It seems lately that everywhere you look online, there are conversations about how epic levels just plain don't work in 4e. Even the ever awesome Penny Arcade are moving over to Pathfinder to try and challenge their players (I'm going to be rather amused to see how this goes, if the "homework vs results" is the same as 3.5 - i.e. many hours DM's work undone by players in 2 rounds), and if I am honest I don't get it!
Ormid and the boys are 18th, nearly 19th level, and are well made, tough characters. I do not have any problems challenging them, and in truth, despite all the powers they will get as epic characters, simply do not envision any kind of issues with challenging them. In truth, I sometimes have to adjust things down in my games, as I realise that I may have gone a bit over the top - maybe it's the old school in me. However, as there seems to be so much talk of 4e being unbalanced and ungodly at epic levels, I think I shall document how things go with my groups when they are there....and possibly start with the upper paragon tier, as that too seems to be outside 4e's "sweet spot".
So, if you are one of those curious about higher level play, please, drop in and have a look see. Make comments, and share your own experiences.
And Gabe, Tycho, good luck guys. I loved 3.0 / 3.5, but I don't miss spending two days crafting an epic level bad guy, only to see them murdered in 2 rounds by a character wielding epic magic and a super optimised character with broken maths.
Good luck, and fair winds!
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Monday, 28 November 2011
11:05 – 11:10 – It is decided that Thatari will work on removing the warding glyph, whilst the rest of the group protect him from the next wave of monsters. The warlock nods wearily and turns his attention to the shifting, shimmering wards before him, and at once notes that they are worked in a way that causes them to re-align constantly. This, he realises, makes them potentially very difficult to erase safely.
“This could take some time.” He warns.
No one is listening however, for another wave of monsters have clambered through the ruined doors at the far end of the hall, intent on attack. There are eleven of them; eight more of the common oni with their huge two-handed clubs, and three brutes that tower over them; armoured monsters similar in form to their lesser kin, but wielding massive iron blades and a clear advanced grasp of combat.
“Watch the big ones.” Growls Lia, “They clearly know how to do more than just smash dumbly...”
“CHAAAAARGE!” Roars Shnecke, his huge axe held high.
One of the larger monsters – a Go-Zu Oni – sees the barbarian, and with its own thunderous bellow, charges. Jaeger seems to flicker like a dancing shadow, disappearing and reappearing instantly a few feet away, his crossbow clicking as he materialises, and the huge brute roars as a quarrel suddenly thuds into its chest.
The monster keeps coming.
This action seems to suddenly activate the entire hoard of fiends, and as one, they charge, leaping over the scattered arms and armours of their fallen comrades, making it halfway along the hall.
Back at the door, Varracuda helps Thatari with a particularly knotty configuration of the polymorphic glyphs, before moving to join Lia, Grigori and Shnecke in the “front line”.
Grigori enacts a potent spell, and launches a bolt of almost blinding energy at the lead Oni, denting its armoured breastplate and causing it to emit another pained roar. Lia holds, her shimmering, crystalline blade held high, waiting for an opening.
It arrives moments later.
Panting gustily with rising battle lust, the undead barbarian's eyes are wide and crimson. His waxen flesh becomes even paler than normal, and his eye-teeth have fully extended giving him an animalistic, nightmare appearance. As the hulking, 12' tall Oni comes closer, he suddenly gives a terrible howl, and throws himself, axe descending, towards the horror. The Oni responds with a deft, twisting, rising strike, that rides painfully along the inside of the Ulnyrr's arm, and sends his axe flying out of his two-handed grasp to clatter some 20' away. Growling, the barbarian draws his trusty thunderous axe, determined to kill the monster and get his best weapon back. His blade thunks into the Oni's chest, ripping apart the armour, and slashing a wide, fuming wound in its blue skin. With a scream, the barbarian's massive muscles flex, and he heaves the monster across the battlefield, hurling it towards the waiting ardent, who coldly and clinically decapitates it, its body immediately dissolving into black, oily smoke, its sword and armour clanging to the ground.
Moments later the main weight of the force smashes into the group's front line.
Chaos ensues, and another of Shnecke's axes sails gracefully overhead to land in the middle of the monster's ranks – deftly smashed free by another of the Go-Zu Oni. The monster's ranks are thinned significantly by a withering rain of shadow duplicate quarrels, spat forth from the assassin's weapon, whilst the barbarian manages – after landing several devastating blows – to lose his third and final axe to the twisting strikes of another of the larger monsters.
Lia, Varracuda and Grigori form a base in the maelstrom; the ardents sympathetic psychic powers shrouding her allies in protective energies, clearing their minds allowing them to strike harder, and accelerating their natural healing so that wounds that would weeks to heal normally close in moments. Grigori uses his prayers to confound, scatter, blast and control the enemy, all the while sending arcing beams of healing energy into his allies, whilst the swordmage jumps from foe to foe, slashing and burning them with fiery blades and jagged, snapping lightning.
Shnecke wades through the enemy, desperately trying to get to his axes, and were it not for his allies potent healing, would likely be cut down. He lobs several throwing axes at those that get too close, and manages to inflict some reasonable damage with them – though nothing compared to the harm he can inflict with one of his signature weapons.
