Dateline – Storm Point

Sunday was the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign. It was an encounter that I had been planning for quite some time, eagerly anticipating building an impressive structure for the fight, and having a lot of fun with it.

The plan was for a fight reminiscent of the Bridge of Khazad-dum scene from Fellowship of the Rings, with a desperate battle on a set of precarious stairways, platforms, and bridges, over a pool of lava. I had intended to build the encounter area using the Sewers of Malifaux Terraclips from WorldWorks. Unfortunately, they weren’t available at GenCon as I (and, I think, they) had hoped, so I was forced to fall back on my Dungeon Tiles. These work just fine, but they lack the 3D elevation stuff I was really hoping for. Now, I also have a bunch of .pdfs from Fat Dragon Games, which are very nice, but I have found that I just suck at building the paper terrain, so…

Anyway, I went with the Dungeon Tiles.

What I wanted in this encounter was to have the party very constrained in their movement, but have the monsters less so. I looked through the books for some good flying monsters and monsters with good ranged attacks, but nothing really fit what I had decided this part of the Silverfalls ruins would contain. Then I remembered the phase spiders.

Phase spiders worked perfectly. The popped in for a surprise attack when the party had made their way out of the entryway and onto the stairs, and they kept up a nice hit-and-run attack pattern that drove the players nuts. I put in a couple of spider webs on the platforms, too, both to hamper movement and to give the spiders some place nasty to teleport characters without just dropping them in the lava (which would give a save, which would prevent the teleport, etc.).

I messed up the way they phase spiders’ defensive teleport thingy worked for the first few rounds, though. The new version of the Monster Builder, while it uses the new monster format which I like, is still pretty buggy, omitting some minor elements from the stat blocks. Little things, like when a power recharges, or the climb and teleport speeds, or what triggers a triggered action… you know. That last one caused a few problems, because I had overlooked it when printing out the stats for the game, and got it wrong the first couple of times. But we straightened it out.

The combat itself was everything I could have hoped for. Characters were getting teleported all around the area, spiders were popping in and out, a couple characters were dropped unconscious from the venom, they were jumping over the lava from platform to platform, knocking spiders over the edge, everything very cinematic and exciting.

They managed to dispatch the spiders, and make their way to the exits, where they opted to head through the entry to the mines, rather than the entry to the caverns. I’d planned some fun stuff for each, and they’re going to run into that next session.

Dateline – Storm Point

We ran the most recent session of Storm Point this past Sunday. Things were a little bit more distracted than usual, because the Fringe Festival is going on in Winnipeg right now, and sometimes it seemed like the entire city was walking by the store windows. And some of the passers-by were very distracting, indeed.

After the last session’s marathon grindfest with the two vrocks, I had revamped the next encounter to be a fair bit easier for the party, but I still wanted it to be an interesting challenge. I kept the monster composition – it was the three minotaur warriors and the minotaur cabalist that had fled the field during the last fight* – but decided to have them make a fighting withdrawal through a narrow corridor with lots of little niches to hide in. I also gave the warriors crossbows, so they could take shelter behind the rocks and such and snipe at the party as they came down the corridor.

I think it would have worked pretty well, with a bit of a chase through the tunnels under enemy fire, but the initiative order totally pooched that idea. The entire party rolled well, and the monsters rolled crap, so the party was able to rush the first held position and engage one of the minotaur warriors in melee. I had the others fall back firing, but really, that first little closing moment was enough to take a lot of the advantage away from the minotaurs.

It was still an interesting fight, and it was neat to watch the players’ reactions when they realized that their enemies were making a fighting withdrawal. It really made them want to chase them.

What with the distractions, we wound up taking longer on this encounter than I had expected, so we wrapped up a little early, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I used DM’s Tracker on my iPad for most of the combat*, and I’m liking it more and more. The only real problem I see with it is that it’s an iPhone app, and I’d love an iPad version that took advantage of the larger screen. I see on the developer’s forum that an iPad version is in the works, so I’m awaiting it with some anticipation.

