall back asleep and so they each lay awake, lost in their own thoughts, waiting for sunrise.

After spending a miserable night in those few ramshackle huts, the small expedition was back on its way as soon as it was light, and several more hours in the boats brought them to their destination.

It was a hot and humid morning when the boats deposited the adventurers and their equipment on a large patch of dry ground that is surrounded by perilous marshland. Dominating this piece of ground is a barren hill. With a start, each of adventurer recognized it as the very hill that was in the dream the night before. Despite the warmth of the new day, cold chills ran up their spines.

The marsh guide and his cousin quickly took their leave, promising to return in 48 hours and immediately thereafter depart— whether or not our heroes are there to climb aboard the boats.

The party had been left off on the southern edge of the large patch of dry ground. Before them was the low, flat-topped hill, measuring about 200 yards wide by 300 yards long. Only ugly weeds and nasty thorn bushes grew upon the steep sides and top of the 60 foot high mound. While Elric, Marrak, and Zerbitt set off to make a circuit around the base of the hill, Jack decided he wanted to take a closer look at the massive black boulders crowning the hilltop. Zanfire accompanied the assassin and together they scrambled up to the top of the hill. The two of them inspected the boulders, but there was nothing noteworthy about the stones except that they did indeed seem to have been placed around the hilltop in a deliberate pattern. Neither Jack nor Zanfire doubted that if the boulders were seen from a viewpoint high above the hill, they would form the features of a grinning death’s head skull.

Meanwhile, the other three adventurers had found that the north side of the hill had a 20 foot high, 300 foot wide crumbling cliff of sand and gravel. While Elric poked around with his handy 10 foot wooden pole, Zerbitt started to dig in the middle of the cliff with a shovel. Marrak thought all of that looked too much like work and so the dwarf wandered off, saying he was going to check and see what was going on atop the hill.

After just a few minutes of digging, Zerbitt found some stonework under the sand and gravel. Calling over Elric, the two of them quickly uncovered what they believed to be the upper corner of some kind of gate or entryway. Yelling excitedly for the others, they shared the news of their discovery. Jack, Marrak, and Zanfire quickly came down from the hilltop, and together the five adventurers discussed what to do next. It was obvious they could dig out a narrow crawlspace through the sand and gravel in fairly short order (10 minutes), but completely clearing the entrance would take much longer (1 hour). Thinking that a larger opening would facilitate a fast exit if they needed to retreat out of the dungeon, the party elected to spend the time needed to completely clear the entryway.

An hour later, our dirty, sweaty heroes had uncovered the entrance to a corridor that led southward into the heart of the hill. The first light brought to bear on the corridor revealed that it was an unusual tunnel. Bright, brilliant colors were to be seen everywhere. The floor of the corridor was a colorful mosaic of stone, with a distinct winding path of red tiles about 2 feet wide snaking its way south from the entryway.

After cautiously edging a few feet into the corridor, the characters could see that the walls and ceiling (20 feet overhead) were smooth plaster frescoes illustrated with interior and exterior scenes. Several of the scenes had been painted so skillfully that they almost appeared to be in 3-D: a library stood filled with many books and scrolls; a fiendish creature in a torture chamber lurked behind a barred door; and— closest to where the adventurers were standing there gawping— a wizard’s workroom was guarded by two jackal-headed humanoids.

From where they stood, the characters could see that the jackal-headed figures had been painted so as to appear to be holding a real bronze chest that was jutting out from the wall. Jack made his way over to the spot and closely examined the chest. He discovered a hidden catch on top of it. After discussing whether they ought to attempt to open the chest or continue to explore the rest of the corridor, the group decided to check out the rest of the corridor. So Zerbitt boldly started off down the red tile path…

Whereupon he almost immediately claimed the honor of taking the party’s first damage in the Tomb when a 10’x10’ section of floor suddenly collapsed beneath him to reveal a deadly spiked pit. Zerbitt dropped into the trap, taking 2d10+1 damage, ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends), and falling prone.

