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Friday, February 3, 2017

Planescape – Blood War II. The Taking of the Infinite Staircase

Last Sunday, we played some more Planescape. We've started doing a big storyline involving the blood war, the eternal battle between devils and demons.

Devil Book: I started listening to a D&D audiobook, Brimstone Angels by Erin M Evans. I had been poking around online reading up on devils and I saw that those books have Glasya and Asmodeus in them!

I thought it would be cool to check the first book out to see if I could mine material from it. I'm on chapter 6 and sweet jaysus there is a PILE of good stuff.

I generally don't read fiction so I was more than a little wary going in, but she won me over almost immediately with some absolutely fantastic subtle eroticism. She has a real way with words.

The main character is Farideh, a tiefling who winds up becoming a warlock. Her patron is a cambion named Lorcan. When she first sees Lorcan, there is this epic description of her feelings about seeing him and how she can't stop looking at his mouth and that things were getting untied in her stomach.

I howled with delight and from that point on I was sold.

Chapter 5 is entirely about Lorcan in Malbolge, the 6th layer of Hell. We get great descriptions of what Osseia, Glasyas palace, is like. We meet an erinyes named Invadiah and a succubus named Rohini, both agents of Glasya. TONS of useful material!

I will definitely write it all up. Erin M Evans really brings it to life and she really knows D&D Hell extremely well.

I was also fascinated with the depiction of a warlock interacting with her patron. It makes the whole class much more interesting when the patron is visiting the warlock and advising them. Meddling, even!

The Party

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

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

Last Time: The heroes waded into a massive battle riding a death hurler, a devil siege engine made of damned souls. They took a castle in Lamashtu's abyssal realm and made friends with the Mother of All, a demon-thing that lays monster eggs and uses them as projectiles.

In the castle was a portal to the infinite staircase. The devil army would need time to rest and regroup. The heroes decided to use the infinite staircase to go back to Sigil.

The Sphere of Annihilation: I had Theran's apprentice ask to try to mess with his sphere of annihilation. I did this because there was a rule I missed - if you fail your arcana check to move the sphere, it comes ten feet closer to you. I wanted to demonstrate that, and did so. She wasn't hurt, she was far enough away. I just want to set that up because it might come into play somewhere down the road.

Demon Breeding: Bidam went to his settlement in Grazzt's realm and introduced the Mother of All to her demon breeding program. Being incredibly fertile, the Mother of All was popping out demon eggs in no time.

I decided to use obscure/weird demons as "new breeds" created by the mixing of different demons. So when the Abat Dolor (the reace that Graz'zt may belong to) mates with the Mother of All, their children are Magnodemons, a gargoylish 4th edition demon type.

I just had an idea, a really stupid idea that I can’t wait to use. You know how they have those dog shows, where dog breeders trot out their well-groomed pets? I want to do a monster breeding show where creepy weirdos trot out their well-groomed monsters, competing for some kind of special prize.

Bidam then went to visit his new dragon baby, Pyranica, and his son, Pyranicus. He wants to make an army of demon-dragon children, so he got to work on number 3.

The next day, the group rejoined the devil army.

Marching into the Staircase: Drokkarn, the pit fiend leader of the devil army, wanted to actually go in and occupy the infinite staircase. The devils would have control of many portals, some of which go right to layers of the abyss.

So 5,000 soldiers and our heroes went in and got to work.

In the books, a Forgotten Realms goddess lives at the base of the infinite staircase. Earlier in the campaign I had established that Vecna, god of secrets, had kicked her out and taken her place.

The heroes started heading down the staircase, leaving devil soldiers on each landing to guard the doors and clear the area on the other side.
Vecna has these creatures called nothics, one-eyed information gatherers. One approached Theran and tried to read his mind, but Theran resisted. It left.

Vecna’s Secret: Soon after, the image of the Lord of the Rotting Tower appeared in the air above the army. The Lord is an agent of Vecna that I made up and used in some other campaigns.

Also flying above them was Vecna's Secret, an angel of Vecna who is from the 4e Dungeon Delve book. The name cracks me up, so I made sure to use her.

The Lord ordered them to leave. They didn't. Vecna's secret summoned a pillar of coldfire in the middle of the army, whch began spinning and moving, sending many devil soldiers falling off the staircase and vanishing into the planes.

The group's hellhound buddy, Fireball, slid to the edge. Bidam dove and grabbed him.
Lord of the Rotting Tower

Planning for a Failed Save: One thing I learned the hard way was that, if you make a situation like this, think out what happens if they fail the roll.

I didn't want Fireball to fall. In fact, I don't want Fireball to ever get hurt. I guess if things work out that way, we'll see, but I am not going to engineer any situation where he gets hurt. Hurting a dog in D&D, that's just depressing to me. I know NPCs die in every D&D game, but still, I don’t want to do that to a tail-waving buddy.

So the plan for failure was that if the group couldn't stop Fireball from falling over the side, Feurina the warder devil would save him but fall off and vanish into another plane.

The reason I am having devils fall into random planes is to set up a situation where the group needs to go find a certain devil who fell and we can have a session where the heroes sail the river styx. There is this fantastic F. Wesley Schneider river styx article that I want to turn into an adventure.

The heroes chased off Vecna's Secret.

The Repository of Ciphers: They continued down the staircase and found that Vecna had destroyed a staircase, making it quite difficult for the army to continue going down.

The heroes rode the flying throne of the devil slave Nin to get across. Drokkarn the pit fiend and the hellknights riding nightmares crossed, too. The rest of the army had to stay behind.

The group got to the bottom and there was the Repository of Ciphers, one of Vecna's sanctums.

The Time I Talked to Chris Perkins

I don't think I've ever told this story before. This repository came from a conversation I had with Chris Perkins in 2009.

