Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dragons of Renewal DL9: Dragons of Deceit


by Larry Elmore


Overview

After recuperating from the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, the party is approached by D'argent/Silvara in her disguised form. She tells them that they must head out to the city of Sanction in the heart of Takhisis' empire. The key to the good dragons' Oath of Neutrality is there, and if successful can help bring them into the war against the Dragonarmies. Silvara is tight-lipped about the specifics, not letting up about the nature of the draconians' creation until the PCs see for themselves. The party has a choice of going by sea or by land, both paths with their own encounters along the way.

Whether by imprisonment or infiltration, the party has the opportunity to find out the truth in the Temple of Luerkhesis where a Black Robe wizard, a cleric of Takhisis, and a red dragon conduct a ritual to transform metallic dragon eggs into draconian spawn. The PCs may encounter the Shadowpeople, a secretive race living beneath the city who can aid their escape as the draconian chamber sets off magical alarms to send a group of soldiers to kill the intruders. If the PCs escape into the shadowpeople chambers, they'll be teleported to the hidden island where the metallic dragons live. Once informed of the Dragonarmy's true use of their children, the Oath of Neutrality is broken and they fly south with the heroes to Palanthas to lend their aid to the forces of Good. The PCs will have opportunity to ride on their backs with Dragonlances in tow during an assault on the city of Sanction.

Victorous, there is only the final city of Neraka to conquer, where the two once-split parties of Winter and Spring unite for one last battle against the forces of evil!

Things to Change/Look Out For


D'argent/Silvara: Interestingly, the AD&D version of the module suggests handing over control and accommodating backstory notes of the silver dragon to a player as a one-time thing for the adventure. Instead of controlling 2 PCs at once, the player gets to control the dragon in lieu of their normal PC. Be it AD&D or 3.5, she will doubtless be along for the ride albeit mostly in a humanoid form. Having a player run her is a good idea, albeit with the caveat that she will not take dragon form save at a dramatically appropriate moment (like escaping with the good dragon eggs or such). You might also want to allow the player to control their PC if they think they can manage both adequately.

In AD&D terms, dragons are nowhere near as strong as they are in 3.5, so in the latter there's a chance that even in a weaker humanoid body Silvara can be a powerful character. Consider making a level-appropriate stat block for whoever she is intended to be disguised (wizard, fighter, etc).

As recommended in my last blog post, I had the mission known immediately from the outset along with a threat from Ariakas to turn herself over or else more metallic dragon eggs will be squashed for every day that passes. This provides a good hook and motivation, and it's possible the players at this point in the campaign are putting two and two together regarding the reasons behind the Oath.

"No metallic dragons, the draconians all have their scale colors...something seems fishy here.

Travel: The trek to Sanction by land or sea is going to be long, and there's lot of unrelated encounters along the way. Some of them can be fun, such as running through a Dragonarmy blockade to get to Sanction's port. But at this level, and assuming that time is of the essence, the PCs may very well resort to teleportation, long-term flight (via summoned monsters or spells), or other means to bypass regions. In my own campaign I had the PCs abscond with supplies from the White and Red Robe army camps around the High Clerist Tower. This was done to get the spell components to teleport, a very powerful magical spell even in higher-magic settings. The meat of the plot and drama takes place in Sanction, so it may be a good idea to speed up the process or excise it entirely unless your group likes the idea of overland travel with lots of events.


Sanction: In the original adventure, Sanction was a sprawling city amidst an active volcano, much like Mordor. The majority was rundown, with shantytowns and tent-cities from the large influx of mercenaries, draconians, and other wicked folk. The temples, relics of pre-Cataclysm times, are the exception and now used as military stations and meeting points for Dragonarmy VIPs.

In my own campaign, I changed the aesthetics a bit. Sanction was still near an ashy mountain range, but Ariakas wanted the heart of his empire to reflect the beauty of old Istar. There was a large colosseum built in town, both for him to make grandiose public speeches as well as blood sport for entertainment. The city was vertical: the lowest tiers contained the slums and shantytowns while the higher tiers more well-to-do sections with the temples, manors.

The effects of the Dragonarmy rhetoric were present. Drakenheim Academy was where the younger generation of citizens were taught propaganda of the new order. With the aid of clerical magic and the Black Robes, there were ample magical resources as well. When my PCs arrived in town, a set of skulls atop poles acted as a sort of magical broadcasting system to echo Ariakas' speech from the colosseum so that all citizens may hear it. A pair of children ran down the muddy street, one of them displaying a minor bit of clerical magic with youthful wonder while wearing a Medallion of Takhisis.

I made a full transcript of Ariakas' speech here, cribbing notes from real-world dictators (mostly Hitler and Stalin), albeit altered to fit the circumstances of Krynn. I had lines from it interspersed throughout the adventure as the PCs went about Sanction rather than reading it all at once. It may not work if any of your players are familiar with the speeches, but it worked well for my group in making Ariakas an intimidating yet well-spoken figure.

