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)


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.


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! :)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Return to Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One 6 - We're Back! (Restart Session 1)

I'm going to rip off Chris Perkins' idea here and write this session report and any subsequent ones in the same format that he uses and refers to in one of his DM Experience articles.

Restart Session 1
Date: 26 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

Griemolt was rebuilt between sessions. Originally he was a thaneborn barbarian but now he is a hybrid barbarian|warlord and much closer, in fact, to the player's original vision of him as a character.

Previously in Neverwinter...

Roughly a tenday ago, the PCs were in a forgotten temple of Selûne on the earthmote known as Pirates' Skyhold and they witness three shooting stars fall to earth within the walls of Neverwinter. Their host, an eladrin cleric of Selûne whom they know as Lady Moonsilver, explained these shooting stars are rare items known as Tears of Selûne and that they have been chosen by the Moonmaiden to recover these Tears which will, no doubt, benefit the city of Neverwinter.

The PCs accepted the quest and, in short order, recovered the first Tear from the Blacklake District, the second Tear from the River District and, earlier today, they descended into the depths of The Chasm to recover the third Tear.

Proceeding southwest, the PCs explore the bottom of The Chasm and come across a mysterious ziggurat crafted from a dark, oily stone which Kurgan identifies as bilestone, a sign of the intrusion of the Far Realm. They also notice four 10' tall statues of dwarves which Kurgan also identifies as beign golem-like guardians before he senses that they have been corrupted by the evil of Ghaundaur, the chaotic evil deity of slime and corruption.

Battle is soon joined and made more difficult by the appearance of an abomination that combines a hezrou demon with a black pudding (although, when bloodied, only the hezrou remains). While Aelar, Baelval, and Griemolt fight, Kurgan taps into his knowledge of the ancient dwarven kingdom of Haunghdannar and the combat finished with the hezrou-black pudding and three of the statues destroyed and one of the statues cleansed of its corruption and effectively an ally to the party.

The party force their way inside the ziggurat and find a variety of water-filled chambers in which dwell devolved versions of the subterranean, aquatic aberrations known as aboleth and their skum servitors. The presence of the dwarven "golem" made these comments fairly easy. 

At the centre of the ziggurat there was a strange perfectly smooth, cylindrical shaft some 20' in diameter that appeared to descend hundreds of feet - or more - into the depths of the earth. Stranger still, a fine mist of water rose up the shaft and seemed to be drawn to, and absorbed by, a dwarven rune of power that glowed with golden flame and was carved in bas-relief at the top of the shaft.

Kurgan and Baelval investigated and, using their combined knowledge of matters arcana and dwarven history, determined that this was one of the lost elemental runes of the (earlier mentioned) dwarven kingdom of Haunghdannar and that it was there as some sort of warding seal.

But Kurgan also realised that, courtesy of his bloodline, he could control the power of this rune and he chose to absorb its power into himself to grant lesser versions of this power to the other PCs. Of course, only time will tell what this uncharacteristically selfish act would release....

The PCs decided to explore a little further into the shaft using the climbing gear they had obtained to aid their descent into The Chasm. Some 50' below their feet, they found the shaft opened into an area of caverns where a tribe of troglodytes dwelled. And the centre of their caverns included a strange water-filled temple of Ghaunadaur with a stone altar that radiated corruption and evil.

The PCs were incensed and charged to the attack... only for Kurgan's charge to land him face-first inside a gelatinous cube. Another aboleth appeared, but this time not the devolved and almost feral kind of the ziggurat above: this had its full complement of mental powers and, as was revealed during the course of the battle, was also a runepriest of Ghaunadaur.

While Aelar, Baelval, and Kurgan concentrated on the aboleth, the gelatinous cube, and the aboleth's skum minions, Griemolt went to work to try and destroy the evil altar. (This was simply clever play on the part of the player running Griemolt. There were no real clues about the altar's importance nor were any skill checks involved.) The battle was tough but, as Griemolt struck a final mighty blow against such a foul symbol of evil, the altar exploded slaying the aboleth and those minions that remained and triggering a series of tremors that ultimately destroyed the temple and the troglodyte  caverns with the PCs barely outrunning the unleashed wave of destruction.

