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...

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