Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mud Monsters, Evil Trees, and Wee Plastic Stands

We met this past Thursday night at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, CO for the second session of our new campaign. No one brought Oreos to this session, so I decided this time the gloves were coming off… and in the course of the night’s action, three different characters bit the dust— unfortunately, all of them were quickly healed.

I’m NOT saying, of course, that my level of bloodthirstiness as a DM is directly linked to whether or not there are oreos at the table. No, of course not.

Anyway, to review the dramatis personae of our story…

  • Gaultis— a goliath warden, played by Chad

  • Silas— an eladrin vampire, played by Drew

  • Boojum— a pixie wizard, played by Steve

  • Dagon— a watersoul genasi artificer, played by Robert

  • Blake “the Blade” (because, intelligence-wise, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer)— a razorclaw shifter barbarian, played by Andy

The action at our second session picked up with the PCs following Phystal through the deep, dark forest. After they had freed her from the mysterious affliction that had poisoned her mind, the remorseful elf had agreed to lead our heroes deeper into the woods. Phystal said that whatever malign presence was corrupting the forest and its residents seemed to be located in the sacred grove at the very center of the woods.

Navigating through the forest involved the completion of a skill challenge. When the PCs ventured deeper into the forest and entered a realm of madness and shadow, they were glad to have Phystal’s help since she granted them a +2 bonus to skill checks in the “Enchanted Woods” challenge. As distances stretched, trails shifted, trees moved, and creepy laughter filled the air, the characters found that making their way through the forest was not easy… but they eventually came to a small clearing containing a bog.

As Blake entered the clearing and scanned the immediate surroundings, slight movement across the way revealed a slim form hidden in trees! Our heroes quickly found themselves in a battle with more of the corrupted elves. On the second round of combat, some kind of mud monster rose out of the bog and also attacked the PCs. (As soon as this encounter began, Phystal fled into the forest.)

  • Mud Lasher— medium elemental magical beast (earth, water) (Level 4 Brute)

  • 3 Elf Scouts—medium fey humanoid, elf (Level 2 Skirmisher)
The characters didn’t have a whole lot of trouble taking out the rabid elves, but the mud lasher gave them fits. Before they finally took it out, Gaultis and Silas both went down under its relentless, sludgy assault. Gaultis earned the distinction of rolling the first death saving throw of the campaign.

After combat was over, our heroes didn’t find any loot, but when Dagon made an Arcana check on the mud monster, he discovered that it was an elemental magical beast. Silas then shared with the others that something odd had happened when he used his fey step during the encounter. Instead of finding himself in his fey happy place for a split-second as he teleported, this time he found himself in a spot of earth and rock in chaotic, violent seismic activity. These insights, coupled with their knowledge about the magical curse which had poisoned Phystal’s mind, led the party to suspect that the malign presence corrupting the forest and its denizens might be elemental in origin. Well, at least most of the party suspected this might be the case… Blake was simply thinking about mashed potatoes.

After taking a short rest, the PCs pressed on deeper into the forest. By successfully completing the rest of the skill challenge, the intrepid adventurers found their way through the strange woods and had surprise for the next encounter.

As the party emerged from the malicious woods, they found themselves in a wide clearing littered with ruins. Evil radiated from a large tree (henceforth known as “the evil tree”) with black bark and bare branches that rose from a depression in the clearing’s center. Tangled, thorny vines crept around the evil tree. Swirling mist issued from a dark crevice in the tree’s trunk. Across the clearing, an old monolith stood atop a bare hillock. Strange portals hung in the air around the clearing. (Silas used his action in the surprise round to do an Arcana check on the portals and discovered they’d teleport you to a random location on the map. The PCs never engaged with the monolith, but it actually would’ve let the first PC to touch it regain an encounter power.)

A pale elf warrior suddenly came into view! He was wielding two blades and his face was twisted into a hateful mask. A sleek panther with tufted ears and striped fur stood next to the elf and fixed the party with its baleful eyes.

  • Anise the Chaos Warrior— medium fey humanoid, elf (Level 1 Elite Brute)

  • Fey Panther— medium fey beast

  • 3 Bloodthorn Vines—medium natural beast (plant) (Level 2 Soldier)

  • The Evil Tree—large elemental magical beast (plant) (Level 1 Elite Controller)

  • …when the evil tree used its Blightborn Calling attack, it spawned four Blightborn Twig Blights (Level 1 Minions) in unoccupied squares within a burst 5…

As luck would have it, Boojum (the little so-and-so) used the surprise round to throw out some kind of goshdarn fire spell into the middle of the clearing. Since he could sustain it over several rounds, and since the evil tree was vulnerable 10 to fire, the encounter was over fairly quickly. But not before Gaultis and Blake were both cut down and taking dirt naps. That’ll show ‘em what happens when you don’t bring oreos to the game… er, I mean… Better luck next time, guys!

DM Tip: For these first three encounters I used an adventure published in Dragon 178: “Elves of the Valley” by Robert J. Schwalb. I adapted some elements to fit the story-line I have chosen for our campaign, but otherwise I pretty much stuck to the published adventure.

Once the evil tree was felled, the bloodthorn vines collapsed into piles of regular old normal vines, and Anise and his panther returned to their right minds. The elf was so grateful that he literally gave Blake the shirt off his back (armor of sudden recovery). Anise also gave Boojum two gems (“Oooo, shiny!”).

