Posts Tagged With: Dungeons & Dragons

5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, Session 18

This post is a wall-of-text because in my excitement over how much work I put in the tournament I failed to take ANY pictures of the table. I had a field with tents, horses, a tavern and everything set out. Nuts.

The Tournament of Flowers kicked off with a speech by Queen Garria:

“Once again, we come together thanks to the generous contributions of the Order of the Sacred Flower.” She pauses for a moment as the crowd cheers for a group of assembled knights with lotus flowers on their tabards.

“May we all compete over the next several days with fairness and grace, that we might earn glory for our peers and ourselves. As in previous years, each individual’s triumphs will contribute to their team’s quest for victory. May the great Wyrm, Morokei Krongrah watch over us as we celebrate victory in his name!”

With that, the tournament began and the crew of the Sea of Stars were approached by Maxim, the tournament scorekeeper and registrar. He introduced the other teams competing: the Order of Truth, Storm Company, the Knights of the Sacred Flower—the tournament sponsors, Companions of the Crucible, and the Free Citizens of Bryttan. The first event was the Grand Melee, a tournament of chivalric, single combat (no magic). Veya and Sumner signed up for that. Zinianna signed up for the Archery Contest. Straxius signed up for Arcane Archery. Straxius signed up for the Joust, and they would all participate as a team in the Urn of Wits challenge and the final Hedge Maze Challenge.

After easily defeating Grinder the Uncouth of the Free Citizens of Bryttan and Jaana the Hammer of the Order of Truth, Veya faced her 3rd Tier opponent, Dupre the Pure, also from the Order of Truth. Meanwhile, Sumner faced off against Shamino the Swift of the Order of Truth, then Grond of the Companions of the Crucible before facing his 3rd Tier opponent, Talos the Elder of Storm Company. Both Veya and Sumner defeated their 3rd Tier opponents, leaving them to face each other in the Champion Round.

That would have to wait a few days, however, to give the tournament participants a chance to rest. Meanwhile, Straxius faced off against Pelgor Quickfingers of the Companions of the Crucible in Arcane Archery and defeated him. Due to a lack of opponents, Straxius merely needed to be Grigori the Dark’s score to advance to the Champion Ship round. Grigori the Dark, of the Companions of the Crucible lost his 3rd Tier challenge to Valen the Ponce of the Knights of the Sacred Flower. Straxius beat his score, then faced Valen the Ponce for the Championship, convincing the boisterous knight that competing drunk and blind-folded would prove their worth. Valen agreed and competed, not knowing Straxius used his connection with his familiar to see through its eyes. Still, Valen’s skill was formidable and he only narrowly lost to Straxius. The Captain of the Sea of Stars was crowned Arcane Archery champion and granted the Earthtender Circlet as a prize (a circlet of blasting).

Sumner geared up for the joust, using his summoned steed after it was deemed that his Celestial Elephant, Stampy, from his figuring would provide him with an unfair and ultimately impractical advantage. (Why yes, I DID buy empty halves of coconut for this.) First, he jousted against an opponent from the Grand Melee, Talos the Elder. He unseated the old man then was challenged by Jaana the Hammer. After defeating her, his opponent was Dupre the Pure. Once again victorious, Sumner’s final opponent was Valen the Ponce. They made multiple passes and with Sumner’s unhorsing their scores were tied! Sumner demanded satisfaction from Valen the Ponce, but was unable to control his rage at the knight’s good natured boasting and the ignorant comments of other participants comparing the minotaur (whose race was unknown on Brintannia) to a bovine. He broke the rules of the contest and was disqualified for using magic to paralyze The Ponce. Valen was crowned Champion of the Joust and accepted the Gweardon Fortress (Daern’s Instant Fortress) as his prize.

Zinni was confident the Archery Contest would be little challenge to her and after defeating Pelgor Quickfingers, Loren Smythe of the Free Citizens of Bryttan, and Katrina Trueeye of the Knights of the Sacred Flower, she faced her final opponent, Garrett the Lame, also of the Knights of the Sacred Flower. Despite his slow, hobbled gait, he proved himself the better, or luckier, archer and limped away with the Champion title and the prize, the Quiver of the Blessed Huntress (a Quiver of Ehlonna).

During the period in which the melee participants rested, the Urn of Wits challenge was held. A pedestal was placed on a large rug in a pavilion. The rug was large enough no one could leap to the center to reach the pedestal. Upon the pedestal was an urn. The object was to retrieve the urn without using magic and without walking on the rug. Heated debates broke out amongst the teams. The crew took knives to the pavilion tent to create a long section of fabric which the placed on the rug to walk on. The challenge proctors called foul and while they were arguing over the wording of the rules, Valen the Ponce knelt down and rolled up the rug to walk on the grass until he reached the urn. The challenge proctors declared the Knights of the Sacred Flower the winners of the Urn of Wits Challenge. This announcement was met with much grumbling by the officers of Sea of Stars.

Nevertheless, the tournament proceeded and, it was time for the presumably rested and healed melee contestants to face off for the Championship. Sumner was reminded in no uncertain terms that magic was prohibited during the challenge and he faced off with Veya. While Sumner provided a bit more of a challenge than her previous opponents, the barbarian powerhouse from Faerun defeated the minotaur from Ansalon (Krynn). She accepted the title of Grand Melee Champion and the prize of an Adamantine Breastplate from the vaults of the Knights of the Sacred Flower.

After a final evening of rest, the last day of the tournament and the Hedge Maze challenge arrived. (I used the Blenheim Palace maze in Oxfordshire, UK as the model for this maze.) Maxim was careful to explain that divination, flying or levitation magic, or any other means to see an overview of the maze by participants would result in instant disqualification. Once the rules were clarified, the challenge began. Luck was with the crew and they entered the maze first. When they estimated they were about halfway through the maze, the skies darkened unnaturally fast and the skies roiled, filled with swirling clouds of unholy color.

