The Unauthorized Ascension of the Drow Spy Report

This is my play report of Nicolas Logue’s Ascension of the Drow prequel Mega-Adventure. It was a free-for all, storytelling-intensive D&D 3.5 game featuring 126 players (21 tables of 6) and more than 33 GMs. Everyone was sharing the same game at the same time!

It was held at Gen Con and ran from 7h00 PM to the wee hours of the morning. It was insanely fun and had me use all 25 years of my experience as a GM.

The setup was relatively simple. Almost all players were members of one of the Drow Noble Houses of Golarion’s (Paizo’s Campaign World) Drow Capital, Zinarkaynin.

The 12 major houses had been ruling the city without a Monarch for countless centuries, but this was no longer an option if the Drow were to survive. All players had 24 hours in game time to nominate a new Monarch or the whole city would be destroyed and all souls in it would be eternally damned in the deepest pits of the Abyss.

The following is a retelling of the game seen from the perspective of a Chelaxian Vampire Pathfinder spy who was posing as a Slave.

Dear Para-Countess,

I’ve seen my share of atrocities in my 200 years as a Child of the Night in the service of our Dread Lord Asmodeus but none as vile, horrendous and so throughly fascinating as what I witnessed a few nights ago in the Drow City-Vault of Zinarkaynin.

As originally planned, I was taken by the slavers of Drow Noble House Rasiverin, The House of Dire Masters. This major Noble House, one of the 12 ruling Houses of the vault, was renowned for its near limitless slave pens, the gladitorial arena and the shrine of the Crimsom Spire. Said shrine devoted to Zura, Demon lord of Cannibalism and Vampires, patron of the House of Dire Masters, was the central point of the House’s vampiric leadership.

I was based in the family’s estate in Deraktinus, the Vault’s Upper Neighborhood. My status as a Vampire allowed me to rapidly climb the echelons of the house slaves hierarchy. I was soon assigned as a body servant to this House’s de-facto leader: Miyana Rasivrein, Vampire priestess of Zura.

The night before I escaped this forsaken but oh so beautiful city, all 12 ruling heads of the Noble Houses were summoned by their respective patron demon lords and were horribly slain for having failed to put a ruler on the Soulwrought throne for so many centuries.

Mistress Rasivrein, the heir apparent of her now leaderless House, told me that this throne held (and controlled) thousands of souls captured from the enemies of the Drow over countless centuries. Without a firm ruler to keep them in check, the souls had started to become restless and threatened the existence of Zinarkaynin.

Upon slaying all House leaders, the Demon Lords required that a new ruler be named within 24 hours before the Throne surrendered its last shred of control over the souls within them, liberating them all and leveling the city mere moments after their release.

What then followed was a cavalcade of confusion, alliances, betrayal, double, triple and even quadruple dealings.

Alliances with various Houses were established, chiefly with House Vonnarc (The Archmages), Misraria (Messengers and Assassins) and Sardavic (Artisans and Entertainers). While the House of Dire Masters took a wait-and-see approach to the conflict initially, major members of the House were all over the place, dealing, fighting and negociating.

An avatar of Demon Lord Zara itself materialized and heavily influenced the course of decisions that House Rasivrein took.

Armies marched in and out of the city, hordes of slaves, groups of elemental and legendary dragons were summoned and released on the hapless city. Water conduits were poisoned and plague rats swarmed Noble Households. Citizens and slave alike were butchered for the greater glory of this fraticidal succession war…

Yet, of the 120 nobles and associate members, only one died in the first twelve hours of the conflict, which goes to show that, true to what we have come to expect of the Drow, the ruling Noble Houses had always been more concerned about their own safety than the good of their city.

Shortly before the 12 hour mark, the Rasivrein household and some close allies were holding council in the garden of the family’s main estate when they were brutally attacked by Tsu’kirith, a Legendary Demonic Roper.

The monster was able to rapidly drain several opponents, who were invariably restored by Miyana, the House’s leader. The timely intervention of Felize Rasivrein (Miyana’s Bodyguard) and Render (the Arena’s 1/2 Dragon Troll Champion) promptly killed the fiendish beast which exploded in a torrent of unholy energies.

