Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Post-War Session 28/3/2010 - The Assassin, The Sorceress and The Swordmage (Continued)

12:13 – 12:15 – A potion is used on Jaegar, and the group, battered, terrified and aware that they have many more battles ahead of them yet – though steely with a resolve to push on through – stagger towards the exit.

12:16 – 12:18 – However, as they begin to move forwards, the assassin's sensitive ears pick up the sounds of furtive movement from the dark, befouled chambers ahead, and a moment later the harsh barking snarls of Ghouls can be heard echoing forth.

Jaeger moves into position by one of the chambers support pillars and waits for the first horror to enter the chamber, whilst the other two adventurers set themselves up as bait, standing directly across from the opening.

The first Ghoul bursts in, another not far behind, and it is slashed across its throat by the assassin's shadowy blade as it charges, slavering, towards the Swordmage and Sorceress. The monster piles forwards regardless, trailing slimy black gore, and slashes the Swordmage with a savage blow, it's rotten toxins forcing his muscles rigid.

In moments the chamber resonates once more with battle as the foetid undead – three in all – set about the party. Having more than a little experience in fighting these things though, the group very quickly dispatch them, and are soon creeping forwards once more.

12:18 – 12:30 – Beyond the lust chambers are two smaller chambers. Both were previously burial vaults, but they are now cloakrooms; the discarded clothes of the necrophile cultists hanging from bone hooks set in the crumbling stone. The group spend some time searching these clothes, each wary of any sounds that might spell trouble, and find another potion (this one a thick brew similar to one they found on one of the cultists corpses – a brew that protects against venoms and necrotic energy), and a small onyx ring.

Having caught their breaths a little, and bound the worst of their wounds, the group move towards a narrow, sagging doorway.

12:30 – 12:35 – A narrow, decaying flight of stone stairs rises into cobwebbed gloom ahead. Several dead celebrants lie along these stairs; crushed in the panic to escape. The stairs themselves are decorated with obscene ornaments made from the reproductive organs of the dead, the alcoves that once housed bones now filled with foul offerings to the cults unknown sponsor.

Slowly, weapons drawn and spells readied, the group creep up the stairs, stopping to check that each body is truly dead as they go. At the top of the stairs is a small landing, from which another flight of stairs ascend, hairpinning round to rise parallel to the previous flight.

The walls are badly scratched along this flight, and there is evidence of an ancient cave in, the ceiling a vault of darkness some 20' high.

A distant voice, cracked with insanity, can be heard echoing from some unseen place beyond the stairs, apparently coming through a shattered doorway set in the right wall at the top of the crumbling stairwell, and both Varracuda and Seren shudder as they half recognise blasphemous passages within the raving threnody.

Fully alert now, the group creep slowly forwards, moving with all care towards the distant voice and the crumbling doorway.

However...

Suddenly something pounces from the darkness of the collapsed ceiling vault; a flayed humanoid corpse with dagger like claws, rolling suppurating eyeballs and a lashing sore-covered tongue of unnatural length and dexterity, which is tipped with a tiny barb of bone. The horror leaps the full length of the stairs and lands on the wall next to the group, crouching on the wall like a spider, fully at ease with its unusual position. With a swift slash of one of its claws it draws a crimson line across Varracuda's throat, the swordmage's life's blood spurting across his companions and all over the undead thing.

Thinking fast, Varracuda slashes at the horror with his blade, drawing a sheath of green flames over the glowing steel. He then presses the scorching metal against his wound, stopping its deadly bleeding with a flash of agony and the hiss of melting skin.

A suffocating wave of utter darkness suddenly blossoms from the assassin, enveloping the struggling undead and gumming its movement with gelatinous pools of shadow. As the shadows withdraw, they leave huge drained wounds in the monsters body, and it suddenly seems reluctant to stay where it is.

Any chance of it bounding away is stopped a moment later however, as Seren blasts it with a ray of icy energy, numbing the thing and making its movements clumsy and slow.

And then it is slain; decapitated by Varracuda's flaming blade.

12:35 – 12:40 – Jaeger creeps further up the stairs, eyes scanning the darkness above for any more unpleasant surprises. As he approaches the top of the stairs, he spots something built into the floor that worries him – a tiny sigil almost concealed by the dust and debris.

