Thursday, August 30, 2012

D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders Session 01

And so a new season of D&D Encounters has started. Like with Web of the Spider Queen, I'll be chronicling the progress of my table's adventure week by week. I am already a fan of drow, but there's a lot I find interesting with this season. The focus of the plot, the shift in scope to the evil side of the pond regarding this overall story about Lolth's Demon Weave, etc. A lot of interesting stuff. The whole three faction divide (Xorlarrin, Melarn and Bregan D'aerthe) gave me flashbacks of the Feywild season of Encounters.

Our table began with a party of five. The complete set of veterans from Web of the Spider Queen minus one who had to drop out due to potentially moving in the near future. He will certainly be missed, he brought a lot of my favorite story developments to last season, but the show must go on. This season seems to have a much more balanced party. They're rolling with a Cleric, Warlock, Mage, Druid and Hunter. The only major problems I see is, again, a lack of a Defender (nor anyone to be the "tank" of sorts) and a certain focus on ranged attacks. I find this funny since last season there was a huge focus towards melee. The party had five Strikers and a Leader. This time there are three Controllers, a Striker and a Leader.

As far as the factions, things were divided up pretty well. Two each for Melarn and Bregan D'aerthe leaving the remaining player as the sole representative of House Xoarlarrin. Taking a page from the Feywild season, which I played in, I used somewhat assigned seating placing each faction to their own side of the table. I think it's a neat punch to emphasize that divide. Yes, the party shares the same overall goal (and I did stress that fact). However, each faction has their own goals as well which they must try to accomplish even to the detriment of the others.

I prepared the secret goals on slips of paper and handed those out when the time came so that every player would be able to remember said goal over the course of Chapter 1. I was a little disappointed with the lack of roleplaying opportunities in the first session. I felt like we had some good moments with the expedition survivors as well as some inter-party conflict at the end. I suppose that feeling might be, in part, because last season had such a strong roleplaying-focused start at the Old Skull Inn.

Everyone seems to have eagerly embraced the Worth mechanic and its impact on roleplaying. When the House Xorlarrin made the go for his secret goal with some less than covert tactics, the two Melarn players picked up on it and quickly used their higher status to back the Xorlarrin Mage into the corner on the matter. In the end, his reactions not only cost him a loss of Worth, but also resulted in the failure of his secret goal. It was certainly an entertaining bit of roleplaying and I look forward to seeing how the player will handle his report of complete failure to Hoshtar at the end of the chapter.

Regardless, enough rambling:

Menzoberranzan is know and feared among even the heartiest folk of the Savage Frontier and the Sword Coast. It may not be the greatest city of the drow in Faerûn, but it might well be the most famous due to its activities in the surface world.

The city is a point of darkness even within the caverns of the Underdark. The dark elves revere the goddess Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. To them, the other people of the Underdark are fit only to be slaves and sacrifices.

Hierarchy and political power mean everything to the nobles of Menzoberranzan. The highest political positions belong to the priestesses of Lolth, who are exclusively female. The ranks of wizards, rogues and warriors are mostly filled by males, who hold a much lower social station. The most powerful male in Menzoberranzan will never wield more political clout than the most powerful female.

In that context, it's sort of amazing that three powerful drow are working together in uniting members of their houses to pursue common goals. Our heroes are all young important drow assigned by their houses to work with this triumvirate. The three drow couldn't be more different. One is a wizard, a cousin of House Wizard Ravel Xorlarrin, named Hoshtar--a mysterious figure who covers his face with a red veil, following the tradition of his house. Then there's Priestess Ash'ala Melarn, third daughter of the first priestess of that house, who's proud and severe like most drow priestesses, draped in her robes of office. Next to these, the third member seems incongruous--a rakish fellow named Ro'kolor, a member of the Bregan D'aerthe.

The word of Lolth commands all drow. Their societies are based on precepts that please the Queen of Spiders. But now Lolth's plans endanger the power structure of Menzoberranzan, and its leaders must decide whether to follow her dictates or cling to the power they have fought and schemed to attain.

For as long as drow societies have existed in their current hierarchy, Lolth has demanded that the priestesses who serve her remain in charge. The male warriors and mages serve her in lower stations, but the priestesses must rule. Just recently, though, Lolth's ambition has made her covet a greater place in the pantheon of deities. She wants to command arcane magic, as the goddess Mystra did before her death and spin a new Demon Weave to replace Mystra's Weave; unraveled during the Spellplague. She has sent a prophet, Danifae Yauntyrr, to all cities of the drow expressing her ambition and commanding her followers to assist her efforts by channeling whatever remains of Mystra's power to Lolth.

Lolth's command threatens to upend the core beliefs of drow society, however, by elevating the wizards who draw on her new Demon Weave to a higher status; perhaps even equal to the priestesses. Will those who profess to follow her stay true to her commands, even if it means abdicating their positions of power? Or will they cling to their status and turn a deaf ear to Lolth's prophet Danifae, perhaps seeking to silence or discredit her? In Menzoberranzan, the social order stands balanced on a knife's edge.

Amid this turmoil, the triple coalition of House Xorlarrin, House Melarn and the Bregan D'aerthe have gathered a party and ordered them to meet in a small cavern at the Eastways, which lead out of Menzoberranzan, to recieve an important task...

1) Zarra Melarn: A high ranking Priestess of Lolth among House Melarn. A devout follower of Lolth who makes full use of her position of power within Menzoberranzan to enforce the Ways of the Spider Queen.

2) Zaketrin Melarn: A Warlock of House Melarn that supports their strict enforcement of Lolth's command. Born a male, to much shame of his parents, after being disowned by his mother Zaketrin began masquerading as a woman. This was a means to secure more power among Menzoberranzan society. Fiercely devoted, he desires to eradicate all enemies to Lolth's will.

3) Phaeqel Xorlarrin: A well respected Mage among House Xorlarrin. Hailing from a long line of charismatic individuals, Phaeqel acts as a diplomat dealing with inter-House matters. He also negotiates various deals in the many power plays that take place within Menzoberranzan.

4) Solvayas: A Druid abandoned in his youth and raised among the Bregan D'aerthe. Naturally gifted towards mastering Primal power, he opted to take upon the form of the spider when wildshaping due to its close ties their race.

5) Eowam: A Hunter and long time member of the Bregan D'aerthe. He specializes in operations deep in the Underdark and even beyond at the surface. As such, he has seen much more of the world than the rest of the party.

-Menzoberranzan: Also known as the City of Spiders; it is a gigantic underground drow city-state. It is located in the Upper Northdark, about 2 miles below the Surbrin Valley, between the Moonwood and the Frost Hills. Menzoberra the Kinless, a powerful priestess of Lolth, founded the city that bears her name in -3917 DR. By the wishes of Lady Lolth, she led seven drow families into the Northdark from the city of Golothaer, one of the southerly drow holdings of Great Bhaerynden. Their goal was to escape from the constant cycle of violence and death that so plagued that city. Lolth aided them on their journey directly, but only when it seemed like all hope was lost. After battling several of the Underdark's natives, they slew a bindip in -3917 DR that claimed a huge natural cave as its lair. The surviving drow took up residence in this cave, naming it after their leader.

The drow families, having no immediate external enemy, fell to attacking and undermining one another, exactly what they had hoped to escape, to the greater glory of their evil goddess, who loved chaos. The city's internal machinations and power struggles continued unabated for millennia. The Houses that grow weak were destroyed, and newer Houses rose up to find Lolth's favor. The full history of each House would constitute a nearly endless logbook of treachery, spite, and unceasing ambition.

-Fardrimm: The Fardrimm is a tunnel network in the Underdark connecting the North and the areas beneath Anauroch.

-Sezz'ia: An outpost in the Fardrimm created by House Shobalar. It was used as a site to conduct arcane research and holds an altar of great power; theorized to stem from an ancient primordial.

-Lolth: The Queen of Spiders or Queen of the Demonweb Pits, is the goddess of the drow, a chaotic evil deity who revels in chaos. She patterns her life and the lives of her worshipers on a regimen of chaotic acts and the veneration of spiders. The way that new-born spider broods tear each other apart to survive especially appeals to her. She promotes this by encouraging her worshipers to kill their rivals, thus ensuring that they are the strongest of the 'brood'. Her love of chaos often makes her appear mad but the wise see her as a calculating individual who is always several steps ahead of those who believe that they can anticipate her. She is cruel and domineering, forcing her will upon her followers and her enemies, a will which instructs the strong to crush the weak in the most torturous way imaginable. Since the Spellplague, Lolth has set her sights on replacing Mystra as the master of arcane power.

-House Xorlarrin: The third drow house of Menzoberranzan. The nobles of House Xorlarrin wear masks and loose clothes to conceal their identities and genders. These paranoid wizards possess the strongest magical ability of all the houses and those who can't perform arcane magic don't live to adulthood. House Xorlarrin is dedicated to aiding Lolth in the creation of the Demon Weave.

-House Melarn: The seventh drow house of Menzoberranzan. The priestesses of House Melarn have appointed themselves the inquisitors of Lolth, rooting out any secret betrayal of the Way of Lolth or the worship of other deities among the members of other nble houses. Melarn is a militant house, led by their priestesses, ready to repel an attack from other houses--most of which despise the overzealous and self-righteous Melarn priestesses. House Melarn's primary concern is ensuring that Lolth's will is enacted at any cost.

-Bregan D'aerthe: This mercenary company, led by Jarlaxle Baenre, operates outside the law and works for the highest bidder. It's not a noble house, but rather a federation of assassins and spies whose members are in it for the money. Bregan D'aerthe is a wild card and it might end up on either side of the conflict.

-House Shobalar: A former drow house of Menzoberranzan. It was uncharacteristically reclusive, even by Menzoberranzan standards. Their house guard was made up of magically bred giant spiders. They were rumored to have dealings with arcane studies that ran counter to the Ways of Lolth. They were exterminated a century ago during a war.

-House Faen Tlabbar: A well respected drow house of Menzoberranzan. They are known to frequently act as allies to House Xorlarrin along with House Baenre.

-Thezz Tlabbar: One of the survivors from the original expedition party; along with Priestess Myaral Tlabbar who instructed him to act as her representative due to her injuries. He revealed to the party the treachery that brought ruin to the first expedition and was given the means to return to Menzoberranzan and get Myaral to safety.

-Iyelle Tlabbar: A Priestess of House Faen Tlabbar who betrayed the first expedition party. After baiting them into an attack by cave fishers, Iyelle attacked the group and then stole the components for the ritual they had been sent to carry out. It seemed that her intention was to prevent any survivors for completing their goal. However, her motives remain unknown.

Chapter 1

Session 01: Survivors
-Priestess Ash'ala Melarn, Hoshtar Xorlarrin and Ro'kolor of Bregan D'aerthe, representatives of the triumvirate of forces working together in Menzoberranzan, gathered in a small cavern in the Eastways that lead out of the city. There they met five drow who they had summoned from their respective factions; gathered to form a party tasked with carrying out a specific task.

-The trio mentioned House Shobalar who were wiped out during a war over a century ago; punished for distorting the Way of Lolth through elevating the arcane arts among their women over priesthood. Before the war, House Shobalar maintained a small outpost called Sezz'ia where they conducted arcane research. However, Sezz'ia has been lost for a hundred years and the tunnel leading to it sealed off.

