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!

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