Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Return to Ravenloft: Act Four, Session Two

We return to our Return to Ravenloft campaign to check in on our intrepid heroes. We find them deep in the heart of a mountain, currently fleeing a force of dark-skinned dwarves through the hallways of a basalt fortress suspended above a lake of lava. They have rushed headlong into a dark cavern in their retreat and come face-to-face with a fiery being rumbling in the dark.

Let's jump in and see what happened:

Our Cast
Jack Vitous (Werewolf Warlord) - Played by Nick R.
Paelias, the Seer (Eladrin Wizard) - Played by Dallas
Gustav, Vistani Explorer (Human Ranger) - Played by David
All characters are Level 6.

And Now!

This session began with a literal explosion as the players were forced to duck out of the way of a gout of flame shooting forth from the fiery figure. All of them were able to come out of the blast unscathed but were suddenly much more aware of their surroundings:

The cavern they had entered was vast, a circular chamber some 200 feet across (presumably the full width of the pillar holding up the fortress above), and 30 feet high. A 30-foot wide walkway hugged the wall of the cavern all the way around, dropping off into a large pit in the center of the chamber. More pressing, however, was the presence of a large fiery dragon sitting in the pit, its long slender neck arcing out of the pit as the fire burning in its gullet illuminated it from below.

The party was stunned -- none of them had seen a dragon in the flesh before, though all had heard the tales -- but were urged to action at the sound of approaching footsteps coming from behind them. Jumping forward, both Jack and Gustav took off with abandon towards the dragon, slashing at its face and connecting, but were just as quickly rebuffed as they breathed in noxious fumes of brimstone seeming to emanate from the scales of the dragon. Paelias, on the other hand, decided to keep his distance -- seeing a large number of the dark-skinned dwarves come crashing down the stairs, the wizard ran along the walkway to one side, shooting icy rays at the dragon in an effort to aid his companions.

The dragon, not appreciative of the entrance the party had made, struck out with his massive jaws and took a bite at Jack. The warlord retaliated with a second attack before backing away from the dragon and getting out of range of his mouth. Gustav likewise stepped back, removing himself from the cloud of smoke surrounding the dragon, and forced himself into conflict with some of the dwarves. Before they stepped back, however, both the ranger and the warlord were able to notice a small crack in the pit underneath the dragon, bits of light peeking through where the stone had weathered under its feet.

Paelias continued his hasty retreat around the cavern, stopping only to fire magic back towards the dwarves as they approached his companions. Jack decided to try to reason with the dragon, thinking he may be able to turn the creature against the dwarves -- but failed in his attempts, only managing to anger the beast further. Gustav, on the other hand, had better luck with his silver tongue:

"Oh great dragon, what is your name that we might honour you better?" the Vistani cried out, as both he and Jack made shows of supplication.

"Puny mortal! Who are you to interrupt my slumber? I, the great and powerful Antül!" The dragon replied with verve and anger, his cavernous voice echoing all around them, before letting loose with a gout of flame towards the ranger. Gustav was able to shield himself from the blast but was left with the definite knowledge that the great and powerful Antül had not taken kindly to being attacked in his own chambers. Luckily, the flame had engulfed one of the dwarves surrounding Gustav, and managed to injure another, so the ranger had a bit more breathing room.

Paelias dodged the bolts of flame and continued on his way around the cavern, stumbling across a panel full of levers embedded in the wall. Drawing on his knowledge of dungeoneering and dwarven architecture to help him discern their purpose, the wizard gleaned that the levers could be used to control any sort of contraption, though it would almost certainly be mechanical in nature. Deciding to try his luck, the eladrin pulled on the first lever, immediately causing a loud mechanical grinding to start echoing about the chamber. With no visible effect, however, he turned and braced himself for the dwarves hot on his heels.

