We had a full house for the Post Tenebras Lux game this past Friday night. All six players were able to make it. This is twice in a row, and I’m starting to feel a little spoiled.
Things picked up in the dining hall of the barrow, just after the ghoul fight from last session. As people started taking stock of how their characters were doing and how their resources were holding out, and looking at the time limit they had in the barrow (it disappears when the moon sets, and they weren’t sure where it goes), I decided that they were pretty depleted. Now, I had three encounters left to run – one of which they had bypassed by choosing the path inside the barrow that they had, and one of which was in a secret room. The bypassed one was a level 3 encounter, and the secret room encounter was level 4. They might have been able to handle both encounters, but it would have been tight.
The real catch was the set-piece encounter, which was to take place in the ruined throne room*, was with two harpies and three shadow hounds**. I wasn’t sure they would be able to handle both it and one of the other encounters. To advance the story goals, they had to see the stuff in the throne room, and I really wanted to try out that battle.
So, what I decided to do was lead them to the throne room and that climactic battle, then have the barrow start to collapse, in true action-movie purity, while they race out. If they decided to run out the way they came, fine. But if they went out the other way, they were going to have to face the level 3 encounter they had bypassed***.
Well, the fight in the throne room was pretty nasty. The avenger managed to kill a shadow hound on his first turn, thanks to two criticals, a nice application of power, and the right magic item. I started to fear that the encounter was going to be too easy.
Then the harpies started up.
One would use alluring song to pull the characters into the middle of the room, and the other would use deadly screech to damage and daze them. This worked amazingly well, though it was a little hard on the shadow hounds, who were not immune to these powers. In fact, the harpies managed to deal the death blows to two of the three hounds. And, of course, the harpies stayed airborne so as to deny melee attacks.
There was some interesting acrobatics, some real frustration with the teleporting shadow hounds, and a number of total desperation moves, but the party succeeded. I think one or two of the characters were out of healing surges by this time.
After the battle, they took a look around the throne room, and found, beneath a pillar that had collapsed onto one of the thrones, the mummified body of either a shifter or a lycanthrope in rich, rotted garb, nailed to the stone throne by a large black iron spike through his chest. The spike was marked with the symbol of the Chained God that they had also seen as a mosaic on the floor of a room in the ruins of Rivenroar****, and seemed to be pinning the man’s spirit to the place, as well as his body. And his spirit had decayed as badly has his body.
They tried to pull the spike out, but failed (and the paladin lost a healing surge to its the dark magic), so they resorted to attacking the spike with a sunblade, which sheared it right in half. Of course, this is when the mound began to collapse*****, and they had to flee.
I ran the escape as a series of skill checks, with Athletics checks to stay ahead of the collapse and Endurance checks to keep running in the uphill spiral. Failures of the Athletics checks had those characters falling behind, while failures of the Endurance checks cost healing surges. This added a little dramatic tension to the scene, rather than just having me describe the escape, and I think it worked well. In future, I think I would borrow an idea from the skill challenge rules, and let players make a case for using some other skills to assist, but I came up with this on the fly, so I didn’t think of it in time.
Anyway, they made it back to Witchcross, received the thanks of the Eth Speaker for cleansing the site of the corruption that had claimed it, and started making plans to head down to the Thornwaste, where they have heard that the nomad tribes are getting restless, and lights have been seen in the Lion Tower of the Ghostlord. But I think they’re going to stay in Brindol for a week or so, to take advantage of the market fair coming up.
All in all, a nice conclusion to the adventure, and a solid starting point for the next one.
*I’ve been calling this a barrow, but really it’s a howe, in that it was a mounded dwelling, not a mounded grave. For those of you who like picking nits.
**1,250 xp, a level 5 encounter for 6 characters.
***Four phantom warriors and a spectre, 875 xp. Considering the devastating effect a party with a cleric, a paladin, and an avenger have on undead, I thought it was pretty good odds for them.
****And this debuted my ongoing storyline.
*****Apparently, it was a load-bearing cursed item.