Jaeger finds himself toe to toe with two of the common oni, and is seriously wounded as both land heavy blows on him; his ribs smashing under their power, his body sliding almost 20' across the corridor. Agonised and unable to breathe properly, he opens a dark portal beneath himself, and teleports to the top of the one of the shattered Foo Dog statues that flank the corridor. There, a tendril of healing power finds him from the cleric, and he winces as his bones snap back into place, and his lungs painfully re-inflate.
Able to function again, the shade rolls to his feet, and brings his crossbow up. Taking aim, he fires a precision shot at one of the Go-Zu Oni, the bolt sinking entirely into the clavicle, sending the monster reeling in agony.
“GOT YOU MY LOVELY!” Screams the Ulnyrr as he scoops up his beloved executioner's axe. To celebrate, he swings it up two handed and lodges it deep in the groin of one of the remaining common oni. The monster howls deafeningly, and promptly bursts apart in a shock of stinking, oily smoke.
Back at the door, and Thatari is getting worried. After a relatively easy time deciphering the peripheral glyphs, the whole thing shifted weirdly and formed a new overall glyph – though individual hexagramic components continue to alter and mutate before his weary eyes. His last few attempts to manipulate the magic within the symbol have backfired quite painfully, and the warlock knows that one more mistakenly placed application of arcane pressure could trigger the deadly ward.
Behind him, the battle has come down to the brutal five on one attack on the last Go-Zu Oni. Despite being seriously wounded, the massive monster is still a deadly threat, and manages several times to inflict almost fatal wounds on the group, its huge blade scything around it in a blur, leaving massive cuts wherever it makes contact. Each time someone tries to close with the beast, its superior reach comes into play, and it chops at them, striking more often than not. However, each time it strikes at Varracuda, the swordmage manages to flick a counter attack against it, and so, little by little, the battered adventurers take it apart, the final blow coming from Varracuda; his emerald flamed sword opening the monsters throat in a burst of black smoke and rippling fire.
As the final enemy falls, an eerie stillness comes across the hallway, the constant winds moaning and sighing through the piles of stained and dented armour and broken weapons that now litter the floor. At the inner door, there is a sudden burst of agitated magic, and everyone feels pins and needles creeping under their flesh. Turning round rapidly, half expecting to be blasted by whatever magic the glyphs hold, the party are relieved to see the massive warding symbol fading in a series of tiny, electrical bursts, its magic finally unravelled by the smiling warlock.
11:11 – 11:12 – The massive doors, now safe to open, are pulled back by Shnecke and Lia, whilst everyone else prepares to launch an immediate attack. As they open hot blue smoke pours out on the wings of a strong wind, smelling of seared wood and spent magic.
Beyond is a vast chamber, illuminated by several huge lanterns. It is built of red lacquered wood, its wooden floors covered with deep, crimson carpets. Eight massive red wooden pillars, decorated with golden serpentine dracani, support the vaulted, pagoda ceiling, and hanging from this are numerous cages within which sit bleached human skeletons.
However, no one really sees them, for in the middle of the chamber is a giant throne of gold and jade, carved to resemble two serpentine dracani coiled around each other, their faces meeting at its backrest's top. Before this stands a true monster; an ornately armoured Oni with white skin, brilliant electric blue hair and sparking, blazing eyes. Its face is hidden behind a hideous mempo, but all can see the long tusks that curve from its wide, black lipped mouth, and can hear its insane, booming voice as it draws a deadly spear of lightning faster and faster around its body.
Suddenly, before anyone can act, the Oni – almost certainly Gasharo – points the spear at the party, and the air ignites as lightning bursts forth; missing the assassin, but earthing through the Ulnyrr, setting fire to his hair and blasting him back.
He is about to charge, when Grigori suddenly gets a strange sense of something being amiss.
“Wait a minute!” He almost screams, “Just hold still!”
Shnecke seems like he will ignore the priest a moment, but manages to keep his anger in check. Reaching out with his mind, the priest begins to explore the chamber before him; the floor, the pillars, even the huge lightning spitting monster before him, searching for something that could be the source of his concern.
He finds it moments later.
With a jolt, Grigori sees through the powerful illusion shrouding the chamber. Everything vanishes in a moment, the power of the spell undone by his insight, and everyone suddenly reels with vertigo as they see how close they stand to a deadly drop.
Where there had been carpet, there is now only a void. The vaulted ceiling is gone, replaced by a badly burned and blasted mess of wood and stone, pierced by a massive hole that seems to bear hundreds of deep scrapes along its edge. A single mass of rock hangs in the middle of the chamber where the illusion of the Oni and his throne had been, upon which stand two white stone pylons carved with brilliantly illuminated runes, which flicker and dance with lightning. These it seems are the true source of the deadly magic that has blasted the poor Ulnyrr.
Holding this rock in place are four thick chains which stretch under massive tension from each corner of the room. Hanging down from these, five to each length, are vertically hung chains; taut with tension, which stretch down 100' to a large mass of rock studded with stalagmites - perfect spikes for anyone unlucky enough to fall through the non existent floor and onto the mass below. Built into these chains are cages, whose hinged bars are locked tight by the tension in their support. Inside most of these sit silent, skeletal people – unmoving and barely alive, their flesh papery and wind burned. However, in one, what appears to be a large tailless fox with silver and white fur paces back and forth.
