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Monday, March 6, 2017

Planescape – Blood War III. The Siege of Lamashtu's Castle

It's been a while, but we finally got back to playing the Planescape campaign last night. This whole section of the campaign is based on the Hellbound boxed set, which details the war between devils and demons.

Tonight was another attempt by me to run an adventure set inside of a mass combat. I think I've got it down pretty good.

D&D Snipers: I had polled the group a while back about what scenarios sounded appealing to them, and the they loved the idea of being D&D snipers. The things that come to mind when I think of sniping are scenes from Saving Private Ryan and Metal Gear Solid 2.

I remember MGS2 having this scene where a young girl has to cross this narrow path above the ocean and you have to snipe all of these drones before they kill her. I recall it being very intense, so I wanted to try to recreate that tonight in some fashion.

The Party

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

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

A dretch
We started out with some downtime. The group owns a festhall and were the victims of some scandalous sabotage from the dark elf festhall. The group figured it out really quick and ended up hiring an ogre to solve the dilemma.

Demon Babies: Theran runs a settlement in the abyssal realm of Azzagrat. He checked in on it and saw there was a new child in the nursery of Grazz't's babies. Theran looked at it and quickly deduced that Graz'zt is making babies with Lamashtu, the demon lord the group is currently fighting against. He was alarmed.

Disinformation: Bidam runs this procreation facility where they make new types of demons. I decided to go ahead and use my Donald Trump NPC. I didn't use him for awhile because it just didn't feel right. My Trump NPC is Gonard Flumph and he runs the town of Samora in Azzagrat.

Bidam found his facility in chaos. There were all these rumors going around about disease outbreaks and there was friction between the different types of creature.

After some investigating, the group realized two demon agents of Flumph were spreading fake news to sow dissension and destabilize the facility. The heroes were quite angry and sent the demons packing. Bidam gave a big speech and was able to get everyone back to work.

Back to the Castle: Then it was back to Onstrakkar's Nest, Lamashtu's abyssal realm. The devil army had taken a castle there and used a portal in it to take over a section of the Infinite Staircase. The demon army had fled. Now the bad(der) guys were marching back to destroy the devil army.

The pit fiend general general, Drokkarn, had devised a strategy. The devils were going to set up and defend in a settlement attached to the castle. The devils were going to herd all of the demon soldiers into the main street. Then, the group was going to get on their Death Hurler (a kind of steamroller with damned souls attached to it) and squash them all. I thought that would make for a fun final encounter.

The heroes set up on a castle wall, each of them manning a magic ballista. I always have a hard time finding the ballista stats in the book. +6 to hit, 16 damage, 3 actions to load, in case you're wondering.

The group was given a bunch of magic bolts they could fire:
  • Bolts of Demon Slaying: Con save DC 17, 6d10 damage.
  • Bolts of Force: Re-skinned beads of force.
  • Oathbolts: These ignore the long range penalties and do +3d6 damage.
I tried hard to stick to just a few fiendish races so I can try to get the group familiar with each type. I made handouts for the players. This is their devil army:

This is the demon army, led by Korramzadeh, a special balor from the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path:

Protection: Te battle kicked off with a chaos hammer spell shattering a retaining wall round the settlement. Hordes of dretches poured through the opening. The heroes spotted their friend, Feurina and the hellhound, Fireball near the horde. They were getting swarmed. The heroes proceeded to carefully snipe enemies around them. Feurina actually took quite a bit of damage as my dice were on fire.

When a dretch dies, it creates a toxic cloud. That plays into sniping really well, as now the group has to contend with penalties to hit due to the cloud obscuring the area.

Hell Knight: Having saved Feurina, their next task was to help a hell knight. It was on its nightmare, battling two vrocks. A bolt of slaying dropped one, but then the group's dice went cold. The hell knight was stunned by a stunning screech and eventually fell to the ground below. The vrock flew down and finished it off.

Enemy Sniper: Then we got to a part I was pumped up about. A rival sniper opened fire! From somewhere in the chaos of the settlement, a magic crossbow bolt came flying at them. It burst into a bunch of bolts, spreading into a cone and hitting both heroes at once. I thought this would be a cool encounter because the group would have to somehow spot the sniper. I made the Perception DC high - a 20! - and figured they'd come up with something clever to find him.

Well.. it's D&D. Jessie rolled a perception to spot the sniper. Natural 20! Theran swiveled his magic ballista in that direction and fired off a bolt of force, trapping the sniper in a globe of force. Problem solved!

The Whispering Valkyrie: An NPC had teleported behind them. She's the Whispering Valkyrie, a green-skinned demon. Bidam drew his sword of sharpness while Theran stayed back. The adventurers made quick work of the valkyrie.

MGS2: Then we did the Metal Gear Solid 2 encounter. They saw Feurina and Fireball fighting their way across an elevated walkway full of dretches. The group had to snipe the creatures that tried to come up behind them.

I dangled the dog in front of the players again. The hellhound, Fireball, is a goofy NPC. He barks at the monsters and thinks he's helping. Bidam can talk to him because he is a hell hound whisperer just like Feurina.

