Friday, 29 August 2014

Stat Blocks - House Xorlarrin of the City of Plaguelost

House Xorlarrin is a powerful drow house from Menzoberranzan whose true power does not lie with its priestesses - though they still hold the reins of power as is normal in matriarchal drow society - but with its male wizards. And these males are accorded an unusual level of respect within House Xorlarrin, verging on (heretical, according to some) near-quality.

With its focus on arcane might, House Xorlarrin was a natural choice to first hear from Lolth's emissary that the Demon Queen of Spiders was seeking to rebuild the Weave, broken as it was by the Spellplague, as the Demon Weave and further increase her power by becoming the deity of magic in place of (presumably) dead Mystra.

Xorlarrin wizards, supported by priestesses, have been tasked with exploring various sites of power, some touched by the Spellplague and some wellsprings of primal or primordial power. The stat blocks that follow relate to the House Xorlarrin outpost beneath Neverwinter known now as Plaguelost. Originally it was called Spellspire and was a place of arcane experimentation away from the judgemental, heresy-hunting eyes of Lolth's inquisitors in Menzoberranzan, as well as being a convenient place from which to trade with Skullport and Karsoluthiyl.

Because of the magic that was present in the former-Spellspire, the Spellplague's effects truly devastated the outpost and House Xorlarrin began to refer to it as Plaguelost and assumed that it was, indeed, lost to their house. However, Bregan D'aerthe delvers looking for alternative routes to Skullport found it once more and traded that information to House Xorlarrin for magic and the right of access to the outpost which they continue to enjoy.

And House Xorlarrin realised that the effects of the Spellplague on Plaguelost made it the perfect place to study the broken Weave and, perhaps, to make genuine progress in the creation of the Demon Weave.

These stat blocks relate to Ulvdril Xorlarrin, the spellscarred wizard who now leads this outpost, and those of his guards, his assistants/apprentices, the overseeing - in theory, at least - priestesses and underpriestesses, their quaggoth slave guards, and the demons summoned to assist with the Demon Weave's creation.

The Wizards

Ulvdril Xorlarrin is the leader of Plaguelost but, in reality, he is so busy with his arcane experiments that actual control of the city rests with the drow priestess Lirda Xorlarrin.

He was born in the former Spellspire before the Spellplague struck and was one of those who escaped but it forever marked him: he is, himself, spellscarred and, if his heavy robes are removed, his bones can be seen glowing with blue flame through his skin in a strobe-like effect in time with his heartbeat.

In addition to the mark of the Spellplague, Ulvdril's body is horribly twisted. His spine and body were broken by angry inquisitors of Lolth who saw the blue flames of his body as an abomination and affront to Lolth. However, it seemed the Queen of Spiders had plans for Ulvdril because she sent a yochlol to stop the inquisitors from striking the killing blow... although she also did not require that they heal him. The injuries were so severe that he now scuttles like some sort of lizard or insect when he walks leading to his nickname, The Lizard.

(One of those inquisitors now exists as a blue obsidian paperweight on the spellscarred wizard's main desk while the other two are formless oozes that prowl the sewers of Menzoberranzan. The Lizard was permitted his revenge....) 

Ulvdril's battle tactics generally involve unleashed a wall of blue flame to shape the battlefield as early as possible, and then alternating between spellplague glasstrike and shiver flesh from a distance if at all possible. His preference is to only enter combat when his two mezzoloth thralls of Lolth guards are present (see below).

Ulvdril often makes use of apprentice spellspinners as messengers and ritual assistants. They sometimes accompany patrols in order to obtain battle experience and their ability to levitate and then blank the battlefield with poisonous web makes them valuable to the arcane guards and footsoldiers they accompany.

And while they use similar tactics if encountered together with Ulvdril, their main role when they are fighting at the side of the senior wizard is to draw the enemy's attacks away from him.

The Priestesses

Lirda Xorlarrin is the sole ranking priestess in Plaguelost and, if she was ever to tell the truth, she feels completely out of her depth. She realises that what Ulvdril is doing has Lolth's blessing and she is simply hoping that his success will benefit her as well. But as a priestess of Lolth she hates being unable to control her circumstances, and also seemingly dependent upon the success of a male!

Lirda enjoys battle and has been known to personally lead a "spider" or "double spider" (see below) on patrol in the Great Grotto of Plaguelost particularly when hook horrors are sighted. She still enjoys the visceral thrill that comes from cracking the horrors' shells with her scourge and she also has a taste for fresh hook horror marrow consumed on the battlefield.

And while there is only one full priestess in Plaguelost, there are many underpriestesses as they are an integral part of the rituals related to the Demon Weave. House Xorlarrin sent only the most promising underpriestesses with the strongest sense of disciple and grasp of ritual magic. At any time, eight underpriestesses will be performing the necessary rituals at the altar within what is now known as Blue Flame Spire.

If forced to end their rituals to fight, they will fight to the death but, if their enemy retreats, they will not pursue as they see returning to their rituals as their primary task.

Their ability to deal ongoing poison damage, and then to increase that ongoing poison damage with Lolth's caress, forms the basis of their combat tactics.

The Soldiers


The bulk of House Xorlarrin's drow soldiery are known as the Arcane Guard. The Arcane Guard is made up of glaive-wielding swordmages - arcane guards - organised in units of seven arcane guards led by an arcane guard captain. Because these units have eight members, they are referred to as "spiders".