It also appears to be swearing at the group in Low Yassanian, though only Varracuda knows that.
“Heeeeey! You up there! Yes you, the ugly one with the stupid face! How about getting my tail so I can get us all out of here? Heeeeeeeey! Yooooou! Are you deaf or something?”
“We need to rescue these people.” Gasps Grigori, looking at the half-dead people in the cages.
“What's that animal going on about?” Asks Lia, “And is it me or is it talking in the Yassanian tongue?”
The geansai nods. “His names Nendenaki, and he says he is a powerful Kitsune mage. Apparently he can get us out of here.”
The stones in the middle of the chamber begins to roar as more lightning prepares to leap from them.
“But first we need to climb over there and get his tails.”
He points to a mass of golden fur that flaps and dances in the winds from another chain hanging down at the other side of the chamber.
Lightning barks from the stones, but misses the group, scouring burning lines in the wood of the door behind them.
“Oh, and apparently Gasharo isn't an Oni at all.”
“He isn't?” Snarls Shnecke, disappointment rising within his chest.
“No. He's a T'ien Lung.”
Everyone glares at the suddenly quite downcast swordmage, wondering what the hell a T'ien Lung is. Varracuda raises his head, and tells them.
“A great dracani of incredible power.”
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Personally, I am not finding it hard to challenge my near epic players, despite their massive brains and years and years of experience. However, these guys have apparently struggled, though I think I disagree with some of their points - A bit of imagination makes even epic minions "believable", and there are plenty of stories to be told with epic characters (you just have to think broader than "kill the God, save the universe" type quests!)
Anyway, I did really enjoy this. See what you think.
Friday, 18 November 2011
14:00 – 14:20 – With further progress to the back of the vessel impossible, the group decide to head towards the front.
They pick their way through the horror of the death haunted decks, though the wailing spectre remains worryingly silent.
“I wonder if it was shocked that I could see it, and has retreated as a result?” Muses the artificer out loud.
“Well, if I see the damn thing, it will find out what it feels like to die a second time.” Growls Vladislav in response.
The darkness weighs heavily upon the group as they duck their way along, their backs aching, their eyes fixed ahead as they try their best to ignore the nightmare detritus that hangs and glistens on almost every surface.
14:21 – 14:23 – More organic slime drips and effervesces obscenely in the corridor that leads to the helm room, and the group become aware of an increase in the psychic pressure; a steady gathering of the unholy, chilling energy associated with the haunting entity. In the dismal glow of their weapons, the party spy another heavy door up ahead; similar to the one that guarded the engine room. Unlike the previous door, this one appears to have a small crysteel viewing window – though with the vessel being upside down, it is low to the floor.
The atmosphere here is drenched with pent up horror. A leaden dullness seems to dampen sound and further dim the light, giving everything a deathlike, nightmarish quality; unreal and hard to clearly perceive. The horrible, soul-prickling presence is also here; breathing icily down each adventurer's neck, raising goosebumps and coiling unseen like some hovering, tenebrous serpent.
A thick pool of tarry, organic muck puddles by the door, and with a deep sense of horror the group identify that the numerous scratches dully torn into its surface are fingernail marks – the desperate scrabbles of dying ghaerduun as they tried to gain access to the chamber beyond.
Swallowing his gorge, the artificer kneels down to peer into the window, his knees sinking into the cold rotten slime. His breath fumes in the icy air, and he realises that he is shaking. The rest of the group stand still, their innate sense of looming danger screaming silently that something is truly amiss. Clenching his jaw against the shivers that now shudder through him uncontrolled, Ormid leans down, putting his face horribly close to the putrid remnants of the long dead ghaerduun, and peers into the window.
Frowning, he leans closer, wiping away the spotty patina of oily muck that skins the pane. He jumps briefly as he sees his own reflection staring back at him – hollow eyed and slack faced – and silently chastising himself for being so silly, he moves his face close to the glass...
...And recoils in horror, a scream torn from him by the sudden surge of adrenaline that drenches his body...
Ormid leaps back, shaking, pale, sweating. He reaches out for the walls his whole body weak with involuntary tremors, a sob escaping his lips before he manages to get control of himself. Everyone reacts to this scene, the terror infectious, the air curdling with malevolent power.
“H-his face.” Mutters the artificer, “Peeled. Screaming...his face....”
At once the unnatural wailing engulfs the area – deafening and crushing. It resonates through the bulkhead of the vessel and turns the air to ice with its distorted, despairing screams. Suddenly, the door to the control room begins to blister wetly, and a foul, oily fluid begins to seep from its slick surface. The wailing impossibly gets louder and suddenly the vaporous form of the haunting entity makes itself seen. It is a floating mass of dimly luminous mist, constantly in motion. Shimmering and pulsing like a thousand torn bandages, the mist constantly shrouds and reveals the twisted thing within; a ghostly ghaerduun – peeled and broken, its belly opened, its lidless eyeballs boggling in its ravaged skull. It has no legs, and its arms are broken and locked into horrible shapes. Its mouth is open far too wide, the things entire face warped by the dislocation, and it is from its nighted throat that the soul-ripping sound emanates.
