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!"