The party was promptly returned to Waterdeep by Elia, who couldn’t stick around, on account of the fact that she was needed back at Metallic Dragon HQ to help prepare for the new alliance.
The next step was to take the dragon’s compromises to the Council. The party’s barbarian was somehow elected to be the spokesperson, and ended up angering the council with his insanity. Thankfully, that scenario turned out to be a bad dream sequence, and the warlock came up with a plan: whenever he said the word “dijon”, the barbarian would spring into action, but until then he should keep quiet. Unfortunately, in discussing the plan and agreeing to use the word “dijon”, the barbarian heard the word “dijon” and immediately bolted into the streets of Waterdeep.
Going in, the party understood that their compromises might be a hard sell for the Council, and they were right. The bard lectured the Council of Waterdeep on the necessity of compromise and the importance of the alliance that the Council themselves sent the party to broker before the party dropped the bomb that they’d bartered 1/3 of the Cult’s stolen hoard in order to secure the partnership. Several Council members, lead by Neverember and Brawnanvil, were outraged. Lady Silverhand explained that the hoard wasn’t technically up for grabs: not only did it belong back with its rightful owners, but the cities represented by the Council knew they’d be facing a massive expenditure after the crisis and beyond the value of the hoard to cover reparations for those who lost their homes and families. The warlock countered by reminding the Council that dragons will be dragons and that treasure was a surefire way to appease them, a point supported by Sir Isteval, sworn enemy of dragons, but supporter of the party’s actions and in begrudging agreement that the dragon’s assistance was to be secured by whatever means necessary.
The second concession went over a lot better: handing over the dragon masks to the metallics. At first it looked like Hornblade would object to losing some of the most powerful (and potentially useful) magical artifacts in Faerun, but seemed to think better of dissent when no one else seemed particularly upset.
The last point was saved for later. The warlock wisely opted to hold back the demands for an apology from Brawnanvil until it could be relayed in private, so after the Council disbanded for the afternoon, the party secured an audience with Brawnanvil for later that night.
Meanwhile, the bard went out looking for the barbarian, whom the party realized could be doing a whole lot of PR damage if left to roam the streets shouting “dijon” at random citizens. During her search, however, she noticed a flash of purple robes ducking into an alleyway. Stealthing through the narrow corridor, she saw the robed humanoid enter into a building in a secluded courtyard.
With the barbarian reclaimed, the bard collected the rest of the party and returned to the alleyway. Still, the barbarian was frantically searching for “dijon” and ran through the courtyard shouting for the spicy mustard, which earned him a fireball to the back from a hidden cultist on a balcony overlooking the alleyway. Several other cultists poured in from other alleys and from behind doors. The bard grabbed the barbarian and used Dimensional Door to teleport the two of them to one of the balconies where a cult fireball thrower was firing from, while the rest of the party used the mouth of the alleyway as a choke-point through which to funnel the oncoming cultists. Although the party took several hits, they were able to plow through the cultists — except one, who seemed to have vanished into thin air.
+ + +
The session got off to a slow start as we triggered several hallucinations in which the barbarian — who is under the delusion that he is actually a wizard — attempted to speak to the Council on behalf of the party.
The Council was obviously upset about the 1/3 share of the treasure leaving their eventual possession, although the vehemence with which some of the members protested the situation could be construed as having an agenda for the hoard beyond simple restitution.
The party rarely splits, adhering to the adage of “don’t split the party”, but in some cases having players go their different ways allows for different opportunities to present themselves, not always for the worst. When they’re all bunched up, an ambush is like a small war because the “ambush” part has to match or exceed the party’s strength. Plus, if they always travel in packs, then there’s always some level of assumed safety. More importantly, the Party With A Capital “P” means that I always have to address the Party and almost never get the opportunity to work with individual players.
Focusing on one or two players at a time can certainly be boring for the rest of the party, depending on how involved the current scenario ends up being, but I think part of our problem with us is that the Party Is All. We have some people who talk a lot, some people who talk A WHOLE LOT, and some people who say very little, in part because there are so many voices talking over one another because everyone is in the same place at the same time experiencing the same experience, and as a result no one can be addressed as an individual. Decisions are made sometimes by consensus, but often times it seems like everyone just goes with the flow because A) there’s not a lot of other options that would allow the party to take different routes (my fault), B) some folks are just feeling like throwing another voice into the fray would be drowned out or not really add anything new to the decision making process, or C) strength in numbers means never having to worry about the possibility of making a terrible, terrible mistake.