No one was killed in that assault. While it had obviously been engineered by a rival House, it was never established whom did.

Shortly after that, all Demon Lords congregated over the vault and shared their anger at the fact that with less than 12 hours to go, almost all nobles were still alive. They threatened that if more than 1/2 of their blue blooded followers still stood in the next few hours, they’d take matters in their own hands…

… that they did, helping one of the Houses to poison the whole city with a vile green gas, Leaving all but the strongest alive!

While House Rasivrein recovered and consolidated its alliances, it sacrificed one of it’s own major family members as well as two captured nobles from other houses to summon the Tarrasque, convinced by Zura (thier Demon Lord) that it would follow Miyana’s orders and allow House Rasivrein to walk to the Throne room of the Upper city, recover the crown and take ruleship!

That didn’t happen, as the Tarrasque promptly destroyed the family’s estate, slew one of the braver gladiators (Tybalt Mornblade, the Minotaur fighter) and tried to kill Miyana. All members of the House fled the premises to make a desperate run after the throne, leaving the Tarrasque to continue it’s mad rampage.

Having barely survived the assault of this nightmarish beast, I elected to leave this madness and initiate my return to the surface to report to my leaders of the Pathfinder Society.

During my journey back, I was informed by a fellow traveler fleeing the city faster than I was that House Rasivrein failed to take the throne and that a Sardavic matriarch, cloaked in the protection of her Vonnarc allies, did.

It’s my professional opinion that we should not have to worry too much about the Drow in the upcoming years. They will need to recuperate in this most bloody of short civil wars I had ever read about, much less witnessed.

I remain, dear Para-Countess, your most devout servant.

Viscount Ereg Galduvian IV

Chatty’s DM analysis of the event:

This was by far the craziest, most incredible Role Playing event I have ever been part of. Never before have I had to think faster, improvise more and work so damn hard to keep up with a game.

Overall the event was a resounding success. Nick Logue is truly a Role Playing mastermind genius with a strong retinue of loyal fans ready to help him pull the craziest of stunts.

However, I can’t help myself but to share a few points of constructive criticism.

  • The names were unpronounceable to both English and French palates.
  • Players were confused, very confused and needed to be prompted by the table and Demon Lord GMs…
  • So much so that GMs stopped being referees and became players, they tended to influence players to a point I became uncomfortable with (I later learned that a lot of GMs were White Wolf Storytellers and it showed!)
  • The crunch behind the PCs were overly complex, with useless multiclassing that never actually came into play, most of the players never fought! I’d have done 12 templates and fluffed them to fit all 126 character, saving the writers a ton of time!
  • Speaking of Writers, let me name the two who did the most work: Steven Helt and Shane Cottom! With hardly any money, or time, they wrote over 30 pages of fluff and created all ‘named’ monsters and all 126 PCs!!!!! These guys deserve a ton of credit along Logue and his pals.
  • Killing most players with a Poison Cloud was a cheap shot that caused a lot of players to get mad/disappointed.
  • In order to truly create PC to PC conflicts, Combat and Demon Lord GM’s should have been less generous with players using vague resources like ‘slaves’ and ‘were rat infantry’ that only created ‘news item’ that no one listened to and force players to commit themselves to the various schemes that they wanted to hatch.

Still overall, this was an incredible event and It gave me an idea for a future such event that I pitched to the writers of that event for next year. I hope they give it serious consideration.

Hopefully I’ll get to play in it… if it’s not on the same night as the Ennies :)

Credits: Nicolas Logue (Event), Shane Cottom, Steven Helt (Writing), Paizo (Image)

Comments

  1. Sounds like it was wicked fun…always wanted to play in a huge free-for-all political sort of game…

    *sigh*

    One day…

    Reverend Mikes last blog post..Demotivational Monday: Our Native Dance

  2. I’m having some difficulty understanding quite how they pulled off so massive a game with so many players. Oh well…hopefully one day I’ll actually make it to something like that and see how it works ;)

    Toms last blog post..Alignment Part 6 – Judge, Jury, and Executioner!

  3. As a member of House Tracinoa during that event, I just wanted to let you know that one of our high ranking house members was responsible for mass poisoning, not the GMs.

