Fresh from their island rescue, our young heroes finally set foot upon Xalpia Dominia once more. After thanking the ship captain for the ride our intrepid heroes had little time to take in the sights. Kazamir wanted to see his parents, of course, but the rest of the group was more concerned with purchasing some new clothing. Onward, to market!
Our heroes head toward the market but are quickly shown that there are different plans afoot. Within minutes the group is surrounded by several winged Deva and herded up toward the Stupa of the Celestial Dragon, a large domed building that dominates Xalpia Dominia. Being wise (or at least not wanting to pick a fight), our heroes follow the Deva and are soon escorted into a secret back entrance. They are lead down a hallway shrouded in mist, clearly a very special entrance for very special (I.E. Player Character) people.
Our heroes emerge into the main temple area. There are more Deva guards and perhaps the oldest priest the heroes have ever seen. His race is hard to make out, as the only thing really memorable or visible are his pure white eyes and a long beard. He is clearly in touch with the Celestial Dragon and he quickly explains some setting background. He also drops some knowledge: long ago the nine dragons who ate daddy eventually became the nine stones of power (at this point I started singing the Dragonball Z theme song). The priest was sure that we had been touched by the Black Gem, which held great power to control the undead.
Even better, we’d all been marked by the Celestial Dragon. Which meant that it was our job to clean up this whole mess. And given that we’d been touched by the Black Gem, it was highly likely that we’d run into it again. Great. But at least we all had a reason to stick together and so our heroes depart richer in knowledge, if not comfort.
Our heroes had money in their pockets and a definite surfeit of goods. Time to hit the market! Kazamir took a small detour to visit the family alchemy shop and gear up with his backup gear. Then it was time for some shopping. At first the little market excursion was going well. We had credit at shops and new shiny magic items. But suddenly we are beset by screams and we roll out of the shop to see tons of humongous rats attacking the marketplace! Time to spring into action!
The fight wasn’t anything serious, as the rats were just minions. Still, it had a few fun little highlights and I had a few thoughts.
- I personally love minion battles. They make you feel heroic and the controllers get a chance to really shine. Newt was really able to make good use of his beguiling strands power.
- The rats were actually just a distraction. This was a really, really good use of minions and a nice way to move the plot forward. Quite well done.
We dispatched the rats with ease, but not before some shady halflings had a chance to cut our purses. We were all at least 100 gold pieces lighter in the wall. Though the fools decided to steal Kazamir’s sword. Not smart, considering he had sword bonded it to himself. A mental thought and it was back in his hands. But not everything else! Our heroes gave chase immediately!
Our heroes soon found the hideout the thieving scoundrels had been using. It was a collection of buildings with rooftop walkways. Very bad for us, good for the thieves. Still, they had our gold and we were mighty heroes! Onward, into the warrens! What followed was a nice little fight with a bunch of rats and those pesky thieves. A tough but well won victory.
- Poor Beren rushing around the corner and eating three readied attacks, getting dropped from full to negative hit points in one fell swoop. Cost him the use of a daily power, too.
- Newt dropping his Protection From Arrows and not having it do a bit of good.
- Kazamir dropping his Punishing Eye and just reaping in the extra damage. That daily is really, really good.
- Everyone else using their burst powers to cash in on the Punishing Eye.
- The Punishing Eye showing me an invisible zombie killing the last halfling. This really, really freaked out Tish.
- I really have to say that the battle maps put out by WotC are just brilliant. Between Paul and I we must have a good 20-30 of them. We sprang to get them laminated and even at the highway robbery costs it was worth it. These maps are going to see use for years.
- I gotta hand it to Paul here: this was a pretty solid fight. The choice of where to move was very meaningful and the use of readied actions gave a real sense of danger. Those rogues did a ton of damage, though.
Eventually our heroes win out against the thieves and have no choice but to venture forth into the sewers. Near the end of the fight the last halfling had been brutally killed, and thanks to Kazamir’s Punishing Eye he saw what did it: a horrible zombie that was invisible. Not good. Not good at all.
Aside: Tish just hates zombies. It’s one of her phobias and I just felt terrible for her for the rest of the fight. This is one thing I try to keep in mind. If I have arachnophobia players I don’t drop in spiders. It sounds silly, but it can make a difference. So for the next few bits her character was pretty quiet.
