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Monday, May 16, 2016

Tales from the Infinite Staircase - Planewalkers

We played some Planescape last night. I had spent some time over the week brainstorming and I had a flood of ideas.

The Iron Shadow is a vague entity in the Infinite Staircase. I decided I want to have a sort of  'video game boss fight' with her at the end and I was able to map out the basic idea of how it will go.

Splitting the Party: If you watched this past week's episode of Dice, Camera, Action, you saw Chris Perkins willingly split the group up. He also killed a character. I'm pretty sure I know what is going to happen - the slain rogue is going to rise up as an undead revenant, which is something discussed in Curse of Strahd.

I decided that I want to try splitting the party up in my game and see how it goes. I also had an idea for killing off a party member. I set up the split this week, and the possible "death" will happen two sessions from now.

The Plan: My plan is to run some of the Staircase adventures, and I'm going to mix in For Duty & Deity, which is linked to the Staircase. After that, I have an idea for a hag-centric adventure and a succubus-themed adventure. I've started planting seeds for them now. I am very excited about the hag adventure and I can't wait to run it.

I was thinking about hag covens (when all 3 hags are within 30 feet of each other, they have a pool of powerful spells they can use). I decided that there is a Sigil coven:
  • Zaraga: The hag in the Screaming Tower in "Umbra."
  • Virinis: The hag who owns The Worm's Guts, also from "Umbra."
  • Ravel Puzzelwell: The hag from Planescape: Torment. She is mazed, but I'm going to say that people visit her in the maze. Ravel knows the way out, but she fears what the Lady of Pain would do to her if she left.
The Plan: I've prepared most of the Staircase adventures. This book is very hit or miss. I don't like the art, and the adventures are really wordy. If there's a 14 page adventure, it has 9 pages of backstory and then a brief 5 page sketch of an adventure. The ideas are good but they're not detailed enough.

Tonight my plan was to run the group through a condensed version of the first Staircase adventure, and then do a whole pile of fun stuff in the City of Sigil. It was a good session and I'm quite excited to run the next two sessions.

Last Time: The heroes had entered the Infinite Staircase to save their friend. Apparently there is a demon on a rampage.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard
* NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin), Selinza ("Litorian" Wizard, level 5) 

The group came to a landing where three giant spiders lurked on webs that linked to another landing. They made quick work of the spiders, and Selinza got to use her new abjuration powers. Basically, when she casts an abjuration spell, she gains a sort of force field that absorbs 13 points of damage. It's very cool. I started using her to try out spells people don't use much, like aid and beacon of hope.

With the spiders dead, the heroes climbed the webbing up to the next landing. As they made their climb checks, I foreshadowed the idea of them falling into the void of the Staircase. They have been told that if they fall into the void, they will appear in some other plane and will never be seen again.
Demons: The group came up to a landing where the servants of the demon (Gerrzog, a glabrezu) lurked. The group pounded 13 manes and then fought an evil knight who could throw hovering "snake spheres."

With that done, the group came upon the demon, who was actually sleeping in this precarious metal structure between two landings. The idea here is to just send the structure and Gerrzog hurtling into the void.

But this is D&D, so, when presented with this scenario, what does Bidam say? "Let's cut his dick off!"

There was a bunch of debating and hand-wringing. The glabrezu is extremely powerful. Bidam suddenly realized they could just send the whole structure plummeting into the void, and they did so.

They rescued their friend and returned to Sigil, where I had a million little things planned.

The Contest: Throughout the rest of the session, the employees of the festhall decided to have a competition. Each night, they wanted to see who could seduce Bidam or Theran. In my head, I thought that the heroes would refuse to sleep with any of them. Especially Theran, who is a bookish sort of fellow.

Many of the NPCs who work in the festhall are based on ideas from the infamous "harlot table" from the AD&D 1st edition DMG. Others are from Ed Greenwood's epic list of "paid companions" (check out the third post down right here).