After Zerbitt clambered out of the pit trap, Elric proposed that he summon his devil lackey (Summon Warlock’s Ally) and that the party use poor Mr. Lackey as a scout/trap detector. Everyone agreed that this was an excellent idea. So it was that a sudden gust of wind, the smell of brimstone, and a flash of light heralded the arrival of a foul-tempered creature, pulled from the planes to serve the drow warlock.

Making his surly way down the corridor, Mr. Lackey tripped two more pit traps. Following him down the hallway, the PCs noticed that faint runes set into the mosaic floor spelled out a message. “Acererak congratulates you on your powers of observation. So make of this whatever you wish, for you will be mine in the end no matter what!” The message then went on to offer obscure clues about the PCs journey through the Tomb. I gave each of the players a copy of the message. It’s up to them to decide whether the clues provided by Acererak are meant to help them or harm them.

The red tile pathway split at the southern end of the corridor. To the east stood a mist-filled archway and on the southern wall was the face of a great green devil. Carved of sickly green stone, the very sight of the evil-appearing devil face was enough to keep the heroes from investigating it too closely. Oh, did I mention that its mouth (about 3 feet in diameter— plenty of room for those who wish to leap in) is an impenetrable black haze?!

The misty archway garnered more attention, especially when three of its stones began to glow (bright yellow at lower left; blue at top; and orange at the lower right) whenever anyone moved adjacent to it. However, the party decided to steer clear of the archway after Elric found that it was imbued with powerful teleportation magic.

Going back to the bronze chest on the wall, Elric commanded Mr. Lackey to open it. Mr. Lackey found out the hard way that the catch which Jack had discovered not only opened the chest, but it was also a poisoned needle trap. The small sting didn’t improve the devil’s disposition. After the lid swung downward, though, he did gain some spiteful joy from informing the party that the chest appeared to be absolutely empty. Elric ordered him to feel around in the chest. Mr. Lackey rolled his eyes at such nonsense, but then his eyes popped open in surprise when he found an invisible lever. When the warlock ordered him to pull the lever, he did… which caused the floor underneath to collapse, revealing a 30 foot deep pit trap. This was of little concern to Mr. Lackey since he could fly, but Marrak just happened to be standing behind the devil and the stout dwarf dropped like a stone into the pit. After taking an ouch-inducing 5d10+2 damage and 5 ongoing poison damage (save ends), the cleric was lying prone amidst the spikes when he noticed a pouch with some gems spilling out of it. Taking up the pouch, Marrak found that it contained 6 gems (50 gp each).

After helping Marrak up and out of the pit trap, everyone decided to follow up on a couple of clues in Acererak’s message. One clue said that “two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.” The party decided to check the walls in all the pit traps, but found nothing. The second clue they decided to follow up was the one which said, “Go back to the tormentor or through the arch, and the second great hall you’ll discover.” Checking out the fresco of the torture chamber a bit more closely, they could see that it did indeed show an iron door, behind which a demon was tormenting shackled prisoners. They also noticed a few chips and gaps in the plaster through which the underlying stonework of the corridor could be seen. Zanfire used a shovel to start pulling away great chunks of the plaster. The shifter’s work uncovered an iron-banded oak door hidden behind the fresco!

Just to be safe, the party decided to have Zanfire pull away the plaster across the corridor that showed the library filled with many books and scrolls, but there was nothing behind that fresco. Turning back to the secret door which they’d found behind the tormentor, everyone looked to Mr. Lackey with expectant expressions. With a long-suffering sigh, the devil tried the handle on the door and found that it wasn’t locked. As he pushed open the door, the adventurers could see that it opened onto a short, 20 foot long corridor which led to another oak door. Mr. Lackey found that the second door was also unlocked and that it led into a larger chamber.

