Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Talamhlar - Session 6

Cast of Characters

Garret Kahneus - Half Elf Valorous Bard
Alaric Rose - Elf Archer Ranger
Zelmar Tarien - Eladrin Orb Wizard
Gaknar - Half Elf (formerly Goblin) companion character (striker)
Annie Ramsey - Human companion character (defender)

Into the Underdark

After they defeated Finch's debt collectors, the party entered a tunnel that took them gradually down, about 300 feet below the surface. Garret soon learned that the maps that they'd obtained were of fairly poor quality, as there were many side tunnels that weren't drawn in and many blank spaces. Still, the party traveled through the nearly total darkness (phosphorescent fungi and small lodes of glowstone occasionally offered dim light) until they rounded a bend in the tunnel and noticed a brighter (though still dim by surface standards) light up ahead. Alaric scouted it out, and discovered the King's Highway. On the map it showed up as simply a large tunnel, but this unique Underdark feature was carved by the god Torog himself. After being wounded and then cursed by his Primordial rival right before he delivered a death blow, Torog's injuries are unable to heal themselves, and he is trapped in the Underdark. He made the King's Highway in the late stages of the Dawn War as he rampaged, nearly insane with frustration, through his new domain. This section happened to carve through large lodes of glowstone (hence the light), and contained (as is common along the King's Highway) puddles of the god's immortal blood.

After walking several miles, the party heard footsteps coming from one of the side tunnels. They readied themselves at the entrance, and out stumbled Zelmar. He recently escaped a cave-in as his mentor stayed back to battle a rival, and unable to return the way he came he has been wandering through the tunnels for about a day. Alone in a dangerous place, he decided to travel with the rest of the party. He did use Mage Hand to grab a sample of Torog's blood in a vial, though when he turend it upside down it slowly started to dissolve the cork, so he keeps it out while they travel (the Mage Hand holds it, floating beside him). As they traveled further, they were forced to make camp in a small side tunnel just off of the King's Highway. They also heard footsteps and felt a strong mental presence while traveling the Highway, and were terrified as an Illithid passed through a junction in the tunnels opposite them. The intrusive presence that accompanied it seemed to be pre-occupied and in a hurry, which was lucky for the party. It simply looked at them and moved along. A few minutes down the Highway, they found the body of a humanoid that had had its brain eaten by it. Testing the effect of Torog's blood on flesh, Garret and Annie dipped the corpse head-first into one of the puddles. The blood seemed "excited" as it rippled slightly when the head was submerged, but otherwise it had no effect.

When the party finally reached Forgehome they were turned away at the gate. Security was heightened recently, and no outsiders were allowed in the city without being vouched for by a local. They tried to convince the guard to send for Brocc (the Gnome that they were seeking out), but he didn't allow them to pass. As they made camp nearby, they were approached by a Dwarf. His name was Heldrek, and he told the party that if they helped him out, he would get them into the city. He was a mining prospector that was currently working on a small mine nearby. About a week ago, his workers never returned. After a few days he assembled a team to investigate, but they never returned. Now it was the party's turn. They followed him and descended into the shaft. There were dozens of bodies (the miners), and all had been stripped of all metal (the wooden handles were all that remained of their tools). Their hands were all missing, and several large fungal orbs floated lazily about, with some fungal humanoids (Myconids) standing guard. The fight was extremely tough for the party, as the spore orbs floated in and boxed them at the bottom of the shaft. When killed, the orbs exploded. Zelmar's first round in the party was an awful one, as his AoE missed the 2 Myconids but hit 2 spores (catching everyone in the explosion). This was after the Myconids had used AoE's of their own. The party was already low on HP at this point, and it only got worse from their. The Myconids had the ability to spread damage, making focused fire virtually useless. The party never maneuvered out of their corner, making them easy targets for the Myconid's AoE's and the spore's explosions. Zelmar's dice were determined to cursed, as he consistently rolled extremely low (and with all of his AoE's, he had many chances to roll). Even Alaric's normally crit-enchanted dice were of little help. The combat dragged on with the party boxed in and constantly on the defensive, with many characters getting knocked unconscious often. Alaric spent standard actions to perform Heal checks on more than one occasion, and at one point Garret was able to spend a surge after rolling a 20 on his death save. Second Winds were used, and Garret's Majestic Words were all spent. Many potions were also drunk. In the end, Gaknar and Annie were both killed.

