Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Heading back to Krynn, part 2: DL13 Session 1

Lorendle - Wild Elf Fighter 7/Cleric9 
Ringmar - Kender Thief 11
Crystal - Human Mage9
Tyranus - Minotaur Fighter 11
NPCs - Berem (Human)

Note: session notes can be found in the comments, so as to keep them away from anyone who doesn't want to peek behind the curtain.

I won't lie to you, it was pretty exciting to stoke the fire under this campaign.

The game starts in the ruins of Karthay, just after the party had prevailed against none other than Kitiara the Blue Highlord, whose last ditch leap from the cliff edge onto her dragon hadn't ended so well. Skie, however, had escaped. Healing the bronze dragon Clarion, insane and poisoned due to Kitiara's actions, was the first order of business, as well as the introduction of a new minotaur PC.

Once healed, Clarion informs the PC's that he had been compelled to help Berem via dreams of his king, Paladine the lord of all dragons, and that the party should in turn seek out the Glitterpalace, there to prove themselves worthy of Paladine's greatest gifts. The dragon is also able to transport them directly to Port Kalaman, center of the Whitestone forces in Ansalon, by expending the latent magic of his lair. "I go to join the war, and don't expect to return," he says.

Appearing in Kalaman's fish-market, the PC's are confronted by exhausted members of the city guard. While suspicious, the simple reality of the PC's obvious power results in a stand-off until a messenger from Lord Gunthar, Solamnic governer of the city, orders the guardsmen to bring the party to the governer's mansion in the center of the city.

The walk is short but eventful: Kalaman seethes with refugees and bulges with members of the Whitestone armies encamped around the city; metallic dragons fly overhead and doom-sayers predict catastrophe for the city now that the Solamnics have been granted re-entry.

Even Gunthar's Solamnic reserve is tested when he sees the PC's again. He brings them up to speed on the war effort -- the Dragonarmies are contained for now in the plains of the Taman Basuk to the south, but their flying citadels are starting to turn the tide in their favour -- and offers them a mission: infiltrate Neraka, bring the Highlords down from within. it's a suicidal, last-ditch effort, but he sees no option at this point.

In the meantime he asks the party to show their faces around the city, to demonstrate to the people that Ansalon's greatest heroes still prevail. The PC's assemble Kalaman's greatest bards and recount their adventures, with Kitiara's armour on display for effect.

In the process, they squirrel-out and eliminate a squad of Sivak infiltrators who had turned up to the show to see what they could glean from the heroes' tales. From them they recover several scrolls with an improved version of the Sending spell, obviously having been used by the Sivaks to deliver intelligence back to their masters (Session Note 1).

The following day Gunthar assembles two of his best Robes and, bidding the party a sombre farewell, he enacts the teleport which delivers them into the heart of the Taman Basuk. Unfortunately, it seems as if the Dragonarmy got there first, with a large contingent of ogres and draconians camped out and waiting for them. Fortunately, these creatures had travelled far from their supply lines, were in bad shape, and relatively easily dispatched by the PC's (Session Note 2).

Searching the camp, the party discovers the gutted remains of two Whitestone rangers, men that Gunthar had asked after, and the bones of their horses, picked clean by something with very large teeth. They also discover a detailed map of the surrounding area, inscribed with a message implying it was delivered from within the Knight's mansion.

Checking the map, and wary of Gunthar's warnings, they begin a careful trek eastwards through the rocky, sterile landscape. On the way they engage with a strange wisp-like entity that takes the form of their old friend, Arron Tallbow, and also discover a volcanic cavern which seems to be one small part of a larger underground network.

On the morning of their second day, they emerge from the winding crags and valleys of the western Taman Basuk to find themselves looking down on a distant road. A large caravan, consisting of five huge covered wagons and dozens of tiny figures on foot, tracks slow progress along the road but it's much too far away to make out much more than that.

Intending to insinuate themselves into the caravan at the point the road will pass nearest to the rocky hillside, they track it carefully east, but are distracted by a cairn with notched rocks that seems to point to a rock-face north-west of their position. This is too enticing to ignore, and as they investigate, they activate a strange golden door, and step through into...

A magnificent hall, its marbled floor reflecting arches high above. Crossing to another set of doors, their minds are filled with a magnificent chorus, singing songs of gems of valor, wisdom, and truth, the first clue as to what their purpose will be here (Session Note 3).

Beyond the next set of doors lies a magnificent throne room, its vast seat embedded with four gem-sized slots. A deck of Talis cards sits upon it. Ringmar draws the top card (the six of Winds), which immediately begins to orbit the throne and grow into a door which settles into the nearby wall. There is no resisting such an invitation, and the party steps through.

They find themselves in another throne room, and not just any throne room, but that of Dargaard Keep. Sitting calmly on the throne is a young prince, his features eerily familiar. The party recognises him as a young Sturm Brightblade. Outside, the anachronistic scene is complicated further by a horde of draconians, storming the castle. The sound of battering rams assaulting the keep resounds in the courtyard below.

There are no obvious escape routes from the throne room. The young prince calmly tells the party that he has been told to stay here by his mother, and that his father will see the invaders off. This does nothing to allay the party's fears as the gates below splinter inward, and the sound of armoured bodies rushing through the keep echoes up to them. Searching quickly they discover a secret escape route behind the throne and cajole the prince into following them.

Beyond, they find a strange escape vehicle which leads them into the catacombs below the castle. The eerie caverns echo with the rich history of the Brightblades, and the heroes are eventually caught between a horde of revenants, the knights who once defended the keep, and a clutch of deadly caryatid columns which bar the way forward.

