D&D Encounters, Tyranny of Dragons, part 2

Previously, on Tyranny of Dragons, our party of adventurer’s had arrived in Greenest, only to find the town besieged by figures wearing robes, kobolds, and a blue dragon! Running to the town to help, they happen upon a family fighting for their lives, trying to make their way to the most fortified position in town: the keep at the center of town. Helping the family to the keep, the party help repel an attack on the keep, and clear out a secret, underground tunnel that will allow them to sneak to and from the keep without incident. Making their way back to the keep to report their progress, they debate over whether to keep the looted gold they found on the raiders they defeated.

Our big damn heroes for this week include:

Upon returning to the keep, the party report to the Castellan of the keep, Escobert the Red, a dwarf with a brilliant red beard. Escobert leads the part to Governor Nighthill, who is in the parapet at the moment. As they approach, they swear that they heard the Governor talking to himself, saying how he wished he had a prisoner to interrogate. Alerted to the party’s presence, Nighthill is happy to hear the secret tunnel is now secure. At that time, the blue dragon appears, breathing his lightning breath at the people on the parapet. Everything happens so quickly, that almost no one has time to react, save one. Selwyn heroically knocks everyone out of harms way, but the lightning breath thunderously sears his body, and he is killed for his efforts (and very quickly looted by certain party members.) Spurred to action, the party attempt to time their attacks on the blue dragon’s next diving run. Just as they’re about to attack, a blast of eldritch energy and an arrow strike the blue dragon. The party follows suit, and manage to do enough damage to drive the dragon away, who seems less than interested in being in Greenest in the first place. Looking behind them, they find new companions have join them in their ongoing battle against the raiders:

Having repelled the dragon, the Governor notices and Escobert notice a new threat emerging in the horizon; the mill looks like it’s being set on fire. It’s destruction would be a mighty blow to the town’s long-term survival, so the duo asks the party to go and save the mill while they gather a small militia to eventually catch-up and join them there. Naturally, our heroes agree to this task, and use the secret tunnel to get into town undetected. From there, they use the riverbed for cover to avoid as many enemy patrols as possible. Despite their stealthy approach, they do end up in a single battle, and thanks to a well-placed sleep spell, manage to capture three of the robed figures. Xavier immediately dispatches two of the prisoners, reducing their number to one. After a very large debate, most of the party head towards the mill while Icarium drags the remaining prisoner back to the keep, again employing the secret tunnel to his advantage. Luckily, he doesn’t encounter any resistance on the way back.

At the mill, the party notices something strange; the mill itself is not on fire, and there are small fires around the mill that could be put out quickly and easily, almost as if this entire fire is staged. Bindlethorp quickly does a quick reconnaissance around the mill, and ifnds nothing else. Vladimir finds himself at the front double doors, while others peer into the various windows. Finally, Tarvik finds a stone, casts light on it, and throws it through a window. This proves to be a wise choice, as the sound of weapons striking the stone echo through the windows, before a shout from inside the mill stating they’ve been discovered. Battle naturally ensues, as twelve enemies emerge; it’s a closer battle than it seems. Vladimir falls at some point, though through strength of will he remains stable, and Anders falls twice throughout the battle, though magical healing, courtesy of Tarvik, is useful. Icarium eventually catches up, and finds himself staring at a grisly scene; dead enemies, some of his allies fallen, the noble sorceress suddenly having a beard made out of feathers (Gabrielli has a wild magic bloodline, which can make things…unpredictable at times,) and two humanoid goo things (Gabrielli managed to kill two enemies with a poison spell; when asked to describe her kill, she basically described it like poisonous melting goo. Wicked witch of the west, I suppose.) Icarium helps dispatch the remaining two living enemies with eldritch blasts. With the battle won, the make-shift militia of around twenty people show up to secure the mill as best they could, though it is clear that these townsfolk are not trained in combat, and some of them are incredibly young, perhaps too young to be fighting.