-The trio tasked the party with finding Sezz'ia by heading into a region known as the Fardrimm. They explained that one expedition had already been sent to discover it; composed of members from House Faen Tlabbar. However, they had not returned. The party's goals would be two-fold. First, to follow the path of the original expedition group and learn what happened to them. Ash'ala seemed to fear that House Tlabbar's intentions might not be supporting Lolth's will. Second, the party was to locate the altar in Sezz'ia and drain its energy for the Spider Queen's new Demon Weave.

-Hosthar granted Phaeqel a scroll containing the ritual that would drain the altar. Ash'ala further explained that they suspected the energy came from an ancient primordial. Thus, its power will be very potent. There would certainly be danger, but the benefit to Lolth easily outweighed the risk.

-Before departing, ever cautious about a new mission, Eowam and Solvayas questioned about what to expect along the path. Ro'kolor warned the group that many foul creatures of the Underdark would likely lurk the area; not to mention other races that were unfriendly to the drow.

-As the party began to prepare their gear, the three leaders took a moment to speak to their representatives in private. Ash'ala to Zarra and Zaketrin, Ro'kolor to Solvayas and Eowam and finally Hoshtar to Phaeqel. To each, these three granted another task. A matter to be kept secret from the other two factions and that served only their group's own interests.

-With the party ready, Ro'kolor guided the party to the end of the Eastways and pointed them in the right direction before partying ways. The tunnel leading on hadn't seen use in decades; beyond the previous expedition party. After running straight for awhile, the tunnel began to wind, rise and fall. The first day of travel passed without incident. As the party camped for the night, they saw signs of a campsite made by the previous expedition. However, no clear signs of their fate could be discovered. The rest was uneasy as each faction held suspicion about the other.

-Early on the second day, the tunnel widened into a two-tiered cavern. Here, the party encountered cave fishers roaming freely. To make matters worse, the main path through the center of the room was blocked by a large acidic ochre jelly. Strewn about were signs of battle and several dead drow; the expedition party. Trails of blood led on beyond sight and the party realized they would need to make their way across to continue their investigation.

-The battle was fierce as the ochre jelly overwhelmed the party. It quickly injured Solvayas who only ran into more trouble as he tried to retreat to safety. From the ceiling, a hidden cave fisher angler struck out grasping Solvayas and dragging him beyond range for Zarra to offer any support.

-Meanwhile, Zaketrin and Eowam kept their distance slinging curses and arrows respectively as they fought back the horde of monsters. Phaeqel seemed to stumble across his spells mixing up words here and there, but supported the party when possible; even through ordering his Mage Hand to chuck a rock and knock one of the cave fisher's unconscious.

-Eventually, the party managed to slay all the monsters without any major injuries occurring. At the back area of the cavern, blood trails clearly headed on down a path showing the direction the expedition party's survivors must have taken. Following these signals, Eowam led the group to another nearby cavern.

-There, they discovered the few remaining survivors of the first expedition who were gravely injured. One, in better shape than the rest but in no means well enough to fight, rose to speak introducing himself as Thezz Tlabbar. Initially, he questioned who they were. Zarra, however, quickly stated who she was and realizing her status Thezz granted her the respect a Priestess of Lolth demanded.

-Thezz then introduced the expedition's leader: Myaral Tlabbar, a Priestess of House Tlabbar. However, she had been badly burned by the ochre jelly and had become permanently blind. In her injured and weakened state, she had appointed Thezz to speak on her behalf. Thezz then identified the other body with them: Guannerrae Tlabbar, a spellcaster who had already succumbed to his wounds. Thezz went on to state that the party ran afoul of the monsters because another Priestess in their group betrayed them.

-Solvayas questioned about this traitor and Thezz explained that her name was Iyelle Tlabbar. She was not well known among House Tlabbar; even for a Priestess. During her betrayal, she stole the components needed to perform the ritual; ensuring that any survivors could not carry on and complete the mission.

-As the party mulled over what to do, Phaeqel whispered something to Thezz. Noticing this, the rest of the party listened in easily overhearing the exhcange. It seemed Phaeqel was interested in a letter that one of the members in the expedition group was carrying. Thezz had replied that Guannerrae carried a letter. He had discovered it after his death, but had not bothered checking the contents.

-Phaeqel retrieved the letter. This action prompted suspicion from Zaketrin who then asked about the contents of the letter. Phaeqel remarked that it was of no importance. Zaketrin retorted that it would be for the best if Zarra were to see the contents of the letter. Realizing he had already been trapped, Phaequel defiantly refused. Convinced something was afoot, Zarra demanded that Phaeqel relinquish the letter to her.

-However, Phaeqel once again refused. Zarra reminded the Mage of his place in Menzoberranzan and that no man defied a Priestess of Lolth. Zaketrin added pressure to the matter stating that they would take it by force if needed. Solvayas and Eowam remained out of the matter since there was no benefit in supporting either side.

-Coming under such pressure, Phaeqel quickly weaved a spell igniting the letter on fire and burning it into ash. Though it had been his secretly appointed task to retrieve this letter (avoid reading it) and return it to Hoshtar when the party was back in Menzoberranan, Phaeqel felt it best to obliterate the message before allowing it to fall into the hands of House Melarn. Despite clear tension, the matter was dropped with the destruction of the letter.

-Thezz desired to return to Menzoberranzan and take Myaral so that she might be treated. However, they were very weak. Utilizing one of his rituals, Solvayas transferred some life force to each of them which allowed Zarra to mend some of their wounds; as a sign of respect between fellow Priestesses. Zarra could not accept a Priestess betraying Lolth's will and thus felt it fitting to unwind some of the problems she had caused. Solvayas and Eowam were quick to remind them, however, that they owed the Bregan D'aerthe a favor down the line.

-As they parted ways, the party continued on through winding paths that led past old mine shafts abandoned centuries ago. Old ruts in the floor showed the passage of mine carts and scrapes on the wall suggested that this part of the tunnel once saw heavy use.

-Suddenly, rocks crashed to the ground behind the party sealing off the path. Svirfneblin rushed out of the old tunnels. It was an ambush!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mecha: Introductory Arc

It's been awhile since an update. Long story short, things got busy. I am back in full swing with the fall semester for grad school and have been spending a lot of time focusing on some RPG related projects. Things might get a lot slower on here, but I still want to keep sharing my passion for roleplaying games. At worst, there will just be my weekly summaries for Encounters (new season starts this week, very excited). The store campaign of DCC has become a bit derailed. I had scheduled "People of the Pit" to run a few weeks ago, but a super low turn-out caused it to be delayed. I'll be trying to get back around to it sometime in September.

In any case, I ran a demo of Mecha two weekends ago at the FLGS because I knew a lot of our regulars either had other obligations or were at Gen-Con. I used the same scenario that I had developed for the short-lived play by post game I tried (expanded to some degree since then with more named NPC's). It's a Gaiden (side story) to the anime Gundam SEED Destiny. Anyone reading this that's familiar with the Gundam franchise might balk at that because Destiny was never well received. Call me some crazy super fan, but I tend to enjoy and find the good in every iteration of Gundam. I thought Destiny would be a fun setting to place a side-story in, however, because it has a wealth of MSV that come from model kits or various magazines/books. So I decided to place focus on mecha used there with a story that runs parallel to the actual anime moving away from its plot and focus.

It got started much later than planned so they only had time to get through two full episodes (further than the forum game got) after character creation and going over rules. I had three players:

1) Drax: A "Gearhead" who was a cadet in training that loved to tinker with mobile suits. His goal was to learn more about Gundams and eventually design his own.

2) Crim: A "Reformed Criminal" who had been arrested in one of the PLANTs for trying to rob an armored car. He claimed this was just to pay for expensive operations for his sick sister. Has been put into a special leave program where he acts as a MS Pilot in exchange for earning time off his sentence. He hopes to prove he's "changed his ways."

3) Takuya: An "Accidental Hero" who lives life peacefully as a high school student with little cares or worry about the war that has transpired or the potential for another. His parents are both important scientists working on the development of the "New Millennium" Initiative's Gundams. (To cater to the Archetype picked, I actually started this player not folded into the party at the start)

The previous weekend, I had the pleasure of playing in a demo of the game Obsidian: The Age of Judgement. It was interesting, reminded me a lot of the game series Fallout though with a more supernatural bent in focus. Afterwards, the three players for Mecha were present and I happened to have the material with me. So we had the one new person present create a character and join in to try it out as well. Crim's player wanted to make someone else (after the events of Episode 2, which you'll see below). I allowed him to do so in exchange for turning Crim over as a GM NPC. The two new characters appearing in Episode 3 are:

4) Zak: A "Spec Ops Commando" who is a member of the ZAFT Special Forces ready to seek honor among the battlefield, hoping to one day face off against another skilled pilot in a one on one duel.

5) Kanji: A "Jaded Veteran" who is an older ace mobile suit pilot who held an impressive record from the previous war. However, the horrors of war weighed heavily on this gruff old pilot's heart and he had taken to drinking quite frequently.

All in all I had a fun time at both sessions. Everyone loved the use of music in the game. Playing an opening before each episode as time to decide on your Character Scenes and having BGM themes for combat really got a great reception. We all got to going over Crim's use of the Assassin Configuration in the second battle to the point we couldn't stop laughing about it (and the player earned an Advancement Point for it).

I went a bit over the top narrating it, but it was funny despite being counter-productive to his concept. I also got cracked up by the pseudo-potential romance between Crim and Romary that had been running like a train wreck through Episode 1 and 2 and solely spawned by the roll of the dice. In Episode 3, with the exchange of Crim into a story NPC, this plotline took a much darker turn.

On the mechanics side, I was pretty impressed. Once you get the rules down the game plays incredibly fast. We never had any Cutscenes at either session, but Drax's player was wracking up the Overdrive through great successes. My only real slip up was that in the first session the GINN's were way too weak for the party. I bumped them up some in Episode 2, but it still wasn't there. Episode 3 was meant to be a very tough "boss fight" level ordeal and I was able to bring the pain. With the enemy now having three major antagonists (their leader, the Proto-Chaos and a certain new addition from the end of Episode 3) that are statted up like proper characters, I have a feeling battles would become even more interesting.

The players asked for more, but I don't know when that will be. To be honest, I really loved playing Mecha. I am ridiculously biased by my love for mecha anime, but the game really is unique and incredibly fun to play. I wouldn't mind going from the end of Episode 3 into a full on regular campaign continuing the story of the Galileo and its crew. Who knows. But enough commentary from me, here's what went down:

Episode 01: The Ghost of ZAFT
Cosmic Era 73

Two years have passed since the end of the Bloody Valentine War. The peace treaty signed after the Battle of Yachin Due ushered in an era of tense peace. However, the threat of extreme philosophies like that of Blue Cosmos and former Supreme Council Chairman Patrick Zala remains ever present. Safe to say little has actually changed.