Screams from the tournament grounds outside the maze alerted them that the magical storm was not part of the challenge and they called upon their magic to exit the maze quickly. The people in the tournament grounds were panicking while the knights not participating in the maze challenge tried to calm them. After questioning a few people, they learned that Queen Garria was abducted by three shadowy creatures.

The crew set off in pursuit, finding signs of a struggle in a nearby copse of trees and further signs that the three shadow-creatures took to the sky and flew off with the queen. Her majordomo, Lord Blackthorne was reluctant to accept the crew’s help, but finally relented. They returned to the palace and questioned some witnesses. After discussing the issue with others, they decided to go to the Knights of the Sacred Flower and the Order of Truth for assistance.

To their chagrin, Valen the Ponce turned out to be the leader of the Knights of the Sacred Flower. He was all too happy to assist them, however and confided that they had little faith in Lord Blackthorne’s ability to fairly and safely deal with the panicking populace. At the Order of Truth, the crew searched through their library to learn the shadowy creature were, in all likelihood, the Shadowlords. The Shadowlords, three powerful creatures with ties to Orcus, were thought to have been vanquished ages ago. Their lair was located in the Underworld; a dark place of deep caverns to which no one has traveled in decades.

The officers of Sea of Stars began their preparations for a long trek into Brintannia’s underdark….

The tournament went pretty well. I was surprised the PCs didn’t walk away with all the prizes, but at least I feel satisfied that I didn’t just hand them everything without a challenge. I will admit some of the wording for the Urn of Wits challenge could have been better, but I forgot that, when dealing with D&D players, they’re going to Rules Lawyer the absolutely living flesh off the bones of any challenge with in-game rules. I also got so caught up in tracking the challenge results in the brackets I created that I forgot to give out inspiration for some particularly good bits of role-playing. Maybe one of them will see this and remind me at the next session.

Also, I was surprised how quickly they leapt to offer to go after Queen Garria. Damn, that’s heroic!

If I remember when I return from Gary Con, I’ll summarize how I ran the tournament in a separate post. I wasn’t trying to simulate every little detail and I think it worked out pretty well.

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, Session 17

The tunnel leading from the tomb meandered through the rocky underground until it opened into a flooded cavern. Gnolls filled the shores of the subterranean lake and quickly moved to attack. After dealing with them, the crew heard chanting from deeper within the cavern, so they circumnavigated the lake and proceeded deeper into the depths.

The natural tunnel gave way to a constructed area; a ritual room of sorts. Three druids were bound, up to their necks in a pool of blood while gnolls snarled and chanted around them, led in their dark worship by warlock bent on summoning some fell creature.

The crew of Sea of Stars leapt to the attack, intent on interrupting the foul ritual and saving the druids. After a pitched battle, the crew emerged victorious and pulled the druids out of their bloody prison. They led the druids out and found the fire fog was gone and the bleak pall hanging over the grove was lifted. The healing could begin.

Back in Bryttan Castle, Queen Garria expressed her thanks at their efforts and invited them to stay a while. The Tournament of Flowers was starting a few days and they were all invited to attend and participate if they so chose….

This may seem brief, and it probably is, but I got caught up in doing final edits and revisions to my next novel and really didn’t have a lot of time to do a detailed synopsis while trying to prep for the next session and finalize preparations for Gary Con, too. I could’ve summed it up in two sentences: The PCs killed all the gnolls and their leaders, and saved the druids. In gratitude, the Queen invited them to attend the Tournament of Flowers being held in a few days.

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, Session 16

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The next morning, Queen Garria gave them a tour of her castle. They noticed an ancient axe above her throne, an heirloom from an ancestor. The same axe was depicted in a statue in her garden of an armored, bearded man battled a fat, goat-headed demonic creature. When asked, she explained he was the ancestor to whom the axe belonged, shown battling Orcus.

Just then, a page ran up to them. Apparently sent by Queen Garria to a nearby druid’s grove, he spun a tale of a mist that ignited flesh where it touched and a disturbing lack of druids. Not only were the druids nowhere to be found, but the trees in the groves were twisted and corrupted.

Queen Garria implored the crew to grant her a favor and investigate. In exchange, she would give them a letter authorizing a line of credit with the ship builder in nearby city of Bryttan. Eager to further customize Sea of Stars, the crew agreed.

They flew the ship north to the grove as indicated by the page’s instructions. A thick mist hung over the trees, obscuring visibility to the point that they could find a safe place to descend into the grove, so they descended the ladder to enter the grove via the road.

The twisted paths winding through the grove led them past gnarled, corrupted treants, one of whom took objection to the fleshlings in their midst. After defeating the angry tree, they found the center of the grove: a massive oak tree with red leaves.

After a quick search, they found a hollow beneath the tree and descended into a small crypt filled with gnolls performing a profane ritual. Several of the gnolls were so gaunt as to be nearly skeletal, and they turned to attack. After a pitched battle, the officers of Sea of Stars searched the crypt for clues as to the gnolls’ purpose. The fire mist was as thick as ever outside, but they found a secret door in the back of the tomb leading deeper underground….

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, Session 15

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After loading up their treasure, the crew of Sea of Stars departed from Oerth. A few days into the journey, as they were passing through The Grinder (a vast sphere of asteroids separating Greyspace’s inner planets from the outer planets), the lookout noticed a distant light that seemed to be shadowing them.

mindspiderThey approached a large asteroid and hid behind it, intending to let the other ship pass and get behind it. When they emerged, a ship with a claw-like front was dead ahead, it’s finger-like claws enveloping the front of the ship. Straxius recognized the tell-tale shape of a neogi Mindspinder and ordered the Sea of Stars to reserve course and come about. However, the neogi ship collided with Sea of Stars and its umber hulks leapt aboard!

