Posts Tagged “post tenebras lux”
Post Tenebras Lux is done. The campaign ran to 5th level for the characters, and ended with them stopping a cult of oni who were using gnolls to harvest children in the Thornwaste in order to feed the power to the Chained God in the Abyss. Success, and good feelings all around.
The last session wasn’t really what I had planned. See, I didn’t want the last session to just be one big fight, with the party using the linked portal scroll to teleport into the lion tower and just kill the boss. I wanted to put in a bit more variety, but that didn’t seem to happen.
First of all, I let them try to sneak around some of the denizens of the tower, and they failed miserably. So, I pulled one of the encounters I had prepped for the frontal assault option and pulled out a battle map from one of the WotC modules, and laid it out. I chose the encounter that had an oni in it, just because I wanted them to get the idea that there was more than one oni hanging around.
Well, that encounter wound up being a level 8 encounter for 6 characters – an oni night haunter, 3 gnoll huntmasters, 5 gnoll packrunners, and two evistro demons (!), for a total of 2120 xp. It wasn’t until the second round that that really clicked home for me, with the realization that this combat was going to be far longer than I had anticipated. Had I caught it in time, I could have dropped the evistros, reducing the fight to a level 6 encounter, but it was too late when I twigged.
Too late? Yeah, because the the room looked like a final boss fight room, with the remains of the Pool of Rebirth in the centre, and a large number of monsters, including one that looked like the boss. So, the players started immediately laying down their dailies and spending their action points, so it would have been a bait-and-switch in my players’ eyes to turn it into a short, easy encounter.
Instead, I toughened it up. Instead of making the Pool of Rebirth cracked and empty, I put a pulsing, swirling purple light in the bottom, and had it generate four undead gnolls each round (Gnoll scavengers that I had turned into minions and otherwise changed slightly using the Monster Builder. I love that thing.), having them crawl up out of the pit to join the fight. I also added the challenge of unraveling the nature of the purple light and turning it off.
Things got pretty hairy. The paladin spent a couple of turns hanging in the pit, and the avenger had terrible, terrible dice luck. But the sorcerer got to use one power to create a lightning zone to keep the monsters slightly bottled-up, and the cleric used consecrated ground to keep erasing the minion undead.
Having these two zones (three, actually, counting the battle standard the paladin planted) could have made things a bit tough to keep track of, but my buddy Clint, who sculpts miniatures for various companies, had just provided a couple of us with one of the new things he had created – zone corner markers. Even unpainted (which mine won’t be for too long), they were great, allowing us to keep track of what was inside and what was outside the two stationary and one mobile zone. Clint talks about them on his blog.
The current ones are flame-shaped (but could be radiant or cold, depending on the paintjob), and he’s just finished up some different themed ones, as well as base markers for showing marked/cursed/quarry targets and the bloodied condition. They’ll be flat bases with interesting markings on them that you can stand your figure on, sticking it with little blob of blue tack or something similar. I look forward to them.
Anyway, the party killed the bad guys, closed the energy flow from the abyss, and helped the nomads of the Thornwaste destroy the gnolls and tear down the lion tower. Success and heroism for all.
Except the bad guys, of course.
What was I going to have them face? I had planned to have them have to seek out the shattered chamber of the Lion’s Heart, where the master oni had been pulling on Tharizdun’s power to use the spirits to reanimate fallen bodies and call up tainted elemental energy. The encounter was going to be an oni souleater, 2 witherling horned terrors, 3 gnoll huntmasters, and 14 of the minionized gnoll scavengers, for a total of 3,032 xp – a level 10 encounter for 6 characters.
Level 10 is pretty high, but a large number of the enemy were undead, and this group is hell on wheels against undead. I thought that they could probably take it, going in fresh (or nearly so), though it was going to be tough.
But that didn’t happen. Everyone seemed to have fun, though, and I think the consensus was that the campaign ended well. As I try to do at these moments, I asked everyone to tell me a little story of what happens to their characters after the game ends, and they did, and everyone pretty much lived happily ever after.
So, thanks to everyone who played:
- Chris: Torrin, dragonborn paladin of Pelor, and the most civilized dragonborn I’ve had in the games I’ve run.
- Tom: Akmenos, tiefling rogue monster bait.
- Fera, Sergheia Jackalope, half-elven ranger, and winner of the Angsty-est Backstory award (a real achievement in this group)
- Penny: Who first played a fighter, then dropped out, then came back with Bellamira, a half-elven sorcerer working under the name Kara.
- Clint: Who followed the same path Penny did, but came back with Ruinghast, and eladrin revenant avenger of the Raven Queen, and winner of the Most Power Cards award.
- Michael: Arcos, human cleric of Lathander, who dropped out about half-way through the game and was replaced, Bewitched Style, by…
- Erik: Originally played Ash, a tiefling warlock who liked to burn things (and people). When Michael left the group, Erik took over Arcos, converted him to Pelor, and never looked back.
- Dillip: Sparkantos, a human mage who liked to blow stuff up. He left the group at about the same time Michael did.
Thank you all. I appreciate the contributions you all made to the game, and have enjoyed playing with you.
