Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Doppelgangers, Mean Dogs, and Bilious Vapors ("Unmasking the Traitor," Session 3)

During our last session, the heroes finally managed to make their way up and out of the hidden shrine to Orcus which they had discovered under the Citadel.  But then rather than being applauded and rewarded for their efforts. they were unjustly thrown into jail!  With the help of Lord Bothwell’s nephew, though, they broke out of their cells and started to sneak around the fortress, trying to find evidence that’d prove which member of Lord Bothwell’s Privy Council is the traitor.  Toward the end of our last session, four members of the party were recaptured, but the still-free Blake discovered evil tomes and whatnot hidden in the temple of Avandra. We ended that session with Blake making his way to the Great Hall and dramatically accusing Halix Breland, the Citadel’s jolly priest of Avandra, of being the traitor.  

Before we get back to the action, let’s review our 4e D&D campaign’s player characters:
  • Gaultis— a goliath warden with the annoying (well, it annoys the DM to no end) habit of always remembering to mark his opponents. Gaultis is played by Chad.
  • Dagon— a watersoul genasi artificer who is always ready to help his wounded companions by shooting some healing their way. Dagon is played by Robert.
  • Blake— a razorclaw shifter barbarian who makes some mean mashed potatoes. Blake is played by Andy.
  • Boojum— a pixie wizard with a fondness for fire spells and shiny stuff.  Boojum is played by Steve.
  • Silas— an eladrin vampire with special ties to the Raven Queen.  Silas is played by Drew.


As Blake’s stunning accusation hung in the air, all eyes turned toward the shifter as he stood defiantly at the back of the Great Hall.  And then several things happened in rapid succession.

The sound of some bones rattling across the stone floor drew all eyes back toward the front of the hall.  As the bones skittered to a stop, they rapidly grew into 2 Ravenous Ghouls (Level 5 Brutes).  Even as he threw the bones across the floor, Halix Breland made a complex arcane gesture with his other hand and our heroes’ confiscated bag of holding (the very same item that Halix had given to the party in Session #1 and in which they had stored the four chaos crystals), currently in Sora Harrowcrown’s possession, suddenly exploded in a burst of flames.  As the gravely wounded mage dropped to the ground, Halix Breland darted toward Sgt Fallek and Lord Bothwell.  When Fallek moved to intercept the traitorous priest, Breland threw a dark globe at the loyal guard’s feet.  The globe burst open when it impacted the stone floor and a shroud of blackness enveloped Fallek and the priest, hiding them from sight.  The sounds of grunting, grappling, and then a “Thud!” sounded from inside the Cloud of Darkness.  As the dark shroud dissipated, our heroes could see that a figure was lying face down on the floor and Sgt Fallek was moving quickly to Lord Bothwell’s side.  All seemed well!

But then the figure on the floor groaned in pain and rolled over… and everyone could see it was another Sgt Fallek.  One of the players at the table half-whispered, “Doppelganger!” and then I said, “Alright, let’s roll initiative.”

Which do you want first? The good news or the bad news?

Then there was a lot of confused combat with the ghouls trying to chomp on people, the PCs scrambling to get their weapons and equipment out of a chest at the side of the hall, Dagon attacking the wrong Sgt Fallek, Blake and Lord Bothwell getting stabbed by the doppelganger, the ghouls chomping on people some more, and the town guards standing around uselessly.

When the doppelganger fell below one-quarter of its hit points, it did something with a ring it was wearing and used a souped-up version of Portal Jump.  After yelling something about Orcus, it jumped through the portal and disappeared.

So the good news was that the traitor had been unmasked and driven off.  The bad news was that the doppelganger had not only snagged the chaos crystals, but had poisoned Blake and Lord Bothwell when it stabbed them.  The poison was some sort of dark toxin that neither Sora Harrowcrown nor Dagon could identify, so they couldn’t concoct an antidote.  They feared the poison was a type of Walking Death, though.  If that’s the case, the poison will lie dormant for hours or days, but when it finally activates, the results will be swift and very likely fatal.  The only sure-fire way to come up with the appropriate antidote will be to find the doppelganger and obtain a sample of the unused poison.