(These are not the only "spiders" employed by House Xorlarrin. Another form of "spider" is comprised of seven quaggoth guards led by a quaggoth thonot and when two or more "spiders" are operating together, they are referred to as "double spiders", "triple spiders" etc....)
The Arcane Guard relies heavily on its ability to lock down the enemy on the battlefield but their captain's ability to create and sustain a swordmage's gate provides them with formidable mobility. Beyond their combat utility, Ulvdril values their presence because he can use their arcane skill to supplement certain ritual magics that he performs.

In fact, the heavy presence of the Arcane Guard has had much to do with the speedy process that The Lizard has made in terms of his creation of a miniature weave that, even now, is being corrupted with the abyssal energies of the Demonweb Pits to create the first functioning version of the Demon Weave.
The Arcane Guard also combine well with drow lizard cavalry whose extreme mobility, particularly in the ruins of Plaguelost where their ability to jump and spider climb means they can essentialy ignore the penalties of difficult terrain, allows them to keep up with the Arcane Guard even when they have used their captain's swordmage's gate to travel to another part of the battlefield.

The drow lizard cavalry is built with a single stat block rather than separate stat blocks for the rider and mount. In view of the way they operate in battle, it just made more sense to go with a single stat block.
Finally, House Xorlarrin has also more mundane drow footsoldiers in Plaguelost. While Ulvdril sees them as little better than sword- and spell-fodder, they are very well-trained, mobile, and flexible in their attacks. Hand crossbow give them a ranged capability (including ongoing poison damage which is very useful if they are fighting with underpriestesess) but their preference is to rely on very mobile skirmishing tactics - they can shift 2 squares with each minor action thanks to footsoldier's nimble step - that are very defensive in nature: they rely heavily on their defensive buckler strike as their primary attack using rapier primarily if they choose to charge or make an opportunity attack.

The Demon Thralls of Lolth

The city of Plaguelost is the backdrop for the PCs' quest to recover the third and final Tear of Selûne. In view of the fact that the Demon Weave is supposed to be being fuelled by, inter alia, magical artefacts, it would make sense that these drow after finding the Tear would try and corrupt it so that it can also feed this new Weave of Lolth's.

From what I have read of D&D's lore regarding the Abyss, glabrezu are supposed to be major corruptors. As such, it made sense for at least one of the demons that would be found in Plaguelost to be a glabrezu and for the glabrezu to be in charge of the ritual that sought to corrupt the Tear with the power of the Demonweb Pits. 

As I have noted elsewhere on this blog, consistent with my desire to run campaigns set in the Heroic Tier, I prefer to change the level of monsters to match their 1E hit dice. While glabrezu are a mixture of high Paragon and also Epic threats in 4E, in 1E and 2E they had 10 hit dice so I decided to make mine a level 10 monster. I was tossing up between soldier and controller as their role but I looked at the 2E write-up in the Monstrous Compendium: Outer Planes Appendix and saw they had access to both reverse gravity and power word: stun. They seemed to be something like signature powers that I wanted to preserve in my 4E stat block. I replaced a direct conversion of power word: stun with blasphemous word which was also inspired by a similarly named power on the official 4E stat block.
(The other reason for choosing a power with blasphemous as part of its name was that I imagined the glabrezu's ritual would involve it muttering foul blasphemies in Abyssal or Dark Speech over the Tear.)

Also, having chosen the controller role I wanted to give it an aura that could potentially have a major effect on combat. Glabrezu are noted deceivers and I thought aura of deception was consistent with that trait. Limiting it to only function while the glabrezu in unbloodied should help minimise any frustration factor that can otherwise attend lost attacks... especially lost attacks that are redirected at allies!

To guard the glabrezu while it performed its foul ritual - as well as making their own contributions - I decided to use mariliths. I admit, my primary reason for doing so was because I had two marilith miniatures that I have never used and I really wanted to use them.

It was really a toss-up between making the mariliths skirmishers or soldiers. The ability of pre-4E mariliths to constrict suggested a soldier role but I decided to make them a more mobile combatant as per their official 4E stat blocks. 

In 1E, mariliths - although they were known as type V demons at this point - had 7+7 hit dice which was probably an editing error in the same way that balors - aka type VI demons - had 8+8 hit dice when the logical progression from the other lower ranked demon types would suggest that the marilith would have 12 hit dice and the balor 13 hit dice. Indeed, 2E corrected this.

So, why the error? 1E had really poor rules editing as anyone trying to decipher the unplayable-as-written combat rules would agree. Reading between the lines from various posting I have seen from TSR alumni, it seems that the late Gary Gygax wasn't too fond of "criticism" even when that criticism was legitimate editing. So, back to hit dice of the type V and VI demons. When they appeared in Eldritch Wizardry, the type VI was noted as having 12-sided hit dice thus making its hit points significantly higher than a normal creature with 8+8 hit dice. I think type Vs were supposed to be the same but I cannot recall precisely, and looking up an editing error is just a waste of time.

So, back to my version of the marilith. I was starting with the idea that, because the marilith had 12 hit dice in 1E, it would be a level 12 monster in 4E. And a level 12 monster in 4E has the same XP value as a level 8 elite monster in 4E... but, for some reasons, my self-editing failed me and I statted it up as level 7 elite. Oh well, the marilith thrall of Graz'zt that is going to make an appearance in a few sessions' time will be a level 8 skirmisher. And, let's face it, the PCs won't notice. :)

The abovementioned Monstrous Compendium: Outer Planes Appendix noted that the mariliths were strategic and tactical geniuses, even the generals of the Blood War. As a result, I also wanted the marilith to be a (leader) but I didn't want something too complicated. I settled on the mistress of the battlefield aura which alows her to move around enemies and allies. In the case of enemies, that can be described as being the result of the marilith's lashing tail while, in the case of allies, it can simply be her tactical genius.