The draconian birthing chamber had a separate room for ones born with deformities, a sliding shoot leading down to a cavernous room to be devoured by slimes (which the PCs saw and put a stop to in saving one from such a fate).

In this way, Sanction was a gilded city. It echoed the glories of a grand and civilized society, but only its trappings. For beneath the thin paint of gold, evil and tyranny could be found.



Interior Artwork from Dragons of Deceit, AD&D Version

Early Encounters with Ariakas: There are 2 opportunities the PCs may meet the Emperor of Ansalon earlier than the final chapter of the Dragonlance Saga. The first is during a public parade in Sanction where he's driving a chariot drawn by human slaves. Kitiara and 20 bodyguards are at his side during this. Another if the PCs get captured and are interrogated in the Temple of Luerkhisis.

The 3.5 version says that even if Ariakas is to die, his body will be taken by guards to one of the temples where he will be resurrected via dark rituals. Although done to prevent a premature victory, it takes a bit of the sense of accomplishment out of the equation. Like the old adage of "if it has stats, players can kill it," you may wish to avoid having the Emperor appear early. My skeleton pole system still gave off his presence while not being physically present, and the PCs were preoccupied with saving the good dragon eggs instead of assassinating the Emperor. As a result, things worked out for my campaign this way.


Two-Page Splash of the Battle of Sanction in the 3.5 version


Discovery, Escape, and the Final Encounter: I admit that my own campaign's progress went very differently from the standard adventure. For one, Silvara teleported away with the good dragon eggs to the Isle while the rest of the PCs fought their way out. They were challenged to battle on the streets of Sanction by their Kitiara Counterpart NPC, who they were intent on saving from what they thought was Ariakas' brainwashing.  Fighting her on top of her dragon, the rest of the city's chromatics gave pursuit with the Green Dragon Highlord Salah-Khan at their helm (what can I say, our Dragonlance was a lot more high-octane than usual). The battle/pursuit was later joined by a flight of 30 metallic dragons led by Silvara in dragon form to counter their assault. The battle mat was a riotous assembly of good and evil dragons which PCs could ride or run on, fighting other riders and the Dragon Highlords. It had the climactic feeling of the standard final encounter, albeit with a clear "boss" for the PCs to fight rather than nameless dragons and soldiers.

In your own games, you might consider going with the standard adventure, or just have the 12 nameless dragons with an undefeated Dragon Highlord at their command (Kitiara Counterpart is highly appropriate for this). Furthermore, the PCs might attempt to escape with the good dragon eggs themselves (there's a lot of them) by piling them into Bags of Holding or as much as they can carry to get word out. Or maybe the latent anti-divination magics concealing the dragon eggs' location is removed once the PCs are out of the Temple, allowing the metallic dragons to come to their aid right then and there.

But regardless of what you do, don't deny your PCs the opportunity to ride on dragons!

Closing Thoughts

Dragons of Deceit is a very good conclusion to the Dragons of Winter arc. The major areas to work on include the primary motivation, how to handle Silvara's role, and giving an "enemy face" of an important NPC in the final battle. Otherwise the adventure works quite well.

Next time, we shall start on the first chapter of the Dragons of Spring arc, Dragons of Dreams!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Martial Disciple: a pseudo-Vancian fighting class for 5th Edition



Hey folks. I realize that it seems I dropped off the face of the Internet blogging-wise. Much of the blame is other projects sucking away my time to commit. But fortunately the fruits of my labors resulted in a new book for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition! As one raised on the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I am a big fan of options in games no matter the character concept. And while there are good parts in 5th Edition, the noncasting martial classes felt rather 'blah' in terms of things to do beyond basic attacks.

The Martial Disciple is, in short, a new system inspired by Tome of Battle/Path of War with special moves known as techniques. Techniques are akin to spells in that they are limited-use abilities which play off of the short/long rest and are grouped into 8 fighting schools based on style and thematics. There is a new eponymous class which draws off of this system as well as 5 archetypes for existing core classes to get in on the fun.

Techniques: Much like Path of War or Tome of Battle, you have Strikes which are offensive in nature; Counters, which are reactions triggered by attacks and effects; Boosts, which are 'buffs' to your abilities; and Stances, which are long-term buffs which last indefinitely but you can only choose one to use every long rest. Fighting schools represent groups of related abilities: Reaper's Field is optimized for heavy weapons and overwhelming force, Prowling Panther relies on trickery and misdirection, and Alchemic Warrior revolves around personal serums, bombs, and debilitating chemicals.

Class: The new class is the same as the book's title, meant to represent a sort of generic warrior akin to the Fighter save that they interact heavily with techniques. Unlike the Fighter they designate one of three mental ability scores as their Martial Ability akin to a spellcaster. Intelligence represents tactical masterminds, Wisdom for ascetic and hunter types, and Charisma for inspiring leaders and the like.

Archetypes for the Martial Disciple include the Avatar of War, who has a supernatural connection to a planar realm of conflict and can call weapons and figures from said realm; the Challenger, a seeker of self-improvement who can sense the strongest opponent on the battlefield and turn enemy attacks and strength against them; and the Wandering Stranger, who has a bit of a Clint Eastwood vibe with an offensive staredown and a limited legend lore used for gathering rumors said about themselves.

