Friday, April 27, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 7

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

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

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

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

Encounter 15: Far Realm Sojourn

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

Stage 1: The Rising Stair

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

Stage 2: Alien Space

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

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

Stage 3: The Final Door

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

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

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

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

Encounter 16: The Last Defenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 6

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

Encounter 11: Bell Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encounter 10: The Whispering Grove

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

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

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

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

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

Encounter 14: Watchtower Entrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encounter 15: Far Realm Sojourn

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

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

The weird keening rose in pitch and intensity.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 5

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

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

The Rival Adventurers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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