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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Rise of Tiamat - Mission to Thay

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I had scheduled a bonus session of The Rise of Tiamat at the game store today. I could be wrong, but from what I understand, Elemental Evil starts on March 18th. So today I wanted to get through everything up to the final battle of the campaign. We will do that Tiamat fight on this coming Wednesday.

I honestly didn't feel like coming in to run this today. Today was daylight savings, which meant I lost an hour of sleep and I was exhausted. Also, the last few sessions haven't been stellar and my enthusiasm has waned.

It's funny, it's the times when I don't really want to go but drag myself in that end up being good ones. We've had horrid weather for months now in New York, but it is suddenly getting warmer and it put everyone in a good mood.

The Party

  •     (Harper) Elf Sorcerer: Played by a 4th grader, she is Dark the Dragon Sorceress   
  •     (Zhentarim) Gnome Rogue: Middle Schooler. We joke that his character lives in a garbage can.
  •     (Zhentarim) Elf Rogue: Middle Schooler. Often does "combo moves" with the gnome, throwing him at stuff to get Inspiration.
  •     (Order of the Gauntlet) Half-Elf Paladin: Middle Schooler. Oath of the Ancients.
  •     (Order of the Gauntlet) Half-Elf Fighter: The player is about 25 years old, knows the rules pretty well. 
  •     Mezzoloth: Played by the fighter's dad, who played old D&D and is new to 5e.
Dark's dad, a rogue, couldn't make it in today. His character was sent on a "special mission" by the Zhentarim.

Today I wanted to fly through episode 8, which is a nothing-chapter where the heroes go to Thay. Then we'd spend the majority of this session on the well of dragons (which is episode 9). In episode 9 according to the book, the heroes go through what looks like a really boring dungeon while a mass combat rages between the factions and the cult outside. I said "nuts to that" and revamped this final episode so that our heroes are out in the middle of a mass combat chopping their way toward the Draakhorn and the caldera where Tiamat's temple awaits. It went extremely well.

Fake Masks

Dark and another player were arguing last week about who got to keep the (fake) blue dragon mask. When they got back to Waterdeep, I had it so that a bunch of adventuring groups had found fake masks. This way, the PCs could each claim a mask and we could move on.

Gnome Treasure

I decided that since the gnome had pleasantly offered to give his dagger of venom to one of the metallic dragons (which is especially generous of him when you consider how rare magic items are in this storyline), I decided that the dragon would send an item to him as a thank you and an aid in the upcoming battle at the Well of Dragons. I looked through the DMG before the game and couldn't figure out what to give him. So I just had him tell me what he wanted at the table. He got a +2 bow.

The Polychromatic Dragon

I decided that word had spread among the metallic dragons that the PCs had a baby black dragon that was not evil. I did a thing where one of Bahamut's 7 gold dragons, Sonngrad the Wing, came and brought Sparky and some of the PCs to the plane of positive energy, where Sparky went through some morality trials and was infused with positive energy. Sparky is now half-black, half-gold. I did this partly because Dark asked me last week if Sparky could level up (his stats are pretty shabby now compared to the PCs, aside from the breath weapon that does 22 points of damage).

Rath Modar
The heroes then were teleported to Thay to meet with the Red Wizards. The Cult is allied with a splinter group of the Red Wizards, with the idea that Tiamat will help the splinter group oust the current leader of the red wizards, Szass Tam. The heroes tried to recruit the red wizards, which led to a few PCs being interrogated in their dreams, though they didn't remember it due to tough saving throws.

I added in a detail from the Neverwinter MMO. Each PC stayed in a room that had a ten foot tall statue of a red wizard holding his hands out. If a PC messed with it, an imp would have appeared and asked the PC what they wanted. The imp could keep an eye on them, and the whole thing is a way to show the PCs that messing with statues or stuff in their domain could have consequences.

The entire Thay chapter is a big nothing as written. I decided not to expand on it. We had stuff to do!

The Final Council of Waterdeep

I had Skyreach Castle show up, hovering over Waterdeep. It was time to decide who was going to attack the cult, and who the PCs had failed to win over.

Really there was only one faction with a beef. Going by the council scorecard, the PCs had scored a ton of points with almost every faction. But logic dictated that King Melandrach and the elves were out - the PCs had made them apologize to the metallic dragons for a past event, and most notably the heroes killed the King's son and chucked his severed ear at the King when they got back.

I also hinted that the heroes, half of whom are elves and actually grew up in the Misty forest, would not be welcomed back there by a large segment of the population.

The heroes had the key to Xonthal's Tower, and every faction wanted it. The PCs decided to just keep the key for now to avoid tension.

The Well of Dragons

That's Tiamat's Temple in the distance.
And with that, a great army was assembled and gathered far to the south, near the Well of Dragons. There were giants, treants, griffons, metallic dragons alongside soldiers and wizards from all of the different factions.

I had Laeral Silverhand give a quick speech - I stole a quote I love hearing from the Neverwinter MMO that I say out loud in a lady voice because it makes me laugh: "Diligence, vigilance and tenacity. This is the key to victory".

The cult is massed at the Well of Dragons, a caldera full of dragon bones. Tiamat's evil hell-temple has risen in the center. Outside the caldera are thousands of cultists and devils. Flying above the whole thing are dozens of chromatic dragons.