I was also inspired to dig out my Dungeon Tiles for this session, after seeing this new product coming. Seeing as I’m planning a “Bridge of Khazad-dum” -style combat in the abandoned dwarven city of Silverfalls, I immediately started salivating. Gonna have to check these out at GenCon. Strange thing with using the Dungeon Tiles: one of my players looked at them and commented on all the work I was putting into the game as I layed them out. Considering it was a lot less work than my normal method – drawing the scene out on battle tiles with markers – it struck me as odd. But it definitely added something to the game. I think I’m going to have to use them more.

This is going to be our last Storm Point game for a few weeks, because GenCon is coming up fast, and I’m heading down again. I’m curious to see if I wind up doing a little more frequent blog updates using the iPad, and maybe even Twittering about what’s going on. For that to work really well, though, I’m going to need to get a micro-sim from a US provider and a pay-as-you-go account for a week. Have to see what I can put together.


*2300 xp, a level 8 encounter for 6 characters. Back

*Somehow, it didn’t get turned off when I loaded it into the car and drove  back to the city this weekend. And the cell data functionality was active. Man, that sucks the power quickly! Back

Dateline – Storm Point

Last night was the latest Storm Point session. Due to some real-life concerns, we had to make sure that the game wrapped up early, which at first disappointed me a little, because the encounter I had planned was a tough one, and I didn’t want it glossed over.

In retrospect, I’m very glad that the session ended early, because I made the encounter waaaay too difficult. Somehow, even though I keep the character sheets for the players between sessions, I got into my head that the characters were 9th level, instead of 8th. So, I whipped up an encounter that included a few level 13 critters*.

Four levels above the party, that’s doable, I find, though it can take some time. But five levels above, and there’s a real tendency of the game to start to drag, as the characters are hitting less and less often, and the players get frustrated, and so forth. I’ve noticed that I have a real tendency to want to ramp up the challenge for characters, which I’m trying to curb.

My rationale for making the fights tough is that then the characters really feel like they’ve accomplished something when they win. The downside of this is that, without a balance of easy (or at least less challenging) encounters, the players don’t get to see how good they’ve become, and how they can walk all over some monsters that they used to have to run from.

So, last night’s battle was too tough, especially for the time frame we were dealing with. I started worrying about it right at the start of the session, so instead of having the vrocks swoop in on the party once they were inextricably engaged with the minotaurs, I decided to strike first with the vrocks, and unleash the minotaurs on any of the party that landed their hippogriffs to try and make for the tunnel.

If I hadn’t done that, I think the fight would have gone very badly for our heroes.

They were (most of them) having real problems hitting the vrocks, and wisely stayed out of range of the minotaurs on the ground. Every time one of the vrocks hit a party member, it was doing almost a quarter of their hit points damage. Most of the group ganged up on one vrock to take it down, while the ranger – who didn’t seem to have nearly the trouble hitting as everyone else, and was rolling out 20-30 points of damage a round – managed to take the other one down by himself.

In the fight, I had the minotaurs rush out for a round or two when one of the characters wound up on the ground, and then I pulled them back into the tunnel. I’ll save them for another encounter.

Before the next game, I need to redo my encounter plans – give the party some easier fights to help the pace of the game and decrease the frustration that everyone was feeling by the end of this one.

Well, everyone but the ranger.

*3 minotaur warriors, 1 minotaur cabalist, 2 vrock demons, for a total of 3,900 xp, a level 11 encounter for 6 characters. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

Last night was the latest instalment of the Storm Point game, and we wrapped up the Floating Island adventure. It was an interesting game, because three of the six characters had undergone greater or lesser changes as a result of the opportunity I had given them last session to rework their characters. These changes ranged from swapping a couple of powers to completely changing class. So, there was a bit of a learning curve as people got used to what is, in effect, a different character.

I had also wanted to make the combat for this session a little bit interesting. One of the things this group does well is manoeuvre the battle to their advantage, taking advantage of being able to move around while restricting the ability of their opponents to do the same. I wanted to see how they handled having their movement rather severely restricted.