During a launch ceremony at ZAFT's Armory One PLANT for the new battleship Minerva an attack was launched by an unknown force. Elite special forces ambushed the mobile suit facility. During this raid new experimental Gundam-type mobile suits the Chaos, Gaia and Abyss were stolen. The suits escaped aboard a mirage-colloid cloaked Earth Alliance warship hidden outside Armory One. Amid tense confusion about the situation, the Minerva was launched to pursue and reclaim the stolen mobile suits.

However, ZAFT's problems are only beginning. Numerous reports have been filing in regarding military transports between the PLANT's and ZAFT's various space-located bases being raided and having their supplies stolen. Fearing this might be a new declaration of war, council chairman Gilbert Durandal orders a squad to be formed to investigate the situation and gather more information so the proper course may be taken.

Assigned to the Nazca-class ship Galileo, an experimental test-type squad was ordered to depart from Armory One tasked with escorting a transport ship delivering supplies to the asteroid fortress Boaz. An ongoing secondary goal of this squad was to test new or experimental mobile suit technology so that data could be gathered and sent back to help bolster ZAFT's research. Crim and Drax were joining the crew of the Galileo for this purpose. Both had acted as test pilots for ZAFT's newest line of mobile suits. The higher ups intended for Crim to use this mission as a chance to earn time off his sentence for good behavior.  Meanwhile, Takuya was aboard the transport along with his parents because they were being transferred to Boaz to over see some projects.

While navigating the Galileo and learning where everything was, Crim bumped into Cadet Romary Regal; the Galileo's Operator. Romary seemed nervous because this was her first official assignment after graduating from military academy. Crim responded by insulting her about her pink hair and asking why she thought it looked nice. Romary was insulted at the gesture and stormed off feeling upset.

Next, Drax was feeling uneasy about the chance for combat and his first real sortie outside of simulation. So he decided to run more simulations and go over the specs for their Zaku Warriors. After some study, he was able to understand a great deal about how the Zaku performed in combat and how they could be use formations to their advantage.

Finally,  Takuya was killing time aboard the transport. He decided to leave their private cabin while his parents were on the bridge with the Captain and headed to explore the ship. Along the way, he literally bumped into a mysterious guy about his age wearing civilian clothes and who had half his face covered by messy black hair. After apologizing and introducing themselves the two got to talking. The boy's name was apparently Seiji. He seemed oddly nervous and urged Takuya to go back to his room because it was dangerous for normal people to be wandering around like this. He then mentioned he had heard rumors about transport attacks circling among the ship's crew.

Worried about the ominous rumor, Takuya parted ways on friendly terms and moved to peek a look at the MS being transported on the mobile suit deck. No sooner had this happened, the ship lurched as an explosion rocketed its frame. The sole path back had become engulfed in flames. Meanwhile, the Galileo went into a scramble to launch its mobile suits as hostiles had been sighted. Crim and Drax met Lt. Hiro Tsukasa; their squad leader. After launching, Hiro departed to deal with the one who seemed to be the leader and charged Crim and Drax to defend the transport. The enemy mobile suits were utilizing old ZAFT models: the GINN. However, their leader was piloting a more advanced upgrade: the GINN High Mobility Type II.

Inside the transport, Takuya used a nearby panel to radio the bridge. Realizing the situation was dire, the Captain ordered Takuya to commandeer one of the Zaku and use it to fly directly to the Galileo and let them guide him through docking. Worried, Takuya asked about his parents and the Captain gave them a moment to speak before mentioning he would ensure they made their way to escape vessels. Nervous, Takuya boarded the Zaku and departed.

The battle was very short lived. Crim and Drax were easily overpowering the attacking GINNs thanks to superior technology. While they held in the fight, Drax ended up taking a position near the transport and managed to fend off the attacking squad. Then, just as Takuya had gotten near the Galileo, explosions tore apart the transport as a mysterious mobile armor cut its way out. Lt. Tsukasa identified it as the Proto-Chaos: an experimental test-type for developing the mechanics and weaponry of the Chaos Gundam's mobile armor mode. Releasing its mobile weapon pods, the Proto-Chaos unleashed a full on beam spam utterly destroying the transport and killing everyone aboard.

Takuya went into shock from seeing his parents perish right before his eyes and as they pulled back, Crim and Drax were ordered to retrieve his Zaku and bring it aboard. Without his parents, Takuya was forced aboard the Galileo while said ship came to a halt at the edge of the nearby asteroid field through which the escaping MS team and Proto-Chaos had retreated into.

In the aftermath, one pilot had been captured but he refused to talk only telling those aboard to kill him. Drax also went out afterwards and salvaged parts from the MS wreckage. Who were these mysterious foes that raided ZAFT transports using ZAFT weaponry? And what would Takuya do now without his parents and stranded aboard a warship?

Episode 02: Pursuit into the Asteroid Field
A day had passed. The Galileo remained stuck at the edge of the asteroid field while the ship's Captain conferred back to Armory One for directions on how to proceed with their investigative survey. Takuya spent his time brooding alone in his room. He had asked Drax for a copy of the combat footage of the previous battle. In a dead stupor, he continually watched the fight and ensuing explosion that killed his parents. Though he did not have the emotive thoughts to process it, he began to understand a bit more about the enemy squad and their standard formations.

Drax had spent much of the last day in the mobile suit hangar going over everyone's machine and making sure they were in top working order. As he worked, Lt. Tsukasa approached desiring to talk. Drax immediately led the conversation asking why the Squad Leader's Zaku was so different looking and Tsukasa explained that he piloted a Zaku Phantom; a command-type variant for squad-leaders and higher ranking officers. Excitedly, Drax requested to see the specs and Tsukasa agreed to ensure he'd get access to the files aboard the Galileo's computer.

Laughing, Tsukasa remarked that Drax seemed very at home working with mobile suits. This sent Drax into a rampaging rant about various aspects of mobile suit design and his goals clearly showing his nigh-otaku level interest. Changing subjects, Tsukasa wanted to discuss the potential motives of the enemy pilots. He remarked that it was odd they were using outdated GINN's. If it had been the Alliance trying to stir war, it was clear that they had stronger forces based on the Armory One attack. Still, the pilots seemed quite skilled.

Drax apologized stating he had little knowledge of combat tactics or understanding such motivations. Unable to understand the deeper conversation Tsukasa wished to have, Drax bid his Squad Leader goodbye and returned to his work. Disappointed, Lt. Tsukasa wandered off shaking his head slowly.

Finally, Crim happened upon Romary again while leaving the ship's mess hall. Initially he apologized for insulting her hair and it was clear the girl was still apprehensive about him. Coming forward herself, she remarked that she had been frightened during the last battle, but that she was glad the pilots all got back okay. She went on to add she was glad Crim returned too despite what she had learned; it seemed the ship's computer detailed Crim's criminal past. Crim tried to vaguely explain how he didn't have a choice and that sometimes people were forced to do desperate things. However, his musing were too vague and Romary wasn't able to really understand his true feelings. Still unsure around him, Romary excused herself.

Just then, the pilots along with Takuya were ordered to report to the briefing room. There they found Tsukasa and also met Captain Meyers who oversaw the Galileo. Meyers apologized for not making a formal introduction sooner. Displaying a map of the asteroid field, Tsukasa began to go over the current situation. They had unknown enemies using ZAFT mobile suits to attack and steal supplies off transports. This time they had made their biggest heist yet: the Proto-Chaos.

Armory One had upgraded the Galileo's task to be top priority on identifying these terrorists; particularly if they were in league with the Alliance or such rogue groups as the Blue Cosmos. Second to this, the group was to retrieve (or failing all possible means of doing so destroy) the Proto-Chaos. After going over some other data for the area, Tsukasa put forth that the squad had to have a ship they were launching from due to the lack of activity in the area.

Noting that the asteroid field saw little traffic because it was usually easier and faster to cut around, he suggested that hiding the ship within seemed the most likely possibility. Thus, the Captain ordered the MS Squad be sent in to investigate. Tsukasa then added that he would like it if Takuya would join them.

Takuya instantly opposed this suggestion bringing up the fact that he was a civilian. The Captain confirmed that they were short-handed, especially in the face of their current situation, so even one more pilot would help. However, he didn't feel right asking a high school kid to become a pilot. Takuya added to this stating that he had no formal training. However, Tsukasa countered saying that he had seen him flying the Zaku in their previous battle just as well, if not better, than some cadets he had trained.

With a malicious grin, Tsukasa reminded Takuya that the people they were after also happened to be responsible for killing the boy's parents. However, this brought only brooding silence. Not wanting to belabor the point, Tsukasa ordered everyone to suit up and meet at the hangar leaving Takuya behind. As he left, the Captain put a comforting hand on Takuya's shoulder and assured him that if he didn't want to fight, he did not have to. However, there was no way currently to send him back to the PLANTs. Until the opportune time came, the Galileo would be his home. He added that it was clear Takuya had a knack for piloting; if something happened to their three pilots he might be the only one they could rely on like it or not. As this truth sank in, Takuya decided to fight on the agreement that Lt. Tsukasa would watch his back and make sure to have him pull out in time if things got too rough.

Later, the MS team launched with Takuya in tow. As they explored the asteroid field they eventually came upon another Nazca-class ship. They had but a moment to signal the Galileo before the mysterious vessel began to launch its own squad of five GINN's (outnumbering the Galileo crew) led by the High Mobility Type II. Lt. Tsukasa broke away again to tie up their leader and urged the three pilots to try and secure the ship, if possible.

The battle was harsh, a single GINN singled out Takuya and he quickly discovered surprising talent at piloting as he dodged attacks time and again eventually ramming the GINN so hard some of the shoulder armor broke apart. As they continued to clash virtually hand to hand, despite the inefficient nature of the combat, the pilot hailed Takuya. It seemed to be a younger man's voice and he questioned why someone who seemed to pilot like they had no training was on the battlefield. Takuya asked back who he was speaking to and they commented that someone like him had no place on a battlefield. Takuya pushed for the pilot to identify himself, however, he then broke away from combat and vanished into the asteroid field. Drax rushed the Nazca-class but then quickly got overwhelmed as three GINN ganged up on him blowing off one leg despite his expert dodging. His counter-fire managed to drop two units.

Crim's actions, however, shocked the party. Charging past one GINN, Crim leveled his beam tomahawk to cleave apart the mobile suit at its cockpit granting him his first sound from these mysterious terrorists: screams of terror before instant death. Then, moving to another GINN, Crim slammed his Zaku's hand into the cockpit gravely wounding the pilot as he began hear screams and pleading for mercy. Without falter, Crim had the Zaku clench its fist brutally murdering the pilot before kicking away the GINN to explode in defeat.

Taking advantage of Crim's rampage, Drax managed to sneak around and ambush the bridge of the Nazca-class. Pointing his beam rifle directly at the bridge, Drax hailed the Captain demanding they surrender. Moments later, terms of surrender had been granted. This prompted their Squad Leader and remaining mobile suit to break away and retreat in varying directions. The Proto-Chaos, unless it rested on board, was nowhere to be seen.

As the Galileo moved in, work began to secure the captured Nazca-class and explorations were launched while its crew was gathered to be taken to the Galileo's brig for holding and questioning. Though shaken, Takuya survived. Tsukasa complimented the boy stating that he knew from the first second he saw him escape the transport that he would be a natural at piloting. Crim, haunted by the ghosts of his past having lost himself to bloodlust in the battle, retreated to be alone in his private quarters. Drax, meanwhile, salvaged the battlefield once more collecting more mobile suit parts.