"Are you the one?" rasps the leader of the undead. "No," answers the party, to a man. This simple answer seems to satisfy the undead, and the party is led past the lethal colonnade into an underground hall, there to face judgement from spectres of the Lord and Lady of the keep, Virtus and Amalthia Brightblade.

Challenged to provide an answer to their endless question and a focus for the latent fury of the horde, the party convinces the court that Takhisis and her dragonarmies are the true enemies they have been seeking...upon which, they're given the Opal Gem of Valor and transported back to the Glitterpalace to face their next trial (Session Note 4).

The gem fits neatly into one of the sockets on the throne. Pulling a second card (the 10 of Winds), it's the same suit as the first and nothing seems to happen. A third card (the 9 of Waves) opens a new portal however, and after stepping through, the PC's find themselves locked in an unfamiliar dungeon.

Warm water rushes through the half-flooded basement, and the bars of their prisons collapse into rusty flakes at the merest breath. They encounter a gnome in one of the other cells, busily drafting designs for a greatly improved facility, but he refuses to explain himself or be distracted by their questions, and offers only one piece of advice: "If you are on a test then remember it is a wise one who can determine the truth when the very appearance of things lies."

Little the wiser for that proclamation, the party fights its way through six huge clay golems and discovers the blue Gem of Wisdom in a niche behind one of the creatures. Pushing on, they climb their way through what turns out to be some kind of fort, yet with strange effects in place allowing the raging waters -- wherever they're coming from -- to cascade both down as well as up the stairwells.

Eventually they come to a door sealed with wax; evidently, something on the other side needs to be kept dry. Stone-shaping a dam to keep the waters at bay, they carefully open the door and find a library, its shelves groaning under the weight of a thousand identical books which, on investigation, turn out to be the record of a single gnomish name (Session Note 5).

A small reading room attached to the library catches Ringmar's eye. Inside, the party finds a painting of a beautiful elven figure, her face in her hands, with a small plaque at its base which reads "Do not touch". This trenchant advice is, of course, duly ignored by the inquisitive kender, and he pokes the plaque with one curious finger (Session Note 6).

In response, the elven figure uncovers her hideous witch-like face, steps out of the painting, and screams a cry of such mortal terror into the room that Crystal and Tyrannus immediately drop dead of fright, leaving their surviving friends to dispatch the banshee in a desperate last stand... (Session Note 7).


Neil Burton said...

Session Note 1: So these draconians were our first foray back into the AD&D combat rules. We were using group initiative modified by weapon and spell speed, which turned out to be a fiddly exercise at best (especially since none of the monster stat blocks helped me out). Most interesting though was the fact that everyone had to declare their actions before their turn.

As the game went on, I allowed these declarations to become more and more vague to help us all out as circumstances changed during the fight. So "I attack the wounded Sivak with Magic Missile" would eventually become "I cast Magic Missile" with the target specified as the spell went off.

Honestly, it had been so long, we were unsure of the true spirit of the rules, but we ended up with something that felt quite good.

It was very, very interesting to identify areas of the game that 3E had obviously streamlined, but on reflection I think that the game did lose something in its initiative rules. (Out of interest I had already started to feel that way after a period running Star Wars d6 last year, which also uses an AD&D-like declaration system.) Still, with true group strategy being one of my favourite innovations in 4E, and pre-declaration only making that harder, it's a difficult call on whether the changes result overall in a better game.

Session Note 2: This was an additional encounter I added to imply the presence of spies in Gunthar's mansion, and on a meta-level to test the power of the PC's against a large group of foes, which was something I simply had no ability to judge as we re-started the campaign. Suffice to say, they walked it...perhaps with the exception of the mage, whose low number of Hit Points were, as always, her achilles heel.

Session Note 3: This encounter was a dubious effort on the part of the author to fashion a riddle where you had to assemble the words of the song by walking at the correct speed across the room. When I asked how fast they were moving, the PC's to a one said "walking pace", so I did exactly what I expected to, and short-circuited the whole puzzle by giving them the song verbatim.

Neil Burton said...

Session Note 4: Ugh, The Test of Valor...in hindsight I wish I had rewritten it from top to bottom, probably as a series of vignettes reflecting Soth's fall from grace. The fiction centres around the brave and loyal solamnics who were killed needlessly in the Cataclysm, but the presence of Sturm and the dragonarmies leaves the whole thing in a hopeless muddle. Plus there's no actual valor required in the Test of Valor. Lots of running and talking...but that would have made a terrible name for the encounter.

I think part of the problem - and I should have seen this during prep - is that I've required the party to stand and justify their actions more than once before now, to dwarves, Solamnic Knigts, and the Whitestone Council among others, and it's just starting to feel old.

Session Note 5: I added the wax door conundrum, and loved the party's solution. As written, there's really only one trial of wisdom required of the PC's during this section, but it wasn't difficult to think of a few other little puzzles to test their mettle.

Session Note 6: As I prepped this, I was in no doubt, absolutely no doubt whatsoever, that Ringmar would get the party into serious trouble in this room. "Test of Wisdom" indeed!

Session Note 7: So, yeah. In AD&D, "Save or Die" isn't a metaphor for being stunned or dominated, it means exactly what it says on the tin. The party lost the initiative, and then half of them failed their saving throw. Boom, R.I.P., thanks for the memories. I didn't fudge or hold back on this...for me, the game is as much about experiencing AD&D in all its lethal glory as it is about finishing our Dragonlance campaign, and the banshee, while a decidedly fragile monster in all other respects, is absolutely insane when it wins initiative. What would I have done with a TPK here? Well, let's just say that would have made things very interesting indeed...