Luckily, Sora was able to use a souped-up version of Trace Teleport to track the doppelganger’s jump.  It looked as if it had escaped to a teleportation circle a great distance to the northwest, most likely a spot well outside of Newhaven and across the Frontier.  Sgt Fallek said that would make sense since a thorough search of the temple of Avandra revealed that the false Halix Breland had hidden some secret correspondence from ‘Kalarel,’ some of which mentioned an abandoned temple at the foot of the Moonsfall Mountains where the Orcus cultists were raising and training a large armed force.  That was the “army” which would’ve captured the Citadel if Thaliost and Deneith’s scheme to use the chaos crystals to scatter Bothwell’s guards would’ve went as planned.  As we all know, our heroes foiled that dastardly plan, but now it looks as if the party will still have to make their way across the Frontier and confront this Orcus-loving ‘Kalarel’ in his lair if they want to save Lord Bothwell and Blake and also recapture the lost chaos crystals.

Nice Doggies, Nice Doggies… Or Maybe Not

After stocking up on supplies at the Citadel, the party set off for the Frontier.  Before heading out, Syradon had gave them a map.  Four days of journeying northwest from the Citadel showed that the landmarks on the map held true, and then our heroes arrived at a narrow pass through densely wooded hills.  On their map, the pass was marked as the beginning of a path called the Black March.  The map was a bit vague about what might lie beyond the hills, farther off into the untamed Frontier.

As our heroes made their way up the Black March, a hoarse baying suddenly rang out through the forest to both sides of the track.  Five canine shapes unfurled from the shadows under the trees.  With their slavering jaws open wide, a pack of Shadow Hounds (Level 6 Skirmisher) attacked the party.

This encounter was noteworthy for Boojum’s use of a new power he’d just picked up with the party’s advancement to Level 5.  As the shadow hounds pounced, Boojum suddenly yelled, “Hey, Silas! Pull my finger!”  Hardly able to control his giggling, Boojum unleashed Stinking Cloud.  The shadow hounds never knew what hit them as a thick cloud of bilious yellow vapors engulfed them.

I picked up a package of these funny little creatures in the toy section at the local Walgreen's.  They're actually the perfect size to use in D&D, so I pull them out when the monsters are some sort of appropriate four-legged animal.  Cute, huh?

After dispensing with the hounds, the party continued to make their way up the Black March.  Our heroes soon began to come across other groups using the path to journey north.  The discouraged, battered bands of people making their way up the path were from secluded forest villages, fierce hunting tribes, or isolated mining towns, but all told the same story: they had fled their homes after being attacked by strange shadow beasts or by bands of armed cultists.  Some of the refugees said that others had not escaped but had been led off into captivity by the cultists.

At the end of the session, the party came upon an unexpected sign of civilization— a fortified town at the base of a huge waterfall.  Many refugees were camped outside the well-defended town’s walls.  The Black March continued on past the town and into the mountains, disappearing quickly from sight.

Tune in next week as our heroes continue their journey deeper into the Frontier.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons Comic Book: Back on Track?

Just over a year ago— on January 1, 2011— I posted a positive review of the new Dungeons & Dragons comic book by IDW.  It had been years since I purchased a comic, but as I reviewed the first three issues (including Issue #0) of the newest D&D comic book, I tried to convey the excitement I felt looking forward to another issue each month.

The comic book’s five main characters (a human fighter, dwarf paladin, halfling rogue, elf ranger, and tiefling warlock) could have all too easily been portrayed as stale adventuring stereotypes, but with John Rogers capably and creatively guiding the ongoing story, the party instead comes to life in a refreshing, entertaining way.  The clever, witty writing in each issue always brings a smile to my face and at some point I invariably find myself thinking, “That is so exactly what one of the guys at my D&D game would say!”  And, at least for the first five issues, the art of Andrea Di Vito was the perfect complement to Rogers’ story.  Like I said, it had been a long time since I’d purchased a comic book, but I still knew good art when I saw it.

But then, with Issue #6, things started to get a bit screwy with the art.  In that issue, according to the credits, Di Vito only did the art for one page and some other guy did the rest of the comic.  With Issue #7, Di Vito again only did one page, and the rest of the art was split between two other fellows.  And in both of those issues, it must be said, the other guys’ art didn’t compare favorably to Di Vito’s superb work.