Anyway, most importantly, it's simple.

Otherwise, the marilith in combat is a mixture of using dance of blades when it is available to move and attack all over the battlefield and then using wall of blades when a strong defensive position that allows for more than one enemy to be attacked is found. The marilith's powers are all about position.

Finally, the third member of our demonic trio is the mezzoloth, also known as the mezzodemon in 4E and the mezzodaemon in 1E. I'm not big on Planescape-y stuff and I don't need any backstory or rationale for these name changes. I'm just sticking with the 2E name and giving it the demon type as is the case in 4E.

Interestingly, the mezzoloth/demon/daemon was once creature that exists in 4E with a lower level than its 1E hit dice. There is a level 7 version in the Compendium, and even the official mezzodemon is level 11, only one more than its 1E hit dice. Nevertheless, I wanted to stay true to my choice to use 1E hit dice as the 4E monster level so I made my mezzoloth a level 10 soldier.

The charm resistance trait comes from something out of its first appearance in D3 Vault of the Drow and I wanted to keep that original piece of flavour. Otherwise, it's largely based on the 4E version. Story-wise, these are just meant to be elite guards for Ulvdril Xorlarrin, holding back his enemies so that he is free to unleash his ranged attacks.

And that brings to an end the stat blocks for the House Xorlarrin forces in the city of Plaguelost. You can read about how the party fared against these <links to be inserted when the session reports are finished>.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Return to Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One 7 - Restart Session 2

Restart Session 2
Date: 27 Eleint 1479 DR

Cast of Characters
 
Aelar: unaligned male half-elf valorous bard (Dead Rat Deserter) 6
Baelval: good male eladrin bladesinger wizard (Iliyanbruen Guardian) 6
Griemolt Alagondar: good male human barbarian|warlord (Neverwinter Noble) 6
Kurgan Deepaxe: male dwarf weaponmaster fighter (Heir of Delzoun) 6

Previously in Neverwinter...

The party is exploring the bottom of The Chasm in the ruined - but slowly being rebuilt - city of Neverwinter. Their quest is to find the third of three objects known as the Tears of Selûne, the remains of shooting stars that fell to earth in Neverwinter but which the mysterious eladrin servitor of the Moonmaiden, Lady Moonsilver, assures the PCs are potent relics of her faith. Further, uou have accepted a second quest from Captain-General Tasmel Sabine, commander of the mercenaries and other soldiers employed to protect Neverwinter, to discover the source of the plaguechanged creatures which constantly menace the city above and, ideally, end that threat.

After exploring a mysterious ziggurat, the party descended further and encountered a colossal grotto limned with the blue flame of the Spellplague. This rather large vault - some 5 miles by 2 miles - was divided roughly into thirds: the first being a fungal forest, the second being a small underground sea, and the final being another fungal forest except for the part of it which appears to be a small ruined walled city apparently touched by the Spellplague.

The means of crossing the sea was a bridge of ancient construction but bearing the mark of the dwarven kingdom of Haunghdannar. Yet again, something of that ancient realm which ceased existence more than 3,000 years ago has been found by the PCs. But crossing the bridge, no matter the quality of its construction, was not simple. The appearance of a mottled worm, the aquatic cousin of the purple worm, was a battle that the party thought it might lose but from which they, of course, emerged victorious.

And that last session concluded in the aftermath of that battle with several daily powers used, healing surges expended (Aelar 1, Baelval 2, Griemolt 5, and Kurgan 3), and some damage to the characters (Aelar 8, Griemolt 19). 

What the players do not yet know is that the great grotto - aka The Great Grotto of Plaguelost - was, before the Spellplague, an important drow outpost of Menzoberranzan's House Xorlarrin that fostered trade between Menzoberranzan and both Skullport and Karsoluthiyl.

The wizards of House Xorlarrin favoured this outpost as a place of great magical experimentation but this was to cause them significant harm when the Spellplague was unleashed across Toril and, in fact, it was created The Chasm initially before the eruption of Mt Hotenow expanded that crevasse even further.

House Xorlarrin are now back in the outpost they simply call Plaguelost, as are duergar slavers from Gracklstugh, House Tanor'Thal emissaries from Skullport and Karsoluthiyl, and even illithids and their druuth from the Sept of Ill'Ghact.

But the primary purpose of Plaguelost is to experiment into the nature of the Weave in preparation for the creation of Lolth's Demon Weave. This is the reason for the web-like lattice of blue flame that surrounds the central tower of Plaguelost: this is, essentially, a smaller version of the Weave recreated in one location and Ulvdril "The Lizard" Xorlarrin, Senior Wizard of Plaguelost, plans to use the power of a corrupted Tear of Selûne to empower the first prototype of the Demon Weave. 

The maps and many of the ideas for the Great Grotto of Plaguelost come from the excellent 3.5E adventure The Sinister Spire. Even though it was published before the edition that unleashed the Spellplague, it contained a fairly similar idea which may be a result of the fact that the co-author of The Sinister Spire was also the co-author of the 4E Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide... as well as some of the worst FR fiction that has ever been written. But I digress....

