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Monday, January 16, 2017

Planescape - Blood War I. The Battle of Birthing Hills

I just want to point out real quick that Pathfinder has a humble bundle sale going where you can get a ton of pdfs for $15. There's a series of adventures in here called "Day of the Demon." I'm guessing that those will be extremely useful for me!

Blood War: We finally started the blood war tonight and it went very well. I have always wanted to run a D&D game where the heroes are soldiers in the war. Over the course of my “DM” career I've tried it and failed miserably about 4 times.

It's so easy to get lost trying to figure out how to handle mass combat when your group is actually right there inside the battle.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard 

The heroes own a cluster of buildings in Sigil called Deadbook Square.

Last session, we took care of a ton of downtime stuff. We started off tonight with a little more. I wanted to point out to Theran that one of the babies in Graz'zt's nursery has 3 eyes and a wolf's head. I buried it among other details so it didn't stick out.

Training in Hell: The heroes spent a week in Avernus, the 1st layer of the Nine Hells doing drills with the devil soldiers.

They were each given command of 8 legion devils, soldiers who share a pool of hit points.

Hurling Death: The job of the heroes is to drive a death hurler, a hellish siege engine from an old issue of Dragon Magazine. It is a steam roller with a pile of damned souls on it. On top of the pile is a platform which the group can stand on and control it.

My mood in D&D has shifted considerably. When I was younger, blood and gore flew like crazy. Now, I have no stomach for it. Torture and suffering aren't really something I want in my entertainment any more. It's weird, I'm OK with the heroes killing bad guys, but I don't want anybody being put in an iron maiden.

So what I'm trying to say is that I gave the Death Hurler a combination of a Canadian and a North Dakota accent. The damned souls are all tickled pink to be a death hurler and they really look forward to hurlin' some death with ya.

Hell Hound: I also gave the group a hell hound named Fireball. Bidam is a hell hound whisperer, so they can talk to each other. Fireball promised to bark at the demons and he indeed lived up to that promise when the time came.

Developing Hell: I put a lot of thought into Zariel, ruler of Avernus. She has never been fleshed out in D&D, so I made up a whole thing about her.

She approached the heroes and cut a deal with them. The heroes committed to getting her a VAT full of holy water within 30 days. If they did not, they'd be spending time in the Pit of Flame.

The group agreed to this because they realized that a church of a good goddess pays rent to them in Deadbook Square. The heroes are going to ask for payment in the form of holy water. Clever!

Zariel told the group that she wanted the holy water to use as a weapon against the demons, but she's actually using it for this whole other thing that the group may or may not find out about depending on how this campaign goes.

Demotion: The heroes have a bound devil servant named Nin, a heresy devil (from Pathfinder). He's a real schemer. Drokkarn warned Nin not to pull anything or he'd be demoted to an imp or worse. As a higher-ranking devil, Drokkarn has the power to transform lower devils from one type to another.

The group really loved that.

War Plans

Where the War Happens: In the Blood War boxed set, it says that most Blood War battles take place on the middle planes like Gehenna and the Gray Waste. I don't like that. I want it to take place in the Nine Hells and the Abyss.

The Main Villain: I will be using Lamashtu, a Pathfinder demon lord, as the big villain of this whole blood war scenario. I am thinking that a battle against Lamashtu will be the climax of this whole thing.

She does have a bit of lore in D&D books, so I combined it with the Pathfinder lore. I declared that she runs 3 or 4 abyssal layers:
  • Kurnugia: A vast realm detailed in Books of the Damned.
  • Torremor: Supposedly she stole this realm from Pazuzu.
  • Thanatos: In my campaign, Orcus is dead. Many sessions ago, I established that Lamashtu had taken Thanatos as her own.
  • Onstrakkar's Nest: I could be wrong, but I think this is the name of Lamashtu's D&D realm. It has a huge spire that he was impaled on by Pazuzu. She was stuck on that spire for centuries.
In my game, I pointed out to the group that nobody knows who helped Lamashtu get off of the spire.

More Villains: Secretly, I've decided that it was Iggwilv, the witch queen. Lamashtu is one of the demon lords that Iggwilv controls. Graz'zt is trying to steal Lamashtu from Iggwilv. That baby in the nursery in Theran's town is the spawn of Graz'zt and Lamashtu.

Graz'zt and Lamashtu seem like a good match, right? Lamashtu is all about giving birth to deformed monsters, and Graz'zt is all about making babies!