Because of the scenario, though, there’s not a lot of time or opportunity to split the party or for the party to really focus on individual paths within the same chapter, so I suppose it’s the impending deadlines that we can use as an excuse this time around.
We also saw the devastating results of Blight as the warlock turned a cultist to dust with a waggle of his finger, leading me to believe that I need a better class of henchmen for the future.
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The party wasted little time getting the act together, and none too soon: Turns out Lady Elia had a trick up her sleeve, and that trick was turning into a silver dragon in the fortress courtyard, freaking out the animals and making uninformed citizens panic at the sight of a dragon suddenly in their midst.
Elia — her real name being Otaaryliakkarnos, in WotC’s typical alphabet soup fashion — flew the party to the meeting place high in the mountains, and along the way provided them with a dossier on each of the dragons they would be meeting with.
Protanthur: proud and distrustful of humanoids. He’d be the party’s greatest opponent.
Ileuthra: A wise dragon who spends his time walking the planes of existence and consorting with gods. He would be judging the party’s arguments most strongly.
Nymmurh: Already given over to the humanoid cause because of his relationship with Lady Dala Silmerhelve of Waterdeep, so at least the effort was starting at absolute zero.
Tazmikella: A dragon who has spent a good part of her life in human form, living among humanoids, and has gotten burned by the younger races more times than she could count.
And herself, of course, but no one asked her about her position on all of this Cult business.
True to her word, Protanthur turned out to be a tough nut to crack. By and large, the dragons were all on the same page that something needed to be done, but the dragon clans weren’t sure that there was any benefit to entering into a formal alliance with the humanoids. If their paths crossed in pursuit of some mutual goal, then so be it, but there was no point to a formal alliance. To the long-lived dragons, this subtle distinction apparently meant something.
The party presented their case to the best of their ability. A united force of humanoids and dragons could only be stronger than if either group went it alone, and the party attempted to enumerate the ways in which their contributions could benefit the dragons. They walked a fine line between obsequiousness and a show of over-confidence in the abilities they were touting, but the dragons weren’t entirely on board. The party spoke of the benefits of humanoid knowledge to a dragon who moves through the planes of existence with ease. They described war to creatures who had fought in battles than humanoids knew only as legends. Most of all, they tried to sell the “triumph of the human(oid) spirit” as their greatest asset, but that turned out to be the dragon’s — or at least Protanthur’s — sorest spot.
Each dragon had some beef with the humanoids. Taz had first-hand experience with the two-faced nature of humans, elves, and dwarves. Otaaryliakkarnos clan sought restitution from the dwarven kingdoms for their careless hunting of her ancestors (and from having made a suite of armor from the skin of one in particular). Protanthur’s ire was reserved for elves and tieflings specifically, each of which were represented in the party, but his greater issue was that humanoids, with their short lifespans, couldn’t amass the wisdom that leads them to make good decisions. Humanoids were corruptible and weak, and prone to infighting over transient elements that they’d never live long enough to enjoy. He stated the it was humanoid frailty — of life, of character — as an excuse for a “get as much as you can, while you can” attitude that had wreaked havoc across the realm for centuries. In short, humanoids were why Faerun couldn’t have nice things.
Nymmurh was Protanthur’s foil, however. The younger dragon had spent much time on both sides of the current argument, some among his clan debating the situation, and some among his confidants in Waterdeep. As the one who felt most at ease in both camps, he could only remind Protanthur that while everything he said about the humanoid races was accurate, the fact that they were still around despite centuries of strife and fallen empires spoke volumes as to their tenacity and will to survive. No, they didn’t need an alliance with them, he agreed, but that being the case, there was no good reason not to ally, and the only reason Protanthur was holding out was due to his bias against the younger races.
As the dragons disengaged from the party to discuss the matter amongst themselves, the party regrouped to consider their options at this point. It was mentioned that maybe they could sweeten the pot a bit if they offered the dragons a part of the Cult’s treasure hoard in exchange for an alliance. If the dragons returned and Protanthur’s position remained unchanged, there might be no other option. The party seemed hesitant to stoop to common tit-for-tat, though, possibly believing that doing so would offend the ancients and ruin whatever logical arguments they had spent the past hour and a half making for their case.
