Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The real story begins to surface (Chapter 6)

The holidays are close and also final exams are still a concern for two of our players, so there were just three PC's for this session. Aeldrick the Warlord, Minos the Warrior and Rendrill Halfmoon (from Thunderspire labyrinth) the halfling Rogue were present. Absent characters were off doing their own things for a time.

This session was almost completely devoid of dangerous combat and as such, it was filled to the brim with story development.

  • PC's return to Shinar, hear rumors of a courier from Prauld arriving yesterday. There's some speculation about the courier's message, but no details.
  • PC's meet with King Yutsen, to inquire about what's up. Yutsen says that there have been reports of Hobgoblin movement in the northern forest. He also mentions that the heroes that scouted the giants armies have returned and are currently in Drunduin (Drunduin s the fort the dwarves captured from the giants in Estvald last year.) Yarl Hastel and his brother Hagel have been sent to Drunduin to gather information, coordinate with the Dwarves and to form the basis of a lasting trade agreement with Drunduin and the new Krondheim.
  • PC's stop by to visit with Dre and Oran the dragons that settled north of Derros. They ask the PC's if they could carry a valuable package to Nolton in the Republic of the Isles. The PC's agree to stop by on their way back from Drunduin.
  • On the road they see that the Dwarves are working on a highway through the hills between Drunduin and Derros. A wide path has already been cleared, and bridges are being built across ravines and gullys. Once the highway is complete, it will allow easy trade through the hills.
  • In Drunduin, the PC's see recent development of the area; the silver and mithril mines are in full operation. Drunduin's forges and factories are busy building war machines, weapons and armor for the anticipated confrontation with the giants.
  • The PC's meet with the "old heroes" (The "old heroes" are from a previous campaign, that took place in OY 603, whcih ended with the old heroes following the giants off to the war in the west.) According to the "old heroes":
    1. The Giants fought in a civil war backed by Kryve. and then against an invading Kryve army. The giants were victorious driving the Kryvans back out of the mountains, and using a powerful ritual the Stone Giants of southern Estvald, cracked the earth and raised a giant gap across the western edge of the mountains, effectively defending Westvald from Kryvan invasion.
    2. The "old heroes" made contact with the Stone Giants and explored parts of Kryve and old Kryvan ruins. They discovered a change in the religious leadership oin Kryve seems to be the cause of recent warlike activity out of the Kryvans.
    3. They do not think that the Giants will attack the hills. The Giants have already born the brunt of a major invasion and feel that there are world-shaking events on the horizon.
  • During their stay in Drunduin, the PC's were contacted by Hagel and his assistent (Jenkins in disguise). They tell the PC's about Jaryl Hastel's recent strange behaviour, and wish the PC's to stealthily break into his guest chambers while he's meeting with the Thanes. He's been particularly secretive about the room's contents and they want to know why. A key is provided, a dwarven guard in the area is bribed to take a short walk, but the key needs to be returned before the council is sceduled to finish in one hour.
  • The PC's break into Hastel's room and discover several arcance traps and glyphs protecting the room and it's contents, setting off one trap and making the break-in quite obvious due to singed carpet and damaged room contents. Nevertheless they do find notes that include a summary of Jaryl Hastel's life and mannerisms, including things that he should know and a check list of things that should be said to the Thanes that include many inflammatory statements. There are also ritual materials, and a lock of what appears to be Hastel's hair.
  • The PC's head for the council chamber and confront Hastel on the spot in front of the thanes of being an imposter. There is hot debate, followed by an attempt to escape by Hagel, who is eventually revealed to be a shape changer of some sort. The fake hastel is captured by the dwarves but manages to suicide while he's in custody.
  • Questioning Hagel, they determine that the switch likely took place at an inn just outside of shinar. The PC's head back towards Shinar, stopping at Dre's and Oran's tower to pick up their package. They investigate at the inn, find a muddy bootprint outside of Hastel's room that hasn't washed away in weather yet, a description of a inn resident that matches the description of the imposter (who dissapeared while Hastel was at the inn) and evidence of some dark ritual magic that was performed a few hundred yards outside of the inn, and a small wooded clearing. In addition, they found the impression of the front cover of a book on the waxy surface of a woden desk in the imposters room. Further investigation in shanar led to the discovery that the book in question was a book of dark magic rituals - written in Abyssal (the language of demons).
  • The package from Dre and Oran, is a small, seciure chest with arcane runes of protection and a solid lock, which is to be delivered to one Chancellor Warwick who is staying at the Stag and Castle Inn off of the Garden square in Nolton. After a brief sea voyage, the PC's arrive in Nolton, visit the inn and make contact with the Chancellor, who pays them a rather significant sum of money (900gp) for delivering the chest to him. Aeldirck feels a groqwing sense of unease when dealing with the man however. Who appears to be pretending to be a noble, but shows some mannerisms of speech and ettiquette that seem very much out of place. and sends Rendrill to follow the man after the deal is done.
  • Rendrill follows the Chancellor to a fishing shack near the docks where the chest is passed off once again. The receiver is a grizzled man, who assures the "Chancellor" that the package will be leaving for the Empire.
  • Rendrill reports his findings to Aeldrick and Minos and together they decide that this bears looking in to. They try to get some information about Dre and Oran, but are told that the best place to get information about dragons is from a dragon. There just so happens to be a Dragon who sometimes resides in Nolton. Gasparion - who's a longtime friend of the Royal family.
  • The party goes off to find Gasparian, in the north side of town in a massive tower, 80 feet to a side and over 180 feet high. At the main entrance to the tower the are met by a mechanical construct/golem who attempts to dismiss them, but eventually takes a message in to Gaspar, who allows the PC's entrance.
  • The PC's are overcome by fear as they see that the massive tower is a single giant room with ledges and aprches, and see Gaspar decend in his natural form as a huge red dragon. The ask about Dre and Oran the dragons that have recently arrived in Prolia, and are answered with a single phrase. "There are no Dragons in Prolia."
  • Stunned, the PC's realise that they may be being duped by the "Dragons" and race back to the docks where they break into the fishing shack, subdue the grizzed man, and recover the box.
  • They open the chest, suffering the magic protections and discover that inside the chest is a leather bound book, written in infernal (the language of devils). Heading off to their local arcane sage, they get the translation of the book, which is a detailed reconstruction of their adventures in Yuri's doom, including diagrams of the ritual circle where the druids are trapped in time and research about the origins of Yuri's ritual and possible means of disrupting the magic. The book is addressed to somebody called "My Prince".
  • The PC's decided to head back to Derros and confront the "Dragons" about their treachery.
That was the end of the session. The characters advanced to level 6. The next game to pick up this story line will be in January.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Back to the Alia Plot!