Now to finish up the Hunter adventure for Friday.
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Friday was the penultimate session of Post Tenebras Lux.
After what I felt was a fairly disappointing performance by me in the previous session, I decided to spend the session trying to say yes to the players, and generally trying to facilitate the game and story a little more, rather than focusing on the inner life and desires of the NPCs.
So, to that end, when the single combat of the evening came up*, I threw some thorn bushes on the map, and, when my players asked, I told them that any creature in a thorn bush space was restrained until they saved. They liked that, and wound up using it to take out one of the krenshars in nice little concerted tactical action.
I also decided that the final tribe they were seeking – the Blood Hawk tribe, halflings who raise a variety of predatory birds – were very willing to join the struggle, but were distrusted by the other tribes. No one had to convince them of anything, but the party had to prove that they had a hope of pulling off the kind of military action they were advocating. The characters managed to prove that fairly easily, and then they had the halflings, along with their considerable wealth of intelligence gathered by spying, on their side.
We flashed forward a few days to the meeting, and the party had to persuade the tribes that they should unite to drive the gnolls and the Ghostlord (or whoever’s pretending to be the Ghostlord) out of the Thornwaste. Their success with fighting the gnolls, as displayed by the large collection of ears they had claimed, brought the Grass Dragons on board fairly easily, but the Stone Swimmer shaman continued to lobby for leaving the area.
In fact, he essentially usurped the chieftain’s position, telling the council that the Stone Swimmers were going to leave. The party managed to persuade most of his backers that doing so was cowardly, and kept the Stone Swimmer chieftain in power. When the shaman walked, he took only three of the warriors with him.
The next bit of wrangling involved trying to cobble together a plan of attack that had a chance of working, and played to the strengths and prejudices of the three tribes. I didn’t handle this as well, unthinkingly calling for a skill check to come up with the plan, which failed. They tried again with a different plan, and that succeeded. What I should have done is had the characters come up with the plan, and then use skill checks to get the tribes to adopt it.
It ended up with the Blood Hawks planning to infiltrate the enemy camp before the attack, and then rise up behind the lines as the Stone Swimmers and Grass Dragons came in with a pincer attack at the main mass of gnolls.
Now, I wasn’t sure what kind of final session my players wanted – taking part in a big, climactic battle, or smaller-scale action with the Ghostlord, so I left it up to them. In-game, I had the Blood Hawks trot out their big secret: they had a scroll of linked portal and the sigils for the Ghostlord’s teleportation circle. They suggested that a small group of warriors be sent through the teleport circle right into the Lion Tower to deal with the Ghostlord and his power source.
I told the players out of game that the decision was up to them: either they went through the circle to the Lion Tower, or they led the armies and sent a commando squad through the circle. They opted to go themselves.
So, next session will see the barbarians of the Thornwaste going up against an army of gnolls, krenshar, witherlings, and a few oni, while the valiant New Heroes of Brindol strike right to the heart of the evil threatening the Elsir Vale.
And then the campaign is done.
*Four gnoll minions and four krenshars, 900 xp, a level 3 encounter for 6 characters. Back
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Friday was the latest installment of the Post Tenebras Lux campaign.
It’s been a long week, and I was kind of tired and unfocused that evening, and I didn’t have a very good game.
One of the things that I notice is that, when I’m tired and not completely into the game, I wind up making bad calls. Nothing huge, really, but missed opportunities for making the game more fun for everyone. You say you’d like an example? Well, sure. Here are a couple.
First of all, we had another combat with a patrol of gnolls*, which is fine. The party is trying to scout out the Ghostlord’s tower in the Thornwaste, which I’ve decided is sort of a savanna-like plain with hedgerows of brambles, and some deep gullies and mesas in places. As part of the scouting and avoiding detection, I let everyone make either a Perception or Stealth check, and used a sort of conglomerate of the scores to decide what happened. Now, the heavily armoured paladin really blew a Perception check, so I decided that the group and a gnoll patrol just sort of stumbled on each other at point blank range, and each party was equally surprised. I drew a few hedgerows on the map after the group had placed themselves, so that I could have the paladin basically coming around the end of a hedgerow face-to-face with the gnoll patrol*. I was using the thorns and brambles essentially as walls, obstacles in the combat. I described them as between eight and twelve feet tall, dense and impenetrable. And then one of the players asked if he could push an enemy into the brambles to hurt or trap it.
And I said no, because I was thinking of the hedges as walls.
That was the wrong answer – the fight could have become very cool, with people pushing each other into the clinging, piercing thorns, setting them on fire, and stuff like that. I realized it during the fight, though by the time I did, we had got deep enough into things that changing my mind would have made things worse, by invalidating the tactics the group had come up with to deal with the environment. I consciously tried to say yes to stuff after that, letting them climb up on top of the tangles and such, but I think I really missed an opportunity for some interesting stuff with that single no. I need to remember to say yes more often.