Returning to the keep via the secret tunnel, the party relays their findings to Governor Nighthill, who they find in a makeshift interrogation room, having unsuccessfully interrogated the prisoner thus far. The Governor suspects that the trap at the mill was laid for the doo-gooders helping the town in their darkest hour. In other words, by helping Greenest, our heroes have become targets. The Governor illustrates this by leading them to the parapet and pointing out one of the cult leaders barking orders in the distance, and advises them to stay away.

Unknown to virtually everyone, Xavier remained behind in the interrogation room and gave the interrogation to end all interrogations. It’s not a true interrogation, but all I can think about is this, because it was almost this good: He discovers that this cultist is a member of the Cult of the Dragon, and that they are looting the town to collect a great hoard to “usher in the reign of the Queen of Dragons…” Ominous. I honestly don’t remember if Xavier shared this information with the party, though I can say with authority that he does not share this information with Nighthill.

So in real-world D&D terms, the party has reached level 2 around this time, except for any newcomers.

Back to the game, with no rest for the weary, the party is asked to save the villagers trapped in the Sanctuary, a temple to Chauntea. Once again employing both the secret tunnel, and the riverbed for cover, they encounter minimal resistance, a quick battle with three enemies who they dispatch easily, and see before them a large building with three groups of foes. One group is at the front door employing a battering ram. A second group is at the back door trying to get in that way. A third and final group appears to be patrolling around the perimeter of the building, about 50 feet away.

With this information, how will our heroes arrange a rescue? I can’t say, but I’m confident that between now and next week, either the group will think of something brilliant or something…not so brilliant?

D&D Encounters, Tyranny of Dragons, part 1

So my intention is to move soon, but for the moment, I remain where I am, so at the very least, I’ll start DM-ing Tyranny of Dragons, and when I need to go, someone else will need to step up. Speaking of which, Tyranny of Dragons started last night for our groups at the friendly, local game store we play at. There were quite a number of new players last night, and we had more than enough players for two groups. I’m actually concerned in that if the trend continues, we’ll need a third DM soon. Since we’re going by ‘Adventurer’s League’ rules, a legal table is 3-7 players, so going beyond that isn’t supposed to be an option.

But I digress…our big damn heroes last night at the table I judged include:

So as the sun sets, our heroes are making there way to a village called Greenest, when they happen upon a horrible sight; the village looks like it’s under attack by a blue dragon! They scramble to the village entrance, and find some houses, shacks, bundles of hay on fire. Between the fire and light of the full  moon, they can see the carnage rather clearly, when a family appears in front of them, chased by eight kobolds. Battle ensues, and the party is successful in rescuing the family. The warrior woman informs the party that they must make their way to the keep at the center of Greenest, the most fortified structure in the area and the place where everyone is supposed to retreat to when under attack.

With the village overrun by kobolds as well as humanoids wearing strange robes, they fight there way to the keep successfully, though there were a few close calls along the way, as the mighty Vladimir was knocked unconscious twice. Nevertheless, they manage to make their way in just as the keep doors slam shut.

Inside the keep, the party immediately elects to take a one-hour short rest. In game terms, they desperately wanted to spend their hit dice to recover precious hit points. After their short rest, they meet the Governor of Greenest, an older human gentleman named Tarbaw Nighthill and the Castellan of the keep, Escobert the Red, a dwarf with a brilliant red beard. Nighthill informs the party of the current tactical situation, where the raiders attacking Greenest appear more concerned with looting than all-out war. Suddenly, the party hears a resonant thud, as Escobert rushes to the Governor and company, informing them that the Sally Port has been breached and that their help is required. After a fight with a robed human, four kobolds, and an ambush drake, they manage to secure the area, with Tarvik casting mending on the door for five straight minutes before restoring the door to proper status. Furthermore, the door is barricaded with barrels and other heavy objects.