Garret was ambivalent toward Gaknar's death and for a while it was assumed that the party just left his body in the mine (after this fight they fled the mine). Heldrek wanted them to investigate further, and Garret finally agreed that if he payed for Annie's resurrection they would clear the mines of all hostile creatures. Heldrek wanted something valuable to keep as collateral. Garret offered the crystal that they were going to show Brocc, but Heldrek didn't think it looked like anything special. So while Alaric and Zelmar stayed with Annie's body at a temple of Moradin, Garret and Heldrek sought out Brocc. Heldrek went to an Alehouse (no outsiders allowed!) to learn the Gnome's whereabouts, and then they headed off to meet him. When Brocc opened the door a bucket of water fell on Garret's head. He then had Garret come inside (Heldrek, distrustful as he is, insisted that the Brocc meet them outside) to prove that nothing else would happen, but when Garret stepped back out a pressure plate caused a black, oily substance to spray in his face. Brocc found the practical joke amusing. Garret said that his friend just died and he wasn't in the mood, but Brocc didn't see what that had to do with anything. He offered to look at the crystal, but then ran into his house and shut the door. Garret simply sat down and cried for about 10 minutes, at which point Brocc came back out grinning, and stated "third time's the charm!"

Brocc was actually very impressed with the crystal. He told Garret that not only was this a Fenorian crystal, but it was a stable Fenorian crystal. The last time he'd seen one was when his grandfather helped Aston Grimslade (now a vampire, as the party discovered at the Grimslade Ruins) figure out how to stabilize them. Normally Fenorian crystals release a steady stream of uncontrolled energy, but once stabilized that energy can be more reliably harnessed (usually as part of a specific magical effect requiring a command word). Stabilized crystals are extremely rare largely because Aston Grimslade and Brocc himself are the only two people who can reliably stabilize them. A few other individuals (namely Vistun Selfeer) are known to be less capable at the process, often being unsuccessful or only temporarily stablizing the crystals. When Garret tells Brocc that this crystal was originally used to augment an Arkhosian sword, Brocc says that given time he can probably discern the crystal's function. He offers to trade it for the only other stable Fenorian crystal that he has - one of Aston's original creations. It's part of a ring that, when worn, protects the wielder from the effects of unstable Fenorian crystals. Garret tells Brocc about the Volksair monster, and Brocc agrees that it's almost certain that much of its power comes from unstable Fenorian crystals. The ring might allow the party to escape should they have another encounter with the monster, but they should excercise extreme caution when confronted by it, as the ring is unlikely to give them enough of an advantage to defeat it.

Satisfied of its value, Heldrek accepts the ring as collateral. The party then waits while Annie's ritual is being completed. Alaric decided that he would miss Gaknar, and Zelmar agreed to provide half the cost to have him brought back to life. Jokes about the two having joint custody ensued. Just for fun, they wanted to have Gaknar Reincarnated instead of simply Raised. So I drew up a Reincarnation chart, set the ritual's level at 6 (2 levels lower than Raise Dead), gave it a lower component cost, and finally rolled the d%. Turns out Gaknar was reincarnated as a Half Elf, and upon the party's request a d4 was rolled to determine his gender. So now Gaknar is a female Half Elf, though he still has the same voice and is still attracted to females (indeed, his new set of Half-Elf hormones have resulted in him finding Annie "cuter than she was before"). If Gaknar had been a source of comic relief before, the Reincarnation just stepped it up a notch. To top it off, now that Gaknar is the same race as the party member who dislikes him/her the most, I even gave him/her a Bard power as his/her Dilettante.