“ENOUGH!” Screams Vladislav suddenly, twinned balls of spitting, snarling power appearing in his spike gauntletted hands, “YOU'RE MISERABLE RIGHT? WELL, I'LL SEND YOU TO HELL SO YOU CAN SEE HOW BAD IT CAN REALLY GET!”
A fierce coruscating light tears at the looming darkness - the effulgent light of the Helldazzler's flaming and lightning infused aura. A high-pitched whine cuts through the screaming as he summons his most ferocious spell, and suddenly the wailing stops, the ghost regarding Valdislav with...
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” It howls in an archaic language – an ancient dialect of Tradespeak, “PLEASE NOOOOOOOOOOOO! SPARE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
The horror that has almost crushed the party suddenly ends, the atmosphere immediately relaxing, leaving only the foetid dankness of the enclosed vessel and its bad air.
“We can work together maybe?” Whispers the ghost; no longer a horrifying apparition, but now a translucent ghaerduun, dressed in the leathers and pouches of an engineer, “I could get this vessel working for you if you like – though would need help of course?”
Panting, the group stare at each other, a sickly metallic tang heavy around the organics as their fear sweat oozes out.
“My name is Yrlantir, and I was chief engineer on this vessel. I believe that maybe we can help each other yes?”
Before the group can answer, the first wave of psychic power hits the vessel's side, spiking painfully through the minds of the group, and with a sick sense of despair, the group realise that the Ur'Leth, having sensed the change in the haunted vessels state, have renewed their attempts to kill them.
“Agreed.” Growls Shadevia
No one argues.
14:24 – 15:40 – With Yrlantir taking over the roles of the many crew members, the group are assigned to posts most befitting their skills. Ormid is initially placed with the reactor chamber – a place of wonder to him, with its dully glowing taintstone core and runic containment and dampening fields. However, he is quickly reassigned after his overly enthusiastic jabs at the consoles there see the Glorious Brick smashed hard against the jagged rocks of the tunnel, a number of warning runes lighting on several consoles to report significant damage, and of all people, Llewellyn is assigned to the enginarium,
The Veteran is put in charge of powering the weapon cells (experimental “Implosion Torpedoes” are the ammunition), whilst Ormid is in charge of managing various mechanical sub-systems. Shadevia is placed within the vessels observation chamber, her keen eyes well suited to seeing things out in the eternal gloom of the deep waters.
With everyone finally where they need to be, the huge vessel, its engines roaring to life, rights itself, and begins, slowly to edge its way out of the tunnel where it had lain for so long.
Outside, the waters are thick with the Ur'Leth, hundreds of their thralls, and formless, gelatinous things, rimed with ice, that pulse and slash in the dark. They bombard the vessel with their attacks, both physical and psychical, and warning runes begin to flash across a dozen control boards as they begin to damage essential systems, or breach hull sections.
“Get us moving!” Screams Shadevia, “Veteran, take out that massive Ur'Leth and blow us a way out!”
The engines roar become a productive whine as Llewellyn teases their settings, and everyone feels the vessel come fully to life. Ormid adjusts various systems, redirecting power and healing the wounds the Brick has sustained, whilst Shadevia works to guide Yrlantir and Veteran.
Out in the darkness twinned bursts of green-black energy erupt around a particularly massive Ur'Leth and the cloud of minions surrounding it. The monsters are immediately liquefied, their bodies caught in awful, primal energies. The spheres of power then collapse inwards with a hollow boom, tons of water flooding with a thunderous roar to fill the gap, the resulting shock waves stunning hundreds more monsters nearby. Everyone hoots with raw, savage joy, and the vessel roars through the messy cloud of dead.
Onwards into the gloom the vessel plunges, narrowly avoiding catastrophe on several occasions as it scrapes along unseen ridges, or barely avoids smashing into suddenly looming cliffs. Shadevia's sharp eyes and sharper commands however keep everyone on target, and the thump and boom of implosion torpedoes is soon replaced by the rumbling rattle of open waters pressing on the hull as they burst into a vast cavern with only one exit. With joy, the shadeling sees that far beyond that tunnel lie lighter waters, and almost certainly the surface. However, her joy curdles as something massive and tentacled suddenly rises from unseen depths and blocks the exit with a massive, circular maw, lined with rows upon rows of straight, gnashing teeth.
“Kraken!” Screams Ormid “The whoreson is still alive!”
“Ramming speed!” Screams Shadevia, her normally sibilant voice cracking and insane. “Veteran, prepare to fire torpedoes!”
“WHAT?” Yells Ormid and Yrlantir together.
Chuckling the warforged begins to prime the weapon systems again, and everyone feels the vessel pick up speed as the vyrleen opens up all the energy channels and gives the engines a brief, terrific blast of power. Ormid manages to snap out of his temporary shock and immediately begins to stab at controls on the panel as numerous warnings flare up, screaming about various systems get pushed beyond their prescribed bounds by Llewellyn's actions, and everyone braces as the monstrous mouth looms closer and closer.
“FIRE TORPEDOES!” Screams Shadevia, the Veteran responding at once, sending twinned flecks of darkness hurtling towards the looming horror. The seconds of their passage seem to last for days, and it is not until the Brick has passed into the mouth that they strike something deep within the beast, erupting and turning its guts to soup.