During this encounter, the dog actually fell off the walkway due to bad rolls. I had planned for that possibility. I don't want Fireball to die (unless the game simply conspires to make it happen) and had planned out a small thing.

 Fireball disappeared into the stink cloud below. Once the group had sniped all of the enemies and Feurina got to the other side, they were relieved to see Fireball come up the stairs wagging his tail. He fell, but he was fine.

Using NPCs as Bait: I really get touchy about using NPCs as bait too much. If you do it a lot, the group will start to avoid interacting with NPCs, assuming they're all just metagame traps waiting to be sprung. That's why I always say that the vast majority of NPCs should be nice and helpful to the heroes.

Then we got to another part I was a bit pumped up about. Another chaos hammer appeared above the heroes. It came down and crushed the castle wall they were perched on. I decided to try to make a more elaborate falling sequence. I wanted the fall to be more than a single roll. It went like this:
  1. Save vs the chaos hammer: fail = damage. Either way, the stone beneath their feet is shattered and falls away.
  2. The heroes fall into the top floor of the castle wall interior. Save again. Failing the save means damage.
  3. Then, THAT floor gives way and the group falls to the bottom. Save vs. falling rubble. Fail = damage and restrained. Take more damage each round until you escape.
It worked great. The hammer came down, the group fell. Theran's dice went cold and by the time he got to the bottom he had just a couple hit points left and he was buried.

Bidam tried to find him in the rubble but couldn't. Theran thankfully was able to escape on his own.

It just so happened that the group emerged right by their buddy the Death Hurler. And look at that, the demons had been forced into the main street.

Hurling Death: The Death Hurler started telling the heroes in their really bad Canadian accents to get on board and start hurlin' some Death.

This final encounter was basically about them surviving the trip from one end of the settlement to the other. Each round, they needed to make a DEX save DC 10 or fall prone due to the many dretches being squashed under the rollers of the Death Hurler.

They also had to save against the toxic cloud that came from each slain dretch. Pretty much the entire battlefield was obscured by green poisonous mist.

On top of that, each round dretches climbed up the death hurler and tried to kill the heroes. I had made three waves of them, and it worked out absolutely perfectly.

Theran used thunderwave to great effect, sending many a dretch flying off the Hurler. He was hurt bad from the wall collapse, and a dretch dropped him. Theran has a devil imp named Barbagg as a sidekick. Barbagg fed him a special goodberry the group had been given a while back. Theran was revived.

Bidam was dretch-killing machine, and the group made their Dex saves. Theran got poisoned by the cloud but he made his save soon after.

Once the group's infernal siege engine got to the other side, they saw that their hurler had slaughtered many, many dretches. The demon army fled. The devils cheered.

Special Mission: Later, the pit fiend general, their friend Drokkarn, wanted them to go on a special mission. Last session, some devil had fallen off the infinite staircase. One of them was a spy who knew way too much. The heroes had to go find him.

Where was he? Captured in the palace of Malcanthet, the Succubus Queen! The heroes will sail the river styx and I'll get to use the material from that hilarious dragon magazine article I read a few months back.

War in D&D: Good session! More combat-y than normal, but I really want to give them an actual "war" experience. A lot of times in D&D, if there's a war going on, it happens in the background. I want the group to be right there on the battlefield, taking cover in bunker, charging across open ground amid explosions, and fighting among thousands of other soldiers.

It was a success! I want to do more, but I don't want to turn the campaign into nothing but combat. I'm going to try to alternate. I'll do one or two sessions of a mass combat, and then one or two sessions of a special mission involving exploring and talking.

This next session should be hilarious. I am very much looking forward to it.


GameMasters DK said...

I love the Planescape setting. Monte Cook has a fantastic imagination. I'm currently playing Torment - Numenera and enjoying that too.

jburgos said...

"The things that come to mind when I think of sniping are that scene in Saving Private Ryan and Metal Gear Solid 2."
How about:
What comes to mind when I think of sniping are those scenes in Saving Private Ryan and Metal Gear Solid 2.

Jason R said...

Awesome session once again! A couple questions on your planning for these mass combat encounters. Your players obviously know your DM style and they gave you feedback ahead of time on their preference on the options you gave them; does that mean that they are happy to stay within the confines of the encounters as you designed them? I imagine it would throw things into disarray if they jumped down and started wading into legions of demons. Of course they wouldn't do that if it was suicidal, I more mean getting off the beaten path from the encounters you rolled out.

Also, do you still sometimes use 4e style challenges in these sorts of encounter designs?

Sean said...

Gamemasters DK: Torment! Love it! I took as much content from that game as I could for this campaign.

jburgos: Fixed it! Sort of. You should be my editor.

Jason R: OK.. they don't care about rules at all. This game is appallingly rules-lite. It's all jokes, they go along with whatever I do. I use 4e skill challenges alot, I really get a kick out of the "montage" format. I feel like you haven't lived until you've done an "adult" encounter as a skill challenge. What a rollercoaster!