Things were happily back to normal in Issue #8, with Di Vito being the sole artist.  The art in the next four issues was confusing and disappointing, though.  In Issue #9, there were three different artists.  Issue #10 was the low point of the whole affair, with four guys doing the art.  Issues #11 and 12 had three guys doing the art in each issue.  It had been years since I faithfully followed a comic book, and the new Dungeons & Dragons comic was the only one I now bought each month, but I couldn’t imagine this use of multiple artists within a single issue had somehow become standard practice in the industry.  The different styles in each issue were an annoying distraction from the story, especially since— as I mentioned earlier— none of the other art was even close to being as good as Di Vito’s.  I kept buying the D&D comic during this time, but I was becoming steadily more disillusioned with handing over $3.99 each month for subpar and confusing work by the IDW art department.

But with Issue #13, things seemed to (thankfully) get back on track!  Starting with that issue, Andrea Di Vito has again been the sole artist.  The art in Issues #13, 14, and 15 has once again been a joy to behold.  And speaking of beholding, the full-page drawing of the fearsome beholder that closes Issue #14 is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

More Cowbell! ("Unmasking the Traitor," Session 2)

As Silas continued to ransack Sora Harrowcrown’s wizardly laboratory, he became more and more frustrated.  He was absolutely certain the arrogant tiefling was the traitor!  He just had to find some incriminating evidence to prove his hunch.  Moving quickly around the dark and cluttered space, Silas suddenly tripped over a small cauldron and fell against a worktable.  As the eladrin vampire tried to catch himself, he shoved the table up against the wall where it knocked over several shelves of cowbells.  As the cowbells clattered to the floor, making a godawful racket, Boojum looked out the window and saw the suspicious town guard turn around and start to march back toward Sora’s house.

You Really Hate Orcus, Don’t You?

As you’ll recall, dear reader, the battered and bloodied party of heroes ended our last game session in the crypts somewhere below the Citadel.  After battling their way through two chambers of hungry flesh-eating zombies and angry skeletons, the party came upon a third room.  In that third chamber, they discovered a makeshift altar to Orcus guarded by another undead monster, a Battle Wight (Level 7 Soldier).

DM Tip: For two of the three rooms down in the crypts, I used dungeon tiles from the new Shadowghast Manor set.  This set of tiles is actually a bit light in haunted manor house tiles but— for some reason— it has quite a few tiles with crypt-like spaces that are well-appointed with boatloads of coffins everywhere you look.  Having said that, Shadowghast Manor is still a pretty darn cool product and one I highly recommend for all you DMs out there.

This past Thursday night’s session opened with Silas attempting to sneak past the wight and get to the spiral staircase.  Just as Silas reached the staircase and started to ascend it, the wight finally came to life (so to speak) and rushed across the chamber to attack the vampire’s companions.  As the undead monster laid about with its soul-draining longsword, Silas sighed in exasperation and started back down the stairs.  Before actually going over and helping his friends, the vampire decided to stop and take a closer look at the gory altar.  As he stepped up to the altar, the two bloody human corpses lying next to it suddenly twitched and spasmed and lurched to their feet.

Fortunately for the party, the two zombies were “just” minions, so they were easily taken care of.  Then, as his comrades attempted to maneuver past the wight and reach the stairs, Silas decided he had had quite enough of all this nonsense with chamber after chamber of nasty Ocus-loving undead.  The vampire invoked two of his shrouds, unleashed a vicious attack on the wight, and rolled a nat 20!  And then when he rolled the two d6 for his magic weapon, he rolled max damage, so he ended up doing a whopping 72 damage to the poor monster.  As pieces of wight flew in all directions, a very impressed Boojum turned to Silas and said, “Wow! You really hate Orcus, don’t you?”

Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go.

At the top of the spiral staircase, the party found a trap door above them.  After cautiously opening it a bit, they could see that there was some kind of dark, open space with a few torches burning in the distance.  Stumbling up and out of the trap door (they failed a group Stealth check), they heard a blast from a horn come from somewhere above them and a voice yelled, “Halt! You in the square! Halt!” Our heroes suddenly realized they had come up in the Citadel’s Fountain Square through a cleverly camouflaged trap door.  Several guards on the wall above had crossbows trained on them, and the sound of running footsteps converging on them from every direction brought more guards.  One group of guards was led by Fallek.  He ran up to the party, yelling, “Drop your weapons! Do it now!”

