The team shamed the Red Wizards into dealing with every other puzzle room. They dealt with a room with anti-gravity and a whirling death fan. Two of the Red Wizards died and when the anti-gravity ended it rained death down on their friends. Kuru the Halfling Rogue subtly mage-handed the magic items on the dead wizards; it was a good haul.
Having smart NPCs handle 2 of the puzzle rooms was a fun way to speed it up. I made some rolls on their behalf to see how they did. My disdain of some parts of this adventure were made known to my friends.
Then they jumped into the room with the Godling and the Soulmonger, the engine that Acererak was using to make his own death god. The Soulmonger was held up by Adamantine struts. Cut down one strut and the engine falls into the lava below. I secretly hoped that Jusko’s vorpal sword would cut down a strut.
They dog-piled the Godling. I forgot lots of stuff in the room that would’ve made he fight harder. It was still fun, still felt epic.
Before they entered the final room, Trundle the Dwarf Ranger did the math on the nearest Godroad; it was a hundred yards from the opening of the dungeon back the way they came.
While everyone else was killing the Demi-Lich’s Godling, Trundle was poking around the balconies and found a portal to an altar. And there was a doorway to a Godroad. They had an exit plan. Nice work.
At one point Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard made a HUGE Arcana check on the Godling and realized that Acererak would arrive within a few rounds of them killing it due to a spell on it. I rolled a d4 when the Godling died. 3 rounds.
Jusko the Human Fighter, Helewyn the Elf Barbarian and Failed Soldier the Corpse-flea Grave Cleric were doing their best on the struts but not having much luck. Then Jusko talked to his word and beseeched it to do its old head-lopping job (what Drew said was way cooler). Nat 20. Boo-ya.
They ran out the fading door to the Godroads just as Acererak arrived, screaming in frustration. – mission accomplished.
They earned a boatload of levels on the Bingo Board. 7 levels to be divvied up among the party.
We’ll do some fun downtime during Sigil’s carnivale/Mardi Gras-style mask party holiday. I’m going to make up funky carousing rules based on what mask they choose to wear.
Then we’re off to the Demi-Plane of Dread, where a neighboring Outlands Expedition Team went on a mission and went missing.
After stealing the last of the puzzle-cubes from the Yuan-ti, the players had to decide if they were going to kill the Red Wizards in their sleep while their spells were depleted.
The discussion took about 40 minutes and was really interesting. Jusko said something interesting: “Who are we? Are we people who crawl into our allies’ camp and slit their throats while they sleep?”
Drew (who players Jusko) did something cool and prompted everyone to step out of character and also discuss this purely on the terms of what would be fun. That is a veteran-gamer move right there.
I added that they could make this decision based on what their characters would do, based on the strategic advantages of having 4 Red Wizards and their 20 guards on their side and the general fun of who will betray who first.
In the end, they decided not to attack the wizards and continue this frenemyship.
Jusko gave Mykal, the leader of the Zhentarim thugs employed by the Red Wizards a small fortune in gold to switch sides when the time was right in exchange for not only the gold but safe passage out of Omu.
Mykal, leader of the Red Wizards’ thugs, let them know that no one can figure out how the team got in and out of the Yuan-ti nest. The Red Wizards think Bugwump might be Arch-Mage Bugwump and is hiding his power levels from them. Jusko made an Insight Check to see if she would keep to her word. “Probably…”
The group marched up the main boulevard towards the tomb entrance on the northern cliff-face. Kuru and Trundle (Rogue and Ranger) scouted it out and saw the Queen of Feathers dragging some kind of beast westward. Kuru used an illusion of a wounded pterodactyl to send the Legendary T-Rex northward to flush out any enemies who might be in their path.
Trundle marked the hidden kobold cave entrances in case the wizards need to target them in the future.
The Queen of Feathers was driven away by kobolds. A kobold in a wooden Acererak mask spoke to her in draconic; having tried killing kobolds in the past and finding them too difficult an effort for the scant meat, she headed westward.
The kobold in the mask told the approaching adventurers that they should be honored to die in the Great Acererak’s tomb, where their bones will surely turn to dust as the ages spin by. Bugwump destroyed the kobold with a spell.