To restrict the party movement, I set the combat in a store room, with long, narrow aisles between tall, heavy stone shelves. The opponents were some constructs: three scythejaws and four whirling blade automatons. I hid the scythejaws in boxes on the lower shelves down the centre aisle, with the idea that they would trigger at different points in the combat: two would trigger when a character was adjacent to them, and the third would trigger a few rounds later, at the opening of the aisle, cutting off retreat. The automatons I had drop out of the ceiling on the first round in the corners of the room and start in on the characters.

The scythejaws worked beautifully, and did a ton of damage. The narrow quarters for fighting limited what the party could do, making them rather nervous and desperate, and I managed to isolate them in about three little pockets to pound on them individually. However, the narrow aisle also really limited the effectiveness of the automatons: their burst 1 attack could catch at most two characters at once, and didn’t do a whole lot of damage. I also forgot their blow-up-on-death power, but that wasn’t such a big deal, overall. They acted as a nice distraction and impediment to movement, while the scythejaws chowed down mercilessly on the characters they were next to.

I got a few of them down to single-digit hit points at the same time a couple of times.

Now, the whole point behind setting the combat up the way I did was not to screw over the players, or to invalidate the way they’ve built their characters and the things the characters are good at. My goal was to pose an interesting tactical challenge, and see how they responded. Sure enough, they had to change their typical tactics, and think about things somewhat differently. It was a fun exercise, but I made sure that the combat wasn’t too overwhelming so that they had a good chance at surviving it, even when they were not in their tactical element.

But I didn’t want it to be too easy. If it’s too easy, there’s no sense of victory.

After this encounter, which was the last defence before the dragon’s lair, they found the loot, and headed back to Storm Point. One of the characters has requested that the next adventure be an expedition to Silverfalls, the ruined dwarven city in the mountains, to find the bones of his grandfather, who fell in the final defence of the city while the dwarves were evacuating.

Sounds like a good adventure to me.

At this point, the characters are 8th level, so I envision this adventure bringing them up to 10th or so, right on the edge of Paragon Tier. The group has also expressed some desire to find a bigger city to use as a base, and I think Paragon Tier is a good time to do that. On the far side of the mountains is the city of Belys, a thriving metropolis ruled by a dynasty of genasi, that I envision as a sort of Arabian Nights Baghdad, so that’s where we’re going next.

On a (sort of) related note, we also had a discussion about the future of the campaign in the real world. I asked folks if they’d be willing to take a hiatus from Storm Point for a few sessions starting in November. Why? Because, in October, Wizards of the Coast is releasing the newest incarnation of Gamma World, and I’d like to give that a try. And this group is pretty much perfect for the traditional weird and wacky world of Gamma.

They all enthusiastically agreed.

But that’s a way off in the future yet.

Dateline – Storm Point

Sunday was the latest session of the Storm Point game. It was even more scattered than usual, and we got into combat somewhat later than planned, and wound up playing until much later in the evening than we had planned.

Still, I think we all had fun, even if I had to threaten them all with death a couple of times to get them to focus.

With the dragon out of the way, the group was seriously depleted, resource-wise. The main tank had only two healing surges left, and everyone else was pretty beat up, as well. The battle with the wights just before the dragon hadn’t helped any, either. The temple was still jumping pretty randomly through time, and there was some discussion about whether they should just get off the temple and enter the new time period.

I was ready for that decision, but I wanted them to appreciate the gravity of the choice. See, I hate time travel in games. Well, more specifically, I hate player-controlled time travel in games. It just adds so many new layers of headache to running a game. So, I explained to them that leaving the temple and going adventuring in the remote past was a viable choice for them, but that once they left the temple, they couldn’t be sure of ever finding their way back to their own time. I told them I was prepared for that to happen, and to continue the campaign in the new world they found themselves in, but that it was a big decision for them to make.

They opted to stay in the temple, and try to stop it from jumping through time. I handled this with a complexity 5 skill challenge, and was quite glad that it all came down to the final roll*, when the dwarf decided to use his Endurance skill to act as a bridge for the arcane energy to use and complete the mystical circuit. Several of the other characters assisted him, and we had this great image of several adventurers joining hands and touching two different arcane terminals, with mystical power flowing through them to reset the time-jumping magic the dragon had messed up.