Those duergar are nasty SOBs.
The conflict waged for some time; Jack darted back and forth between the dwarves and the dragon, switching in and out of his werewolf form as he attacked with his claws and sword and (sometimes literally) barked orders to his companions. Gustav held his own as he faced off against the heavily armoured soldier, slashing at the weak points of the armour with his slender scimitars. Paelias was forced to use his more defensive magicks, conjuring shields of force energy to block fiery bolts from the dwarven sorcerers. Taking one last-ditch effort, the eladrin flipped all of the levers around until he found the correct combination to activate the mechanism. Jack, the only party member close enough to the pit to notice, watched as the crack under the dragon's feet began to grow wide -- whatever Paelias had done had started a mechanism that appeared to open the pit to the lake of lava below. Even more telling, however, was that the light from beneath illuminated Antül's wings, showing they were atrophied and would not be able to carry his weight -- the dragon had obviously been locked in the cavern for too long and would fall to his demise should the pit open all the way.

Despite their prowess in battle, however, the party was starting to suffer from their wounds and grow weary. Realizing the desperation of their situation, Jack slipped into beast form, dispatched the dwarves around him and stepped forward toward the dragon. Letting loose a mighty roar, the werewolf centered his mighty attack on the dragon, dazing the magical creature and giving Jack time to slip out of the melee. Rushing headlong towards Gustav, he called out to Paelias to reinvigorate the wizard, who was in danger of falling to the blows upon him.

The dwarves were so focused on their task, they did not notice the dragon having lost his senses in the pit; instead, Antül was forced to stumble about, trying to keep his footing in the pit as the floor seemed to slide away underneath him. Instead, the dark-skinned dwarves gave chase to the companions, harrying them as they tried to reconvene as a single unit.

Jack made a beeline to Paelias while Gustav was forced to take desperate measures to finish off the heavily armoured soldier before him. Leaving the dwarf bleeding profusely, the ranger finally disengaged his enemy and took off towards his companions, forcing his enemy to hobble after in pursuit leaving a trail of blood behind him.

The three companions, finally reunited as a single unit, stood in defense of the levers, realizing now that the mechanism was the only way to speedily dispatch Antül. The dwarves threw what little might they had left at the party only to be continually rebuffed. Finally, the dragon came to his senses and called out for aid from the dwarves. One of the dwarves who had been harassing Jack this whole battle called back orders to the robed dwarves, who took off at once towards the dragon in an attempt of aid. Both Paelias and Gustav made short work of the dwarves, however, battering them with magic missiles and crossbow bolts, slaying one of the spellcasters outright and managing to knock the other into the pit and, presumably, into the lava below.

With a great roar and the scrabbling of claws on basalt, the great and powerful Antül slipped from the pit and fell out of view, dropping into the lava below. The soldier who gave orders to the spellcasters, seeing all his allies fall in battle, dropped his weapon and fell to his knees, speaking out in a tongue that none of the party recognized. Paelias, weary from battle, drew his longsword and dispatched the dwarf before turning to collect himself.

Taking a moment to breathe, the party searched the dwarf bodies for information and valuables before fully searching the cavern. Paelias sought out the source of arcane energy that drew them to the fortress and found it emanating from a point directly below them, somewhat near the base of the pillar. Finding a spiral staircase leading downward on the other side of the cavern, the party descended. The heat intensified as they went further down, so the wizard once again using his icy magicks to cool his companions.

It's not exact but it's a pretty awesome picture of a fiery temple nonetheless.
Eventually, the heat became too much for Paelias to bear and Gustav, more weathered against harsh environments, was forced to aid him down the stairs. Coming to a small stone platform, the party found themselves on the level of the lava, the heat so intense here steam was burning off of their brows. Leaving Paelias hidden in the alcove with the stairs, Jack and Gustav stepped forth onto the platform, following the directions given to them by the eladrin.

As Jack approached the point Paelias directed him to, he was thrown back by a wave of heat and left mostly senseless as he dropped in and out of consciousness. Gustav weathered the blast once again, however, and found himself standing before a being made entirely out of fire. Hearing a fiery voice searing its way through his mind, Gustav found himself communicating with the Firewalker itself.