Entering the chamber, Mr. Lackey suddenly found himself taking damage from some rubble that was strewn across the floor. As he looked down at the Grasping Rubble which was doing 4d6+6 damage and slowing him, the devil heard a horrible shriek erupt from somewhere above. Mr. Lackey looked up just in time to see an enormous four-armed gargoyle swooping down from the chamber’s ceiling. The gargoyle viciously and utterly annihilated poor Mr. Lackey with four claw attacks (Mauling Claws: each attack +15 vs AC; 4d6+4 damage). The gargoyle then flew back up to the ceiling, disappearing from sight (Flying Strike).

The adventurers, who had been hanging back in the short corridor, letting poor Mr. Lackey scout ahead and do all the dirty work, barely had time to register the devil’s sudden demise and think “Oh crap!” before I told them to roll initiative.

The heroes found the Lesser Gargoyle Mauler (I’d hate to meet the Greater one, considering that the Lesser version which the party faced here had 428 hit points and an AC of 24) within the chamber to be a tough opponent, especially since its Flying Strike power recharged each of the first few turns and it was able to swoop down, wreak havoc, then fly back up to the ceiling where it was well out of their melee reach. The gargoyle’s Mauling Claws power was devastating and soon enough Zanfire gained the distinction of being the first character in the party to be cut down in the Tomb. The unconscious and dying warden didn’t stay down for long, though. It’s always nice to have a cleric along on an adventure, and Marrak quickly proved his worth in this first monster battle by healing Zanfire and getting him right back into the fight.

The party took a looong time to wear the gargoyle down to its bloodied value, but by that time they’d got him down on ground level and their attacks really started to dish out some serious damage. On one memorable round, Jack dealt the monster a whopping 54 points of damage. Elric got in the final blow that KIAd the gargoyle. As the drow stood gloating over the party’s fallen foe, he noticed that around the gargoyle’s neck was a collar studded with 3 blue gems (worth 250 gp). While examining his loot, he noticed that hidden within the leather bands of the collar was a message. The message read: “Look low and high for gold, to hear a tale untold. The archway at the end, and on your way you’ll wend. —A.”

In the calm after the end of the fight, the PCs also noticed that there were two doors (besides the one through which they’d entered) inside the gargoyle’s lair. Both doors, one in the east wall and one to the south, were of the (soon-to-be-all-too-familiar) iron-banded oak variety. While deciding what to do next, the adventurers took a short rest.

And it was there that our first Tomb of Horrors session ended.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

march of the phantom brigade, session 9: the streets of hammerfast

Session 9 marked the beginning of the final chapter of March of the Phantom Brigade. It has been quite a ride so far, from Hammerfast to the ruins of Castle Inverness… and now the adventurers find themselves back in Hammerfast where it all started eight sessions ago. Manning a guard post on the walls of the dwarven town are Atreyu (human thief), Belgos (drow ranger), Halitin (Dragonborn paladin), Jarren (human wizard), and Melek (tiefling mage).

As the heroes watch a vast army of spectral soldiers march toward one of the largest settlements in the Nentir Vale, they think back over what has transpired since the destruction of Inverness. Salazar Vladistone has traveled throughout the vale, building up an unstoppable army of ghosts. During that same time, the adventurers have worked hard alongside the citizens of Hammerfast, bolstering the town’s defenses. They’ve also spent time in the Grand Library, assisting Faldyra with research about Vladistone and the group he used to adventure with over sixty years ago, the Silver Company.

As the heroes prepare to fight alongside the inhabitants of the necropolis, they see the unmistakable figure of Salazar Vladistone striding among the soldiers of his spectral legion. They watch as the Phantom Brigade’s commander makes his way to the front of his army. When he speaks, his words ring out unnaturally, like a clap of thunder.

“Hammerfast. Your walls spawned the corruption that fouled the grave of my love. Send out your Lady of Gold. Let the High Master pay the price for this transgression.”