Carefully he moves the dirt, and discovers a trap – a fire rune, set to trigger when anything living passes by (clearly set since the last cultists fled this area).

Using his skills, Jaeger delays the trap and creeps a little further, peering through the broken doorway, the insane chanting and weeping seeming to grow louder, the air in the space beyond, growing colder.

Immediately beyond the door is a huge statue of the Weeping Angel, which blocks any clear view of the huge, marble clad vault in which it stands, apart from a few glimpses of rows of stone sarcophagi and scattered bones.

Jaeger senses a gathering evil beyond, and warning the rest of the group, prepares to enter the marble vaults.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Whitestone Gargoyle

The monsters that caused so much trouble last night!





Post War Group - 28/3/2010 - The Barbarian, The Priest and the Warlord (Continued)

2:16-12:19 – Another furious battle. The Gargoyles are particularly hard to harm due to their flight and zooming speed, and inflict serious hurt on the party with their lightning breath and lightning infused claws, whilst the Warforged is a spellcaster, who uses potent magic to wound and tie down the party, making them more vulnerable to the flying monster's attacks. However, the barbarian (who spends much of this fight dazed and staggered from the Gargoyles shocking attacks and frozen to the spot by the warforged's magic) hurls almost all his throwing axes at the fiends inflicting lethal wounds, whilst Emmiven unleashes a withering torrent of arrows (punctuated with his trademark charges when he is mobile enough to do so) and Grigori unleashes potent blasts of logic and bound radiance, and slowly the monsters are destroyed – the living construct first, and then the Gargoyles.

12:19 – 12:26 – The Barbarian and Warlord jump over the sensor range of the statue traps, and manage to move beyond their lethal field without any further blastings. They then smash one of the statues and allow Grigori (who's track record with jumping is not so good) to move through safely.

12:26 – 12:28 – The three battered adventurers have barely enough time to catch their breath before more trouble finds them. They move into the foyer where the artifice lift is located (see earlier entry for the other party), and discover that the cage is on the move. They prepare themselves to repel yet another wave of foes, and are not disappointed when four more warforged arrive; another spellcaster, two more of the standard Orellio House Guard, and a heavily armoured Warforged who's body plates are inscribed with potent runes of warding, and which wields a greenish blade of corrosive magic, etched with oozing brown runes.

The spell warden hurls a bolt of screaming magic at Grigori, but the priest batters it aside with a word, whilst the hulking warforged charges at Shnecke, swinging – and missing – with its mordant blade.

With a scream Emmiven charges the hulking warforged, denting its head and smashing it to the ground. He then throws himself madly at it again, smashing one of its eyes and crushing its face further, its fluids spurting in oily pools across the marble floor. Shnecke ends it with a howling blow from his resonant axe, the Warforged's face replacing one of those carved on its blade.

The remaining Warforged are very quickly dismantled, the barbarian smashing them back with a formidable scream before his companions finish them.

12:28-12:33 – The group bind their wounds, and allow Grigori to heal some of them before searching the lift for signs of how to use it. Grigori realises that it is simple to operate, but spots a finely crafted, well hidden compartment in the floor of the cage. His back suddenly prickling with vague fear, he looks around the cage, and spots several well hidden emitters, designed to discharge fire, lightning and necrotic power.

The lift is trapped!

After failing to gently prize the secret compartment open, the priest asks his companions to try and wrench it free, which they do with little effort, revealing a complex tangle of runes, crystals and hair triggers – the guts of the trap mechanism.

12:33 – 12:38 – A cold sweat beading on his back, Grigori warns the barbarian and warlord to back out the cage. They do, and all begin a search of the foyer again, hoping to find some mechanism for disabling the trap in the lift. They don't.

12:38 – 12:40 – Whispering prayers to the machine Gods, Grigori states that he will try to disable the trap, gently asking the warlord to not “shoot the fuck out of it”. Kneeling by the control panel, the priest begins to decipher the complex array of triggers and magic channels, and at first, makes excellent progress in shutting them down.

However.

He gets nervous and starts to make mistakes. Dangerous mistakes. Mistakes that begin to prime the lift and its traps.

And then one mistake too many.