Important NPCs 

Monster Roster

House Xorlarrin quaggoth guard, level 9 minion brute
House Xorlarrin quaggoth thonot, level 6 brute (leader)

Session Summary

Quick Recap
You stand on a dwarf-built bridge that spans a small underground sea. You've finished a short rest - and the bookkeeping that goes with it - and now you, once again, take in your surroundings.

You've come about a quarter of the way along a bridge some 2 miles in length. To the south is this mysterious sea including a strange island a mile or so away that looks like an unholy conglomeration of the Spellplague, crystalline formations, and gargantuan fungi. To the east, from whence you came, is a fungal forest that you would say was of an impossible size, except that the one to the west appears to be far larger. And on the shores of the sea, walled against threats from both the sea and - presumably - the fungal forest, is a small walled and ruined city dominated by a tower carved out of a pillar that connects floor to ceiling and which appears to be webbed in a great weave of the blue flames of the Spellplague.

Despite being about 1000' underground, your vision is essentially undimmed. The strange blue flame of Spellplague energies lights everything. The entire grotto is lit with a weird, dim, blue light. But Aelar is certain that the Moonbridge Amulet which he wears is directing him toward the walled city....
The Great Grotto of Plaguelost, Part Two
Plaguelost Patrol: A Quaggoth Spider
Level 6 Encounter (950 XP)

The PCs used some flashy - and loud! - magic when they defeated the mottled worm. While travellers on the dwarven bridge are relatively common as the city is now quite active in trading for magic and slaves, legitimate travellers generally arrive at late afternoon or night as the drow and other inhabitants of these ruins are primarily nocturnal.

The House Xorlarrin guard captain at the North Gate (P1 on the "Plaguelost" [Pedestal] map) despatches a patrol called a quaggoth "spider" - because it has eight "legs": one quaggoth thonot and seven quaggoth guards - to investigate. The party sees them coming from roughly 30 squares away.
Coming along the bridge towards you, you see a band of eight humanoids which, when they are about 30 squares away, Kurgan recognises as quaggoths, otherwise known as deep bears, and favoured servants of the drow.

There is apparently a leader type - Kurgan knows that a quaggoth leader is known as a thonot and typically has a small amount of psionic power - armed with a fine steel fullblade plus seven normal quaggoths armed with stone battleaxes which, OOC, I can tell you are minions.

They are approaching in close formation - the bridge, as you will recall, is only 3 squares wide - but, as they are 30 squares away, you still have time to decide what to do.

And what do you do?
The Battlefield

As noted, the battlefield is 3 squares wide. To the left of the PCs - south on the map - is water. Two the right is the grotto's rough stone wall.

Round 0

More skill checks are made - including Insight - to determine exactly what is happening. The PCs correctly assume that the city must be involved in some sort of trade so visitors aren't entirely unexpected and that, therefore, this is probably a routine patrol.

As such, a vaguely diplomatic approach is agreed whereby Aelar and Baelval will get as close as possible via Diplomacy and conversation in Elven - and the bard has a +17 in Diplomacy vs the thonot's untrained Insight of +6 (without including circumstance penalties to the thonot's skill check: to keep it simple, Aelar gets advantage [5E rule] while the thonot gets disadvantage [5E rule again]) - before various readied actions will go off.

And that is exactly what happens.

Round 1

Lulled into a false sense of security by the silver-tongued bard, the quaggoth know they are are in real trouble when Baelval uses his readied action to teleport Aelar and himself behind them (when Baelval uses Fey Step, he can bring an ally with him courtesy of the Iliyanbruen Guardian character theme) to block any potential escape. That in turn triggers Aelar's readied action and he unleashes a Shout of Triumph against the tightly packed mob slaying all the minions but completely missing the thonot.

Then it's the cue for Griemolt to act. His readied action is the encounter power Follow Me In and he does not miss. He rolls 2d12 + 1d8 + 9 damage for this attack and the final result is 28 damage to the thonot (28 damage out of  89/44). Kurgan then follows with his own readied charge attack: this one is Bull's Charge. After taking 22 damage and falling prone (Kurgan chose not apply the forced movement effects), the thonot was bloodied (50 damage out of 89/bloodied) and marked by the dwarf.

Bloodying the thonot triggers its Ardent Outrage power, and Griemolt and Kurgan feel the quaggoths's psionically-empowered anger wash over them lowering their defences (they will grant combat advantage to the quaggoth until the start of the quaggoth's next turn).

(I also decided that the triggering of Ardent Outrage meant that there was no chance of the thonot surrendering this turn.)

It was now the lonely thonot's turn and it was going to go out fighting. Ignoring the threat posed by the heavily armoured and shielded dwarf, the thonot got to its feet as a move action and unleashed a demoralising strike against the lightly armoured Griemolt. Before rolling the attack, Kurgan's immediate interrupt Combat Challenge was triggered dealing another 13 damage to the soon-to-be-dead thonot (63 damage out of 89/bloodied).

However, the quaggoth still had some fight in him. Needing only an 8 to hit, the thonot rolled an 18 with Demoralising Strike and that also allowed it to trigger its Augmented Demoralising Strike. Griemolt took 18 damage from the former attack and then Kurgan took 12 (17 less the 5 temporary hit points he had received from the bard for bloodying the thonot) damage from the second attack. Further, they were both suffering a -5 penalty to all defences until the end of the of the thonot's next turn.

That brought the first round to an end with the thonot still standing... but not for much longer.

