Thursday, September 27, 2012

D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders Session 04+05

Last week was devoid of my usual Encounters update. A lot happened so perhaps I'll explain that first before we get all caught up. In a stroke of fortune, our little RPG group has been expanding rapidly. Returning player here or there. Then they brought a friend. Two new people here. Two more new people there and then one of them brings a friend. All of this was really not a problem at first because some had joined in via our Saturday sessions (more DCC play reports on the way).

However, it all kind of exploded last week when pretty much all the new players converged in for Encounters. I have been our store's sole DM for the past two seasons because we just did not have the numbers to support a second table. Cue my surprise when I get to run a session for eleven players. There was really no other way around it. If you're familiar with 4e then I know you're probably thinking impossible. Well, it moved a bit slower but we did it. Several were still using pregens that I hadn't made the time to bump up past level 1, so that with some liberal tweaking allowed the combat encounter to still present a challenge.

However, with my drive for continuity in the summaries I decided not to write up the giant drow strike force that descended on the Council of Spiders. All the players seemed intent on coming back, which is great, but there was no way to keep running the season for a table of eleven. So I made a call for new DM's. Worked out one of the vets who is pretty new to DMing, but experienced with the rules, to take over a second table starting this week. I decided to wait and see what players would make up my table and retcon Session 4 to only include them and go from there.

This week went well enough. We ended up with enough for two tables of five players and there were two people that missed who could be back again in the future so an even six/six perhaps down the line. I really love that we're back up to two tables. It was like that when I joined the group over a year ago and quickly diminished down to one. It wasn't without some issues. The DM for table two is still pretty new to DMing 4e, but he's eager to work at it and that's what counts in my book. We all have to start at some point. A lot of the vets playing at the time had to walk me through my first sessions of 4e which happened to be LFR modules. Looking back over season 08 of Encounters, my first season to run, I realize a lot of mistakes and problems I had. Certainly a learning process, but this was a great start for the rest of the season in my book.

Next week is primarily a roleplaying session and I'll be interested in seeing how that plays out. This is the first Encounters season I have seen where there has been such a huge level of divergence that can occur. Speaking of divergence, I really wish I could clone myself to watch over Table 2's sessions as well. The key NPC to rescue died in their run this week so already each Table has grown off into a different direction. Good times, but in any case here's a double-shot of summaries:

Session 04: Wizard Clash
-Once more, the party gathered in the same small cavern in the Eastways where their adventure had first started. However, this time there were some new faces and one of their three leaders were missing. Ash'ala Melarn was quick to explain the situation. She explained that a certain faction, the Council of Spiders, having taken Lolth's demand for the Demon Weave to its extreme feel that wizards now deserve a seat on the Ruling Council of Menzoberranzan. Dangerous and foolish ideals, in Ash'ala's own words.

-Smirking, Ro'kolor questioned if the group was curious about the new faces and the absence of Hoshtar. From the last mission, only Zarra Melarn and Solvayas were present. Stating that he needed further training, Hoshtar had relieved Phaeqel of his duties and assigned a more experienced mage, Drisdhaun Xorlarrin in his stead. Zaketrin had matters of her own to deal with among House Melarn. Furthermore, with a slew of new jobs coming in Ro'kolor was forced to rearrange the duties of his men. To make up for the differences, he brought forth Charon and Belgos to bolster the party's strength.

-As for Hosthar, Ash'ala took over explaining as she told the party that he had been kidnapped by the Council of Spiders. They had learned that the Council was using a building in the ruins of the old compound of House Srune'Lett as a meeting place and suspected that Hoshtar was held there.

-Ro'kolor noted that moving against them openly would be unwise as it might force the issue to a head and stir up open warfare. He added that House Baenre wouldn't want that. This confirmed, for the first time, exactly what House had employed the Bregan D'aerthe to act on their behalf in these matters. Smiling, Ash'ala granted the party their mission: find the Council members by any means, rescue Hoshtar and don't get discovered.