As their equipment was taken from them and they were being bound, Fallek asked the party about the stairs below the trap door.  When Boojum started to explain how the party had died and about the Raven Queen, Fallek interrupted the pixie’s tale and angrily asked how the party had got into the Citadel.  At that point, Silas decided to pop a ’tude, which Fallek didn’t appreciate.  Fallek hit Silas upside the head with a wooden truncheon, knocking the eladrin vampire to his knees.  As Fallek sent a group of guards down the stairs, the party noticed that one of the guards saluted him and said, “Yes, sergeant!”  This puzzled the party because they knew that Garrick Blackoak was the Sergeant of the Guard, while Fallek was his corporal.  After being led over to the inner gatehouse, Fallek told the remaining guards to hold the prisoners there while he went to inform Lord Bothwell of the party’s unexpected appearance.  One of the guards saluted and also addressed Fallek as “sergeant.”  After Fallek’s departure, our heroes asked their guards a few questions and learned some interesting things.  Fallek was indeed now Sergeant of the Guard, after Garrick Blackoak had been found gruesomely slain.  There had been a sundown to sunrise curfew in the Citadel since Blackoak’s murder ten days before. Ten days!  The party wasn’t sure they had heard correctly, since they believed they’d only been gone four days… but the guards said it had actually been three weeks since they’d left the Citadel for the Grey Hills.  The party realized the Raven Queen had obviously taken her sweet time in raising them from the dead after the TPK in the swamp.

The party soon saw several young pages dash out of the inner fortress and run  into the Citadel.  It was not long before the pages returned, escorting the three members of the Privy Council.  As they all went hurrying past the prisoners, Sora Harrowcrown gave the stewing Silas a smug, victorious smirk.  A short time after Sora, Beren Kell, and Halix Breland went into the inner fortress, one of the guards who had gone down into the crypts also went hurrying past the party.  He cast a frightened glance toward our heroes, while giving them a very wide berth.  The party then had to wait quite a while before Sgt. Fallek came back out and they were escorted into the Great Hall where they faced Lord Bothwell and the Privy Council.  That’s when things really started to go downhill.

When Bothwell, who looked ill and had a hacking cough, started to rake the party over the coals, they tried to explain all that had happened and how they came to be in the crypts below the Citadel.  But Silas again lost his cool, threatening to kill Sora and Sgt. Fallek.  At the vampire’s outburst, an indignant Sora turned to Lord Bothwell and said, “Falkirk, I can’t believe we have to stand here and listen to this nonsense.  Their very actions condemn them! They have been nothing but trouble since they arrived here.” Lord Bothwell agreed with her.  He shouted, “Yes! (cough) How I rue the day I invited you villains here. You have been nothing but trouble since the day you arrived. (cough) Take them away! (cough)”  And that, dear reader, is how our innocent, virtuous heroes came to find themselves unjustly thrown into three dirty, smelly jail cells in the Bailiff’s Tower.

Jail Break

Just after being placed in their cells, the adventurers were visited by Syradon.  Lord Bothwell’s mute nephew communicated with Silas by writing messages in his ever-present notebook.  He wrote that he suspected his uncle was being dominated and that Garrick Blackoak had been murdered because the tough sergeant would’ve been the first to suspect what was happening.  Everyone thought Bothwell was simply fighting a cold, but Syradin wrote that he suspected the traitor was one of the members of the Privy Council.  The two guards left in the cell block with the prisoners had started to play cards, but they soon grew suspicious of Syradin’s behavior and let him know that it was time to leave.  Before he left, Syradin wrote that if the party could somehow escape from their cells, perhaps they could search the Privy Council’s private quarters for incriminating evidence, since the council members would undoubtedly be in session with Lord Bothwell in the great hall for quite some time.

I let the players brainstorm for quite a while about plans to escape their jail cells.  Silas, of course, tried to insult the guards and goad them into coming over where he might teleport out of his cell and attack them, but the guards just replied, “Shut your mouth, Orcus-lover.”  The party finally decided that Boojum would use Prestidigitation to make coin sounds in he and Gaultis’ cell, thereby drawing the greedy guards over to investigate.  The pixie would then use Instant Friends (Wizard Utility 2) to get one of the guards to open the cell door.  The guard in question had to roll a saving throw with a -5 penalty (because he was a lower level than the pixie) against Boojum’s magic.  For such an important roll, I didn’t keep the die behind the DM screen, but instead rolled it out where everyone could see it.  And I rolled a nat 20!  Woo hoo!  Er, I mean… Aw, too bad, Boojum.