The defenders manning Hammerfast’s walls are angered by Vladistone’s demand that they turn over Marsinda Goldspinner, the town’s High Master (chief executive), to him. As an angry murmur flies through the soldiers stationed on the walls, a young dwarf messenger approaches the heroes. He has an urgent message from Faldyra; she has made an important discovery regarding Vladistone and needs to speak with the heroes.

As the adventurers start to leave their post, turning it over to several dwarf warriors that had been accompanying the messenger, they hear Thora Longhammer taunt Vladistone. Thora, sergeant of the gurads, calls out, “Go lie with the dead! Leave the living to walk over yer grave!”

The heroes see Vladistone’s face twist into a mask of pure anger. But when he responds, it’s with unnerving calm.

“I have warned you not to defy me. I have given you a chance to save yourselves by acceding to a simple and justified demand. Still, you refuse me foolishly and with unseemly coarseness. Now, you will pay the price. I command the ghosts of the Nentir Vale… all of them.”

The defenders on the walls look at one another with trepidation. After all, Hammerfast is a community filled with the dead.

As the messenger prods the heroes, the first screams begin deep in the town. They grow steadily closer and panic begins to spread like wildfire among the soldiers on the walls. Everyone realizes that Salazar Vladistone has commanded the ghosts of Hammerfast’s dwarves and orcs to turn on the living inhabitants of the town.

As the adventurers wind their way through the streets toward the Grand Library and Faldyra, the sound of battle grows louder with each step. As they get close to the library, a group of ghosts suddenly passes right through the walls of a nearby building and spills out into the street. Setting their eyes upon the heroes, the spirits advance menacingly.


The heroes used much better tactics this week, but it was still a difficult fight for them. The orc and dwarf ghosts were tough opponents. Belgos and Halitin were cut down during the encounter, and Melek barely avoided taking a dirt nap when he was reduced to a single hit point. Jarren had climbed into one of the houses and was being stalked by one of the orc ghosts, but the wizard overcame his fear and used timely applications of Magic Missile to KIA two of the dwarf ghosts. Atreyu was bloodied but unbowed as he Tactical Tricked and Backstabbed his way across the square where the fight took place. It was a close run thing, but in the end the heroes were able to pull out a marginal victory against the 3 dwarf and 2 orc spirits. __________________________________

Although the adventurers have dealt with a small group of ghosts near the Grand Library, many other spectral squads continue to maraud through Hammerfast. If the heroes are to have any hope of stopping Vladistone’s vengeful assault and ending his control of the Nentir Vale’s ghosts, they must reach Faldyra and learn what she has uncovered at the library.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

it all comes down to this (kots, session 9)

We recently finished up our Keep on the Shadowfell mini-campaign with a marathon six-hour-long Saturday session. It featured everything you’d want in the finale of your D&D adventure: creepy organ music, a new character joining the party (better late than never), a frustratingly difficult boss fight, and a surprise trip to the Shadowfell for one unfortunate PC, who shall remain nameless (…but he was the only minotaur in the party).

A Rude Awakening

Our slumbering extended rest in the Hobgoblin Barracks was brought to an abrupt end by the appearance of an obviously distressed ghost of Sir Keegan. Keegan went on a bit of a rant about how the breach was near opening and how something had already passed through from the Shadowfell. Then he attempted to take back his magic longsword, Aecris. Sulader wasn’t amused when Keegan turned out to be an Indian giver, and the paladin refused to return the weapon. Keegan flickered and actually became corporeal for a moment, during which time he briefly tussled with Sulader, unsuccessfully attempting to wrestle Aecris away from the goliath. As Keegan once again resumed his ghostly form, he seemed to regret his unseemly behavior. Just before he disappeared from view, he urged us, “Hurry! The barrier is weakening!”

