Sunday, 9 January 2011

Cradle Plain -- Session 58 -- Sunday 7th November 2010

In which a wary reconnoitre becomes a ruinous assault, it turns out that everything is just done bigger in the Feywild, and Aerallo discovers new and exciting ways of getting eaten alive...

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

November 2nd, 370 Pale King's Reckoning

With Hottentoat's summons answered, and a few clues in hand as to what to do with the Planejammer courtesy of Fennig Darshue, the company turns its attention to helping Elumai's friend, presumably Seraiya.

On the harbour-shore of the Tondo-Gantsee Conflux, the turbulent lake to the north of the city, the party sets out to hire a boat. The captain of the Dorral's Favour is a grizzled, lifelong veteran of the lake, with deep-set eyes and a heavy tan. He takes the gems acquired by Jonas by way of payment, and in response to his assurances that they're magical, just smiles at him. "Whatever you say lad..." The captain is also unimpressed by the story he is fed about the purpose of the trip out onto the lake, but ultimately doesn't care or make an issue of it. "I ain't paid to listen to stories or to tell 'em. Find a seat and if we start taking on water, bail 'er out as fast as ye can!"

The wind is strong and fast and the schooner streaks out onto the waves, soon arriving at the innocuous-looking south-eastern part of the lake where Elumai's object reading has directed her. The group switches to the row boat and, while the captain looks on with interest, Elumai takes out the compass and enacts the somatic gestures she witnessed in her vision. The sun glints on the northernmost cardinal of the compass... and then everything changes.

With a thud and a splash, the boat lands on sodden marshy ground and rocks gently to a standstill. What was a cloudless blue sky over the city has become a roiling, murky gloom; inky rainclouds slide smoothly overhead and a warm, heavy drizzle is in the air. The marsh extends to the horizon in all directions, and slow-moving ripples radiate out through the shallow water in the wake of their arrival. The
atmosphere is thick with the smells of rich peat and rotting vegetation.

Peering through through the misty veil, the travellers see two things of note. First, the silhouette of a three-pinnacled tower, canted slightly off-center, can be made out rising from a thatch of mangroves far to the south; and second, Jonas spies a post or stump of wood sticking out of the earth a couple of hundred yards to the west.

He immediately sets off to investigate. The silty water of the swamp consumes all evidence of his slow progress until eventually he arrives to find a cut-off tree-trunk hammered into the ground, and covered in eladrin skulls. It's clearly a totem of some kind, but the glyph which has been etched into the bark doesn't mean anything to him. Hefting one of the skulls in his hand and looking suspiciously about, he beckons the rest of the party over. Elumai has already recognised this area of the Feywild as the Karrick-Kur from her vision, and although this totem is clearly a marker or warning of some kind, she's similarly unable to shed any light on the markings.

The company approaches the tower as carefully as it can, Jonas out in front. There are eight or nine stories, but every window appears to have been bricked up, and the top third of the tower splits into three pinnacles all at different angles from one another. The building stays standing despite looking old and on the verge of disintegration, and is surrounded by a stockade built of fifty-foot-tall tree trunks with sharpened tips. No gate is visible, but a vague smell of cooked meats wafts out of the compound over the company.

Jonas's eagle eyes spot the top of a mostly-bald head strolling along behind the sharpened points of the stockade -- giants! More specifically, he thinks, fomorians. The party confers to discuss strategy, but as soon as he realises what's waiting for them on the other side of the fence, Berend loses all restraint and charges the compound. The others endure a moment of stunned disbelief before moving quickly to back him up, Elumai hastily disguising herself and her heritage as much as she can.

Jonas leaps up the wall and onto Berend's back but is unable to dislodge him. "That's the way lad, up ye come!" Berend shouts approvingly as the rogue desperately tries to pry his hairy fingers from the wall, all to no avail as his grip is at least the equal of his resolve.

By now all pretense at stealth is abandoned and the party ascends the wall. This is a relatively simple task as the rope bindings keeping it together are at least as thick as their arms and offer easy hand-holds. Jonas eventually gives up on Berend and leaps up to the top of the stockade to get a better view, spying within a rough, open patch of cleared marshland. The base of the tower is smothered in a thatch of dark mangroves bathed in a pool covered in sticks and leaves, but its stone foundations are just about visible through the tangle of foliage. The sound of a shallow waterfall can be heard deep within.

Several animal-skin tents dot the courtyard near a large, crude gate, essentially six tree trunks tied together on a knotted hinge. A massive fomorian, over thirty-feet tall, patrols the inner wall, shoulders slumped, dragging what is basically a defoliated tree behind him as a club of some kind. The giant looks bored, miserable, and inattentive, all good reasons why he hasn't heard the noise made by the less stealthy members of the company. Small, dirty figures -- possibly gnomes -- scuttle about the place, and as Jonas looks on, one of them throws a mischievous rock at the fomorian's head. It bounces off with a hollow sound, much to the amusement of the gnomes, but the giant just throws a growl of annoyance in their direction and keeps plodding around the place.