Riding the umber hulks were their snake/spider-like masters, the neogi. The sharp claws of the umber hulks proved a challenge, as did the insidious magic and poison of the neogi, but after a pitched, and desperate battle, the crew of Sea of Stars was victorious.

Exploring the mindspider, they discovered a vast amount of treasure along with half-a-dozen slaves the neogi had been using in their lifejammer helm. The slaves begged the crew to return them to their homes of Brintannia and assured them Queen Garria would reward them handsomely for their efforts.

Brintannia wasn’t exactly on the way, but wasn’t too far out of the way, so after a brief conference, Straxius agreed.

And here’s where I forgot to return to the ship that seemed to be shadowing them which was NOT the mindspider; i.e. it didn’t do an off-screen teleportation to magically get in front of them. Oh bother.

 By the time they reached Heart Sphere, the repairs were complete and they were well-rested from their encounter with the neogi. The former slaves directed the crew where to take them: a resplendent castle near a lake. Queen Garria greeted her peoples’ saviors and invited them to feast with her that night. She offered them lodging in her castle and their bellies grew full as the night grew dark….

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5th ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, session 14

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This is going to have some pretty major spoilers for the Tomb of the Scorpion Prince published in Kobold Press’s Book of Lairs, so be warned.

After a brief conference outside of the tomb and a quick healing by Flint, the crew decided to continue their explorations. Once back inside, they quickly scouted both side corridors. To the left, there was a series of sharply angled rooms adorned with sculptures of scorpions with ruby eyes. The floor contained a mosaic pattern of scorpions. To the right there was a large room with a pedestal surrounded by sand.

They opted to investigate the ruby-eyed scorpions, first. Upon closer inspection, they were certain the ruby eyes were a lure to a trap, so they passed by the statues, leaving them unmolested and came upon a room with burial niches and a statue of the Scorpion Prince himself. Among the treasure, they found a gem etched with a number.

Once they defeated the animated statue and its minions, they proceeded deeper into the tomb. An unfinished, rough-hewn corridor led them directly into a trap which flooded the passageway with toxic water and corpse oozes. They defeated the nasty creatures and after finding a set of sealed doors with geometric indentations, backtracked to the angled corridors with ruby-eyed scorpions.

To no great surprise, the ruby eyes were traps. When touched, they shot great gouts of flame, filling the hallway. In addition, the scorpion mosaic on the floor came to life and swarms of scorpions attacked the crew. When they finished dispatching the vermin, they continued their explorations, finding more cleverly hidden traps, and several more gems etched with numbers.

After some deep thought and a brief rest, they deciphered the clues of the gems. The number etched into each gem, 1, 3, 4, and 5, corresponded to a geometric shape in the door.  1 fit into a circular indentation, 3 into a triangular indentation, 4 into a square indentation, and 5 into a pentagonal indentation.  When the gems were in place, the sealed door opened.

Inside the chamber stood a sarcophagus atop a multi-faceted hollow crystal. Four small stone chambers were on opposite walls. After the crew looked around for a moment, the stone chambers opened and night scorpions spilled out. In addition, the sarcophagus opened to reveal a newly awakened Scorpion Prince determined to kill those who awakened him and begin his conquest of the land once more.

During the protracted battle, they noticed the chambers which disgorged the scorpions also contained indentations and Zinniana ran around to each of them, placing a gem inside. Sumner summoned his celestial elephant, Stampy and Straxius polymorphed himself into a thunder lizard (’cause Tyrannosaurus Rex sounds too 20th century, yo) to aid the fray. After a mighty battle, they defeated the Scorpion Prince and his minions, then shattered the hollow crystal to claim the treasure within.

2016-11-26-00-23-22Ra-Jareez’s tip paid off, and they retreated from Oerth once more to take stock of their newly acquired riches…

Funny enough, they figured out the gems in the final battle before it became a slog. The scorpions had to die before the Scorpion Prince could be harmed. The gems had to be placed before the scorpions could be killed. Each gem had a corrected location. They got that part right on the first try and got the first scorpion down at just about the same time, so the fiddly nature of the puzzle never became apparent to them (though once the session was over, I did tell them how lucky they were to pick all the right choices at the end on the first try and congratulated them on their cleverness). The fact that the wizard was tanking as a dinosaur and they had an elephant stomping bugs probably helped.

I used a lair from the Book of Lairs for this for two reasons: I spent a lot of my prep time learning how to play D&D again (the mind forgets after four months and three different systems) and having the NPC Ra-Jareez find a seedy treasure map and say “Look, I contributed!” was totally in-character for him. I just wish I’d had more angled wall pieces because someall of those bulbous-looking sections are supposed to be angled.

And now we’re off on another brief hiatus. December is a difficult gaming month due to holiday-related family activities. We’re playing one session of Doctor Who (a Christmas special!), but no D&D until January 6th.

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 11

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The crew wandered the streets of Sigil for a bit, utterly lost. Their distress was obvious to the planars around them. A young man approached them. His name was Gip and he said they needed a tout, lest they get taken advantage of by less scrupulous berks.

Gip knew about portals, of course, but after accidentally traveling through one and being forced to spend a week with satyrs in Arborea, he actively avoided them after that. “It was a laugh for a few days, but I was glad to get home. If you need the chant on a specific portal, you need a smarter cutter than me. I know a fella.”

Society of Sensation

Society of Sensation

The tout led them to the Civic Festhall, headquarters of one of Sigil’s many factions, The Society of Sensation. He had a friend among the Senates, Grim Barnabus who knew the chant on portals to prime realms.

