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Monday, November 28, 2016

Planescape - Sphere of Annihilation

We had a really awesome session of Planescape last night, maybe one of the best of the whole campaign.

Tonight was the night that this whole "Graz'zt wants a 4th abyssal layer" storyline was resolved. When planning this, I realized that I'd slipped back into 'overpreparation mode' in the past few weeks and I made a conscious effort to run this like a Chris Perkins session. That means that I did a couple of big scenes that are given enough time and breathing room so that they can resonate with the players.

This one involves a lot of demon lords and NPCs, some home-brewed:
  • Bazuuma: "Good" demon lord, friend of the heroes, is merging her abyssal realm with Grazzt's Three realms.
  • Graz'zt: Demon lord, rules 3 abyssal layers.
  • Iggwilv: The witch queen, betrayed the heroes, now the prisoner/girlfriend of Graz'zt.
  • Ztefano & Verin: Ztefano and Verin are the same person - one is an albino made of goo, the other is a pseudo-drow assassin. Graz'zt's right hand man.
  • Bechard: The demon whale, friend of the heroes.
Planning for the Future: Tonight, I started laying the groundwork for the idea that the heroes are becoming the living embodiments of two of the fundamental laws of the multiverse.

Bidam Will be Rule-of-Three. Things always happen in threes. Throughout this session, Bidam encountered groups of three monsters.

Theran will be Unity of Rings, which is about how things come full circle. Basically, each session I'll have someone say a phrase to him in the beginning, and then someone else will utter the same phrase to him in an entirely different context.

If I can, I want to try and pull off some Curb Your Enthusiasm endings. I don't know if that's possible, but maybe the stars will align.

The players haven't picked up on it yet. It will be fun to watch them as they start to notice all the threes and recurring quotes.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard
* NPCs: Fall-from-Grace (level 11 Succubus Paladin)

Last Time: We left off with Ztefano hacking into Bechard with his artifact scythe, Riftcarver. Inside Bechard is a bunch of shipwrecks. The heroes were in there.


We started inside Bechard with the slayer genie looking up at Theran. This genie had two of his arms cut off by Ztefano last session and he was hurt really badly. He asked Theran, "Do you have any spells you can put on me?" Theran told him he didn't have any healing spells.

Ztefano summoned some babaus, which are demons from Volo's Guide to Monsters. According to the book, they actually sprang from Graz'zt's blood, so I should be using them a lot here.

Battle with Demons: The babaus cut their way inside Bechard and we had a sprawling fight on wrecked pirate ships. Bechard swam through the planar breach from Azzagrat to Burningwater (Home of Bazuuma).

Bechard tilted as he dove underwater to escape Ztefano's assault. It worked, but it affected the fight. The babaus went flying. The heroes were able to take them down.

Bechard was hurt badly. He needed to eat a soul to get better. He had sensed a soul in the sea of Burningwater, located in one of the mysterious underwater towers.

The Tower of Oolvanvar


The group went in the tower and braved a bunch of traps from Grimtooth's Museum of Death. I used the trap where your foot goes through the floor and it is impaled with spikes. Then, a ceiling hatch opens and A COBRA falls on you. They thought that was hilarious.

The Wheel Trap: I used the crazy room where a cylinder rolls down a ramp, squashing everything in its path and then crashes into barrels of acid, causing them to explode.

The players actually figured this one out! Jessie specifically asked to look for tripwires. She says she did that because she's playing a lot of Skyrim and I guess there's a ton of tripwires in that game.

The Lich: The story with this tower is that a follower of Acererak (famous demilich from the classic adventure Tomb of Horrors) found it via a spell mishap. She wanted to use it to store her phylactery, as she was trying to become a lich.

She failed at her attempt to become a lich and died during the process. That means that the soul that she needed to use to become a lich was still stored in her phylactery, and Bechard could eat it and heal up a bit.

We Need a Big Magic Item

When I was planning this, I was sitting there wondering how the group could fight Ztefano, a demon lord. And what about Iggwilv or even Grazzt? The heroes have no chance. I tried to wrack my brain, and I realized that one item could even the score: a talisman of the sphere.

Treasure Overload: The group is already overloaded with magic items. It feels like Monty Haul to give them a sphere of annihilation. But if you look at the sphere of annihilation stat block - any time the sphere goes through a portal or in a bag of holding, you roll on a little chart. There's a 50% chance the sphere vanishes!

Since this is Planescape, the group goes through at least 4 portals per session. So the sphere won't be around for long. I'll just let them mess around with it and see what happens. If it starts to ruin the game, I'll get rid of it.