What happened next was something I had been planning for some time, but it really surprised them.

I told them that the lightning pillar that had been powering the temple had changed into a vast sphere of silvery energy and, when they looked into it, they saw themselves as they might have been, with different abilities, different training, even different races. I said that they knew that, if they touched this sphere of potentiality, they could be remade into one of their alternate selves – and that they would always have been that person.

Yeah, it’s kind of corny, but here’s my thinking.

When we started this game, the Forgotten Realms settings had just been published for 4E. Since then, there have been a whole lot of new character options that have come along, including new races and classes. I wanted to give my players a chance to look at their characters and decide if they were the ones they still wanted to be playing, without having to bring in a completely new character if they wanted a change. This tied in with the temporal energy being used in the scenario, and gave them the opportunity to think about how they’ve built their characters and whether they want to change them.

I know that one of the players is reworking his rogue into a monk. Another couple may be making minor tweaks to their characters. But mostly, people are happy with the characters they’re playing, and that’s a good thing.

Anyway, after that, they went looking for the dragon’s treasure, of course. They didn’t find it that session, but did manage to find a crypt full of undead that ate up the rest of the evening*.

Next session should be our last one on the Floating Island. After that, one of the characters has expressed some interest in going to see the old dwarven ruins up in the mountains, where his grandfather died. Should be fun.


*11 successes, 2 failures. One roll would tip it either way. Back

*10 zombie rotters, 3 zombie soldiers, 2 zombie hulks, and 2 skull lords, for a total of 2455 xp, a level 9 encounter for 6 characters. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

After too long a hiatus, we finally got back to the Storm Point game yesterday, for the climactic showdown with the blue dragon that had been giving the group such a problem.

In setting this encounter up, I was faced with a bit of a problem. See, the blue dragon has the artillery role, meaning that its best plan is to stand off from the party and blast away with lightning. Now, if I did that, the party would have no choice but to retreat – I had already established that the terrible storm made flying on their hippogriffs untenable, so they had no real way to take the fight to a flying dragon if it held its distance. On the other hand, the group had already proved that they could rapidly do serious damage to the dragon at melee range, and could pin it down in the process.

I decided to level the dragon up by 2* to give it the survivability it needed at close quarters. However, that bumped its defenses high enough that it was putting it in the unhittable range for the characters. So, I tied the increased level to the way it had harnessed the time-shifting power of the temple they were in, drawing on the potentiality of its future self through some special runestones. While it stayed within range of them, it had +2 to its level. This also let me set up a little skill challenge to run in concert with the combat, where the party tries to shut down the runestones that seem to be feeding power to the dragon.

It turned into a hellaciously tough fight for the group. It didn’t help that they sent the eladrin ranger teleporting ahead to the roof where the dragon was charging up to scout, giving the dragon a chance to attack him as he was all alone and then set up at the head of the stairs to take opportunity attacks on the rest of the party trying to make it to the roof. I also added some streams of lighting between pillars that made attacks on characters crossing the line, and a 20-foot shaft of magical lighting shooting up from the centre of the roof into the sky. In retrospect, this latter addition was not the best choice for an environment that favoured the dragon, because it was powerful enough to penetrate the dragon’s lightning resistance.

I managed to drop several of the party members during the fight, and they were already depleted in healing surges from the battle with the wights the previous session. In fact, I had both defenders unconscious at one point, and it really looked like the dragon would get to fly away again, but quick healing by the cleric and the warlord, and a critical by the newly revived fighter right when he needed it most kept things right where they wanted them to be.

But the group managed to deactivate the runestones, dropping the dragon back to its original stats, and kept it pinned in the big shaft of lightning. The dragon did some serious damage, and I almost had them on the run, but they held their ground and triumphed.

During the fight, I had the temple skip through time every few rounds, changing the scene below the temple to reflect the various ages that it was passing through. Now, resting after the difficult battle, they are turning their attention to the time-jumping of the temple in order to return to their own time.

And that’s next game.