And, with the PCs safely climbing back to the upper level, the session ended.

Important NPCs


Monster Roster

Hook horror, level 5 soldier
Mottled worm (aquatic purple worm), level 7 solo brute

Session Summary

Quick Recap
Using climbing gear loaned to you by Captain-General Sabine, you descended to the bottom of the Chasm in search of the third Tear of Selûne and carrying Tasmel Sabine's hope they you will find and end the source of the plaguechanged creatures that continue to menace the city of Neverwinter.

After uncovering ancient dwarven magic - including one of the legendary elemental runes of Haunghdannar - in a ziggurat made of some dark otherworldly material similar to black obsidian, you defeated an aboleth, a gelatinous cube, and the aboleth's brood of skum in large part by destroying an altar of Ghaunadaur and collapsing the temple in which it was contained.

Now you stand outside the dark ziggurat slightly confused as it seems that time flowed differently in that strange place. From the sunlight that enters the Chasm and the resulting length and direction of the shadows, Griemolt estimates that it is early morning rather than late afternoon as you expected. This raises a further question as to what day it is.

However, deciding that the quest for the Tear takes priority over this latest mystery, you proceed further into the depths following a well-worn path leading to the southwest and a 100' or so wide tunnel brighly lit by the blue flame of what must Spellplague-changed fungi before exiting in an enormous grotto filled with a great fungal forest....
Fungal Forest Ambush
As it had been such a long time since we had last played, after the recapping and general catch-up it was time for battle. Feasting on the edges of the Fungal Forest away from the myconids that carefully tend the growth of this valuable Underdark resource, is a pack of seven hook horrors. Battle is joined in short order.
The terrain was really simple. The edges of the Fungal Forest provided difficult terrain but the main part of the battle was simply on what is a fairly wide and smooth path. Normally, this sort of battle would be fairly boring in 4E but this was ideal to ease everyone back into their respective roles with me as the DM included.
My hook horrors are level 5 soldiers (they had 5 hit dice in 1E) and a pack of seven of them were fairly tough for a party of four level 6 PCs. But, aided in large part by the extra healing that Griemolt can now provide as a result of being rebuilt as a hybrid barbarian|warlord - as opposed to a thaneborn barbarian he was before - the PCs soon triumphed but the high damage output and extra numbers (7 vs 4) meant that the PCs took a bit of damage.
This was simple a palette cleanser of an encounter and the players understood that. It was simply good to be rolling dice again.
(BTW, if you look at the stat block and wonder why I included Poor Eyesight as a trait when practically no PC in 4E has the ability to make gaze attacks, as much as I love the 4E approach to monster design - it is, without a doubt, the best of any edition of D&D, 5E included [IMO/YMMV] - sometimes it's good to read back over some of the source material such as, in this case, a Dragon article - Ecology of the Hook Horror - and include a tidbit in the stat block that will probably never come up. It's an easter egg to myself... and when I described the hook horrors, I made sure to make that part of the description - especially with Kurgan rolling a very high Dungeoneering check to determine what he knew about these creatures.)