Second example came later, as they first encountered outriders of the Stone Swimmer Tribe – a tribe of goliaths who raise bulettes. The group wanted to talk the tribe into meeting with the Grass Dragon Tribe (enemies of theirs) in order to forge an alliance against the gnolls and the oni who may be behind the army. Now, the way I’ve been running these, as I mentioned last time, is that I’ve been listening to what the characters are saying to the NPCs, and giving them a roll against an appropriate skill when they say something that has a chance of swaying the listeners to the party’s point of view. With this particular tribe, the chieftain has had her position undermined by the tribal shaman, who thinks she’s being a coward for not making a direct attack against the gnolls, despite the overwhelming odds, so there was an extra layer of complexity, as the chieftain couldn’t come out in support of the meeting and alliance until she felt she had enough support among the warriors to stand up to the shaman.
So, what happened? One of the characters, playing the cleric, upon first meeting the Stone Swimmer scouts, launches into a very eloquent appeal to them to ally with the Grass Dragons. He manages in his speech to lay out the prospect in terms that gets the Stone Swimmers’ backs up – uniting with the Grass Dragons, the tribe not being strong enough to protect their own children, the way they need outsiders to come show them the errors of their ways, all that kind of thing. And all of this coming out of the mouth of an outlander worshipper of a foreign god, and a city boy, at that.
Now, what I should have done is used this opportunity to show the reactions of the goliaths in such a way as to provide guidance to the party as to what arguments would and would not be useful. After all, except for one of the warriors being the husband of the chieftain, they were all just extras in the scene, not decision-makers, so I could have offered instruction by having some of them react badly, citing the specific insults, and having a couple of the calmer heads settling the hot-heads down and saying that these questions need to be settled by the chieftain and shaman. Maybe even have a friendly one offer some sotto voce advice to avoid certain approaches.
What I did was have the entire Stone Swimmer party take umbrage and start to dismiss the group, until the paladin piped in with one sentence – after the cleric’s lengthy argument – calling the tribe’s courage and love of their children into question, which got them in to see the chieftain.
See, I made the mistake I railed against back here. I responded as if the goliaths were actually proud tribal warriors being insulted by an outlander. I did “what the goliaths would do,” not what I needed to do to move the story forward. In doing so, I devalued the cleric’s contribution to the process, and I almost threw a very large obstacle into my own plot.
Things worked out in the end, but not as cleanly or as interestingly as they might have. The cleric’s Insight skill became integral in figuring out the divisions within the tribe, and the trophies that the party had collected from the gnolls managed to set the tribe’s shaman back on his heels when they were dropped in front of him in response to one of his challenges.
So, the game was not a bust, but it wasn’t one of the best sessions I’ve run. If I had been a little more attentive and focused on the things I mention above, I think it could have been great, but it turned out pretty mediocre.
Have to try harder. But that’s always the lesson, isn’t it?
*2 deathpledged gnolls, 6 gnoll minions, and 3 krenshars – 1,225 xp, a level 5 encounter for 6 characters. Back
*I can rhyme! Back
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Latest session of Post Tenebras Lux last night. I was scrambling during the afternoon to prep, because I discovered that my updated adventure notes were on a computer that I did not have access to at that time – I had forgotten to e-mail them to myself. That meant I had to try and rebuild the information from memory in a couple of hours.
Now, the encounters weren’t too difficult to pull together, but I had notes on things that could happen in each little village the party passed through on their journey down to the Thornwaste to check out the rumours of the returned Ghostlord. I also had extensive notes on the nomad tribes of the Thornwaste, with political factions and character notes for important nomads and, I dunno, names and stuff, most of which I just couldn’t recall off the top of my head.
I was able to pull together a few things, though. The characters decided not to go directly to the Thornwaste, but to detour up to Vraath Keep to speak to the original Heroes of Brindol who destroyed the Ghostlord a dozen years previously. This gave one of the new players a chance to bring some of her background into play, as she had written up that she was the daughter of one of the Heroes of Brindol and had been trained by another. We had a bit of nice roleplaying there, with some insight into Jaks’s character and history, as well as getting details of the destruction of the Ghostlord.
When they headed down to the Thornwaste after that, they made some History and Insight rolls to see if they knew anything about the tribes in the area. As is becoming usual with this group, they aced the knowledge rolls, and learned about the three main nomad tribes:
- The Grass Dragons, a tribe of human nomads who breed and raise drakes.
- The Blood Hawks, a tribe of halflings who train birds to aid them in hunting, scouting, and combat.
- The Stone Swimmers, a tribe of goliaths who have domesticated a number of land sharks.
The also got an idea of the territories each tribe claimed, and some insight into the nomad culture – somewhat isolationist and xenophobic, with a strong warrior culture, given to raiding each other and nearby farms, but also willing to trade from time to time. With this information, the group decided to speak with the Grass Dragons, the nearest tribe, to try and get more information.
Now, I had been going back and forth on how to do this – the skill challenge rules certainly work well for this sort of thing, but when I use them explicitly in my games, it always seems kind of jarring, like a move away from roleplaying to a very gamist system. I wanted the discussions with the tribes to be more fluid and natural for the players, so I decided not to use my normal method for skill challenges.