*I had reduced the level by 2 to make it a viable solo opponent for the party, so really it was just returning it to the proper level. Back

Dateline: Storm Point

It’s been a while since we played, but we managed to sync up schedules this past Sunday and play. As is usual when we haven’t played for an extended period, the game was fairly scattered, as socializing took precedence over actual play.

But play we did.

Given how distracted everyone (including me) was, I tried to scale back the complexity of the encounters, with some success. The party was investigating the temple that they’d sheltered in after the battle with the dragon last session, trying to find the centre of the magical energy and device that was causing the island to slip through time. They used Arcana and Dungeoneering to navigate the Arkhosian construction towards the source of the power, and the control room they figure must be at the top of the temple. And, of course, they ran into some of the guardians.

I scavenged some of the encounters I had seeded elsewhere on the island to populate the temple, and the one they ran into was a collection of wights, battle wights, and a few glyphs of warding. To make things a little less complicated, I laid it out in a manner that meant the party would only have to face the wights and one of the glyphs initially, but if they went through one of the other doors, they would get hit with another glyph and possibly the battle wights. They managed to put down the wights in good time*, but the distracted players meant that no one was listening to each other, and managed to trigger another glyph when the rogue went through the doorway rather than checking it for traps, despite other players telling him to stop.

I let them take that action back, and they spent a fair bit of time disarming the glyph. Then they blew the disarm roll on the other glyph and froze a few of themselves, while the battle wights opened the doors from the far side and attacked, backed up by the dragon.

Well, my complete surprise kind of got derailed, because the ranger had rebuilt his character with an ability that lets a bunch of his allies just not get surprised. So the hit-and-run, shielded-by-brutes attack that I had planned for the dragon wasn’t nearly as great as I had expected. He got in a blast of breath weapon, but the dwarf fighter was right up in his face again*, smacking him around, so he ran sooner than I had planned.

This little attack accomplished two things: first, the party now knows that the dragon’s going to be stalking them through the temple, sniping at them and running away, which is going to make them pay attention to stuff. Second, they really hate that dragon, now.

That was where we left it. I’m looking at probably two more sessions to wrap up this adventure. And then we’ll have to see where the party wants to go from there. There is a chance that they’ll be trapped in some past era, so I can’t plan too far ahead, but I’ve got some ideas, and I know they do, too.


*Man, I like the mechanics on the wights. Draining healing surges and shifting after a hit. They’re skirmishers, and they really feel like skirmishers. Back

*Blue dragons, being artillery, are most effective at range. They can mix it up hand-to-hand, but it’s not their comfort zone. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

We were back on the Floating Island this past Sunday, now hopelessly adrift in time.

Well, maybe not hopelessly. But still. Adrift in time is not encouraging. And faced with a fire elemental and four hellhounds can be a real downer*.

It wasn’t as bad as all that, though. Even though I got the rules for auras wrong, and dished out extra fire damage for multiple overlapping auras*, the gang managed to tear the elementals apart fairly quickly. Indeed, the fire elemental (a level 12 controller) didn’t get to unleash his best attack at all before dying. The hellhounds gave the group more problems, because of the huge raft of hit points each had.

After that, they made their way up toward the only shelter they could see on this island: the temple with the crystal spires at the top of the central hill. I ran this as a skill challenge, with them trying to make their way through the driving rain and wind, each turn taking a half-hour, and requiring an Endurance check to keep from losing a healing surge from the effort and harsh conditions. I considered throwing in a chance of lightning strikes, as well, but they’d already been through three encounters, and I knew what was waiting for them at the temple.

What was that? Well, a blue dragon*. And a network of smaller crystal spires that kept arcing lightning across the battlefield.

Now, the group was fairly beaten up, and I had some doubts about their survivability, but I didn’t want to pull any punches on this fight. Dragon fights are supposed to be tough and memorable. On the other hand, the warlord was out of healing surges and down to about 75% hit points, and I’m pretty sure the daily powers in the group were all gone. Maybe one or two left.