The Great Grotto of Plaguelost, Part One

This map is taken from the rather good 3.5E adventure The Sinister Spire. Much of what follows, particularly the maps, is inspired by that adventure which I have been wanting to run ever since it was first published.
I would also note that I have swapped around two of the encounter locations - G1 and G3 if you have the original map in your possession - and the bottom of the map faces north rather than the top (this is largely why I deleted the compass rose).
I would also note that, in my game, anything that is not water, city, or road is a vast fungal forest even though I haven't marked that on the map.
As you explore a bit further, you realise that you're in a great underground vault or grotto some 5 miles long - according to Kurgan - and two miles wide. Two halves of a great fungal forest are divided by an underground sea in the rough centre of which is an obviously Spellplague-touched island that combines blue flame, strange discordant singing, and fungal and crystalline growths in a way that suggests that reality is straining at that point.
An dwarf-made bridge crosses the sea - Kurgan proudly points out the quality of the worksmanship - and leads to what looks like a partially-ruined small walled city dominated by a great tower carved from either a colossal stalactite that touched the ground or a colossal stalagmite that reach the ceiling. If anything, the blue light of the Spellplague is even brighter at that point because of a web of dark blue strands of flame that is woven around the tower.
Aelar senses through the mysterious magic of the Moonbridge Amulet that the third Tear is located there. 
A 15'-wide bridge combined with lots of water, the Underdark, the Spellplague, and the toughness of the battle with the hook horrors all combined to make the players feel very nervous. Much discussion was had out of character as to alternate routes and, based on a combination of clever ideas and Kurgan's Dungeoneering checks, it was determined that the group could slowly traverse the walls of the grotto using the climbing gear that they cleverly thought to bring with them. However, there were two major risks associated with this way of travelling: falling was a very real possibility and the PCs would be in a very vulnerable position in the event that any enemy appeared.
On balance it was decided to risk crossing the dwarven bridge and Kurgan's player was pleased to notice more signs of the ancient dwarven kingdom of Haunghdannar. It seems that dwarves from that forerunner to Delzoun built this bridge some 3,000 or so years ago and it also suggested that the city on the opposite shore might also included some structures that date back to Haunghdannar.
Proceeding cautiously, the Kurgan was placed on the left-hand side as a plate-armoured wall against anything that might come up from the sea (the real fear was of aboleth and their skum minions). Strictly speaking, Baelval - with his higher AC - was in the lead. The bridge was 3 squares wide with Baelval in the first rank but in the the third column on the far right hand side. The second rank had Kurgan - with a readied Bull Charge encounter power to shove anything that came out of the water back into the depths -  on the far left, as noted, with an empty square between him and Aelar. The third rank was Griemolt on the far right, prepared with a readied charge attack plus Follow Me In encounter power. (Griemolt was readied to go first.)
Round One
A great wave of dark water propelled by a massive worm-like creature threatened to simply wash away the PCs from the dwarven bridge but the readied actions of Griemolt - a critical hit with Follow Me In for 57 damage, a rampage-granted melee basic attack for 15 damage, plus an action point-granted Life Ending Strike for 33 damage - and Kurgan - Bull Charge for 20 damage plus pushing the worm back 1 square and knocking it prone) - turned the mottled worm's charge attack into a wasted standard action as the great beast was rebuffed with steel.
However, this aquatic version of the purple worm was not going to be denied. Its opening charge attack from 3 squares away was granted by an action point; the great beast still had a full complement of actions for its turn, although it had already taken 110 damage against its hit points of 356/178 bloodied.
While my original plan was to require skill checks for fighting on the wet bridge (if you have The Sinister Spire, check out the Bridge Askew encounter on pages 36-37 for the basis idea), the mood of my players - "Are our characters going to die?" - was such that I thought I would just keep the pressure on them via the combat itself... anhd threat posed by the water.
And it was a threat. The 'worm launched back into action. It used its move action to move 1 square (it was still prone even though I realise a worm can't really fall prone but, in the spirit of 4E, I assumed this meant it was basically forced back underwater in such a way that it would cost a move action to get back into a proper position for fighting) so that it was 3 squares away from the bridge and it used Devour Whole against Griemolt, the annoying stinging thing that caused it so much pain.

Fortunately for Griemolt, the -4 penalty to the attack roll from the combination of being prone (-2) and by Kurgan (-2) meant that the 'worm missed his rather low AC. Nevertheless, it thrashed about with its body slamming into the barbarian|warlord with Fling sending him flying 4 squares to land in the water on the other side of the bridge and dealing 20 damage...