After a night at a very barebones inn (their rooms were a small cave with a boarskin on the floor for a bed), the party re-entered the mine. The next encounter was against several more Myconids. Dwarven bodies littered this area as well, though these seemed to be warriors. A rust monster was also present, and it went straight for metal-clad Annie and devoured her armor. The fight was still won fairly easily, and this is where we called it a night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talamhlar - Session 5


Garret - Half-Elf Valorous Bard
Alaric - Elf Archer Ranger
Gaknar - Goblin companion character (striker)
Annie - Human companion character (defender)

Back to Argondale

The party remained in Darhadash long enough for Garret to finally master several rituals which there hadn't been time for earlier. Alaric explored the city and the caverns around it, finding a way out that didn't involve going upstream in the river. Gaerbin decided to stay in the city and study it more thoroughly (the character's player will be unable to play for quite some time, so this was a convenient place for him to part ways with the party--for now).

After leaving the ruined city they traveled for several days along a path that followed the river. At one point Alaric spotted several sets of tracks. Some were barefoot Shifter tracks, and others were light, moccassined tracks (likely Elf). Sure enough, the next day they came upon a clearing that contained a structure of standing stones (akin to Stonehenge), where about a half-dozen Elves and Shifters were meeting. They reported that a local group of Gnolls has gotten extremely organized recently, and took out their respective tribes. They were the only survivors, and planned on dispersing into the forest and laying low for a while. The Gnolls marched onward toward the village of Whitehall after they conquered the tribes, and the PCs decided to follow them. Of course, upon getting to the main road they saw the Gnoll tracks heading north, but an odd set of tracks headed south toward Argondale. The left foot was a Warforged's, but the right foot was narrower and more humanoid-shaped (but very heavily booted). They headed south after this strange creature, and about a mile into their journey they encountered a large crater and pieces of some type of humanoid - just like the craters they'd encountered in Lyria Castle. So the Volksair monster was still running around.

As they travelled along the west side of the lake, they heard a lot of shouting coming from the northern wall of Argondale. They rushed to the ferry to the West Gate, finding an evacuation in progress. Annie knocked Garret out because of his irrational fear of water, and threatened the dock worker with her greatsword to let them onto the ferry on its trip back to the city for the next group of people. They woke Garret up by dunking his head in the water, and then attempted to pass through the gates. There were guards around, however, and they were trying to protect the people and wouldn't let the party pass. Garret tried to convince them that they could stop the monster (though the guard was not persuaded, he let them pass because they may have been the city's best shot against it). They stopped at the Moonveil Inn and found it abandoned (and in a hurry; Gaknar was able to loot several high-end drinks for his waterskin), then continued north toward the Oakroot Inn where Skamos was hiding (they assumed that Tintrim had sent the monster after Skamos). When they neared the North Wall, they saw about a hundred archers shooting down at the outside, and an occasional loud bang against the stone. They quickly slipped into the Inn, finding Skamos frantically trying to get things together from the trapdoor. He fled toward the South Gate, with the party in pursuit.

Once outside the city wall (though still on the island), Skamos turned left toward the eastern wall. Their way was blocked by a congregation of guards. Skamos' annoyance quickly turned to terror as he saw several guards go flying through the air from around the bend. The Tiefling's face turned white, and he fled to the ferries. Alaric, Gaknar, and Annie followed him, along with several of the guards. Garret wanted to try an experiment; he would stand still against the wall and see if the monster would ignore him. Soon the monster came into view; it was an amalgamation of several different creatures stitched together. It's head looked small, as it was from a medium humanoid (Human? Elf? Half Elf?), and it had a cannon attached to one of its arms (though it didn't replace a functional hand). As it passed, it struck Garret, sending him flying ~15 feet into the lake (and Garret has a reason for hating water; low athletics combined with chainmail and a shield). He managed to swim slowly forward, bloodied, until his feet scraped the mucky lake bottom.

Meanwhile, Skamos and the rest of the party made their way into the crowd (violently), and were relieved to find that the monster headed straight into the city via the South Gate. It would be several ferry trips before they could make it off the island though, so Skamos ran back the way he came, explaining that Kaeleth was preparing a private boat for him on the eastern side of the island. They weaved through all of the dead bodies to find Kaeleth dead, but the boat minimally damaged. Skamos, Gaknar, and Alaric set about repairing it while Annie coaxed the sodden Garret up. Skamos launched the boat before they caught up, and a rope was thrown to them (the boat was too small for everyone anyways, so Annie and Garret were stuck clinging to the back of it after pulling themselves along the rope). Annie kicked to help them move faster, but Garret clung in terror, about to pass out. When they reached the far shore of the lake, Skamos ran into the woods. The party followed slowly behind and made camp, deciding to head to Marblemount instead of following Skamos.