Our heroes spontaneously chose mounts to ride into battle:
  • The paladin summoned a spectral elk and readied his lance that he'd bought long ago
  • The gnome rode Sparky, the baby black/gold dragon
  • Dark rode a gold dragon (!)
  • The mezzoloth rode on a treant
  • The elf rogue rode a griffon
  • The fighter rode a warhorse
Their steeds chosen, they let out a shout and led the charge, kicking up a cloud of dust as they rampaged toward the evil cultists.

My idea here was to run some encounters amid the chaos of war. I rolled initiative for the bad guys, and also made a separate roll for a 'special' encounter. Each round, when I got to 'special', I'd consult my list of special things and picked one. The list had things like:
  • A chromatic dragon swoops down and breathes on the PCs
  • Leosin (the monk from Hoard episode 2) jumps into the fray and kidney punches one of the PCs' enemies.
I also had Music, the tiefling bard from Merric Blackman's group, with the heroes. I had her use a special song to allow the PCs to take a short rest in mere moments.

I had five encounters prepared. The idea was to hack through the enemy, to get to the caldera. The PCs need to pass through a tunnel to get to Tiamat's temple. But they see the red wizard Rath Modar with the Draakhorn, and of course they need to take him down first.

The Warm-Up Fight

The heroes battled 3 dragonclaws, 3 dragonwings and one dragonsoul amidst the cacapony of battle. I re-flavored them so that they were like the cultists from the neverwinter MMO - there were green cultists with bows that shot energy arrows, blue cultists with lightning shields, etc.

Also in the middle of the first round, the first "special" moment kicked in: A red dragon swooped down from overhead and breathed on the heroes!

As the battle raged, Dark cast animate object and brought ten broken weapons to life. I had no idea how cool this spell was. Her weapons chopped up bad guys left and right.

I was worried that this fight and the other fights would be too easy or too hard, but they weren't at all. It was pretty perfect, thanks in part to my failsafe NPC bard healer with them.

Once the PCs had killed the cultists, I ran a quick type of semi-encounter that I used to do in 4e all the time. Basically, they'd roll initiative, I'd give them a situation, and they'd say what they wanted to try. They'd roll and their die roll would determine how it went.

So there's a mass of enemies in front of them. Dark has the gold dragon breathe fire to trap most of them in a ring of fire. Some other enemies, black dragon-armored cultists, began reading from scrolls. This is also from Neverwinter - they read from the scrolls and become giant-sized.

A PC threw alchemist fire into the fire circle and torched the bad guys while the PCs killed the scroll-readers.

Naergoth Bladelord

In this chapter, there's an undead warrior named Naergoth. He is affected by sunlight, so I set this whole scenario at night. Basically, once the battle started, Rath Modar told Naergoth to hunt down the PCs and kill them. Rath created some spectral mirror images of himself to accompany Naergoth (special monsters I took from Neverwinter - they are monsters that look just like Rath Modar, but they are made of spectral purple fire, hover and cast spells).

Rath's mirror images sneered at Dark. She'd somehow charmed him in Skyreach castle way back when, and he vowed revenge. As this encounter got underway, a green dragon flew by and breathed on the heroes.

The adventurers took down the bad guys. They were hurt pretty bad, so Music played her song. I used this opportunity to have Dark's gold dragon go fly after the green dragon. As their wounds sealed themselves up, a new enemy came after them...

The Red Dragon

Yep, a red dragon swooped down for a full-fledged combat. The frightening presence really throws them for a loop. The paladin has some power that protects him and people close to him from it. Still, it was a good fight that felt deadly.

One thing that happened was that the mounts of the PCs were killed. The griffon dropped from the breath weapon. The treant caught fire. Sparky even almost died (he would have if he hadn't "leveled up" earlier).

Once they had slain the dragon, the heroes closed in on the wall of the caldera. They saw a path that led up the wall to a landing, where the draakhorn was placed. By it was none other than rath modar. To get to the path, the PCs would have to pass over an infernal summoning circle. As they heroes got close to it, Rath activated it. It summoned a...

Pit Fiend

I was worried that this would be too tough, so I had a frost giant pop out of the combat to help the heroes fight it. The fiend really did a number on the heroes, but overall it felt challenging yet not overwhelming. It's funny, AC 19 is hard to hit, even for 14th-level PCs.

Rath Modar

The adventurers made their way up the path. Rath Modar had ten, yes, ten spectral mirror images of himself, each able to cast magic missile. They formed a wall, stopping the melee PCs from closing in on Rath. Rath pelted the heroes with a fireball, but that spell doesn't work too well on my group.

The elf rogue took an epic leap over the line of images and hacked into Modar. It was a harrowing battle with magic missiles flying around like crazy. But thanks to the daring rogue, Rath was slain and his mirror images vanished.

They could secure the Draakhorn and then proceed toward and into Tiamat's temple where the ritual to summon Tiamat was taking place....

After The Game Was Over

I got to meet Dark's little brother. He's a fun little guy. He did one of those wacky things that I think only little kids do. He somehow dropped a school library book through the gate of a closed deli in the mall. And of course, the book needed to be in the school tomorrow.

I used to lock these gates all the time at one of my old jobs. You can lift them up a few inches off the ground. So I lifted it, he stuck his tiny hand through and got his book.

All in all, it was a good session and I look forward to the final battle on Wednesday.

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