It's about now that Berend reaches the top of the wall. Though he throws himself over with all the strength he can muster, he gets stuck in the gap between two trunks and looks to Jonas for help. "Chuck me over lad!" he whispers, but is ignored, much to his continued annoyance. The rogue instead skirts past him and scouts around the wall, finding the rest of the compound much the same. None of the gnomes notice the shadowy figure climbing overhead, and a small fight breaks out between two of them over who gets to eat a podgy, wriggling centipede they have just caught with a pointed stick.

Berend finally frees himself, clambers somewhat gracelessly over the other side, and tears off around the stockade looking for the giant. This interrupts the gnomes, who scream at the top of their voices and dive straight into the trees and out of sight. The fomorian turns, frowning, and pokes his head around the edge of the tower, shouting at them in elven. "I told you filthy little insects not to raise your voi---!" but he's cut off as he catches sight of the party, assembling itself at the base of the fence (except for Berend who has charged off around the back of the tower). There is the briefest moment of consideration on both sides, before he hefts his club up, and legs it towards the gate, smashing straight through a line of tents in his haste to get away. The ground trembles with his massive footfalls.

The company has other ideas, unsheathing its weapons and taking off in pursuit. As soon as the giant realises he's being followed, he veers off and heads towards the tower instead, planting one massive foot in the creaking branches of a nearby tree and jumping up to hug the walls of the building, which he then begins to climb. This exposes him to a hail of magic from the adventurers, bringing tears of pain to his eyes and forcing him to drop to the ground in order to defend himself. "Warden we've got--" he shouts, but his warning is curtailed by a raging, Berend-shaped missile, emerging from the other side of the tower and smashing into him with axe-bladed fury.

"Try not to damage his scrotum too much, I wanna make a back-pack out of it!"
-- Berend to Finial as the paladin winds up his spiked-chain for the next hit

In support Aerallo transforms into her diabolical form and unleashes dark, searing energies onto the fomorian. The giant is surprisingly lithe, dodges the blast, and shouts "Grioss loves blood!" in her direction. There's a huge heaving splash and a hollow hiss of breath from the pool behind her, and she finds herself in imminent, mortal danger, as a huge feywild crocodile, jaws agape, explodes from the tree-line in a shower of water, mud, and splinters. It clamps its teeth around her body as the vegetation around it comes to life, shivering and writhing in sympathy with the creature's movements.

The giant wails "You're not my friends!" into the air as he sweeps the tree-trunk into the company, scattering them left and right. Berend takes the club fully in the chest and stumbles back a few paces before getting his feet back under him with a growl, and Finial is also driven back, his plated boots creating deep furrows in the wet mud. "Crocodile is friend! Friend bite more!" the fomorian bellows, one eye flashing with primal fire as he empowers his reptilian pet, and then brings his club down again, first on Berend, and then with a backhanded swipe onto Finial as well.

Meanwhile Aerallo calls on all the powers at her disposal to prevent being eaten by the crocodile, but is powerless to stop the creature dragging her slowly backwards, deep into the mangrove and towards the pool. The warlock, mangled in the crocodile's jaws, is in deep trouble, and the party unleashes everything it has on the fomorian in order to finish it off before Aerallo is tenderised to the point where the crocodile can simply swallow her whole. Splitting her attention, Elumai tests the giant reptile's intelligence by dropping a Wall of Fire across the middle of the pool. It burns the fetid surface matter off the water in a hiss of steam which singes the creature's hide, but doesn't stop it disappearing beneath the surface taking the struggling tiefling with it.

At which point, things get really bad. Attracted from the depths of the tower by the commotion outside, two grey-skinned quicklings with rows of dagger-like teeth slide from the shadows either side of Jonas. With his attention focused on slitting the throat of the fomorian -- which he does, although the giant somehow stays on its feet despite being showered in its own blood -- their short-swords slash at his flesh before they once again vanish in an burst of warped light.

Elumai, distracted by Aerallo's peril, fumbles a psychic assault on the fomorian and fey steps into the center of the pool to help her comrade, dropping out of sight with a splash. Deep beneath the surface, a panicked Aerallo is hopelessly unable to free herself from the vice-like jaws of the beast and they squeeze down, breaking bone and tearing flesh. With a final convulsion, she disappears down its throat.

Up above, Berend smashes the fomorian in the head with his axe and the giant finally succumbs to its many wounds, crashing to the ground with a terminal groan and giving the breathless dwarf a chance to look around for his friends. Elumai, treading water on the pool, frantically waves him over. Meanwhile Jonas, who has been searching methodically for the creatures which attacked him, finds himself under assault as the two shadowy assailants warp into sight and swipe their short-swords at he and Finial.

Elumai, out of options, is forced to start taking risks. She unleashes a freezing cloud on the submerged crocodile which the beast withstands, but unfortunately, the tiefling within its gut does not. The acidic soup in which she's drowning turns suddenly frigid and robs her of what little consciousness remains. The reptile, which would much prefer to sink to the bottom of the pool and continue digesting its meal, is instead forced to attack the mage, surging up through the water and pulling Elumai under in a spray of foam. Finial charges with no hesitation in after her, sinking quickly under the weight of his armor and slamming his weapon against the creatures snout. The pool flashes with yellow light and the crocodile is sent reeling from the blow, giving Elumai the opportunity to wriggle free of its mouth.

Above, Jonas has finally got the measure of one of the quicklings, drawing on all his skills to play tricks with the creature's mind such that it can neither turn invisible nor hide from the rogue. Its eyes narrow at him, an expression of disdain which fails to mask its panic, and Jonas laughs in its wake as it retreats into the undergrowth. He knows it will only be a short repreive, but maybe it will be enough, and he runs to help the others. The creature's companion briefly weighs its options before skating over the thick undergrowth and forcing Berend to duck a wicked strike to the face, and a few seconds later, Berend finds himself in a ferocious melee with both attackers.

Struggling against the water, as well as the thick weeds which seem to cling and pull at her, Elumai kicks desperately for the surface. Unfortunately the crocodile has other ideas, snapping at her heels, throwing its head back, and swallowing her down. In the creature's gut, the life is gradually squeezed from both her and Aerallo, compressed and digested from without, drowning on the beast's stomach juices from within. Still she fights valiantly, stabbing with what little strength remains at the crocodile's vital innards.

The company is being progressively dismantled around him, but Finial stays cool. Channeling Bahamut's healing energy into Aerallo, he brings her back to consciousness within the creature's stomach and simultaneously weakens the beast's attacks. Jonas rushes past him and dives into the water, plunging his gladius into the crocodile's hide and causing the beast to retreat in obvious pain, and though it lashes out at him and briefly imprisons him in its jaws, the rogue is much too slippery an opponent to be held for long. Finial makes himself the next target, practically inviting the thing to grab him, and it's an invitation the crocodile can't resist, clamping down on the plate-armoured defender.

In response he activates Radiant Pulse. The shimmering lance of light smashes into the crocodile's open mouth, sending it reeling back towards the shallow edge of the pool and leaving it vulnerable to an attack from Jonas who is treading water nearby. Unfortunately, this stimulates a reflexive lunge from the creature's jaws, and Jonas, too, disappears down its gullet. Roaring in pain, its belly horribly distended from the massive meal, the crocodile is forced out of the water by Finial's continued attack, bloody water gushing from its gaping maw.

Berend is fighting for his life and the rest of the company is gone. It now falls to Finial to save them all from a truly horrifying death...

1 comment:

Wedge said...

This was intense. What I expected to be a careful, meticulously planned incursion into the Feywild prison of Karrick-Kur turned into a balls-to-the-wall, every action counts fight to avoid a TPK.

As we ended the session, I was pretty convinced the party was finished, perhaps except for Berend and Finial who had the option of surrendering to the fomorians. So convined of this was I in fact, that I started roughing in the first few encounters of the next stage of the campaign. Our avid readers will have to wait for the next journal to see whether that was necessary. :)

I think this session was an eye-opener for all of us in many ways. There is no doubt that as far as I was concerned, the gloves were off. I had been canvassing feedback from the guys on the campaign, as I do every now and then, and something brought up more than once was that there didn't seem to be enough jeopardy. Well, in this case, I played the various creatures of the Kur with utter conviction, without hesitation or compromise... Now unfortunately, when you couple that with the actions of a rampaging dwarf with his hate on, and a tiefling who waited just that little bit too long to try and escape, you get trouble.

There were a couple of rules gaffes in the fight, notably that I was treating escape as a Standard rather than Move action. This was a "doh!" moment but it came too late in the session, and after far too many escape rolls, to be retro-fitted in. The guys took it in good humour and I think they all realised that the crocodile was in such a position of strength in the pool that it wouldn't have made much of a difference. I'm also dubious about whether a huge creature can swallow more than one medium creature, but I ran with it, cos the thing looked bloody massive on the table (you could literally insert the PC miniatures into the thing's mouth)(which we did, often).

In the end we all realised that at Paragon level, you should expect to be hit by something pretty much every round, and you should expect to start chewing through your healing surges much faster than you're used to in the Heroic tier. I'll save my conclusions on this for the comments on the next journal, because I don't want to give away what happened.

In the end, a brilliant and memorable session which I'm sure will remain a highlight of the campaign. I tested them, and they tested me, to the utmost. Who prevailed? Find out next time. :)