Disclamer: I take several narrative liberties in my game reports. While I write what actually happens, I often adapt dialog elements or change some details to make for a better narrative… also, beer tends to fog things up a little.
Keeping up Appearances
This session was to be the last of our gaming ‘season’. This time we had 2 missing players, both Math (Sorcerer) and Stef (Rogue) couldn’t make it so I invited my good friend Eric Maziade. I’ll call him Maze from now on to differentiate him from the other Eric who’s playing the Shifter Warden.
Mike:”Dude, with one of your readers actually with us tonight, we have to perform!”
Franky: “That’s just way too much pressure!”
ChattyDM “You know we could really freak him out if we all sat at the table and started praying in silence before the game starts.”
Mike: “And then you could ask us if there was something particularly painful we wanted to share with the group in order to loosen up our roleplaying muscles!”
Yeah… we chickened out and just made sure that Maze felt welcome in the group. Within minutes he was relaxed, drinking beer and making smartypants comments. By the time we started rolling dice, he was one of the boys.
Dragon-Spirit Curse Challenge!
Maze brought a Gnome Bard named Kellen to the adventure. In order to integrate him to the game as rapidly as possible, we had worked out that one of his cousins was trapped in a ruined temple where a Deathpriest of Orcus had just turned an Adamantine Dragon into a Draconic Zombie.
So our heroes, along with a concerned-looking Gnome from the Oscaliath faction (Entertainers and Artists) charged into an abandoned temple dedicated to Tiamat and Bahamut (I used the Dragon Temple Battlemap from the Second edition of the D&D miniature game).
The PCs were facing a Winged Putrescence, 2 Zombie Myrmidons and a Deathpriest of Orcus. As soon as the fight started, I told Usul (Mike’s elven Invoker) that he felt something trying to get free from within the Dragon. I asked him to roll a religion check as a minor action.
Franky: Ahhh, here’s your Skill Challenge , you know the one you didn’t want to have last game?
Mike: Shut up! I wanna know what it’s about. (Rolls dice, aces the DC)
Usul felt the spirit of the Dragon intertwined with his god’s Curse and when he touched it he understood his god’s ‘youthful mistake’. As Usul touched the Curse, I described to him how Kord had cursed one of the Dragon Generals of the Astral Armies at the end of the wars that opposed the Gods and the Primordials at the dawn of time. “You shall hunger for something that is alien to you. You shall find it near my sister’s prison and will be cursed to hunt it for eternity until you learn your lesson”.
As the Skill Challenge progressed the PCs learned that the Dragon’s had long been dead and the magic of the Curse, combined with the dauntless spirit of the Dragon always brought it back whenever the Nexus departed. Kord’s ‘mistake’ had been to be too obtuse about what the Dragon was hungering for and as it died and kept returning, it stopped trying to work out the riddle and kept eating everything it could find.
When the Skill challenge was won (a simple 4/3 one), the Spirit bound to the last PC who succeeded. Once bound, the Spirit-Curse ‘got’ what Kord wanted it to do: “Fight on behalf of Erathis and the City she had built to guard/fight the Primordial”, thus it offered to help the PC.
On their turn, a PC could use the Spirit as a minor action to obtain a small bonus like a few temp HP, or a +1 to any die-roll. However, if the PC was willing to feed his own life-force (spend a healing surge) to the Spirit-Curse, the PC could re-obtain a spent encounter power or heal by spending another healing surge.
Oh yeahm there was a fight going on at the same time.
What, you’re saying I’m not talking about the fight? You’re right, it was a complete victory for the PCs. Everyone did their thing admirably. The Warden charged the Deathpriest and Zombies and held them there, helped with the Shaman’s Spirit Companion. The Avenger fought the Zombie Dragon, helped with the Invoker who rained radiant death on everyone and the Shaman’s second Spirit Companion.
Oh and the Bard had this disgusting level 9 power that created a sustainable, movable Burst 3 zone of attack! Yikes.
Once players realized that radiant damage dazed the Dragon, it spent the rest of the fight as such…
After the fight the PCs recuperated the Relic (I told the Players that it was only dangerous to them if they became dying near it) and Usul communed with his god for guidance (I hand waived the need for a ritual).
My pal the Storm god
After preying for some moment, Usul found himself walking beside his god.
Kord: “You did good, son!”
Usul Now what?
Kord:You know my answer to such questions
Kord: Yes! Take the souls of the original angels and go give that one-eyed hustler it’s proper “Tribute”.
Usul: Then what?
Kord: The Beholder can open a portal to the elemental Chaos. When it gets scared it will open it. So throw the relic in the portal, you won’t have to worry about it anymore.
So within 5 minutes of finishing a fight, we started another one. I really wanted the adventure to be finished by the end of the evening so we could start afresh in late August.
The Ultimate Battle of Ultim… oh sorry we’re out of time!
The PCs moved to the lowest part of the city and found the beholder waiting. The PCs charged the Eye-tyrant and it’s Emberguard Archons and Helmed Horror guards.To make the situation more fun, 4 mini-volcanoes burst in a regular pattern, sending Lava over a Burst 3 area. The whole fight was set up on the Lava-happy Battlemap that came with the Colossal Red Dragon.
The fight was hard, really hard for the PCs. The Eye of Flame Beholder has an evil combo with it’s Central Eye that gives PCs Vulnerability Fire 10 and causes all fire attack to give ‘ongoing Fire 5″ (read ongoing 15). That with the Ember Guards, the Horrors, the volcanoes and the possibility of falling in Lava (all of it dealing fire damage) made for a very interesting encounter.
Sadly, we never finished that awesome fight. By the time the Horrors were dead, the Emberguards Bloodied and the Beholder hurt a bit, it was already 11h15 PM. While I could see that the energy level was still very good, I called the evening off because we were at least one full hour away from the end and it looked like the PCs would win.
So I described the outcome as Kord had described it and we called it a night.
So that’s why things are taking so long!
This game made me realize something. D&D 4e combat can take a long time for various reasons. Badly designed encounters can lead to grind, distracted players can lose time refocusing whenever their turns come, etc.
I’ve often said that my players are exceedingly efficient in combat, they always win without hardly ever having PCs drop below 0 hp. It’s consistent and they can tackle an encounter several levels above their PCs with relative ease.
However, that efficiency in combat comes with a price, turns take longer to play out as they carefully plan the best possible outcome and carefully gauge the risk:benefit ratio of their moves.
The harder the fight, the slower they play as they know they can’t afford to make a mistake. The Beholder fight was such a fight. Knowing that now, I’ll stop stressing out and try to push players to play faster. While I will maintain a brisk pace, I won’t worry that fights take too long as I could clearly see on everyone’s face that they were having fun planning and seeing their strategy unfold into a thing of tactical beauty.
And it totally did, they managed to completely control all the guards and the Beholder.
A new friendly neighborhood Spirit
After the fight, the Shaman asked the Dragon Spirit, now freed from the curse, if it would accept to become a guardian spirit of the City (that request caught me by surprise). It accepted and it reveal the location of it’s Hoard. The PCs went to find it and they found 19 000 gp’s worth of treasure and a few Magic Items.
That was a sensational D&D season. We learned the game. My friends and tried a few PCs while I tried various things on my side of the screen. We like D&D 4e a lot and we’ll be playing another year for sure.
The Summer Crunch continues!
All right, my most pressing projects are to finish the One Page Dungeon Codex PDF and to write the Drunken D&D adventures. Posting will likely be light over the next few weeks as I focus on those and prepare for Gen Con.
If anyone would like to be a guest poster over the next few weeks, I would be glad to discuss it. Email ma at email@example.com