As the dragons reentered the grotto, most still had reservations, but were in a better mood to bargain. Although Otaaryliakkarnos figured that the suit of armor made from her ancestor was lost to history, she requested a formal apology from a representitive of the dwarves for their centuries of drunken revelry that they called the dragonmoots that usually ended with the slaughter of her kin. The party stated that they couldn’t speak for the entire dwarven nation, but Otaary seemed to be very insistent that they try in exchange for her support. Ileuthra had one contingent request: that once the dragon masks were recovered, they be given to the metallic clans for safekeeping. While he was cool on the idea of an alliance himself, he was concerned that the masks left in the well meaning but relatively weak hands of the humanoids would eventually be too much of a temptation, and if an alliance was the price they had to pay for the humanoids to agree to hand over such powerful artifacts, then so be it. In a more casual conversation with Taz, the mention of a cut of the treasure got her attention, and she suggested that Protanthur’s current internal struggle might be swayed by a promise of a portion of the spoils. Because, dragons.
In the end, Protanthur begrudgingly agreed to the alliance in exchange for 1/3 of the Cult’s hoard. It would no doubt be an uneasy alliance, with one side desperate for the help of the other side which appeared to be unengaged in the process, but the party requested that the dragons sign a written agreement that they could take to the Council as a formal declaration of the alliance.
+ + +
I was both excited and terrified of this session going in. It’s difficult enough to RP a single character; it’s very difficult to have to RP several characters over the course of an adventure; it’s stupidly daunting to have to RP several characters simultaneously during the same session. Not only that, but to have to RP dragons, and to give them some air of ancient wisdom, aloofness, and hubris and self-centeredness, all while trying to not agree with the logical, very humanly relatable points that the players were putting forth, in the name of playing the characters.
Each of the dragons had three traits: desire, attitude, and concession, as well as a bearing such as angry, unfavorable, neutral, and favorable. Their desire is what they wanted in the context of the module, which was the cessation of the Cult’s rituals. They differed from the Council’s approach in that their dragon pride made them believe that they could and should go it alone, not because it was “a dragon problem”, but because they’ve got the “long view” of life in Faerun, and have collectively decided that the pattern of humanoid races is one of general dumbassery. They were quick to remind the party that it was a human’s perchance for corruption that started the whole Cult business in the first place.
During the negotiations, it was basically two against one: the bard and (oddly) the tiefling warlock took the initiative to argue the case. Their positions were very Star Trekish: yes, humanoids can be selfish and dickish, but there’s so much potential there…swap the party for Jean Luc Picard and the dragons for Q and I think I’d seen that episode before. But as a person I couldn’t find any fault in their argument; as dragons, I had to.
The only thing the dragons had in their favor (aside from their racism) was their long view of the world. They had seen some shit, and have noticed the patterns. They don’t feel that they could trust that humanoids were doing this for any other reason than selfishness which would eventually devolve into the usual squabbles between their nations. While humanoids were certainly good at war, one dragon asked, point blank, “how can we be sure you’re not just going to turn on one another once the Cult is defeated and go to war over the spoils?” Hopefully, no one could really answer that — they could speak on behalf of the Council, but they couldn’t really speak for the Council, after all. It wasn’t so much that the dragons were trying to be right, but they had to seem entirely uninterested and unconvinced that there was a benefit to them doing something they really didn’t want to do with people they’d rather not do it with.
That’s where the concessions were supposed to come in. Before the party left Waterdeep, Sliverhand attempted to impress upon the party that for the purpose of these negotiations, they were the Council. Part of the point of the scenario was (minor spoiler for the party members who read this, but probably not really) to put the party in a difficult position: yeah, they had the authority to wheel and deal, but after they made promises to the dragons, they would then have to convince the Council to actually make good on those promises. In this, the dragons can only be proven to be correct in their fears: humanoids aren’t as unified in their support for one another as the dragons are, no matter how dire the circumstances are that they’re staring down. I didn’t use all the concessions, because by the time all of the speechifying was done we were abutting our quitting time, and there was still the final go-ahead that needed to be nailed down. After 1.5 hours of talk, throwing in the towel because the dragons lined up to make demands would seem really stupid. Plus, the broaching of the subject of concessions was supposed to be part of the empowerment of the party. They could have outright asked “what can we do to win your support?” and I think the scenario could have been over in about 15 minutes.
But we got some good RP out of it, and hopefully everyone enjoyed themselves. True to form, though, the party’s wildcard Dimsdale Butterstick the Perpetually Scintillating — the barbarian who’s convinced he’s a wizard — almost derailed the negotiations with his unique brand of outbursts, but someone produced a whole bunch of crumpets from their adventuring rations which kept him busy throughout most of the proceedings. At the end, though, once the crumpets had been consumed, the warlock summoned some pretty lights to amuse the barbarian, which actually worked because he failed his Wisdom saving throw.