Alarms scream and wail and everyone is almost thrown to the ground as the shock wave hits the vessel, and as it powers through the entrails and bowels of the gargantuan sea dweller. Passing like a monstrous bullet along the entire length of the thing, the Brick emerges from its rear in a huge cloud of gore, trailing smoky columns of blood and faecal matter as it soars towards the luminous waters above.
Dead in seconds, the kraken twitches as it sinks into the darkness below, wreathed in ink, blood and it own liquefied guts...
15:41 – 23:00 – The Brick is brought within a few hundred feet of the surface. However, with the adrenaline gone from her system, Shadevia's pressure damaged body shuts down, and she passes out, bleeding.
It is decided that the group will rest, whilst Yrlantir uses “experimental” remedies to cure the shadeling's pressure sickness.
The group try to find some quarters that are comfortable to them, and rest as best they can in the death-stained vessel. Yrlantir expresses his gratitude for their part in “Snapping me out of my indulgent malaise”, and offers, once their mission in Virian is done, to help them with the remainder of their mission as best he can. “Assuming you need a submarine of course.”
The party agree.
23:10 – 23:25 – The Glorious Brick is brought slowly to the surface, and Shadevia, now recovered, is the first to get a glimpse of the Risen City.
It isn't pretty.
The harbour is choked with the half-sunken corpses of a number of large ships; merchant vessels by the looks of most of them, the waters greasy and frothy. Beyond, the rainy night is thick with smoke and darkness, the buildings along the waterfront being burned out shells. In the distance she can make out the hellish glow of large fires illuminating the lower surfaces of several vast columns of black smoke rising from the unseen blazes, whilst tatters of paper and other detritus swirl through the dark air.
The Brick rises fully to the surface in a rumbling wash of bubbles, noisily nosing aside the shattered wrecks in the harbour, and sending a number of figures scurrying away in fright.
23:40 – 00:05 (4/1/50) – The group emerge from the submarine into a wet, overly warm night. The air smells of burning and of fish, and a dismal roar can be heard coming from the heart of the city – the cumulative voice of countless fires and angry fighting. The sharp crack of discharging firearms also echoes from within the city, and everyone looks uneasy at the thought of entering the war zone.
“Do we know where the Disciples are based?” Asks Llewellyn quietly.
“Only that they are in Virian.”
Vladislav snorts. “So much for the 'Risen City'. This place is dying.”
“And we should be careful we don't follow suit.” Comes Veteran's grim reply. “Come on.”
The group move through the harbour, and into the darkness of the nearest street, hoping to find someone they can interrogate about the whereabouts of the Disciples of Change. By the dim glow of their weapons, the group can see that the streets are places of death now. Rubble – scorched and often smeared with cooked on blood – lies in drifts everywhere, and smoke swirls through the air. Rats feast on those that have not survived the riots, and the stench of death often reaches from some hidden place to tug at the group's throats.
Not all the dead are hidden however. As they wander, the group come across numerous inhuman acts carried out in the frenzy of violence that has consumed the city; corpses hanging from crudely tied nooses, bodies piled against bullet riddled, blood stained walls, severed heads spiked as grim warnings and even individuals nailed to building by heavy masonry spikes. Madness it seems has grown from the righteous rage of the populace, and what must have begun as an ordered social uprising, has rapidly turned to something far more malevolent.
00:06 – 00:16 - Soon the party are deep within the cities outer district, the darkness almost physical in its embrace. The biting smoke coils in the gloom, and the rattle of settling dirt and scurrying rats is omnipresent. Suddenly, from a shattered building on the parties left, there is a flash and a deafening bang. Shadevia, having spotted furtive movement a moment before, leaps forwards and shoves Ormid out of the way, a bullet spanking into a wall behind where his head was. Voices, roaring in Upper Malgorothian pazni, sound from the road ahead, and from within the shattered homes that line the street, and hulking armoured men, their skin, weapons and armour blackened deliberately with soot, emerge, bellowing battle cries. Up close, the group can see that each has a waxing crescent moon tattooed on their forehead and on each cheek. Several of these men also bear heavy steel shields, upon which is wrought a device - a rampant lion in black, above which hangs a triangle of three white waxing crescent moons - that Vladislav recognises.
At sight of this, he begins to swear loudly and brutally in a mix of pazni and trade, his body suddenly wreathed in a mantle of swirling flames and sparks.
“Vorgorian BASTARDS!! Where is your master? WHERE IS COUNT KHEBLETZI?”
“It seems our ally has some baggage.” Whispers the Veteran as he strides to meet one of the men.
“Indeed.” Whispers Shadevia as she raises her bow and launches a volley of arrows.
The battle is as brutal as any the group has fought, and last less than a minute. Llewellyn skilfully takes out the hidden sniper; scrambling to their position and then employing deadly hit and run attacks; shattering a shin here, crushing a knee there.
“Keep him alive!” Bellows Vladislav as he charges one of the men, an axe of lightning and acid writhing in his spiked grasp. “We need to find the Count!”