What would be learned from the mystery ship? Who was behind these thefts and attacks? And what would become of Takuya; forced to fight against his will for survival?

Episode 03: Counterattack
As the Galileo took time to begin exploring the enemy Nazca-Class ship and question its crew, a supply transport made a rendezvous with them as well. Captain Meyers had sent back a request for additional support when he contacted Armory One after seeing that the enemy had stolen the Proto-Chaos. Along with this transport came two new pilots: Zak (a ZAFT Special Forces member) and Kanji (one of the earliest mobile suit pilots and a decorated veteran of the Bloody Valentine War).

Aside from their Zaku Warriors, the transport also brought along a complete compliment of Wizard Packs; much needed strength if they were to continue pursuit of the Proto-Chaos. As things were being transferred and machine repaired, Takuya made his way to the mess hall still carrying heavy doubts about the idea of piloting a mobile suit. There, he bumped into Romary who seemed to be cooking at a large pot. She remarked that she was happy Takuya had come back from the battle unharmed. When questioning what she was doing, Romary explained that before being deployed her older sister was teaching her how to cook. They hadn't progressed very far and she didn't know when they would return so she was hoping to practice on her own.

Gazing into the pot, Takuya noted a foul purple ooze that seemed to have a deathly stench raise off of it. Romary asked Takuya to try out her cooking and reluctantly, not wanting to upset her feelings, the boy agreed. However, one taste was more than enough for the poisonous food to take effect. Holding back the urge to hurl, a very sick Takuya stumbled out and began to limp towards his room as Romary sighed with frustration.

As Takuya left, he passed by Zak who was currently exploring the ship. Zak wondered what was wrong with the kid but thought it best not to bother him. Wandering into the mess hall, Zak met and made friends with Romary. Ultimately, she offered Zak a chance to try her cooking as well. Not wanting to be rude at first meeting, Zak agreed and also sampled her terrible cooking. Falling prey to the same effects as Takuya, Zak began to stumble out and seek the medical bay. Romary shed an upset tear wondering why neither had enjoyed the cooking she poured her heart and soul into.

Elsewhere, Drax wasin the mobile suit hangar. Drax was working away as hard as possible repairing the damage made on his Zaku in the previous battle. With hard work and determination, along with his natural talent for mobile suit repair, Drax managed to get his machine back in tip top shape. Amid the chaos and hustle of the hangar, Drax couldn't help but feel right at home. As he studied the design plans of the Wizard Packs, his mind wandered to that of the Gundam-type mobile suits. He recounted once more, to several of the mechanics, how it was his dream to one day build his own Gundam.

Crim, after his murderous rampage last battle, remained an unknown presence on the ship having locked himself away inside his room. The crew of the Galileo couldn't be sure, but it seemed the former criminal was hiding something. He claimed innocence, but the brutality displayed in battle seemed to suggest otherwise. Finally, Kanji had made his way to the mess hall looking for a chance to drink. When entering, he noted a young girl (Romary) dumping out a large cooking pot. Moving on, he found a small side chamber where a rack of various wines were held. There, he met Captain Meyers who was having a quite drink alone.

Realizing that Kanji was a fellow old-soul, Meyers invited the pilot to sit and have a drink with him. They passed quite some time knocking back drinks and trading war stories. As the bottle became empty, Kanji realized he had found a kindred spirit in the Captain and Meyers remarked that he was glad to have someone like Kanji aboard the Galileo's MS team. He asked him to watch over the other pilots; particularly the younger ones like Drax. Kanji departed back to the hangar to see how his Zaku Warrior was doing, while Captain Meyers made his way to reassume command at the ship's bridge.

An hour or so later, alarms began to go off. Captain Meyers reported across the ship for the MS Team to launch; the Galileo was under attack. It seemed their mysterious enemy desired to attack the ship in retaliation for capturing their comrades. The Wizard Packs were still being unloaded so it was impossible to make use of them in this conflict. As everybody scrambled to launch Takuya stayed behind in his room, much to Lt. Tsukasa's disappointment, brooding about the recent loss of his parents and the experience of the previous battle. Once the team was fully deployed, orders were laid out. Lt. Tsukasa and Crim would hang back to defend the Galileo. The rest of the team was to head forward and engage the enemy trying their best to draw fire away from the ship.

The enemy squad of GINN's was once more led by the mysterious High Mobility Type II; though Proto-Chaos was nowhere to be seen. As the pilots flew into battle, they were quickly overwhelmed. It seemed these new pilots were much more skilled than the previous forces. To make matters worse, without Lt. Tsukasa locking up their leader, the GINN High Mobility Type II was a force to be reckoned with. No matter how they tried, none of the pilots could land a single shot on his machine; earning the GINN worthy of its title.

Realizing they were overwhelmed, Drax contacted the Galileo asking for any kind of support at all. However, Captain Meyers revealed that the bridge crew was dealing with their own problem. Romary had mysteriously vanished. She never turned up at the bridge when the alarms sounded and nobody could find her despite crewmen going all over the ship and searching every room. Despite worrying for her safety, Drax did his best to keep fighting as is.

The battle became even more grim over time. Though several GINN's were downed, everybody fighting had taken heavy damage. It took everything Kanji had just to fend off the enemy leader from getting close to the Galileo; even with support fire from Crim and Lt. Tsukasa. The enemy leader contacted Kanji stressing that amateurs had no place on the battlefield. Though curious about who was speaking, Kanji remained silent refusing to let himself be toyed with by the enemy's words.

Eventually, fighting tooth and nail, the Galileo's team managed to scale the enemy force down to its leader and two GINN's. With victory in sight, a cruel twist occurred. Crim, who had remained silent most of the battle, suddenly hailed the Galileo and its MS team. The video screen held a horrifying sight. Within the cockpit of his Zaku Warrior, Crim had Romary gagged and bound with a pistol placed against the side of her head.

Crim demanded that the Galileo's team stand down and allow the enemy mobile suits to escape combat. Laughing maniacally, Crim apologized to the Galileo noting that he had simply been given a better offer than ZAFT's probationary piloting agreement. He went on to add that "this foolish girl" wouldn't leave him alone, so he intended to use her a collateral for the time being. Romary's eyes were filled with tears of fear causing deep frustration in the pilots as they realized how scared she must be.

Accepting defeat, Captain Meyers ordered everyone to stand down and return to the Galileo. Laughing at his accomplishment, Crim joined the enemy suits and departed with them; taking Romary along. In the MS hangar, the team's frustration was apparent. As soon as he exited his Zaku Phantom, Lt. Tsukasa removed his helmet and chucked it full force against one of the walls as he screamed in rage. Likewise, Drax punched the nearest wall angered that he couldn't do anything to save the innocent Romary.

Crim had betrayed the Galileo and now the ship's cheerful operator Romary Regal had been kidnapped. Still, the crew of the Galileo were unsure exactly who their enemy was and what their goal happened to be. What would become of their mission?

And what of Romary?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen Session 13

All good things must come to an end. Going into the final session of "Web of the Spider Queen" I couldn't help but feel a little sad. Over the last 13 weeks, I've become quite attached to this very mismatched (both in roles and personality) rag-tag group of heroes. So tonight I broke out my Gamescience dice and told everyone to go all out against Valan Jaelre because this was our finale.

Things went well overall. Halvar's player didn't return so I knew it would be an uphill battle. I read over some discussion about the session at the official 4e forums. The general things I picked up on were issues I had noticed myself. Primarily, that there was no mechanical benefit for reforging the Pendant of Ashaba during the battle and the fact that the party could easily be pinned at the steps by the driders and Valan's web miasma. The party was unlucky with initiative and got pinned exactly so. To off-set their disadvantages and let any other outcome besides TPK be a possibility, I planned to give them a big boon if they went through the steps to reforge the pendant.

Luckily, the players followed that hook and with those bonuses they were able to pull out a victory without losing anyone; though they certainly earned the win even with a little mercy from the DM's side. We had another epic betrayal from Daveak which led to some interesting results; I don't even want to spoil it so I'll let the summary speak for itself. I think we spent almost as much time on roleplaying the little Epilogue scenes as the battle; and I loved every minute of it. Though one season comes to an end, in two weeks the second part of this trilogy will kick hope. I'm going to give it the same treatment I did this season and hopefully things will turn out just as entertaining for all sides of the table.

Session 13: Showdown
-Even as Valan awaited a reply from the party, Harbek heard a familiar voice as Elminster contacted him once again through a Sending ritual. Concerned for Shadowdale's situation, Elminster questioned where the party was, if they needed help and what the status was on the Pendant; stressing that only Shadowdale's protective ward could turn the tide of the siege. Harbek returned a message that they had both halves of the Pendant of Ashaba, but were corned by Valan and needed help.

-Refusing to give in at this point, the party defiantly stated their position. Valan would see his defeat before he ever held the Pendant of Ashaba again. Daveak sneakily tried to pilfer the Pendant pieces off of Harbek, but the ever careful cleric easily saw through the trick and warned him against such actions. As if a sign in support of the party's claims, an apparition manifested in the middle of the room atop the sepulcher. The shape formed into a smoky figure of Elminster.

-"In times of need come I, Elminster. For the defense of Shadowdale, I bestow gifts for our brave defenders. Step inside the mists and take my spells as your own," the apparition spoke before vanishing into thin air.

-"When I am done with you, the fool mage will be the next to die!" Valan cried in anger. A thunderclap shook the tower as a veil of silver mist fell around the sepulcher. Above the mist, a roiling ball of crimson fire appeared. If the party could only reach this smoke, the tides of the battle could be shifted further into their favor.

-Pushing into battle, the party quickly found themselves overwhelmed. Drake charged in feeling the sting of the Drider's long reach. At the same time, both closed in pinning the party in at the stairs to prevent them from easily reaching Valan Jaelre. To compound the problem, Valan once more unleashed his powerful explosion of poison-laced webs coating the entire stairway making it all the more harder for the party to move around.

-As if things were not already bad enough, Daveak slowly pushed past the group and advanced on the Driders. Meecht cautioned him from advancing. Drake had been laid out by one already and facing both would be suicide. However, to the shock of the party, the Driders did nothing as Daveak took up a place standing besides Valan Jaelre.

-Laughing, Valan remarked that Daveak was a poor thief; failing to swipe back the Pendant even after his grandiose display to further place him as a trusted member of the party. Daveak apologized, but swore that now nothing would stand in their way. The Pendant would be reclaimed and the party stopped here and now.

-Shifty as ever, Meecht snuck past the Driders and the other Wizards who had held back supporting Valan and made his way to the sepulcher. As he entered the mist, Elminster's voice filled his mind speaking, "Come take a boon, for you fight in the defense of my home. Answer me: be you slayer or spell-slinger? Thief or theocrat?"

-Replying Thief, Meecht found himself enveloped in crimson fire before suddenly feeling lighter. His form shifted to be gray and mist-like as his body became insubstantial as if he were a ghost of sorts. Valan cursed Elminster's name in anger.