Returning to Nighthill, the Governor informs the party that there are many villagers that did not make it to the keep before their doors closed, and implores the party for further aid. Readily agreeing, Escobert informs them of an old, underground tunnel that has never been used. It was supposed to be a secret way to collect water form the stream during a siege, but was actually never used for that purpose as the keep as never been besieged before until tonight. As the tunnel has never been used, it needs to be secured. The party does just that, killing two rat swarms to do so. Furthermore, at the secret tunnel exit some nearby enemies are patrolling. Using some creative tactics (involving stealth from some members and a distraction by the tiefling who is skilled in playing the lute), they manage to lure two robed figures and six kobolds into the tunnel and ambush them.

With the old tunnel secure, the party now has a secret passage they can use to enter and exit the town without drawing too much attention, as well as a means to sneak villagers into the keep. As the clock strikes midnight, the party make their way back to the keep, arguing over what to do with the looted gold they found on the enemies they ambushed.

 

#DepressionLies – You Are Worthy

This blog post will be heavy, and a tad preachy. My apologies. You have been warned.

When Robin Williams was reported dead yesterday, it was saddening news. I think I used the word ‘shellshocked’ when I tweeted my condolences. What happened next was a very large number of tweets showing up on my timeline with regards to depression. In hindsight, it wasn’t surprising. While stereotypical, there is truth behind the idea that artistic types (actors, musicians, comedians, etc.) suffer from depression.

It can be a difficult dialogue to address. Those with depression may be dealing with feelings of shame and unworthiness, and those feelings alone can be crippling and detrimental to honest discussion. It doesn’t help that we all remain in constant judgment of one another. But I think as we progress forward, it’s an important dialogue to have, primarily because I want people to find help. I want people with depression to seek help, and let them know that they’re not alone. It’s not quite at the same level as full-fledged depression, but I do know what it’s like to feel like an outsider, an outcast, a freak of nature, just plain different from everyone around me. It’s uncomfortable, nerve-wracking, and no pun intended, depressing. So I can only imagine what those with severe depression go through. There are over seven billion people on this planet. Seven billion unique people who think uniquely, feel uniquely, express themselves uniquely. And in spite of all our differences you’re not alone. It’s okay to be different.

But it is important to seek help. There are a multitude of hotlines available. There are good therapists available. And bad ones too; it’s important to do your due diligence, do your homework and shop around. There are a multitude of resources available. Here’s a link to one of those many. Because you are worthy.

In each of us, there is a fount of strength you can draw from. Finding it, taking care of it, nourishing it…it takes work and you need to hold yourself accountable. You may stumble, you may fall, and that’s perfectly fine. Get back up and keep going, because it is worthwhile. And you can do it, absolutely. You are worthy.

We all have beautiful souls. We can all be beautiful people. We are all worthy of being happy. Everyone on this planet is worthy of happiness, love, and life; becoming the person that believes in that will be a lifetime of practice, but it’ll be worth it. Take it one day at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be in a better place then you were before.

Let’s end this on a hopeful note. While it was a polarizing movie for many, it honestly had top notch music. Let the music wash over you, and try to understand the feelings it invokes. Inspiration. Hope. Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman taking flight for the first time from Man of Steel. He stumbled and fell, and he got right back up and tried again.

It’s your turn. Take flight. You are worthy.

D&D Encounters, Dead in Thay, part 13: The End

I feel like a comic book writer, a genre filled with a number of retcons. DC did this in the mid-80’s, and again recently around 2011 with their ‘New 52’ revamp. We all discovered tonight that the next D&D Encounters story, Tyranny of Dragons, was starting sooner than originally thought, so Dead in Thay had to end tonight. So a little bit of fast-fowarding, rectonning, and improvisation were required. It was also decided that instead of splitting into two tables, I’d run one, giant super-table. Thankfully, I few weeks ago, I drew out the map of the Phylactery Vault (thank you Gaming Paper!) ahead of time, so I was ready to go. I also had pre-gens I took the time to level up to level eight, and since a new player showed up, that ended up being a good move on my part. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, “Prior preparation, prevents piss poor performance.”