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The party was summoned before the Council of Waterdeep upon their return to…eh…Waterdeep. They had turned Varrum the White over the Council’s “Hospitality Ambassadors”, and were on their way to their debriefing.
The Council had redecorated since last the players were there, most notably that Lord Neverember was apparently no longer in charge of the quorum. Lady Silverhand now occupied the Big Chair, but no one at the table offered to elaborate. It was obvious that Neverember was displeased and detached from the proceedings.
Lady Silverhand congratulated the party on returning with Varrum in tow, a sentiment that was echoed by Lord Brawnanvil of Mithril Hall. Brawnanvil was eager to put Varrum on trial for a laundry list of transgressions against the dwarven races. On the other side of the coin was Delaan Winterhound of the Emerald Enclave who saw Varrum’s presence as an unnecessary distraction. He cautioned the Council and the Party against Varrum’s well-known duplicity, and warned that his presence in Waterdeep could be putting the city and the Council’s operations at risk.
Still, Lady Silverhand would not overlook this opportunity to wring valuable intelligence from their prisoner, and sent the party down to Varrum’s interrogation in an act of “good faith”. Perhaps the party — having just rescued Varrum and providing him with asylum — would put the dwarf more at ease.
Varrum was eager to talk. He told the party about the goals of the Cult, the purpose of the Wyrmspeakers and the masks their carried, and about the Thayan’s involvement in the Cult’s proceedings. By and large he was cooperative, which put the party immediately on the defensive.
Once back in the council chamber, a new face had appeared, but before introductions could be made, the warlock had a request: he wanted just two minutes to question Varrum without anyone else in the room, a request that had been denied by the chief interrogator Lady Maquette. Mithril Hall was supportive, but the Emerald Enclave pointed to this diversion as proof of Varrum’s disruptive nature. Lady Silverhand granted the warlock’s request, interested in wringing any and all information from their captive before they had to resort to more painful methods.
The Council was engaged in a run-down of status reports from their kingdoms, but the stories were all the same: villagers and small cities were being emptied of their populations as people fled ahead of impending Cult attacks. Houses, barns, inns, and other personal properties were being razed by dragon fire, and precious possessions were being stolen from the wreckage. The massive movements of people along the Sword Coast was projected to overwhelm the strongholds of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate, Luskin, and others. The Council’s reports echoed Varrum’s statements that the Cult’s attacks had two purposes: to acquire as much treasure as possible for the return of Tiamat, and to overwhelm the Council member’s resources and sow confusion in a bid to keep them occupied.
Winterhound seemed particularly vociferous after the unusually glowing report from King Melandrach of the Misty Forest. Melandrach claimed that Cult raiders had been repelled once he ordered the forest kingdom’s defenses increased, and boasted of confidence that his people were safe. Prince Alagarthas, Melandrach’s youngest son, countered the King’s claim with evidence gathered by his people in league with the Emerald Enclave. They felt that the Cult had merely been repelled but not defeated, and that they were surely biding their time until they could discern the weak points in Melandrach’s new defenses. A stern rebuke from his father through the invocation of his missing brother and rightful successor Neronvain, silenced Alagarthas, driving him from the room.
With the bickering complete, Lady Silverhand introduced their newest visitor as Lady Elia, a representitive of the metallic dragons of Faerun. The Council had been insistant with the metallics, begging for an audience in which they would plead their case for assistance in their fight against the Cult. Their diplomatic missives had been received, but no word had been received regarding their reception. Silverhand was quick to remind the Council that it was foolish to try and appeal the dragon’s sense of decency, since what was life and death for those at the table was merely a blink of a eye for dragonkind; instead, they needed to state their case to the draconic council as diplomats and, if necessary, to make concessions that would win the metallics over to their cause. Lady Elia was the first response the Council had received, and they were eager to take it. It was the Council’s decision that since the party had the most experience with the dealings of the Cult, they would be best suited to provide the dragons with answers to whatever questions they might demand answers to before making their decision. Lady Elia mentioned that she needed to return to her council as quickly as possible, as their deliberations were still ongoing in her absence. The party agreed to leave that evening.