    We have always threatened to destroy your lot by poisoning the city’s water supply, which we were in sole control of… be glad he didn’t play the power card that didn’t allow a save!

  4. Well then if it was a player driven event that could be used seriously as a threat, then I take back my ‘cheap shot’ comment!

    Awesome!

  5. House Tracinoa may have been responsible for the “Green Cloud of Death” that killed so many, but to make it clear, they did NOT poison the lake that served as the city’s primary water supply. House Misraria did that. I was their table DM.

    Among the rest of their notable exploits included taking down two major houses, including a very public and humiliating assassination / defamation of one of the heads of the major house (which is apparently coming to be known as the “piss bucket incident”). They also were part of the alliance that saw the eventual ruler crowned, and can also claim to not have lost any of their 6 primary nobles. I’m not certain any of the other minor houses can make that sort of claim, especially given how visible and active Misraria were.

    Otherwise, I would share most of ChattyDM’s analysis. The event was great, and unique in it’s ambitious scope, which it (mostly) managed to pull off. There were some technical hiccups, some of which may have been averted by ChattyDM’s suggestion to streamline the character creation process. One of my players had an incomplete character (missing 8 levels of assassin), 2 others were given no equipment, one lvl17 sorceress had no spell list, and NONE of the players at my table were given any of their power cards. Still we managed to make it work (mostly, if I may pat myself on the back a bit) due to some quick improvisation on my part, to make sure people had playable characters with as little delay as humanly possible.

    I agree that some of the DM’s crossed the line between being a DM and a player, but I feel comfortable in saying that I was not one of them. I offered no suggestions or advice, I only helped make sure the intended actions of the players were carried out to the best of their (and my) ability.

    Hopefully lessons will be learned, and whatever Paizo decides to do with this model next year will just be that much better!

  6. Thanks for chiming in Tad! I like to see comments on how the game was played/perceived at other tables.

  7. Hey gang!

    I loved reading your spy report, Chatty! You know how much I value constructive criticism, so I won’t go on and on about that. I wanted to thank you again for helping out with the event (all of you who helped, if there are others reading this), it wouldn’t have been possible without you.

    A couple of your ideas were considered, or were beyond our control. But the rest will definitely be taken into account in any future events that Evil Stevil and I put together.

  8. As another member of house Trachinoa (Thiel, for anyone playing along at home), I can confirm that the green gas was us, not the GMs (though they probably did seize upon the idea and run with it).

    I concur with most of ChattyDM’s findings, particularly my awe of Nick Logue and Paizo for even attempting this mad stunt. It was hands-down the most fun I had at GenCon and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. However, my own suggestions are:

    1) A smaller group next time. Two 60-person games would have been more manageable. 120 rolls for initiative is just crazy-talk.

    2) Ditch the character sheets. Combat was impossible in this setting and the set up lent itself more to intrigue and assassinations anyway. A motivation and maybe some “action cards” would have made things run much more quickly.

    3) Don’t give players characters who are good at neither intrigue nor assassinations. I met a Grey Render and a Slime Demon. They were not having any fun.

    4) It would have been of enormous use to the players if the GM’s took five minutes at game start to identify the houses and where they were. I kept hearing about new houses all night.

    5) In the same vein, banners or large signs showing the house names would have been very useful. I don’t know how many times I had to say “I’ve just made an agreement with House…uh…House ‘Those Guys Over There’.”

    6) I really appreciated the zeal and hard work of the many GM’s. They were all very affable. However, I’d have preferred if they limited themselves to answering questions or swatting the houses back on track when they went astray, rather than simply taking over and directing their efforts as they did in many houses (not Trachinoa, thank goodness…evilness…whatever).

    And finally, I’d like to reiterate how much FUN this was. Thanks!