They made their way through the True Door and into the Tomb. I cut the dungeon WAY back, using only one final level. They solved the Trial of the Triangle by accident, surrounding the blocked lever they had to switch to open one of the five locks on the door and forming a triangle.
I hate puzzles but enjoy seeing this posse interact with it all. one level will be more than enough. They know that Acererak’s godling and soulmonger engine fueling its birth is on the other side.
No levels this week but they are close to getting bingo on a few different axes.
Check out this design, made for the group who played the above game but good for anyone who wants to celebrate any fantasy role-playing games being played on Thursday nights, and more in the TTRPG collection…
In which I discuss preparing to play World of Dungeons with Sean Nittner this Friday on Actual Play’s Twitch channel.
Curse of Strahd, Session X, Plans Within Plans and the Broken Angel
In which the team starts to plan and make plans within plans and meet the broken angel known as the The Prophet…
In which I discuss pitching tabletop role-playing games to friends.
In which Yuan-ti are robbed and multiple magicide is discussed.
The Yuan-ti have the last pieces of the cubes needed to open the door to the tomb. The Red Wizards of Thay were throwing Fireballs and such as a distraction while the team sneaked in.
After some discussion, the team decided to use their access to the Godroads, as there is a fell shrine in the Yuan-ti compound. They found themselves in a serpent cathedral in the middle of their fort.
They had several choices for exits out of the cathedral and they chose the hallway to the throne room. The guard was sleeping, as was the Yuan-ti leader. Stealth rolls were rolled and made.
Kuru the Hobbit thief, covered in mud spread on his face in Conan-and-company-invade-the-serpent-cult-orgy-style, mage-handed the cubes to his comrade, Jusko after looking closely for traps (I should have asked HOW he was looking for traps; I’ll ask more before hitting the dice next time). He also took the sleeping Yuan-ti leader’s gladius-style short sword, which turned out to be a flame-brand.
The team spread out across the room while Kuru used Mage Hand. Bugwump climbed up the wall above the door. When the yuan-ti knocked to tell their leader about the attack and no one answered, they were too scared to knock again. The team got out without any blood spilled – a flawless heist.
The Red Wizards met them afterwards and were shocked to find them entirely unharmed. None of the Red Wizards saw them go in. They were unnerved but low on spells.
During the week I wrote a dream for each character with questions. Some of the players responded in the comments, others responded verbally before the game. Bugwump had dreamed about his Arch-mage self, before his power had been taken away by the Lady of Pain. His Arch-mage self gave him advice but he couldn’t remember what it was.
As the Red Wizards flew away, I asked John if Arch-mage Bugwump would have told him to always kill rival wizards after they had been in a big battle and spent their spell slots – he agreed that was the kind of advice his old Arch-mage self would have given along with, “Never trust wizards.”
They discussed murdering the Red Wizards. After an Insight check, they think one might switch sides if offered but they are not sure. That one knows they are from Sigil.
Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard got to 4th level (using the Bingo XP Variant).
Next week we’ll start with them sitting around the fire, discussing whether or not to murder the Red Wizards before opening the locked door to the Tomb.
Tomb of Annihilation continues…
After last game, we began this game in the midst of combat. The following things happened in no particular order:
Trundle and Kuru ended up on the Queen of Feather’s head, trying to hit the sword embedded in her skull but missing. Still, leaping on a T-rex’s skull is cool.
The Queen of Feathers bit Failed Soldier nearly to death but spit him out because she was wounded, he tasted funny and Kuru hit her in the face with pepper spices.
Trundle ran into an old Tabaxi hunter, praying to the Cat Lord before letting arrows fly. Trundles whispered, offering the support of the Omuan deity in his head.
The Red Wizards let loose some vicious spells; they are formidable.
Jusko saved his doomed pterodactyl and named it Mishka. It was touching af.
The blade in the legendary T-Rex, the Queen of Feather’s skull was dislodged – turns out it was a +3 vorpal longsword (snicker-snack, mofo’s!) made for human pets kept by giants during the ancient wars between the giants and dragons.
