|Xonthal's Tower and the hedge maze|
Tonight we started episode 7, which involves an extra-dimensional hedge maze. I was concerned that the PCs would figure out the secret of the maze and fly right through it, but they found it quite tricky.
- (Harper) Elf Sorcerer: Played by a 4th grader, she is Dark the Dragon Sorceress
- (Zhentarim) Elf Rogue: In real life, played by Dark's dad.
- (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.
We started in Waterdeep - it was time for the third council meeting. The council was none too happy with the heroes making so many concessions to the metallic dragons, including handing over a number of shares of Tiamat's Hoard. Dark's response to them? "Too bad!"
I linked Cheela, the cultist woman they rescued/captured last session, to Iskandar, the cult defector who needs extracting from Xonthal's Tower. Lady Laeral Silverhand gave the heroes some background on the wizard Xonthal, who is either long dead or a lich. Then they headed off.
The deal with this episode is that the PCs must pass through a magic hedge maze to get to the tower. In the tower is a cultist who supposedly wants to betray the cult and hand over one of the five dragon masks.
The PCs keep coming upon a sundial. It casts unnatural shadows which provide a clue as to which of 8 paths to take. Basically, the PCs need to go to the path between two shadows.
When they take the correct path, they come upon a sundial and eight paths with different shadows pointing in different directions. The heroes have to figure out 5 different sundial configurations to get to the tower.
Each time they take a wrong path, they come upon an encounter area. They will keep wandering into this area endlessly until they find a magic gem, which will allow them to return to the sundial to choose another path.
The solution to the maze is not at all obvious, so our heroes ended up quite confused. They went through each and every encounter tonight.
Chuul Pool: After finding the sundial and taking a wrong path, the adventurers came to a black pool with a gem hovering over it. The gem is needed to return to the sundial, though the PCs didn't know this. Dark cast water walk and touched the gem with her foot. 4 chuuls rose from the water and attacked. The heroes made quick work of them (I am noticing that monsters aren't much of a threat to the 12th level PCs... they take little damage and aren't hit often).
The heroes found treasure in the pool and freaked out about it. We ultimately decided to divvy up the treasure at the end, because the younger players were becoming unhinged with excitement. The heroes really got stuck on the sundial, and took the wrong paths over and over.
Pagoda: I used this one next because it was the other encounter that I thought was really cool. A silent man makes tea for our heroes using a tea kettle with an angry face on it. The man is actually an earth genie, and the "tea" he is making will actually create a poison cloud! The genie's plan is to trap the heroes in a wall of stone, where they will suffer 30 rounds of poison damage!
But the genie was not prepared for our wacky young heroes. Dark was delighted to have tea with the guy, and she showed me how she drank the tea - pinky up. The paladin took a look at the herbs used in the tea, and recognized it as a foul concoction known as Drakeswort. The dashing rogue suddenly decided, on his own, that the kettle must contain the guy's soul and attacked it. He was right! The dao panicked! The heroes shattered the kettle and caused the genie to flee! Inside the kettle was a gem to return to the sundial.
Carnivorus Garden: This encounter involves a fountain, animated flowers and some pearls. This one in particular I felt could have been really cool, but it's basically a combat. Too many combats in this place for my liking.
Statue Gallery: The heroes basically have to destroy 6 animated armors. Piece of cake.
The party had a heck of a time with the sundial. They eventually picked the right paths both by accident and by way of elimination.
The fourth sundial challenge involves spinning shadows. The solution is to actually stand on the sundial. I think you can see how this might frustrate some groups, but my players took it in stride.
The final sundial sequence is quite tricky - shadows point to each of the eight paths. The heroes have to walk into a hedge! They were stumped. I started to have their baby black dragon sniff a hedge, and immediately the fighter figured it out.
The heroes stepped through the hedge and were at the base of Xonthal's Tower.
I really enjoyed this maze. I wish I had changed some of the encounters to more role-playing kind of things, as the group really excels at it and some of the fights were boring. The animated armors in particular are just no match for the heroes and felt like a waste of time.
The store was packed and everyone seemed to be having fun. We are rocketing towards the final encounter with Tiamat, and then we will begin the new season - Elemental Evil.