They Never Lock Their Doors: What's funny is that the group left the sphere in an unlocked building at the end of this session. They have been robbed twice by the greatest thief in Sigil, Ash Vodiran. He stole the Wand of Orcus and 18,000 gold from them!

Honestly I absolutely love the idea of him stealing this thing from them and forcing a final showdown. They hate that guy so much.

Blackfire Creeper

Demon Lord Madness: Theran has Madness from when Graz'zt spoke to him. Nothing gets in the way of his pleasure. Theran's pleasure: books. He made a beeline for the spellbook of Oolvanvar and her other book from the Bleak Academy.

Looting 4e: There is this ridiculously great article on Acererak in Dragon Magazine 371 full of untouched material. What works out so well is that Acererak delivers soul to Orcus/Tenebrous. Bidam has a dark pact with Tenebrous. So in this tower, there are some really cool monsters, but they don't attack because they sense Bidam's connection and respect the Orcusword.

The talisman of the sphere and a sphere of annihilation are in here. The group freaked out. To move the sphere, you make an arcana check. The DC is a 25! If you wear the talisman, you double your proficiency bonus. That gave Theran a total of +13 to his arcana, so he needed to roll a 12 to move the sphere.

Theran spent an hour and attuned to the talisman. He actually de-attuned his robe of eyes, which is his trademark item. So right now he's attuned to: Talisman of the Sphere, Staff of Power, and the Amulet of Non-Detection.

Problem With the Sphere: He tried to move the sphere down to Bechard. He needed a 12. He failed..failed..failed...failed..and failed. Then he succeeded. This became a theme throughout the night. Not good! This is the item meant to ward off the demon lords.

Bechard ate the soul and brought the group to the island where Verin/Ztefano is building a city out of the souls of the people he killed in the town of Crux.

Goofy Demon City: I had an idea that amused me greatly. When I read about how the city of Zelatar is made out of souls and that you can see the faces of tortured spirits in the wood, cobblestones, etc, I thought that was kind of too dark for me at this point in my life.

I was thinking about all of the cheesy crap I can do with this city in a realm infused with positive energy. I could make the entire city full of living buildings and objects, like the candelabra in beauty and the beast. So the heroes walk down a street and a street lamp smiles and says hello. It cracks me up just thinking about it, so that's the plan.

Fighting the Demon Lord Ztefano

Spidey Sense is Tingling: While traveling, Bidam sensed trouble from his ring of joining. With it, he can sense the emotions of Bazuuma. She was in pain! She was fighting Ztefano and losing. Bidam's Graz'zt madness kicked in: He is obsessed with making someone his, and that someone is Bazuuma!

The group got to the island. Ztefano was in the center of the city, using souls to create buildings. Bazuuma lied on the shore, sliced open by Riftcarver. Fall From Grace used lay on hands so Bazuuma wouldn't die.

Bazuuma told the heroes that she'd fired all of her eye rays at Ztefano and he was hurt really badly.

Then more bad news. The group heard screeching. Bidam's son, the baby dragon Pyranicus, was attacking Ztefano! Pyranicus had no chance against the demon lord.

Sphere Malfunction: The group ran to help. Theran tried to move the sphere. He needed to roll a 12. He failed. Bidam couldn't wait. He and Fall From Grace caught the demon lord by surprise and did piles of damage to Ztefano. Fall from Grace rolled a critical while using divine smite, so she did 4d6+4d8+5 damage!

Then we rolled initiative. Ztefano teed off and did piles of damage to Bidam with Riftcarver. 66 points, I think.

Theran, back at the shore, tried to move the sphere again. He needed a 12. He failed.

Ztefano killed Fall From Grace. Because she has a demon amulet, she disappeared and reappeared next to it in a church of her goddess in The Outlands.

Theran rolled again. He failed. I swear.

Ztefano cut into Bidam and dropped him. Bidam was making death saves. Ztefano turned to Pyranicus, the baby dragon. If Pyranicus was slain here in his home plane, he was destroyed forever!

Theran rolled again. He made it! He moved the sphere to the location of the battle. Then I let him roll one more time to see if he could send the sphere into Ztefano. He failed. Pyranicus was doomed!

Bidam rolled his death save. NATURAL 20! He got up and killed Ztefano! It was unreal. We were freaking out.

Ztefano vanished when slain. The group realized that Ztefano wasn't dead - he'd appeared wherever his demon amulet was stashed. Some other abyssal layer, no doubt.

The Witch Queen

That's Iggwilv the Witch Queen, by Saniika.