What I did was play the chieftain of the Grass Dragons as an older man, a traditionalist, a strong leader, but very resistant to change. Also, given that the situation involved a newly-arrived tribe of gnolls camping around the Ghostlord’s tower and stealing the children of the tribes for conversion into undead slaves, I decided that he felt helpless and angry, ready to lash out at anyone who stepped wrong.
And then I just ran it as a roleplaying encounter. Well, mostly. Secretly, it was a skill challenge, but I never told anyone that. For the most part, I just let the party talk, and replied as the chieftain would. When one of the party members said or did something that had the potential of winning some support from the tribe, I asked them to make a roll on whatever persuasive skill seemed most appropriate at the time and kept track of successes, describing the reaction of the tribe.
They got off to a bit of a rough start, what with the chieftain being especially prickly, and not very receptive to these outsiders coming into his lands and telling him that he needed to abandon the traditional ways of his people to unite with the other nomad tribes if they wanted to be able to drive out the Dog Ghost tribe – what they called the gnolls. A couple of missteps got interpreted as being threatening or insulting, and only backpedaling and apologizing, along with the intervention of the tribes shaman, got things settled down enough for the chieftain to agree to meet with the other tribal chiefs if they could be persuaded.
The information the party gained was that hundreds of gnolls were camped around the Ghostlord’s tower, and that they were sending out raiding and culling parties against all the tribes. No one tribe was strong enough to stand up to them, and the nomads were faced with the choice of leaving the area again or being killed off.
The party decided to go have a look at the Dog Ghost territory on their way down to the Stone Swimmer tribe, both to see what sort of force they were up against, and to try and get some trophies to lend weight to their words when they spoke to the other tribes. To oblige them and start showing some of the complications that await their investigation, I gave them a combat encounter with a Dog Ghost culling party.
In addition to the two gnoll huntmasters and four gnoll minions, I threw in two witherlings from the MM2, describing them as mummified children with dog skulls where their heads should be, in order to show the type of nastiness the gnolls were getting up to. Leading them all was an oni devourer disguised as a gnoll, which came as a bit of a shock to the players, and I think has a couple of them asking questions about what’s actually going on here. The whole encounter came to 1,250 xp, which is a level 5 encounter for 6 players.
So, now the party has the following information:
- Lights have been seen in the Ghostlord’s tower.
- The nomad tribes have been raiding farther afield. Some of this might be the action of the gnolls.
- A large army of gnolls has encamped around the Ghostlord’s tower.
- When the Heroes of Brindol destroyed the Ghostlord and his power sources, they split the Pool of Rebirth before breaking it’s connection to the Heart of the Lion, causing the enchanted waters to spill into the ground of the Thornwaste before rendering it powerless.
- The gnolls are creating undead servants.
- There was at least one oni involved, leading a party of gnolls.
This has got them thinking and making guesses about what’s actually going on. It’s also getting them a little worried.
Which I like.
All in all, despite the fact that I didn’t have my complete notes for the session, the game went pretty well, and everyone seemed to have fun. I’m looking forward to the next session.
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Last Friday night was the latest session of the Post Tenebras Lux campaign*. Only four of the six players were able to show, so I decided not to advance the plot too much, and to keep things centred around Brindol. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend the whole session shopping, with the players looking through books and counting out their pennies to see what magic items they could afford and chatting amiably to random insignificant NPCs.
As a solution, I told the players that they could do their shopping via e-mail after this session, and that I would make sure they had all the information they needed to do so*. I also encouraged them to do some research to see what they could find out about the Ghostlord and the Thornwaste, which is their next objective in the game. And, of course, I had a few encounters on hand to spice things up.
So, the party spent a little while scouting out the market fair, buying some ale and tankards, sending letters home, and doing some research. On the research side of things, I had about a page and a half of information about the Ghostlord, with DCs on getting it going up to the mid-twenties. They managed to get it all in the minimum number of rolls that it could have taken, because they were rolling hot.
They took a little time to talk and think about the information, and then they started looking a little antsy, like they wanted to hit the road. I didn’t want them running off from Brindol on the mission just yet, so I pulled a bandit encounter out of my notes, and an encounter with a group of priests of Ioun coming to view the ruins of the recently cleared Rivenroar Castle, and decided that the priests were ambushed by the bandits on the road. One guard escaped and carried word to Brindol, and the temple of Ioun asked the party to help*.
Now, when I run something off the cuff like this, I tend to like to be pretty vague about the setup, and let the players show me what they want through the choices they make. So, when they asked where this had happened, I told them it was a couple of hours outside of town. When they asked if they could borrow horses from the temple, I said sure. Then, when they asked how they could sneak up on the site and scope it out, I said, “Skill challenge.”
I set the DC of the skill checks at 12, and didn’t limit their skill choices in any way. I told them to tell me what they were doing with each turn, and then, if I liked the idea, I dropped the DC by 2. If the idea was boring or a repeat, I boosted the DC by 2*. Based on what they did, I decided that they found the site, found evidence of elven archers, a shallow grave holding most of the guards, and a trail leading to an abandoned farmhouse in the wooded hills near the road.