12:41 - Whilst the barbarian and warlord look on in shock, the lift shoots suddenly upwards, a wall of force sealing it from the outside world. They run to the shaft, and to their shock watch the lift vanish about 70' up, through a large teleport rune carved on a solid roof.

Inside, pinned to the floor by the sudden G-Force, Grigori is exposed to waves of deadly magic; fire, lightning, psychic power, and twice, glyphs that hungrily drink his life force. Luckily he is able to deflect all but a few of these attacks.

Unluckily, as the lift reaches the top of the shaft, a carpet of spikes drop down filling the cage with piercing steel, and pinning the burning priest (who would be suffering fire damage were it not for the protection of the Aurumvorax Skin) to the floor.

Agonised and haemorrhaging blood, Grigori fights through the crushing pain and absolute terror, to snap the spikes holding him, and half dead, crawls from the lift and onto a lush, blue-grey carpet in a brightly lit, white marble corridor.

12:42 – Heavy footsteps, softened by the carpet force the crawling priest to look up, and he sees, striding down the corridor towards him (the corridor leading to Rubus' office), the two Stone Golems.

Grigori gives a wretched sigh...and then spots the lift control panel by the shaft!

Desperation drives his movements, the pain from his wounds almost making him black out. Deactivating the traps on the lift through the console, the priest leaps back in the cage and sends it back down just as the Golems close the distance, their eyes glowing with pale blue light.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

100 Years after the Aelwyn Wars - The rise of a Dark Imperium

Almost 100 years after the Aelwyn of the Soluri System left the physical plane at the end of a bitter and terrible war, the world is a changing place shaped by the actions and beliefs of the Unified Order. As far as many of the younger races and nations on Arbel'Verdaniss and the nearby worlds are concerned, the Unified Order were almost solely responsible for the vanquishing of the Aelwyn, for they have been industrious in spreading a slightly skewed version of events – something that has infuriated many of those peoples who still live that fought and lost lands and loved ones in the battles.

Indeed, since that time, the Order has insinuated itself and its ideals into almost every facet of life on Fey, Lower Malgoroth, Calsor, the more established settlements on Eathoran and Anathar, as well as many areas of Talakasia, the Meridian Isles, Upper Malgoroth and Cryaria. Their doctrines and the accompanying paranoia regarding those that do not adhere to them have become almost a religion in their own right, and many religious organisations are beginning to wonder what exactly will follow – especially as many of their faiths are not considered entirely “appropriate” by the Order; their Gods “unpredictable supernatural entities”.

Some of the biggest changes in the world have come about with the refinement of skyship technology and the recent discovery of “Kelter Drives” - powerful portal powered engines that allow vessels to open controlled wormholes and to cover impossible distances through space. Dimensional travel has also become almost commonplace, the psychic plane now reverberating with the passing of vast Void Ships, and a Unified Order stronghold called Outpost Etherian was constructed in 1540 as the stable point of contact between the physical plane and the immaterium.

The Order have also established a strong presence on Chillosta (having helped rebuild their shattered society after a daemon plague swept their world and opened a dark portal in the planet's dark core seas), and have begun to colonise several resource rich areas of icy Raajil – much to the fury of the local Valnyrr who claim truly ancient ownership of several of them.

They are fighting a war with the debased Dwaer'Syth of the twinned shadow worlds Shan'Brastor and Cle'Rertre, and are mining the mineral rich crust of Terrun. Pyre is currently beyond their ability to colonise, and Ruen is considered a “dangerous” world, fraught with supernatural hazards deigned too lethal to try and neutralise.

The Kelter Drives are allowing the Order to begin exploring remote, alien worlds, uncovering resources and materials that will pave the way to their eventual domination of the Soluri and nearby systems, as well the local dimensions.

The Warforged are still produced though in smaller numbers than before, and many new designs are being forged, capable of acts their predecessors were not. The Order have been very busy developing weapons, improving their auto-incantation arms and building huge foundries across Arbel'Verdaniss and Chillosta. It is hoped that before the next hundred years are through, that all of the Shadow Worlds will be given over to Unified Order artifice.

