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.

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