Graz'zt and Iggwilv have become a sort of pervasive force in this campaign. I love both of them so what the heck, let's work them in where it makes sense.

Drokkarn's Plan: Drokkarn the pit fiend runs the devil army. For centuries, he was a sentient magic cloak. The group saved him from that fate. Now he wants to betray the devils and become a demon lord. To do that, he needs to steal and take control of an Abyssal layer.

His plan is to take an army to Onstrakkar's Nest, a mostly-ignored realm. Get Lamashtu to divert forces from Thanatos to Onstrakkar's Nest. Slip out and go try to take Thanatos while Lamashtu's army is in Onstrakkar's Nest.

Remember, Bidam is linked to Tenebrous, aka dead Orcus. Tenebrous want Bidam to take Thanatos for himself, so we've got all sorts of fun developments that can occur.

The Birthing Hills

Drokkarn knows a "magical shortcut" on the River Styx that can take travelers from hell right to the Abyss, so they don't need to sail through those middle planes.

50,000 devils piled into ships and sailed into Ontrakkar's Nest. They marched toward their objective - The Castle of the Third Witch. A spy had indicated there was a useful portal in this castle.

The devils marched to the Birthing Hills, knowing that the devil force here would surely detect and oppose them soon.

The Battle Plan: The devils set up into a formation described in the Blood War boxed set. I changed it a bit. It goes like this:
  • Have the devils stand in a formation shaped like the letter V.
  • Let the demons charge inside the V.
  • Summon the hellfire engine, a colossal hellfire-spewing entity, trapping the demons in the V.
  • Murder all of the demons.
The devils set up. The group's job was to hide behind a birthing hill, and to roll through the hellfire engine's legs and start steamrolling demons inside the V.

I took the birthing hills from Pathfinder's Lords of Chaos book. I was wondering if the group would figure out the gimmick of the birthing hills. I described them as weird hills that quivered and pulsed.

The Armies: The demons arrived. 250,000 demons! Usually the devils are outnumbered 10 to 1, so Drokkarn was pleased.

The demon army was run by Khorramzadeh, a balor from Wrath of the Righteous. He's gigantic and extremely cool-looking.

I tried to keep the armies simple so that the group wouldn't be too overwhelmed.

The devil army:
  • Legion Devils: Soldiers who share a pool of hit points.
  • Bearded Devils: They command the legion devils.
  • Shocktroop Devils: These things are gigantic and wade into the front lines.
  • Hell Knights: They fly around on their nightmares and kick ass.
The demon army:
  • Dretches: Pathetic little fellows.
  • Vrocks: Buzzard demons.
  • Lamias of Lamashtu: I used the pathfinder lamias, half-snake evil clerics.
  • Zovvuts: White angel-things. I just think they look cool.
The demons charged into the V. Nin successfully summoned the hellfire engine. The heroes rode their death hurler into the V, with Fireball barking at the demons and the Death Hurler saying stuff like: "Sorry demons, but we’re gonna hafta hurl some death atcha!"

Familiarity: I wanted this to be easy. I wanted the group to get to fight different demon types and get to know them. In D&D, it is really hard to remember all the different demon and devil types.

I want to focus on a handful and keep using them for a while until I get the sense that the group knows them like the back of their hands.
The heroes steamrolled a bunch of dretches. Some climbed up onto the hurler, most of which were grabbed and killed by the damned. Theran blew away three climbers with a thunderwave spell.

Wave of Dretches: Three dretches got onto the platform at the top of the Death Hurler. One let off a fetid cloud. The heroes dropped the dretches, but this skirmish took longer than I expected. Theran is having real trouble with his spells. He relies on the same few spells over and over, and when more versatility is called for, he has a hard time with it.

One Vrock
: A lone vrock swooped down at the group as the death hurler steamrolled more dretches.

When demons die, there are these random effect charts. I forgot to bring one with me, so tonight there was nothing but explosions of blood, ichor and (Jessie's favorite) miasma.

Blood was spraying all around the death hurler. The group's contingent of legion devils were near the hurler killing dretches.

The vrock actually gave the group trouble. He flew 10 feet above them, out of reach of Bidam's sword of sharpness. Eventually, I had a hell knight fly over and knock the vrock onto the death hurler so that Bidam could melee the thing to death.

Birthing Time: Things were going well until, suddenly, the birthing hills gave birth. Slime-covered beasts of Lamashtu exploded out of hills behind the V and charged forward. The group turned and death hurled the crap out of them, steamrolling these gooey scorpion-things into oblivion.