The primal spirit thanked the ranger for coming, and offered thanks to the Greenspeaker for sending aid, then bade Gustav to destroy the rune binding it to this spot. Approaching the Firewalker, Gustav found the spirit was bound within a rune in the center of the platform -- bringing his scimitar to bear, the ranger scratched deeply into the malleable rock, disrupting the rune.

With another wave of extreme heat, the Firewalker freed himself and began to dissolve into the ether -- but channeled his being towards Gustav. The fire washed over the Vistani, engulfing him almost entirely, before beginning to siphon into Gustav and melding their beings together. It was a sight similar to that of the Greenspeaker binding itself with Dmitri, the werewolf leader, and when Gustav turned back around to view his party, a brilliant fire burned in his eyes that was not there before. For his part, Gustav was still in control of his body, but there was the distinct addition of another presence inside his being, and the Firewalker spoke to Gustav from within, bidding he and his companions to leave.

Before they could collect themselves to depart, however, the party was shaken by another quake from all around them. It was very reminiscent to the quake they first experienced when entering the fortress, only this one was far more intense and was accompanied by a terrifying sight:

The second phase of Antül! It's like Final Fantasy all over again!
Off of the platform, some distance into the lake of lava, a great plume of molten rock rose up and shed itself from the figure of Antül, reinvigorated by the volcano around him and now bearing two wings made entirely of flame to keep him aloft above the lava. As rocks began to fall from high above and the lava began to bubble around them, the Firewalker reached out to reinvigorate the party and prepare them for this final battle against the volcanic dragon before them.


Yet another cliffhanger inside the Firewalker temple, though this one promises to be the finale. I have grand schemes for the final fight against Antül; let us hope that they play out as well in practice as they do in my head!

Despite the lengthy report above, this session was only a little over two hours long and was almost entirely combat. The session started with the party being attacked by dragonfire and the combat lasted until the last remaining duergar surrendered and was dispatched. After that, the discovery of the Firewalker and the binding of the spirit to Gustav lasted little more than fifteen minutes and it was already late at that point so I decided to throw one last cliffhanger at them so we could wrap it up all nice-like next session. Hopefully we will get some more playtime next Monday, however, as the party still has a number of temples to discover and get through in this act.

The combat was intense, though. David made a point of telling everyone that, though he has played Dungeons & Dragons for years, he has never actually fought a dragon, and he was legitimately terrified because, like his character, he didn't actually know what it could do. He had only stories to base his knowledge on, and I think Nick and Dallas were the same. That was somewhat proven by their back-and-forth tactics -- first they attacked the dragon, then they tried to reason with him -- but it turned out to be a really entertaining combat. It got dire very quickly, however, as they were pitted against a large force of dwarves as the same time. I restricted Antül's interaction in the combat to the occasional gout of flame and biting if anyone got close enough, to help even the odds a bit, but the party was still very low on health and had blown almost all of their Daily attacks by the time we were done. Luckily, Dallas discovered the mechanism for the pit that triggered the end of the fight fairly early, and the party managed to roll fairly well towards the end of the combat.

Once again, the werewolf played very well. I made some further adjustments to the werewolf template prior to the session beginning, which forced Nick to redesign some things about his character. I think it worked very well, however, and made the werewolf template a bit more thematic as opposed to just some bonuses you can get. I'll explain a bit more in a longer article, coming soon, but it's still a work-in-progress. Nevertheless, Nick is really enjoying the new dynamic it offers and it has provided some awesome gameplay moments, so I think I'll call it a win.

I wasn't sure who was going to get the blessing of the Firewalker when they finally reached it but a failed Endurance check by Paelias on the way down, and a botched Endurance check by Jack when the spirit appeared (natural 1 for the lose!) gave me an unintentional process of elimination that left Gustav (and, by extension, David) the recipient of the blessing. The Firewalker gave Gustav access to a new Daily power, something that is probably as imbalanced as some of the werewolf stuff but will (hopefully) be entertaining in a gameplay situation. I guess we shall see next session!

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