They continued on with the skill challenge, using it to get the drop on the bandit hideout. That meant that I mapped out the area on the battlemap, and told them to place themselves wherever they wanted, as long as they weren’t in line of sight of one of the enemies* they could see.
It was kind of late when we got to the combat, and it ran kind of long, but it was a fun fight. The party almost had everything their own way, but they got a couple of surprises, as well, from the hidden bandits. Everyone got to do something interesting, and the fight ranged over most of the map – even off it, in two situations.
So, we wrapped up after that, but I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all.
*For those who are wondering what’s up with the lack of Storm Point updates, well, there hasn’t been a game in some time, thanks to busy summer schedules of the players. We’re hoping for this Sunday. Back
*Because of the way I hang on to the character sheets between sessions so that I have them on hand if a player can’t show, sometimes the players aren’t sure how much coin they’ve got. This is aggravated by the fact that I use Campaign Coins for the money; strangely enough, I’ve found that, if they have the actual physical coins, the players don’t seem to count them very often. But everyone likes jingling them. Back
*After all, they’d been the ones who had cleared Rivenroar Castle in the first place, back when this was still on the Scales of War adventure path. Back
*This is an idea I have stolen gleefully from Robin D. Laws and Jonathan Tweet’s brilliant RPG Over the Edge, where boring descriptions of combat tactics get you a penalty to your attack. Back
*They could see two sentries on the hills around the house, and an archer up in the loft of a barn that was nearing collapse. In total, there were three human bandits, three elf archers, a dwarf hammerer, and a half-elf bandit captain, for a total of 1,200 xp; a level 5 encounter for 6 characters. Back
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Last Friday, we had another Post Tenebras Lux game. Almost full attendance; one person couldn’t make it.
The session was a little strange, in that the events in it existed for a meta-game reason, rather than for an in-game reason. See, the party was traveling back to Brindol, where there was going to be a market fair, to spend some of their treasure before heading down to the Thornwaste to investigate rumours of the return of the Ghostlord. While prepping for the game, I saw in my notes that I had not distributed a large amount (480 gp worth) of the monetary treasure they should have received in the previous level. That would put a significant damper on what they could and could not buy, so I decided they needed to have a cash injection before the market fair.
Now, I couldn’t just hand them the money – I’d already done something like that to adjust the balance of magic items during the great player shuffle – which meant I needed an adventure on the road from Witchcross to Brindol. The standard convention is a party of bandits or wandering monsters, but I wanted something more interesting, something that could fill an evening of play, and not just revolve around combat.
They had stopped at a roadside inn on their trip to Witchcross, and I decided to use that as the adventure site. I did some looking through the books, looking for an interesting threat, and came up with corpse vampires, from Open Grave. Now, the party is pretty heavy against undead, but corpse vampires aren’t vulnerable to radiant damage – it just turns off their regeneration for a turn (more on which later). This was going to be the only fight in the day, so I figured I’d make it a tough one: two corpse vampires and four zombies*.
The setup was that a corpse vampire had come to the inn and slaughtered everyone, producing a few zombies and a new corpse vampire in the process. The two vampires were now hiding in the inn, getting ready to head on to Brindol and the rich feeding there. One hid down in the cellar, lurking in the hanging hams and cheeses and onions from the cellar ceiling beams, with two zombies in beer barrels. The other hid up in the attic, under the eaves, with a pair of zombies under the dustcovers with the furniture. They would act to attack isolated characters who wandered in, but otherwise wait to get the drop on the whole party, and reinforce each other if needed.
The first part of the evening was spent with the party leaving Witchcross and making their way back down the road to Brindol, shadowed for the first little while by the unicorn they had glimpsed in the Witchwood. When they got to the inn and made their Perception checks, they noticed the quiet and the fact that the door was ajar. They approached stealthily, half the party circling around back to come in through the kitchen, and the other half keeping an eye on the innyard. Inside, they found a great deal of slaughter, and went to work investigating.
I had made up a set of detailed notes on the kinds of clues they would find in the inn with various skill checks – not a skill challenge, just a set of skill checks. Unfortunately, I then left this list at work, and had to wing it. It didn’t go badly, as I could remember most of the salient points from making the list, but it didn’t have the depth of detail that I could have had with my notes in front of me. Oh, well.
Anyway, they wound up sending the avenger down into the cellar to check on things, and he rolled an amazing Perception check, spotting the vampire hiding in the ceiling beams, and an amazing Stealth check, so the vampire didn’t spot him. Surprise round for the party. Everyone squeezed down into the basement, and took care of the vampire very quickly – more quickly than I had anticipated, in fact. I had decided that, if one vampire was attacked, the other would join the fight (with zombies in tow) on round 3. The vampire went down on round 2, after soaking up several concentrated Striker assaults.
The zombies lasted a little longer, and we wound up with the Sorcerer facing the newly-arrived reinforcements alone at the top of the stairs. She used a nice, sustainable area attack to augment her cover from the bar she was hiding behind to hold the undead off until everyone downstairs finished off the zombies and came scooting up to join her.
And that’s when I realized that I had forgotten about the vampires’ regeneration ability.