-Tired of his constant betrayals and cruel attitude, Damaia unleashed a fierce display exploding forth flames that engulfed Daveak and one of the spellcasters. Despite his own resistance to fire, being a Tiefling as well, Daveak was already too injured from the last battle and succumbed to the flames. As he began to bleed out, Harbek stated that they had done enough. He would not expend Moradin's grace to raise him. When the battle was settled, they would deal with him.

-With no victory in sight, Khara urged the party that they should reforge the Pendant of Ashaba. If it was assembled and activated with the blood of a descendant of a Shadowdale Lord, the magical wards protecting the city would return.

-Khara related the steps in the ritual to reforge it: first the pieces must be heated in flames for Shadowdale was a place of fire and fury before Ashaba's day as Lord. Next, the pieces must be cooled in water for Ashaba was a water wizard and such an act honors him. Reforged, the power of a Lord of Shadowdale must be manifested inside the Tower of Ashaba to re-activate the wards.

-Focusing on this task, Harbek gave up fighting to make a fire and temper the pieces. Following this, he used his waterskin to cool them and reforge the Pendant. Finishing, he tossed it to Khara to complete the job. All the while, the rest of the party remained in a desperate battle against Valan and his forces.

-With the Pendant in her grasp, Khara cut her hand and allowed her blood to spill upon the Pendant of Ashaba. The Pendant pulsed with a force that all present could feel, causing the drow to cringe and stagger. Valan's spellcasters fell over immediately in defeat while the Driders remained; roaring in pain. Valan himself screamed thriough the pain, "I'll take that prize from you and I will eat your hearts for all the trouble you have caused me!"

-With Shadowdale's magical wards turning the tide of battle, the party pressed on slaying one Drider. As they engaged the other, Meecht and Drake swiftly worked around towards Valan himself; surrounding the spellcaster. Meecht's pursuit remained unrelenting as he discovered the boon granted by Elminster allowed him to phase through solid objects. Ganging up on him, they quickly managed to wound Valan forcing him to take up a look of disbelief.

-In a final surge of energy, Valan fought back with all his might slamming both Meecht and Drake with his staff; magical force pushing both far back and away. He lashed out dominating Meecht's mind and charging him make a final act as a drow slave by turning his blade on Harbek. Luckily, the blow only bounced off Harbek's armor and Meecht swore this would be Valan's end. Turning, Valan blasted another powerful spell at Drake vowing that the pirate's luck had finally run out; knocking him unconscious.

-Cleared of those pinning him down, and realizing he was at his limit, Valan began to retreat towards the entrance of the Tower of Ashaba hoping to flee while his remaining Drider pinned the party down. Meanwhile, Khara stepped forward to engage the Drider alongside the party shouting that they could not let Valan escape.

-Noticing it was finally her moment, Damaia rushed past the Drider narrowly avoiding an attack. With Valan clearly in her sights, she casted forth a bolt of arcane power striking him down from behind. With his last breath, Valan cursed Damaia noting that he should have never spared her life all those years ago when she was still a child.

-However, as Valan Jaelre fell his face began to warp and distort. The illusion that concealed his true form vanished, revealing a simulacrum made of crawling spiders. The creature they had been fighting might have had Valan's magic bestowed upon it, but the real wizard was elsewhere; safely out of the party's reach. With no time to worry about this turn of events, the party began to gang up on the remaining Drider; achieving victory.

-With the battle over, the party lamented the fact that Valan Jaelre was still out there somewhere. However, Khara noted that it was likely he had never been near Shadowdale to begin with. It was probably safe to assume Valan resided far away merely sending his simulacrum here to do his bidding.

-Turning to Daveak, the party opted to tie him up and turn him in to Shadowdale's watch. Though angered by his betrayal, Harbek urged that he should see justice for his crimes. Over the course of the day, the party and Khara Sulwood managed to help put down or drive off the rest of the dark elves who still battled in the streets and farms of Shadowdale. The light of spell-fire finally ceased near Elminster's windmill. By nightfall, Shadowdale was safe once more.

-That night, a group gathered at the Old Skull Inn. So many people stood in the common room that part of the crowd had spilled out into the porch. As the party and Khara approached, the townsfolk congratulated them on a job well done while ushering them inside.

-Inside, Lady Addee Ulphor was finishing a speech, "We will rebuild. Our home can be saved, thanks to the fast action of you fine people, the bravery of Khara Sulwood and her associates and of course the magical talent of our good friend Elminster."

-She then gestured over by the fire, where Elminster sat in a large wooden rocking chair smoking a pipe. Despite the closeness of the crowd, the old wizard was given a wide berth. When Addee mentioned his name he frowned at her and spoke, "The praise does not fall on me alone. The real heroes were these fine adventurers that braved the Underdark at my insistence with little promise of reward." Saying thus, the crowd cheered as Elminster returned to puffing on his pipe.

-Following this, Khara pushed her way into the middle of the common room and presented Lady Ulphor with the Pendant of Ashaba. Holding it high above her head, the Pendant began to speak, "The bearer of this token be the one and true Lord of Shadowdale."

-Cheering filled the room and Ghessla Silvermane cracked open another barrel of wine as the patrons returned to their merriment. One of those patrons caught Khara Sulwood's eye. The elf Tharinel, bandaged, bruised and nursing a mug of mead seated at the bar. Khara ran to his side with an eager smile as the party began to celebrate with the people of Shadowdale.

-Harbek and Halvar immediately hit the bar to have their fill of ale. Ghessla jokingly mentioned that she hoped the party had their fill of the Underdark. She then mentioned that their party would always have a free room waiting at the Old Skull Inn as long as her family ran the establishment. Finally, she added that their group ought to return for the two hundreth anniversary of the Old Skull Inn and celebrate once more with them.

-As the celebration continued on, the party moved about the crowd speaking with various people. Tharinel thanked the group for saving his life. He stated that for the time being he would continue to follow Khara and support her in the pursuit of her dream. However, he added that if they ever happened to find themselves in Cormanthor then they would always be welcome among his people.

-Speaking to Lady Ulphor, the current Lord of Shadowdale apologized for not having time to fetch the Pendant of Ashaba during the initial attack. She explained that the drow came upon them so quickly that she barely got out with her life. She waited out the assault in a safe-room within Elminster's windmill. She went on to add that she would never take off the Pendant again. However, she wasn't sure how much longer she would be wearing it. In her eyes Khara Sulwood, after gaining some wisdom and more training, might finally be the worthy successor she had long been looking for.

-Finally, Harbek checked in with Elminster. The mage seemed relieved at his approach before speaking, "Ah, there you are. I felt I should put in an appearance. Pleasure talking to you even if only twenty-five words at a time, yes? Shadowdale owes you a great deal. Best not let Addee forget it in the future." Laughing, Elminster rose from his seat and after donning a wide-brimmed hat, he exited the inn to return to his windmill.

-As the festivities wore on late into the night, Meecht and Harbek noticed Drake was moving his way to the front door. Calling out to him, the dashing pirate merely stated that he needed a breath of fresh air after drinking so much. Suspicious, Meecht followed him outside. However, seeing nothing out of the ordinary prompted the kobold to go back indoors.

-Sneaking, Drake avoided Meecht's gaze and made his way off to the nearby jailhouse which was abandoned due to the celebrations. Infiltrating the jail, Drake came to Daveak's cell. To the tiefling's surprise, Drake unlocked his cell and proceeded to free him. Drake explained that, like or not, Daveak had saved his life at least once while they were in the Underdark. By his code of honor, which he refused to break, he had a debt to pay.

-Turning and walking away, Drake urged Daveak to flee Shadowdale before any of the night watch returned. However, Daveak called out asking the pirate to wait. Pausing in his step, Drake questioned what the rogue might want and Davek began to speak once more about his ambitions toward reviving Bael Turath.

-Disgusted, Drake told him that this was the tiefling's problem and his alone; he had no interest in Bael Turath. Turning to walk away prompted Daveak to rise to his feet, rushing the pirate and hoping to strike him from behind with his fist. Turning around with a swift flourish, Drake struck his attacker upon the skull with the hilt of his sword knocking him to the ground. Shaking his head, Drake departed back towards the Old Skull Inn and as a final farewell informed Daveak that if he ever tried such a stunt again then he would kill him.

-Left alone, Daveak heard two guards of the night watch approaching. Playing dead, he let the duo enter and become puzzled by the scene of a freed prisoner laying upon the ground; perhaps dead. While they tried to figure things out, Daveak masterfully pilfered one guards' dagger off his belt and then attacked. Killing one guard instantly, he grasped the man's body to use as a shield. Informing the murderer that he'd never escape Shadowdale, the other guard drew his blade.

-Desperate, Daveak threw his dagger hoping to strike the other guard. However, the knife sailed on. Drawing the blade the dead guard held, he pushed the body towards the other guard to confuse him and ran in to strike. However, unskilled with the use of such a heavy blade, Daveak missed and found himself struck down by the guard; rendering him unconscious once more after he cried out in pain. Nervous and lamenting the loss of his partner, the guard left to gather the rest of the night watch patrolling the city.

-Meanwhile, back at the nearby Old Skull Inn, Harbek and the party couldn't help but think they heard a familiar cry for help. Noting that Drake had never returned, the party moved outside to check things out. There they found a drunken Drake stumbling about. After gathering his senses, he confirmed that he had heard the scream but it was not from him.

-Exploring, the party eventually found Daveak laying unconscious near the door to the jail. Checking inside, they found the dead guard and Harbek wondered how the tiefling had mounted his escape. Bluffing his companions, Drake mused that he must have tricked a guard somehow.

-The party came once more to a heavy choice. Harbek vocalized how torn he felt, desiring that Daveak face proper justice but knowing that, given the chance, the rogue would slink away to betray and harm others in the future. Torn on this decision, the party heard a familiar voice from nearby call out to them, "Perhaps then, you should leave his fate to me."

-From the shadows nearby, a figure emerged. As he stepped into the moonlight, the party instantly recognized the one-eared drow: Dorvon Jaelre, the sole survivor of Valan's Elite Guard. "Justice should be served. And I am best fit for the task," Dorvon argued.

-Recognizing him, the rest of the party quickly agreed that they should give the drow his revenge against the man who guided his torture and even tried to shoot him down from behind after being spared by Harbek's mercy. Relieved the choice no longer rested for him to make, Harbek stepped aside on the matter. He would not kill him, but even Moradin's teachings would not condone saving a person who had acted like Daveak had.

-"Worry not about Daveak Fallenheart," Dorvon spoke to the group as he grasped the tiefling's unconscious body and began to drag him off into the night, "You shall never hear his name nor of his ambitions for Bael Turath ever again." Despite these chilling words, the party remained resolute in their decision. For all his torturing and betrayal, Daveak was meeting the proper justice that he deserved.

-The next day the party said their goodbye's. Halvar intended to return to the Underdark and begin training under Thorgrim; hoping to learn all he could teach about the fine art of Elven footwear. With no leads of Valan Jaelre's true location, Damaia decided she would continue traveling the realms seeking info on his whereabouts. She had heard much about the Sword Coast and desired to begin her search by traveling to Baldur's Gate.