After being accosted by a Sensate who begged to know what it was like to be shivved by a warrior woman (and Veya kindle obliged), they discovered Grim was not in the Civic Festhall. Another Sensate, Niles, suspected he went to Amoria to go fishing, but quickly corrected himself. Grim Barnabus went to Eronia for fishing.

As Eronia was one of the planes of Elysium, they would need to find a portal and key to take them there. Fortunately, Gip was familiar with that portal, though he never used it. There was a stall in the Grand Bazaar that served as the portal. By happenstance, the herbalist whose booth contained the portal sold the key: a vial of water from Oceanus. Along the way to the Grand Bazaar, they stopped at a tavern to have a grand meal and filled a magical bag they’d acquired with a variety of planar cheeses they belived they could sell on the Rock of Bral for a profit.

After pay 50 gold for a tiny vial of water, the crew used the portal and were transported to Portico on the plane of Eronia. As they stepped through, they saw jagged peaks in the distance and the roar of crashing waves closer. Portico itself was a short distance away, a small seaside village where the buildings appeared to be made from enormous sea shells and the people resembled tall sea elves. They were greeted with smiles and waves by the residents of Portico. They asked one resident if she could direct them to Grim Barnabus, and though she didn’t know him personally, she offered to go around with them and help them look.

They found him lounging on some rocks near the shore with a fishing pole. A fishing pole with no line.

Grim was amenable to leading them back to Greyhawk, though the portal would deposit them a day or so outside of the city in the Steaming Springs. They would have to wait until he was finished with his fishing for the day, unless they had their own foo dog tooth.

Since they didn’t, they waited. Straxius relaxed with Grim by the sea, conjuring his own fishing pole while the others found their own ways to relax. When it was time to depart, Grim took them back to Sigil and led them through the streets to a bricked up doorway in the Hive. He and Gip bid them farewell, and as easy as walking through a door, they departed the City of Doors and were once again on Oerth.

Straxius used the sending stones in an attempt to contact the crew, but only received a message back from Ra-Jareez telling them they needed to return to Greyhawk as soon as possible. A few quick conjurations later, they were cruising down the river toward the city. When they located the Nikosi sailor, he informed them that Boccob’s Barge was attacked in the night while they were gone. Fanged creatures surprised them in the night. He overheard them talking about an orc-something or another and assumed they were after Kagark, so he grabbed the ship’s strongbox and convinced the half-orc to flee.

The attackers took the ship and, as far as Kagark and Ra-Jareez could tell, killed the crew. The Nkosi suspected the young woman from the Rock of Bral, Gwen Sallas was in league with the villains, though he had no evidence.  The crew decided to pay a visit to the man who sent them away, Ulfda the Mighty, as they planned their next move….

That was brief. I intended the jaunt to Sigil and the Outer Planes to last a couple of sessions and have more encounters, but they were having a lot of trouble getting orientated in Sigil and I forgot to mug them before introducing the tout (Gip was supposed to come to their defense as the Harmonium was hassling them about killing some muggers). Oh well.

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 10

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The officers of Boccob’s Barge spent the next several hours poring over Murlynd’s library and holding the stirrup in various ways (and by various people) trying to get the door through which they entered the house to led back to Greyhawk. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain and they decided to explore the surrounding countryside for another option. As they began their reconnaissance, they discovered that neither their levitation, nor their flying magic worked.

Once outside, they followed the path down to a garden. Divided into four plots, the center of the garden was dominated by eight foot tall glittering flowers. They decided to avoid that section of the garden, in case there was a guardian of some sort, and headed toward a hill just south of the house to get a better sense of their surroundings.

Atop the hill, they could see the whole area was covered by forest. To the south, was an odd field, arranged into alternating plots of trees and clearings with streams dividing them into a grid, or a checkerboard. An unsettling sense overcame them as they stood on top of the hill. When they descended, whichever direction they traveled was the opposite in which they intended. Straxius tried the novel approach of running in his intended direction, tumbling down the hill toward the checkerboard. Upon seeing him arrive at his desired location, the rest of the heroes also chose to tumble down the hill toward the checkerboard. Somewhere, in the distance, a faint refrain of “As you wish…” could be heard.

The plots of the checkerboard field were far larger than they first appeared. The crew could tell there were creatures milling about in each of the square plots, but were unable to positively identify any of them due to the distances involved. After fighting their way through a couple of the fields, a griffon descended onto the field, demanding they stop. They weren’t playing the game right, and Gamemaster Griffon demanded they leave immediately. Straxius and the others asked the griffon where they were, exactly, and how to return to Greyhawk. Gamemaster was unable to help them and suggested they seek out other denizens of the realm.

After knocking the heads together of a pair of incessantly arguing twins and the clueless chirpings of a Jub-Jub bird, they finally found their way out of the overgrown forest to a beach. There, they saw a man and a bipedal walrus walking down the beach talking about clams and the relationship between shucking clams and organized religion. Despite their proclivity for distraction, the Walrus and the Carpenter did, indeed, know a way back. They Way Back, they said, just needed the proper key. Unfortunately, someone tossed it in the ocean in a fit of drunkenness some time ago. They knew where the box was, though, but it was near an ill-tempered, giant clam.

With a bit of help from Sumner’s spells, Veya was prepared to dive to the clam beds to retrieve the key. The Carpenter lent the crew his row boat and showed them where the clam beds were. It didn’t take long for Veya to retrieve the box and, as promised, contained within was a tarnished brass skeleton key.

The Carpenter explained they needed a door for the key to work. A key for a door couldn’t work without one, after all. Straxius obliged by conjuring a door right there on the beach. When they opened it in proximity to the key, they saw a crowded, dingy alley beyond. The Carpenter warned it was one-way.

