It’s The Final Countdown
The End was in sight, literally and figuratively.
The party hit the ground running by taking out one of the ritualists in their alcove before the others knew what was going on. The barbarian started across the temple floor for Rath Modar, but it was the monk who got there first and was able to take down the Thayan exile before the barbarian could even spit on him. The warlock attempted to engage one of the other cultists to the southeast, while Jamna and the bard took on two of the other ritualists who were freed up from their ceremony to close and attack.
Despite the barbarian finding that most of his targets were dead before he could reach them, the warlock suffering several unfortunate hits from lucky cultists, and two — TWO — critical fumbles from the bard, the party kept chipping away at the first floor of defense in the temple. The cultists who were levitating 50 feet above the temple floor watched with nervous anticipation as their comrades were assaulted below them, but they kept focused on their duties…at least until the monk scored a critical hit on one of the floaters, knocking him out of the air. The hard landing almost did him in, but a bolt from Jamna’s crossbow finished him off.
At that point, the ritual took a turn for the worst. The portal that had been growing in the center apse suddenly became unstable, spinning out of control and throwing off sparks before it collapsed upon itself. The remaining four levitating ritualists crashed to earth, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Finally, Severin, leader of the Cult of the Dragon, fell from his 100-foot silo, his head crushed by the constriction of the Mask of the Dragon Mother as a result of the failure of the ritual.
As the barbarian attempted to grab the mask from Severin’s pulped body, the warlock, sensing the potential for further tragedy, attempted to banish the barbarian (temporarily) to another plane to prevent him from picking up the mask, but the barbarian resisted. Instead, the mask broke apart into its five constituent chromatic masks which were collected by the barbarian just as a large contingent of cultists — lead by the half-dragon Cyanwrath — burst into the temple.
Sensing that their mission was complete, the party evacuated the temple the way they had entered, and used their secret entrance to their advantage in confusing any pursuers. The warlock cast Flight on select members who air-lifted the others low across the treeline and away from the Well of Dragons.
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This was the end of the Rise of Tiamat, for good or for ill. The mechanics of the final showdown were somewhat legit: out of the 11 cultists involved in the ritual, five of them needed to perform the ritual uninterrupted for 10 rounds. A brief interruption could set the ritual back a few steps, but as soon as the number of ritualists dropped below five, the whole thing was over and done with. I didn’t count Severin in the final five because I viewed him more as a focal point that was there to keep the ritual on track, so when the first of the floating cultists was downed after the expendable first-floor cultists had been killed, the ritual was effectively over. I tried to give it not just a decent send-off, but also a consequence for the cultists who dared meddle in the affairs of dragons.
The party made it through 3 or 4 rounds before they were able to halt the proceedings, and for a while there I had concerns. The ranger’s attacks could succeed on rolls as low as a 2, meaning that he’d always hit unless there were some kind of serious effects in play so he was able to take out the first cultist without issue. The monk, always a heavy hitter when he’s able to connect, took out Rath Modar despite Modar’s attempt to cast Confusion on him. The party, by and large, was splitting their focus rather than methodically attempting to shut down cultists as quickly as possible, and despite the fact that the cultists were actually rushing to engage them. I wasn’t sure that the party was packing enough ranged firepower to close the gap, especially since distances were as great as over 200 feet, while the floating cultists were being ignored only 50 feet above them (Jamna took a few pot-shots at one of them but barely made a scratch).
The only downside of the night was for the poor bard, who rolled cirtical failures twice. The first time she hit the barbarian with Eldrich Blast as he was sprinting across the temple, but the barbarian being who he is didn’t even stop to notice. The second time her Eldrich Blast triggered a roll on the fumble table called “Ground Zero” — meaning that her “finger guns” effectively blew up in her face.
Theoretically the remaining cultists could have alighted to the temple floor to continue the battle, but they knew what needed to be done and understood that their window of opportunity was over. That being the case, and because it was getting close to closing time, I opted to make it that the failed ritual feed back into the summoning loop, knocking them out of the air and frying their nervious systems. Severin had a particularly gruesome end: the Mask of the Dragon Mother that he wore for the ritual basically crushed his skull as punishment for his failure. The barbarian seemed hell-bent on not just picking up but wearing the Mask, which…I’m not sure what would have happened. Maybe he would have been possessed and taken the central apse to kickstart the ritual anew, but the party seemed willing to do whatever they could to stop him. In the end, though, I figured it would make sense that, understanding that the ritual attempt had failed, the mask would return to it’s relatively dormant state of five pieces until they could be embued with enough energy to again fuse into one mask to start the ritual again.