Round 2

Needing 26 damage to slay the thonot, Baelval charged into the fray and, two melee basic attacks plus two bladespells plus one action point later, it was all over. However, Baelval's player cleverly decided to only knock the thonot unconscious in order to interrogate him about this location and, presumably, his drow masters.

The Interrogation

Having watched these four utterly destroy his patrol in seconds, the thonot was an easy target for interrogation. After the PCs completed their short rest (Griemolt was down another 2 surges; Kurgan another 1 surge), the PCs started extracting information promising to set the quaggoth free provided it left in the direction from which they came (which would send the quaggoth back to The Chasm). It said that slavery never suited it anyway and that it would seek out free quaggoths in the Underdark.

In short order, the quaggoth explained they were originally from Menzoberranzan and that this outpost had been reclaimed by House Xorlarrin in the past few years after originally being abandoned following the ruin caused by the Spellplague. It was named Plaguelost in the drow dialect of Elven as a result.

The purpose of the outpost now is magical experimentation involving the great blue fire lattice-like webwork that surrounds the central tower which is also the demesne of the chief wizard of the outpost, the hunchbacked drow wizard Ulvdril Xorlarrin, also known as The Lizard because his twisted spine means he sometimes has to crawl.

Aelar recalls that House Xorlarrin is a drow house noted for the skill of its wizards and also for being far less matriarchal that the other houses of Menzoberranzan. The quaggoth confirms this but explains there are three priestesses also assisting Ulvdril with his research.

In terms of guards, each gate has a "double spider" of quaggoths - he explains that the PCs just fought a "spider" - and a "spider" of drow guards comprised of a sword-wielding captain and seven glaive-wielding guards. These drow are dangerous because their tactics rely on teleportation. Baelval believes they are swordmages, or at least a drow variant of same. (OOC: They mark a target like Kurgan does and, if the mark is violated, they teleport to the target and make and attack.)

But there are other dangers in the ruins including a great zone of active Spellplague that spews forth what the PCs now know are the plaguechanged ghouls. There are also duergar and drow slave traders present selling captive spellcasters and magic creatures to House Xorlarrin and sometimes other slaves to each other. Illithids also sometimes appear and are rumoured to have a lair in the ruins.

At the request of the PCs, he sketches out on the ground a rough map of the city and names the key locations. When asked how they can get inside the city, he says that as ruined city with minimal guards, sneaking in or climbing over a wall is not that difficult but simply bluffing their way through by convincing a drow guard captain that they are mercenaries hired by Bregan D'aerthe should be enough.

By this point the PCs were feeling a bit sorry for a creature clearly enslaved by the drow so they gave him back his sword, some coins, some of their iron rations and rope, healed some of his wounds (he was no longer bloodied), and send him on his way with their thanks and best wishes in quest to find free quaggoths.

In short, it was a really good end to a strangely satisfying combat encounter and a great way to start the session. BTW, the tactically unwise choice of bunching up all of the quaggoths was deliberate. Story-wise, I could justify it as these bestial creatures packing together and putting on a show of might - basically how I described it when they approached the PCs - but Griemolt's character sometimes need to have something to do other than simply charge. I thought this might give him a chance to use his at-will close blast minion-clearing Howl of Fury but the bard used Shout of Triumph to the same effect. Never mind, there are a lot more minions to come....

Finding & Making Camp
Level 6 (Pseudo-) Skill Challenge (250 XP)

The players felt that, at this point, they weren't really strong enough to continue with an attempt to infiltrate the city and take on the challenges that they would find there. Thus they decided to try and find a safe place to camp with the western Fungal Forest, hopefully away from any hook horrors or similar beasts.

It also saved them from having to explain any possible connection between themselves and a missing quaggoth patrol....

I ran an impromptu level 6 complexity 1 skill challenge (4 successes before 3 failures) based on Arcana, Dungeoneering, and Nature. They passed it easily earning themselves 250 XP as a result. If they had failed, I was probably just going to have them lose healing surges to poison. As I mentioned, it was largely impromptu but I wanted to stress that the fungal forest posed some risk. (We collectively narrate it and I call for skill checks. My players actually have no idea what a skill challenge is. I find the narrative/organic approach works much better than simply calling it out as something which can otherwise come across as a series of die rolls.)

It's A New Day: 28 Eleint 1479 DR
Getting Past the North Gate with a 38 Bluff Check (250 XP)

Armed with the quaggoth's advice, Aelar took the lead in approaching the drow at the North Gate and explaining that they were mercenaries hired by Bregan D'aerthe and told to report here this morning. And a Bluff skill of +15, Knack for Success granting another +4, and the roll of 19 resulted in a Bluff check of 38.

Of course, if this had been for an adventure published by WotC in the first couple of years of 4E, this would have been a skill challenge with odd things like using an Athletics check to prove you were strong enough to be a mercenary etc.... But a 38 at level 6 is a 38. Now it's time to get some momentum back into the session....

Inside the Walls of Plaguelost

(A quick note about this map which is also taken from The Sinister Spire. The compass rose should be reversed and that also means that the streets named East Row and South Street should be changed to West Row and North Street respectively. Also, I am assuming that anywhere outside the walls that is not water or road is a giant fungal forest although it does not grow between the road and the city walls, and there is 20' clearance between the edges of the roads and the real beginings of the fungal forest.)