Shadevia stands back and puts her skills to excellent use; sending volleys of arrows – many of which bear fiery enchantments – into the four men who battle Veteran, Ferrous and Vladislav down the street. Ormid stands between the archer and the front line, hurling healing at his allies, and awakening various arcane mechanisms he has woven into their equipment to enhance their attacks or directly harm the enemy.
The Veteran, his guardian and Vladislav battle toe to toe with four men amongst the heaped rubble and swirling smoke of the road ahead. Three of the enemy bear heavy broadswords, which they wield with the skill of experienced soldiers. The fourth man bears a massive two-handed axe, which he swings wildly. Many of his blows are massively telegraphed, and miss their targets. However, now and then they make devastating contact; splitting armour, cracking bones and sending gore flying.
Despite the enemies initial surprise, the group rapidly get a handle on the situation, and soon all but two men lie dead.
The sniper is hauled down to the street, whilst the group turn to interrogate the swordsman they knocked unconscious. Unfortunately for this man, Vladislav looses it. Spittle froths at the corners of the Helldazzler's mouth as he drops onto the soldier's chest, and roughly grabs him by the shoulders. He then begins to scream at him in Pazni, shaking him violently, the downed man's head smacking against the rubble with each savage shake. The Veteran tries to calm him and fails, and after that, no one dares to interrupt the furious mage, even when the sounds of impact become wet, and the first lumps of sopping pink begin to glisten on the stones. Absolutely no one is surprised when the soldier soils himself, begins to fit, and then dies.
Enraged, Vladislav leaps up, his eyes wild, and begins to stalk towards the sniper. However, the group close in, hands raised, and beg him to calm. For his part, the half-conscious sniper grins mockingly at the Helldazzler, and slurs something thickly at him in pazni. Vladislav looks like he may try to barge through for a moment, but then seems to get a grip and to calm down.
00:17 – 00:23 – The group turn to the man, and with Vladislav translating for them, begin to question him. Firstly Vladislav wants to know where “the traitor Siskeer is”. The sniper grins but says nothing. Ormid tires to reason with the mercenary, his pleasant offers of freedom and survival clashing with the open threats made by the warforged. Alas, their “good cop, bad cop” routine fails, and the hardened merc remains silent.
Realising that they are getting nowhere, they begin to question the mercenary about the situation in the city, and whether or not he knows where the Disciples of Change can be found.
He remains uncooperative.
His death follows moments later.
“My friends” begins Valdislav, still panting with adrenaline, “I must warn you. These men server Count Vorgor Khebletzi, a powerful warrior Lord from my homeland who was driven out by his three neighbours after years of his attempted invasions of their lands.
“Vorgor has a bastard brother named Siskeer Yenvanovich, and as a Helldazzler, I am duty bound to find the treacherous bastard and to kill him.”
“What happened?” Asks Llewellyn.
“Siskeer was a promising abecedarian, close to becoming an initiate. His command of invocatory magic was astonishing, though he showed a cruel edge that could make him foolish. However, when his brother decided to leave his lands, Siskeer murdered several of his fellow novices, and managed, somehow to slay one of the Order's initiates, stealing a potent tome of spells in the process.
“A warrant has been issued on his head and fingers, and I will not leave here until I have completed that contract.”
Monday, 14 November 2011
The Ken-Sun were a 3.5 monster from Monster Manual V, one of three "Elemental Mages" . All of them seemed to be heavily influenced by the Oni, and when I was looking for a mini boss for the Shnecke's Wolves game, the Ken-Sun (Air) version seemed a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, this awesome monster has never been officially updated to 4e, so I was forced to bring it over. This is what I came up with!
(As always, the modifiers shown after the stats do not include 1/2 the monsters level - so its Constitution modifier is actually +11 not +5)
(Click to summon the storm)
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
11:00 – 11:03 – Shihezzu is a Ken-Sun; a 12' tall, blue skinned humanoid spirit, with bestial features and potent magical ability. His head is small and narrow compared to his massive body, and has unnatural, bestial features; glowing white eyes, a wide mouth of blunt teeth set in black gums and a huge blood-red horn growing up from his forehead. Heavily muscled, and surrounded by tearing winds, he exudes elemental power, the tang of ozone constantly pouring from him, carried on cold, powdery currents of air, whilst corposant constantly dances amongst the diamond dust that swirls endlessly around his monstrous form.
He wields a spear of grey stone, upon which are carved runes of storm magic. Like its bearer, this weapon snaps and snarls with curving arcs of lightning, and as the group turn to face him, he points this at the ground, and channels his baleful power through it. Lightning bursts from its tip, and the party, clench, expecting it to strike them. Instead it spears the ground, a glowing ball of energy flickering into existence where it touches, coalescing rapidly into three large, pearlescent scorpions, whose claws and stingers crackle with electrical discharges.
“Ah crap!” Growls Shnecke wearily, feeling the burn in his muscles from the last battle.
“AH CRAP!” Yells Jaeger as the great doors behind them suddenly boom with a staccato of heavy blows as the common oni outside try to force entry.
“Well, this isn't good.” Mutters Grigori, raising his melted blade, his eyes shining in the gloom of the place, “This isn't good at all.”
