The kids’ game had one of the experienced players back, giving us a manageable six PCs:
- Styx – alchemist wood elf arcane trickster 3
- Necro – experimental warforged conjurer 2
- Reaper – noble drow warlock 2
- RH – noble human paladin 2
- Gwar – knight half-orc monk/barbarian 1/1
- August – folk hero half-elf bard 2
This is the session where I blew it figuring encounter balance. When I was putting the adventure together, I was thinking we would have eight PCs on the stage (wrong), I was expecting a couple of them to level up by the time the fateful encounter came about (nope), and I figured a couple of near-dead PCs would be acceptable. (Questionable but moot, since I overlooked a rule that turned “near-dead” into… well, you’ll see.)
In between games, in conversation, I pick up bits of characterization. Not all of it comes up in a play synopsis. Here’s some pieces I’ve gathered.
Gwar benefits from wearing no armor, so his “Sunday go adventurin'” outfit is his boots of the winterlands at one end, his new cap of water breathing at the other, and as little as he can get away with in between.
RH worships the turkey god, a proud and noble Lawful Good deity who rewards those who cook good food and those who smite foul evil. RH does both with enthusiasm. When on the road, he keeps the party’s morale high by turning iron rations and scavenged herbs into an endless stream of surprisingly tasty sandwiches.
Like all warforged, Necro was designed to be a soldier; in his case, he was meant to be a battlefield necromancer. He often feels compelled to act according to that role: collecting bones, seeking necromantic spells, raising undead minions, and so forth. He has vague memories of a life spent in battle, leading an army of skeletons, possibly during the Titans’ War. Later, he was deactivated for some time, only to be (briefly) awakened by “The Creator”, a thin, old man wearing an extravagant handlebar mustache. The Creator’s experiments cost Necro his memory (and, it seems, many levels) but gave him free will and the ability to forge his own destiny.
Styx grew up as a wizard’s apprentice, but personal tragedy and her wild ways put her on a path of thievery. Her education was disrupted by a vampire attack that cost her most of her immediate family. She survived, wounded, but since then she’s avoided bright sunlight, and recently, she’s lost her appetite…
At the end of last session, our heroes were attending a feast at Swamp Village, in honor of their baby-rescuing efforts. Gwar and RH engaged in a drinking contest, which RH won when Gwar fell off his log. While lurking in the shadows, Styx ran into an elderly woman who gave her directions towards the deepest part of the swamp. “Those who enter do not return,” she warned. Perfect place to find a hidden artifact.
The next morning, they set out. Where they were going, a wagon would be no use, so they had their dwarf teamster, Angus, stay in Swamp Village. Instead, Reaper located and purchased a rowboat made from a single giant turtle shell, large enough to carry them all but small enough to carry when open water was unavailable. The party chose to proceed at a slow-but-stealthy pace.
Several hours into the journey, they had their first encounter. While scouting ahead of the main party, Styx spotted a group of lizardfolk who were likewise moving quietly through the swamps. After a whispered conversation, the party decided to set up an ambush. When the lizardfolk party came by, they found themselves suddenly confronted by Reaper, in the guise of a lizardfolk warrior, waving his hands and pantomiming a lost voice to cover for his lack of knowledge of the Draconic language. While all eyes were on him, Styx stepped from a bush unobserved, quietly decapitated one of the lizardfolk with her magical “dagger” (in name only, being more of a short sword), and taking the head with her, stepped back into concealment. Finally, Gwar burst up roaring from beneath the water where he had concealed himself (cap of water breathing, remember) and bisected one of the trailing lizardfolk with his greatsword. With all eyes drawn towards the rear, RH charged from the bushes in front, tackling one of the lizardfolk and taking it to the ground to be pummeled. Necro, August, and Reaper set up a barrage of spells, killing two more lizardfolk, causing the last one to rethink the situation and flee.
The party trussed up the one that RH had grappled. They decided to call him “Yellow” (based on the color of his generic plastic mini) and tried to question him without the benefit of a common language. Styx drew a decanter on a piece of paper, gesturing that it was what they were seeking. Yellow nodded, pantomiming recognition of the object and a willingness to lead them to it.
That settled, the party settled down for a long rest in the middle of the day, having blown through a lot of high-powered magic in the fight. They set the two elves and the warforged on watch, since they all only need a few hours of downtime, while the humans sacked out. The elves and warforged commented on the laziness of humans, speculating that they could get by with four hours a day as well if they really tried.
After only about an hour, the party’s peace was disturbed when a huge, animated pile of compost pulled itself out of the swampy water and started moving towards the sleeping party members. A shambling mound! Those on watch raised the alarm, waking the sleepers, and the party moved to defend the camp. Despite taking a couple of hits, the party surrounded the mound and rapidly tore it to pieces. Necro poked around in the stinking compost of the remains, looking for bones, and RH noticed a pouch that proved to be full of coin: a fair amount of gold, and a somewhat larger amount of rare electrum pieces.
The party finished their rest, rising after sundown and proceeding by torchlight, with Yellow pointing the way. He first led them to a location where they found a strange effigy, made from vines, branches, and turtle shells, in the shape of a dragon with spread wings and a pair of large horns. Yellow touched the effigy’s chin, muttering rapidly under his breath in Draconic, then stepped back, gesturing at the rest of the party to also touch the dragon’s chin. All but Styx and Necro did so; Necro was suspicious, and Styx was checking the dragon’s mouth for loose change.