Archetypes for existing core class include:

Commando for the Rogue who specializes in misdirection and special operations style tactics such as being able to gain a floating tool proficiency reflecting training for specialized missions.
Daredevil for the Rogue who is all about flair and panache. Can do things like move through vertical spaces and open air as difficult terrain as long as they have rope for swinging or gambits where you voluntarily impose disadvantage on a roll in exchange for a potential boon if successful.
Path of the Destroyer for the Barbarian (think Juggernaut from X-Men), who is all about building up momentum and mobility while raging for self-buffs like freedom of movement (unstoppable object) or passwall effect (breaking through walls).
Tactician for the Fighter who can trade out a saving throw proficiency during a long rest for adapting to one's environment, adding proficiency bonus to skills related to soldiery matters, and the like.
Way of the United Spirit for the Monk who specializes in Alchemic Warrior and Trance Dancer (spirit-possessed warrior) who uses alchemy and esoteric religious rituals to push their body and mind to its maximum potential.

Hopefully I ignited your interest in my book. It was a fun thing to make for me, and I hope it is even more fun for you to use at your gaming table! You can find it below on these online storefronts:

Drive-Thru Link.

RPGNow Link.

Open Gaming Store Link.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Northlands Saga, Part Four: Beyond the Wailing Mountains


The destruction of the Second Temple of Ice and Stone did not go unnoticed by the Children of Althunak, for the frozen corpse of Aluki's brother Kelvani was sent back to the village of Laquirv along with a monstrous raiding party around early spring. Thankfully our heroes were staying the winter while the Long Serpent headed back to pick them up in a few months, and the cult's assault failed thanks to their efforts. One of the faithful, a woman enhanced by the demon-god's magic and clad in illusory armor designed to make her look undead, was taken alive and enchanted by Syrasi to reveal that they came from a city on the other side of the Wailing Mountains.


After retrieving the sacred weapons from Hero's Rock again, Aluki volunteered to lead the party across the Far North given the danger of the terrain. Along the way, Vigbjorn challenged a woolly rhinoceros to a valiant battle, and in the mountains fought an over-eager frost giant guarding the pass for the cult. What lay ahead after these trials was a deathly cold wasteland where the sun never sets.


The City of the Lord of Winter was grand in size, yet entire sections of town lay abandon. The covering the south, west, and east sides had a mixture of humans (with endure elements) and demonic guards keeping watch. The party used their magical folding boat to traverse the lake at its north, upon which the First Temple of Ice and Stone proudly rose from the lakebed. Climbing up subtly, they overheard a conversation between Elvanti, the leader of the Children of Althunak, and Karnak Seven-Sorrows, a servitor demon.



Elvanti welcomed the party, and being rather curious asked the party what promises the Ulnat gave that he couldn't possibly give. Syrasi's answer ("there are people among them who care for me and I care about") infuriated him, whereas Askeladden's answer was more practical ("you tried to have me killed several times"). At this point Karnak teleported into the room to aid his lord, and the battle just begun!


Althunak's Chosen proved more than a pushover, for in addition to being a strong warrior he also could turn nature itself against his enemies by summoning ice and lightning storms. Thanks to the many open skylights in the main temple area, he caught the heroes by surprise this way. Even in defeat he was unbowed, mocking Vigbjorn right before the trollkin cut him in half. The demon Karnak Seven-Sorrows, meanwhile, gave a mocking salute to the statue of Althunak in leaving his service right before he got dismembered.

The party looted the temple's treasure room, and freed a dozen Ulnat prisoners planned to be used as bargaining chips. But the rest of the cult was not idle, and six cultist warriors with a pair of ice demons came rushing in via the south. Thanks to some preparation of bear traps and a decoy unseen servant, the party broke their ranks with a well-timed glitterdust and good old-fashioned physical combat!


Once the cult's best forces were felled, the PCs fled the temple to notice the rest of their forces in disarray. Demons screamed and teleported away, while mortal faithful were fighting among themselves for leadership. Although the demon-god still exists, his reach in Midgard was shortened considerably. A victorious party ventured back across the Wailing Mountains to the Seal Coast, where grateful Ulnat awaited them along with the crew of the Long Serpent.

Awaiting them back at Silvermeade Hall was Inga, Henrikson's eldest daughter and now Jarl of the town. She apologized for her earlier arrogant ways back in Spring Rites, and brought up the old deal she had with Hallbjorn before his loss at sea. Hallbjorn promised to donate 10 percent of loot to the families of warriors who were injured and perished as a result of the war against the Children of Althunak. Although she didn't press the issue, Askeladden was less amenable to the deal. The rest of the party honored their comrade's promise and donated their share.

