Saturday, March 24, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 3

So I've already put up two posts relating to the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger, an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and a desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god. A cadre of demon-like beings who seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely. The compliation document is kept here on a separate page.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Septimus, A Man of Many Forms and the fiery sorceress Ilaren, Wreathed in Flame. Septimus is a conniving shape-changing creature who has lost his humanoid nature and given into the ebb and flow of his new life and Ilaren is a fiery-tempered mage who not only casts flames, but embodies the fire herself.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Which Seems More Epic, Kobold Priest or Red Dragon?

Without some serious help from the momma of all Dragons, Kobold doesn't stand a chance.

I've already talked about the changes that need made to bring the Scales of War Adventure Path's big finale, The Last Breath of Tiamat, to a truly epic and grand finale. I even detailed the changes I made to three of the guardians already. With over half of the gem eyes recovered and newly level 30, the party ventured into the red dragon maw this week to seek the red gem eye and defeat the red dragon brood mother, Maugh'gaul'lothtor.

Isn't he just terrifying?
As the party walked into the room, they saw a large chapel chamber with a balcony of pews and a very obvious podium to one side. A mosaic of stones is carved in the floor and heaps (even for Epic Tier!) of treasure are piled on a raised dais in the back of the room. Kneeling on the ground polishing some of the gemstones was the greatest of all epic tier threats, the mighty kobold!  Wearing a simply frock and holding a withered staff, this fearsome menace is named Arneia'ontor (draconic translation: magic trickster) and is a kobold high priest of Tiamat. This is a subtle change I decided to make to the adventure. Originally they would have seen a really badass-looking dragonborn sorcerer, but I thought we were better served by having a weak face, at least at first. Given the normally heroic tier nature of kobolds, finding one here would be surprising and makes the forthcoming transformation that much more amazing.

His initial reaction was to be more conversational. His intent, after all, is to coax the party forward so that he can make better use of the forthcoming trap, THE SHARD OF ANNIHILATION. After coaxing the party into position, he can commence with the attack. And this is a piece I decided to keep from the original. Over the course of the combat, with a mighty roar the tiny kobold priest's form rippled, expanding as he transformed into a mighty adult blue dragon. Fun transformation moment and fun movement when the kobold can jump about through bolts of living lightning.

This encounter took a little to get building. They were already wearing down and were at a pitiable amount of healing surges so I knew this would probably be either the breaking point and they would either run or finish with nothing left. The most devastating component of the encounter was by far the hazard of the shard of annihilation. I reduced the rogue to dust only to have her reformed by her powerful epic destiny effect (which she JUST GOT at the beginning of the session). This was followed by a particularly nasty critical hit on the Paladin. With a tremendous dragon breath (doing 6d20+40 lightning damage to an already bloodied character) she was reduced to negative bloodied. She was saved at the last minute due to an interrupt power from the artificer who was literally trembling as she rolled the attack to see if the paladin would live or die. Talk about save or die! The encounter ran as difficult and complex as I hoped and the party was battered and bruised after trudging through it, but they still had some surges left and decided to shuffle them around and push on to try and steal the red gem eye from the red dragon brood mother herself!

Now this little kobold is merely the guardian of the red dragon brood mother. After besting him, the party enter a heated chamber filled with blistering magma. Platforms rise above the hot lava with Maugh'gaul'lothtor seated upon a large central pillar. She is the most loyal of the brood mothers (draconic name translation: Fiery Loyal Breeder) and her chamber is part of the self-destruct mechanism that Tiamat has triggered so it is in an upheaval at this point. The magma level has risen from what it once was and Maugh is beginning to notice and take concern. Geyesers have begun to erupt throughout the chamber and there are five roaring when the party first enter. A sixth hidden geyser on the opposite side of a central pillar is clogged by the gem eye. The brood mother herself is another hazard, which the party has grown accustomed to at this point. Trying to mitigate the damage the brood mother can dish out and staying out of reach while investigating the room for the eye is becoming more fluid and the party is getting better at it every week.

This part of the combat went swimmingly as the party ruthlessly navigated the room, using the artificer's ability to grant temporary immunity to fire to the dragonborn runepriest who dove into the magma to seek out the stone. The party used some quick thinking and good observation skills to set themselves up well in this tactical situation. The runepriest used his action point to hammer away on the stone and pried it out very quickly. As the pillar crumbled and they all backed off, the red dragon bellowed her rage upon them all and spat her last curses out at the party. With that, the second to last gem eye was recovered and the party only has one more treasure to claim in order to unlock their final path to mother of all dragons!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Part 2

I already posted an introduction to the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger, an organization of NPC creatures with a strong vendetta and a desire to destroy the Platinum Dragon god who would seek mortal hosts and through the offer of power would slowly coax them under their control eventually subsuming their host's personality completely.