    Tarondor

    PS: Good review, ChattyDM

  9. paul regner says:

    i would like to say that it was me who did the poisoning. i blew a power card that forced the third save and i rolled really high on my craft alchemy check for the strength of the poison. i was perfectly happy with sitting it out and letting everyone else kill each other and then step on the remainder and come out ahead by falling behind (its easier to backstab that way anyway) but our demon patrons hastened my move and in retrospect i shoulda slit chelioses throat in suplication to jubilex to get past the force walls (that whole “shes a spellcaster i can use that” thing kept me from doing it) oh well. it was alot of fun, when is being ruthesly cruel and evil not fun anyway, and my friends all agreed that some things about the game could have been done better. the characters,the final fight, more clearly defined houses. but due to insider knowledge there was some procrastination involved and the whole thing was completed the day of so considering that it went off pretty smooth and was still kick butt.and if anyone was wondering i was standing on the chair at the back of the room surveying the carnage durring the poison incident (miorri tracinoa) and if anyone has the official death count i would really apreciate it.

  10. Well I don’t know a total death count, but I can say that House Misraria was completely untouched by the poison. One of them (through either incredible luck, or foresight, or both) decided to cast a “Hero’s Feast” spell early in the evening, making them all immune to poison for the rest of the evening.

  11. Good call. My table was mostly untouched because of good Fort saves or the small fact that vampires are immune to poison.

  12. By the by, several of the names, events, creatures, characters, and creations born out of this event feature in Pathfinder #16: Endless Night, particularly in the article detailing the city of Zirnaykaynin: Last Home of the Elves.
    ~Wes Schneider, Managing Editor, Pathfinder

  13. Woot Paizo employee comment!

    Geekout aside, thanks for the tip Wes, I’ll definitively pick up this one as a souvenir of one of the greatest RPG experiences I’ve lived so far.

  14. Hey Phil! Its your cohort-in-crime fellow Rasivrein DM! (Ron Janik)

    Let me just say that I too thoroughly enjoyed this event. I agree with many of your comments, and even I had moments where I got “caught up” in the action probably more than I should have. By about 2 hours in I was in a comfort zone where I never said too much, but always encouraged the players to take chances and try and make their plans work. Our Demon Lord was “highly active” and in some ways that was good, but ultimately the players made this event what it was. Ultimately, I found myself simply recapping things going on, recapping their own self-generate options, or recapping their currently active plans. It was truly like “herding cats.”

    Personally, I wish we could have avoided a Tarrasque. There are so many other cool destructive creatures besides the eater of worlds that would have been plenty believable. like ritually creating vampire-spawn from myriad slaves to consume enemy houses from within or some other such plan (incidentally this was one idea I sadly withheld from the ever inquiring players when they asked “What do you think we should do?”, which happened quite a bit.) I mean really, a substantial sacrifice to Zura, patron of vampires, could have easily sped up the process of spawn creation, and may have been far more palatable than the Tarrasque. At the very least, summon the thing in the middle of a battlefield or something – not in the House gardens! :-) Ah well – good times none-the-less; it did the job and killed lots of Drow.

    The one thing I was most proud of about our particular house was that they played the classic intrigue game very well. While everyone else attacked, cajoled and killed each other, our house waited in the shadows and pulled strings. Rasivrein absorbed three houses by the event’s end, and according to Steve Helt, Miyana Rasivrein was the top candidate to complete the throne quest in his massive group of 14 at the table. His comments post game to me were (paraphrased) “I thought Rasivrein was gonna get the throne – having Render with the priestess was key to their advantage.”

    It’s too bad so many people made for the throne all at once. The final scenes turned out quite differently than the authors had envisioned.

    There are definitely things that can be improved upon, but overall it was quite the experience. The thing I encourage strongly is that the event listing read “highly interactive, immersive roleplaying required.”LARP” is too “weak” a word and while applicable in many ways, it is not truly reflective of the event. I’ve LARPed aplenty, and this was the craziest game I have EVER seen or been a part of – no LARP could hold a candle to the craziness and intrigue this event inspired.

    It was a pleasure meeting you at GenCon Phil and I do hope we run into each other again sometime!

    And to Steve Helt and Shane Cottom who worked so hard on making this event happen, congrats! Overall it was a very well-received event by those who matter most – the players!

    Ron Janik, aka “Ramicus”

  15. @Ron: Hey glad you made it, welcome to the blog!

    I would call this event nothing less than a RPG reality show. Tara (the Vampire Priestess) was doing nothing less than going for the million dollars.

    I look forward to seeing you again next year man! It truly was an extremely awesome event. I was happy to have been teamed up with you.

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