... but, in doing so, the 'worm triggered the potent elemental magic of the Lesser Water of Rune of Haunghdannar (the link is correct: I just renamed the particular alternative reward). on Griemolt's flesh and the beast was forced back the same distance.
Because of the way the combat had developed, we hadn't bothered with initiative and it was simply agreed that Aelar would go next... largely because he had a daily power that he wanted to use which he hadn't used before. 

And so Aelar unleashed a Song of Discord successful confused the poor creature's tiny mind and causing it to take a chunk out of its own flesh for 21 damage (133 damage out of 356/178) and dominating it until the end of Aelar's next turn. and the confused mottled worm.

Griemolt's Follow Me In had granted Baelval a boost to speed which he was now planning to use to unleash a bladesinger's wrath on this beast of the deep. Quickly preparing himself with a mere cantrip, Water Stride, sped across the surface of the Underdark sea (move action for 4 squares plus standard action charge for 3 squares) and struck with his longsword for 16 damage (149 damage out of 356/178) before unleashing a Dazzling Sunray bladespell for 4 radiant damage (153 damage out of  356/178) and a -2 penalty to the creature's attack rolls. Despite the 'worm being dominated, this triggered its Thrash immediate reaction but a +4 (after penalties) vs Baelval's Reflex was never going to hit (18 or higher required).

And that brought the first round of action to a satisfying close, especially for the PCs who were in a very strong position.

Round Two

Griemolt, of course, began the second round in the water on the other side of the bridge, but only two squares away from his starting position. One move action and a successful Athletics check and he was back in position. One minor action Inspiring Word - he talked himself back into the fight - and he was at full hit points. And then it was time to ready another charge for when the worm got within range.

Reaching back with the dwarf-forged hammer known as the Fist of Delzoun, let fly with a mighty throw and, one critical hit later, the purple worm's aquatic cousin found itself bloodied after taking another 26 damage (179 damage out of 356/178). He definitely caught its attention: it was marked again. In the beast's rage it lashed out at Baelval once more with its Thrash and would have definitely hit with a critical hit but this merely triggered Baelval's Wizard's Escape and, just as the eladrin had planned, he was now safely standing on the bridge once more. Aelar's song also granted the dwarf 5 temporary hit points (Virtue of Valour) and a +2 bonus on his next damage roll (Strength of Valour).

And now it was the mottled worm's turn once more but Aelar was still manipulating its tiny brain with his potent song. Once more the 'worm took a chunk out of its own flesh but this time it was only 17 damage (196 damage out of 356/bloodied)...

... and Aelar, once again, considered what misery to inflict on the creature. But with the Song of Discord having ended, the bard decides to simply wait for the beast to come into range of Griemolt's readied attack at which point he would sound a readied Staggering Note.

Meanwhile, Baelval's player becomes concerned about the tactical strength of their position and moves two squares backwards to be adjacent to Aelar (who is adjacent to Griemolt: they've actually moved back to their starting positions on the map) and lets fly with a trusty Magic Missile for 9 damage (205 out of 356/bloodied).

The PCs are still very much dominating the combat but that could change shortly....

Round Three

Kurgan decides to wind up the Fist of Delzoun and let fly. He does so, successful, and the worm takes another 15 damage (including +2 granted by Aelar; 220 out of 356/bloodied) and the fighter's mark continues.

And then it's the worm's turn. Fully in control of its extremely modest faculties once more, the enraged beast surges forward to attack its tormentors (I had it roll a saving throw to see if it would fight on or flee: it rolled a 1 and it's now going to fight to the death in an absolute fury!).

It moves to a square adjacent to the dwarf (this puts all of the PCs within range of its formidable attacks) and this triggers the readied attacks. First, Griemolt charges back to the square from which he first attack the worm and unleashes the might of his Howling Blade of the Wolf Pack. The blade bites deep dealing another 20 damage (240 out of 356/bloodied) and then the clarion call of Aelar's Staggering Note is heard. Again, a success as a blast of worm-flesh comes loose within a thunderous echo and Griemolt takes advantage of the distraction to launch another attack, this one unsuccessfully.