Too little, too late. The remaining vampire kept getting blasted with radiant damage, keeping the regeneration from kicking in. They put it down in a couple of rounds, and mopped up the zombies afterward.
Now, the way the encounter wound up split in half, when I had planned on it doubling up, and the way I had forgotten the regeneration certainly made it an easier fight than I had intended, but that was all my fault. I’ll know better next time. I handed over the treasure (robbed from the bodies of the inn victims) an the xp, and the party said some prayers over all the corpses, piled them in the common room, and burned the inn to the ground to prevent any of the dead to come back.
And that was pretty much the evening. I think it went well, and all the players seemed engaged in the murder-mystery/horror miniplot. Everyone seems to be liking the move away from straight dungeon crawls and the opportunity to use their skills in different situations.
*1,200 xp, a level 5 encounter for six characters.
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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.
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Last Friday night was the first Post Tenebras Lux game with full attendance since the big changeover in players.
We picked up just after the battle with the stirges and the vine horror, and the group quickly found its way to the stone circle and barrow they were seeking*. What they found was a meadow about half a mile wide with a tall mound in the middle, surrounded by a ring of thirteen standing stones. Inside the ring of stones, it was winter, rather than the late summer it was outside. Not only was it winter, it was a nasty, blizzardy winter.
They walked the circumference of the circle, then tried to find a pathway leading in to the barrow. Crossing the perimeter of the stone circle inflicted cold damage on them. They had previously bought cold weather gear and potions of cold resistance, and used both at this point. I was a little surprised that they didn’t investigate the standing stones at all – I had set it up so that the stones could be manipulated (or destroyed) to turn off the killing cold. The normal cold would still have been there, but not the cold damage.
So, into the blizzard within the circle. This was the maze of ice and snow that they had been warned about back in Witchwood – I set it up as a skill challenge to find their way through the disorienting snow and ice fog, around the shifting walls of ice, and avoiding the illusionary creatures and traps within the maze. The turns were set up to be five minutes each, with one check per person per turn, and everyone also needing to make an Endurance check each turn to avoid losing a healing surge. Also, each turn inflicted 1d6+3 cold damage. The potions ameliorated some of the damage each turn**, and the cold weather gear granted a bonus to the Endurance check.
They made it to the barrow in two turns, with a couple of people losing healing surges along the way. I expected them to take another two turns or so to open the large stone doors of the barrow, which would have meant that the potions would have worn off, but the tiefling rogue pulled off an amazing Strength check to heave the slabs open.
The room inside was a trap fest. I used the elite ice sheet hazard, the elite version of the crossbow turret trap, and the whirling blades trap, all from the DMG***. The ice sheet was a frozen stream running across the battlefield, and the room was studded with timbers holding up the ceiling and, incidentally, offering cover to the crossbows.
Of course, this meant they also offered cover from the crossbows, but I hadn’t thought of that. Oh, well. Can’t complain if the characters use my own tricks against me.
The restricted mobility created by the ice sheet and the timbers slowed this encounter down a little, as did the widespread placement of the crossbow turrets in the four corners of the large room. Still, they soldiered through pretty well, though the large amount of damage dished out by the whirling blades scared them pretty badly.
Now they were in to the dungeon crawling portion of the evening. Having been very frustrated with the way dungeon crawls worked in Rescue at Rivenroar and the Age of Worms Adventure Path, I’ve been using a more abstract system of doing them. I flowchart a number of encounter areas – five in this case, of which I expect them to work through three or four - and make up description for the rest. For example, the first dungeon room had two ways out. They chose one path, which led them to the feast hall and the next encounter. But it didn’t lead them directly there; instead, I described how the path spiraled and descended, moving through warrens of work rooms and storage rooms, all full of rotted or destroyed furnishings and goods. They searched the area and rolled well, so I let them find a treasure package I had prepared: a carved ivory flute in the remains of a workroom, and a potion of healing in the ruins of an alchemical lab. The path led them on to the kitchen, where they made some good perception checks and heard the ghouls on the far side of the door.
That was the feast hall, and I’d set up what looked to be a pretty good fight****, with a large, U-shaped rotting banquet table taking up part of the room and a burning coal fire pit taking up another good chunk. But all the creatures were undead, and the party had a paladin of Pelor, a cleric of Pelor, and an avenger. Plus a sorcerer with the Lightning Breath power to set up a nasty sustained zone, and a rogue and a ranger that just usually do a lot of damage.
The fight was pretty quick, and the party was never really in any danger, despite the incredible leaps of the ghouls***** and the charges of the famine hounds.
That’s where we left it, with them about half-way through the dungeon, racing the setting of the moon, and starting to get concerned about their healing surges and daily powers. The last half of the dungeon should be an interesting challenge.
There wasn’t much in the way of NPC interaction, what with no actual NPCs showing up, but the mood and the play style from the previous session seems to be carrying over. The players seem to be having fun, and the game looks like it’s turning out to be the kind of game I like to run.
That makes me happy.
*Good rolls on the skill challenge.