The quaggoth thonot had mentioned to the PCs that there was, surprisingly, a duergar-run inn due south the gate through which they entered known as The Broken Gauntlet. It seems that various mercenaries, House Xorlarrin drow seeking different experiences, and, of course, Bregan D'aerthe spies and sellswords gathered there to drink mushroom wine and feast on worm steaks. It also seems that the carcass of a mottled worm could be sold for a tidy sum. It produced an enormous volume of meat which would then be marinated in mushroom wine and myconid spores to produce a delicacy that even surface-born palettes enjoyed.

Welcome to the Broken Gauntlet!
As they near the entrance of The Broken Gauntlet, the spike-bearded duergar at the door bids them welcome and asks them to come. Kurgan notes that he is rather agreeable for a duergar. They also note the amazing smells of well-prepared food coming from the establishment and, another successful Dungeoneering check later, Kurgan realises that purple worm is on the menu and that the beast they slew could probably have been sold here....

(Isn't it funny how players can be about earning money in D&D. Finding a small horde of 5,000 gp is simply considered part of D&D, but the possibility of selling the corpse of a monster they slew for a fraction of that sum makes them really happy. Sometimes you have to love this game!)

En route to The Broken Gauntlet, the PCs noticed that the Spellplague - or some other similar magical cataclysm - had clearly had a profoundly destructive effect on this city judging by the condition of the ruins they were walking past. They also noticed life in the ruins including kobold and goblin scavengers, lots of spiders and centipedes, and, of course, innumerable rats. And even from their quick glimpses, it was clear that some of them had been scarred by the Spellplague.

(This was local colour and, if the PCs had insisted on attacking the various scavengers, I would have improvised combat with a bunch of level 1 minions involving lots of rubble before having a patrol of drow soldiers arrive to determine what was creating the disturbance.)

Deciding that The Broken Gauntlet might be a good place to gather more information, the PCs stepped inside to see a mixed clientele of various races: drow, duergar, half-orcs, gnolls, a minotaur, and at least one mixed mercenary band comprised of a dwarf, a human, an elf, and a female drow.

And it was this last band that caught their attention because, at a signal from the dwarf, the other three ceased eating and drinking and made their way toward the PCs while the duergar at the door said, "All fights are outside unless you want those trolls to throw you out...." With that, the PC noticed that there was a trio of trolls apparently employed as bouncers.

Quickly exiting to find a tactically superior position, the PCs readied for the battle that was about to come.

No spectators followed the other band on to the street and the dwarf - clearly the leader - said to the PCs clearly by way of introduction and challenge, "We've accepted a contract to deliver your heads to someone who can pay a lot. And that's what we're going to do right now...."

Before initiative was rolled, Aelar rolled a Streetwise check and Baelval rolled a History check to see if these four were well-known. After a couple of rather high results, I provided a précis of the background material from my Maurvurr's Mercenaries post, identified them by name, and also provided a simple outline of their fighting style.

And then initiative was rolled....

(There are two main purposes for being in Plaguelost: find the third Tear of Selûne and end the plaguechanged threat. This encounter with Maurvurr's Mercenaries doesn't serve either of those ends but it ties the PCs back into the events of the wider campaign - Griemolt has the Neverwinter Noble character theme and has had his legitimacy confirmed in a ritual performed by a cleric of Siamorphe - and the variety of tactics available to the NPCs are meant to get the players to think even more about how their PCs can work together more effectively.

Because that's going to be even more important as they get close to recovering the Tear of Selûne and it's also my way of triggering an encounter with some NPC allies.)

The Battle of the Street of Five Hanged
Level 7 Encounter (1,250 XP)

Initiative

26 Lothrannen (52/26)
26 Baelval (50/25) PC
23 Qlarra (67/33) 19 40 44 53 58 73 dead
21 Aelar (55/27) PC
15 Griemolt (52/26) PC
12 Maurvurr (178/89)
11 Helmviper (73/36)  
8 Kurgan (65/32) PC 24

Round 1

Lothrannen puts some distance between himself and his party and gets behind a small "shield" of rubble before unleashing a Perfect Shot against Kurgan, perfectly timed to penetrate what few gaps there were in Kurgan's armour for 24 damage not far from bloodying the dwarf. (He also had to use Elven Accuracy in order to hit!)

Baelval calls upon the fey magic of his Bladesong (minor action), moves 5 squares to a square adjacent to the drow Qlarra (move) and then unleashes Call the Night Winds against Qlarra (29), Maurvurr (13), and Helmviper (22) and hitting Qlarra and Helmviper for 19 cold damage. The after-effect of the spell was a heavily obscured zone through which Baelval could see perfectly, but which would slow all three of Maurvurr's Marauders caught in it until the end of their next turn.

Using his action point, Baelval successfully slashed at the drow warlock for 17 damage followed by 4 radiant damage from a Dazzling Sunray which would apply a -2 penalty to her attack rolls. That bloodied her (40 damage, 67/33 hit points) and gained the eladrin 5 temporary hit points from the bard's Virtue of Valour.

In response, Qlarra called upon the natural magic of the drow and surrounded herself with a Cloud of Darkness also blinding Baelval as she had planned (minor). Then she unleashed Curse of Yorbrix's Daughter, a ranged attack which didn't provoke an opportunity attack because of Baelval's blindness, but missed (14 vs 16 Fortitude) because of the combination of the howling night winds that surrounded her and the dazzling after-effects of the bladesinger's bladespell.

Nevertheless, a tiny demonic spider appears on the back of Baelval's neck and the eladrin is now taking ongoing 5 poison damage, is slowed, and also granting combat advantage. What Qlarra did not realise was that by attacking the bladesinger, she had triggered his White Lotus Riposte dealing her another 4 radiant damage. The Elven-speaking PCs heard her cry out to her lover, Lothrannen for help and carefully moved 1 step away from the eladrin's deadly blade (move action).