The Order's main homeworld strongholds are now Irin (where they are building a great flying fortress), and the land that was once Vaesuur, now known as “The Allegiance Holds”, where their gigantic, floating city fortress of Concordis dominates. Relations with the other landholders of the Holds are currently strained, and there are rumbles of war within the Labyrinth cities of Talakasia, as they are “encouraged” to pay the Order for their “mutually beneficial endeavours” - which so far have been far more beneficial to the Order magi than the Taurgaryn.

As for the common folk, it depends on whether you live within the “civilized” lands, dominated by Order laws, education and “enlightenment”, or in the darkness beyond, a place of chaos and madness (if you believe the order) or freedom from crushing tyranny and oppression (if you don't).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Pre War Session - 15/3/2010

Leskin warns the group before they settle for the night that they should cover up to stop the local mosquitoes biting them. He then staggers off to his own tent, telling the party to sleep where they like and to “leave my god damned students alone”.

01:45 – 03:45 – Ormid, concerned about Leskin's warning works through the heavy rains of the night on two health bolstering potions – one for him, and one for Llewellyn. Unfortunately by the time he has finished them, he is already infected (as is the Vyrleen), his immune system weakened by the lack of sleep and the soaking. Whilst he does this, Llewellyn dozes, Veteran enters his autistic mode and the Dundorin snores loudly, apparently unbothered by the heavy rain.

04:00 – Ormid gives Llewellyn the potion he has made, and wearily slumps beneath the cover of a palm tree, dropping almost instantly to sleep.

06:00 – After a poor night's sleep, the group awaken to thick fog, and to a shirtless, barrel-gutted Leskin pissing loudly by their resting place. He grins at them, wishes them a good morning, and puts himself away before informing them that he will work a spell of protection on them before they leave, to stop them being instantly slain by the volcanic conditions within the mount.

Both Llewellyn and Ormid feel dizzy and shiver with the beginnings of pyrexia, whilst Veteran and Ardwaine seem none the worse. Leskin sees this and tuts loudly braying “I told you to cover up. Why does no one ever listen to me eh?”

06:00 – 06:20 – The group eat a cold breakfast, and Ardwaine examines the two shivering wretches, noting with concern their pale skin, greasy perspiration and violent shivering. She promises to do what she can when they have time, but tells them that there won't be chance until they next rest.

06:20 – The group meet with Leskin, who uses an ancient scroll to work a potent warding spell over them. He tells them that it will last until the next day, and outlines briefly where he believes they need to go, pointing to a hidden area halfway up the vast volcanoes precipitous sides.

06:25 – The group leave the camp.

06:25 – 14:30 – The group push through the suffocating embrace of primal jungle; ancient and untouched by any blade or flame for long and long. It takes the group a good eight hours to slog through it, though they encounter nothing more threatening than the mosquitoes and howler monkeys that seem to be ubiquitous to the area.

The group are aware of the constant, deep rumbling that thrums through the ground as they scale the volcano; a hint of the destructive forces seething beneath them, and minor tremors shake them almost constantly. They also come across the occasional fumarole, brilliant yellow with sulphur crystals, the area around it devoid of any plant life, save a few, scrubby shrubs with coppery stems and long curved thorns (this is Devil Thorn, a common plant that is thought to have originated in an infernal plane, and which grows in volcanic areas in the physical plane. It's thorns can be used as fishing hooks, and its tubular flowers emit a strong, musky aroma which has been used as a ritual incense in the past).

By the time they clear the jungle and reach about halfway up the side of the cinder cone volcano, the party are sweaty and light headed from the high altitude. Ormid and Llewellyn have developed agonising headaches, and are a ghastly pallor.

From their vantage point the party gain a fantastic view of the surrounding land, and can see several other volcanoes in the distance, at least one spewing huge columns of ash, smoke and fire into the skies.

14:35 - After another scramble over bare scoria and ash, they suddenly find themselves looking at the shattered and jumbled streets and petrified humps of ancient structures. A sense of ancient loss hangs in the air here, and most of the buildings are little more than formless masses of concrete like ignimbrite.

Little is evident to point to who built the structures, and it seems that apart from the odd scorpion or the large shiny black ants that scurry everywhere, that nothing lives here.

14:45 – The group move further up the side of the Volcano along the sunken, devastated streets, the suns shining brightly onto them, the air becoming radiant with shimmering heat and the whispering chatter of grasshoppers. Ormid and Llewellyn both stumble and groan, their headaches only growing worse in the thin air and brutal sunlight.