To my surprise, Theran spent the night with an 'expensive doxy,' and a 'saucy tart' the next night. Bidam hooked up with the "Snakehips" (contortionist), and the "Footwarmer" (experienced older lady) the next evening.

The competition among the employees then became who would be rejected first. That happened on night 3, when the flesh golem lady came calling.

Setting up a Big Event: I made sure to include a number of moments of Theran and his apprentice, Selinza, in their wizardly lab making whispering motes (githzerai healing powder). I want to establish this for my big scene in a couple of weeks, where Theran might be murdered depending on how things play out.

The Hag Covens: There's a hag that lives in the square that the heroes own, named Zaraga. Last session, the heroes went to Barovia, killed some witches and interacted with the Creeping Hut. Bidam made friends with the hut, which I played like a dog, basically. Baba Lysaga, one of my favorite Curse of Strahd NPCs, has tracked the heroes down. She flew through Sigil in her magic upside-down giant skull, with the Creeping Hut scampering after her.

Baba Lysaga was set to attack the heroes, when Zaraga stepped up to defend them. Zaraga warned Lysaga that she did not want to spark a war between the Sigil coven and the Barovia coven. After a bit of back and forth, Lysaga decided that she would call upon the heroes for a favor (which will happen when I run my hag adventure).

I had her spray them with sprinles of water, which enchanted their items. Basically, Lysaga wanted to give the group something that could tell the heroes when the favor was to be called in. So the Strahd dummy and the hag doll that they bought in Barovia last session were brought to life. When the time came, the dolls would tell the heroes what to do. In the meantime, I get to do a goofy vampire voice and a cackling hag voice.

Theran really didn't like his vampire dummy, because in order for it to talk he needed to put his hand through the "rear." The dummy thinks he is the real devil Strahd and I rattled off a bunch of lines I had prepared before the game.

Baba Yaga
I was impressed when, as this whole thing unfolded, Jessie actually asked if Baba Lysaga knows Baba Yaga and "Burba Larga." In a previous campaign years ago, we did a whole bunch of stuff involving an NPC I made up: Burba Larga, Baba Yaga's embarrassing, untalented daughter. Burba Larga provided some of the biggest laughs in any campaign I've ever run, and Jessie actually pretty much guessed where I'm going with this hag stuff without even realizing it.

Chad Menses: I had come up with an idea for a "frat bro" NPC last week (whose friend, Dorpin No-Beard, is a dwarf who is always hammered). I introduced him to the group and he was a huge hit. Next week, I think I am going to have the heroes party with him.

Basically, this is another excuse for me to do a goofy voice. I researched a bunch of dumb things for him to say, including "We're going to Sylvania to PTV" (pound that vag). And, "My dwarf bro Dorpin is already turnt!" He called Bidam and Theran "B-Slice" and "T-Slice" respectively. I think I am going to try and google "legendary party stories" and see if I can make a fun little skill challenge out of whatever I find.

Low Level Drama: We did some other stuff with the low-level NPC party, which involved some drama with the paladin and his lady love. Basically, there's a woman who is sure her god told her to have a baby with the paladin, as the child is destined for great things. But the paladin is in love with somebody else. The group was batting ideas around involving a "glory hole" and/or a turkey baster. They decided to mull it over for now.

This whole storyline just started out of an impulse, and I'm letting the group do what they want with it and see what happens. I'm assuming I'll be able to tie it in to a main adventure sooner or later.

Raja Khan
Foreshadowing: I included a couple of little things to kind of build up to major stuff. I had a dabus who has a magic sword (from "Nemesis" originally) greet Theran and give him a meaningful look. Theran was weirded out by this.

Basically, this Dabus is going to play a role in my "murder" scenario in a couple of weeks. I also had Selinza mention wanting to go find her enemy Raja Khan a number of times. I want Raja Khan in their heads, because he will also play a part in the "murder" scenario.