The next day the party traveled back to the main road, witnessing the destruction that the Volksair monster had left in its wake. Hundreds of people were camped out in the farmland surrounding the lake, and there was a sickeningly large pile of bodies at the docks on the island - those that didn't make it to the ferry by the time the monster came back out. The journey to Marblemount took 11 days (on foot), and the party was able to stock up on basic supplies (food, rope, arrows) in small villages along the way.

Being a town that sits on a mountain pass, the guards of Marblemount (a heavily fortified city) allowed the party to pass no questions asked (apparently it wasn't out of the ordinary for all races, including Goblins, to travel through the city, as it was the only way over the mountains for miles). They asked about Baern, the Dwarf that Tintrim had planned on sending the bounty hunter Orsir after when he refused to help the Wizard. They learned that he was a very well-respected sage that resided in his own fortress (which has been in his Clan for generations). They sought an audience with him, and learned that Tintrim wanted Baern to allow him passage through the city with a steady supply of slaves. This was the proposal that Baern had refused, and the reason why Tintrim was going to send Orsir after him. Shortly after this occurred, people started disappearing in Marblemount and the crime rate decreased sharply. Baern told the party that if the crime rate goes down that much, then the Shadow Vipers (the most powerful thieve's guild in the city) were busy with something other than crime. Baern suspects that they're working for Tintrim.

Garret also asked Baern about the crystal that Annie had recovered from the Arkosian sword near the Grimslade ruins. He referred them to Brocc, a Gnome expert on magical crystals. Brocc lived in the Dwarven mining city of Forgehome, in the Underdark. So the party split up, with Alaric finding Underdark maps, Garret selling party loot, Annie securing a room at an inn, and Gaknar disappearing on "business," which he simply told the party was "secret" when they questioned him later that night (after a few drinks). The next morning he bought the entire party the best breakfast that the inn offerred, as this "business" had apparently earned him some coin. The party is suspicious of the "shady" behavior that Gaknar is exhibiting, despite the fact that he's saved their lives on multiple occasions.

The party was ambushed on their way out of the city by a group of debt collectors seeking Garret, who owes quite a bit of money to a man named Aaron Finch. When all but the leader (a mage) were dispatched, he fell to his knees and surrendered. Alaric knocked him out and Garret left a note on him, saying that if Finch wants his money he'll have to come get it himself. They looted the mage and headed out of the city. After following a path for about a mile, they entered into a cavern that led deep underground.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Martial Power 2 Preview: Combat Styles

Today WotC previewed Combat Styles from the upcoming Martial Power 2. And there seems to be a lot of them! Lesser styles are feats that can be taken to modify at-will attacks (those listed for the feat), whereas greater styles affect encounter powers (again, only those listed). Styles only work while wielding a certain weapon, and they're also limited by class. It looks like there will be multiple greater style feats for each lesser style (likely to provide fewer restrictions on encounter power selection).

Overall, I really like this system. It serves to differentiate between weapons more (since the feats are weapon-exclusive), but since there's multiple styles per weapon it also allows you to make a unique character for any given weapon. What I like most about it is that it could provide some inspiration for backstory, as certain combat styles might be common only among a specific race or for a specific region. And despite being an extra "complication" for new players (in that it's an extra mechanic), it serves to guide players along a certain theme. If a newbie reads a description of a specific style and finds it interesting enough to base their character's fighting style off of that, then they conveniently have a list of powers specified in the feat(s) that are compatible. Those players intimidated by the thought of searching through 3 different books (PHB, MP, MP2) every time they level up just to pick the "best" power can rest easy; even sub-optimal powers will be more competitive with the bonus associated with a given combat style feat.