Suddenly, they see something ahead – ancient, but far less so than the buildings – massive totems carved from Obsidian. Each is roughly 10' across and 60' high, every inch of their glassy surface painstakingly inscribed with solid looking runes and representations of fearsome, scowling faces, like those of Dundorin but strangely proportioned. Indeed, in many ways it appears to be a massive work of Dundiir art, though Ormid and Ardwaine pool their knowledge and quickly identify them as the works of Zargor'Gigori – Fire Giants!

Beyond the black totems the group can see a massive portal of cracked obsidian, carved with more faded Zargor'Gigorim runes, leading to a massive space in the volcanoes side. Thick clouds of whitish-yellow smoke and steam belch from the top of this 30' high doorway, and great crystals of sulphur hang like stalactites from the top of the structure; jutting fangs growing from a sparkling coating of volcanic crystals.

14:48 – Llewellyn and Ardwaine move forwards a little towards the portal, whilst Ormid continues to study the Zargor'Gigorim totems, watched over by Veteran and Ferrous.

Peering through the heat haze, the Vyrleen and Dundorin can make out a jumble of obsidian, basalt and ignimbrite beyond the impressive frontage, all of it encrusted with sulphur. Llewellyn stumbles ahead of the warrior priestess, and she shouts a warning to him to be careful...

...A moment too late, for something huge and armour plated skitters forwards, venomous stinger raised, rune marked claws wreathed in a blaze of magival flames; a vast scorpion.

A moment later and two smaller scorpions, their claws flickering with crackling sparks, burst out from behind it. Then, all three scuttle in to attack...

14:48 – 14:50 – A truly vicious battle ensues. The larger scorpion’s venom ignites within its targets and its mighty claws allow it to pin, crush and burn anyone it grabs. The smaller invertebrates move like the lightning that wreathes their claws, dancing around the group and stabbing with their venom laden stingers.

All the party are seriously wounded, though it is Llewellyn and Ardwaine who fare the worst – the former because of his disease ravaged fortitude and the latter thanks to pure bad luck.

The battle moves through the portal and into the volcano as the larger scorpion drags the Dundorin in there to devour her undisturbed, and the group feel the toxic, searing gasses whipping out at them – negated by the thin web of abjuration magic around them. They also catch a glimpse of shattered obsidian streets and looming, smoke wreathed structures glinting redly in distant, rutilant light.

the monstrous bugs are slain in time, and after a failed attempt by the artificer to remove the venom from the smaller scorpions, and a few healing incantations from Ardwaine, the group turn their attention to the black streets of the shattered Zargor'Gigorim dwelling, and head into the guts of the volcano.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Elemental Warden

Here is the beastie that zapped Emmiven and pinned Schnecke.
(Click for biggererererrr...)


Post War Session - 6/3/2010 - The Barbarian, The Priest and the Warlord

Whilst the other guys were knee deep in the dead (and undead), Schnecke, Emmiven and Grigori were up to their collective nuts in the works of magic; artifice, animations and conjurations. Enjoy!

THE MARKET TUNNEL

12:10 – 12:12 – The warforged (who wield rune emblazoned halberds, which seethe with a thin skin of fire) leap to attack whilst the other creatures (which are quickly identified as skeletons) surge to join them, each wielding a glass sharp blade of blackened steel.

The battle is brutal and short, with the barbarian smashing into the warforged, whilst the priests unloads waves of radiant energy into the undead, whilst tagging the living constructs with guiding runes. Emmiven uses his new hammer to devastating effect, charging full tilt into his foes as much as possible, using it to blast horrible dents in their armour, and to smash them, writhing to the floor.

Shnecke is particularly eager for this battle, having had nothing to kill for several days and having a brutal new axe (his reward from the their recent adventures in Karrag'Durzal) – a gleaming thing of Dundorin construction, struck with runes of thunderous magic and carved with realistic screaming faces on each face of the blade – to test out. All the group are a little shaken when, after slaying one of the warforged, the downed foes likeness replaces one of those rendered in the blades metal; a perfect representation of it screaming in agony...

