The Prisoner’s Dilemma
The plan (as I recall it), was to free the prisoners that were being held in the Well of Dragons, and to use them as a distraction while the party did what it was that they came to do.
What happened was that the party found a bunch of prisoners, but had no key to unlock the cages. There were anywhere between 150 to 200 prisoners left in the pens spread out across at least three rooms, so a quick assessment was needed. While the party tossed one room looking for a key, the barbarian wandered down the hall to another, more populated room and found a gnome cultist busy trying to to unlock one of the cage doors…with thieve’s tools.
Turns out that the spy that the Zhentarim had deployed to the Well was the party’s good friend Jamna, who left the scene after the party crashed the flying castle. She mentioned that she was working for the Zhentarim all along, and since their goals and the goals of the party worked so well together, she was ordered to tag along and gather intel on the Dragon Cult. Once they had enough info and an opportunity, the Zhentarim pulled her from the group and sent her undercover into the Well of Dragons. It was her information that allowed the party to know about the unused southern entrance.
With a way to free the prisoners, the party was under pressure to open the cages. Soon after, a patrol wandered down the hall. They stopped to make conversation with the warlock before continuing on.
This was when the party had to figure out what to do about the prisoners. One option was to lead the prisoners to the entrance of the Well that the party had used and leave them to their own devices. Another was to leave them in the cell rooms where at least they should be safe until the party could complete their mission. A third option (favored by Jamna and the warlock) was to misdirect the prisoners deeper into the volcanic complex to stir up confusion among the cultists. Finally, someone suggested that the party take the prisoners with them.
In the middle of the conversation, however, the guard patrol re-emerged at the rear of a column of about 50 prisoners. The earlier interaction with these guards informed the party that prisoners were being taken to the Black Chapel where they were being sacrificed to lend power to the ritual. Rather than allow this group through, the party silently redirected the oncoming stream of prisoners into the cell rooms they had just liberated.
About half way through, the guards at the back noticed that the column wasn’t progressing towards the intended destination, and two guards pushed through the remaining crowd to investigate. They were promptly cleaved in two by the barbarian. While this solved 1/2 the party’s issue regarding the guards, the remaining prisoners were now trapped between the other two guards and a gore-covered barbarian and his party, so their problems were just par for the course at this point.
These remaining prisoners were ushered into the cell rooms. Upon seeing the hallway empty, two dead compatriots, and a party of what looked like traitorous cultists, one of the guards turned and fled immediately. As the rest of the party set upon the remaining guard drake, the warlock chased the running cultist into what was apparently a guard drake stable. He managed to take out one drake and fell back to the hallway intersection where he met with the rest of the party to make short work of the remaining enemies.
With the coast having been cleared, the party really needed to come up with a plan of attack. They sneaked within range of the Black Chapel, finding that there were eleven cultists on three levels of the structure — two of which required their occupants to be floating 50 and 100 feet above the ground — performing a gate summoning ritual. Once again, the prisoners came up as a potential disruptive technique, but the idea was deflated when it was realized that “slaughter the prisoners to fuel the ritual” was actually why the prisoners were there in the first place. Due to the way that the chapel was built, however, it was decided that the party might be able to take out the ritualists in each silo — both at ground level and levitating one level up — one alcove at a time.
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It had been about a month since we’d last convened, due to several real life issues. We opted to have an Emergency Session Tuesday in order to catch up.
Seeing as this is the “end game”, there’s not a lot I can speak to without potentially giving away info that would greatly affect the course of action should one of the players read this post. Suffice to say that I remember being concerned that the party was focused on the wrong goals and would spend a lot of time exploring the Well of Dragons, but they seem to have come around to face the point from which the urgency stems. I tried throwing some “deus ex machina” in there by way of the guard patrol (“based on how often they want prisoners, and how many we have, I guess the ritual has maybe about 2 hours left before the glorious return of our Queen”) and also the reintroduction of Jamna the rogue.
I wanted to bring Jamna back because of no good reason, I suppose. Technically, she fit the bill: the Zhentarim DID give the party insider info, and Jamna IS a member of their outfit, and she HAD run with the party for quite some time, so it was a tropey addition. Plus, GM run NPC companions can serve as a Greek chorus, assuming the players ask the right questions, but will never volunteer critical information on their own. And, you know…she’s more firepower in the event that the party needs it.
The plan is to assault the Temple of Tiamat. I’m glad the group got a plan sketched out before the next session; it could be over fairly quickly if the party is efficient and smart about it, or it could turn into a protracted bloodbath. We’ll see!