March 21, 2012

Exploring the Lich-Queen's Beloved (Part 6)

This post continues to document the journey through The Lich-Queen's Beloved (4E). The up to date conversion and latest notes and changes inspired by the actual play can be found here. Have at thee!


The hatchery is a secret location in Vor Rukoth that Abilene has created . She has agreed to help repopulate the devastated Dragonborn species in exchange for their (literally) undying loyalty.

Room 50. Arrival Point: Blighted Grove 
The dungeoneers arrive in the ruins of Vor Rukoth. They had had another adventure here before, back in the Heroic Tier as I recall, and immediately began figuring out where this hatchery was in relation to the rest of the island. I had never planned this, and in fact didn't actually have the location figured out myself, but the players have become immersed in the game world. I think that the virtue of using the wide map of Susurrus, giving them the entire dimensions of the dungeon at the beginning of the adventure, and then sticking to it and allowing the dungeoneers to explore as they will and fill out the paper map as they played, placed a certain level of verisimilitude into the game. Everything reacts to the dungeoneers' presence. Things are set into the dungeon at certain spots, and they don't change to necessarily fit the railroading plot, because a certain part of the players' minds has a suspension of disbelief and thinks that this place is just a little bit real.

The highlight of this first room is the lack of Susurrus' whispers of the damned. Though there is a ticking doomsday clock on the group's Defender (he is permanently losing a healing surge each time he takes an extended rest), everyone else is so battered and beaten that they blow through much of their remaining treasure to cast rituals to stop the transdimensional gates from being used (so Abilene cannot give chase) and then pull out an old school favorite spell, Rope Trick, to safely hide and rest. This is their first good night's rest in a week, game-time.

Exploration & Roleplaying (Rooms 51, 52, and 54)
The first half of this session was characterized by heavy exploration and roleplaying. Well, at least for our group this was pretty roleplay-heavy. I know a few groups out there like to treat the Dungeons & Dragons game as a venue to try out their acting skills and relive their time in drama club, but that is certainly not us.

The group begins exploring their new surroundings. They are very careful and cautious here, testing for traps. A distinct change had happened in the group with regards to exploring that I had really noticed here. At this point, the group has firmly thrown away all notions of "fairness", balanced encounters, and predictability. When checking for traps and the simple task of examining doors, they are looking for clues as to the function of the element and how to "defeat" it using means outside of skill checks. In 2008, they were making Thievery checks to get around the searing hot brass doors and just hoping to roll high. In 2012, they are wearing insulating gloves and using stiletto daggers to carefully and quietly unscrew the door hinges (and then a call by the Dungeon Master for a Thievery check, because he felt it was appropriate).

Crawling through dungeon, the group came upon the door leading to the personal quarters of the Deathlord Captain. Using stealth and wits, they found a way to telepathically communicate with the Captain's four prisoners, astral merchant-sailors being held captive and waiting to be tortured for the evil Dragonborn's vile pleasure. Through their interactions with the frightened and very distrustful crew, the dungeoneers were able to ascertain the layout of the room, the threat level within and the best way to surprise their enemy so as to quickly kill him with minimal disruptions. They succeeding, dropping the Captain alone and quickly enough that he could not summon his reinforcements, and gaining a handful of throwaway henchmen.

Afterward, the group found a Human thief attempting to break into the hatchery. This provided another all-roleplay encounter where they had convinced the thief to turn back for his own safety. I think this scene helped reinforce the idea of just how powerful the group had become, that there was another generation of adventurers delving dungeons in the natural as they had once done. A sense of completeness, the circle of life, and all that.

Afterwards, they encountered the fiery hatchery's blackfire elemental guardian, Synfernal. Upon spying the dungeoneers, the creature bellowed, “You dare visit harm upon the children of Abilene? Your souls will burn for eternity!” To my surprise, the person in the group whom is the least into the role-playing and "boring, talking parts" stepped up and declared that she was the living daughter of Abilene herself, and by rights heir to this hatchery (all of which was true). An amazing turn of events, and a very interesting twist, I rolled with it and gave the dungeoneers the help of Synfernal, who happily transported them from floor to floor and would go on to personally protect Abilene's daughter in the upcoming battle.

Combat & Roleplaying (Rooms 53, 55)
Room 56: Nursery goes unexplored.

With the help of Synfernal and the death of the Dragonborn Deathlord's Captain, the dungeoneers boldly pick a fight with the platoon (15 total Dragonborn) of soldiers in their barracks. Tactics and funneling rule the day, breaking the waves of enemies to a common choke point "where their numbers count for nothing." The massive amount of area-effect control powers the group dishes out for the second week in a row is truly impressive, as dazing and blinding effects are handed out like candy. The battle is raging on, several of the dungeoneers are bloodied (only possible through using my normalized damage expressions), and the enemy is slowly, slowly crawling their way past the auto-dazing, auto-damaging, 4-square difficult terrain zones. The tension is high, but it's becoming obvious that this massive fight is going to take awhile. I feel like many 4E groups out there at this level of play, low-Epic, are content with routinely having 2 hour long combats. Not us. If fighting goes for an hour, something's out of whack. And so, when we reached the 90-minute mark, a truce was brokered.

Battered and defeated, the Dragonborn were subdued as the Warforged Fighter, having absorbed the dying essence of Tiamat and bearing the Ring of the Dragonborn Emperor, parlayed with the enemy host. He proved his worthiness in their eyes, and proved that he was a manifestation of Tiamat, whom the Dragonborn were now known to worship in secret.

The group was now awarded with 15 henchmen. However, their new allies were still bound by a pact with Abilene's, and would only join the dungeoneers upon proof that Abilene no longer controlled the Scepter of Ephelmon, which bound them all to servitude of the Iron Lich. Contented, and excited at forming this new and powerful alliance, the dungeoneers vowed to find the Scepter and win over the loyalty of the Dragonborn. From a story perspective, this was very interesting to me as a continual thorn in the side of the group, the Deathlords, was now on track to becoming a powerful weapon to be used against the story's villain.

Later this Week: The Heart of a Dead God

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