So, previously on Dead in Thay…

Our heroes stormed the Temples of Extraction, destroying Shrines and saving / killing the Chosen of various deities of the Forgotten Realms. With the shrines destroyed, they could no longer steal power from the Chosen, allowing the good guy NPC’s (aka the ‘B’ team) to disrupt the black gates in other parts of the Doomvault so that the black gates at this location would allow entrance to the party’s final destination: the Phylactery Vault.

Speaking of which, our big damn heroes of the week include:

So we start out in the gatehouse once more. Almost everyone elects to use the Seclusion Crypt (an extra-dimensional space that can be used to heal wounds, recover spells, etc.) to recover, knowing that the final battle is at hand. Hadarr, Jek, Shalendra, and Kelson all agree to stay behind as the ‘B’ team, coming in if things go sour. In real-life game terms, after awhile, I allowed players whose characters have been killed to play with one of these players. At least, that was the plan.

The party’s benefactor, Syranna gives a speech (which I improvised a bit for fun and flavor, basically insulting the party’s friends back in Daggerford) about their final task and how they must accomplish this to be teleported back home. As far as I can tell, no one suspected a thing, so score one for me and my thespian skills. In any event, the party teleports to the Phylactery Vault, which is strange to describe. They’re basically on the inside of a house-sized tetrahedron. Yes, the inside, not the outside. And no, it’s not bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. On the floor of the tetrahedron where the players stand are three sepulchers, also shaped like tetrahedrons, each with double doors with gargoyle carvings on the doors. At the center of the floor is a dark, murky pool of water that looks rather ominous.

Our heroes figure out that the only way to open the doors to any of the sepulchers is through brute strength or picking the lock. Keeping in mind that people were walking in and joining the game whenever they could (par for the course, really), at this moment, no one had any lockpicking skill, so brute strength it was. And it was successful, because the doors smashed open, and transformed into two four-armed gargoyles. Unsurprisingly, the party makes short work of the gargoyles and enter the sepulcher, where they find shelves of vials, scrolls, and other objects. These items are protected by magic, but our heroes quickly ascertain that using arcana or calling upon a deity (aka a religion check) may be able to disrupt the magic protecting the phylacteries. It works, and with the magic disrupted, the phylacteries in this first sepulcher explode into nothingness. When I say explode, I don’t mean a Michael Bay explosion. I mean tiny explosions; no one gets hurt here.

But something does happen. With the first sepulcher deactivated, a skull with glowing jewels for eyes and gem teeth emerges from the pool and telepathically screams bloody vengeance against the party. What follows is a giant battle of attrition. The demilich proves to be formidable, sucking the soul out of various party members over time. I did alter one of the demilich’s abilities to make it more fair, in my opinion. More on that later.

Realizing the predicament they’re in, the party actually does split their forces, some concentrating on the flying demilich, while others concentrate on opening the other sepulchers, defeating the gargoyles, and disrupting the magic contained therein. It takes a very long time (my brain shut down after awhile,) but the party is successful in disabling the sepulchers. With several party members downed (in some cases, permanently), I allowed the first four players whose characters died to take control of the ‘B’ team NPC’s (Hadarr, Jek, Kelson, and Shalendra) and teleport in to participate in the battle. In the end, they do take down the demilich. I believe Waxon’s ‘Sacred Flame’ ability was the killing stroke, and some of the people whose souls were sucked out were restored. Others were not so lucky. In the end, the party permanently lost Szenden Avere and Tassidar, whose bodies continually decayed in front of everyone before exploding into a pile of dust. In Tassidar’s case, since he’s seven-feet tall (or ten-feet depending on who you talk to) and three-hundred pounds (or half-a-ton depending on who you talk to), his body exploded into what looked like a small sand dune. Other people who had their soul sucked out, but managed to retain their bodies (all of this explained later) include: Crassus, Sam, Selwyn, and Moonbow.