12:12 – As the last blow falls, and the last warforged dies in a blurt of machine cant, the air around the party suddenly seethes, buckles and twists with focused energy, and a trio of imposing robed forms, dripping with power and authority manifest. Two are dressed in black robes, armoured with rune scribed plates of some unknown material. Potent warding mantles float around them, and their faces are obscured by heavy masks complete with circular eye pieces of smoked crystal, and artifice re-breathers. Each wields an auto-incantation pistols, and their personal might is evident to all. They flank the third and most imposing figure – a being dressed in dull red and black robes, bearing the sigil of the Unified Order. His eyes weep power from behind an intricate mask of glyph carved darksteel, and a sword of lensing nothingness flames darkly in his gauntleted hand. His battle mantle glows with myriad strange and alien energies, and when he speaks it is with utter authority.

“I am Archevult, and you are needed. I shall find the rat Rubus, but you must find your allies and aid them”

And before they can say a word, they are simply somewhere else!

12:13 – The trio find themselves in a well planned garden. A sweeping wall of white, rune emblazoned stone stands behind them, and ahead, beyond well manicured lawns and sweeping beds of exotic flowers, soars an ornate tower of white stone; thick with ornamentations, gargoyles and grotesques, as well as balconies with rune scribed plinths.

Immediately before them is a wide path of crushed white stone chips flanked by two flower beds. At the corners of the flower beds flicker fantastical carvings of elemental energy; elaborate things of fire, ice, lightning and radiant energy. Ahead of the group, between them and the flights of steps leading to the ornate front doors of the tower however are enemies; two more of Rubus warforged house guard, and a curious, floating thing that looks like one of the sculptures given life, its form in constant motion as clashing elements roar and surge, continually cancelling each other out and resurging back in to fill the sudden voids – an Elemental Warder!

With Archevult's words ringing in their ears, and realising that the tower is where their allies are, the group prepare to fight!

12:14 – 12:16 – A screaming bolt of clashing elemental energy hurtles towards the Warlord from the elemental wardens churning form, but he smashes it aside with his shield, and with a bellow, charges...

...Only to be blasted by coruscating lines of seething elemental energy as he crosses between two of the seemingly inert elemental carvings flanking the path. Before he reaches the floating elemental thing, he is hit by another blast as he crosses another invisible line between sculptures, and when he lands a heavy blow on the thing, he receives yet more pain as the thin skin of elemental energy surrounding the warder flows over his weapon, down his arm and blasts him.

And so a fierce battle ensues with the group having to navigate the trapped battlefield of the path, whilst fighting deadly opponents. The Warder's aegis of blasting elements it is quickly discovered can be removed with a strong enough blow, though it quickly reforms, and it strikes a particularly vile blow on the barbarian when it launches a javelin of frozen acid at him, impaling him and pinning him, like a butterfly on a lepidopterists board, the frozen fluid searing his guts until he finds the fury and strength to break free.

Like their comrades, the party are sorely tested by the battle. However, thanks to the barbarian's fury, the priests stunning healing abilities (which at one point drag both Schnecke and Emmiven back from the brink of death) and Emmiven's “charge 'em and knock 'em flat” tactics, they win through. However, as the last warforged is slain, the party notice that several of the White Stone Gargoyles on the towers decorated exterior have animated and unfurled great wings, preparing to launch into the air...

12:16 – As the gargoyles launch, the great doors to the tower open, and more Orellio House Guards emerge...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Post War Session - 6/3/2010 - The Assasin, The Sorcerer and the Swordmage...

I will post the simultaneous battles for the other group as soon as I get chance...

RUBUS' TOWER

12:00 – 12:01 – The rotting horror manifests fully in the chamber, the air around it thick with droning flies and the stench of putridity. However, it barely has chance to emit its first gurgling roar before it is hacked down by the trio of adventurers; split open by the assassins dark magic and shadowy blades, half burst apart and frozen by a particularly well placed beam of freezing lunar energy thrown by the sorceress, and burned and slashed by the swordmage's ensorcelled blades. It manages to land a leprous blow on the assassin before it goes down, its dark powers rotting a dripping role in his side.

