Mar 4, 2016

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The Final Throwdown

D&D

Adventure Co. didn’t find what they had hoped to find in the tower of the vampires. While looking for the wheelhouse for the giant’s giant flying castle, they had scaled one of the towers only to find a small coven of lawyers vampires that were relatively easy to dispatch. The hunt had to continue, because the only way the party could see this ending was to either hijack the castle…or crash it into the ground.

The peeked their heads out onto the balcony to check the situation. The courtyard had returned to its state of low-level activity: ogres were practicing their martial tactics, cultists were hanging around in clusters as if the courtyard were a prison yard, and no one seemed at all interested in what was going on in the party’s neck of the woods.

Off in the distance, the party spotted something unusual: a gleaming speck that was keeping pace with the castle as it drifted onward. The speck bobbed and weaved just off-station for a while before banking and approaching the icy transport. As it loomed larger, the party realized that this was the dragon from the caverns, out for it’s version of an evening stroll. The dragon swooped low over the courtyard, sending the population into a minor frenzy as they attempted to discern the creature’s intentions. It then continued to orbit the castle.

The party quickly descended from their tower and opted to use this distraction to continue their search for the cockpit on the lower level of the two-tiered fortress. This meant that they had to take the same staircase down that they used when they first encountered the dragon, but since the creature was out and about the party took that as a green-light for them to skulk their way through it’s lair.

The lower courtyard was just as busy as the upper courtyard. Not willing to take chances out in the open with the dragon circling overhead, the party opted to enter the nearby kitchen in an attempt to skirt the common area on their way to the two towers by the front gate. The kitchen was staffed by harried kobolds rushing about to make the evening meal, and the party noticed that their actions were being observed by a griffon stationed on a ledge high above the kitchen floor. The monk opted to sample some of the kobold’s work, but was rebuffed by the “head chef” who admonished the interlopers with a string of Draconic invective while shooing them out the opposing door.

It was at this point that things started to slide down-hill.

The dragon landed with an overly dramatic crash in the center of the courtyard, bellowing “Where is my dinner?!” and causing the cultists and ogres to quickly retreat to the periphery. As the dragons stalked around the courtyard like a petulant brat, a door opened on the far side of the yard. A cloud giant and two stone giants emerged, visibly irritated by the dragon’s obnoxious bellowing. From another door on a different side of the same keep came some familiar figures: Langdedrosa Cyanwrath the half-dragon, and Azbara Jos the Thayan emissary, accompanying two others that the party did not recognize. One was obviously Thayan, but with a far more haughty demeanor compared to Jos’ earnest scholarly attitude, and another half-dragon, this one dressed in the fine purple ceremonial warrior’s garb of the Dragon Cult.

The party sensed that the shit was about to get real, and they hung out in the space between the kitchen and the barracks to see what would happen next.

“Rezmir!” the cloud giant shouted. “Get your pet under control!”

The half-dragon in purple stopped short, attention quickly moving between the giant and the frost dragon. Cyanwrath and the Thayans slowed as well, all unsure of what was going on.

With an obvious level of overindulgent sarcasm, the dragon slowly padded it’s way towards the giant’s position, scattering cultists and ogres as it went. Quick as a flash, the dragon lashed out with it’s powerful neck and caught one of the ogres in it’s jaws, biting down hard and severing the creature in an instant.

Filled with an obvious rage, the cloud giant strode forward to close the distance between himself and the white creature. He delivered a solid, resounding haymaker to the dragon’s jaw that sent it skidding across the ice.

To arms!” one of the stone giants shouted, drawing it’s weapons. In an instant, the courtyard erupted in a free-for-all melee between the cultists and the ogres, the giants and the dragon.

Since Adventure Co. learned that sometimes it’s OK to stay out of trouble, they ducked into the barracks that had just quickly emptied only seconds before. Using the fracas outside as cover, they entered one of the fore-towers, only to discover that it was merely a control room for the main gate portcullis. The wheelhouse was elsewhere, possibly back on the upper level of the castle. The party decided it was time to get a move on as something extremely large and very heavy slammed into the outer wall of the tower they were in.

The fighting continued unabated outside. To the party’s dismay, the Cultists seemed to be gaining the upper hand as the dragon was repeatedly savaging the giants with tooth and claw. As the party moved back through the barracks, and then back through the kitchen to cross the short expanse leading to the stairwell to the upper level, a shout rang out over the din of battle.

Dwarf!”

The party’s heads snapped around to the sound of the shout. They had been spotted: Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, scourge of Greenest and perennial thorn in the party’s side, was heading for them at a full run, weapon drawn.

Needing a tactical advantage, the party raced into the narrow hallway surrounding the spiral staircase that lead up to the upper tier. With only a few seconds to spare, the adventurers got into position in time to surprise Cyanwrath with several effective attacks. The half-dragon responded by focusing on his nemesis, the fighter. He released a stream of lightning breath across the gap between them, but narrowly missed. Filled with rage, Cyanwrath closed the distance between the two of them. With the half-dragon’s anger so focused on the dwarf causing him to make less-than-stellar decisions, the party was able to gang up on Cyanwrath. Fittingly, it was the dwarf who delivered the killing blow, slicing her opponent open across his midsection.

Almost in eerie unison the party heard shouts of triumph from the courtyard outside. While the body of Cyanwrath was dragged to a less conspicuous location in the tunnels, the thief stuck her head out of the alcove to see what all the fuss was about in the courtyard.

“Mother of…” she exclaimed under her breath. “Guys, I think we’re in trouble.”