-Meanwhile, Meecht desired to return to the Underdark beneath Shadowdale and see that whatever remaining drow were defeated; and all his kinsmen freed. Feeling that such a noble cause was worth the effort, Harbek and Drake agreed to stick around awhile longer and help Meecht achieve this goal.

-With Shadowdale saved, the group thus parted ways. However, elsewhere in the realms, Valan Jaelre and his ambitions remained...

Monday, August 13, 2012

D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen Session 12

And so we come to the next to last session of Season 09. I didn't put much stock in it being a tough battle based on what was written in the book, but it played quite differently than I had imagined. I guess that was in part due to me underestimating what an effect the web golem easily being able to pin the party in at the entrance so they couldn't spread out would have along with the fact the party has never had a Defender all season. Worse, Halvar's player (who, despite running a slayer is arguably the group's meat shield) and the new guy that ran Jaun last session didn't turn out. Back to back sessions I got to experience both sides of the coin to the issues when trying to keep a tight cohesive story from the Encounters material.

The worst part to this is that I had themed this session to be all about Halvar since, like last time, I felt this encounter was mostly filler besides the ending bits with rescuing Khara and the Pendant and setting up the finale. When the season began, I asked everyone to give me a backstory to work with (any backstory) and I would do my best to incorporate it. Halvar's player tossed me a curveball with a slayer that had an interest in crafting footwear. Not to go back on my word, I threaded in magical boots very early on and Session 12 was finally going to be the pay off. Sadly, without Halvar present that created some issues. Instead, I went through a stunted version of the general exchange for the players present.

This week we'll be running the final session and I am looking forward to it. The design of the battle seems a little imbalanced based on the party's starting position. My table has it even more tough. Drake is left at 1 surge and low HP (wanting to save that surge for the fight). Meanwhile, many of the players had to burn their Action Point to get past this session despite wanting to save them. Still, this group has pulled off some amazing come from behind victories, so I can't wait to see what happens as they finally clash head on against Valan Jaelre.

I was able to get the packet for next season over the weekend as well. I've already gone over an initial read through and I quite like the set-up. I was especially happy to see just how it ties in both to this current season and the overall story of what is going on. I am a little reluctant about the whole swap to allowing evil characters, but it makes sense in the context of the story and the book has some nice tips in place to remind players that despite alignment, they do have reasons to work together.

I also enjoy the set-up of having three factions with their own goals amid the main storyline. When I played in the Feywild season of Encounters, the DM tried some neat stuff like diving up the table where each of the three groups sat on opposite areas of the table. It made things just a bit more interesting. With this season having an even stronger emphasis on division, I will likely follow suit with such ideas. The Worth mechanic was interesting too. I don't see the Drow Treachery cards going over well with our players; and I have not interest in them. However, the concept of Worth itself as a representation of status was interesting and I hope to have a lot of fun with that element as well. In any case:

Session 12: Warden of the Pens
-As the party continued to spy on the situation before their eyes, they were able to identify the massive creature as a web golem of sorts. In a flash of light and puff of smoke, Jaun vanished into thin air. It seemed Elminster's methods truly were too mysterious to be understood; if the blood thirsty mage had even been sent by him in the first place.

-Watching the deep gnome slaves being marched around and organized, the party noted a familiar face: Khara Sulwood. However, rescuing her would not be an easy task. Large spiders scuttled about the walls and floor of the passage. Seeing no way to sneak around, the party rushed in to face the web golem.

-The battle quickly turned grim. The web golem's power seemed on a whole new level and the sticky webs that made up its body was able to easily trap those engaging it in melee. Meanwhile, the spiders moved to gang up on the party as a whole letting their poison slowly sap away the group's strength.

-Amid the chaos, Khara drew up a nearby discarded sword and despite her lack of protective armor dove into battle as well helping the party fend off the spiders. Meanwhile, just as his usual rushing in style of combat had left him badly injured, Drake noticed something glimmering within the web golem's body. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed like the other half to the Pendant of Ashaba.

-Overwhelmed, it was only thanks to Harbek's support through Moradin that the party was able to fight on. Eventually, the beasts were slain and in the webbing remains of the golem an injured Drake recovered what he had saw: the Pendant of Ashaba. As the deep gnome slaves rejoiced at their freedom, Khara asked the group for an update on the situation.

-As they compared notes, Khara was relieved to hear Tharinel had been freed and managed to escape. However, she offered little help information-wise. The Jaelre Elite had blindfolded her after capture. She knew Valan split the Pendant to deter the party, but had no clue why he did so when all information pointed to the fact that having the Pendant of Ashaba was his goal.

-Regardless, Khara stressed that it was important that they all return to the surface. The Pendant of Ashaba kept the magical wards protecting Shadowdale operative and without it, Valan's forces might eventually take the city. She couldn't be sure, but Khara also suspected that Elminster had been trying to contact her through additional Sending rituals, but the words have been too distorted to understand.

-Drake passed the two halves of the Pendant to Harbek for safe keeping. Meanwhile, the party took a short break to rest and heal what they could. Valan Jaelre was still lurking about somewhere and it was likely that he would not take the fact the party had reclaimed the Pendant of Ashaba lightly.

-Before heading out, the party worked to free the deep gnome slaves following suit with their past liberation. The one who had been wearing boots similar to Halvar approached the dwarven Slayer and sized him up carefully. Introducing himself as Thorgrim Bootstrider, he claimed to be a master craftsman dealing in all manner of footwear. He confirmed that he had crafted the very boots that Halvar had discovered and been using all this time.

-The rest of the party seemed eager to stock up on such magic items in preparation for dealing with Valan, but Thorgrim explained that he would need his workshop to do any proper work. Khara reminded the party that they did not have the luxury of time for such side trips. Halvar questioned Thorgrim about his knowledge of Elven footwear and the Deep Gnome did not disappoint; it seemed he truly was a master in all such knowledge.

-Knowing the party had other matters to deal with, Thorgrim thanked them for saving his clan's life and entreated Halvar to visit him when all this was over; promising to teach him all he desired to know and make him into a master craftsman. As a thanks for their kindness, Thorgrim and his companions noted secret passages that the deep gnomes used to move around before House Jaelre had caught them in an open passage. While cramped, they would allow the party to avoid much of Zadzifeirryn and get beneath of the Tower of Ashaba in record time.

-Thanking Thorgrim and his companions, the party began their rush back to the surface. Without the various winding pathways and detachments of drow in the way, the party swiftly found themselves back in the cellar of the Tower of Ashaba. It seemed they would be able to return the Pendant without incident.

-However, as they passed through the cellar doors the party found them slamming shut just as the last member entered. Footsteps could be heard above as Valan Jaelre stepped into view at the top of the stairs. Behind him, two giant creatures scuttled behind him, each resembling an enormous spider with a drow's torso and head. Several in the party tensed with anxiousness recognizing the creatures.

-"As I feared," Valan addressed the party, "My worthless cohorts below have failed to protect that which I entrusted to them. As it always does, it falls to me to finish the task. You will return the Pendant, then you will surrender to me. If you make any attempt to stand against Valan Jaelre, I swear that your deaths will be painful and slow!"

D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen Session 11

I have let myself get a little behind with these Encounters summaries. Had a lot of stuff going on recently and posting them fell by the wayside. So there should be a posting spree this week regarding 4e stuff. I knew there was going to come a session where my playing the story elements tight would get tested and it finally happened. With the party looming just outside the torture theater in the heart of Zadzifeirryn, we got a new player at the table. Don't get me wrong, I am always pleased and usually excited to have new players. However, from a storytelling point of view it made things difficult.

Luckily, I was not without some easy out's thanks to this season in general. Elminster has been a constant plot device poofing NPC's in and out as needed for the story. Overall, I had a lot of fun with this session. In the bigger picture, I feel like it was mostly filler. The only real major point to the battle is getting part of the Pendant and learning where to go next. Still, I enjoy the mix of comedy and drama that tends to roll up from the characters themselves. Most sessions, Drake tends to rush and go all out against the strongest enemy; which gets him surrounded or badly hurt. I am always entertained with how the party finds a way to work together and turn around such situations.

The only big problem I ran into with this session was from our new player. He caught some of the human slaves in his blasts and insisted that his character didn't care despite trying to dissuade him. Since the season has been all about the story, I decided to go with it and let the party decide their own reactions. This led to some interesting in-fighting after the battle which luckily didn't get too far out of hand.

Session 11: Pain & Blood
-As the party watched the torturers from the shadow, Meecht noticed that the leader had a small pendant hanging from her belt which resembled the Pendant of Ashaba. Pointing it out to the party, they realized that perhaps their goal had finally come into sight.

-While discussing how best to proceed, the party was joined by a new member who appeared in a puff of smoke and flashing lights. The eladrin, introducing himself as Jaun, appeared to be a Wizard of sorts and assuming he was more reinforcements from the enigmatic Elminster the party welcomed him into their fold.

-From there, the party attempted to iron out a plan of action. However, before they could finish formulating the plan Daveak put up the hood on his cloak and strolled out into plain view of the nearest torturer. She called out asking who the mysterious figure was and initially Daveak merely stated he wanted to watch and learn some new tips.

-Angered at this statement, the torturer demanded to know who he was and Daveak simply stated that he would be their death. As the torturers readied their scourges, the crowd began to disperse. However, select members in the crowd snatched up weapons from the ground and joined them in combat. With their plan of sneaking in blown, the party prepared for direct combat.

-Typical to his nature, Drake charged immediately into the fray rushing the lead torturer and injuring her with his precise strike. However, the torturers quickly turned the battle in their favor revealing that they had learned the art of summoning minor demons. From the blood fonts situated in the room, two maw demons crawled forth supporting them in combat.

-Daveak found himself critically injured at the hands of one demon and its master. Meanwhile, as Drake pursued their leader the dashing pirate was quickly surrounded and swarmed by drow. With precise acrobatic movements he managed to weave in and out between them almost as if dancing while pursuing his target. Once the leader fell by his blade those present seemed all the more determined to fight to the death.

-As the battle continued, Jaun fey-stepped into the fray prepared to unveil his arcane might. Releasing forth an impressive blast of flames he managed to defeat multiple drow at once. However, to the shock of his party, the blast also engulfed and killed one of the human slaves too weak to flee in time.

-The battle continued and over time the party slowly began to claim victory. Jaun continued to shock the party as he slung spells about wildly with no concern for who they struck; ultimately catching another of the slaves in the crossfire. United together, and with Harbek's healing powered from Moradin, the party defeated the leaders of the Torture Theater and banished back their demons to the Abyss.

-After the battle, Drake charged down Jaun striking him with the handle of his rapier hoping to knock him out. Already fearful of spellcasters, he could not forgive the deaths of innocents. Quickly, Daveak drew his crossbow pointing it first to Jaun and then Drake unsure who to fire upon. As the tension between the party began to finally boil over, even Harbek seemed weary to speak and seek a solution.

-Covertly weaving one of his spells, Jaun submitted mental suggestions to Daveak implying that they were close friends. Spurred by these suggestions, Daveak trained his crossbow on Drake just as the pirate readied his rapier. Trying to calm things down, Meecht stepped between the two.