Click here for a pdf of the next two members of the Knights of the Tarnished Dagger: Simbak, the Snake in the Grass and Urbier, More A Beast Than A Man. Simbak is a serpentine warrior with an affinity for poisons and Urbier is a bestial creature who grants his host unbelievable strength at the cost of their self-control.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Something Borrowed, Something Black and Blue

**This post contains spoilers to the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.**

So I mentioned already that the last adventure of my epic tier campaign needed some work (since I am using the published Scales of War Adventure Path) and I specifically talked about the first challenge the party faced. This week's session started with the party entering the maw of a black dragon statue to confront the black dragon brood mother of Tiamat and hopefully find another gem eye that can shut down the wards blocking their path to the Dragon Queen herself. This week turned out pretty special because it featured a lot of material that I grabbed from other bloggers who had come up with great ideas.

As they entered the dragon's mouth, they saw a whirling dome of shadow in the center of a portal chamber rimmed with stone archways containing empty and inactive portals. As the first members of the party hear a roar coming from the shadows, they lunge into the blackness and see that the whirling darkness is essentially a veil that separates the interior from the exterior of the dome (i.e. no line of sight) and inside is a tremendous undead dragon who laughs at their boldness. So half the party has lunged into melee range with the undead dragon and the other half of the party is outside the dome when the dragon clicks his finger bones together. With a snap of magical energy, portals begin to open displaying a fiendish planescape of madness and horror....THE FAR REALM! So the party is divided and has to face two foes: an undead horror and the insanity inducing effects of exposure to the Far Realm.

Simply put, I got excited about the opportunity to use a monster made by someone else I found recently. The Id DM posted an epic tier threat this past month that really inspired me for this encounter. I lifted his monster (while leveling it up and tweaking its aura to make it work with the portals), but I kept the rest of his design whole. One major change I integrated was my second borrowed thing this week. CSRoss from the DMGp42 blog did a study of monster damage this past week and I decided to try this monster with his damage bonuses. HECK YES. Getting a critical that did over 120 damage felt so nice and when I announced the damage to the party and they all repeated it back to me in that scared and disbelieving voice.....classic. The threat was real and actually scary and to complicate things even more I borrowed another element. I just discovered Beholder Pie's blog and they had a post this week about templates to use with groups of monsters to help simulate the interplay of PC synergy and interrupts that allow for more benefits and bonuses. I used the Dragon's Den template in this encounter and trading in a token to turn my next hit into a critical was delicious. Really effective monster design, with good math and a synergy that brought it all together made for an incredibly effective and memorable session this week.

We started the session with a wrap up from the last time and jumped straight to initiative (since I like to end on a cliffhanger). Half the party was in an aura that blocked line of sight and the other half was outside reeling with horror from the effects of the opening portals to a realm of madness. The ranged section of the party, thought they try and disable one of the portals to the Far Realm. As the rogue got closer, she was immediately attacked by the madness effect, but toughed it out. She then failed her Thievery check to try and mar the runes and deactivate the portal which caused it to explode with the distorting energies of eldritch horror. For this I borrowed something else! The Book of Vile Darkness, while arguably not very vile, had a very cool hazard effect for a Far Realm Anomaly including a random table for flesh warping effects of exposure to the Far Realm. The explosion hit the rogue, who's legs became worthless rendering her slowed. Period. It also hit the party wizard whose legs warped and meshed together into a snake tail destroying her fancy pair of magic boots and reducing her speed by 3. No save, no disease track, these effects were just on there. That really grabbed their attention.

At this point the melee fighters had realized that things were getting bad and started hammering away at a black orb in the eye socket of the dracolich, which they targeted at a -2 to attack (since it's more of a called shot and I thought a penalty was called for). They hit it twice dealing sufficient damage to destroy the orb and dropping the veil of shadows. When your actions have direct impact on the way the encounter works, it is a very rewarding feeling as a player. So now the whole party could see the opening portals to madness and the ranged attackers could engage the dragon more easily. The dragon teleported to the other side of the map to harass the ranged combatants and it was at this point that the dwarven barbarian gave me a look that made me smile because he realized what I had just noticed at the same time. The barbarian moved into position and with a mighty howl, charged the barely injured dracolich, pushing it 7 squares and through the portal into the madness of the Far Realm.