Our heroes are back on the free-form plot path and this week's game could go in any direction. Here are my thoughts as for how things may progress, and some background that ready to be uncovered. (but may take a few sessions to actually get discovered). So far, the heroes have heard of Solanthus. They've also heard about the adventurers that followed the giants into the mountains but not about the Kryvans or any specifics about what's happening in the West.

Over the next few adventures, some of these plot elements are going to be revealed. Which ones will depend on which paths the adventurers take. Although some events may happen in the world regardless of which direction the adventurers choose.

I shall be putting to together some stock ready to go combat encounters and working on NPC profiles and dialog plans for some of the major figures.

Background (Plot Spoilers)

3 years ago, three comets were seen in the skies, one over the northern tundra, one over the great south forest Shadowwood and one far to the west, far beyond the mountains of Estvald. Each of these comets was a being from another dimension. Three beings of power who battled across the cosmos were caught in a great backlash of power and were hurled through the sky into the ground. Each landed in a crater, greatly weakened in power and looked about them, only to discover that they were in Alia, a place only most difficultly accessed from their home realms.

Solanthus a Captain of Celestia, is an Angel of War. He desires only to defeat his opponents in glorius one on one combat. (Or die trying). Since his arrival he has become the leader of the Hobgoblins of the forest North of Prolia. He has a plan to distract the Kryvan armies with the Hobgoblins so he may face Illranikus alone. He is *not* the hero of the story, and is only concerned about his personal honour. If he dies in combat and the forces of darkness conquer the world... well that won't be his problem.

Illranikus is a Duke of Infernus. He wishes to open a gate so he can conquer the world in the name of Infernus. He wishes to use a ritual, powered by a dedication of deaths killed in a great battle to power the ritual. He is attempting to use the armies of Solanthus and Ferazghul to do so, but has also insinuated himself into the Emporer of Rhode's good graces and may use a Prolian/Empire conflict, if the northern conflict is not successful. He is also known as "Prince Ran, of the Grey Isle." in Rhode. Illranikus wishes to offer the world as a prize to his Infernal Prince.

Ferazghul is a Demon of Tartarus, no title, but very powerful. He wishes to conquer the world or destroy it (depending on his mood). He has taken control of the Kryvan nation through it's priesthood, and is sending it's armies on the march. He is aware that his greatest threat to domination are his two otherworldly rivals, and wishes to begin the destruction with them and their armies. He has taken a liking to the Kryvan's interpretation of the Elmental pantheon and has taken the part of the four elemental avatars in previous battles against the giants.

Recent Events(Winter of OY 603/604)

1. Discovery of the "western threat" that is human empire beyond the mountains, called Kryve.
2. Kryvan follow the elemental pantheon, but have a darker view of the four gods of creation, and combine worship of Wikri, Umos, Enosa and Freda with worship of demons and dark magic.
3. Last year Kryvan agents corrupted one of the Storm Giant royal family, to support the Kryvan in a rebellion in Westvald, and lead an army of Kryvan into the mountains. Last winter the stone giants led an opposing army out of Estvald to support the rightful monarch, quelled the rebellion and shaped western edge of the mountains into a unscalable cliff three hundred feet high.
4. This spring, the giant army has returned to the east, but don't wish to engage the Dwarves for control of the Estvald foothills.
5. Solanthus, who has great power over dreams, was responsible for the portentous dreams that many Arcane and Divine heroes had last year, warning of a shadow in the West. The dreams were aimed mostly at the giants, to encourage them to mobilize in their own defense and to drive the main army north into Solanthus's territory.