**According to the Adventurer’s Vault, the resist potions produced effects that lasted until the end of the encounter. I wanted to put a little more of a time limit on that, so I ruled that they would last fifteen minutes – three turns of the skill challenge.
***900 xp – a level 3 encounter for 6 characters.
**** 2 ghouls and 4 famine hounds, 900 xp, another level 3 encounter for 6 characters.
*****I swapped the trained Stealth skill that the ghouls come standard with (and that I didn’t want to use in this situation) with the trained Athletics skill, giving the ghouls a +9 skill check which let them jump over most of the dangerous or inconvenient terrain. Their first turn, one of them leaped over the fire and the table to land right in the middle of the party. It made me grin.
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Some pretty big changes in the Post Tenebras Lux game. I’ve held off on writing about them until things sorted themselves out.
First off, two players decided, for various reasons, to leave the game. We’ll miss them, but thanks for playing with us as long as you did, Michael and Dillip.
This left us with only four players, and one who was waffling about whether he wanted to continue. Four was the bare minimum I wanted to run with, and it would have made for less redundancy in players to support our absentee player policy*. It was also somewhat discouraging for me, as I was trying to break free of the dungeon-crawl, combat-oriented aesthetic of the Scales of War adventure path that had soured on us, but hadn’t had much of a chance to do so, yet.
So, it looked for a while like the game would fold. Then I suggested we try and recruit some replacement players.
Way back when this started, I had started the game with eight players. Two dropped because of group size. I asked them if they were interested in rejoining the game, and they said yes. So, in a flurry of activity, we whipped up two new, 3rd-level characters, complete with backstories, and worked them into the game.
This solution was enough to pull the player who was thinking about leaving back into the game, though he decided that he wouldn’t continue with his current character, but play the cleric of one of the departing players, instead**. So now the group is:
- Torrin, dragonborn paladin of Pelor
- Akmenos, tiefling rogue
- Sergheia Jackalope, half-elf ranger
- Arcos Strand, human cleric of Erathis
- Ruingast, eladrin avenger of the Raven Queen and multiclass shaman
- Kara, half-elf dragon sorcerer
One defender, one leader, four strikers. Kara and Ruingast can, in a pinch, pull double-duty as defenders pretty well, and Kara has some good strong controller options, so the balance is not as skewed as it might look on paper. Still, their focus is on pumping out the damage, as opposed to sucking it up or mitigating it.
All that done, I worked up a little scene where the two characters depart and the other two join. I also noticed, while helping the new players create their characters, that the four characters who had been playing all along were rather woefully short in the treasure department compared to the new arrivals, so I worked in a distribution of magic items as gifts from a group of patrons to help bring things up to par.
Now I was ready for the actual adventure to start.
After wandering out into the Witchwood looking for the mysterious barrow that appears only under the full moon and getting spanked by an owlbear, some fey panthers, gnomes, and a pseudodragon, the party limped back to Witchcross trying to figure out how the townsfolk managed to gather firewood without an armed guard. Back in the inn, we ran the scene where the two characters leave and the other two join, and the Santa Clause scene where the four original characters got their goodies.
And that’s when they met Adrianna the Young, who was not pleased that they had run out into the wood and started slaughtering everyone they found***. After a rocky start, they got her calmed down, apologized, and persuaded her to give them her blessing to seek out the barrow, which she called the Winter Castle, to make sure it hadn’t fallen to corruption and evil, the way Rivenroar Castle had****. She even gave them what little information she had about the site: that it was warded by a magical maze of cold.
Next morning, the party bought some potions of resist cold and some heavy clothing, then headed out into the wood. Careful progress led them to Rest-by-Water, where they waited for the moon to rise in order to make finding the Winter Castle easier. The peaceful forest spirits of the place made them welcome, and made resting their quite beneficial*****. As they were leaving, they spotted a unicorn running off through the trees away from the path to their objective, and decided to follow it, in case it was leading them somewhere important.
It wasn’t but it did lead them somewhere interesting: the Stone Door. They spent a little more time examining the site and learning how it worked, then got back on the trail. The sun was setting by that time, and it was full dark when they were jumped by the single combat we had in the session.
They spotted the stirges in time to avoid a surprise round, but didn’t see the vine horror hiding in the underbrush******. I rolled crazy high for the monsters’ initiative (27 for the vine horror, 26 for the stirges), so the fight pretty much started with a surprise round, anyway. When the first character came up in the rotation, all but one of them were restrained and taking ongoing 10 damage, and about half of them had a blood-draining stirge attached to them, doing another ongoing 5. Still, they pulled through, though the cleric dropped at one point. Stacked ongoing damage is nasty.
So, that’s where we left it. Everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves – including me – and I think we’re all feeling much more positive about Post Tenebras Lux continuing.
*Basically, I run if more than half the players are going to be there, and missing players have their characters played by one of the present players. Wtih six players, we can run with as few as many as two players not making it to the game. Fewer players means fewer people can miss the game and the game still take place.
**He and the other departing character had worked up a pretty in-depth backstory for their two characters, and one leaving and one staying didn’t make much sense within the group dynamic that had developed. Also, he didn’t want the group to lose the healing capabilities of the cleric.