-Jaun quickly began to explain this his magic was quite uncontrollable and very complicated to wield effectively. Weary of this answer, but confident Elminster had to have sent the eladrin for some reason the party accepted this answer. While they took a break, Harbek treated the wounds of the surviving slaves who proceeded to loot some of the weapons strewn about the floor. With luck, they planned to escape back to the surface.

-The party inquired to the slaves about Khara Sulwood only to learn that she had been taken on towards the slave pits. Another slave pointed in the direction the party ought to go. Having recovered it from the torturer amid the battle, Drake showed the party the pendant he had retrieved. While it resembled the Pendant of Ashaba, it seemed to be only half of the full relic.

-Realizing their task was not complete and that Khara remained in danger, the group pressed on towards the slave pits. After a short travel, the group began to hear the shouts of guards and wailing cries from those imprisoned by House Jaelre.

-Peering around the corner, the group saw a drow soldier driving forth a limping deep gnome slave back to his cell. A large creature made entirely of webs stood in their way. The creature examined the drow and after a faint spark of recognition, the beast moved aside. As the deep gnome was sent down the corridor, the drow retreated back the way he came.

-As they watched this scene, Halvar made a startling discovery. The deep gnome's foot wear held the same design as the enchanted boots he had discovered and been wearing since...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

DCC: Sailors on the Starless Sea Play Report

And without as much delay, it's time to talk about the second session of the DCC store campaign. I intended to play up "Sailors on the Starless Sea" for level 1's as our second outing.  I named the village after one of the cities in Blackmarsh since I toyed with using it as a DCC campaign setting. Of the original party all the players turned back out save one (Falcor) so I was pretty pleased. In addition, we had three new players at the table as well. One happened to be one of our Encounters players, another wanting to try DCC before he went to Gen-Con and the final, to my surprise, the guy who used to be over the Encounters program and passed the torch on to me. He happens to be moving away and has been in-between places for a bit. He took part in the level-0 demo and basically turned out for a final hurrah with a revised version of his level-0 survivor before the move was finished; a very pleasant surprise for me.

Of the three new players, they rolled up a Dwarf, another Elf and another Wizard. The surge of spellcasters was not much of an issue since I had rolled up a Thief for Markav's player to swap over to and try out. Still, without Falcor's player present it meant that the party had no Cleric. None of the new players seemed that interested in running a Cleric and nobody else wanted to change their character. Keeping to the DCC mantra, I decided to roll with it and let things fall as they may.

Character creation went smooth and even had some hilarious moments spawned by the random rolls. Our surprise guest was crafting the Wizard with a concept, as you'll see below, that he is a clone spawned through a spell by a once powerful sorcerer. When doing the rolls for Mercurial Magic effects, he got the result for one spell where casting it called forth seven copies from alternate dimensions. Given the history he came up with, it could not have been more perfectly fitting.

The session itself went great. The only real hang-up on my end was a question about how much HP was restored by camping for the night. I felt it was 1 HP, but wasn't confident and ran into trouble looking it up in the book. The lack of an index was felt. Regardless, a little downtime for that wasn't too bad and overall I felt much more at home with the rules. I didn't have a chance to print any spells out for people so for the time being we continued with the results being a surprise for our spellcasters.

Speaking of the spellcasters, surprisingly not a single 1 was rolled during the entire game. Thus far, every game I have ran or played in has always had at least one instance of a fumble or spell misfire. It was a little disappointing. I don't wish ill on my players but I think the spell misfires and corruption happen to be one of the most exciting elements to the magic system, but I suppose that just happens sometimes. Unlike last time, the party actually bypassed several areas in the module and missed some of the secrets so there was less concern about a bloat of magic items. 

I had one instance of going easy on the group. I re-positioned the green powder that could be used to making healing potions and placed it within the secret compartment of the chest in the secret vault. At that point, they had multiple characters sitting around 2 HP and knowing what was ahead I tried to show a little mercy on the lack of a Cleric. The group will be losing Zaronius and Ozwald due to the above mentioned move; although they really want to play DCC more and we've talked about looking into the logistics of playing some through something like Roll20 so this might not be the last time their exploits are spoken of. Markav's player was pleased with the Thief so the party won't be without one. However, I worry for their future if they continue on without a Cleric. 

Next time, I'll be starting them on "People of the Pit" and it will likely be the final module before I advance them to second level. I've come to realize that there will be a lack of modules going forward if I want to increase the time it takes for each level to come; matching the way XP goes. I will likely have to delve into third party level 0/1 modules and work out scaling them up to some degree. However, that's a bridge to cross when it comes.

First, some updates to to the general information since this session saw several new characters added to our cloud of heroes:

New Heroes:
7) Dagnabbit: A dwarven astrologer. Discontent with having to leave the caves where he lived to view the heavens only to return at night, Dagnabbit took up the life of an adventurer so he could study the sky from all across the land freely.

8) Gerard: A thief belonging to a widespread crime organization with branches located throughout the known world. Under the guise of a bard travelling to spread the joys of music to everyone, Gerard seeks news of gold and treasure for the profit of his gang and the hopes of rising through the ranks.

9) Sheldon Silvermoon: Another Elf and follower of the King of Elfland. Like Jace, he too wanders the lands. However, he seeks to defeat powerful monsters and the forces of Chaos that prey upon innocent people.

10) A to Zaronious: The 26th incarnation of  Zaronious  the Destroyer, one of the most intelligent mages to walk the lands and who has contributed much in the study of magic. In his old age, he felt he still had much to offer the world, but not enough time to do so, so he created the Infinite Me spell. The spell was supposed to make him immortal by returning his body to a much younger version of himself, but it started spawning young clones instead. Although the original is long dead, young Zaronian copies still occasionally poof out of thin air, creating a somewhat unconventional form of immortality. These adult copies posses the same magical inclinations, though their powers development seem to vary with each copy. A to  Zaronious is one such clone, and is a drunk who loves the ladies and his herbs, and has an extensive knowledge of both. He is fearless (partly from the herbs and partly because he knows his death is meaningless as another would eventually appear in his place) and is prone to taking unnecessary risks, especially if they would impress a woman. He often experiments with his herbs and magic, sometimes to fantastical, and other times to disastrous results.

New Locations:
-Ethanfeld: A simple village situated near a large hill that overshadows the town. The hill holds a massive keep that overlooks a small sea. There are abundant rumors suggesting that the keep was once the hold of Chaos Lords. Recently, beastmen began descending from the keep and kidnapping villagers though for what purpose remained unclear.

And then the session itself:

Chapter 02: Sailors on the Starless Sea

I. Parting Ways
-The party spent the following week relaxing at the Wolf Spear Inn and reveling in their victory over The Hound. With Hirot no longer stalked by the beast, trade began once more. Dealing with merchants, the party was able to sell some of the treasure gained from the savage king's tomb. Jarppie made a particularly profitable exchange fetching a large sum of gold for the silver wolf pelt he had lifted from the tomb.

-During this time Sylle Ru, adviser to the Jarl, passed away. It seemed that his fervor in trying to stop the hound had rapidly withered away what remained of his life. Tension seemed to rise as the town realized that, once the party moved on, they would have no one present to deal with matters of the arcane.

-Growing ready for another adventure, the party prepared to head forth from Hirot seeking rumors. As luck would have it, Lloré returned to the village from a small trek bringing with him four adventurers that were on their way southwest. It seemed there were rumors that the town of Ethanfeld was being plagued by beastmen descending from a ruined keep that rested on a hill overlooking the village.

-Lloré introduced these adventurers, Dagnabbit, Gerard, Sheldon Silvermoon and A to Zaronius to the heroes that have saved Hirot suggesting it might be beneficial for them to pool their efforts. After some discussion, the two parties agreed to work together as one. However, it seemed not everyone intended to go along.

-Feeling the call of Aristemis guiding him elsewhere, Falcor gave the party his blessing stating his plans to travel elsewhere. He assured them that if they ever crossed paths again, they could count on his aid. More surprising, however, Markav decided to stay behind in Hirot. He had taken a fondness for the remote town and felt worried for their future after the loss of Sylle Ru. Instead, Markav planned to become a permanent resident and take up Sylle Ru's position as an advisor on all things magical to the Jarl.

-Parting ways with two of their companions, the new party set forth from Hirot heading southwest. After several days of uneventful travel, finding the weather slowly growing warmer, the party reached the tiny village of Ethanfeld. They found the town gripped with fear and villagers confirmed that for the past week or two beastmen had been raiding Ethanfeld and stealing away its citizens. So far the beastman had not attacked anyone so it was unknown whether they were killing their captives or storing them for something worse.

-Asking around the village, the party learned various rumors about the keep including tales of vast treasure hidden underneath and whispers that it was once ruled over by two Chaos Lords. Wasting little time, the party advanced on the keep.

II. The Ruined Keep
-Dealing with the harsh conditions of vine overgrown paths and a foul miasma the party pressed on past the pestilence of thousands of insects filling the air to reach the battered keep on the hill. Fearing traps, the party opted to sneak around to the western side of the keep rather than approach the front gates directly.

-From the western side, the party discovered an area of the keep's wall that had collapsed in becoming a massive pile of rubble and debris. With his knowledge of stonework, Dagnabbit quickly identified weak areas that might cause an avalanche and was able to guide the party over the rubble and into the courtyard of the keep.

-In the courtyard, the party discovered various tracks depicting human and wolf-like footprints, talon like prints of a bird and even a single straight line that slithered from side to side. Presuming these to be signs of the beastmen, the party began to proceed cautiously.

-From the courtyard the party approached a nearby well with a block and tackle situated to leave a chain going down into the well itself. Carefully studying the well, the party drew up the chain to find nothing on the end. Another party member tossed a rock down the well never hearing the sound of impact.

-Coming closer, Sheldon peered within the well itself and began to feel an unnatural draw in his mind pulling him closer. However, he was able to overcome this compulsion and warned the group of the danger. This came just in time as Zaronious had been preparing himself to dive down the well.

-Realizing the well could only be trouble, Jarppie retrieved the chain and added it to his pack before the party continued exploring the keep's courtyard.

-Noting a ruined building marked by gargoyles within the keep, the party moved to explore it. Inside they found the room heated as if it was still burning. They also found several charred skeletons as well as some blackened weapons and armor. In the center of this small chapel rested a fountain depicting a squat demonic toad that had a foul black ichor pouring from its lips into a basin at the foot of the construct.

-Ulfric carefully approached the fountain finding the heat grew the closer in proximity he came towards the statue. Meanwhile, Sheldon discovered a golden censer along with 3 incense cones which was quickly claimed by Zaronious after noting its purpose. Curious about the black ooze, Ulfric donned his blacksmith gloves and tried to examine the fountain.

-To his surprise the foul ichor sprang to life, in fact a living ooze, and quickly tried to wrap around Ulfric's arm igniting him aflame. As he worked to put the fire out, the rest of the party pulled together to dispatch the foul creature.

-With only a nearby tower remaining to explore, the party studied it from the outside noting movement within. With a feat of strength, Jarppie managed to use a grappling hook with some rope and get a firm hold on one of the openings higher up the tower thinking such an entrance might avoid troubles caused from waltzing in the front door.