12:01 – 12:06 – with the monster dead, the group turn their thoughts to what to do next. They consider trying to leave the tower via the lift, but quickly decide this would be suicide, due to the warding glyph blazing madly on the door, and the Stone Golems in the corridor outside.

Varracuda examines the wall of invisible energy that forms a barrier between the group and the trap door Rubus dropped down, and concludes that it would take a magnificent (read: lucky) feat of magic to bring it down – and the group quickly realise that other wards undoubtedly await them beyond.

So, they turn their attention to the abeyant portals described by the flowing, rune scribed stonework along the chambers walls. They quickly realise that these portals are linked to fixed locations, and that once opened, could only lead there. None of the party are too keen to enter a portal in this foul mages' office, but faced with certain and possible death, they decide to go for the latter.

It takes some effort to activate the portals, but Seren and Varracuda manage it, using magic components to reconfigure the dormant runes and fire up the nearest portal's magic.

12:07 - With teeth gritted and spells ready, the party enter the portal...

...and enter a place of utter wrongness. They are assaulted by the foul aura of evil and the sights that meet their eyes are seared into their brains for life, for they have stumbled into an orgy – an orgy where the coupling is between the living and the dead.

They are in a crypt, its walls thick with moisture and condensation. Foul suggestive symbols and crude representations of utterly blasphemous acts decorate the desecrated burial chambers walls, whilst, in the sunken middle section lusting forms – alive, dead and undead – writhe and groan in an abominable ecstasy. Shattered bones, tatters of burial shroud and other remnants of the chambers true purpose lie scattered about the place, either destroyed deliberately, or by these atrocious monsters as they slake their abominable lusts.

A single set of double doors on the opposite wall to the one the characters stand by is the only exit, and the clearest way to it – the raised area of the crypt around the celebrant filled lust pit – is watched over by two more horrors.

They are undead humanoids; one male and one female. Both are naked, grossly mummified, and have been painted with the filthy symbols of this cults unknown sponsors. Each monster radiates undiluted malevolence, and appears all the more horrifying as they have thick, blunt nails driven into their eyes, and weep thick trails of sticky black fluid constantly, the vile muck filling their mouths and covering their clawed fingers.

As the group enter the chamber, the celebrants do not notice, being too involved in their depraved lust. The nail-eyed undead however immediately sense them, and at once begin to emit a horrible, soul draining wailing, which shakes the naked, filth-smeared cultists from their exertions and alerts all to the groups arrival.

Panic sets in amongst most of the celebrants and they scramble for the doors, pushing them open (the group spot three armed warriors beyond, though they are pushed back by the wave of fleeing cultists), though four, enraged that their lust has been interrupted, launch themselves towards the three, screaming, their only weapons their fists, knees and teeth!

12:07 – 12:12 – A rapidly more serious battle unfolds. The undead (Wheeps) weaken the resolve of the party, their constant howling and sobbing filling them with despondency and numbing their minds, whilst their filth encrusted teeth and claws deliver a potent necrotoxin. The cultists are easily dispatched, but animated by their rage, hit hard and leap in and out of reach, avoiding direct confrontation with the group.

The group manage to push the monsters back. However, as the tide of fleeing cultist leaving the room wanes, three more foul beings enter the chamber; two warriors dressed in blood spattered leather armour and wielding longswords etched with dark prayers, and a woman clad in slick robes of human flesh, tattooed with incantations of protection and foul power. She screams words of vile magic, swinging a rune carved femur above her head, and grants unlife to some of the corpses in the lust pits, the reanimated cadavers seething with necrotic power.

The trio of adventurers come as close to death as they ever have over the next few moments. Each one of the vile warriors carries five shrunken human heads, filled with corrosive, necrotic slime, and as they advance, they hurl these, covering Seren in mordant filth, then the others. Seren hoses the chamber with magic, slashing at the ritualist and the warriors with fragments of frigid energy, but weakened and wounded, she is quickly overwhelmed by the biting fluids, collapsing by the portal.

The assassin is surrounded by the animated corpses, and plays a deadly game of hide and seek with the new combatants, using the pillars that support the roof as cover, and his ability to teleport to avoid becoming trapped. He does well too, striking down several foes until he too succumbs to the filth within the shrunken heads, and collapses, rotting at an unnaturally accelerated rate.

By this point, one warrior and the magic user remain...