The crew stepped through. The salt air of the beach instantly changed to the dank, polluted air of a crowded city. Haze obscured the sky, but peeking through they could see the tops of more buildings, seemlingly suspended above. In front of them was the door to a tavern. They could hear the raucous noise of revelers within. The sign hanging above the door read “The Way Back.”

Art by Dana KnutsonThe sight of an abashai pushing its way past them and entering the tavern hammered home Straxius’s suspicion. Not only were they nowhere near the city of Greyhawk, they weren’t even on the Prime Material Plane anymore. They made their first priority finding someone to restore Straxius’s youth, before the ghost’s effect on him became permanent. The barkeep pointed them towards a barely-sober patron. While he was barely coherent, he was more than happy to use some of his restorative magic before asking for payment, realizing after the fact that he should have negotiated for payment before casting the spell. Then, he passed out in his ale.

No one in The Way Back was interested in helping them return to Greyhawk; knowledge of one particular portal to one particular place was hard to come by. They went back out to the main street to take stock of their surroundings. City stretch out as far as they eye could see, looping up and around them in a never-ending loop of ever-changing urban jungle. The good news was there was surely a portal home somewhere. The bad news was they were clueless berks in Sigil, the City of Doors….

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane – Session 2

The next morning, Xil-ta arrived at Boccob’s Barge just as the crew woke from their sleep. He inspected the helm and revised his estimate of the repair time down to just three days. Of course, that did not mean it would be less expensive, much to Sumner Redhorn’s disappointment.

As they discussed the repairs with the Arcane, First Mate Rexor reported that several of the crew did not show up during roll call: Bo’sun Zorag, Kagark, Corva, and Pallas. In the meantime, Xil-ta reported to Captain Straxius that he needed to return to his shop to retrieve some supplies and had his next favor to ask of the crew: travel to a world called Eorôe and retrieve a crystal of ice from there. It was more than simply frozen water, however, as large as a man and they would probably have to deal with the giants on the world in order to retrieve it. Xil-ta didn’t know in which sphere Eorôe was, however; the crew of Boccob’s Barge would have to locate it, and figure out how to keep the crystal intact on their own.

They had a few days to mull over the details, though, because there was a matter of their missing crew. Rexor figured they weren’t deserters, as all their gear was still in their footlockers. Veya, Flint, and Zinni were certain Kagark wouldn’t just abandon them, especially his precious Veya, so they decided to hit the taverns to look for them after Straxius paid a visit to Red Ríognach’s Pleasure Barge.

Red Ríognach was more than just the madam of a brothel; she was one of the Rock of Bral’s premier information brokers. Drunk, oversexed sailors have loose lips, and no one (with the possible exception of Luigi the Beholder) knew more about the Dwarven, Elven, Human, and others’ fleet movements than Red. Her information on Illithid, Neogi, and Beholder fleets were limited however, since the crew of those fleets didn’t frequent her brothel.

When they entered The Pleasure Barge, they were greeted by Red’s major domo, Murray, the Demonic Talking Skull. After his usual tirade of bluster and regret (“There’s so much tasty here and I have no lips and no arms!”), he got down to determining if they were punters or dark seekers. After sussing out “dark seeker” referred to a client of Red’s seeking information, they were permitted to pass through to see Red.

Information she didn’t have was as good as gold to Red, so she accepted Straxius’s account of the Mind Flayer-Beholder battle at the edge of Realmspace in exchange for the location of Eorôe. It was in a sphere called Patria, approximately fifty-eight days away at standard cruising speed through the Flow currents (Radiant Flow à Arcane Inner Flow à Casa Flow. Due to the direction of the currents, the return trip would be about five days shorter.

Their first stop after the Pleasure Barge was the Rock Rat Tavern. After buying a round of drinks, especially for the giff from the HMS Mandragora who were looking for a fight, the crew determined that Kagark and Zorag were drinking there the night before, and overindulged. They were dumped in a couple of rooms upstairs, but were gone when the barkeep kicked all the hungover drunks out in the morning.

The crew decided to split up to cover the remained taverns the ship’s crew commonly frequented. As they did so, Straxius and Sumner noticed someone follow them out of the Rock Rat Tavern. Straxius cast a quick suggestion spell and lured their tail over. Thanks to the enchantment, he revealed he was Van Sallus, a former member of the Red Knives who overheard the crew of Boccob’s Barge inquiring about their missing crewmates. He said he, too, was looking for a missing friend: his sister, Gwen. He believed they were all abducted by the Red Knives, a group of thieves and thugs he left when he found out they were diversifying into selling slaves to vampires for food. Furthermore, he told them the Red Knives main headquarters was under The Red Bull Tavern; the tavern was just a front.

Straxius recalled Flint, Veya, and Zinni as Van explained that going in through the front was a bad idea and he knew of a back entrance that lead directly to the holding area where any prisoners would be. He led them to a decrepit, abandoned church in the Middle City called the Church of Tenebrous. An aura of unease surrounded the building and it was only through sheer force of willpower that they were able to proceed into the building.

The Church of Tenebrous was dusty, full of cobwebs, and falling apart. Plaster fell from the ceiling in chunks as they made their way through the pews and flickers of apparitions appeared in the periphery of their vision as otherworldly moans filled the air. They pressed on, eventually finding the door that lead to the crypt, just as Van Sallas described.

They followed the stairs down, down into the crypt. Flickering scones lit the chamber in dim yellow light as they picked their way through the resting places of the dead. Rats scattered underfoot. Eventually, they reached a dead end where they found the secret door Van Sallus described. It opened into a portion of the Rock of Bral’s sewer system. Following his instructions to stick to the level path, they waded through the muck to another dead end.