GM's Notes


In the original adventure, several of the Children of Althunak's minions were female prisoners transformed into monsters known as snow brides. One of the brides who attacks the village of Laquir is Klinqa, the woman who first rebuffed Elvanti's hand in marriage. Given that this had overtones of sexual assault a few of my players would not appreciate, I changed the "snow brides" into generic minions disguised as undead so as to get fighters to waste the wrong spells on them.

Karnak Seven-Sorrows was a character of my own creation, a babau demon. Replacing two snow brides in the final fight, I figured a teleporting demon would make for a good combination with Elvanti's weather control magic. Elvanti's appearance was also different. In the original adventure he was transformed fully into the Chosen of Althunak, appearing like a huge furred emaciated monster. I kept the same stats, but otherwise had Elvanti appear as a medium size human with a reach weapon. There wasn't much reason for this aside from aesthetics and wanting to give a "human face" to the major villain of the Far North adventure arc.

The folding boat helped the PCs bypass much of the encounters gained if one went through the ruined city via the front gate. I made up for that with cult reinforcements upon Elvanti's death.

I forgot to tell the PCs about the initial 15% agreement from Hallbjorn's voyage back in Vengeance of the Long Serpent. I figured introducing it here could be a good test of their character.

I'm sorry for the long-overdue update for Northlands, but I hope you enjoyed reading it. Our next adventure takes our heroes all around the region to end a death-curse from the legendary reaver Sven Oakenfist!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dragons of Renewal DL8: Dragons of War


Artwork from Legacy: War of Dragons MMORPG

Overview

This adventure revolves around the iconic Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, while also briefly covering the heroes journey from Southern Ergoth to Palanthas. Once they reach their destination they can make several pre-battle preparations, from exploring the tower locales (much of it remains unexplored due to the Knights regarding it as sacred) for defenses to shore up. The mass battle itself takes place in waves over a period of several days, and unlike the books it is very possible for the PCs to lose the Tower (and thus by extension Palanthas).

Things to Change/Look Out For



The Whitestone Council

Aside from the grandmaster of the Knights of Solamnia, there is surprisingly little interaction with the Whitestone forces and other folks before the battle. The default adventure has the recovered Dragon Orb presented to the Council, causing the factions to bicker among each other. In the book series this bickering is broken with the introduction of the Dragonlance, thrown by Theros Ironfeld throwing the legendary weapon into the Whitestone natural formation and splitting it in half.

Granted, the default scenes does not have much opportunity for the PCs to talk and interact with the various factions. It also assumes that the PCs reveal the existence of the Dragon Orb to the assembly, which my group wisely decided not to do.

I changed this around by having the PCs meet up with a war council while planning for the sailing to Palanthas. In addition to the base factions I had three major factions of Solamnians representing various groups: the Knights, unaffiliated lords, and self-governing peasant communes fed up with the former two. I also included White and Red Robes of High Sorcery, who were worried about the balance of Evil tipping too far. Although the forces were united, they all were looking beyond war's end and wanted various guarantees in exchange for their aid: Solamnic peasants wanted independence for their respective regions, Red and White Robes wanted more liberty and freeing of imprisoned mages in various realms, the Silvanesti wanted trade and supplies to help rebuild their realm, and so on and so forth.

Feel free to play this up as much or as little as befits your group. Barring complete catastrophe the Council should not dissolve, but this can be an opportunity for certain PCs to push for better deals for their favored nations and people. Due to previous adventures, light of their past accomplishments should carry weight while at the same time balanced against practicality and the needs of the other member nations.

The Journey to the Tower



Approaching the Tower of Nightlund (Palanthas) by Geoffryn of deviantart

The first chapter covers various regions and encounters the PCs can have along the way from Southern Ergoth to Palanthas, along with details of the city itself. Personally speaking most of the travel is filler and can be discarded, but the city of Palanthas bears special mention. Firstly, the local government is unconvinced the Dragonarmies will invade due to a signed non-aggression treaty and don't seek to contribute to the Tower's defenses. The garrison of Knights in the tower are on their own due to this. Additionally, there is mention made of the PCs visiting Mount Nevermind to have the gnomes examine their artifacts, although nothing really comes of this plot-wise.

Alterations to the adventure can be made as thus: give the PCs the opportunity to prove to the otherwise neutral Palanthian government of the Dragonarmy's treachery. Or use trickery themselves to do so (Jester-David's group used illusionary dragons to fly over the city, although their plan failed). Additionally, a side trip to Mount Nevermind might grant additional gnomish reinforcements in the Battle for the High Clerist's Tower, if only for "research purposes" on seeing any Dragonlances or Dragon Orbs in action.


The High Clerist's Tower, Exploration




The High Clerist Tower portion of the adventure is more or less a dungeon crawl. In both versions of the module I found that the vast majority of rooms were empty, so I had the battle coincide with the PCs exploring the Tower by finding/activating its various defenses. I'd switch between encounters with the PCs and back to the mass battle forces. I felt that this helped simulate the speed and chaos of war.

