Friday, 24 October 2008

4ed Campaign -- Session 10 -- 24th October 2008

In which another side of the dwarven coin is revealed, two new friends are made, and the adventurers find themselves last in line for some rich pickings.
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 2
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 2
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock (Fey-Pact) 2
Romto - Halfling Cleric (of Pelor) 2
Mord - Dwarven Fighter 2

The party retires to the inn in order to contemplate their next move. They find the patrons within somewhat amused by the presence of a studious-looking dwarf, resplendent in runed plate-mail and carrying a variety of dangerous-looking hammers... as he reads a thick tome, through a pair of wiry spectacles balanced precariously on his nose. This newcomer immediately attracts the interest of both Elumai and Berend, and he introduces himself as Mord TODO, a traveller from the dwarven kingdom of TODO whose love of all things book-shaped has brought him to Wynterhaven in search of new and illuminating scripts.

An amiable evening ensues, although Elumai, commenting on Valthrun as a potential stockist of exotic literature, suddenly finds herself on the receiving end of some kind of message from the absent mage. The first message is cryptic, but the second, received just as the adventurers turn in for the night, takes the form of a promise of important information, and a plea for help to " the back door...", which is apparently in the graveyard. Her interest piqued, she gathers her friends, and Mord, disturbed from his nightly studies by the commotion outside, tags along as well.

The graveyard is not as lifeless as they expected. Towards the rear of the cemetery, a strange, diffuse blue light reveals the silhouette of a wiry humanoid doing... something amongst the gravestones. Unfortunately Elumai makes somewhat of a commotion opening the gate, and the figure is alerted to their presence and slips out of sight. Nevertheless, the adventurers decide to investigate more fully, only to find themselves assailed by the rotting undead, risen from their graves, and two zombie-like hounds who had been hiding in the shadows of a nearby mausoleum. The mysterious figure, revealed to be an elf, attacks with deadly accuracy from the shadows using his longbow.

But by this time, the party is adept at handling the baying hordes of the undead realm. The elf is quickly dispatched by Berend and Mord (much to the villain's disgust -- killed by a dwarf!), the zombies and gravehounds are no match for the combined might of Elumai and Corrash's magic, and Romto flits with undisguised glee between the grasping hands of his enemies. At the close, they find the elf -- who turns out to be a woman -- is a familiar Wynterhaven face to them, but not someone they have had anything to do with before now.

In any case, the elf had been busy, digging away at the topsoil of the graveyard to reveal that several of the grave markers had not in fact been signifying the location of the dead, but of an extremely powerful gating portal buried in the earth, the runes of which are the source of the pale blue glow all around them. The party retreats nervously from the enchantment and Elumai utters the words she had been asked to say: "Valthrun the Magnificent!"

After a second or two, the indistinct image of Valthrun's tower appears before them. Through the transparent walls, already fading away, a library of vast and untapped writings brings a tear to Mord's dwarvish eyes, but Romto catches sight of something else: a small dirty-looking boy, dressed in simple clothes, who emerges from his hiding spot underneath one of the tables in the library and runs off out of sight. Quickly, the tower fades to nothing, leaving in its place, Valthrun.

Dirtier and less extravagantly dressed than before, he greets the party with a warm smile, impressed that his escape mechanism even worked at all, although regretful of the fact that he will now have to go looking for his tower, a task which might take him days or weeks. He looks bemused at any mention of the little boy, but confesses he never quite felt alone in the tower in all the years he lived there. Soon though, questions turn to the information he supposedly has, and he informs them of what he knows.

It is not a pretty tale. Valthrun admits that the reason that Riva and his "damned dustboots" came looking for him is that he has been selling sensitive arcane information to all and sundry, something which is, apparently, against the "laws" of the Court of Cloaks... laws, he points out, that he had nothing to do with instituting in the first place. In any case, he admits, it may be entirely possible that he sold Kalarel the secret of bypassing the seals which stopped the adventurers in their tracks on the second level of the Keep. Pressed for the information, Valthrun amusedly informs the party that all they have to do is pledge fealty to Orcus -- with their own blood as a sacrifice -- to be able to pass to-and-fro through the seal as they see fit.

Obviously, the adventurers are none-too impressed with this solution. Valthrun recounts what he knows of Sir Keegan -- a history they have already been told by the man himself -- and reveals that all of his research in the past has pointed to Eilian as a potential direct descendant of the knight, although he didn't unerstand the significance of it at the time. Freeing Keegan from the limbo into which he has been placed may certainly be another way to weaken the seal, since the knight's spirit has been bound there for many years and allowing him to move on to the other side would likely drain much of the power from the desecrated ruin. He sees fit to warn them, however, that Keegan seemed to be involved in several (unproven) scandals in his years as a knight before he was assigned to guard the Keep, and that his reputation was by most acounts not as untarnished as he might have led them to believe.