After Boojum’s failure, the players went back to brainstorming escape plans.  This was kind of fun to listen to since each plan was more desperate and harebrained than the last.  But that didn’t go on for very long before I had Syradin come back into the cell block.  The party couldn’t see what Syradin was doing around the corner with the guards, but after a few moments he came over to Silas’ cell door and made a “wait-just-a-moment” motion.  In just a few minutes, the guards’ laughter and joking suddenly stopped and all was silent.  Syradin went back around the corner, then reappeared with the keys and unlocked all of the cells.  After exiting their cells, our heroes could see that the guards were asleep with their heads on the table.  Amidst the scattered cards was a flask of wine that Syradin had brought in with him, obviously laced with some sort of sleeping potion.  After stripping the unconscious guards of their uniforms and weapons, the party placed them in two cells and locked the doors.  Blake and Silas put on the two uniforms.  Syradin wrote that he needed to get back to the council meeting, but that he wished the heroes luck.

I Need More Cowbell!

Now that the players’ creative juices were flowing after trying to come up with ways to escape the jail, I wanted to encourage the roleplaying to continue, so I told them that their searches of the Privy Council’s private quarters would be a skill challenge.  I reminded them of the rules for our skill challenges. 

DM Tip: For skill challenges, I use “Rodrigo’s Rules” from the Critical Hit D&D podcast over at Major Spoilers.  You can use any skill— as long as using it makes sense in the situation and also moves the party closer to their goal… but you can’t use the same skill two times in a row, and you can’t use the same skill as the player immediately preceding you.

I told my players this would be a skill challenge because I wanted them to be creative as they roleplayed through this section of the adventure, but— just between you and me, dear reader— I didn’t actually keep track of the number of successes and failures.  I simply used their actions to help me advance the story and when one of their rolls was a “failure” (according to the appropriate DC), I narrated the story so that they came just a little bit closer to discovery.  I had a lot of fun moving the story through this section of the adventure, and I think the players also enjoyed roleplaying their way through it.  For this section of the adventure, the players chose to split the party.  Blake, Dagon, and Gaultis remained in the Bailiff’s Tower to comb through the documents in the Citadel’s “administrative offices” and to search Beren Kell’s private quarters.  Meanwhile, Silas (wearing a guard’s uniform) put Boojum in a pocket and casually strolled over to Sora Harrowcrown’s residence.

Gaultis, Dagon, and Blake thoroughly searched the Bailiff’s Tower (including Syradin’s room), but didn’t find anything incriminating.  As the search there was winding down, Blake (in his guard’s uniform) decided to make his way over to the Chapel of Avandra.  He successfully reached the chapel and made his way upstairs to Halix Breland’s private quarters.

After Silas and Boojum reached Sora’s and went inside (she had forgotten to set the magical protective wards as she rushed out), Silas pretty much tore the place apart.  The scene you read at the top of the post was enacted as he grew more and more frantic in search.  After Silas tipped the cowbells over, the suspicious guard approached, but Boojum made a desperate, spur-of-the-moment Bluff check.  He yelled, “Stop! Go get my master, Sora Harrowcrown, right now! Tell her she’s needed here!”  And with a successful roll on the check, the guard started to hurry away!  Meanwhile, in the wizardly laboratory in the next room, Silas, hearing Boojum order the guard to get Sora, wondered what the heck was going on.  Boojum explained that the bluff was all he could think of in the heat of the moment.  Silas quickly moved to search the rest of the laboratory, but he once again failed at his roll!  And so the rest of the cowbells came crashing down, making another godawful racket.  Peering outside, Boojum could see the suspicious guard yell toward the inner gatehouse, asking for help.  In a few moments, four guards were marching toward Sora’s house.

While that was going on, Blake was just across the street, vainly searching Halix’s quarters.  Dagon and Gaultis had decided to try and join the shifter at the chapel, so they left the Bailiff’s Tower and attempted to get over to the stables.  Gaultis made it, but just barely, so a couple of the guards thought they saw something moving in the shadows. When Dagon made his move, the alerted guards spotted him right away and shot their crossbows at him.  Hit twice, Dagon managed to get into the stables.  Gaultis had stampeded some horses out of the stables and down the street, where the frightened horses bowled over the four guards heading for Sora’s house.  With the alarm starting to sound throughout the Citadel, Gaultis tried to hide himself in an empty stall (keep in mind he’s a big honkin’ goliath), just as the Dagon came stumbling through the stable door.  Several guards were hot on the wounded genasi’s heels and, after bashing down the stable door, they captured him and also quickly discovered Gaultis’ hiding place.