If using this encounter-based crunch: I'd focus on the following rooms (it can be assumed that the PCs make their way between them off-screen): 32 Dragon Trap (for activating the Orb), 45 Battleground, 62 Eternal Halls (populated with monsters from other rooms, have treasury room as reward), 77 Khas Room (for possible ghostly ally). If you feel that you need more encounters, perhaps add a featureless hallway or tower or two with wraiths, invading Dragonarmy soldiers, traps, and other obstacles.

Another thing of note is that the Tower has a second Dragon Orb inside it. The game mechanic reasons is in case the PCs failed to find the Orb at Icewall Castle. Personally speaking I got rid of this second one in my own game. The Dragon Orbs are meant to be rare artifacts scattered to the four winds, and its location here is far too convenient. Beyond this, if you use the blog notes I wrote for the Dragons of Ice adventure then your own PCs should not miss that quest's Dragon Orb.

Siege Events and Complications

The default adventure has a series of events which happen around the tower before and during the siege. There are not too many special considerations to make other than one. A few days before the final assault, a high-ranking Dragonarmy soldier Vindar of Khurman will approach the tower, calling the name of a knight to engage him in single combat. Said knight is but a young man fresh out of squiredom and thus not a match for Vindar. A PC can take his place, although the circumstances of the situation mean that the honorable option is a one-on-one fight. Vindar is a classed Fighter with a magical sword capable of restoring hit points dealt as damage in a vampiric fashion.

Most D&D games and retroclones do not balance encounters for 1 PC. For that reason the fight can wildly vary in difficulty, and if gone on for too long the other players may get bored sitting around. The adventure suggests that Vindar has yet to lose a fight and as thus will underestimate the PC's capabilities. Generally speaking you should have Vindar be reworked so that he is overall weaker than an individual PC, the kind they would reliably take on their own in a larger battle versus multiple forces.

Another thing to consider is that unless the battle takes place in a single day, the PCs might wish to head out into the enemy encampment via stealth and assassinate Dragonarmy leaders. The adventure does not take this into consideration, assuming that the PCs will stand charge on the wall. But with spells like invisibility sphere, teleport, summons, and other high-level sorcery, getting past mundane soldiers should be trivial.

One option would be to allow this: the army isn't going to retreat given how the chain of command works, but killing off the most competent leaders is definitely worth a significant bonus for the mass combat system battles. Additionally, the Dragonarmy encampments should be home to undead, spellcasting bozak draconians and an aurak or two, along with blue dragons who in Pathfinder have insanely high Perception checks.

Silvara & the Temptation of the Dragon Orb



If you ran through DL9: Dragons of Dreams, then it's likely that the players got a strong impression of the Dragon Orb's power and what can happen if used in desperation. Its primary use in the adventure is to be placed in a special room in the High Clerist's Tower. Once activated, it will mentally compel the blue dragons to fly inside cramped corridors in the tower which could immobilize them via the use of iron portcullis as well as a herring bone pattern (where it's easy to get in but hard to get out). Aside from this, there are no real negative consequences for using the Dragon Orb in this adventure.

Personally, I made a few changes in my own game. One, I altered the traps to contain a series of adamantine guillotines. This changed little aside from aesthetic value, in that I did not make my PCs attack and kill trapped dragons. Secondly, I had it so that the Dragon Orb also affected Silvara. Although she was strong-willled enough to not fly into the trap, it was enough to compel her to take draconic form during the battle.

As a result of this, evidence of a silver dragon fighting alongside the Solamnic army was clear as day. The Dragon Empire's many messengers and Black Robe mages passed word back to Neraka of this development. After the battle was won, Silvara was still extremely worried, for a cleric of Takhisis came to deliver a message from Emperor Ariakas himself. Speaking through the priest directly via powerful magic, Ariakas demanded the surrender of the silver dragon along with the giving up of the Tower. The sounds of eggs being squashed in the background could be heard, and Ariakas continued that "more would die for every day that passes without capitulation."

This tied well into the following adventure, DL8: Dragons of Deceit. In that one, Silvara explains to the party that she must take them to Sanction to uncover the Dragonarmies' greatest secret. She is tight-lipped about the nature of the mission, and the use of good dragon eggs to make draconians is revealed only later and directly. The default hook is rather vague, but the plot circumstances of my game served the two-fold purpose of granting an obvious hook as well as making the party detest Ariakas even more. It also kept in line with the inherently dangerous nature of the Dragon Orbs.

Alternatively in your games, Silvara may still take her true form. Perhaps the tide of battle is threatening to turn, and acting rashly she turns into a dragon to level the playing field.

Mass Combat



Dragonlance is no stranger to wargaming, and the original AD&D adventure came complete with a self-contained Battlesystem ruleset. The 3.5 adventure contains no such rules, instead noting that there are many mass battle rulesets on the market today and to use your favorite. Both adventures gave a breakdown of troops and units on both sides of the conflict for best simulating this.

I have no experience with Battlesystem or warming in general, so I used a homebrew creation. An important thing to consider is that whatever set of rules you use to not spring it on the players suddenly. Instead post or link them the necessary material so they can familiarize themselves with the rules ahead of time. Not all players can quickly adapt and digest new rules on the spot.