As the Council adjourned, the party was stopped in the hallway by Alagarthas. He pleaded with the party to come to the Misty Forest to stop the impending Cult assault, warning the players that it might be a matter of hours, or a matter of days before their defenses were compromised and his people slaughtered. Winterhound supported Alagarthas’ request, but the party felt that treating with the dragons was far more important to the needs of the council. Angry beyond words, Alagarthas left the party with a confused Winterhound in tow.
+ + +
I ended up spending more time preparing this scenario than any other, I think, and I believe it paid off. I got to cover all of the bases that I felt were needed at this point in the module, although I was worried about halfway through that it was turning into an exposition dump.
Varrum’s presence is supposed to be a boon for the Council; he fucked up, pissed off Severin, and believes his life in the Cult to be over. But Silverhand’s warnings were accurate in that Varrum is an opportunist. He knows that he has nothing to gain from lying to the Council, but his life no doubt depends on being as truthful as he feels he needs to be, for as long as possible.
Since Varrum was a member of Severin’s inner circle, he’s got a lot of information — but not ALL the information. The Cult’s structure in our version of the module has the power concentrated with Severin. He has advisors who handle the military aspects, so the current job of the Wyrmspeakers is to corral chromatic dragons of their mask’s color who might be resisting the call of the draakhorn, but also to go where Severin deems necessary, quickly, and without question. This isolates Varrum from Severin’s details, but also keeps him apart from other Wyrmspeakers. He mentioned to the party that this was a potential weakness in the cult: since the Wyrmspeakers operated independently at Severin’s sole command, cornering any one of them could lead to the Council gaining possession of one of the masks.
And if you notice that I’m ending abruptly at this point, you’re right.
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We now resume our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.
Harried by yuan-ti in the temple after having interrupted their ritual sacrifice of a particularly damaged dwarf, the party found that the mental respite was working in their favor this week. All attacks were focused on the yuan-ti abomination who was essentially blocking the door into the room, and with that much firepower he didn’t remain an obstacle for long.
Early on, the yuan-ti realized that with their enforcer down, they were dealing with some professional grade adventurers here, and started to close ranks around their polymorphed priestess who was hopping around at the back of the room in rabbit form. With the ranger’s Silence spell still in effect, the lizardfolk were limited to ranged attacks, but the barbarian had no such reservations. His Frenzy was still in effect, and he charged into the zone of silence with a suddenly truncated battle cry of pure gibberish. The party watched, stunned, as the barbarian continued to shout, and even appeared to be addressing the party from within the zone where no sound could be heard or escape.
With only two priestesses and one yuan-ti soldier left standing, the ranger dropped the Silence field and issued a call for surrender, but not before the frenzied barbarian saw his chance to do some real damage. Sprinting across the room, the halfling scooped up the priestess-turned-bunny by the ears, and began swinging the creature in wild arcs in the direction of the other yuan-ti priestess. Thankfully for both the bunny and the yuan-ti, the barbarian’s Frenzy was starting to wind down, leaving him exhausted and less than accurate. In the end, he limply threw the rabbit at his target, and the weak impact negated the Polymorph spell, allowing the original priestess to regain her form.
Once again, the ranger issued his call for surrender, and after witnessing the death of their champion, and the batshit crazy assault with a deadly rabbit, the yuan-ti were of no mind to continue this battle. The ranger demanded the dwarf.
“Take him,” the priestess said. “But we hold his soul in exchange for our freedom. He will be made whole once you leave our caverns.”
The dwarf was quite banged up, and a quick healing word from the ranger stabilized him, but he was in no state to extract himself from the caves. Guided by serpents under orders from the yuan-ti and observed by yuan-ti soldiers from the shadows, the party was lead to the crypt of Didarius, where the secret door was closed and the sounds of a violent dismantling of the door’s mechanisms could be heard from the other side of the wall.
The only other obstacle that the party had to face was the group of bearded devils that were left sitting in the commissary. Unsure of how they’d react seeing their master mostly dead and being carried by the party, they allowed the warlock to cast Dimensional Door to a further room in order to take the dwarf ahead while the rest of the party sauntered past the devils like nothing had changed.
With the tomb behind them, the party used the summoning seal that Amonfel gave them for use once they found Varrum, and they rested while they waited for extraction. During this time, the dwarf admitted that he was the White Wyrmspeaker Varrum, and that he had lost the dragon mask that he’d been entrusted with. His trip to the tomb was an effort to retrieve the mask, but he and his party were ambushed by the yuan-ti only to see in the tomb’s scrying pool that the mask he was chasing was already back in the possession of the Dragon Cult. He knew that he could never return to the Well of Dragons, as Severin would torture him and use him in the ritual to summon Tiamat. Instead, he offered his knowledge of the cult to the council in exchange for asylum.