I'm actually pretty surprised that the developers have been able to keep the content for this book fresh and interesting. Of course the biggest variable that remains to be seen are the powers; there's already been some redundancy creeping into the system with just the first iteration of "Power" books, and I'm sure the authors were hard-pressed to come up with so many "new" things for a given class to do. Obviously the powers that are associated with the new builds will be unique (though they may resemble powers from other classes, which is fine by me). My concern is that the amount of redundant powers will be increased, and in that situation there's always one power that's "better" than similar powers, invalidating certain options. The classic example of this is the Barbarian's level 3 encounter powers Hammer Fall (PHB2) and Brutal Slam (PP). Brutal Slam is so much better than Hammer Fall it's sick; both do the same [W] damage, but whereas Hammer Fall knocks the target prone, Brutal Slam pushes it 2 squares, knocks it prone, and deals damage to an enemy adjacent to the target. Essentially, instead of tripping the guy you send him sailing through the air and he crashes into his friend. Brutal Slam has cooler imagery and it's mechanically superior. Hammer Fall, which used to be a decent pick, is not going to be picked anymore by players that have Primal Power. In effect, you've "de-valued" your PHB2 by picking up PP because certain powers become wasted space.

I'm not saying this is a huge problem; obviously with so many different powers to choose from some are bound to be great and some are bound to be sucky. What bugs me is that sometimes sub-par powers can be a viable choice if they adhere to a specific mechanical and/or roleplaying concept, but not if there's a better power that does essentially the same thing. It's probably not a big enough deal to worry about in the first set of Power books; I just hope that it doesn't become more widespread in the sequels.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I've seen a few different reviews online that praise the new Underdark supplement, and so today I picked it up at Borders. From what I've heard, many people consider it to be the best DMing supplement released so far (at least out of the bunch that aren't DMGs). So far I've only gotten through the first chapter, but I've also skimmed through most of the book.

Anyways, I'm not going to post a comprehensive review, a) because I'm not that far in, and b) because it would be easier to provide a link for an existing review (the one that inspired me to buy the book, in fact). No need to reinvent the wheel. Essentially what this posts amounts to is another recommendation of the book. It's well-organized, and the ratio of inspirational fluff to the nature/origins of the Underdark to actual locations and monsters seems to be pretty spot-on. I'm sure that many people might prefer more "crunch," but I have enough monster stat blocks on the DnDi Monster Builder! So while new monsters are always nice to have, I appreciate that the section was relatively short. Also appreciated is a list of monsters from other products, organized by which areas of the Underdark they are most likely to be encountered. Sweet! It's helpful, going straight to the point without taking up much space.

The prose is fairly engaging, especially considering that the style of most D&D books tends to cause my mind to wander. At first I figured that the origin story and history of Torog would be a section that I'd struggle to maintain interest in as I tried to breeze through it as fast as possible, but it was actually one of the more interesting reads in any D&D book. Torog may be one ugly mofo (he's pictured toward the back of the book - not for the faint of heart), but his characterization is just downright intriguing. A lot of it comes from the complex relationship that he has with other beings, given that he's an evil god. During the Dawn War, all of the gods (good and evil) were fighting together against the Primordials. Torog got royally screwed over by his Primordial nemesis, who cursed him just before Torog finished him off. Essentially, Torog's wounds never heal and he can't leave the underdark. His throes of pain carved out some of the widest passages, which are now known as the King's Road and still contain splatters of the god's blood. Essentially, the rest of the gods abandoned him down there, though because of the curse he can't get back to the Astral Sea anyways (his power quickly diminishes upon leaving the Underdark). The perks of this arrangement are that he is the only god that has a direct influence on the world; the rest are forbidden to meddle in the affairs of mortals by the Primal Spirits who expelled both the gods and the primordials from the world toward the end of the Dawn War, so that the very world that they were fighting over wasn't destroyed in the conflict. Of course in the deepest parts of the Deeps there are rifts to the Far Realm, and so Torog is also a kind of guardian of the world, keeping abominations from the Far Realm at bay. Talk about a case study in contradictions! His relationship with Lolth and the Drow, who also share dominion of the Underdark with him, is complex but somewhat wrapped in mystery (followers of each god have their own "version" of things). And to top it all off, he has somewhat of a death wish, and who wouldn't given an immortal life of endless torment?

If only more of the gods were given such vibrant personalities then perhaps I would show more interest in the D&D pantheon.