Judge Gabberslug
The Court of Woe: Another long story. Basically Bidam is infecting people with weird powers linked to the Lady of Pain. One of these people, a reave masseuse, was arrested. It turns out that she cut someone up real good. The reave tried to explain that all she did was look at the person and that the cuts appeared magically, just like how the Lady of Pain does it.

A lawyer asked the heroes to come to the reave's murder trial to testify on her behalf. This allowed me to use Judge Gabberslug, an awesome NPC from Uncaged: Faces of Sigil. Basically he's a demon who has a courthouse in the Negative Material Plane. The courthouse itself is made up of the calcified faces of those he has found guilty.

The heroes testified on the reave's behalf. Gabberslug thought their story was a joke. He pointed to a dustman in the court and told the reave to look at him and cut him. She tried, but nothing happened. The judge laughed, and told Bidam to do it. Bidam looked at the guy... and suddenly, cuts appeared all over his body. The poor Dustman's eyes were cut out!

The court erupted and went into chaos. Bidam was shocked at what he had just done. Gabberslug was terrified of being involved with the Lady of Pain in any way, so he immediately declared the reave innocent and begged the heroes and her to leave his court at once.

I love Gabberslug and I hope I can find a way to use him again. I'd love to do some sort of "courtroom drama" session of D&D, but I have absolutely no idea how to pull it off.

With that done, Jessie (Bidam's player) was really shocked and pumped up. Bidam had the power to cut people just by looking at them! Bidam remembered that the Lady of Pain had stopped using that power for a while, and the heroes thought maybe she had transferred the power to Bidam somehow.

I plan on having this be a thing where Bidam can't really control it, but it will come up once per session (especially if a battle starts to drag). Theran will also soon develop a cool power, but that won't come for another 2 or 3 sessions.

The Dream Well: That night, Theran had a dream about a thing called the Dream Well. This is what the next session is about. Theran sensed a connection to the Dream Well, and that it would enchant his spell book. He dreamt of a path through the Staircase that led right to it.

When he woke up, assembled the group and headed into the Staircase. He wanted to check out the Dream Well.

Each set of stairs in the Infinite Staircase are made of different materials. As they ascended a set of glass stairs, the glass cracked under Bidam's feet and he fell through. Selinza cast feather fall as a reaction, but he still fell 60 feet in a single round. Fall From Grace took flight and tried to grab Bidam's hand before Bidam vanished into another plane. We rolled, their hands clasped - and both of them vanished.

Cheating: This is something I almost never do. Whether Jessie made her saving throws or not, her character was going to fall into the plane. I really don't like doing it, but I decided to give it a try after I saw Chris Perkins steering his group in a similar fashion. When the glass cracked, Bidam rolled a save to grab onto the edge. He made the save, but I said that the glass he grabbed on to immediately cracked and he fell.

When Fall From Grace flew to catch him, I had Bidam make a check to grab her hand. He made this too. I narrated it as meaning that because they were touching, both of them fell through into some other plane. If Bidam had failed that roll, Fall From Grace still would have fell through.

The Group is Split: Theran and Selinza looked down in shock. Were their friends lost forever? The glass stairs cracked under their feet. Theran flung a rope up to a railing on a landing above, and some good rolls were made. The stairs collapsed beneath them, and Theran held onto the rope while Selinza held onto him. A lillend (guardian of the Staircase) appeared and helped them up.

Theran was really thrown by this. I think his player, George, was in uncharted territory. I have NEVER split the party like this before, so he was wondering if there was some kind of hook or gimmick to solve this problem. There's not! Next session, the party will be split and they should reunite by the end of the session. I am especially excited to run Theran and his apprentice on an adventure alone together. It just seems like a cool thing to do.

So overall, the wheels are in motion. A very good session. I am considering trying to plan out my sessions so they build to a big event every 3 or 4 times we play. I get a little worried about the game getting stale and I want to make sure the players have plenty of "holy crap" and "remember when..?" stuff happening.

Watching Chris Perkins each week is helping me immensely. I'd highly suggest you check out Dice, Camera, Action some time. The latest session was very good.

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