As for my homebrew, I had it as a simple 1d20 resolution system. Each army had "hits" representing how many attacks they can weather before dispersing or being slaughtered. When one unit came into conflict with another, both sides would roll 1d20. A unit with a superior advantage (higher ground, superior defensive holdings, etc) added +4 to their roll. The loser would take one "hit" as a result.

Regardless of the rules system you use, here are some general tactics:

  • The PCs' forces have an ultimately defensive position. Their mission is to prevent the Blue Dragonarmy from taking hold of the High Clerist Tower and thus the route to Palanthas.
  • Generally speaking the Blue Dragonarmy will send in expendable units to test the Tower's defenses. Kobold skirmishers are perfect for this.
  • In-game events the party does (gain the aid of Yarus' ghosts, the use of the Dragon Orb to utilize the dragon deathtrap, etc) should affect certain powerful units in the field. Be it removing them from play or adding them as new forces.
  • Sample ally forces for PCs should include Knights of the Crown (higher defense/health), Knights of the Sword (offense), Knights of the Rose (grants boons/bonuses to allies due to leadership qualities), Peasant Militia (weak units, high numbers), White/Red Robe Wizards (ranged capabilities, possible special powers), Gnomish Experimental Siege Weapons (very powerful but random effects), Ghostly Allies (can move effortlessly through any terrain, powerful unit).
  • Sample Dragonarmy forces should include Kobold Skirmishers (weak units, high numbers) Baaz Infantry (offense), Kapak Archers (ranged capabilities), Black Robe Wizards (ranged capabilities, possible special powers), undead soldiers (high defense/health), Blue Dragons (can move effortlessly through any terrain, powerful unit).
Closing Thoughts

The Battle of the High Clerist Tower, much like in the book series, is a pivotal moment in the Dragonlance Chronicles. The events should feel fast-paced, the stakes high, and the battles seemingly constant and never-ending (from a thematic standpoint, not actual endless encounters). The journey to the tower along with dungeon-crawling should be de-emphasized in favor of a few core events.

Next time we'll wrap up the Winter saga with Dragons of Deceit, where the party infiltrates the City of Sanction and frees the metallic dragon eggs from the forces of evil!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Slumbering Tsar, Session 3



That day the rest of the party explored the mound, its last guardians a shadowy bear which was incorporeal but could not fly (thus making it susceptible to an extradimensional pit), a skeleton-bearing undead ooze filling up a tunnel, and a group of berserkers-turned-wights. The party discovered that this burial mound was for the great warlord Tark, who fought alongside the Army of Light and managed to turn the battle in their favor when the forces of Tsar sought to dig under the army encampment and burst up from the ground in the middle of the night. Digging up in the middle of the barbarians' tents, it was a terrible disaster...for the devotees of Orcus.

And so even though the mound was made to honor the fallen, even in death does the Desolation's taint spread. After securing some magic items and a ceremonial armor for Alexis, the party headed back to the Camp and sold off their wares for the local iron bits. While selling their wares, the party gathered some information. Arliden heard rumor of an unlucky cursed troupe of merchants wandering the Desolation to this day, as well as a sleeping army beneath the ground who will wake up one day to finish the job of cleansing Tsar. Alexis got word that the local hermit is in fact a vampire who came to town to take back the bar stolen from him by Lucky Bjorc. Finally, rumors of a mysterious midnight peddler, who seems undeterred by the land's many dangers, only sells to people he chooses and those who buy from him are blessed with good luck.

Deciding to pitch a tent and stay the night, the party was awoken when the corpse which hung from the gallows was now up and about, seeking fresh blood. A steady stream of magma and rock  from Nobu rent its soul from its flesh, and soon the party became known as the people who took out the "Hanged Man" who wandered the Camp at night.

Shortly after doing so did the party come to find Griswald, the town's literally ghoulish undertaker, who was oddly well-dressed and polite for a creature of his kind. Grateful for the party "taking care of that local inconvenience" he said that as adventurers they might be interested in a local druidic grove in the Ashen Waste of fellow folk seeking to cleanse the Desolation of its taint. He also mentions that unknown forces have taken an interest in Tsar and are defending its outer walls, the most obvious a huge dragon spotted near the sandpits on the outskirts.


Griswald


Thanking Griswald for this info, the party decides to visit this druidic grove, who found a way to blossom in the middle of a lifeless wasteland. While venturing in the Ashen Wastes the party found evidence of a struggle of a dwarf and human warrior who killed each other, while a third survivor's tracks led northeast, all the way to the grove.

The grove itself was a marvel, a miniature forest with pines as tall as 80 feet and thick undergrowth. After fighting off a pair of dire tigers, the party found a thorny hedge of demon skulls decorated around the entrance. Inside the party came face to face with Skeribar, the local ranger guide from the Camp. He at first claimed ignorance of any recent visitors, but when called on it explained that the woman would not recover and the only merciful option was a quick death. After some clever lies of omission, the party earned the rangers' trust, and he explained how the growth of the grove is supernatural in nature, but requires the blood of the living to flourish. He said that this was a necessary evil, for the grove does manage to hold back the supernatural taint of the Desolation.