Aelar takes up fiddle and bow striding boldly toward Baelval but outside of the two zones from the eladrin and drow's duel. His Shout of Triumph echoes along the street striking both Helmviper and Qlarra for 9 thunder damage and pushing them outside the zone created by Baelval but well in range of both Griemolt and Kurgan's charge attacks. He then uses his action point to ready an action: when Griemolt finishes his upcoming charge attack on Helmviper, Aelar will target Qlarra with Staggering Note and, if he hits, allow Griemolt a chance to possibly slay the very damaged drow.

Imagining this scene from the perspective of Helmviper, he has just been blasted with howling winds of darkness and cold, shoved out of those winds by a blast of thunder, and, just as he can see again, a mighty Uthgardt barbarian comes charging toward him!

Starting with an action point for the +3 bonus from Action Surge (which was very fortunate as he only rolled a 7), Griemolt opened the combat with Follow Me In hitting for 2d12 + 1d8 + 9 damage or a total of 28 damage to a now bloodied Helmviper. This also triggered 5 temporary hit points from the bard's Virtue of Valour.

Before returning to Griemolt's normal complement of actions for this round, Aelar's readied Staggering Note was triggered hitting Qlarra for 5 thunder damage and allowing Griemolt the killing blow: another 17 damage and the drow was dead. The PCs heard Lothrannen plaintive wail and actually felt sorry for him for a moment.

... and then Griemolt attacked Helmviper and missed. He has rolled 3 d20s this combat and the highest result is a 7. This has happened to Griemolt before and the player's bad luck ends up lasting for the rest of the session. I wonder if that's what happened here?

Maurvurr's turn begins and he finds himself blinded and hampered by the howling cold winds of the bladesinger's spell. But despite being slowed - and thus having a speed of 2 - he made those two steps count putting himself within 2 squares of Griemolt and allowing him a charge attack with the Uthgardt that would also see the barbarian flanked.

Critical hit! Griemolt takes 21 (16 after deducting his temporary hit points) damage from Piercing War Pick and bleeds for ongoing 5 damage. He then follows it up with Ripping Picks courtesy of action point, two Piercing War Pick attacks against Griemolt and rolls 15 and 27 against Griemolt's Reflex, hitting him again but this time dealing 12 damage. And now Griemolt is bloodied.

Helmviper now considers the bloodied barbarian's vulnerable position courtesy of the flank granted by his leader... and rolls a natural 1. Clearly still shaken from the PCs' deadly opening, he flubs what should have been a simple attack.

Realising both the danger that Griemolt was now in and the threat posed by his fellow dwarf, Kurgan opened with an action point and a Bull Charge charge attack and easily hits Maurvurr but dealing only 19 damage. He would have also knowed the enemy dwarf prone but Maurvurr successful made his saving throw.

The player decides that the threat posed by Maurvurr - knowing he is an elite as we are transparent about that sort of stuff in our games - merits the use of a daily and decides to go with Bedevilling Assault this time dealing 22 damage and allowing Kurgan to make a melee basic attack as a free action against Maurvurr each time one of the PCs hit the enemy dwarf with a melee attack for the balance of the encounter. And, of course, he was now marked by Kurgan.

And so the first round ended with the PCs having slain one of the enemy and having another one solid sword thrust away from dropping... but both the dwarf leader for whom the enemy party was named and an elf archer clearly angry about the PCs slaying his lover looked like they could still pose a significant threat.

The "scorecard":

26 Lothrannen (52/26)
26 Baelval (50/25) PC ong 5 poison 5 thp
21 Aelar (55/27) PC
15 Griemolt (52/26) PC 28 46 ong 5 slowed (save or move)
12 Maurvurr (178/89) 19 slowed
11 Helmviper (73/36) 19 28 56
8 Kurgan (65/32) PC 24

Round 2

With a banshee-like wail of utter despair, Lothrannen sinks an arrow into Griemolt's calf  for 18 damage and the barbarian was now also slowed (save ends or move action to end). "I will kill you human scum!"

The death of Qlarra banished both her magical darkness and the conjured demonic spider so Baelval's sight was, once again, unimpaired and he charged Helmviper through the zone of cold, dark winds that he had created and his strike did 16 damage (crappy roll!) leaving the human with a single hit point that was blasted away in a burst of force from the eladrin's bladespell.

The magical song of Aelar is heard by Griemolt particularly and he feels the arcane tune revivify him, allowing him to regain 22 hit points and sliding him 2 squares from the deadly Maurvurr... but the perfect distance for a charge attack. Aelar continues the song but this time to Kurgan's benefit and all of the dwarf's wounds are healed (he regained 25 hit points but had taken only 24 damage).

Aelar then lets fly with Staggering Note but the attack is shrugged off by the dwarf (ie, Aelar missed when the player rolled a 6... although he only needed an 8).

After bleeding out for 5 damage, Griemolt then springs back into action first plucking Lothrannen's arrow from his leg (move action to end the slowed condition as allowed in Lothrannen's stat block) and he simply charges Maurvurr and connects dealing 22 damage. This is also means that he and Kurgan are flanking the enemy dwarf. He then successfully saves against ongoing damage thus ending that condition (and the player was happy he took the Stubborn Survivor feat as he rolled an 8).