They know that Red Wizards are here to grab either the young god Acererak is growing or the battery he’s using to grow it.
The Red Wizards do not know about the party’s access to the Godroads. They are keeping it as their hidden ace.
The Queen of Feathers side-stepped through reality to gain access to a wall she should have not been able to climb with her natural gifts. She wandered northward after taking a grievous headwound.
Jusko was frustrated by the whole mess and suggested the Red Wizards relocate to a nearby pillar of earth that he thought was easier to defend than their camp. They agreed and moved.
Failed Soldier, Corpseflea Grave Cleric and Trundle, Dwarf Ranger, both leveled up.
Next game – the Red Wizards will toss up a series of distractions while the party sneaks into the Night Snake’s Fane to get the key-cubes the Yuan-ti have in hand.
Used the Insight rules as Jusko took stock of the Red Wizards as they ate their first good meal in a long while.
5e enemies have LOTS of hit points. Dag. Still, they put a hurt on the Queen of Feathers.
Next session will start with another bang, looking forward to it.
After 4 sessions in Tomb of Annihilation adventure, the players landed their pterodactyls in the Lost City of Omu. 1 session was getting to Port Nyanzaru, another couple of sessions shopping and dinosaur racing in the city and another flying pterodactyls across Chult.
This is our second session have switching over to 5e. The party just got to 3rd level.
They decided to land on a pillar of land above the lava, hoping that the lack of easy access would keep them safe.
Their Gnome-inventor friend, Dosk, is setting up her equipment to see if she can figure out exactly where the Soulmonger is pulling the ghosts.
“I am going to use the Gem of True Seeing to make sure no invisible wizards fly in and sneak up on us,” Kuru said, right before a pair of Red Wizards tried to fly in invisible and take stock of them. Contact was made and the group was invited to the Red Wizards’ wreckage of a camp.
Jusko was worried about the letter of introduction Vandrilla Shadowmantle gave them to give to the Red Wizards, worried they might get Rosencrantz-&-Guildenstern’d.
Kuru removed the wax seal and Bugwump read the letter in ancient Mulhandori. It was legit, no coded kill-orders.
They split the party – Failed Soldier (Corpseflea Cleric of the Grave) and Trundle (Dwarven Ranger) looked into the Godroad entrance near the shrine to an ancient Omu God while Jusko (Human Fighter) and Bugwump (Frog-kin Wizard) took Pterodactyls to make contact with the Red Wizards.
Kuru remained at camp with the guides and the remaining steeds, using his spyglass to keep track of things.
The camp was a mess, having just survived a Yuan-ti attack. Bugwump corrected their assessment of the Yuan-ti as “snake people” repeatedly. Jusko invited the Red Wizards to dinner at their place that night.
Failed Soldier and Trundle looked at the local Godroads, making contact with an ancient Omuan deity who Trundle took into his flesh for the power of Invisibility.
They could see the other shrines to the other Omuan deities and some fell shrines in a temple complex that would turn out to be run by the Yuan-ti.
On their way home, Jusko and Bugwump are hit by a flurry of arrows from Yuan-ti scouts who were watching their approach. The archers targeted their pterodactyls, killing one.
Jusko and Bugwump wade in and drive 3 of the 5 scouts away with spell and steel.
Kuru sees something moving towards Jusko and Bugwump from the north of the city.
The Queen of Feathers, a legendary t-rex with a beautiful ridge of black and blue feathers, attracted to the sounds of dying pterodactyls is making her way south. It has a sword stuck in it skull, flesh and bone healed over it, from someone who tried to kill her and failed.
Next game will begin with Yuan-ti, Red Wizards, Queen of Feathers and a few new faces colliding as Trundle and Failed Soldier enter the fray from a nearby shrine-door from the Godroads.
The amount of hit points things have in 5e is shocking to me after months of 5 Torches Deep. I’m wondering if an E5 hack would be the way to go. I’ll give 5e a go for a while.
I think I got distracted by the combat and maybe didn’t split up the spotlight time as well as I should’ve. Something to watch out for in the future.
Using the Bingo Style Experience Points, we started the game writing up the outer ring of the Bingo Board. Bingo chips can be taken off the board to be used as Inspiration.