Out in the street, the four guards who had been knocked down by the stampeding horses, picked themselves up and continued toward Sora’s house.  Silas made a last desperate attempt to Intimidate them, but it was too late for such theatrics and the guards captured the vampire and Boojum.

In the Chapel of Avandra, Blake watched from a darkened window as his twice-captured friends were taken away toward the inner fortress.  The shifter decided that he’d try to search the sanctuary itself, so he carefully examined the large room.  Not finding anything unusual, he was at his wit’s end, but then he tried to push the altar… and was surprised when it swung aside and he discovered a hidden compartment underneath it!  Reaching into the space, he pulled out a collection of leather-bound notebooks and some sheets of loose parchment.  Studying his find, he realized he couldn’t read the odd language in which the pages were written.  Performing a Religion check, though, the shifter had the distinct impression that the notebooks and papers were evil, Evil, EVIL!  Realizing that he now possessed the evidence which would prove Halix Breland was the traitor, Blake stealthily made his way up to the roof of the chapel. The shifter snuck over the wall and into the inner courtyard.  Then, trusting that his disguise (the guard uniform) would allow him to reach the inner fortress unchallenged, the shifter strolled across the courtyard.  Entering the fortress and nonchalantly making his way to the great hall, Blake quietly entered the back of the room.  Lord Bothwell was berating the shifter’s bound companions.  After listening for a few moments, Blake stepped forward and yelled, “Fallek! Protect Lord Bothwell! These papers prove that Halix Breland is the traitor!”  Then, realizing that Halix might try to snatch the chaos stones and ritual books that Sora held in her hands, he also warned the wizard to beware of the false priest.  While Blake spoke, all eyes in the hall turned toward him and jaws dropped open in surprise at his words.

As the shifter’s stunning accusation hung in the air… as five players waited with bated breath to see what would happen next… I smiled and said we’d end the session right there and pick up the action again next Thursday night.               

Friday, February 3, 2012

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia ("Unmasking the Traitor," Session 1)

After Silas’ chat with the Raven Queen, he found his companions lying in some coffins in the next chamber. Once they all regained consciousness, the eladrin vampire briefed them on his encounter with the Raven Queen and showed them his spiffy new longsword. The question on everyone’s mind was, “Where the heck are we?!?” Before the party explored their whereabouts, Boojum waved his hand and cast Light on Silas’ teeth. With a big smile plastered on his face, the vampire took point.

As Silas scouted down the hallway, he turned a corner and could hear barely perceptible moans emanating from the darkness ahead.

Look out! Flesh-Crazed Zombies!

Sneaking up to the end of the hallway, Silas could see a large chamber with several ransacked coffins scattered around the floor. As the eerie moaning continued, he thought he saw some figures crouching behind the coffins and also in the shadows beyond the light of his teeth. Silas decided he’d try to communicate with the mysterious moaning figures, so he mimicked them with some moans of his own. With his successful Bluff check, five Flesh-Crazed Zombies (Level 5 Skirmisher) came out into the open and began to shamble toward him.

Hearing Silas’ cry for help from ahead, the rest of the party quickly moved up. Blake and Gaultis fearlessly charged into the chamber… where they were promptly surrounded by ravenous undead who thought the two heroes looked oh-so-tasty. Boojum laid down a zone of licking flames, knocking a couple of the zombies prone, but not before Blake was in some serious trouble. Within just a few moments, the shifter was cut down by the vicious bite attacks of three of the monsters. Luckily, a helpful Healing Infusion from Dagon brought Blake back into the fight.

The party was pretty banged up by the time they dropped the last zombie since they failed to focus fire and instead spread damage around, allowing all five monsters to stay in the fight for round after round. I was disappointed that not once did Deathless Hunger kick in and allow a dropped zombie to come back to life. Bummer. Anyway, after combat was finally over, Blake looted the coffins and found a handful of gold and (much to Boojum’s delight) a shiny gem.