They pressed on. The swamp grew denser. Travel slowed and visibility dropped. The party began to hear strange, almost reptilian cries high above them. They tossed a few quickly-captured fish into the air. Not all of the thrown fish came back to the ground.
After several hours of travel, they broke out from the heavy tree cover to see an open space in the swamp surrounding a huge metal dome! It was clearly old, covered with creeping vines and slippery slime, but parts still shone in the moonlight. It was over a hundred feet high, at the top, and at least a mile across, with a wide area of open water around it. At the top, they could see torn and corroded metal; an opening, perhaps? “Holey rusted metal,” Gwar observed, pointing.
They decided to climb the dome to take a look in the hole. Styx and RH, being expert climbers, led the way, then dropped ropes for the others. Necro took a few jokes when he couldn’t muster the upper-body strength to climb a rope, but they tied a loop under his arms and hauled him up.
The top of the dome was flat enough to walk around on, and dotted with obscure machinery. They made their way over to the hole, looking down over a drop of about a hundred feet to the treetop canopy of a jungle environment below. They heard animal noises from below. They finally saw the bird-things that they had been hearing, and found them to be winged lizards. Under the far side of the hole, they saw an area rising maybe twenty or so feet above the tops of trees. Two streams of water fell from the pedestal in a pair of small waterfalls. Between the two streams… a black dragon, as big as a horse, curled up asleep.
The party was divided on how to proceed. They could drop ropes and descend to the jungle area. They could just as easily descend to the dragon’s perch. What to do then? Attack it from surprise? Or sneak in, snag the best treasure, and sneak out, leaving it asleep the whole time?
Reaper insisted that they give the dragon the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a good dragon, after all! They could offer it a basket of fish as a gesture of goodwill and try to become its friend.
Various schemes were weighed and discarded, until finally Reaper took matters into his own hands. He upended the basket of fish, dropping its contents into a slippery pile right in front of the dragon’s nose. It awoke. The rest of the party scattered, seeking places of concealment. The dragon looked around, sampled the fish, then took to the air, revealing that it made its bed on its treasure. It flew up through the hole and landed in front of Reaper. It clearly spotted August, as well, but didn’t seem particularly aware of the others.
“What do you mean by dropping these fish on me!” it demanded.
“O mighty dragon,” Reaper replied, throwing his hands in the air in praise, “I have traveled far, wishing only to gaze upon the wonder that is you! O finest of dragons, I give you these fish as a gift, because you are so awesome!”
The dragon rather liked all this, but still had some questions. Like: Could Reaper catch more fish like those? After learning that yes, he could, the dragon grabbed Reaper and took to the air, returning to his perch with the two streams and demanding that Reaper fish. Reaper did, and while he did, he noticed that the two streams led back to the rear of the pedestal, near the dome wall. There, he could see their source: the decanter!
Back atop the dome, opinions were badly divided. Gwar was strongly in favor of getting back in the boat and leaving Reaper to his fate. Styx pointed out that they were almost within sight of the object of their quest. Gwar replied that he hadn’t started the day on a quest, he had woke up with a hangover and gone for a ride in his buddy’s new boat; he had surely never signed up to fight a dragon!
Matters came to a head when the disagreement made enough noise to draw the dragon’s attention. It returned to the top of the dome, roaring and demanding answers from August, the first person it saw. In a remarkable display of daring, August used his bardic comedy stylings to render the dragon helpless with hideous laughter!
Sadly, the party didn’t have a unified plan of action, and so they split their efforts. Styx rushed down a rope to join Reaper, who was already running for the decanter, with both passing by the rest of the dragon’s treasure horde. The others initially hung back, but finally attacked the dragon, breaking it out of its laughing jag.
Angry, the dragon moved to line up its shot and unleashed its acidic breath weapon. RH fell, mortally wounded and making death saves. He was the lucky one. August was utterly erased from existence, burned away to nothing!
That was enough for Gwar, who ran for the boat. Styx climbed the rope in record time, carrying the decanter. As soon as she crossed over the edge, she opened the decanter and unleashed a geyser of water, knocking the dragon prone! Taking advantage of its distraction, the party as a whole fled, returning to the boat and paddling madly for the cover of the trees. They were able to make their escape. After hiding for some time, they turned to the slog back to Swamp Village.
For the most part, the party counted the adventure as a win: they met a dragon, only lost one member of the party, and made off with the MacGuffin. Several party members even gained a level along the way.
Gwar, having lost his half-elf half-brother, took it somewhat harder, but is expected to recover and find a new sidekick shortly.
Styx has stated her intention to return to the Chasm of Flies. There, she and Necro will finish stealing the goblin tribe’s treasure, returning through the matriarch’s escape passage. If Necro learns how to raise skeletons, they’ll do it with the help of some skeleton porters, to help carry the treasure. Once that’s taken care of, they’ll use the decanter to wash out all the webs and decay and old titan bones, and see about shrinking that magic gauntlet down to humanoid size.