Victory: Khorramzadeh had sent a portion of his army into the V, not all of it. The remainder withdrew from the battlefield.

The Siege of the Castle

The devil army took an hour to heal and regroup. Then, they marched to the Castle of the Third Witch, where Khorramzadeh and his demons were waiting.

Attacking the Castle: The hellfire engine stomped forward and smashed through the courtyard wall. Drokkarn ordered the heroes to roll in and lead the charge into the courtyard!

They did so, steamrolling right into a cloud of blinding smoke caused by the wall collapse.

Something started firing gooey balls at them. Eggs! Ovum! The heroes had no way to expel the dust.

Wrinkle: Suddenly, Khorramzadeh teleported into the courtyard. This 50 foot tall dude can teleport! Khorramzadeh is actually bigger than the hellfire engine! He tackled the engine and they tumbled back into the devil army.

The group and their legion devils were in the cloudy courtyard, with hundreds of demons buried or crushed in rubble, dealing with a lone attacker.

The smoke cleared. This entity was a 15 feet tall feminine figure with tentacles coming out of an opening in her gut. It was firing monster eggs out of the opening each round!

The Mother: She is the Mother of All, an NPC from Assault on Maerimydra. She's perfect for Lamashtu, right? And the nice thing is that in D&D, the Mother is officially a spawn of Graz'zt. We can say that the mother is a spawn of Graz'zt and Lamashtu and it all fits.

The Mother was really tough. Even de-powered, the group barely hurt her at all. She launched eggs every round. One hit Theran in the chest, exploding in a fiery burst for 22 points. The Mother gets 7 attacks! 7! Six tentacles and one tongue.

She beat up Bidam and then grabbed him with her tongue. He was restrained and just could not get free. The escape DC is a 19.

Theran tried a disintegrate spell but she made her saving throw. She has magic resistance, so she has advantage on saves against spells.

The Mother killed Theran's legion devils.

Solution: Something clicked in my head at this point. I was falling into the trap of just running a combat like a numbers game: I roll, you roll, I roll, etc.

I remembered to think from the perspective of the bad guy. Does she want to kill the heroes? Does she know that the devils are coming in and that she is doomed?

Lamashtu is all about breeding monsters. The Mother had Bidam, who is a baby-making machine. She took him and headed inside the castle. She’s got a hostage, at least. There is a planar portal in there, she can make a run for it!

The group was very alarmed. They couldn't defeat the Mother. No chance! Theran was completely stymied.

Then.. leave it to Jessie. Bidam runs a demon sex farm that has been having trouble with production and staff.

Bidam looked at the Mother and asked, "Do you want a job?"

Fight over. We died laughing and Bidam's sex farm is now fully operational.

Clean Up: Khorramzedah damaged the hellfire engine, but he got wounded and had to flee. Without his commanding presence, the demons where a chaotic rabble that the devils ran off with ease.

The devils had taken control of a crucial location in Onstrakkar’s Nest.

The devil spies are these incubus twins that I made up. When one gets wounded, so does the other. They don't like each other but in order to keep safe, they work together.

They had charmed the Third Witch. The devils claimed a very valuable prisoner.

The portal in this place goes to the Infinite Staircase. The staircase has portals to everywhere! Drokkarn declared that the army was going to take over the staircase!

In this campaign, it was established that Vecna had taken the staircase from the Forgotten Realms goddess that is in For Duty or Deity.

So next time, we'll see what Vecna thinks about devils trying to claim his staircase.

The staircase is wide but it's easy to fall off. If you fall off, you plunge into a random plane!

I love the idea of having a mass combat on the staircase, with creatures falling off by the dozens each round.

It was a lot of fun. I am a bit alarmed at how weak the group is. They're 12th level! They were having trouble with a single vrock. This is despite the fact that they both made their saves against the stunning screech.

The tentative plan for the next few sessions goes like this:
  • War on the Infinite Staircase.
  • I want the heroes to sail the River Styx like in that F. Wesley Schneider article that I wrote about in my River Styx post. I haven't figured out how to work it in, yet.
  • I am thinking of having Graz'zt ask the devils for help. Verin, who betrayed Graz'zt about 10 sessions ago, has obtained asylum in another abyssal layer. Graz'zt wants his army to team up with the devil army for what would be a mutually beneficial operation.
  • Rub elbows with Fierna or another archdevil, meet an entire court of an archdevil.

1 comment:

Jason R said...

I'd be willing to serve as a voice actor to provide your NPC with an authentic (Western) Canadian accent! For a very reasonable price! Haha