The Reclaimers

Skeribar and the newly-arrived druids came out to show the party the specifics of their ritual, which apparently involved gathering the tears from a nearby wooden shrine in the shape of a humanoid face. Nobu recognized the "face" as the head of a stick giant, a symbiotic plant/giant hybrid whose sappy tears where being used to magically accelerate plant growth in even the most barren of environs. Reddish spots on the ground lead to another nearby grove, where Alexis' faerie dragon familiar flew off covertly to investigate.

Warned of the shrine's true nature telepathically, Arliden at first offered and then forced his way into the giants' minds. The creature was capable of sapient thought, but decades of imprisonment and torturous pain rendered him full of hatred and vengeance, uncaring of whether or not his powers were being used for any greater good. "Desolation or no, there will always be wickedness," he said.

As for the other grove, an elven maiden was inside the hollow oak of a large tree, kept in place by a rootlike cage. As the draconic familiar attempted to speak to her, she warned it not to come any closer, for the tree was a trap. At this point the tree came to life with a loud moan, alerting the druids that their grove has been sabotaged, and being none too trusting of the newcomer PCs.

And so our session ended on a cliffhanger.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Northlands Saga, Part Three: Vengeance of the Long Serpent



Half a year after the Siege of the Winter King's Palace, the PCs come to meet the return of Jarl Olaf Henrikson's ship. But those who depart bear injuries and looks of terror and defeat. One of the sailors, a man by the name of Hallbjorn, greets the PCs and tells his tale.

The jarl set sail for new lands in the Far North. When they camped out at the nearest shore, a war party of Ulnat lead by an otherworldly figure was among them. Jarl Henrikson died in the battle; pursuing their attackers for vengeance, Hallbjorn's team discovered a strange name from some Ulnat who also suffered their depravities: Althunak. Sadly, although they tried to fight, the cult of the demon-god was too great, and there must be survivors to spread word back in Silvermeade Hall.

Inga, the next inheritor in line, gave the party her blessings to go and avenge her father's death. Sailing upon her old father's ship with Hallbjorn as navigator, the PCs set sail for the Far North.

The journey was cold and uncomfortable, yet full of adventure: whale hunting, finding a wrecked Jomsviking ship, and two storms (one of which was accompanied by giant enemy crabs!), the PCs lost Hallbjorn during the torrential weather and Vigbjorn was appointed the new ship's leader.

Two days afterwards, the PCs found a lone Ulnat woman adrift at sea by the name of Aluki. Knowing only her native tongue, Syrasi acted as translator, where they discovered their worst fears: the Cult of Althunak is indeed growing in number.



Directing them to her home village of Larquiv, the PCs met with one of their elders and learned that the tribe has dominion over a meteorite-turned-tomb known as Heroes' Rock. With its ample supply of cold iron, it's been coveted by other tribes, as well as containing weapons capable of cutting through demonflesh. Also the Cult of Althunak in the region's being led by an Ulnat man by the name of Elvanti, who departed his tribe out of spurned love and returned south with abyssal minions and unholy powers. Ever since he's been a scourge in the Far North for 10 years.

And so the PCs sailed to Heroes' Rock, intent on proving their worth to gain access to the sacred weapons therein to use against the Cult. The trials within are physical as well as mental, for after fighting a corpse-stitched troll invested with spiders the PCs met face to face with the specters of the Ulnat heroes of old. Askeladden proved their worth by retelling the party's deeds of valor, and as such were lent the magical items necessary to fight the Children of Althunak.

After departing, the PCs decided to go about Ulnataland, liberating villages from the cult's clutches. The first village of Gualivik was right near Heroes' Rock, where cultists were loading up the enslaved tribespeoples' weapons into a wagon and burning the rest. After using a magical distraction, Vigbjorn charged forth in a surprise attack, slaying their leader with one blow. Slaying several more, the cultists were routed and the PCs gained the loyalty of 12 Ulnat warriors in future assaults.

The PCs' next destination was the last camp of the Long Serpent, bearing cairns containing the bodies of Jarl Henrikson and the comrades who fought by his side. Sailing past a razed village, the party found a mysteriously empty igloo village awash with demonic dogs lead by an Althunak shaman. The cry of a nearby baby motivated the heroes to save it before the monsters could get a hold. It was a hard battle, but once again the PCs were victorious.

The party set out to liberate another village, finding a group of elders frozen by Elvanti's curse. Using the fireball wand from Heroes' Rock, Syrasi destroyed the abyssal ice, prompting the wrath of the local cultist and his two demonic allies. The battle was won, and 10 more Ulnaut from the village enlisted their aid. The next village was relocated, tracks in the snow leading west to the temple being built in progress in the middle of a quarry.

Aluki and 39 Ulnat warriors were there to help the PCs, who then formulated a plan. The idea was that Syrasi and Amund, aided by magical flight, would take Askeladden and Vigbjorn down, raining death on the cultists' tents while the Ulnat went down the gravel slope to the northeast to free the slaves.