With that, Valthrun departs (to Mord's disappointment, and to Corrash's relief), leaving only a promise that they are welcome to stay... whenever he's chased down his tower. Amidst the rotting flesh, bone, and general descration of the graveyard, the party decides that a hasty exit may be more politic than attempting to repair the damage tonight and potentially being discovered in a cemetery full of exhumed corpses with spades in their hands. Better, they feel, to blame Valthrun for the whole thing, although Corrash is resistant to the idea of lying, even if he at least understands the concept a little better since he met the rest of them.

It turns out, however, that the dragonborn needn't have worried. The following day, the party is woken by a commotion from downstairs. Padraig is there, inciting the townsfolk into something akin to a mob. Appalled at the damage wrought in the graveyard, and with Valthrun's tower popping out of existence sometime in the night, the mayor has reached the logical conclusion that Valthrun is to blame for heinous acts of necromancy and must be hunted down! He offers no less than 500 gold to anyone who returns the mage to him, dead or alive.

The assembled throng filters out into the street, and the adventurers discover that not every brick of the tower actually made a successful exit: Valthrun's basement, neatly sheared off when the tower disappeared, remains whole and is now in the process of being looted by the townsfolk. Desperate to get their hands on whatever magical artefacts and scripture that might have been left behind, the group tries everything in their power to persuade, frighten, or intimidate them into giving them control of the situation. Their efforts, though, are in vain against the frenzied, avaricious mob. Only the sickly, acrid gas that begins to settle over the area as various bottles and jars are smashed open forces the mob to disperse, and by then, nothing of value remains unbroken or unlooted... except, perhaps, the three leather-bound tomes that Mord carefully recovered from the ground as they were tossed to one side...


Wedge said...

Another session, another new player! Nick (Mord's user) seemed to fit in really quickly and impressed everyone with his biblio-phile dwarven warrior... hopefully that 'God-like Librarian' Paragon Path that Wizards have mentioned will come out in time for Mord to take it. :)

Something else new this week: a failed skill challenge! A really terrible series of rolls meant that the treasures left behind in Valthrun's basement were looted by the townsfolk, as opposed to the adventurers (although mord sniffed out a couple of morsels as they were tossed aside)... but hey, such is life on the d20 horse. I doubt we'll see many failed challenges like this, so these moments should be savoured for the rarities they are.

Speaking of Skill Challenges, I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that I don't really like the implementation of the idea so far, even taking into account some of the quiet evolutions of the concept that have taken place in the pages of Dungeon. The concept itself is rock solid, but the disparity between trained and untrained skill-checks is too great and the temptation for players to -- naturally -- always choose their best skills is too strong. There are some alternatives on-line, but none that I feel don't trade one problem for another (usually over-complexity). We'll just have to see how it goes in the coming weeks.

Next time we might be trading D&D for a special one-shot Call of Cthulhu Hallowe'en special, so don't be surprised if there is no update for a little while (at least on the 4E campaign front).

Tommi said...

Players want to use their highest skills, so let them explain how. This gives you free narration from players and the occasional bit of cleverness. Basically, free content in the game.

Someties, saying "no" may be a better option, though.

Wedge said...

Hi tommi, thanks for posting. You're absolutely right, the narrative hand-off that Skill Challenges represent is a handy part of the game, but, I also want them to be, y'know, a challenge (clue is in the name and all that!).

Tommi said...

That's more difficult. Skill challenges are not inherently interesting as challenges.

1. Skill challenge and combat at the same time such that participating in the challenge takes a particular action, so that it restricts combat options. Or two skill challenges at the same time such that only one can be engaged at a time.

The point with both is that they add easy compelling choices about which conflict matters more to the characters.

2. When players suggest some far-fetched way of using a skill, give them a conditional yes: You can do that after someone makes a successful check indicating the characters know enough to implement the idea. Like rolling nature to learn that the swarming bugs always blindly follow their leader, after which many skills can be used to guide the leading bug.

The idea is to offer a trade-off between immediate successes and opening new strategies that enable some party member to utilise a more advantageous skill.

Wedge said...

I think you're right, there's nothing inherently interesting about them. They need to be treated as a framework for roleplaying a solution. After reading a few conversations about this on-line, I think the solution is simply not to declare when a Skill Challenge is taking place. It'll mean that the mechanic blends more seamlessly with the game, and also that a neon sign doesn't come on saying SKILL CHALLENGE and scaring the players into using nothing but their absolute best skills.

Alec said...

I think just roleplaying through skill challanges is often more rewarding than finding ways to crowbar in seven differant rolls we might actually pass. Certainly mystery based adventures would be better with you talking too and finding out information from various sources with skill rolls as appropriate. Having to achieve x number of successes to pass the challenge is a bit silly especially when you have enough information to solve the problem without the superflous rolling.

Wedge said...

I think SC's were insinuated into the game mainly as a role-playing aid, and secondarily as a framework to allow more judicious XP rewards for roleplaying encounters. Ironically, a group that knows how to roleplay is perfectly capable of achieving its goals without resorting to skill checks, as we've seen in our own game, but the framework still provides you with a clear line between success and failure where one is needed. I feel that they're going to come into their own when you have to deal with larger, grander challenges, such as the classic urban escape.

We shall see. :)