So with the phylacteries and the demilich destroyed, our surviving heroes hightail it out of there, teleporting back to the gatehouse. True to her word, Syranna transports the party back home to Daggerford, where they are greeted warmly by their friends and for the moment, everyone could rest easy.

The end. Yay.

FYI, the demilich has a huge number of powerful abilities. The soul-sucking ability, as originally written, when successful, has the original physical body decay into dust after a turn. So if the party succeeded in defeating the demilich (which they did), the souls trapped in its jeweled teeth and eyes would be released when destroyed. However, if there is no physical body to return to, and if the body is not within 10 feet of the destroyed gem, the soul is “released into the afterlife.” I changed this, where if a character got his / her soul sucked out, that character would start making “death” saves, exactly like the dying rules. Three successes before three failures, and their body stabilizes and does not turn into dust. Three failures before three successes, and their body does decay and burst into dust. I felt this added some dramatic, narrative tension. The players knew their characters souls were sucked out, but why were they making death saves? I also axed the ’10 foot’ rule, feeling it was minutia that added nothing to the story.

As an aside, I feel sorry for the newest player that showed up last night (he played Anubis); a giant slog-fest is not necessarily the best introduction to tabletop role-playing games. I worked hard to make it fun for him, but I honestly don’t know if I succeeded.

Since it made absolutely no difference, I conceded to Szenden Avere’s player that yes, he can come back as an animated suit of armor, like Al from Fullmetal Alchemist.

I sometimes wonder if I’m far too nice a DM, but my personal opinion is that a good DM shouldn’t be actively out to kill the PC’s. A good DM presents a challenge and does his best to call things down the middle, making changes, and improvising as necessary in the name of crafting a good narrative. To me personally, that’s what a good tabletop role-playing experience is all about. Everyone at the table is playing to create story.

Up next, Tyranny of Dragons, but first a break. I’ll be attending Gen Con next week, so there will be no D&D Encounters. I might try to write a blog about Gen Con, key word being might. Also, I must admit that I may not be blogging Tyranny of Dragons, but more on that when the time comes.

And since we’ve come to the end of Dead in Thay, I feel this is an appropriate song to go out on, because I always feel this song is a good ‘ending’ type song, thanks to sfdebris.

D&D Encounters, Dead in Thay, part 12

Previously, on Dead in Thay: Our heroes complete explore the Hall of Obedience, where they naturally go through much battle and hardship. They do manage to convince a Red Wizard named Lahnis to join the Thayan Resurrection, and most importantly acquire a large number of magical weapons, including a very peculiar scarred plate mail armor…Also, they discover that the magic of the black gates must be disrupted to reach the Phylactery Vault, as well as the fact that the biggest bad Szass Tam is using the Temples of Extraction to experiment on the Chosen, people who represent various deities of the Forgotten Realms. Moderately important is that they also acquire knowledge of how to turn soul-bound undead back into living creatures, requiring use of the  Undying Laboratory in the Hall of Necromancy. I only mention moderately important because of the PC’s that have died, the player’s seem to want to keep the new characters they created, so it’s not as important as it would have been at an earlier time.

Our big, damned heroes for this week include:

Our heroes are at the Gatehouse; some elect to use the Seclusion Crypt to recover lost hit points, spells, etc. Suddenly, our damned NPC heroes: Hadar, Jek, Kelson, and Shalendra (I’ll post pictures of them at the end of this post.) emerge from the black gate, looking beaten and battered, but happy. They show the party the fourth key they’ve acquired to the Temples of Extraction.

(NOTE: Regarding obtaining the fourth glyph key, I was going to do some narrative, role-playing, and battle improvising quite a bit in an effort to speed things up, but I realized even if I halved the strength of the being who possessed the fourth key, the battle would have taken far too long, and I didn’t want progress to be stymied tonight by these encounters, so having talked it over with the event coordinator, I just had the main, good-guy NPC’s get it. Yes, the party didn’t earn it, but, but c’est la vie.)

