Thursday, May 26, 2011

From Beyond the Grave

*This post will contain spoilers to the Scales of War adventure path*

So last time, I gave the intro into the Scales of War adventure, A Tyranny of Souls, or rather the intro that I decided to use. I jumped the party right into the middle of the adventure by killing them off, but that wasn’t the end. I was initially going to leave them on that cliffhanger, actually end that week with that ending with the simple promise that there was more to come, but I just couldn’t do it to them. The suspense was killing ME, so I just had to give them a little bit more.
I described how each party member discovered that they were completely alone and naked in the darkness. There was nothing else there and they felt very ephemeral and weak. Death, if you will. Storywise, what I decided to do here was that  I modified some of the properties of Tu’narath so that anyone who dies there falls under the githyanki’s independence of the gods. As a people they had declared themselves free from all of the gods of the Astral Sea and so they have nothing to look for in the afterlife. They don’t go anywhere after they die. So the party finds themselves completely alone and waiting in some kind of blank darkness with no idea what is going on when they start to feel a dull nudging drawing them forward, but without any real direction. I asked them each individually how they responded to that nudging and if they were even moderately submissive to it, it suddenly whisked them forward and they found themselves very much in pain and very much in a prison cell.
As each of the party members woke up, they started to realize that they were in a prison and all of their gear had been taken. The two arcane characters (artificer and wizard) both realized that there was some kind of arcane mark on their foreheads, but they couldn’t quite tell what it was. At this point, I had a number of guards come walking in and behind them followed a very regal looking githyanki who eventually was revealed as the Emperor of the githyanki. He gloated and commented on how foolish the PCs were in accepting the resurrection spell that his people had cast on them. He also made a veiled comment on how much he was looking forward to torturing them. Basically I was trying to bait the players into attacking him, namely because he was WAY good and they didn’t have their gear and also because he had an ace in the hole. The general tinglyness that the arcane casters were picking up on was a Mark of Justice. 
Just a sample of what the Mark of Justice is like from one of my favorite webcomics Order of the Stick
I have to admit, I didn't come up with the idea myself. I was reading an article a while back about alternatives to killing a monster in combat and it talked about using this ritual from the party's perspective. In just a short aside, it mentioned about how cool it would be to have a villain do this to the party if they could so I thought I'd run with it and see what happened. The key to the mark was that whenever a member of the party made an attack that did damage to a githyanki, they started vomiting uncontrollably (which mechanically meant that they took damage equal to their healing surge value). I made some tweaks to this so that it was a permanent effect, not something that ended after a 24 hour period. Every turn they made an attack against a githyanki, they would take big damage all without the githyanki having to attack...and be covered in their own vomit constantly. Pretty sweet deal.
So the party didn’t take the bait right away and left the Emperor alone, but once he was done gloating and walked out they started going after the guards (all githyanki) and started getting really injured. I watched the fear grow in their eyes with each round as they were just getting pummelled by minion githyanki and seeing their hitpoints drop. I know, I know, I’m a jerk. The point was, they had to get out of that jail (which they escaped super easy, rogue and all) and avoid as much interaction with githanki as possible. Whenever they came into a new section of the prison, the tension was really high because if there were non-githyanki in the room they knew they could have a bit of a breather and kick the snot out of their opponents.
The Imprisoned Gith,
from A Tyranny of Souls,
a paragon tier adventure from
Wizards of the Coast
The other thing that had a huge effect on the party was the fact that all the party’s gear was gone. Not having their shiny swords of awesomeness and armor of invicibility made them rethink the way that they were playing. They had gotten really used to having a lot of additional effects and missing their swag caused some very creative tactics to peak out. The jail break was one of my favorite play sessions we’ve ever had, mostly because the tension was so high and because they were problem solving like champions. The scene all wrapped up after the party burst into a room with a githyanki woman imprisoned by devils who the party was originally supposed to rescue in the second act of the adventure (A-HA, the plot!). Originally it was a conditional story piece in order for them to receive aid (yet another stab at the ‘start quest, finish quest, start new quest’ model) and instead now they had to rescue her because she was being tortured by devils and may well have been their best help in getting out of the prison. As it turned out, she was WAY more powerful than they even guessed and she opened a portal that led them...somewhere. And that brought them from finishing up the middle section of the adventure to the beginning. It was a heck of a session and really set the tone (and fear) of this adventure. And now the party REALLY hates the Emperor, as opposed to just generally feeling bad things about him because he is a villain they should beat up. They are constantly muttering about how they are gonna mess him up when they meet again and I just can’t wait for that little encounter. They figured out a way to have the mark suppressed for 24 hours (nice time limit effect) and they are storming the castle to try and take out the Emperor and steal his scepter (focus item for the ritual) so they can permanently be healed. We'll just have to see if they can make it!

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