Then there was even more bad news. Someone was yelling at Bazuuma. Bidam ran over to check. Theran tried to move the sphere... and failed. It felt like he was rolling a d12 instead of a d20. It was unreal.

The group saw Iggwilv standing over Bazuuma. Iggwilv was telling her that she'd never marry Graz'zt and that Bazuuma wasn't even worthy of being her puppet. I had set this up where the group's choice would really matter. Iggwilv was going to kill Bazuuma in one round.

Jessie roleplayed Bidam's madness. Bidam wanted possession of Bazuuma and someone was trying to take her away from him! Bidam got surprise and tore into Iggwilv, doing piles and piles of damage.

Iggwilv's Trickery: There was no blood. This wasn't Iggwilv, it was a simulacrum! A simulacrum is a 'clone' made of ice and snow, and it has half the hit points of the original. Obviously, the use of simulacrum is inspired by what Chris Perkins did when he ran the Amber Temple on Dice, Camera, Action.

Iggwilv turned in shock. She couldn't believe Bidam had the audacity to stab her repeatedly with a lightning sword. She looked at Theran and hissed, "Traitor!"

Then she saw the sphere of annihilation! If two people want it, they can do an opposed arcana check. Whoever rolls higher gets it! Her arcana is very, very high.

We rolled initiative. Iggwilv rolled low. Theran tried to send the sphere of annihilation into her. He failed his roll again! Bidam and Pyranicus rolled ridiculously well and destroyed the simulacrum! It turned into a pile of snow.

There was one more visitor. He was nearby, using greater invisibility. It was Graz'zt.


That's actually some amazing fan art for For Duty & Deity from right here.

Graz'zt became visible. He jabbed his blade, Wave of Sorrow, into the ground. He pulled up some abyssal tissue. He saw that it was infused with positive energy. Bonding with this layer might do him serious harm!

He told the adventurers that he was going to hunt down Ztefano and that the planar breach that connected his layer to this one would be shut down. He told them that one day he'd come for Burningwater, but for now they were welcome to continue to rule their domains in his triple realm. Perhaps their alliance would strengthen over time.

Then, he looked at Bazuuma and walked over to her. Graz'zt obviously finds her attractive. The gimmick with Bazuuma is that she is utterly beautiful except for the fact that she has 20 eyes on her face. She wears a veil to cover them.

Bidam vs. Graz'zt: Bidam stepped in front of Bazuuma. Graz'zt dominated him (DC 23) and made him step aside. Graz'zt whispered something to her that made her eyes bulge. Then he told Bidam that one day, Bazuuma would be his. Bidam was adamant that would never happen.

Survival: Graz'zt left and it was over. Bidam was already abandoning his philosophy of hit it and quit it. Now, with this madness of Graz'zt, he's become utterly devoted to Bazuuma.

I plan on doing a final test of Bidam's beliefs over the next three sessions. Each time, he'll have a opportunity to 'hit it.' If he declines two out of three times, his belief will change to something new.

Hole in the Sky: We did some quick cleanup. The group had hired a wizard to cast another planar breach to connect Bazuuma's realm to the plane of positive energy. I took this opportunity to steal some stuff from Hole in the Sky, which I reviewed the other day.

There is now an invisible bridge that connects all of the islands and towers in Burningwater. The bridge also leads to the portal to the plane of positive energy - a hole in the sky.

Return to Sigil: Bidam stayed with Bazuuma due to his madness. Theran returned to Sigil. He brought the sphere of annihilation through a portal. I secretly rolled on the chart - and as fate would have it, the sphere made it through.

Theran failed 3 more rolls (I swear he only needed a 12) and then was able to park the sphere in his wizard lab. The group wanted to put a post-it note near it that said "do not touch!"

Then Theran opened the spell book he'd taken from the tower of Oolvanvar. A glyph of warding went off - a huge explosion that destroyed the book and wounded Theran. People came running. Theran had been blown up and killed in this very building by an explosion, so obviously people were concerned.

Someone showed up in the square - Drokkarn the pit fiend! He'd finally found the group's demon slaves: Barbagg the imp and Nin the heresy devil.

Drokkarn told Theran that the Dark Eight (the pit fiend generals of the Blood War) had activated him and were going to give him an army. He asked Theran if the heroes would like to fight alongside him against demons in the Blood War. Theran wasn't sure what to say.

Nin started to heckle him and challenged Theran to a sorcerous duel. He went into a big tirade, which ended with the phrase: "Come on, do you want to put a spell on me?!" That's Unity of Rings, phase 1.

That's where we stopped. It was a great one. Running it Perkins-style goes against my nature but sweet jaysus, it works so well.

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