Griemolt's successful attack also triggers a free basic attack from Kurgan courtesy of the dwarf's use of Bedevilling Assault on his previous turn. He deals 15 damage to his racial counterpart... and then it is Maurvurr's turn...

... which is a waste for Maurvurr and his Marauders. The enemy dwarf rolls only a 7 and a 3 and, even though his Piercing War Pick attacks are attacking Kurgan's Reflex, he is simply unable to hit. He doesn't shift either as this will trigger Kurgan's Combat Challenge so the dwarf remains flanked.

And now it's Kurgan's turn to act again and he successfully hits again dealing 15 damage and continuing his mark.

This ends the round and the "scorecard" looks like this:

26 Lothrannen (52/26)
26 Baelval (50/25) PC 5 thp
21 Aelar (55/27) PC
15 Griemolt (52/26) PC 28 46 24 29
12 Maurvurr (178/89) 19 41 56 71
8 Kurgan (65/32) PC

Round 3

(At this point I know many DMs - myself included - would have the enemy start trying to negotiate a surrender. While this battle was happening, I kept referring to Lothrannen's absolute misery in the face of the loss of his lover and the cold anger with which he kept fighting. In view of the backstory for Lothrannen and Qlarra - <explained here> - I thought Lothrannen would simply fight to the death and that Maurvurr would not try and negotiate a surrender while Lothrannen still lived. But then these musings were overtaken by events....)

Critical hit! With that, Lothrannen opens the third round with a shot that pierces Griemolts vitals dealing 24 damage and reducing the barbarian to -1 hit points: Griemolt was now dying and the Lothrannen's shoulders slumped and there were clearly tears in his eyes.

The combination of the description of Lothrannen's emotional state and Griemolt dropping triggered an emotional response in the players and I was asked for what they could do to bring the combat to an end AND see the drow returned to life.

As 4E allows for a death blow to simply render an enemy unconscious, I told the players that Griemolt's player could, in a sense, "buy back" the death blow and instead render the drow unconscious but it would cost him his action point in the next encounter. The bargain was agreed and then we played out the revealing of Qlarra being alive to Lothrannen and the three of them agreeing to surrender and explain the nature of the contract on the PCs' heads. 

Further Development

In the course of the conversation that followed, the PCs helped to bury Helmviper in the ruins in as dignified manner as was possible under the circumstances which seemed to be appreciated by the three remaining members of Maurvurr's Mercenaries. They then repaired to the Broken Gauntlet to continue their discussions. The elf and the drow disappeared to their room allowing Maurvurr to speak more freely.

He explained that this was the first time he had failed to complete a job but he simply doesn't trust Soman Galt, the mayor of Neverwinter appointed by the Lord Protector. He tells the PCs that Galt is clearly not a dwarf and that he suspects he is some sort of fiendish creature able to cloak its true shape. He guesses that the PCs are here to stop the plaguechanged threat and admits that they are only here because of the contract to kill the PCs. But now that they are here they realise there is work to be had with the Bregan D'aerthe who are known to be less treacherous than other drow. And that work would see them in Skullport which minimises the chance of any retaliation from Neverember or Galt.

When the other two return to the table they bring with them a small gift: the signed order from Soman Galt for the PCs' death for the crimes of sedition and high treason. After sharing a meal of marinaded purple worm steak with mushroom wine - and, of course, the PCs' whining about the lost opportunity for failing to preserve the carcass of the mottled worm they slew for sale - the former enemies parted not with fondness but certainly with respect.

And, yes, the PCs received the full XP for the encounter. Of course.

I remembered there was one more reward. In gratitude for her life and for being reunited with Lothrannen, Qlarra explained that if they needed to get into the Xorlarrin Compound and approach the great tower they now call the Blue Flame Spire, they should obtain a House Xorlarrin house insignia from the captain of a drow patrol and then, looking at the Blade of Eilistraee, simply present the insignia at the gate and state that Master Ulvdril Xorlarrin of the Blue Flame Spire has charged them with the recovery of this relic and insists upon being presented with it. The guards should let the PCs simply proceed unescorted to the Spire where the guards at the door will probably let them inside.

After that they will be on their own and the Spire is known to be full of danger, especially now with the web of Spellplague energies wrapped around it like some sort of weird fiery scaffolding. But Ulvdril is known to seek potent items to fuel his research and the Blade of Eilistraee will be recognised by almost any drow as some the master of the Spire would be seeking.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, um, Unrewarded

I was fully expecting for the PCs to meet Ivridda and her fellow riff-raff but my initial thought would be to have them rescue in the middle of the Street of Five Hanged after slaying Maurvurr's Marauders. I decided to make this come across as a reward for the mercy the PCs showed to the Marauders.

Keeping this brief because it will be explained more in the next session write-up, a female deep gnome druid named Ivridda carefully approached them as they left the Broken Gauntlet, explained that she was impressed with their display of mercy to the drow, elf, and drow, and then offered to assist them with their mission.

After some Insight checks and more roleplaying along these lines, the PCs followed the deep gnome into the ruins and found themselves approaching the Tannery.

Conclusion

We wrapped up the session at that point which was a little earlier that I had expected. However, it worked out well as I really want to try and finish the adventure in Plaguelost in a single session for the sake of both maintaining momentum and also to ensure that the players are at the top of their game.

And this was a good session. The combats were fun but there was a genuine "feel-good" factor both times from PCs displaying mercy to their enemies. I like that. Sometimes it's good to have a break from simply being murder hobos! :)