Amonfel and the Boarskier paladins arrived several hours later and escorted the party to the the paladin’s stronghold where they and Varrum were portaled back to Waterdeep.
+ + +
There’s not a whole lot to say about this week, I guess. We had left off in the middle of combat last session, and we hit the ground running this week. The battle itself was straightforward, thanks to our notes, although the…highlight…of the evening was the use of a rabbit as an improvised weapon. Sorry, a polymorphed yuan-ti in rabbit form as an improvised weapon. Unfortunately this action came almost right after the ranger opted to call for surrender, so I’m sure that the barbarian’s insistence on wielding a rabbit was the least expected action that could have occurred, but in hindsight I suppose that since he was in the Frenzy state and not making sound decisions at the time, there’s some kind of rational explanation in there. Maybe.
Still, I think the party needs to shore up its game plan. Had the barbarian’s assault with a deadly rabbit actually done some damage, then the possibility for surrender would have been shut down and the yuan-ti’s slaughtered. That might have lead to a more difficult time getting out of the tomb, and with Varrum in such a sorry state, he might not have made it out alive. All in all, things worked out as well as they could have, but party cohesion is something that the group has had trouble with in the past, and is compounded by a rotating lineup of players. Hopefully we won’t need to go through the hiring process again, and things can start to come together over time.
Varrum’s capture is most certainly a boon for the Council. On one hand he’s a Greek Chorus of “what’s going on with the cult”, but on the other hand it might make sense: Varrum is a morally bankrupt, self-serving dwarf, which is partly what lead him to the cult in the first place. But he’s not stupid: he knows that there’s absolutely no way he can return to Sevrin and be welcome, nevermind return to his position as White Wyrmspeaker. He’s got no other option but to spill what he knows and hope for some degree of leniency from the Council.
Next week is going to focus on the results of Varrum’s interrogation and what the Council has learned both from the dwarf and from the interleaving period between sessions. It’s also time for an accounting of the Council’s attitude towards the party per the RoT score sheet. The end of this chapter granted the players a new level, and thinkfully it seems to be a rather boring level that won’t require too much downtime for decision-making and character sheet-updating.
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The ranger cast silence to get away from the barbarian’s running commentary.
After having freed the unusually buff wizard Dimsdale Buttertub from his cell, the party returned to the yuan-ti sleeping quarters, defeated the curious lizard folk, and reclaimed the halfling’s possessions. Being the completionists that they are, the group opted to backtrack a bit and head through a set of doors that they hadn’t yet investigated.
The found themselves in a room which appeared to be dedicated to yuan-ti meditation, as it was filled with reed mats and reeked of some kind of incense. In the corners were two large statues of yuan-ti deities which had rubies for eyes, but at the feet of one of the statues was a rusty suit of armor, and at the feet of the other was an unconscious tiefling in cultist robes.
Suspecting something amiss, the ranger nudged the cultist with his foot while drawing back on his bow. While still under watch, the party assisted the tiefling warlock by healing his wounds and helping him back to consciousness just as snakes began to pour into the room like soccer hooligans from the local pub. Although the party prepared to fight several hundred individual serpents — somehow — they were surprised to find that the snakes coordinated their actions and slithered into the suit of armor, effectively creating some really creepy Helmed Horror that was ready to take on the party. Now at full strength, however, the group proved to be more than a match for the animated suit, scoring several critical hits to the armor which sent the snakes slithering back into the walls *shudder*.
Still, the party decided they could use a rest, so they retired to the prison block, which was deemed the most defensible area they’d encountered thus far. After a short rest, they used the keys previous used to release Dimbulb Butterball to open the heavy metal door at the far end of the room and found themselves outside what appeared to be a yuan-ti temple.
Several large stone serpent statues lined the walls and lead to a dais upon which was an altar. Several yuan-ti were engaged in some kind of ritual there, but the party’s attention was drawn to the priestess who seemed to be in the readying some kind of ritual sacrifice of a bound and bloodied dwarf who matched the description of Varrum the White.
Although the yuan-ti had heard the party’s approach and were waiting patiently for the group, the party wasted no time opening fire in the crowded temple. Shrewdly, the warlock cast Polymorph on the ritual priestess, turning her into a rabbit that bounced ineffectively around the room. A yuan-ti abomination, a massive serpent with a wicked scimitar, slithered forth to engage the party at their chosen choke-point in the doorway to the room.
