We played some more of my version of Descent into Avernus on Sunday. When I was putting the session together, I had this feeling I knew how far we would get. My outline involved three things:
- Wrapping up things in Mordenkainen's tower.
- Riding through the Nine Hells, being attacked by the Queen of Chaos.
- Exploring the Bleeding Citadel.
I've been doing better at giving the group space lately - just letting them roleplay and dictate the pace. With a 2-hour session, I'm always a little wary and watching the clock. I want to make sure stuff happens.
That said, I've found that it doesn't feel like D&D if you forcibly march the group from one thing to the next. They need time to inhabit their characters, take in the scenery, and explore the group dynamic.
I had a feeling that they'd spend that time in Mordenkainen's tower roleplaying. What's fun about that is that I, the DM, have absolutely no idea what will happen. The players are completely unpredictable.
So I made it even more fun for myself by putting goofy stuff in Mordenkainen's tower. He's got guest rooms, each themed after once of his favorite planes. Which one would each hero pick? Would they take different rooms, or would they share one?
Magic Hot Tubs
Each of these rooms have a magic item created by the Mordenkainen from the original, somewhat blasphemous Castle Greyhawk parody adventure: A hot tub of relaxation. What are the command words for this magic hot tub? "Hot" and "Not Hot."
So we started and boom they were off and running, picking their themed rooms, checking out the hot tub, and deciding which NPCs slept where. One of the biggest surprises was how Winthrop, the party's shadar kai dude, shared a room with "Twinthrop" (Winthrop had grown a second head which was severed and attached to a suit of magic wind armor). Winthrop has this magic tattoo kit he got like 40 sessions ago, and ave his "brother" a cool face tattoo.
The group also debated the fate of Strahd, who had been traveling with them until last session, when Mordenkainen hit him with a banishment spell. Strahd is obsessed with one member of the party named Seraphine, because the soul of his beloved Tatyana merged with hers.
It's so amusing to me to listen to them talk about Strahd, because nobody can quite decide if he is Seraphine's boyfriend or what. Seraphine actually got in an argument with Mordenkainen about how Strahd can be a help and isn't necessarily going to ruin their quest for the rod of seven parts.
If you read my old Planescape session stuff, you know that I had made the two heroes of that campaign into living embodiments of the laws of the multiverse. There are three of these laws, and in that game, I left the identity of the third a secret.
In this Dungeon Academy campaign, it has been revealed that Lilia, the gnome warlock, is actually Center of All, the embodiment of that third rule. What that exactly means, she's not sure. If she dies, what does that mean for the multiverse? She is literally the center of the multiverse. What happens if that goes away? Is the multiverse unmoored? Does it collapse in on itself? Do planes start to shift in position?
So! Yes, just spending time in Mordenkainen's tower ate up a good portion of the session. It was all worthwhile and, to me, did not drag.
The Hell Chase
The group got into their van/war machine, put on their seatbelts, and rode toward the Bleeding Citadel, with their 15 abyssal chickens chasing behind them.
I want to make sure I solidify the threat of the Queen of Chaos, who is trying to get the rod of seven parts so she can free Miska the Wolf-Spider. Most of the time, the group has been in a place that is beyond her reach. Their spelljammer is protected by Umbra, the goddess of good. "Powers" like herself can not enter Sigil.
But now, the group is in the Nine Hells! The Queen can get at them! In the boxed set, it describes how the Queen can warp the land just by fixing her gaze on it. So, I had the Queen's face appear in the clouds. The land all around the van turned into a tentacle-scape.
From the clouds came a bat-shaped chaos ship! You might remember that I wrote a guide to chaos ships a few years ago in this blog. This blog is, if nothing else, a repository for all my DM prep, and boy did that thing come in handy.
My first thought was to say that the sibriex that is loyal to the Queen made the chaos ship, but when I went through my guide, I realized that making a chaos ship is very involved so I thought up a bit more to the story which has yet to be revealed.
I love running vehicle chases in D&D. I wanted this to be like the crazy chase levels in Half-Life 2, where you're in the dune buggy and the freaky alien gunship is dropping mines on you and opening fire as you are careening around swampy land littered with tunnels.
I had the chaos ship driven by one of the queen's agent, a solamith (my favorite D&D monster) named Barzhim Rangoth.
What followed was a pretty epic battle with Seraphine driving the van, avoiding mines and tentacles, while the heroes fired harpoons from their war machines at the massive chaos ship. Winthrop was clever and used magic to pull the solamith out of the chaos ship. He ended up floating safely down and landing on the roof of the van.
The chaos ship, a sentient thing, took control of itself and continued the assault. Demons onboard fired lightning ballistas at the group. Winthrop and Twinthrop suddenly took to the air and flew onto the chaos ship!
That's about where we had to stop.
I had this feeling that's as far as we'd get, and I was right for once.
We're rolling along real nicely in this campaign, and we'll be done soon. I've got everything all prepared, and all I have to do is sit back and roll with what the players choose to do.
I have warned them that in the final fight, anything goes. The last piece is in Pandemonium - I'm using the final level right out of the 2e Rod of Seven Parts boxed set. That's a general rule of mine. I might pull punches in a lot of fights, but in the final battle, if you die, you die. If there's no risk, what's the point?