2016-02-12 23.32.57Another secret door and a quick passage through rock and they found a wooden door. Beyond that: a small living area. They heard voices coming from a chamber nearby and, after verifying no one else was in the living chambers, they burst in on the meeting.

Five ghouls, three Red Knives, and a Mind Flayer were gathered around an oubliette discussing prices. Veya charged in after hearing Kagark’s voice from the depths of the oubliette and the battle was joined. The illithid immediately began casting a spell that was interrupted by a counterspell from Straxius and the three Red Knives laid into Veya, wounding the barbarian woman severely. Flint turned the ghouls with the power of Sune.

The illithid opened a portal and stepped through, leaving the ghouls and Red Knives to the crew of Boccob’s Barge. One of the ghouls was unaffected by Sune’s power and paralyzed Flint. Straxius cast a suggestion at one of the Red Knives, convincing him the battle was won and he should celebrate at The Laughing Beholder. The remaining ghoul and two Red Knives were slain and when Flint recovered, he herded the cowering ghouls to the back bedroom where they were locked in.

The crew helped the half-dozen prisoners out of the oubliette. Kagark, the three missing crewmembers, Gwen, and one other were all there and greatly relieved. So too relieved, were the dead Red Knives, of their possessions, that is, among them a magical marble elephant (a figurine of wondrous power), a wand (a wand of binding), and clockwork-embellished short sword (a giant slayer). They also found invoices proving the Red Knives were dealing in slaves and planned to frame the Jugglers for it. Straxius turned the papers over to the town guard who indicated they would follow up with them at their ship tomorrow.

D&D Minis, Dwarven Forge, Itar's Workshop accessories & My Own Painted Minis make for a killer combo!

D&D Minis, Dwarven Forge, Itar’s Workshop accessories & My Own Painted Minis make for a killer combo!

They returned to The Laughing Beholder, intent on dealing with the Red Knife they sent there, only to discovered he never arrived. A mystery for another time….

A bit of investigation and a bit of combat made of a rousing second session. Either I’m more into the game right now than I’ve been in a long time, or running my own material is much easier now than it was a couple of years ago. It’s possible 5E’s ease of preparation is making it better for me than Pathfinder was, even though I was running an Adventure Path. The fact that I don’t have to read, read, learn, and read someone else’s material is possibly another factor. I just flat-out told everyone I intended to be more generous with the magic items than Hoard of the Dragon Queen was. I think part of that is I love the quirk tables included in 5E for magic items; I plan to expand them.

While writing up this synopsis, I discovered I printed out the wrong version of the Flow map to put under the plexiglass on my table. Oops. Oh well, it’s accurate enough for now until I get around to sending the proper version to Staples. The next session should see the crew getting back into Wildspace… unless they get distracted by the Rock of Bral some more….

As an aside, I did seriously consider calling the campaign “Brain Eaters and Beholders.” “Favors of the Arcane” is a little more sophisticated, I think.

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane – Session 1

Last night we kicked off a new D&D 5th edition campaign! In our last campaign, two characters died during Hoard of the Dragon Queen and the other players conceded defeat. Defeat is not death, however, even when one is looking down the maw of a hungry, angry dragon.

The sad thing is, I still don’t have a name for this campaign. When I finally think of a cool and fitting one, I’ll edited the title of this post to reflect it. Until then, it is the Generic Game of General Greatness! 4Gs are 4x the G-rated of 1 G! (Yeah, that means absolutely nothing to me, too.)

The action started with Zinniana Namfoodle, Veya Knockrot, Flint Rockbottom, and Kagark:

Blood sprays in a crimson fountain as the great white dragon tears into Broken Sky. With a swiftness belying its size, the beast snatches up Tobin, ripping into him with aplomb, its dagger-like teeth piercing the bag of holding in the bard’s pack…

 

With an unearthly wail, its head stretches and distorts as it is pulled into the forming rift. The magical effect is unlike anything you have ever seen or heard of. You scramble to gain purchase on the slick ice to no avail. The dragon’s bones crack and shatter as it is forced to pass through an opening far too small for its gargantuan bulk. Blood and gore spray in all directions as cosmic forces rend flesh and organs. Yet, the pull is too great, despite the terrible things hurling themselves at you.

 

The stark blue-white of the icy citadel vanishes as you disappear through the rift. Darkness surrounds you, yet you know you are not dead. The dead don’t feel the pain of their most recent battle, and all your wounds still ache.

 

tyrantshipIn the distance, you see what looks like a blurry rock in the void. It moves closer and you see that, not only is it the size of a city, it is hollow with odd protuberances and what look like glowing eyes on rocky stalks. The glow fades and the object turns, then speeds away from you.

 

Your senses dull and the pain fades. Curiously, you feel neither hunger nor thirst, nor do you perceive anything. In time, hours, days, weeks, who knows… everything fades until you are left with nothing but a vague sense of existing.

 

Time ceases to have meaning as you tumble through the void. You stray out of thought and time. Every moment is as long as a life age of the world. Color returns to your sight: a kaleidoscope of rainbows. You become aware of it dimly, unable to determine when exactly you crossed the threshold. Light suffuses that which was once dark. Sticky threads diffuse your sight and bind your arms and legs. You’re jostled and feel a sharp pain in your side. Then, the threads are torn away.

 

You squint against the blinding light. The air is filled with odors and sounds you forgot existed. Eyes that lay unused for weeks? Months? Years? You have no way of knowing how long it has been since you last saw anything, but slowly, the light dims and the world comes into focus.

 

A worn and well-lined face stares down at you as grubby hands pat your pockets. It is a bearded man who has seen too much life and too little luxury. He backpedals at your sudden intake of air. Your lungs fill again for what seems like the first time in centuries, though for all you know, it could be mere hours since your battle on the citadel.