Actual Polymorph representation
+ + +
I think this is the shortest recap I’ve written so far.
We gained our fifth and final player this week, a tiefling warlock, whose introduction was rather abrupt but after having spent two weeks trying to get our previous player into the mix, I wanted to make sure everyone was involved this week. His basic story is that he was trailing the cult for reasons as yet unwritten, infiltrated their party as a cultist himself, was discovered, assaulted, and left for dead as Varrum’s group found they were on the end of a losing battle with the yuan-ti.
I realized from the few encounters this week that the period of pulling punches is kind of over; the original text required two Helmed Horrors, but unsure of how effective the party would be, I cut it down to one. I should have left them both in there. The temple yuan-ti are at full count, but not full strength: I had originally had FG set enemies HP to “Maximum”, but dialed it back to “Standard” which I thought would be more manageable. Not only should it be a challenge, but because we’ve only got two hours, I want to make sure things flow well and that we can get to gameplay other than just a single fight per night. Still, I think I might set the HP to “Random”, which will assign HP to enemies between their potential minimum and potential maximum hit dice values.
Now with five players, the advancement is slowing considerably. We’ve got more role-playing going on, which is always nice, but can take up a lot of time if it’s RP for RP’s sake. The barbarian has a schtick where he thinks he’s a wizard with a tendency to call out his spells that are really just melee attacks, and now the warlock seems to be very interested in engaging the barbarian IC, turning this into the weirdest episode of The Odd Couple that has never been filmed. We spent a good amount of time during the short rest watching these two getting to know one another, which was fun, but we certainly want to make sure that everyone is paying attention to the game as well, and not just using this time for improv theater. In fact, something happened that I think totally went over everyone’s head because there were so many voices going on that I don’t think anyone heard me mention it multiple times. I’m not going to mention it here and let them backtrack, though. We’ll just call this a Learning Moment.
We also had an issue with Discord about 3/4 of the way through the night, where voices were becoming garbled for some. Eventually it seemed to come back online, but it was disconcerting to say the least. For a few minutes we tried playing via the chat window, and while it would certainly cut down on the amount of superfluous method-acting, it was a terrible and painfully slow way to get info across.
And a shout out to our bard Tinda for her liveblog of the session. If you want more details on the session, want to see how D&D 5E plays out, or just want to wonder how we get anything done, check it out!
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The party was in a bind. Several lizardfolk had been dispatched, but one escaped. One was barely conscious, and somewhere in the maze of cavernous hallways, a person was screaming. Not screaming in pain, but screaming like how someone probably screamed when they learned that Firefly isn’t being resurrected.
The only way forward was down a set of increasingly damp and mossy stairs that opened into a cavern with a 120′ drop into darkness. The only way across this chasm was over a narrow stone bridge that was covered in slick lichen…and was manned by three lizardfolk and one of their buff half-human, half lizard soldiers. It was apparent that the lizardfolk wanted the battle on their terms, opting to lure the party onto the bridge, but the party wasn’t having it — at least, not initially.
The bard cast Thunderwave, which succeeded in letting the lizards know that the party was approaching, but which did not have the desired effect of clearing the bridge. The ranger opted to not get too close, and managed to remove at least one lizard with a volley of arrows. That left the monk — the melee, in-your-face, flurry-of-blows carrying monk — to make his move.
Almost as soon as he set foot onto the bridge, the monk knew he was in trouble. The moss was too slick to maintain proper footing, and the gnome toppled over the side. Seeing as how his monastic training prepared him for all kinds of Jackie Chan-level shit, he managed to grab ahold of the bridge ledge before plunging to his Doom. A nearby lizardfolk found this particularly intriguing, and started to bash at the monk’s fingers with his club, but the monk endured.
Not wanting to be out-action-heroed, the bard bolted down the stairs and upon reaching the bottom, used the slick bridge to her advantage, sliding over the slick surface like a Bo and Luke Duke’s stumpy, more inbred cousin (who you know had to exist in Hazzard Country, people). She slipped past the lizardfolk that was looming over the monk, and before heading over the edge herself, grappled the monk’s arm and successfully used Dimensional Door to teleport the two of them back to the top of the stairs.
Misunderstanding the point of a “learning experience”, the monk once again set foot onto the bridge…and once again slipped over the edge. This time, his training betrayed him, sending him plunging the full 120′ feet into the pit below. If anyone had to fall, however, it was best that it was the monk. He managed to summon his powers of…I dunno…falling like a boss, I guess? Anyway, he didn’t die; he didn’t even get scratched, really. But he was quickly joined by the corpse of the last lizardfolk that fell due to his own stupidity. But wait! There’s more! Snakes began to issue from a hole in the wall, dropping into the ankle-deep cesspool.