The place in which the group now stand is a wide corridor of ancient and decaying stone. 60' across and nearly three times as long, it is lined with huge alcoves that once held Foo-Dog statues, but which now hold only their rubble. At the far end, a vast metal and silk doorway bars further entry into the palace, and huge piles of rubble form zones of difficult terrain along the corridor's length. Shihezzu floats some 30' above the ground halfway along it, whilst the scorpions waste no time in scuttling towards the party; claws open, stingers twitching.
“Here they come!”
The first of the scorpions reaches the party, and closes its razor edged, lightning shrouded claws around the genasai. Varracuda winces as he feels the chitinous appendage crushing him, and can feel the hot burn as they wounds he received outside open further under the assault. He screams however when the arachnid hauls him bodily off his feet and begins to channel lightning into him, only his innate resistance to such attacks preventing him from soiling himself.
Another scorpion bounds over the nearest pile of rubble as it charges to attack, its stinger lashing out and embedding in the priest. At once, the wound begins to fester with its venom, and Grigori finds himself unable to move; his muscles twitching madly as if a current runs through them.
Shihezzu bellows in pain and surprise as Jaeger raises his crossbow, and desperately channels shadowy power through it, sending two bolts hurtling out towards him. The Ken-Sun is sure he can dodge the incoming missiles, and is even more sure that the powerful currents of frozen air surrounding him will snatch it away even if he would otherwise be too slow. And so, he is very surprised when both strike him – one in the neck, the other in the groin – a cloud of his vital essence erupting as each bites deeply.
It is only as he regards where his wounds are that he realises the mortal had shrouded the bolts in misdirective magics, warping his perceptions of them, leaving himself vulnerable.
“ARROGANT, SHORT-LIVED FOOLS!” He bellows, before disappearing in a burst of agitated corposant from his lofty position and appearing – in a withering, dazing burst of sparks that strikes Grigori, Shnecke and Lia, burning them and sending them reeling – directly in front of the group.
Towering above them, the Ken-Sun unleashes hell. Firstly, he causes the air behind the party (between them and the gate to the courtyard) to become agitated. Frost creeps over every surface, and the group feel their throats growing raw as the air becomes painfully cold, and infused with the metallic bite of lightning. A deafening, tinny shriek suddenly tears their ears as a wall, 30' long and 15' high, of agitated, shimmering air, heavy with supernatural cold and seeking, biting lightning, manifests, its proximity deadly to them.
Next, without losing a beat, Shihezzu works another spell; a terrible torus of raw elemental lightning erupting from him in a burst, whipping over the party. Their agonised screams are lost as this strikes; filling their bodies with numb shock as it arcs through them, heating metal, fracturing bones, burning hair and flesh, and causing muscles to contract with such violence that they are thrown off their feet and to the ground. Within seconds most of the party are groaning and smoking on the ground, the massive monster and his pets looming above them.
The party scrabble to try and gather their wits. The third scorpion joins the fray, and blows are exchanged between it and the barbarian. Lia is knocked unconscious, her body twitching as residual power from the last spell arcs through her, and as the storm wall shocks her with searing, crackling lines of energy. Shnecke howls with fury as he swings his axe at the nearest scorpion from the ground, his blade bouncing without effect from its tough armoured exoskeleton, whilst Thatari calls again upon his foul magics to undo the deadly daemon before them.
This at least is partially effective. Shihezzu senses a connection between this plane and another darker realm being forged, and turns to glare a the warlock. When the portal opens, and a foul, cloudy mass of dark black and red smoke begins to pour through, its depths filled with chattering, fanged mouths, he is ready, and shunts his reality away from it, avoiding the main strike. However, Thatari is prepared for this, and with a grin, whispers something to the thing he has called. At once, it coils around the Ken-Sun, latching onto him, and several more wounds appear in his pale flesh as they bite hard. At the same time Grigori, his eyesight fading as his wounds begin to overwhelm him, calls upon his logic prayers to send a wave of power surging through his body. For a moment time seems to freeze. Then a shockwave of power erupts from him, blasting into the Ken-Sun and his scorpion, whilst surrounding his allies in a hardened sphere of protective logic. He then enacts another potent spell, and Lia, slipping closer and closer to death, is suddenly dragged back, her whole body wracked with agony as consciousness pounces upon her. Eyes crusted shut by blood snap open, and as awareness and pain flood her body, so another wave of power sweeps out – this time the prickling energy of Lia's mind as it gives a silent reflexive scream of psychic power – the burst of vital psi crystallising as deadly, unstable energy upon the weapons of her allies.
Shihezzu bellows with frustration, unable to understand how these fleshy mortal things have managed to stand against him for so long. Then, he takes a deep, terrible breath, the air growing colder still as it fumes and boils into his suddenly distended mouth. Everyone gasps as their lungs ache in the sudden cold, and the ice that has spread from the wall behind them thickens with audible crackle. Shihezzu gives an inward smile as he feels the air within him grow colder still, the water within freezing into a million razor-edged shards. Then, with a roar like a wounded Dracani, he blasts the air back out; now a deadly fuming burst of freezing vapour and slashing shards. It hits the party like a skyship; shredding and freezing flesh. Blood blasts outwards, freezing mid flight into hard red marbles. Wounds are torn open, only to smoke briefly and freeze solid a moment later. Eyes are blinded, lips rupture, and the force of the blast picks up several members of the party and dashes them to the floor, dazing them. Varracuda snarls in fury, having avoided the blast, and rips his blade, wreathed in emerald flame, deep into the elemental mage's side, opening another wound, filled with flickering, effulgent power, in his side. At the same time, Jaeger calls upon his most powerful shadow spell, and summons four shapeless masses of darkness around the elemental mage. Each is a siphon that reaches from this universe to a plane that hungers for life force, and a very different chill charges the air as they reach for the monsters vital essences.