Meanwhile, Silas searched the corpse of a male human that the party had noticed at the bottom of the depression in the clearing’s center. It looked as though the man had been torn apart by the evil tree. The eladrin vampire found an empty pouch, 30 gp, and then (cue dramatic organ music) he discovered that the man was wearing an amulet with the symbol of Orcus upon it! As a special, super-secret agent of the Raven Queen, Silas is —of course— an avowed enemy of Orcus.

Dagon inspected the tear in the evil tree’s trunk and found some kind of brown crystal embedded there. As he pried it out and inspected it, the genasi realized it’s a shard of pure elemental chaos! Dagon told the others that the unpredictable, primordial power locked into the earth crystal must have been the source of the strange occurences in the Wintermist Forest.

Our heroes also noticed the body of a goblin lying crumpled near the edge of the clearing. As Blake searched the small creature’s corpse, he found a letter. Whatever had killed the goblin (perhaps the bloodthorn vines) had also damaged the letter, but by reading around the torn sections, the party learned several important pieces of information.

  • The letter was written by Thaliost (one of the two surviving members of the Six Hands of Fortune) to Deneith (the other surviving Hand— who had apparently just met his end there in the clearing).

  • After Deneith planted the earth crystal in the clearing, he was supposed to return to “the tower” where Thaliost needed his help attempting a new ritual on an ice crystal.

  • The two surviving members of the Hands were apparently working in league with an ally in The Citadel.

Our heroes were dismayed to find that there was a traitor at The Citadel, but they still decided it’d be best to head back there with the earth crystal and inform Lord Bothwell of all that they had discovered.

As the party was making its way out of the forest and Dagon was telling the others all that he knows about the Elemental Chaos, several men stepped out from behind some trees and surprised our heroes. The men had beards, wore flannel shirts, carried axes, and in general looked like very manly men. Recovering from his surprise, Silas haughtily ordered the men to stand aside, telling them, “We’re on official business for Lord Bothwell.”

The manly men said that if the party was indeed taking Lord Bothwell’s coin, then they were just the ones the men needed to speak to. It turned out the men were woodcutters from the small settlement of Loudwater on the eastern edge of the Wintermist Forest. They asked the PCs to return with them and investigate some terribly unnatural weather (in what should be the hottest part of the summer) affecting Loudwater. When Boojum wanted to know if the unnatural weather had something to do with cold and ice, the woodcutters said, “Why, yes! How did you know?”

Our heroes decided to postpone their return to The Citadel until they had investigated the strange winter weather affecting Loudwater. When they reached the small settlement, they listened to farmers worried about the effect of the freezing weather on their crops. They heard from hunters who had seen strange blue-skinned goblins lurking around the outskirts of the forest. Townsfolk spoke of freak snowstorms occurring in the middle of the day and then vanishing as if they were never there. Everyone agreed that the worst of the odd weather seemed to be centered around an old, abandoned tower north of Loudwater. The locals told our heroes that Draigdurroch Tower was some old wizard’s abode back in days of yore, but it has been abandoned for decades.

When the characters departed Loudwater, there was a pronounced chill in the air. The first few hours of their journey passed uneventfully, but the temperature steadily dropped and a sharp wind carried with it the promise of winter, even though the leaves had not even started their annual autumn change.

More time passed and the map given to the party by the folks of Loudwater indicated that Draigdurroch Tower should’ve only been a few miles away. However, none of the landmarks shown on the map were visible. The horizon was shrouded by a blanket of solid white. Snowflakes began to fall from the steel-gray sky. As our heroes continued on, they were soon caught in the middle of a full-on blizzard. The way ahead was quickly obscured, as was the way they had just come.

Time for another skill challenge!

The party had to use their skills and knowledge to survive the harsh conditions, while also staying on the right path to the tower in the midst of the driving snow. I’m sure you won’t be surprised, dear reader, when I tell you that our heroes claimed victory in the skill challenge and successfully found their way through the storm. Boojum, Gaultis, and Blake each lost a healing surge, but that was the worst of it.

Then, with closing time at Total Escape Games rapidly drawing near, our second session ended with the unnatural storm subsiding and the PCs catching sight of the tower, which was still several miles away. The eerie tower rose out of a landscape covered with snow and ice.

What will our heroes discover next week in our adventure, “Seeds of Chaos,” as they reach the doors of mysterious Draigdurroch Tower?

DM Tip: After reading an article on The Learning DM website, I ordered some of these handy plastic stands from Fantasy Flight Supply and used them with D&D tokens during this session’s two combat encounters. I couldn’t take any photos during the game since the batteries in my camera were dead, but I set up this little scene after I got home and as you can see from the picture, the stands work great with the monster tokens. I’m a big fan of the D&D tokens and use them quite a bit, but my one gripe concerning them was that they lay flat while everything else on the map is upright. These plastic stands solve that problem nicely. As you can see in the pic, we ignored the token’s facing and instead just slipped a red mini poker chip under the stand when the monster was bloodied. If you use tokens in your D&D game, I highly recommend these plastic stands from Fantasy Flight Supply.

No comments:

Post a Comment