Back then, on the D&D website, it had announced that they were opening a DM hotline for just one day. You could call the company and talk about D&D. I wonder now if maybe this was the beginning of their new mindset where they listen to what the fans want and then put that in D&D books.

I was a manager at a movie theater. I had an hour between sets where there was nothing to do but sit in the office and work on D&D stuff.

I picked up the phone and dialed the number. I heard someone pick up and say, "DM Hotline, this is Chris Perkins."

Way back in the early 90's, I was always scouring Dungeon Magazine for material. Chris Perkins was all over those issues.

Also, at the time he was writing a fantastic weekly column called the DM Experience (which everyone should read, IMO).

I crapped my pants a bit and started talking. For ONE HOUR we talked about D&D. I told him about what it was like running D&D games in a game store, the good and bad of 4e (which I loved), and more. At the end, he actually helped me with my campaign.

I told him that my Scales of War group was about to go fight Vecna. They were 28th level. I told him I was having trouble figuring out cool ideas for Vecna's lair.

Chris proceeded to describe to me... the Amber Temple from Curse of Strahd. At least, I think that's what it was.

He told me that to get there, you have to light these candles of black flame and do a ritual to open a portal.

I asked him what was in the repository of secrets, and he responded with a question: "Did you ever see the first Mission Impossible movie?"

I immediately knew what he was talking about. The NOC list! A list of the names of every undeclared spy, where they were and what they had done.

There's a billion things you could do with that. A list of divine spies in the courts of other gods? What demon lords had spies in other layers!?

He blew my mind and we talked a little more. Then I had movies to start (Our theater had old movie projectors, where we had to actually run film through the projectors).

The following Monday, I ran the battle with Vecna with a fully-developed repository and it went extremely well.

Secrets of the Primordial

So, basically, there's a repository like that one at the bottom of the infinite staircase. But this one doesn't have the D&D NOC list, it has a dreaming primordial in it that Vecna is trying to siphon knowledge from.

The approach to the repository is a walkway made of tombstones with the names of the heroes on them. They passed by statues of themselves that uttered actual secrets of each character out loud.

Their spiteful slave Nin was there, listening very, very carefully.

  • Theran's soul was going to be devoured by the Codex of the Infinite Planes
  • Bidam was married to a demon lord. The hell knights were shocked by this, but said nothing.
  • Drokkarn was going to betray the heroes. That one really threw them for a loop.
Were the statues just making stuff up and messing with them? They didn't know.

At this point, the group were at the doors of the repository and the Lord of the Rotting Tower was nervous. He told them he would let them occupy a stretch of the staircase if Theran would use his dream well powers to adventure into the dreamscape of the dreaming primordial to discover ancient secrets for Vecna.

This set up an encounter where Theran explored a dreamscape, while the primordial shuddered and spawned physical shard-creatures that Bidam had to fend off.

I used stats from Volo’s Guide to Monsters for the shard-things. The Mouth of Grolantor, page 149. Each round, those creatures roll on a chart to see what they do - attack the hero, attack another, etc.

A new one appeared in each of the 5 rounds that Theran was gone. Bidam got very lucky. I kept rolling results where the shard ended up hitting each other.

In the dreamscape, Theran found himself in a memory of Death's Reach - a sealed off primordial realm full of ancient secrets.

He spotted 5 structures in the distance, each containing a secret of the primordial.

Theran had to sneak and doge his way past a dream version of the 50-foot tall primordial to get to each one.

Theran did fantastically well, and actually learned all five secrets.

This was a nice way for me to give the group all sorts of info. Here's what they learned:

Lamashtu and Iggwilv: Lamashtu, the main demon lord opposing them in the blood war, is a puppet/ally of Iggwilv the Witch Queen.

Lady of Pain Origin: They learned the Lady of Pain's origin, a stupid idea I came up with years ago that I'm kind of stuck with. She's the child of a god and a primordial and was an angel who eventually transformed into the Lady of Pain as her immense power manifested.

As an angel, she had had a daughter. Centuries down the road, she actually passed the mantle of the Lady of Pain on to the daughter.

The secret here was that the daughter had a daughter. This secret granddaughter of the original Lady of Pain might someday become the third Lady of Pain and.. the group has already met her! Who it is, they don't know.

Secret 3: They learned that Bidam is linked to Rule of Three, Theran is linked to Unity of Rings, and Center of All (the nameless one, main character in Planescape: Torment) has been reborn. The group didn't get the full picture, but they will learn that they are about to become the embodiment of two of the three laws of the multiverse.

The Blood Storm is Coming: There's a demon lord named Codricuhn who is climbing up this abyssal rift. Once he gets to the top, supposedly he will begin destroying the multiverse. The group interacted with one of the 6 six quasi-demon lords who live in the storm that surrounds Codricuhn a while back.

They learned that Codricuhn is near the top and will emerge soon.

Vecna’s Goal: This is the secret Vecna's looking for. Theran learned half of a ritual that could be cast that would altar a portal to Sigil. This portal would permit gods and demon lords to enter Sigil!

This means that Vecna could enter Sigil, kill the Lady of Pain and take over the whole city. It's my version of Die, Vecna, Die.

Theran was successful and he re-entered his mortal body. Bidam trashed the shards with his sword of sharpness.

Theran handed the ritual right over to the Lord of the Rotting Tower, no hesitation at all!

The Lord of the Rotting Tower revealed that he is, in fact, Vecna. It's a clever disguise!

I love roleplaying Vecna because I do a wobbly Mumm-Ra voice that amuses me to no end.

The heroes learned a lot and next session they are going to defend that castle against a demon army in another mass combat situation.

Pretty good session!

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