Monday, July 23, 2018
The Lich-Queen's Begotten
The Lich-Queen's Begotten is an adventure by MT Black that can be bought on the DMs Guild. It is meant for higher level characters (11-15) and involves an excursion into the Astral Plane.
I ran this adventure over the last few weeks and I figure I'll rattle off some thoughts about it.
I love the Astral Plane and I love the githyanki. Heck, I wrote a guide to the githyanki! I was very excited to see a 5e module that focuses on them and deals with the Lich-Queen herself.
The thing that's been bouncing around in my brain a lot in the past year or so is coming to terms with the fact that right now, in D&D, when writing an adventure, less is good.
As a reader, I love it. I have a hard time reading in general, and walls of text give me big problems. But this adventure is very breezy. I prepared the whole thing in about 3 hours. It's only about 19 pages of actual text. I think most DMs could read it in 30 minutes or so and run it successfully.
As a fledgling adventure writer, I have such a hard time with this. I feel the need to cover bases. I don't want a DM to feel like I left them in the lurch - a feeling I've felt many times when preparing an adventure.
This adventure was very succinct yet, in most instances, gave you enough to run with.
The story goes like this: The lich-queen wants to shift her soul into a living body, a "vessel of flesh". The group has to go find this vessel and get rid of it before this can happen.
The group gets involved through a chance encounter with some mindflayers. They meet a githzerai named Janara. She's a follower of the githzerai leader Menyar-Ag (who is detailed in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes), and she spouts his "wisdom" frequently. To my delight, I found that MY Black included a list of quotes for Janara to utter. I greatly enjoy things like this and was all over it.
The heroes agree to help, and they actually teleport to Tunarath - the home city of the githyanki in the Astral Plane. They appear in a district where there's piles of stuff. The group will need to ask around to find clues as to where they can find this vessel.
During this part, we're given a list of NPCs the group might interact with. One was a "brownsmith". I don't know what that is and despite my usual meticulous preparation, I forgot to google it.
Do you think that, in cases like this, the author should just state what a brownsmith is? Or should it be OK to assume the reader will google it if they don't know what it is? I don't really know the correct answer to this. It's not a huge deal, but it tripped me up for a moment until a player suggested that it was actually a "browniesmith" - a chef who specializes in brownies - and we were off to the races.
The group gets directed to a tavern where they learn about a berbalang that they need to meet. This was an instance where I felt we needed just a little more detail. I like to always have a list of drinks when running a bar, especially a planar bar. I also like to know a little about who's in the bar and what they're doing. So I grabbed some drinks from my list, threw in a duth'kagith patron (a githyanki with red dragon blood from Dungeon Magazine 100) and had some people playing "gith flay", a githyanki dice game from an old adventure from way back when.
It turned out that the berbalang the group needed was in jail. I like that, the adventure gives us a fun twist. Basically, the heroes need to break him out and then steal an astral skiff.
My group decided to have a big drinking contest right outside the jail, providing a distraction for one hero to sneak into the small jail and break out the berbalang.
I really, really like that there were two githyanki guards monitoring the jail from across the street. That's smart on their end, and keeps things from feeling too easy.
In the second session, the group had freed the berbalang and were on a skiff. As they sailed through the astral plane, they were accosted by a githyanki knight riding a red dragon!
That's an encounter I've always wanted to run. One of my favorite D&D minis is the githyanki riding a dragon. I was very excited about running this encounter.
To my amusement - the group kicked their asses. The knight was polymorphed into a turtle and the dragon was hit by a confusion spell. All of this in the first round!
As someone who always has one eye on the clock, this actually worked out fine for me. I wanted to finish this module in the session, so getting through this encounter quickly gave me plenty of time for the rest of the stuff.
The heroes sail to where the vessel of flesh is kept - a giant metal head used as a base by the githyanki. It's called Titan's End, which is an awesome name.
This is reminiscent of the best encounter I've ever run in my life - the Fortress of Three Sorrows from the Scales of War campaign. Again, I was very excited about this.
There's turrets in the eye holes of the titan's head that fire psychic bolts at the adventurers as their skiff approaches. The group blocked them off ith a wall of force and made their way inside.
They came upon a room with a throne. I got real torn up here. In this room, the group could sit in the throne and pilot the head! They could fly it around the Astral Plane! But, to my dismay, they didn't realize it. They left it.
That's one of those moments where you need to make a decision really fast. Should I tell them?! Should I use an NPC to clue them in? I really wanted them to fly this thing around, but I decided to let it go. It's possible they'll come back, right?
They go down and fight some guards. They make mincemeat of the guards (I scaled the bad guys down) and loot some rooms - they go themselves a tome of clear thought!
Then the heroes come to.. The membranous slit. This was one of the funniest things I've had happen since I started running online games. It's a bit "adult". You can check out the clips of it if you're feeling brave:
Membranous Slit 1
Membranous Slit 2
In the slit was the vessel of flesh - a 16-year old githyanki woman. The group decided to take her somewhere safe.
That triggers the big finale.. an ASTRAL DREADNOUGHT comes flying at the head! The group got in their skiff.
I found it utterly fascinating that the finish is basically a 4e skill challenge. That's a series of skill checks - the group needs 8 successes before 3 failures. I ran it, even though it they were in the skiff and not the head, mostly because I wanted to see how it would work out.
It worked pretty great! The big problem with skill challenges is the abstract rules - can they use spells? What if they come up with a clever solution that should end it early? Will that make for a satisfying end or is it an anti-climax?
It worked for us in this instance! The heroes led the astral dreadnought into a field of dream bubbles.
Great adventure! You should definitely check it out! It's only about $4.
Here's our playthrough of it, in two sessions: