Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cradle Plain -- Session 66 -- Sunday 13th March 2011

In which the company pits itself against the twisted experiments of the Patriarch and his minions.

Roster (Party Level 12th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)

Seraiya (Companion) - Eladrin Cleric
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)

Delgado - Human Slayer

(Please note that ongoing technical difficulties claimed the first part of this recording.)  

November 10th, 370 Pale King's Reckoning (continued)

Let us agree that the aforementioned melee was a brutal and unhygienic affair, and that many fluids were spilled upon the battlefield. However, our protagonists prevailed.

They take a few minutes to examine Delgado's finds. Unwrapping the parcel they find a black and shriveled heart which continues to bleed even having long ago been cut out of its owner (the stained wrapping is in itself magical, soaking the blood forever into itself and sweating a clear liquid which quickly evaporates in the air). The skeleton itself seems to have been picked utterly clean by the acidic cockroach swarm, although the backpack has been left alone by the other creatures inhabiting the fort for reasons which we won't speculate on here.

Elumai performs an Object Reading on the bizarre organ. Who did the heart belong to? This results in a terrible vision, the image of a naked man whose grey, leathery skin and sunken eyes already paint him as an apparition of death, lying on a stone slab surrounded by a shadowy audience. A silver stiletto plunges into his chest and parts his ribs, then a long, multi-jointed hand plunges into a torso full of black and rotting organs and pulls out the heart. The man heaves a final breath, and sags lifeless on the stone.

Elumai, after recovering, considers the imagery carefully. The multi-jointed fingers are significant to her only insofar as those who are able to polymorph but unpracticed or imperfectly taught in the art often give themselves away in the area of their hands, but she's unsure whether that is the case here. The victim of the sacrifice himself had the appearance of a corpse... except for the breathing and the screaming of course.

Has it been used in any arcane practices since its removal? This results in the vision of an alchemical laboratory with a half-formed construct on a surgical table, with the heart and two others like it being carefully implanted in the monster's chest.

How did the heart become wrapped in this paper? The resulting image is from the point of view of something high above the ground, holding the oozing heart in two spindly, insectile fore-legs. "Yessss, oh yesss, this will do excssssellently! Too good! Too good even for the massster!" The owner of the voice places the heart carefully down and carefully wraps it in the magical paper.

The company ponders the mystery for a few minutes, reaching no conclusions except that they might be getting into much more than they bargained for, and decides to burn the organ there and then. It spits and fizzles in the flames and quickly burns to ashes, which they then bury.

The pit in the center of the ruin is actually a collapsed cellar, from which an entrance leads to a tunnel descending into the depths of the hillside. The dark emits the most disgusting smell of rot and putrescence, but this doesn't stop the company wiping the gore from their armour and pushing on. They track forward through the cloying atmosphere down a rough-hewn corridor dug directly from the earth, avoiding and disabling a couple of rudimentary alarms in the process. It's not the eladrin complex suggested by the fort, that much is for certain.

They peel off down a thin corridor leading west which emerges into a wide cave. In the center of this cave is a pit in which a soupy red liquid carries fleshy detritus around in a tidal orbit. A young man dressed in cloth rags and a leather helmet from which a sputtering candle provides his only illumination stirs the pit with a long wooden pool, a look of extreme disgust on his face.

Delgado eschews all stealth and strolls into the cavern, sword at the ready. The young man whirls around drops the pole clattering to the ground. He backs away, eyes wide, to the rear wall. "Who are you? Did you escape from the Tailor?" his hisses, casting terrified looks over their shoulders back up the corridor. "This isn't the right way! Go back and get up through the pit!" Under questioning he reveals his name - Ross - and that he's a prisoner of this "Tailor", who or whatever that may be.

"Not any more you're not sunshine, you're free," assures Berend, beckoning him over.

"No way, there's no way to escape him. He'll cut me up... use me in his work! I've survived this long by playing by the rules, I'm not going anywhere!" Then he looks at the pool and sags, a look of utmost despair on his face. "Oh no, it's too late..."

At that moment the entire pool appears to rear up from the pit, a carpet-like layer of blood, flesh, and filth which looms over the ledge and slams down over a stunned Delgado and Finial. As the rotting precipitate sloughs away, the terrifying form of a gibbering mouther is revealed, and suddenly everyone is beset by a buzzing, disorienting discord which sends their senses reeling. Ross screams and clamps his hands to his ears.

Elumai is first to react, unleashing a lightning bolt which engulfs the creature and sends fragments of it like sizzling fat spitting into the air. It retreats from her, and directly onto Delgado's blade, which all-but cuts the beast in two. Already mortally wounded, it limps back towards the pool as it tries to escape.

At this display, Ross's demeanour changes. The fear drops from his face, his body bulges free of its coverings, and within seconds he has become a grotesque display of undeath, flesh and limbs from multiple creatures sewn together with hag-like features on its face. "You will all be fine morsels for the Tailor!" she cackles, striding through the blood-pool and dipping her fangs towards Finial. He smashes her aside with his flail, but as blood and unguent drips from her body, she does little more than laugh and throw herself at him again.

The mouther channels the raw power of the Far Realm to everyone in the room, and only Elumai escapes the dizzying blast. The invasive noise buzzing in everyone's head rises a notch, tearing at the very plates of their skulls, and from Berend and Finial's skin, tiny, fanged mouths erupt and start chewing on their own flesh. As if in response to this call, three ghouls crawl from the pool, a random assemblage of bone and body parts as if the waste within has coalesced into a distorted semblance of life. They leap upon Finial, and cold, paralytic poison courses through his veins, and he feels his muscles tighten and cramp.

Berend stumbles over ground which is warping and erupting in response to the mouther's cacophany, and slams his axe into the beast. It cleaves straight through its spongy flesh and into the ground beneath; the noise in his head changes from a dizzying buzz to an almost imperceptibly high screech of pain, and the creature is killed, oozing around his blade and over the edge of the pool.

Finial, barely able to move, erupts with ice-rimed radiance and, channeling the powers of his flail, obliterates the ghouls where they stand, their fragmented skeletons standing out in relief against the golden light as it strips the flesh from their bones; the hag screams in pain and shields her lidless eyes as the freezing light sears great clumps of necrotised flesh from her body, and the mouther is all-but disintegrated as the shockwave passes over it. Rarely do the fates align so powerfully, and everyone in the cave, friend and foe alike, stands blinking in the wake of the paladin's attack.

The hag, whimpering in the aftermath, attempts to draw healing energies from the spirits of her enemies... but she is beset by attacks from both Berend and Delgado and doesn't even notice Finial's flail as it follows-up and cleaves her head from her shoulders.

Barely seconds after it has begun, the fight is over. Only the gentle sloshing of the pool of blood can be heard. The company takes up a defensive posture and rifles through the remains of the death hag (now spread across the whole cave), finding only a rusting bronze key. After a brief discussion, they decide on an extended rest and retreat from the catacomb back up into the ruined fort, making camp just as clouds begin to wash out the setting sun and a frigid chill settles over the hilltop. They arrange themselves on a raised ledge, set watch, and settle in for the night.

It's not long before they're attacked.

The slumbering party is awoken by the noise of several large somethings pushing their way up the tunnel from below. They quickly gather themselves and prepare for the assault, hiding themselves wherever they can. Berend drops to the lower level and flattens himself against a broken wall, gripping his axe tightly just as a huge, spider-like monstrosity with the bloated torso of a human zombie heaves itself up from below, collapsing the pit and the earth all around it down into the catacomb with a roar of noise. "Who invaded the massster's lair?!" its rasping voice shouts into the air as it gets its eight huge multi-jointed legs under it... the very same voice from Elumai's vision. "More piecessss for the Patriarch! The grand plan now comesss together!

Elumai, noticing that the creature's hands end in long, barbed needles and that it's laying a filament of silk on the ground as it moves, wastes no time unleashing a Phantasmal Assailant and although the creature's mind is strong, it blinks as if blinded by the moonlight and gibbers something about its stitches coming undone. Finial attempts to take advantage of the distraction but his flail simply rebounds from one of its chitinous legs, and even Delgado's normally trustworthy skill falls short of penetrating its defenses.

As the creature turns to face its attackers, the silky filaments emitted from its body begin to swirl and twist around it, creating a cloud of sticky webbing which immediately entangles Delgado's blade. It dips its needle-like fingers towards Berend and as he tries to dodge aside he feels a flash of pain and finds that his limbs have literally been sewn together, leaving him struggling for freedom as the Tailor bears down, a hungry grin on its twisted face. Behind it, a swarm of slimy shapes that are little more than limbs hastily sewn together crawls, pulls, and drags itself out of what's left of the pit, and begins clambering around the ruin, searching for victims. Finial is literally manhandled off the ledge, landing heavily on the collapsed floor and sliding into the pit with the Tailor standing over him.

Things are bad... and then get worse as two enormous flesh golems suddenly erupt out of the hillside near the fort. One of them charges forward, grabbing Berend as it goes and slamming him through the nearest wall, which crumbles and collapses in its wake, while its cohort pushes another wall over and stumbles dumbly into the outhouse where the skeletal body was to be found earlier. A wave of fire sweeps from Elumai's hand, over the golems and the attacking limbs, blistering and blackening the preserved flesh of the swarm and causing several of them to detonate in a shower of caustic gore and shrapnel-like bone. With a smile she utters another command word and the flames coalesce into a roaring, shimmering wall of fire which almost completely consumes her enemies. Delgado shields his face from the flames and plants a devastating blow on the Tailor, causing it to screech in pain as the wound is immediately cauterised by Elumai's fire.

Its flailing needles strike out at Berend, brought into range by the golem's charge, and the dwarf becomes entangled in a silk-like cocoon. He strikes out with his axe, but his blade becomes caught in the tangled webbing and does little except throw him off-balance for the golem's punch... which almost smashes him senseless...

1 comment:

Wedge said...

This was Delgado's player's last session with us before she flew back to her native Canada, but by god did her Slayer make an impression! This was our first Essentials PC and it was deployed straight from the character builder with the vast majority of default options intact, and its attack bonuses of something I think in the +19 area eclipsed the existing PC's attacks by a massive margin. This was a hard encounter for the party's level and Delgado was only missing some of his enemies on a 3.

This had been a major worry to me at the time as it suggested a couple of things I didn't like the sound of: first, that the assumptions of the game had changed more than I thought in the couple of years it had been out, and second, that I now had a PC in the party who was going to utterly outclass everyone else. I was already chewing on ways to give everyone free feats and retraining so that we could bring more up-to-date numbers into the game, but as it transpired Delgado was almost immediately removed from play so it didn't turn out to be a problem.

Since then I haven't made many moves to redress the balance other than to inject more money and magic into the team because I'm writing my own material and/or choosing scenarios from Dungeon and other sources that are appropriate for the PC's as they stand. In the end I think the Slayer's numbers were accrued from a variety of small things: expertise feats, a magical weapon better than most other PCs', a Str score built from point buy rather than rolled (which is what we did right at the start of 4E and which I kind of regret), and so-on. But, the fact that he was missing only 10-15% of the time against a level-appropriate foe still said to me that the presumed base-line of difficulty for D&D 4E has ramped up quite significantly in the days since April 2009 when "Worse Than Death" was released. This is an issue which hasn't gone away and may come to bite me again next time a PC is generated for this party.

In any case, what about the rest of the session? Well, while the adventure laid a little ground for negotiation and infiltration, the party soon made sure that wasn't going to happen by camping right on top of the catacomb and making themselves a prime target for a night-time raid... an opportunity of which the Tailor took full advantage. I had to draw that bloody ruined fort no less than three times in the course of playing this scenario, and there may well have been a little vicarious pleasure in watching the flesh golems smash it to pieces as they tried to get to the PC's. :)