Look Who We Found In the Ghoul Warren

We somehow lost Greth and Tosdar on the way down here, so they missed the first three rounds of this fight. And when they did show up, they kept trying to tell us something about a gelatinous cube that was in hot pursuit of them. Since gelatinous cubes have a speed of 3 and since we were up to our armpits in undead by that point, none of us paid much attention to their crazy talk.

As you’d expect in an area of the dungeon called “Ghoul Warren,” we fought a crapload of ghouls, zombie rotters, and zombies down here past the Chamber of Statues. The most interesting thing to happen in this area, though, was that we came upon someone else who was also battling the foul undead creatures. When the combat was finally over, this strange human wizard was like, “Hi, guys. How’s it going?” And we were like, “Who the heck are you?” And she was like, “I’m Zanne. I was with a caravan heading to Winterhaven. We were attacked and the next thing I knew I was a prisoner in this dungeon.” And we were like, “Sounds like the Bloodreavers got you. Say, if you aren’t busy, would you like to join our awesome adventuring party and help us kick the tar out of a death priest of Orcus we’re hunting down?” And she was like, “Sure. No problem.”

Cathedral of Shadow (Cue Creepy Organ Music)

Near the close of the fight in the Ghoul Warren, Harold heard some weird organ music coming down a hallway to the east. Harold thought perhaps there was a hockey game going on somewhere deeper in the dungeon, but no such luck. The eerie music came from an unholy area where Kalarel was up to some nasty, evil stuff.

In attempting to sneak down the corridor and into this shadowy cathedral-like chamber, we failed a group stealth check and so alerted Kalarel and his two human berserker bodyguards to our presence. During the ensuing fight, Zanne proved a valuable addition to the party, blasting the bad guys with neat stuff like Sleep, Ray of Frost, and Shock Sphere.

Kalarel and his hard-charging berserkers received reinforcements when several vampires appeared during the third round of combat. Unfortunately for Kalarel, the blood-sucking creepers were too little, too late, and our unrelenting assault continued to sweep forward into the vile Cathedral of Shadow. Remaining fixed on the goal with laser-like intensity, it wasn’t long before we were pounding on Kalarel himself. During the sixth round of combat, Greth used Split the Tree to KIA a berserker and bloody Kalarel. Following hard upon the heels of that successful attack, Tar masterfully Steel Monsoon’d Kalarel. Smelling blood in the water, Tosdar whipped out a daily he’d been saving for just such an occasion and he crit’d Kalarel’s sorry butt with Avenging Flame!

Being hit with three successive attacks that dished out 2[w]+modifier damage proved too much for our favorite death priest of Orcus and he went doooooown! Woo hoo! Game over!! The good guys win!!!

Um… not so fast, good guys.

What the heck is the DM doing? Is he pulling out another map? We’re not done? But we killt Kalarel! We still have to fight what? The Master?! No, no, no… we killt Kalarel, we… we… we’re done, right?

Hey, why are we sliding down these bloody chains?

“You Descend Into a Nightmare…”

“You descend into a nightmare. Crimson streams spill from above and form a pool of blood in the center of the chamber.

A yawning, black portal dominates the northern wall of the chamber. Something strains against the darkness within, as if it were a thin film keeping back a vicious clawed beast. A set of blazing runes has been inscribed on the floor before the portal.

Opposite the portal, a massive stone statue of Orcus stands. It points toward the darkness with a skull-capped wand.

To the east, a series of steps leads to a platform where a small pit is flanked by two smaller statues of Orcus.

To the west another set of steps ascends to a bone altar. The Master, a human clad in heavy armor and carrying a skull-capped rod, stands before the altar. He is flanked by two skeleton warriors.”

As you can see from the photo below, our first wave (Greth, Korlon, Tar, and Zanne) went down the chains and did their best Omaha Beach reenactment. Everyone ended up in the icky pool of blood, and everyone except Tar ended up prone in the icky pool of blood. Not a very auspicious start to our final battle.