The covered squares from this session are: Discovered Secret Lore, Earned the Trust of a Wondrous Ally, Added a New Detail to the Map, Built a Bridge (relations with the Red Wizards).
After reading over the full Tomb of the Nine Gods, I’m trimming that dungeon way, way back. More on that later…
SPOILER! We are playing Tomb of Annihilation and this post will spoil some secrets concerning the Heart of Ubtao encounter. If that doesn’t matter to you – READ ON. If you want to play that module and don’t want to know the secrets behind it, maybe come back to this later.
My friend, John, is playing Bugwump – a frog-kin wizard.
The team’s back-story is that they were all sentenced to the Maze by the Lady of Pain; I didn’t choose that but it seemed to gel everyone together and gave them a timeless period where they were all together. Now they are deputized by the Lady of Pain as an Outlands Expedition Team.
John mentioned that before the Lady of Pain sentenced him, he had been a powerful wizard, high-level (as the D&D folks say). So, when they met an Arch-Mage on the Godroads, it occurred to me to ask John if Bugwump knew this guy and he did. It was a cool encounter – reminded me of running into an old college buddy on a day when you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. Suddenly, a strange moment – encountering an Arch-Mage on the Godroads – became very relatable.
Enter this odd encounter in the Tomb of Annihilation – The Heart of Ubtao.
The Heart is this magically floating mote of earth, about the size of 3 cottages. Valindra Shadomantle is there, an agent working for the Red Wizards. Though a powerful necromancer, she isn’t a Red Wizard herself. The big secret is that she is a lich.
As I read the encounter, I realized Bugwump might know her. The Arch-mage on the Godroads felt like running into an old buddy from school. Valindra was going to feel like…
…holy shit, Bugwump dated her, didn’t he? I asked.
John agreed. I mentioned that when they were together she’d take consulting work from anyone. She had helped liches hide their phylacteries and trapped dungeons and lairs against intruders.
Being Bugwump’s ex gave her this realness. Bugwump was much less scrupulous in his youth. We have seen that change from when we first began the campaign.
Hasn’t everyone dated someone in college who, if they turned out to be undead, you’d say, “Yeah, that scans.”
Through stealth checks the a Gem of True-Seeing the players figured out Valindra’s lichness. Bugwump told her that they’d meet her cohort of Red Wizards and come back to figure out what to do next with whatever Acererak was up to in the Lost City of Omu. He was lying and she knew it but suddenly, it wasn’t about adventurers stealing. It was an ex saying he’d come back when he never was going to come back.
I know that adventurers (particularly, bards) dating monsters is a kind of RPG-twitter cliche. Tonight it made a dangerous and interesting totally unbalanced encounter even more interesting.
Thank you, John, for making interesting choices.
One more interesting moment from that game. The guides were frantically saddling the pterodactyls to get off the earth mote.
Drew’s knight, Jusko, knocked on Valindra’s door. He had a game board that we called Outlands Chess – it is round and the center of the board represents Sigil. You can win by taking the other’s Wizard or by taking Sigil. Valindra won by taking both but Drew’s roll had been higher (he rolled GREAT and she rolled poorly).
He learned about her through play and I let him ask questions about her to see what the game taught him about her character. Love it.
When characters play strategy games I almost never make the die roll about winning; I make it about seeing what you can learn about the person playing.
Sometimes, though, winning is cool.
The group is flying south, following the souls of their first guides, found out to be Zhent spies, being sucked southward by the Soulmonger, Azererak’s creation. A gnome with tech gear allows them to track the spirits.
Activate Indiana Jones travel-red-line!
They are flying on pterodactyls, their guide is a merchant prince’s sister, Tefnek. I rolled a herd of pegasi and so she followed them to a safe valley.
“Pegasi are a safe bet; I like to follow them to find a good place to camp for the night. This valley is solid – a pack of t-rexes cover the southern entrance and some ancient ward I didn’t see on the way in must cover the north.
“In a few days we’ll reach The Heart of Ubtao, a holy site of floating earth where priests once went to have visions. It might be an auspicious place to keep tracking the path the souls are taking.”