***Her view of the situation, not what actually happened.
****A mix of skill challenge and roleplaying. I awarded success and failures based both on rolls, when I felt they were called for, and on specific things said and done by the characters.
*****Resting there for more than an hour granted them each an extra action point. Originally, I had planned to make resting there replenish a number of healing surges, but they were all unwounded, so I decided on the action point instead.
******Seven stirges and a vine horror, 900 xp, a level 3 encounter for 6 characters.
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Last Friday night was the second of our Post Tenebras Lux sessions, the continuation of the campaign that started as a Scales of War adventure path. In it, our heroes arrived at Witchcross, met a few of the locals, took in some of the sights, and headed off into the Witchwood in order to find the barrow they’ve come in search of.
And promptly ran into trouble.
In designing this adventure, I did my best to depart from the standard dungeon crawls that this particular group has been playing through for the most part. I wanted different feeling adventure areas, more chances for interaction with NPCs and the environment, more choices that mattered, and so on. To that end, I designed a number of establishments in Witchcross, created a few local sites that might be of interest, and put together a more detailed backstory for the barrow and the ancient druidic folk that used to live in the area.
A lot of that got pretty much ignored in this session; the group is very mission-focused. This really came to mind when I explained that the engraving on the menhir in the middle of the village, marking it as the site where Terriath Ahmond first formed his pact with the Folk of the Stone, and then told them they knew nothing about those names or the incident it may describe*. Instead of interpreting it as local colour or an interesting detail, they said, “Red herring,” and went about trying to find the barrow.
I brought them into town on the afternoon before the full moon, so they have a day and a half to find the spot where the barrow appears. I also decided to do the cinematic full moon thing – giving each month three nights when the moon is considered to be full. That takes some of the time pressure off the party, and gives them the leisure time to explore and interact with the world without feeling they need to rush and push with no time for anything else.
I’ve set the hunt for the barrow up as a sort of modified skill challenge, with a number of nodes laid out in a matrix representing the woods around Witchcross. Every hour, the party makes a roll, choosing a skill from a list of about five, to find their way closer to the barrow. If everyone succeeds, I move them directly towards the barrow on the matrix. If most of them succeed, they get to choose a direction, and I move them that way on the matrix. If most of them fail, I move them away from the barrow, and preferably into something dangerous. If they all fail, I move them away from the barrow, and they each lose a healing surge from the hazards and exertions of their search.
Each node of the matrix has a scene tied to it. This may be a combat encounter, an NPC, an interesting site in the woods, or anything else I’ve thought of, but it’s some point where they can interact with the world and may get a benefit or a penalty for their search. When they make it through the matrix, they’ll arrive at the site of the barrow.
I felt this was a good compromise between mapping the woods out as a dungeon and just having a list of encounters that they have to fight their way through to get to the barrow. It puts choices back into their hands, and gives more of a feeling of decision, while still keeping the actual movement from site to site abstract and easily managed. It also allows the outdoorsy skills of the ranger to have some impact on the group and their quest.
Sor far, it seems to be working fairly well, though the group has walked into two combat encounters, and have started asking how the villagers manage to survive when they go looking for firewood**.
The first combat was an owlbear and two fey panthers***. The owlbear is another monster, like the carrion crawler, that I’ve always wanted to use, but never seem to get the chance. As I recall from previous editions, they’re pretty nasty. Well, the 4e owlbear takes the cake, in my opinion. It dropped the dragonborn paladin on the first turn****, which caused everyone to pause and take a breath. This is what I wanted: I never try to kill the characters, but I love the moment in the game when the players realize that they may lose a character in a fight. With the fey panthers harrassing the party from different angles, they couldn’t gang up on the owlbear at first, and that meant that it got to bat PCs around with impunity. The healing abilities of the party made sure they never lost anyone, but it scared them.
The next combat was a group of gnomes: 2 skulks, 2 arcanists, 2 iron defenders, and a pseudodragon*****. This fight was a blast to run, with the gnomes up in the trees sniping and messing with the party, the iron defenders chewing on legs, and the pseudodragon doing fly-bys with its tail sting. In the end, one of the arcanists and the pseudodragon escaped, and the party was beat up enough that they just let them go and hobbled back to town, planning to start again in the morning.
All in all, a pretty good session. I’m anxious for the next one, because some of the things they did in the last one will have got around town. I’m planning on updating the Witchcross entry in the wiki, but I’m going to hold off until the players discover more of the information in game, so as not to spoil anything.
Should be fun.
*I want a lot of the history of the ancient druidic folk to be a closed book, with just a jumble of confusing monuments and oral traditions remaining. I like the idea of the mystery in the past.
**The answer to this question is different for each of the two encounters. For the first one, the villagers know better than to go into the owlbear’s hunting ground. For the second, the Keepers of Eth in the village have a relationship with the gnomes, and don’t get attacked from hiding.
***1050 xp total, a level 4 encounter for 6 PCs.
****I had to use the owlbear’s action point to get in the bite attack, but it was worth it.
*****1000 xp total, a level 4 encounter for 6 PCs.
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