Our second wave fared a bit better. Tosdar came down his chain and deftly swung over onto dry ground, avoiding the blood pool altogether. Sulader lost his grip on the slippery chain and fell, splashing into the pool of blood. Harold followed Tosdar’s example and managed to swing over onto dry ground beside the blood pool.

Once we were all up and out of the icky pool of blood, we moved west and focused our attacks on The Master. Well, we tried to. One of the skeleton guardians came down the steps to block the advance of our melee guys, while the second skeleton remained adjacent to The Master so it could block our ranged guys’ attacks with its shield.

During our struggle to ascend the platform and reach The Master, Zanne did something pretty cool. She summoned a jade macetail behemeth (large natural animate). It’s the horse token you see in a few of the photos taken during the final battle. Anyway, the macetail was a very welcome addition to the party, especially since…

Sulader completely wasted SEVEN ROUNDS obsessing over the large Orcus statue, even after the DM made it abundantly clear that sometimes a statue is just a statue. No one could quite figure out what the goliath paladin thought he was doing, especially considering we were in the midst of the climactic battle of the adventure and needed every hand on deck. Finally, after SEVEN ROUNDS, the DM took the drastic measure of having the Raven Queen appear, bitch slap her paladin halfway across the map, and tell him in no uncertain terms to stop dicking around with the statue and get into the fight.

Meanwhile, those of us who were actually engaged in the final battle had managed to take out the skeleton guardians, only to have The Master teleport to the evil magic circle. And that’s when our troubles really started. Between the buff The Master received from being in the circle (+2 to all defenses and heal 5 hit points at the start of his turns) and having the Thing in the Portal watching his back, we just could not gain any traction toward taking him out. We got him outside the evil magic circle once or twice, but before we could take advantage of the situation, he would maneuver himself right back into it. Harold even managed to grab The Master at one point, and by that time was ready to carry him right into the rift just to end things, but within the evil magic circle his Fortitude was so stinkin’ high that Harold couldn’t move him. In fact, after The Master broke the grab, Harold ended up being the one to go through the rift. The Thing in the Portal had used Death’s Claws to slide Harold adjacent to the portal and then The Master bull rushed the minotaur (yes, yes, very ironic) and pushed him right into the rift.

To be honest, by that time— what with the teflon The Master shedding everything we threw at him and vampire minions running around and deathlock wights reanimating the slain skeleton guardians— I had pretty much lost interest in what seemed to be a frustratingly unwinnable fight, so getting pushed through a black portal leading to a temple of unspeakable evil within the Shadowfell didn’t seem like the worst fate in the world.

The rest of the party fought on, however, and although Korlon and Tosdar were both down by the very end of the battle, Tar finally somehow managed to push The Master through the portal. During the split-second that the rift was open, Tar and Zanne managed to reach through into the Shadowfell, grab Harold, and pull the unconscious and dying minotaur back to safety. For which they have my eternal gratitude.

Woo hoo. Game over. The good guys win. Et cetera, et cetera.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

march of the phantom brigade, session 8: the grave of oldivya

Five players set out into the burning village of Inverness to rescue Faldyra during Session 8 of March of the Phantom Brigade at Total Escape Games. Doing battle against Salazar Vladistone and his spectral soldiers were Halitin (dragonborn paladin), Jarren (human wizard), Melek (tiefling mage), Thoradin Silverhands (dwarf cleric), and Treytin (elf fighter).

The adventurers’ search for Faldyra quickly led them to the old graveyard in town— the burial ground of Vladistone’s wife, Oldivya. At the small graveyard, the heroes discovered Faldyra being held captive by the angry ghost of Salazar Vladistone. At the heroes’ approach, several Phantom Brigade warriors moved to guard Vladistone, but they didn’t make any overtly hostile moves toward the heroes.

“Why won’t she appear?” demanded Vladistone, his blade poised at Faldyra’s throat. “What vile spell keeps my wife from me? Answer, wizard!”