And so it up to Varracuda to finish the job and save his allies. Potions of healing are quickly found on one of the slain warriors, but he is forced to fight for his life as the ritualist uses her dark powers upon him.

However, the ritualist is forced to flee, as she is hit by one of the shrunken heads, torn from the belt of a slain warrior, and sorely wounded by the corrosive slime within, leaving only the last warrior who, insane with hated and sick lust, stalks towards Seren's unconscious form, blade held ready.

“I'm gonna' bleed me that pig” he snarls...

He doesn't get chance. Varracuda leaps past him and forces one of the foul smelling healing potions down Seren's throat. Her blood and slime gummed eyes flicker open, and just as the warrior begins to raise his sword high over the kneeling swordmage and prostrate sorceress, she spits a word of power...

...and incinerates him

12:13 – 12:15 – A potion is used on Jaegar, and the group, battered, terrified and aware that they have many more battles ahead of them yet – though steely with a resolve to push on through – stagger towards the exit...

Monday, 1 March 2010

A Challenging Process

So, if you have been reading the session write ups, you know that our Post-War heroes are currently in two small groups, each facing their own perils. I guess my players never saw the "Never Split the Party" logo last year at Wizards.

Now, previously, using the older systems, this would have been a serious pain in the ass. Much as I love 3.5, the challenge rating system was...rickety....at best, and an apparently balanced battle often ended up being way too easy or impossible (especially when it featured undead, who usually had a lot of hit dice, and as a result had attacks with totally bonkers save D.C.s).

Luckily, the more solid maths in 4e makes this sort of thing less daunting, and I have not become a weeping mass of gibbering whilst planning the next game. Having said that, I have had to bear in mind several important factors...

(I will use the expression "acceptable level of risk" quite a bit in the following. For me, this is a level of risk where, barring bad strategy and bad luck, the group have a good chance of surviving though not without some scrapes and item use. However, it also takes into account that a battle should be challenging, and that yep, characters can - and should - die from time to time)

Problem 1: One group (Group A) has all the Leaders, Healing and big hit point characters, whilst the other (Group B) has all the strikers and a single non-standard defender. 

This is a biggie. I have chosen to set the battles Group A face about equal to their level or 1 less (though they can expect several of these in a row with little chance for a rest). I have been able to stick a wide variety of foes in these battles, as they have the means to tackle them with an acceptable level of risk. Group B will face varied opponents, but more of the artillery, minion and skirmisher types. I will also try to work some ways for that group to trigger healing surges without a Leader present - though what these are will remain a secret.

Having said that, Group B will face some more solid opponents, and out of the two groups, will face slighly roughter battles - such is the plight they are in. Most of their battles will be their level -1, but will feature multiple foes of their level -2, to -1. This should balance things out well - fast paced action Vs a massacre, and should (shoooould) keep an acceptable level of risk in play.

Problem 2: I have to do some railroading to keep it interesting. 

Group A can, if they choose, bog off to the nearest village and wait to see if the Group B turn up - a common sense move, but not a very interesting one for Group A's players.

The solution. I have to railroad them a bit, to get them involved in some fighty-blasty-pain goodness. As a general rule I hate railroading, but in this instance, it will mean the difference between half the group sitting there doing nothing and half having all the fun, or everyone being involved.

Problem 3 - Two groups at once equals twice the effort right?

Wrong. I intend to run the whole session on an initiative count, with both groups and their foes being run simultaneously on two battle boards. To allow characters to hold actions without fear of being relegated to the later counts for the whole session, a Move Action will be allowed to let a character re-roll initiaitive, or a character can spend a whole round refocusing a la 3.5, to set their initiative as if they had rolled a "20". 


Problem 4 - XP!

So, what happens when one group faces higher challenges and the other get less XP? They level up at different times and everything gets a bit complex. I actually got the players' opinions on this, making them aware that they would face slightly differrent levels of threat and so earn different amounts of XP. They all agreed that we would add all the XP up, and split it, 50-50 after the fact, which makes my life easier and means no one gets sniffy and pissed off!

And there you have it, the main problems I have faced and the cures. This next game will be  real test, and will be the most challenging game I have run over the last 21 years. Check the blog out to see how it went (it's next Saturday).