But that’s okay. If the players start feeling that the DM will never kill them, then the spice is gone from combat. It was a real threat, and they had to deal with it. If they fell, so be it. I wasn’t going to be vicious, but I was going to play the dragon as smart and deadly as I could. I made one concession to the party’s depleted condition, and that was starting the dragon on the ground. Blue dragons are artillery monsters, and I had originally planned to sit it up on the side of the temple where it could blast away with it’s lightning with impunity, but I put it on the ground in front of the temple instead.

Which made a huge difference in the fight. Once the fighter got up close to it, it was stuck. A bad tactical choice got it a little breathing room and it took to the air, but then the cleric trotted out his command and brought it back down, thanks to his elven accuracy power to reroll the attack. Once they got the dragon surrounded, it was quickly bloodied, and the warlord had managed to duck into the temple doorway, where he kept using his powers to get other characters to thump the dragon*.

At this point, I pulled out the dragon’s frightful presence power, which stunned the adjacent party members, including that blasted sticky fighter. The dragon then took to the air, and used an action point to blast out some more lightning at the group. Next round, it flew away to lick its wounds*.

So now the party is resting in the temple, hating the dragon with all their might. And the dragon is resting in a hidden lair, hating the party with all its might.

You know what that means, right?

Grudge match!


*Fire elemental firestorm, 4 hellhounds, 1900 xp, a 7th-level encounter for 6 characters. Back

*One of the players said he thought I was doing it wrong, but I thought I was doing it right. He didn’t press, and I looked it up later. He was correct: similar auras don’t stack their effects. Sorry, guys. Back

*I scaled the adult blue dragon, normally level 12, down to level 11, which set it at 3000 xp, or a level 10 encounter for 6 characters. Tough for a 7th-level party, but not insurmountable. Back

*In what I consider to be perfect warlord fashion. Back

*I gave the party a third of the xp for driving the dragon off in their weakened condition, because I thought that was a pretty impressive accomplishment. If they manage to take it out, they’ll get the full xp on top of that. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

Last night was the latest installment of the Storm Point game. It was even more scattered than usual, because we started later, and had two missing players. Still, we got through the initial bits of the adventure to the surprise twist I had planned, which was good.

The combat we started with went on far too long for the challenge level it represented*, primarily because two of the players were running two characters each, and weren’t overly familiar with their capabilities. This meant they took substantially longer to decide what their characters were going to do on each turn, and slowed the combat a fair bit.

After the combat, we ran into a stumbling block. I’d been describing the increasingly bad weather as the floating island drifted through the eternal storm at the centre of Lake Thunder, and we got to the point where I told them that soon they wouldn’t be able to fly on their hippogriffs in it, and visibility was down to about twenty feet. I did this so that I could run an interesting exploration scenario, with the party wandering through the jungles and climbing the hills and creeping through the rain-drenched ruins of the dockside, all underneath the dramatic raging of the storm.

But I guess I overplayed it, because instead of setting out to explore any of the other adventure sites I’d dotted on the island – and on their map – they decided to wait out the storm in the ruined fort, then head up to explore the temple on the peak when the weather cleared. I tried to tempt them, because I had some things planned, by showing them a glimpse of what might be a blue dragon flying overhead in the raging storm, but that didn’t do the trick.

So, I had to advance the plot without them.

After they thoroughly searched the fort, they settled down for an extended rest. About an hour into it, the entire island shook, and started to vibrate, and a loud, long peal of thunder sounded. I gave each player two seconds to tell me what his or her character was doing at that moment, and several of them ran outside to look at what was going on. That’s when they saw the pillar of lightning stabbing down from the heart of the storm to the crystal spires of the temple on the peak, and a strange ripple rolling out from it to cover the whole island. As the ripple moved, the trees seemed to fall into the ground, and when it reached the fort, they saw the surrounding jungle shrink to a sparse brush covering the nearby hills, and the fort itself vanished, leaving everyone standing out in the rain.

They immediately realized that they had been thrown back in time to an era before mortals had claimed this part of the world, and only elementals ruled the islands. The big clue about this was the fire elemental and pack of hellhounds coming over the hill toward them through the hissing, steaming rain.