Now that the party has all four glyph keys to the most secure area of the Doomvault, they proceed to…

…the Temples of Anguish zone of the Temples of Extraction. Here they immediately get into battle with the people who dwell here, the most fiercely loyal to Thay. They also encounter a strange magical mist that either stuns, or temporarily imbues with strange venomous powers. Most importantly, they encounter a “three-step stone dais” set with four pillars, a shrine of sorts, where a yuan-ti currently stands in the middle of, floating in the air and surrounded by golden light. After they win the battle, they make out the holy symbol worn by this yuan-ti, and those trained in religion realize he worships Zehir, a deity whose domains are darkness and poison. They proceed to kill the yuan-ti and then study the shrine, which is protected by magical forces that damage those who don’t complete a saving throw. I kept doing little bits of damage this way throughout the night. The party are able to figure out that the shrines are drawing power from the Chosen, channeling it through the black gate to another location, though where exactly they aren’t sure, though educated guesses (*cough *cough Phylactery Vault *cough) are welcome. They are also able to figure out how to disable the shrine, either through strength (smash pillars), dexterity (disable arcane runes), or intelligence (disrupt flow of magic). While it is comedic seeing them enter the shrine, and then being forced back and damaged through magical forces (and failed checks), they do succeed in smashing the pillars and disabling this first shrine. Oh, and when Sam suffered damage, the magical plate mail he discovered last week appeared to be suddenly less effective then it should have been. Strange…

On a side note, every room in this place has a shrine and a chosen contained therein. Got it? Good; let’s move on.

The next room contains an NPC most of the party haven’t met except for Selwyn: Mennek Ariz, the Red Wizard that betrayed our heroes back at the Bloodgate. Mennek remembers Selwyn and screams bloody murder and great vengeance. Even though Selwyn can discern that Mennek is not acting of his own volition, the party proceed to slay him and the other enemies in this area, because capturing and interrogating people is so 90’s! The funky affect in this room is this strange, radiant aura that either injures or heals depending on the saving throw. The Chosen that they actually save this time is a human male named Kieren, Chosen of Ilmater, whose domains are: endurance, suffering, martyrdom, and perseverance. The party is rather disappointed Kieren can’t help them, but they let him go to the gatehouse and destroy the shrine.

The third and final room of then night has another interesting affect, but it only kicks in when a living creature takes damage. Interestingly enough, I did very little damage with the creatures inhabiting this room, so the affect never really kicked in, but basically, if a PC failed their Constitution saving throw, they would have had disadvantage with attacks, and Strength and Dexterity saving throws / checks. Sadly, it never happened. The Chosen in this room is a female half-elf, who the part figures out worships Loviatar, goddess of hurt and agony. Our heroes naturally kill her while she’s helpless because…it’s heroic? Anyways, some destroyed pillars later, and the third shrine is disabled.

So with three shrines disabled, what will our heroes stumble into next week? It’s a fairly safe bet that it’ll be more of the same. Combat, disable shrine, combat, disable shrine, repeat ad nauseum. D’OH!

So as a bonus, here are some pictures of what some of the NPC’s I’ve been mentioning look like, courtesy of Wizards of the Coast (they’re found in the adventure Dead in Thay, which you could technically purchase at dndclassics / drivethrurpg.)

Hadarr Karakaya

Hadarr Karakaya

Jekk Ironfist

Jekk Ironfist

Kelson Darktreader

Kelson Darktreader

Shalendra Floshin

Shalendra Floshin

And as a bonus, here's the NPC the party heroically killed, the traitor Mennek Ariz

And as a bonus, here’s the NPC the party heroically killed this session, the traitorous Red Wizard of Thay, Mennek Ariz