 

Blimey! They’re still alive! Captain! Captain! Those floaters we found are still alive!”

 

Boccob's Barge

Boccob’s Barge

The four survivors were pulled from the Flow by the crew of what they soon learned was Boccob’s Barge. All around, they could see a rainbow of colors surrounding the ship. The navigator, a human wizard named Straxius explained to them that they had been found wrapped in cocoons of astral spiders in the phlogiston. He and a minotaur warlock, Sumner Redhorn helped secure them aboard the ship while the rest of the crew gathered up the silk from the cocoons and prepared to make way again.

 

Over the next week, they became acquainted with Boccob’s Barge her crew, and her captain, a half-elf named Fallar Goldeneye. They learned about the Crystal Spheres and the Phlogiston, and how fire was the bane of all Spelljammers in the Flow. Captain Goldeneye offered to drop off the survivors on Toril, since they were headed that way anyway with a load of cargo from Krynn.

 

They arrived at Realmspace and one of the ship’s wizards opened the portal through which Boccob’s Barge passed out of the Flow and into Wildspace. Short after receiving a quick lesson on the nature of Crystal Spheres, the lookout rang the alarm bell. A ship was bearing down on Boccob’s Barge!

 

Tyrantship2

One of many Tyrant ship variants

It was quickly identified as a Tyrant ship and Captain Goldeneye panicked. Despite sounding battle stations and giving the order to flee, the Tyrant ship fired its primary weapon. The first beam took out the part of the main deck upon which Captain Goldeneye was standing. The next cut through the hull, halving the helmsman and damaging the helm. Before the ship could get off a third shot, two Nautiloids engaged the Tyrant ship and they sped past, leaving the wounded Hammership to limp its way to Toril.

 

Several of the crew were killed and the First Officer was incapacitated. Straxius took charge. The ship’s Carpenter reported that the damage to the helm was too great to risk making port on a planet; they needed to put in to the Rock of Bral for repairs. Fortunately, it was on the way.

 

A Nautiloid

A Nautiloid

Once they arrived at the Rock of Bral, they docked and Straxius took Sumner and the survivors to talk to their employer, Herzog Steelarm. They went to The Laughing Beholder, a tavern frequented by Herzog and run by the only friendly beholder in known space, Luigi. Herzog was sympathetic to the loss of Captain Goldeneye and assured them he would notify their clients on Shou Lung that the delivery was unavoidably delayed.

 

After dealing with official business, they sought out Xil-ta, the Arcane, one of the few beings on the Rock of Bral capable of repairing a Helm. After convincing his assistant, the Rastipede, Jerry, their need was true, the Arcane made his appearance to negotiate with them. His price was high, but not unexpectedly so: 45,000 gold for the repair. Naturally, the crew didn’t have that kind of money, even with the funds in Boccob’s Barge’s strongbox. Xil-ta indicated he would trade favors for money.

 

Straxius didn’t feel he was empowered to make any such deals, since he was not Captain of the ship, nor was he the owner. In fact, with Fallar Goldeneye dead, they didn’t know who the owner was.

 

To the Hall of Records!

 

At the Hall of Records, they learned Fallar’s next-of-kin was his brother, Rylael. They found him in an opulent townhouse in Middletown. He seemed more put out by the news of his identical twin brother’s death than upset and informed Straxius he and his brother were connected, so he already knew about it for over a week now. He wanted nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the ship and told Straxius he was now Captain and in exchange for doing nothing, he would take 5%. If the crew needed him involved in any of the decisions regarding the ship or its business, he wanted a larger cut.

 

Straxius and the crew agreed quickly that these terms were acceptable and left Rylael to his wine. They returned to Xil-ta and made a deal with him. His first task for them was simple: collect an outstanding debt from Ra-Jareez, captain of the Sugar Moon, a Tradesman out of Midgard crewed by Nkosi.

 

Nkosi

Typical Nkosi Sailors

They decided to attempt a stealthy approach first and used invisibility and silence on Zinniana, giving her instructions to go straight for the Captain’s quarters and avoid the crew. Though the First mate of the Sugar Moon seemed to smell her passing, with no visual or audio confirmation of his suspicions, he went back to work directing the crew as they loaded and unloaded cargo. She found a trapped and locked chest in the Captain’s quarters, but nothing resembling a pouch with the money Captain Ra-Jareez owed Xil-ta. She returned to her compatriots and they finally decided to speak to the First Mate.

 

His name was Chezan and he was annoyed that his Captain had gone to a tavern while the rest of the crew worked. First mate Chezan was more than happy to tell the crew of Boccob’s Barge that if the captain had sufficient funds to pay Xil-ta, he took them with him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the name of the tavern Captain Ra-Jareez went to, either the Black Bull or the Red Bull.

 

Straxius knew the Black Bull had a reputation for being a haven for assassins and violent thugs, whereas the Red Bull didn’t have much of a reputation at all. They decided to investigate the Red Bull first. The barkeep confirmed that Ra-Jareez was a patron, but he was already passed out drunk and they hauled him upstairs to sleep it off. Straxius kept the barkeep distracted while Zinniana slipped away to find Ra-Jareez. She found him sleeping with a pack at his feet. The gnome purloined the pack after discovering it was apparently magical and found a sack of coins within. They left a note with the barkeep for Ra-Jareez to read when he awoke.

 

They made their way back to Xil-ta’s shop, but by now, the Arcane was gone. Straxius counted out the money they found in Ra-Jareez’s pack and explained it was all the Nkosi captain had. Jerry thanked them and agreed it would be Ra-Jareez’s responsibility to retrieve his haversack and the rest of the belongings within.