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia

When our battered heroes came to a chamber with a lot of burial niches in the walls (an 8x8 dungeon tile from the new Shadowghast Manor set), they were all set to cruise right on through and continue exploring, but then Silas and Boojum noticed that one of the coffins had some still-legible writing on it. The inscription read: “Here lies Urik Rockhammer, hero of the Citadel. Fell valiantly defending the walls against the great orc invasion of 1296.”

I had originally intended this chamber to simply be a way-point where the party discovered they were somewhere beneath the Citadel… but Boojum decided he wanted to see if there was anything shiny in Urik’s coffin. The pixie wasn’t strong enough to pry the lid off the casket, so he goaded Silas into doing it. As the vampire started to get a good hold on the lid, everyone else quickly backpedaled away from the corner where Urik’s coffin had lain undisturbed for centuries. Note: After the sh*t hit the fan in this chamber, it was mentioned at the table that, as we all know, one of the classic adventuring maxims is, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”— but that only slightly less well-known is another truism that you ignore at your own peril: “Never listen to Boojum.”

I hadn’t really planned on the party being so brazen as to loot a hero of the Citadel’s casket, so I decided on-the-fly that I’d pull a few monsters from the next encounter and have them attack the greedy bastards while they were in this room. So when Silas opened Urik’s coffin, the creaky skeleton of a dwarf in ancient plate mail armor suddenly popped up and burst into flame (Blazing Skeleton, Level 4 Artillery). Across the chamber, a Boneshard Skeleton (Level 4 brute) climbed out of another burial niche. On each successive round of combat, another boneshard skeleton would climb out of a coffin.

Once angry skeletons started to pop out of coffins, Dagon wisely wanted to retreat out of the chamber and conduct a fighting withdrawal down the next hallway, but everyone else wanted to kill the monsters and then see if there were any goodies in Urik’s casket. This went on for five rounds, with more and more skeletons appearing, before everyone decided that maybe Dagon’s plan to retreat wasn’t such a bad idea, after all. By that time, Boojum was down to four hit points and Silas had been on fire since the first round because he continually failed his saving throws after getting whacked by Urik’s Blazing Claw attack (ongoing 5 fire damage).

Gluttons for Punishment

Even as Gaultis, Blake, and Boojum were trying to extricate themselves from the combat with the skeletons and retreat out of that room, Silas and Dagon decided they’d open up another can of worms and see what kind of trouble they could find down the next hallway. As the vampire and genasi came to the end of the hall, they peered out and were greeted by a terrifying sight. They saw a large torchlit chamber with many burial niches set into the walls, and across the way was a spiral staircase leading upward. Between them and the staircase was some kind of stone shrine or altar, about four feet high and coated in blood. On the floor next to the altar were two human corpses. Standing on the far side of the altar was a tall, commanding figure in dark gray armor. As the ominous figure’s gaze slowly turned in Silas and Dagon’s direction, they could see through the open visor of its helmet that its face was a wasted and rotted visage straight out of a nightmare.

Meanwhile, back in the hallway, the other three heroes had finally managed to fight their way out of the skeletons’ grasp. Once they cleared the chamber, the surviving monsters climbed back into their caskets. Silas, realizing that he and Dagon had unwisely drawn the battered party straight into another encounter, decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. So he went back down the corridor and handed the bag of holding to Boojum so the pixie wizard could take out the chaos crystals, perform an Arcana check, and see if there was any way that possessing the shards might help the party out of their predicament. As Boojum pulled the crystals out of the bag and held them in his little pixie hands, he suddenly felt himself weakened and vulnerable 5 to all typed damage. He also heard a sinister voice in his head begin to whisper, ”Kill them. Kill them all. Kill them. Kill them.”

With the snow rapidly beginning to pile up in the darkness outside Total Escape Games, I decided we’d better call it a night and head home. The last action of the night belonged to Dagon. Not in the least daunted by the grim figure in the next chamber, the genasi artificer advanced into the room and made a Perception check. His successful check meant that he could just make out the symbol of Orcus inscribed on the bloody altar in the center of the room.

Things aren’t looking good for our battered and bloodied heroes, dear reader! Will they manage to somehow, someway, get themselves out of this mess and warn Lord Bothwell of the evil lurking beneath the Citadel? Or will yours truly rack up his second TPK of the campaign? Tune in next week to find out.