-After a short break to confer with their respective members in private, the faction representatives bid the party farewell as they set off for their destination. House Srune'Lett fell during the War of the Spider Queen, and its impressive compound in the neighborhood of Narbondellyn, a fashionable district of elegant manors, eclectic artisans and rising socialites, fell with them. In the midst of such sophistication, the ruins of the Srune'Lett compound made for a terrible blemish. The walls surrounding the compound were crumbled and breached in several locations. The tall spires that was once its most prominent feature held a gaping hole near its top.

-According to the intelligence given to them, the party knew the wizards were hiding in one of the smaller buildings; which were still mostly intact. As they approached, they could see black curtains hanging over windows, suggesting that the place was indeed inhabited and perhaps being used for secret purposes.

-Following a wide set of stone steps, the party entered an open plaza with a large basin of water set in the floor. Ahead, they saw doors leading in the building to the left, to the right and straight ahead. Standing near the doors were two sentries with long spears in defensive stances. Upon sighting the party, they shifted nervously in place.

-Approaching the guards, Solvayas and Charon managed to convince them that they were there for Hoshtar; a veiled truth. The guards automatically assumed Hoshtar had sent for allies to come join in the talks as well. This reference brought suspicion among the party. However, the way inside was cleared and thus they advanced. Within the party passed several spellcasters. Some resided in a large area designed as personal sleeping quarters and another long hallway held a library. Curiously, some of these members of the Council of Spiders bore the masks of House Xorlarrin members.

-In the central chamber, the group meet with an elderly member of the Council of Spiders. He seemed friendly and eager to have more recruits for their cause. However, little seemed outwardly aggressive about his feelings on the matter. The wizard confirmed that Hoshtar was present for a peaceful meeting with his leaders. However, just then a deep gong resounded through the complex. At this warning sign, all those present labeled the party as intruders and attacked.

-The ensuing battle was quite fierce. Surrounded on all sides, the party fought a tough battle despite many of the wizards present being only apprentices. Belgos, in particular, had a rough time as he found himself isolated and cornered in the library by one of the guards. However, with some quick footwork he was able to climb atop a bookshelf just in time to avoid a swing of the guard's spear. Running from the top of bookshelf to bookshelf, he used this vantage point to pepper his foes with arrows.

-At Zarra's command, the party made sure to incapacitate the wizards present; planning to take them in for harsh interrogation. As Solvayas used his spider form to encase the captives in webbing, they questioned the group learning that the masked members were in fact low ranking members of House Xorlarrin interested in the ideals of the Council of Spiders. Drisdhaun noted their names and meanwhile, Charon worked in the shadows out of sight carrying out the task Ro'kolor had appointed to the Bregan D'aerthe members among the party.

-With the main floor secured and knowing Hoshtar was down below, the party advanced following a spiral staircase to the lower level. There, they found a drow resting at a large desk, chair kicked back, holding a rapier and glaring towards them. "And so it begins," he said with a sneer, "Thank you, dear friends, for starting what I'm sure will be a perfectly lovely war."

Session 05: Secrets & Lies
-Faced with this mysterious drow, but noting his unwillingness to fight immediately, the party tried to question him as much as possible for what information could be gained. Introducing himself as Merinid Dalael, he refused to speak of his benefactors but merely said that they were no friends to the Spider Queen. Worried for Hoshtar, Drisdhaun asked of his fate. Merinid reassured them that he was alive as "his guest" and that he wouldn't be leaving soon.

-Curious about his connection in all of this, Solvayas questioned why the wizards upstairs thought Hoshtar was present as a guest. Merinid confirmed that this was the case. He had come for a meeting with elders of the Council of Spiders. However, that meeting was cut short and the elders would never speak again; after Merinid's intervention. Continuing this line of thought, Solvayas asked what Merinid wanted with a high ranking member of House Xorlarrin. However, laughing, Merinid informed the party that Hoshtar had already served his purpose: provoking the priestesses to strike against the Council of Spiders via the party who were little more than helpless pawns of the Spider Queen.