A group of adventurers sent to discover what has happened in the west have returned to Prolia.
  • They followed the giant army into the west. They saw the first clashes between the Kryvan and the Giant armies, and eventually became embroiled in the conflict after meeting with a Stone Giant Psionic called Rankrull.
  • The Kryvan are on the warpath. Apparently, there was an abrupt change in focus from an inward looking corrupt society, to a war seeking rampaging army over the course of less than a month. A huge army is marching over the northern tundra towards the hobgoblin lands to the north of Prolia.
  • The group saw ancient Kryvan ruins suggesting that they have been living in that area for a very long time. Possibly longer than written records of Krondhiem.
  • Kryvan heroes favor Paladins and Warlocks, and are a racially diverse culture including a fairly large number of elves and half-elves.
  • The Kryvan versions of the gods include:
    • Enosa, a squid, associated with decay, poison and greed.
    • Freda, a raven, associated with rulership, tyranny and betrayal.
    • Umos, a worm, associated with secrets, insanity and fanaticism
    • Wikri, a burning tree, associated with punishment, slavery and massacre

Adventure Opportunities

Dwarves are looking for:
  • An escort for a diplomatic mission to Estvald. The escort will be likely attacked by Kryvan agents and or demons

  • Wish a package carried to Nolton (the package contains details about Yuri's doom ritual and instructions on how to break the ritual - for an Empire agent in Nolton. Ultimate destination is Prince Ran, of the Grey Isle in the Empire of Rhodes)

  • Hastel, Jarl of Beryl, has been replaced by a Kryvan employed shapechanger. Hastel, wishes to employ the PC's to kill Jenkins (the Republic diplomat/assassin).
  • Jenkins and Hagel(Hastel's brother) are suspecting that something's wrong with Hastel - but they don't know what.
  • King Yutsen of Shinar, is concerned about recent activity in the North. (He hasn't yet heard of the Kryvan in the North - but he will soon.) He's worried that they may join forces with the Hobgoblins in preface to an invasion.

  • The hobgoblins leader, Solanthus wishes help to confront Illranikus, who is treacherous and will not hesitate to use his underlings to interfere in an honorable combat challenge.
  • It might be a good idea to venture into older Krondhiem ruins in search of knowledge pertaining to Kryve.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thunderspire Labyrinth is Bland

... is no longer being played by my group.

I'm quite disappointed with it overall. It started out okay. The Seven Pillared Hall was an interesting town/quest hub, the overall story was ok... but the encounters quickly became quite boring.

The encounters in the Chamber of Eyes, were fine. There were four or five of them depending on how you count. The last part has the potential to combine two or three encounters into on extended encounter, which is in itself a little bit interesting, at least in terms of difficulty.

The sameness began to appear in the Horned Hold, which has a total of eight encounters, of which at least five of them are *really* generic, and quite similar. When the encounters start becoming predictable, that's when you know something's really wrong. When the third group composed of "two soldiers/two artillery or skirmishers/one named or controller leader joined combat in a room" happened everybody was feeling the blandness. Sure, there was a fight across a bridge. There was fireplace or two to shove the enemies into (but wait Druegar have resist fire 10 so make that fireplaces to shove players into). But they were small details amongst the larger repetitive battles. Honestly, I expect more from a stand alone, published package like Thunderspire Labyrinth.

What really drove the point home for me was that I started up a second D&D 4 group last week and ran the beginning of the Scales of War adventure path from Dungeon #156 "Rescue at Rivenroar". That adventure started out with two really different combat encounters as the town of Brindol comes under the attack of some goblins and a cart-pulling Ogre. A couple of memorable battles came out of that, interspersed with some fun role-playing in the aftermath of the attack (skill challenges as written are still boring to me, so I don't use them at least not as written). Then the party set off overland to find Rivenroar and had some (also fun) wilderness encounters. It could have been a series of "you meet a balanced group of 5 goblins" and if that was the case it would have been boring... just like the Horned Hold was.

So two things resulted from this...

First, I'm staying away from "adventure modules" for a while. There's something about them that makes me feel constrained to their framework rather than inspired by their content. We finished up with the Horned Hold last weekend, and the breadcrumb trail that should have led off to the next chapter in the labyrinth mysteriously dried up. The heroes will leave Thunderspire Labyrinth next week and I'll start working the creative juices towards something original and fun in Alia.

Second, I'm enjoying my digital subscription to D&D Insider. Go, Scales of War! The Character Builder is looking pretty nice too. Levels beyond 3, and the rules filter, sometime soon please?