Agonised and recognising the deadly conjurations for what they are, the elemental mage unleashes another withering blast of lightning, and teleports to the ceiling of the vault, 40' away from and above the group. The party are scattered and disorganised; Shnecke, Grigori and Lia all prone, dazed and close to death, the warlock relatively unhurt, the assassin and the swordmage both wounded but focused. Shihezzu is also seriously wounded, his body opened in several places, the ragged wounds flapping like torn flags in a gale, a flickering stormlight shining through them.
“Be....wary...” Gasps Grigori through frozen lips, “he is filled with....elemental power.....when slain he will...” the priest coughs, slushy droplets of blood spattering the ground before him, “....explode.”
Lia fights to remains conscious, and slashes out with her blade, pouring her fading mental power into the crystal. The sword chimes with resonant power, and becomes lighter than air, sweeping out in a blur, striking the nearest scorpion in its belly, crackling up through its exoskeleton and ripping into its entrails. As she does this, the ardent feels her psychic power being returned, and feels strength and peace flooding back with it. The strange bio-feedback jolts her natural healing processes into brief overdrive, and several of her more serious wounds immediately close. Breathing easier, Lia feels her well being being reflected from her like sunlight from a mirror, and feels joy as she sees all of her allies sharing her strength, their own wounds growing more shallow, their colour returning a little.
Bellowing, Shnecke and Varracuda focus on the scorpions whilst the rest seek to destroy the flying daemon. Shihezzu is attacked both physically and metaphysically, his mind and body assaulted by the group's insidious powers. He fights every inch of the way however, hurling howling bolts of slicing hail and lightning at them, sending them scattering and inflicting more wounds upon them, before, recognising the approach of his end, sweeping in close to his tormentors so that his death throes will also spell their ends. However, his final plan fails as the party use their skills to keep away from him, and as his life is torn from him by a wave of shadowy bolts launched by the assassin, his deadly, final attack – a burst of scything, icy energy that shatters rubble and shocks the group with its cold – strikes none of the group, only harming one of his scorpions (swept on dimensional currents to the monster's side by one of Varracuda's arcane powers).
With Shihezzu gone, the wall by the first gate crumbles, and at once it begins to heave inwards under the assault of the monsters outside. Grigori also hears another sound over the din of banging and roaring, that raises the hairs on his neck – somewhere outside the building, something huge and winged is flying about.
“They're breaking through!” Yells the Ulnyrr, hefting his axe.
The group quickly dispatch the remaining scorpions, though the resilient animals manage to land several more blows before going down, and riding only on their adrenaline and the giddy realisation that they have somehow survived a battle that should have killed them, they turn to face the latest threat as the door suddenly vanishes in a burst of sickly yellow-green flame – taken out by one of the cannons on the outer walls.
Oni charge in through the smoke, flames and heat haze; more of the tetsubo wielding common oni, accompanied by hulking two-headed, eye-studded horrors like those encountered back in the physical, the previous night. The monsters burst through the smoke and flames with a terrifying roar, and charge towards the group. Almost hysterical with battle lust and fatigue, the party give no consideration to tactics, and with a scream of pained rage, simply charge the fiends, both groups slamming together in a terrible, mauling impact.
It is a massacre.
All in all, the advancing monsters are sliced and torn apart in mere seconds, their weapons clanking to the ground, the air foul with their smoky essence, though they party suffer a number of wounds in the fierce, unreal battle. Stood at the threshold of the courtyard and the corridor, the party can see hundreds more of the fiends trying to organise some kind of assault outside, whilst on the outer walls the cannons begin to shine with growing power. At the far end of the corridor in which they stand, far behind them, the huge double-doors leading further into the palace ignite with power as a crackling rune of protection activates on their surface.
Outside and above the place, still unseen, something huge roars and flaps.
“So, do we take all of them on, or try to get into the inner palace”?” Asks Jaeger wearily.
Blood spots the ground beneath the party, as their wounds continue to bleed, their strength and resolve ebbing with each moment.
“We...we have a job to do.” Growls Varracuda, “And fighting all of them might be one battle too many.”
Lia laughs, a little too shrilly, and Shnecke, with a savage grin replies. “The way we are, I reckon any battle could be one too many for us now.”
A few of the adventurers look in shock at the panting, bleeding Ulnyrr, surprised to hear such pessimistic words from him. Seeing this, the grin only widens on Shnecke's face. “I didn't say we shouldn't fight! Fuck that! If I'm gonna' die anywhere it might as well be in the middle of an enemy fortress in another world, surrounded by my closest battle brothers and drenched in the blood of my foes!”
The savage grin spreads to the others, the pain in their wounds seeming to recede as battle lust once more begins to envelop them in its anaesthetising heat.
“Let's do this!”