At this point everyone probably decided that being a monk wasn’t so bad, because the gnome started to claw his way back up the craggy walls of the pit he was in. He was able to reach most of the way before he failed to find further purchase, and was left hanging about 60′ short of the lip of the bridge.
The ranger and monk took care of the last yuan ti, and then carefully made their way out onto the bridge with a rope tied around the ranger’s waist. The monk had to jump for the rope (a 50′ rope was just a tad bit too short), but managed to ninja that bitch and secured a ride topside once again. This time, the party connected themselves using the rope like rock-climbers do, and since no good deed (or idea) goes unpunished, the monk fell over the edge again.
Once on the other side, the party followed the sounds of screaming. As they moved throughout the caverns, the random shouting began to sound more like shouts for assistance. After identifying and skirting a dart trap, the party found a rather boisterous halfling imprisoned in an ancient cell. It seemed that this “wizard” had been captured and was being held as a sacrifice for the “dark pool”, which the party had taken to mean the strange pool they’d encountered on their way into the Didarious’ crypt. Never to look a gift party member in the mouth, the party helped secure the halfling in time to find that their exit was now being camped by a party of curious and on-edge yuan ti.
As the party filed into the room to begin the battle, the “wizard” was the first one into the fray. Unarmed and unarmored — and suspiciously sans magic despite his penchant for shouting out sketchy spell names like he was a character in some 1980’s Japanimation series — this “wizard” proceeded to punch, kick, and headbutt every yuan ti he could reach. Aside from barely leaving bruise that would raise little more than a question in about a day or so, he was remarkably on-target. His constant annoyance allowed the party to land several blows on their yuan ti aggressors, including a Hail Mary shot from the bard’s dusty crossbow.
+ + +
Adventure Co’s party has been in flux lately, but we’re slowly re-filling the ranks. This was the second week we had a session with our newest member Paz, but the narrative put us into a place where we couldn’t organically work him into the story. Thankfully, the caverns had a prison, and that prison is mentioned in the module as being specifically for pre-sacrifices to be held. We didn’t cover how Paz got into that situation, but I can leave that to him to decide, if he likes.
Since the party was understaffed at the top of the hour, I had to cut back on the encounters. There were supposed to be a lot more enemies on the bridge than the party engaged with, and culling their number turned out to be a good idea: the bridge itself was an enemy, especially for the harried monk. When I say that it was a good thing that it was the monk, I’m not kidding: his Acrobatics was his best ability, and what allowed him to hold on after the first fall. His falling damage mitigation literally saved him from death when he did fall. And his Acrobatics helped him climb back up to the bridge when the ordeal was all over. Overall, this section would have lasted a whole lot longer if we’d used the number of enemies that the module wanted us to use, and since we really wanted to get the “wizard” into the party sooner than later, I felt that we struck the right balance of gameplay and expedition.
This session saw more criticals than any other session we’ve ever played, I think. We had at least two critical successes, but there was a disturbing string of natural ones being rolled on both sides. One roll caused a yuan ti’s bowstring to snap, and another caused a yuan ti to lose his balance on a swing of his club, sending him over the edge and into the pit below. Critical fumbles are one of the most difficult things to deal with for me. A CF means that the action screwed up really bad, and should have some detrimental consequence. One of the attackers embedded her sword in a statue on a CF and lost her Multiattack ability, for example. Some consequences come naturally, but a lot of the time it’s a fine line between something stupid like “your [Whatever you’re relying on] inexplicably crumbles into dust”, and something creative that seems entirely natural happening as a result of plain old dumb luck. I admit to conveniently ignoring consequences most of the time, but the amount of failures that were dropping in seemed to be just too much to gloss over, seeing as how critical success is baked into Fantasy Ground’s automation.
We’ve also managed to pick up a fifth player who is currently in the midst of character creation, but who has a stub of a magic user defined. He wasn’t able to join us this week due to a prior engagement, but I will now have to look ahead to see if there’s a way I can fit his appearance into the current situation. I have one idea, and with any other party it might seem horribly contrived, but with the turnover we’ve had, and with the temperament of the group in general, I think that the added firepower and the act of returning the party to full strength will allow everyone to overlook the deus ex machina of the idea.
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