-Once the party safely made the climb, they found the inside of the tower held a spiral staircase ascending to the top. Along the walls, battered and in poor condition, were chained the villagers from Ethanfeld. As Zaronious began to zealously free any women among the captives, a snarling horde of beastmen emerged at the top of the tower. Led by a much larger bull-like beastman, they raced down the stairs hoping to stop the intruders from freeing their captives.

-Charging ahead, Dagnabbit and Jarppie took the front defending the rest of the party as they engaged the beastmen on the narrow tower steps. The rest of the group attacked at range or slung spells marveling the captives with their show of power. Ultimately, the beastmen were put to rest as Jace summoned a massive blast of flames engulfing their Champion and sending him stumbling over the edge of the steps hurtling to the tower floor.

-In the aftermath, the rest of the villagers were freed. An old man mentioned that some of their friends had been taken to the top of the tower and never returned prompting the party to realize their task was not yet complete. Meanwhile, Zaronious chatted up one of the women he had freed receiving a promise that she would reward his heroic efforts upon the party's return to Ethanfeld.

-With the villagers saved, the party searched the rest of the tower in hopes of uncovering some of the rumored treasure. Some small caches of coins were found along with an ornate short sword likely worth something. On the body of the beastmen's Champion the party discovered that he had been wearing an imposing silver torc hung with bleached skulls. The spellcasters in the group could sense the power of Chaos radiating from the relic. Jokingly, Zaronious donned the torc.

-Moving to the top of the tower, the party discovered the stairs lead into a small room in the side of the keep itself. From here stairs descended down further and further moving into total darkness revealing a dungeon below. Aware of the side effect to one of his spells, Sheldon mumbled a few words causing his forehead to alight from a shining blue star. Using this as guiding light, along with a torch lit by Jarppie, the party explored below.

-Reaching the bottom of the steps, the party discovered a few stray gold pieces. Carefully searching the room, they found the door to a secret vault. Within, three treasure chests were discovered alongside coins strewn everywhere. It seemed the that this had once been a treasure vault, but was recently raided.

-Between the chests and the stray coins, the party managed to gather a hefty bit of treasure. Studying the center chest carefully, Gerard was able to notice a hidden compartment on the bottom. Ever cautious from his guild's training, Gerard detected the compartment was trapped and devised a solution to spring the trap without harming anyone.

-Within, Gerard found some valuable rings and a steel vial with two doses of Black Lotus Oil which he kept secret from the group. Inside was also a silk tabard stitched with sigils of Chaos, which Zaronious donned to further his mock attire, and a leather pouch containing a granular green powder.

-The party puzzled over the powder until Zaronious, in a moment of seriousness, identified it as a reagent that when mixed with wine or water could form a healing poultice. Working together with Jace, who provided several empty vials being an alchemist, the two took some time to brew up the poultices and distribute them among the party.

-With exhaustion setting in, many injured from their multiple bouts of combat and the spellcasters in sore need of studying their spells, Dagnabbit and Jarppie noted that the vault could be a safe place to rest. Sealing the vault door from the inside, the party camped for the night alternating watches to ensure beastmen did not come back for any reason.

III. The Starless Sea
-The night passed without incident and the party awoke ready to continue. Though some were still injured, there was little they could do with only the few poultices to rely on for healing. Falcor's presence was sorely missed.

-Returning to the original path, the party entered a large hall with elaborate tile mosaics covering the walls and a large pool in the center of the room filled with thick sludge and black algae. Ozwald, Sheldon and Gerard felt a strange compulsion to check the pool and eventually each retrieved human skulls that seemed to glow slightly; these lined the bottom of the pool.

-Sensing a tie to the forces of Chaos, the party dissuaded the three from holding onto them and instead moved to explore the room and study the mosaics. Three distinct scenes were depicted. First, a hooded form standing atop a towering stone on the edge of a vast lake; seven tentacles waving from the water. Second, two armored figures holding up a single flail together, commanding legions of hunched, beast-like warriors. Finally, a low island set in the center of a black lake with a golden pyramid set atop the island and a figure armed with a flail preparing to sacrifice a maiden; this sight troubling Zaronious.

-Strewn about the room, the party discovered four black robes stitched in silver thread with bizarre sigils. Zaronious donned a robe to complete his imposing Chaos-inspired appearance while the party held on to the other three.

-Proceeding forward, the party descended more steps until the dungeon gave way to, of all things, a dark-sand beach. The beach appeared to be part of a vast underground sea. Far our, across the water, the party thought they could see a golden glow. At the water's edge an enormous menhir rested.

-Past this standing stone, a dragon-prowed longship emerged with its hull scratched full of forbidding sigils and runes that glowed with a sickly green light. Slowly, the ship came in and stopped about fifty feet from the shore. Most troubling of all, in the distance the party began to hear the beat of distant drums and wails of terror mixing in with the sound of the waves crashing into the shore.

-As the party began to explore the beach, Sheldon inspected the menhir. Carved with mesmerizing spirals, the Elf couldn't help but be drawn in by the designs and within moments seemed to snap. Drawing his blade, he turned it on Jarppie attempting to attack him as he mumbled something about a sacrifice to the great Leviathan.

-Unable to snap Sheldon from the trance, the party attempted to restrain him. Zaronious summoned up one hundred feet of rope to tie up the Elf and they left him on the beach for awhile until he managed to calm down. Sheldon seemed to have no memories of the last few minutes nor the Leviathan that he spoke of.

-While exploring the beach, the party discovered a small cave that seemed to run under the dungeon they had exited from. Inside, the inky cavern was mostly submerged with water. Curious at what was obscured by the water, Sheldon dove in and began to dig around the bottom of the pool. With luck, he lifted a plain iron ring set with three rubies that pulsed like faint embers.

-Marveling at the ring, Sheldon hoped to put it on but began to feel the effect of his iron allergy. Quickly, Sheldon tossed the ring to Zaronious who boldly put it on without examining what arcane energies might lie within the rubies. He was pleased to find that the band was imbued with several fire-related spells.

-Returning to the beach, the party decided they needed to reach the dragon ship and investigate the glow in the distance. After Ulfric failed with a complex scheme to use the wolf spear as a harpoon, Jarppie used some rope, called forth by Zaronius' magic, and cast it out at the boat with his grappling hook eventually taking hold. The party then used this rope as a safety line so they could swim out and board the boat.

-Once every member stood upon the deck, the oars of the boat sprung to life rowing on their own and pulling the dragon ship away from the shore and into the open sea. Once the ship was nearly halfway towards the island in the distance, the beat of drums growing louder, all out chaos occurred. The seas began to churn and with a thunderous screech the party came face to face with the Leviathan that Sheldon had spoken of in his trance.

-Two powerful tentacles seized the front of the dragon ship halting its advance as the party flung into action. Taking the direct approach, Jarppie led the charge as they attacked the tentacles. Meanwhile, Zaronious cast a spell summoning an orca in the waters. The orca was promptly devoured by the Leviathan buying some time, but it seemed far from enough to sake its hunger.

-As more tentacles emerged from the water, the situation began to turn against the party. Ulfric and Dagnabbit found themselves grasped and crushed by tentacles. Jarppie quickly realized the Leviathan was out of the party's league combat-wise and began suggesting the party study what items they had gathered thus far and seek for an alternative solution.

-With the gold censer coming up, Zaronious decided he might as well light it up given that they were facing impending death. As incense began to burn from the censer, the Leviathan released those held captive and spared the boat. Its tentacles paused for a moment at Zaronius' feet as if accepting him as one of the Chaos Lords and then sank back into the ocean. Unrestrained, the dragon ship continued on to the island as the party licked their wounds.

-As the island drew near the party noticed the source of the bright glow. Sitting in the center of the small landmass was a towering golden ziggurat. Hordes of beastmen crowded the steps that spiraled around the outer edge of the temple and ran to its peak. As some beastmen howled and others beat on massive hide drums, terrified prisoners were being marched up the steps in line towards the top. High atop the temple, the party could make out the fearsome silhouette of a large armored figure.

-Realizing the beastmen greatly outnumbered the already injured party, they began devising a scheme to infiltrate the ritual that seemed to be proceeding. In the end, they opted to use the other three robes to disguise some as chaos priests led by Zaronious. The others would remove their weapons and let the "priests" hide them under their robes so they might be led as prisoners.

-As they approached the ziggurat, the beastmen ushered the chaos priest to guide his sacrifices up the temple. Zaronius eagerly played his part well. One paused the group casting a discerning eye upon Zaronious, but saw fit to let them pass allowing the party to internally sigh with relief. In this way, the party slowly worked their way to the top of the temple.

-At the top, the scene was horrifying. Several beastmen were being guided by one that seemed to be a Shaman. Prisoners and a vast wealth of coins were being plunged into the opening atop the ziggurat. Within, lava was melting all that entered and swirling energy together. The party knew they would have to act soon as the ritual was nearing completion.

-Placing himself next in line, Jarppie triumphantly revealed himself as Ozwald tossed him his cleaver and the warrior attacked the Shaman. Howling with madness, the Shaman alerted those present to the attack. As some continued the ritual, the other acolytes attacked the party while the beastmen below began crowding past to ascend and join the fight.

-Amid the frenzy of battle, the magma had slowly started to rise and form into a large shape as it cooled into a hard blackened-form. Moments later, the rock crust shattered revealing the fully armored body of the Chaos Lord that the beastmen had been trying to revive: a hellish, horned humanoid, with a single cyclopean eye that blazed with infernal light. Wielding a massive black flail and clad in black plate armor the Chaos Lord proclaimed his name as Molan and swore that the forces of Chaos would once again raze the lands above before striding into battle.

-The battle was hard fought, but after taking several powerful blows Molan's body began to break down into magma. It seemed the Chaos Lord's spirit was unable to sustain its hold on a physical form so soon after the ritual's completion. With Molan and his acolytes defeated, the party worried how they might escape from the horde of beastmen below.

-However, it seemed Molan's defeat held far greater consequences. Beneath their feet, the entire temple began to shake as it started coming apart. While stone slabs began to peel away from the ziggurat, all out chaos began. With beastmen fleeing for their lives, the party began to descend the temple trying to guide what survivors they could. Noticing all the coins strewn about, unused in the ritual, most of the party tried to snatch up what they could in their descent. Jarppie happened to snatch up Molan's flail thinking it might have some value.

-As the party ushered the survivors onto the dragon ship, massive waves began to crash against the island. Finally, as the temple fell into complete ruins, a massive tidal wave surged propelling the dragon ship through the underground sea and towards a cavern wall. Ahead, through the maelstrom, the party noticed the mouth of a narrow cave. As if the gods themselves smiled upon the party for their victory, the dragon ship rode down the crest of the wave and shot through the rocky maw until the surf brought them back to the outside world.

-The ship smashed against the ground destroying it, but the party and the survivors pulled through. However, they found that the cave had dumped them out in an entirely unknown area. Ethanfeld was nowhere in sight. There was not a single familiar landmark. Who could say where they had appeared.

-In the distance, chimney smoke could be seen and with his keen eyes Sheldon noticed a town in the distance. After taking a short rest, they began gathering up the survivors. Zaronious made certain that the women stuck close to him. Together, the party marched on towards the village hoping to find a place to rest, safety for the villagers and information about where in the world they were. Regardless, the party had once more triumphed against the forces of Chaos.