Anyway, our heroes journey down into the sewers. It’s about as pleasant as you can imagine. At this point time was getting a little short due to time commitments, so Paul made the wise decision of shortening some battles into a running skill challenge. This is the kind of thing I highly approve of doing and I think it shows some nice development on Paul’s part. Learning when to roll with the punches and simplify things is a great skill to have.
- I personally really liked this challenge. Without any set goals beyond “reach the end of the map” it was a nice chance to flex my thought muscles.
- I think some players get really, really frustrated or confused in these sorts of challenges. Depending on what sort of gaming you grew up on, the whole “just do something!” aspect can get quickly overwhelming. I noticed a few players being very unsure about what to do.
- Poor Tish didn’t want anything to do with the Zombies at all.
- The one quibble I have with this challenge is that if you ended your turn next to a monster you got attacked. I think I would have only done the attack on a failed skill check, to raise the stakes. But that’s a pretty minor quibble.
Eventually our heroes push through the main sewers and have to enter a large pipe that the zombies are following. Lovely. A short and very icky (save for Kazamir and Newt, who were surfing on Tenser’s Floating Discs) ride later and we emerged into a large chamber. We moved forward as cautiously as we could but after a few minutes giant carrion crawlers attacked!
This was a short and very brutal fight indeed. Both crawlers surged forward and trampled us all at least twice. It made things feel tense, but they didn’t have a lot in the way of hit points. We took out both crawlers without too much trouble, though for a few minutes things looked grim. That’s the best kind of fight I can imagine.
- This was a pretty simple group versus two elite monsters fight. Still, good use of the carrion crawler trample power.
- I’m not sure if such low level monsters should have threatening reach. It’s an interesting tactical challenge, but can be hard for level 2 characters to deal with.
The Carrion Crawlers dealt with, our heroes eventually found the secret doorway that contained the source of the problem. A brief rest and our heroes dove through the door to confront the terrible menace!
The chamber wasn’t large and it was dominated by a large pit of swirling blackness. The same thing we had to deal with on the ship! Not good at all! And floating above the void was a terrible looking Drow with a black gem! Our heroes had found the source!
The fight started in earnest! The drow wasted no time in conjuring his legions of undead. There were dozens of zombie husks who wanted to grab us and bite us to death. Two more of those large zombie hulks we had to deal with on the ship. It was enough to make even the bravest hero pause. But we went into the fray with nary a second thought.
Things heated up and we started doing battle. During the second round a lot of the dead zombies were turned into massive puddles of undead skin and sinew. Terrible oozes of undead energy. They were tough buggers and soon we found ourselves just surrounding with undead ick. It was all we could do to keep our heads.
But eventually, as you might have expected, we emerged victorious. It was a brutal fight that took us nearly an hour and a half to complete. But we did emerge the winners, even if the Drow sunk into the black void, leaving us with a bunch of rotting corpses and a lot of questions. All that remained was the task of taking down the portal (a quick skill challenge that was rushed for time) and then we made our way out to the sunlight again, Our quarry had escaped once more.
- Once more Punishing Eye proved to be highly effective. The zombie minions were actually “two-hit” minions, so the second damage instance from punishing eye meant that one hit killed them. Very useful!
- Beren’s Abjure Undead just hits like a ton of bricks. He made good use of it.
- Newt was dropping tons of area damage and on minion control. He did a good job of it, too.
- Elrath dropped his own zone on the fight. This one boosted defenses and it prevented at least two hits.
- A very enjoyable session all around. I really like having longer to play than we do on Wednesday nights. To me the Weekend format is still far preferable, if not exactly great for an adult lifestyle.
- I felt bad for Tish and her fear of zombies. This could not have been an easy session to endure.
- It’s quite enjoyable to see how far Paul has come in his GM skills. I think he’s getting more comfortable with improvising, at least to an extent. While we’ll never be exactly on the same wavelength, I think the gap is closing a bit.
- Good world building in this session, too. We learned more about the setting and just what we might be going after.
- My old school heat was warmed by the presence of the X ______ of __________ gambit. Be it a rod of seven parts or the seven swords of answering, I dig stuff like this. It’s a classic for a reason, folks!
Can’t get enough of this game (for some strange reason)? My buddy James is also doing a blog on this game. His is more an in character and you can find it over here: http://xalpia.wordpress.com/