-Charon stated that it had been their task from the Bregan D'aerthe to recover contract. Solvayas added that their pride for completing contracts meant they couldn't back down. Merinid stated that he felt the same way and thus proposed they would simply have to clash and see whose resolve was superior. Kicking off from the desk, Merinid rolled back and escaped down the adjoined hallway as he left behind a cloud of darkness obscuring the path ahead.

-As the party rushed to try and catch up to the assassin, they were beset by mysterious creatures made from shadows. Some hunched over like small inhuman lurking beasts and yet others that seemed purely humanoid and clad in heavy armor. Another harsh battle awaited the party as these shadow creatures blocked their hopes of pursing Merinid who had all but vanished.

-Solvayas, taking the lead, felt the brunt of these creatures' wrath and it was only by Zarra's will to invoke Lolth's power that he remained in the fight. Meanwhile, Beglos and Charon acted at range firing arrows as support. As the opposition thinned, thanks in part due to Drisdhaun's use of arcane light to weaken the shadow-creatures' power, Charon rushed ahead hoping to find Hoshtar or track down Merinid. Opening the first door he came to and peering through, the rogue was surprised by the assassin taking a painful strike from his rapier.

-Cackling, Merinid rushed down the steps that were adjoined by this doorway happy to continue this game of cat and mouse with the party. However, his escape was cut short as Solvayas, tired of the games, summoned forth a swarm of spiders that tripped the agile assassin.

-As he fell, Merinid couldn't help but further taunt the party as he cried out, "Do you think the houses of these poor fools will suffer such an attack upon their members without retaliation? Do you think the wizards of the city will allow the slaughter of so many of their own to go unpunished? Tension is already at a boiling point, thanks to the Avatar of Lolth. You have simply provided the spark to ignite these flames!"

-Even as the party ganged up on him, Merinid managed to slip away and reach an alchemical lab at the end of the hallway. There, the party found the corpses of two Council wizards and Merinid who had Hoshtar held with a dagger at his throat. The Xorlarrin representative looked badly beaten, but still alive. Laughing, Merinid pointed out that Hoshtar was worth more alive to the party at this point than to him. If any approached him too close or continued their attacks then Hoshtar would die.

-Ever ready to accept such a challenge, Belgos drew a single arrow and aiming carefully he let a shot fly at Merinid. The hunter's aim struck true and as the arrow pierced Merinid's wrist, the assassin lost his grip on the dagger. Acting quickly, Solvayas rushed down the hall morphing into his spider form even as he moved using the momentum to slam against Hoshtar and force him free of Merinid's grasp. Disarmed and unbalanced, Drisdhaun moved in to finish things against the crafty assassin as he called forth bolts of magic missile rendering him unconscious.

-With Hoshtar saved, the party took a moment to treat his wounds ensuring he would be able to safely make the travel back home. However, Zarra demanded to know about Hoshtar's involvement with the Council of Spiders. However, from Hoshtar's point of view this was a simple matter. He explained that his cousin, Raelaryn, invited him to speak with a wizard of House Barrison Del'Armgo about the Council's aims.

-These were also the two who laid dead on the floor. They had hoped to secure Hoshtar's support knowing that such a well respected member of House Xorlarrin would surely draw many to their cause. Yet Hoshtar stated that he had no interest in the Council of Spiders. While he supported the crafting of the Demon Weave, he remained dedicated to Lolth's command.

-Further information came forth during these discussions as well. A number of wizards from Houses in Menzoberranzan had sided with the Council, but thus far no one prominent member had emerged to act as a guiding force; perhaps the role they desired Hoshtar to fill. The backbone of the Council is compromised of members from House Xorlarrin and House Barrison Del'Armgo; the two Houses that favor spellcasters and give their wizards the most authority and leeway in their actions.

-Before his death, Raelryn had mentioned to Hoshtar that he suspected that the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, Gromph Baenre himself, was sympathetic to the Council's cause and was contemplating giving his full support; yet no proof was provided. As for the assassin, Hoshtar was not familiar with him but knew it was clear that whoever he answered to was clearly trying to fan the sparks of tension into full on flames driving a wedge between priestesses and wizards to launch a civil war. He suggested they let Ro'kolor interrogate Merinid once they were back safely within the city.