And then it's back to the worm. With its first standard action, it uses Swallow Whole on Kurgan. Success! The angry worm finally hurts one of its tormentors! Kurgan takes 17 damage and is in the worm's gullet and removed from play. Emboldened by this success, it uses an action point and tries the same tactic on Griemolt. Again, success! 19 damage and Griemolt also finds himself in the the foul guts of a mottled worm.

The great beast then lashes around with its poison stinger first striking at Aelar successfully for 8 damage and ongoing 10 poison damage, and then missing Baelval with a similar attack. (As the worm is bloodied, it gets a bonus minor action on its turn.)

It's back to the eladrin whose player was convinced by the end of last round that this fight could suddenly turn more difficult than it had been in the first two rounds. He activates his Bladesong as a minor action, chagres forward three squares to a square that is adjacent to the worm and also interposes himself between the worm and Aelar, and then does what an eladrin bladesinger does best: he stabs it with the Blade of Eilistraee for 20 damage followed by an Unseen Hand bladespell for 4 force damage and allowing him to slide the beast partially up on to the bridge (264 out of 356/bloodied). In doing so, though, the beast thrashes about but its Thrash attacks on both Baelval and Aelar are unsuccessful.

But Baelval is not yet finished. With his action point, a gout of flame erupts from the eladrin's hands and his Burning Hands spell scorches the worm, causing steam to rise from its melting flesh and deals 21 fire damage (285 out of 356/bloodied) and he uses his remaining minor action to use the Arcane Strike triggered by his use of a daily: this time his attack with the Blade of Eilistraee is a critical and the worm takes 26 damage from the longsword plus 4 radiant damage from the triggered Dazzling Sunray bladespell (305 damage out of  356/178). The creature also takes a -2 penalty to the its attack rolls.

Round Four

(As an aside, I know most guides to character optimisation do not rate the bladesinger very highly and I cheat a bit with this one by letting him use bladespells off his turn, but the simple fact is that he has proved tremendously fun and effective in actual play... and he made a huge difference in the last round.)

If I was a good writer, I could probably start this round with Kurgan's internal monologue as he contemplates being in the guts of a huge worm... but the simple fact is, one move action, a 19 on an Athletics check, and Kurgan found himself once more on his feet fighting the mottled worm! He gets the worm's attention immediately with a Covering Attack that allows Aelar to shift away 2 squares and deals 22 damage (327 damage out of 356/178) to a beast that is likely to soon be dead. However, that triggers a massive Thrash from the worm that deals 18 damage and sends the dwarf flying squares into the water of this dark sea. Kurgan chose not to trigger his Lesser Water of Rune of Haunghdannar because it would put the worm into a superior tactical position.

So, Kurgan is going to start his next turn flailing around in dark and cold waters of unknown depth while wearing plate armour. But he still has time to spend his Second Wind (minor action) and activate his Dwarven Plate Armour this turn bringing him back to full....

And now it's Griemolt's turn. He too succeeds at an Athletics check as a move action and, as soon as he is on his feet, he tears into the worm and, with a great deal of respect for the worm's capacity to seriously hurt the entire party on its next turn, he uses his other daily, Directed Combat.

His mighty blade strikes true dealing 21 damage (348 damage out of 356/178) and Baelval is able to shift 5 squares away from the worm to a safer position from where he can prepare his next charge attack. This then creates the opportunity for the sly Aelar to charge into the fray and his successful attack plus a roll of maximum damage - 1d6 + 2 = max 8! - is precisely enough to reduce the worm to 0 hit points and for its dead bulk to flop back into the Underdark sea.


And thus endeth the session!

We probably could have continued for a while but anything else would have felt anticlimactic after that tremendous battle with the mottled worm. Frankly, it was a perfect restart session after a year or so away from the game. To have the weakest melee combatant strike the killing blow with a melee basic attack was met with a huge amount of enthusiasm. So, yes, it was the perfect restart session.

And the second session will follow very soon....