Saturday, August 24, 2013

The End of the Axtalrath Campaign

I started my 13th Age campaign back in January, as a way to introduce the group to the game.  Eight months later, I found myself surprised how long it actually lasted.  I had intended to run a shorter campaign just to get people used to the system, but the ideas just kept flowing and it took on a life of its own.  With everyone wanting to actually play Edge of the Empire, it seemed like a good time to draw 13th Age to a close, despite the fact that I still had plenty of material floating around in my head.

Finale Summary

We covered a lot of ground throughout this campaign, but the quick and dirty backstory is that there was a recently colonized island in the Midland Sea, where the PCs were residing at the start of the campaign, and about a week (game time) earlier a great red dragon named Axtalrath had taken up residence there.  Somewhere in the middle of the campaign the wood elf Cleric had also freed an imprisoned Dracolich, meaning that there were TWO dragons loose now.  After escaping the island via a portal at the end of a living dungeon, hanging around in Drakkenhall, and getting some magical aid from Arden, the Great Gold Wyrm's silver dragon counterpart (known as the Sea Dragon, she left the empire when the Midland Sea was tamed, and now guards the Sea Wall from the creatures of the Iron Sea), it was time to return to the island and put a stop to Axtalrath.

Now, Axtalrath was a Huge Red Dragon (the level 13 one from the core book), and the party had just hit level 5.  The Dracolich was a Huge 8th level custom creation based on the dragons from the book.  Clearly a face-to-face fight was out of the question.  Fortunately, the magic that Arden gifted the PCs with would allow them to reverse the polarity of the island's sky-metal monolith (which has been drawing magical energy from the ley lines underneath), forcing it to siphon nearby elemental fire instead.  If Axtalrath were nearby, it would destroy her.

With that plan in mind, the PCs began the session in an old cave system where the Dracolich's phylactery was hidden.  The kobold guards were toast (all 30+ of them) after the last battle of the previous session, so after recovering the phylactery the party sought out the Dracolich and threatened to destroy it unless he challenged Axtalrath in single combat, drawing her to the monolith.  After some negotiation which left the Cleric with cursed hands (think Dumbledore's) and cursed eyes (a self-inflicted complication from an Icon roll), the Dracolich grudgingly agreed.

Cue the big epic battle.  The Monk's OUT was that he can climb impossible surfaces, so once Axtalrath was in sight he activated Arden's magic at the top of the monolith while the Fighter did the same at the base.  It took a few rounds to charge up, during which the Dracolich occupied most of Axtalrath's attention, while Axtalrath sent some allies (courtesy of The Blue) after the PCs (a hill giant and several Hobgoblin warcasters).  Just when things were looking dire for the Dracolich, the energy began arcing from the monolith to Axtalrath.  It was then that she knew what was going on, so for 2 rounds before her death she focused her attention on the PCs.  One breath weapon killed the Cleric outright in a single shot, and grievously wounded the others.  The Fighter was unconscious, so I randomly rolled to see whether she would target her death throes on the Paladin or Monk.  Paladin got the unlucky roll, and in a surprising bout of heroism the Monk intercepted, and I let him use Improbably Stunt to use a finishing move as part of the intercept.  After 3 attacks from the dragon (2 of which hit; I think I fumbled the other one) the Monk was outright killed, too.  Axtalrath swallowed him whole, and as the player noted that he'd had 2 vials of poison on his person, the dragon experienced some mild gastric distress before being immolated and siphoned into the monolith.

The Paladin used a magic axe with item-destroying powers to betray the Dracolich by destroying the phylactery anyways.  This axe caused images from the destroyed item's past to be reflected in its blade, and destroying the phylactery therefore replaced the images from the last item the axe destroyed - images that would have implicated the Paladin's political rival and ended his exile, restoring his status in Dwarven society.  A noble sacrifice, to be sure, but not so final as the one that the Cleric and Monk made.  Of course, being inside of Axtalrath when she was consumed allowed the Monk's essence to be sucked into the island's ley lines through the monolith, so he IS the island now.  And the Cleric got to meet the voice behind a mysterious amulet that talked to him - the voice of God.  And the Fighter, well, he made the Great Gold Wyrm proud by defeated two rivals.


This session was interesting because I hadn't planned on having the PCs roll their Relationship Dice until the last minute.  The final confrontation was pretty much set without much wiggle room if we were to finish in one session, and I'd had a 6 with the Emperor and a 5 and 6 with the Orc Lord banked from last session.  But I figured I'd let them roll one last time, and got more results than usual.  Three more 6's and three more 5's, to be precise.  Even more surprising was that all of them got used except one of the 5's (for the Emperor).

So how'd I pull it off?  Well, I decided to burn the Orc Lord relationship by making the Dracolich's phylactery a shrunken head - that happened to be an orc.  No shame in having an Icon roll result in some interesting aesthetic detail.  Were it not the last session, something like that could have taken on greater significance later.  A 5 with The Three meant that a pair of kobold scouts happened to be discovering the massacre of their fellow guards just as the PCs exited the cave, and they were able to capture one of them and force him to take them to the Dracolich's camp.  A 5 for the Priestess let the Cleric (by his suggestion) discover the ritual to destroy the phylactery by studying the various runes carved into the scarified face, but at the expense of getting cursed eyes (a negative background; too bad he didn't live long enough for it to come into play).  The Fighter used a 6 with the Great Gold Wyrm (by his suggestion) to convince the Dracolich during negotiations that Arden had provided them with the means to destroy his phylactery (this was before the Cleric discovered its secrets), and the name-dropping also leant much weight to the plan to destroy Axtalrath.  The Dracolich was, after all, very much outmatched in that fight.  A 6 for the Emperor revealed that an old ally (Lord Taramos) was in residence at the Wizard tower beside the monolith, and being the most powerful wizard on the island he was able to aid them by animating the crystalline walls surrounding the compound during the fight.  Rolls for the Dwarf King and Orc Lord determined the allies sent by The Blue through the portal (this is one that I'd actually planned on using BEFORE the session, even jotting down a list of possible allies associated with each Icon in the party).

And that about covered it.  It turned out to be perhaps the most Icon-heavy session in the campaign, despite the fact that the plot was pretty much "set."  I guess the moral of the story here is GMs shouldn't be afraid to stack the odds against the PCs, and let Icon rolls determine whatever little advantages they can eke out to level the playing field a little bit.  It's usually pretty easy to come up with story-guidance results as a GM, but until that sub-plot resolves itself sometimes it's tough to interpret Icon rolls.  But that's cool, because if you just increase the pressure on the PCs they might just come up with clever ways to leverage their connections with the Icons.  In some ways I don't think that the player-input facet of the Icons hit its stride until later in the campaign, which makes me really excited for the next campaign now that the players know the ropes!