-As the party prepared to transfer back their captives, they explored the alchemy lab. Several magic items were found, leftovers from eons ago when this site still found regular use. Zarra found Solvayas' actions suspicious and questioned him suspecting foul-play. He was quick to reply that he was searching the bodies for anything of value. Zarra found something off about his excuse. However, Charon quickly came to support his fellow mercenary backing up the story with some fast-talk. Uneasy, Zarra dropped the matter pleased enough that their mission had gone smoothly.

-More importantly, as he mulled over things, Drisdhaun had a revelation. Recalling a passage from an obscure history book he had once read, Drisdhaun identified the shadowy creatures that Merinid had employed as having a tie to the Shadowfell. In all of the history of Menzoberranzan, such creatures had ties to only one group: the Jaezred Chaulssin.

-They were a secretive, patriarchal order of assassins with mysterious ties to the Shadowfell. During the War of the Spider Queen over a century ago, the Jaezred Chaulssin spurred both a horde of demonic orcs and an army of duergar to attack Menzoberranzan. Their stated goal has always been to free the drow race from Lolth's tyranny by any means necessary. If they truly were active again, then starting a civil war easily fit their past methods.

-With such ominous events in the air, the party returned to check in with Ash'ala and Ro'kolor. Once the captives were secured, they came before the three representatives of the triumvirate. With grave interest they listened to the party's account of what had transpired. After the briefing was finished, a long silence fell as the drow pondered the significance of what was happening.

-"Well," Ash'ala said at last, "It appears Menzoberranzan lies on the brink of civil war, how will our houses respond? This requires much thought and discussion. I urge you all to spend the night to gather your thoughts. Tomorrow, we shall meet and discuss all that has transpired and discover the best course for our alliance to follow." Hoshtar and Ro'kolor gave their agreement and the party was dismissed with another mission accomplished.

-Once more, each leader me with their respective members to see how well their representatives handled the secret tasks appointed to them. First, Drisdhaun checked in to see how Hoshtar was doing. Hafnein had already told him of the task he granted to the up and coming wizard. Wasting no time, already recovering well, Hoshtar asked what Drisdhaun had learned. He was pleased to discover all the House Xorlarrin wizards had been spared death and furthermore, Drisdhaun had gathered all their names. Hosthar stated that he would pass this information on to Ravel, the head of their House and that Hafnein would most certainly be pleased as well.

-Elsewhere, Ash'ala conferred with Zarra to see what she had learned about Hoshtar's role in the situation. Zarra confirmed that Ash'ala's suspicions that Hoshtar had went willingly to meet with the Council of Spiders was true. However, Zarra went on to fully give the excuse Hoshtar had given and his sincerity in declining their offer. Still, Ash'ala felt uneasy knowing that Hoshtar carried out such actions in secrecy.

-Finally, Solvayas, Beglos and Charon met with Ro'kolor at one of the Bregan D'aerthe's usual haunts. They arrived just in time to see Merinid Dalael being escorted to the chambers below; assuredly facing cruel torture to pry any information he held. Eager to learn how they had performed their mission, Ro'kolor listened to their account. The three mercenaries had easily planted evidence of House Melarn's involvement throughout the building and at the same time, Solvayas had rather stealthily removed all traces of House Xorlarrin's presence without the rest of the party's knowledge. Laughing happily, Ro'kolor commended the trio on a job well done and assured them that this would be good for business in the future.

-The priestesses who desire to uphold the old ways of Lolth and preserve the status quo and the wizards that see the Demon Weave as Lolth's calling for those with arcane might to rise in rank and status. These two opposing forces seem to be drawing further and further into the fever pitch of war. Amid this uneasy tension, the party suspects, the Jaezred Chaulssin lurks manipulating both sides to promote an all out civil war that might tear the city apart. The party was left with much to think about. Tomorrow, the course of the triumvirate and perhaps even the future of Menzoberranzan would be decided...

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