This is the twist I had been planning from the beginning of designing this adventure, about a year ago. This is a moment when the entire campaign might take a real left-turn from what everyone has been expecting. See, the lightning striking the temple causes it to jump through time erratically, and it might not get back to the “present” before the island moves out of the storm. The party’s going to have a chance to try and steer themselves home, but if they fail, then the rest of the campaign (or at least a good chunk of the next part of it) is going to take place some time in the past – possible during the establishment of the Arkhosian Empire, or during the war with Bael Turath, or even at the height of the Empire of Nerath.

So, I don’t know where things are going to go after this, and neither do the players. It’s fun. I look forward to seeing what they do and how things play out.

*5 ghouls and a rotclaw, 1600 xp, a level 6 encounter for 6 characters. Back

Dateline – Storm Point

We wrapped up the siege of Storm Point yesterday, putting an end to the rebel shadar-kai storyline.

I had left the previous game just as the big bad arrived to try and finish off the heroes. Opening the game this session, I started with a bit of flowery description, talking about this skeletal figure in heavy robes, one eye and one hand replaced by ghostly replicas of black fire, gripping a massive mace, mounted on a manticore, and flying out of roiling black clouds, paced by three mastiffs made of shifting shadows with glowing eyes, swooping in on them in the flickering light of the burning buildings, framed by the smashed-open gates.

There was a moment of silence, then one of the guys said, “That is so metal! That would make an awesome ’80s heavy metal album cover!”

We then had to wade through a few minutes of people riffing on that idea (“I’m gonna paint that on the side of my wagon! I’m sure to be able to pick up chicks that way!”) before play resumed.

Now, I had wanted this fight to be tough. Very tough. That’s why I placed it after another tough fight, at the end of the long siege, when resources were low. I don’t try to kill my players, but I do want the chance of death to be there. Otherwise they get no real sense of accomplishment if they succeed.

To that end, the combat was a level 10 encounter for 6 characters, at 3,000 xp. I stole Barthus from FR1: Scepter Tower of Spellgard, who is a level 6 solo, and mounted him on a manticore, which is a level 10 elite. To round out the xp, I added three shadowhounds, which are standard level 6 creatures. I changed the description of Barthus and renamed him Tolvar Shadowborn, making him cosmetically a shadar-kai lich, better fitting the fact that he was leading a group of shadar-kai worshippers of Vecna, but I left his powers the same. Just described him as being skeletal, with a huge mace, and having his left hand and his right eye missing and replaced with black fire substitutes.

All in all, I thought, a tough combination.

Then, in the first round, the dragonborn rogue commando used trick strike to drop the leader off the manticore. He then leapt onto the back of the manticore, and they spendtthe next several rounds tearing viciously at each other flying above the city.

Everyone else wipes out the shadow hounds as quickly as possible to concentrate on dogpiling Tolvar. He held his own for a while, what with dominating the dwarf fighter for a brief time and using his desecrate ground power to mess people up. And when he was on the ropes, he turned to mist and fled into the city, letting everyone chase him.

Well, by this time, the manticore had managed to ditch its unwelcome passenger, but was really hurting, and the high-mobility swordmage was really crowding Tolvar, so he got on the roof of another house to try and remount the manticore.

And the rogue knocked him off again.

So he jumped up when the manticore swooped low, and got back in the saddle.

And the cleric commanded him off again.

And that was about it for him, thanks to the fighter’s rain of steel and a nice lance of faith to put the capper on it.

The manticore kept attacking through all this, but I was plagued the whole night with bad rolls, while all the players were making great rolls. I did some damage, but not enough to even put one of them down. Really, they had had more trouble the previous fight, when I almost managed to kill the warlord.

To finish things off, they decided that they wanted the manticore as a gift for the leader of the town guard, and asked if they could use Intimidate to cow it enough to be taken captive for retraining. I told them they could, and that they could each assist the main character, but that failed attempts to assist would in fact impose a penalty – my logic being that this is a vicious, fairly intelligent, war-trained beast that is going to attack any sign of weakness.

And they rolled a natural 20.

So, they cowed the manticore, the Storm Point forces chased the disintegrating army away, and in a few days, they had a nice little ceremony where the characters were given stuff.

Now, on to the Floating Islands.