Bodies littered the yard, and the ice was stained pink with the blood of cultists and ogres alike. The cloud giant was lying on the ground crawling towards the interior of the yard with an arm outstretched as if reaching for something only he could see in the distance. With all eyes on him, the frost dragon solidly buried it’s claws into the back of the giant’s neck, killing him instantly. Another cheer rose from the remaining cultists.

Their elation was short lived because almost as soon as the giant fell silent, the castle bucked and groaned and tilted suddenly, loosing crates and racks and carts to slide across the courtyard. Anyone left standing was suddenly grasping for anything solid they could find to stop from being thrown into a citadel wall or worse: out of the castle entirely.

Still observing from a safe spot on the edge of the battlefield, Rezmir and the Thayans were engaged in a heated discussion that ended with their triad quickly hurrying across the remnants of the combat zone, towards the stables where the wyverns were housed. Rezmir and the Thayans cut down any remaining resistance in their path, ogre and cultist alike, who seemed to have the same notion of how to escape the castle. The party opted to follow Rezmir.

The cultists managed to enter and secure the stable doors before the party could follow them in, and repeated attempts to bash the doors down were unsuccessful. A proper application of Mage Hand once again was able to lift the beam that barred the doors, and pushed them open in time to see their enemies take the sky.

The castle continued it’s uncontrolled descent, with huge chunks of ice sloughing from the walls and towers to crash into the lower courtyard. There were two wyverns remaining — Socks and Patches — who were more than happy to see their new friends and who were just as eager to leave the out of control castle as anyone.

Once airborne, the party could see how much altitude they had lost: the castle had veered to the north and was scraping the tops of the thick pine forest of the region. Snow-capped mountains loomed nearby, but Rezmir, the Thayans, and the frost dragon where nowhere to be seen.

The castle grounded itself with a fantastic crack as it tumbled end over end when it touched down. Trees were splintered and tossed aside. The solid ice of the structure dug a deep furrow through the tundra, shedding huge chunks of ice as it went.

The structure came to rest several miles from where it touched down, a solid mass of now formless ice resting at the foot of a rocky outcropping. A few cultists managed to survive, but were too shocked to comprehend their surroundings. The party’s main concern was getting to the treasure hoard, but it was buried under tons of solid ice that wouldn’t be revealing it’s golden heart any time soon.

+  +   +

Thus ends the Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

The group expressed interest in wrapping up this module. We’ve been playing it for almost a year now, due to periods of inactivity and some…less than stellar deviations into the free-form-jazz of the adventure world. Being so close to the end, I think everyone just wanted to get this over with so we could concentrate on the next stage.

The giant’s giant flying castle scenario was a bit of a sticky wicket. The party had a mandate to disrupt Rezmir’s operation of getting the hoard to its destination, so they could either hijack or crash the castle. To do either, they figured they needed access to the wheelhouse of the castle to take over the direction or at least to “cut the engines”. The thing is, the module explained the how of the flying castle, but that discovery could only really be had through a very narrow set of circumstances

Explanation ahoy, which means spoilers.

During the giant/dragon wars of ancient times, giants were able to create flying fortresses by fusing the spirits of their warriors with the castle itself. Through some early-world magic, this allowed the deceased giant to serve as the pilot of the castle. In this case, the cloud giant Blagothkus owned the castle that was piloted by the spirit of his dead mate Escarlotta. Her remains were entombed in a sealed chamber somewhere in the castle that was only accessible through a teleportation mechanism that could only be activated by using her name. Destroying Escarlotta’s remains would have certainly crashed the castle, but that would have required the party to get access to the teleportation tower (coincidentally, the first, locked tower they attempted to gain entry to), and then to know the password that would have teleported them there.

The module does give the players a serious shortcut when they arrive at the castle. If it’s daylight and they can’t trick the ogre greeting party into thinking they belong there, the ogres take them to Blagothkus. If it’s night and they can trick the vampires who are on night watch duty that they belong there, they’re taken to Rezmir. Both cases offer a quick means for the party to get a lot of info on how to stop the scenario, but the players were able to think quick and produce a cult symbol which is as good as any ID, as far as the castle’s inhabitants were concerned. Had I given them a hard time, the module could have ended two sessions ago, but that seemed terribly abrupt, so we ran with the situation at hand.

Ideally, meeting Blagothkus is the best option. Blago isn’t happy that the dragon Glazhael is on board his ship. He was OK with transporting the cultists because they were paying him well, but the situation had always been tense with the dragon in the basement and the feeling was mutual from Glazhael’s perspective. If the players had come clean to Blago about their mission, he would have seen it as a sign to give the cult the finger: he would have quietly steered the castle to the giant’s stronghold in the north where the cultists would be taken prisoner. Maybe Rezmir, Cyanwrath, and the Thayans would escape with Glazhael, or maybe not. The module leaves that up to the GM.

Meeting Rezmir was a little more harry, since Cyanwrath would have certainly recognized this party. Chances are that might not have gone well for them, although throwing Talis the White under the bus in exchange for their lives might have worked in their favor.

With the players wanting to wrap things up, and the vague options that the module presented for coming to a pat resolution not fitting the circumstances, the best option I could think of was to have the final throwdown between the giants forces and the cultists. This would offer a smoke-screen of confusion for the players to skulk about a bit — we didn’t want to drag this out through several more sessions — but more importantly it would A) allow for the dragon to kill Balgothkus, allowing his freed spirit to join with Escarlotta so they could both take revenge on the cult by crashing the castle, and B) let Cyanwrath find the players for their final showdown. I was a bit disappointed in how quickly Cyanwrath folded; I had envisioned a duel between the dragon and the dwarf to mirror the scenario back in Greenest, but the players easily overpowered the half-dragon this time…like, insanely overpowered him. He got off one shot, and that missed, so he looked really foolish as a warrior and as a character, but that’s what rage will get you, I guess.

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