The plan was quick and precise, the PCs firing arrows and hurling rocks as they landed, with Vigbjorn killing a shaman before he could complete a summons while Syrasi torched the remainders with a fireball. The Ulnat were having about as much success, and quickly the bulk of the cultists' forces were pushed to the large demonic statue of Althunak (a beastly visage of a many-fanged humanoid with an orb in one hand and a sickle in the other). There the two forces encountered the red-robed High Priest, flanked by two more serpentine demons and loyal bodyguards standing atop the stone steps.


Dire Bear by Just Jingles of Deviantart


What at first seemed like an ordinary practitioner of the dark arts turned out to be a werebear, as he changed form and gave Askeladden and Vigbjorn a run for their money. Thanks to some timely hexes from Syrasi and an aerial boulder assault from Amund, the party chipped away, cursed, blinded, and finally killed the high priest, causing the cult's forces to scatter. Feeling emboldened, the slaves took up the arms of the fallen and killed the remaining cultists with the warriors. But the final victory came when the statue of Althunak was brought crashing down. The demon-god's influence would not take root in Ulnataland if they had anything to say about it!

Enriched with loot and a sacred staff from Aluki's elders, the party decided to stay in the region for a bit, at least until the next adventure...



GM's Notes: The Jomsvikings ordinarily do not make an appearance proper until Raven Banners Over Gatland. But they are one of the few recurring villains in Northlands, and they do have a reputation of utterly mercenary and ruthless folks, so I wanted to scatter things like that throughout the campaign as a taste of things to come.

I read that some real-world Inuit tribes made use of meteorite iron to forge metal harpoon tips and tools. And since cold iron is a classic weakness to many demons, I figured that the Cult of Althunak would have a vested interest in trying to subjugate or destroy Laquirv. Hero's Rock was just an ordinary tomb in the original module, but I decided to turn it into a repurposed meteorite containing cold iron, with the legendary weapons gaining said properties too.

The Ulnat scout in the lone kayak in the original adventure is a man by the name of Yilithi. I felt that so far the Northlands had a significant proportion of male NPCs in major roles, so I threw in a woman who would also act as a sort of guide to the Far North to even things up a bit. Given that the players liked her enough to have her on as a Leadership cohort later on, I think I made the right decision.

The Second Temple of Ice and Stone was originally high up on a plateau. I misinterpreted the incline lines on the map to be going down instead of up, but by that point the players were already formulating plans based on this.

There were more demonic monsters than would ordinarily be in the original adventure path. I wanted to add some variety in the encounters beyond cultists and cult shamans with identical stat blocks, and wanted to play up the usefulness of the cold iron weapons.

The use of a fly hex and the party riding on a rock-throwing giant as they descend is one of the things I love about Pathfinder. It adds in great and unorthodox plans like that while still having a variety of enough options that things won't get old. Granted, actual long-term flight is well below the group's level at this point in the campaign.

The Slumbering Tsar Saga, Session 2




After a partial foray into Old Death's lair, the party finishes up camp and makes a second venture. Going further into the canyon, they come across an odd statue garden with a living golem, as well as an insane derro sorcerer and the real Old Death inside the cave proper who ambush the party. True to his name, Old Death was a half-dragon basilisk who can just as easily kill with a lightning breath as his gaze attack, while the derror sorcerer utilized trickery and illusion to make it look like his spells were coming from inanimate statues. After a vicious battle the party's victorious and lays claim to the dungeon's many treasures.

Finishing up, the party decides to head for the Pillars of Chaos, the other realm mentioned by the gargoyles. But before doing that, they come across a pair of troll entrepreneurs by the name of Otis and Lortis operating a winch elevator for folk seeking to delve the rift's lower reaches. Trusting in their spells and athleticism, the party turns down the trolls' offer and makes their way to the Pillars.

Pulsing green electric arcs of pure chaos, an in-depth observation by Alexis notices that a hidden passage up the Pillars leads to Orcus' layer on the Abyss, but little beyond that is known. Deciding not to risk it, the party decides to depart, but not before being attacked by a pair of chaos beasts! Thorgrim's lizard companion is momentarily cursed into a shapeless, but not before it recovers in time thanks to Arliden's help.

After exploring some outer fissures with little to show for it beyond an easy way up, the party makes their trek back to the Camp, but decide to pay a nearby grave mound in the Ashen Wastes a visit. The outer guards of dread ravens and basilisk were trivial, but the huge barrow worms further inside were a tough encounter and even managed to overpower Thorgrim and his companion. Even so, the party's veteran experience saw them through, ready for the horrors beyond.

GM's Thoughts: This was a shorter than usual session, in small part due to the Pillars of Chaos being a bit of a red herring. But overall I more or less played the encounters straight. The barrow worms were a surprise difficulty spike, especially in light of the barrow's other guardians. While such encounters do have a place in many RPGs, in Pathfinder they often feel like temporary speed bumps.