The effects of the flesh warping planescape immediately started to bend and shape the dracolich, taking him over and causing him obviously excruciating pain. They continued to fire magical attacks at the dragon, who was taking a tremendous amount of ongoing damage as his bones creaked and bent and every attack passing through the portal was warped and bent further. I realized that if they could shut the portal down, he'd be stuck on the other side with no way back. They kept trying to immobilize him and slow him down so he couldn't get back through, but eventually he was able to muscle his way back in and as I described him clawing his way back to reality, I remembered the attacks being warped as they passed through the gate and decided to go for broke. As the dracolich's skeletal form passed through the gateway, its undead bones were turned to free-flowing flesh that rippled with obscene gesticulation and oozed with foul pus the color of madness. This creature was no longer a powerful undead villain, but a mound of hideous, cancerous tissue trying to heap vengeance on those who had brought it to this mournful fate. The paladin slid the creature halfway through the portal and shortly thereafter the portal closed with the dragon half in and as the portal snapped shut the fleshy dragon's head, if you could call it that, collapsed to the ground in a pile of bleeding flesh. Holy crap. What an encounter.

The final chamber where the black dragon brood mother, Auth'lothtor, actually resides required more customization as well. Since I fiddled with the green dragon and tried using a hazard to simulate a creature that could not be physically harmed, I did a similar work up on the black dragon as well. This room's theme was LOCKDOWN and DISSOLVE. Auth'lothtor was fussing over her eggs in a mire of acidic muck in a deep pit while feeding off of vines that were visibly growing. Both the dragon and the vines had many means of locking down the party by holding them in position. Given the range of a dragonbreath attack, this could be potentially very deadly. This is complicated by the mud of the pit being a highly concentrated, but slowly effective acid. The first time one of the characters is exposed to the acidic mud, I'm going to ask all of them to make tic marks on their character sheet equal to 1/4 their Constitution score. Creatures that enter or start their turn in the pit erase a tic mark. Characters with no tic marks at the start of their turn begin to dissolve and take ongoing acid damage equal to their healing surge value (save ends). A creature that drops to 0 hp due to this effect melts to a paste.

The foil to the encounter is removing the gem from within the muck and mire. Not only do the party need the gem to lower the ward, but it is also acting as the plug that keeps the acidic mire from draining. Once the gem is located and removed, the muck begins to drain with a great sucking sound (save ends). After the first failed saving throw, the concentrated acid damage effect will no longer hurt creatures in the pit. After the second failed saving throw, the dragon will no longer be able to splash the acidic mud and will lose access to that attack. The dragon is far too large to pull herself out of the pit so the main point of the encounter is more about mobility and smash and grab tactics as opposed to "find all monsters - kill all monsters."

It was honestly some what disappointing for me to see how quickly they swooped through this room and gathered the gem. Using some careful strategy and a creative use of their powers, they were able to handily locate and grab the black gem eye and beat a hasty retreat. Minimal damage was taken and they used just a few uses of their daily teleportation powers. After RAPIDLY claiming the black gem eye, the party zipped back to the center room with its pulsating magma geyser and it was here they realized how dire their problem was since they knew now that the whole volcanic compound Tiamat's fortress is based in was ready to explode in about 10 hours. The timer was started, but they were confused as to what Tiamat could hope to gain by destroying her lair at this point.

They chose the blue dragon maw next and this chamber I ran mostly as written. The beholder in the observation room works (with modified damage and truly scary damage) and the blue dragon I turned into a hazard instead of a creature. The Beholder room as an observatory lent itself well to show the Astral positioning of Tiamat's domain and just how dangerous her final desperate gambit was, but I've already talked about that before. Using their resources well, they were able to knock the beholder prone into the pit multiple times (doing over 150 falling damage to it) and they negotiated the blue dragon brood mother handily. I thought about posting that hazard here too, but after such an epic series of encounters I'd done enough.

This week proved incredibly memorable and truly epic! Using the full benefits of the lessons of the internet and borrowing A LOT of great ideas from some really cool designers and gamers, my session was really fun this past week. And when all the players are giving each other high fives after the session ends (even the DM!), you can't help but feel like a success. So thank you, TheIdDm, CStevenRoss and Beholder Pie for helping to get my synergy going and helping make my session this week a real success.

Now with two more gem eyes to recover the final fight and the end of an age is almost upon us! Only the Red and White Brood Mothers still remain and the Mother of All Dragons shall know her mortality!