 

Jerry told them Xil-ta would be back in the morning and bade them goodnight. They returned to the ship to rest and wondered what errand the Arcane would send them on in the morning….

A lot of role-playing happened and I think everyone got a good introduction to the setting. Fittingly, the players with the surviving PCs from Hoard of the Dragon Queen were all pretty much unfamiliar with Spelljammer and its tropes and the players whose characters were crew of Boccob’s Barge were familiar with it. We didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the way it worked out. Serendipitous, eh?

A crunch-light session was an excellent way to ease back into D&D after several months of play other systems.

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen – Session 14

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

After a tense moment waiting for the vampire sentry to pass, our heroes decided to explore the upper courtyard in the opposite direction of her patrol. The central peak of the ice mountain around which the citadel was built loomed to their right, and a large tower was to their left. Several additional towers jutted out of the central peak. They passed by the tower* in the courtyard and found a small alcove in the side of the mountain used to store what the ogre guards passed off as ale. They marked the location as a good temporary hiding space and continued.

As they rounded the side of the peak, they found a trail carved into the ice leading up toward one of the higher towers. The door leading to the lower levels was blocked by an avalanche of snow and ice, as though the interior collapse, but our heroes spied a balcony three-quarters of the way up the side of the tower. Tobin used his levitation spell to carry himself and Zinniana up. That door worked, and inside they found a room with a solitary stone coffin… guarded by the spawn of the vampire they saw on patrol.

They fled, but the vampires followed them down, crawling down the side of the tower. Though they were peppered with arrows by the time they reached the group, the vampires proved resilient and Flint was forced to use flashy magic (remember, it’s night-time), ultimately destroying them with a Daylight** spell. Eschewing their original path, our heroes fled the battle site directly down the side of the peak, sliding on the ice back to the courtyard to evade the inevitable patrols.

Any patrol investigating the battle would likely take the path toward the tower, so they were able to move about the side of the courtyard fairly unhindered. Our heroes ducked into a cave to get out of sight. They risked some illumination for Veya and saw all manner of creatures and objects embedded in the ice***. They followed the tunnels to a large cavern under the central peak. Clinging to the ceiling, like a great, icy bat, was a white dragon. Tobin made sure his cultist robes and mask were in place and approached. It twisted its head around and demanded to know his purpose.

2015-06-26 22.40.05

This picture is more accurate if you pretend the dragon and the stalagmites are actually on the ceiling.

Tobin spoke to the dragon of treachery afoot, but the dull-witted beast was interested in two things only: food and treasure. After a few moments of trying to convince the beast it needed to know about the treachery in the cult, the dragon decided Tobin would suffice as a midnight snack. With half of the party affected by dragon fear, it made short work of Tobin and Broken Sky, despite the clever use of an immovable rod in an attempt to keep the dragon on the ceiling.

Having lost their Bag of Holding (which was NOT empty), their bard (and the Black Dragon Mask), and their monk, the rest fled into the tunnels. Without Tobin, they had no way off of Skyreach Castle (for it was he who could cast Fly, Levitate, and Feather Fall). Broken Sky was the stealthiest of them all. They were a mile in the sky, surrounded by enemies, wounded, and without hope…

Now, the Realms are likely to be plunged into a draconic apocalypse as Tiamat is brought forth from Avernus and rampages across the Sword Coast with an army of chromatic dragons. Perhaps a new group of heroes will arise to be the light in the darkness to come.

And thus ends Hoard of the Dragon Queen. In theory, they could have kept going, but the players were so disheartened by the defeat, so discouraged at their chances of surviving the next session down two PCs, they voted to call it quits; a decision I left to them. Perhaps another group of heroes happened to be assaulting Skyreach Castle at the exact same time and happened to have two survivors of their own disaster to join forces with our heroes (about the only way we’d be able to work in two more PCs before the castle reached the Well of Dragons). 

But, I’m okay with the way things ended. Sometimes, the heroes fail, and by chance they passed by the key encounter that provided a safe way out of Skyreach Castle in favor of a decision that seemed logical at the time (the master of the castle would be in the tallest tower… not the shorter, fatter tower in the back). All was not lost after the vampire encounter, though, but it expended many of their resources and raised a general alarm. Fleeing towards the dragon’s lair might not have been terrible, had they encountered a dragon interested in cult politics (white dragons are historically dumb and this one really was not interested in talking to anyone who wasn’t bringing up more treasure or lots of food; Tobin’s miscalculation was in assuming a wyrmspeaker could intimidate a dragon).

I appreciate the attempt at an epic scope in Hoard of the Dragon Queen (and Rise of Tiamat), but as with many Forgotten Realms adventures, there’s an elephant in the room HotDQ does not attempt to address (or if it does, it’s only mentioned in passing): what the heck are the high-level heroes on the Sword Coast doing during this time? If the situation is truly this dire, turning to nobodies from a small village doesn’t seem wise when people like Drizzt are still running around. I know it’s addressed more in Rise of Tiamat with it’s coalition building, but there are a lot of head-scratching moments in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, many of which could have been resolved with a checklist or summary at the beginning of each chapter. 

* Had they gone into this nearest tower, they would have encountered the master of Skyreach Castle, a cloud giant willing to talk. It might have radically changed the outcome.

** The wording of this spell leaves wiggle room for interpretation. With Light and Continual Flame already providing magical light, Daylight seemed very redundant (especially as a 3rd-level spell), unless it also acted like sun light on undead… which is how I chose to interpret it.

*** Had I remembered that Tobin had Draconic Lore as part of his background, I would have made him roll to see if he was clued into the fact that they were approaching a white dragon’s lair. This also would have been a good spot FOR THE FREAKING BOOK TO MAKE A NOTE OF THAT AS WELL (because I totally forgot about that aspect of that particular character).

 

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