Past sessions: Session One, Session Two, Session Three
This is the recap of my fourth session running the Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure via MapTool and Skype for my family group. As always, SPOILERS AHEAD.
Sora the dragonborn swordmage (played by my wife), Homer the elf hunter (played by my brother in law) and Stasi the half-elf warpriest of Pelor (played by my sister in law) found themselves in the Temple of Bahamut on Dragon’s Roost, having just finished an extended rest under the protection of Sir Oakley. Upon their waking, Sir Oakley offered the party a mysterious object he had found hidden in a niche on the altar to Bahamut: An ivory plate that the party immediately recognized as a second card from the Deck of Many Things, to go along with the Key card they had found earlier.
This card had an engraving of three women – one young, one middle-aged, and one old (with a pair of scissors). Stasi was able to figure out that this represented the Fates. (Note that I’m running the game online and therefore am not handing out the physical cards; I like that the players get to puzzle out what some of the cards represent based on a description that I provide rather than getting to read the names on the cards.) Stasi agreed to carry this card with the other for the time being.
Having escorted Sir Oakley to the Abbey and having helped him defeat the enemies in the Temple itself, the adventurers agreed to help him find the three missing relics that would be necessary for him to perform the needed cleansing rituals. He didn’t know where these relics were, but he knew that they must be somewhere within the grounds of Gardmore Abbey. Sir Oakley ultimately agreed to accompany the group on their search (with a three-PC party, it’s nice to have a companion character along to help with the scaling of battles).
The group decided to start by searching the catacombs. Stasi the warpriest was itching to blast the heck out of some undead creatures (which have been rare in the Essentials adventures to this point). Coming down the stairs, they heard prayers ahead. Homer the hunter stayed back on the stairs while Stasi and Sora accompanied Sir Oakley down to investigate. They found a bunch of humans in armor praying around an altar of Bahamut.
Thus began Encounter 23: Altar of Glory. I’ll say right here that I totally screwed this up, because this was supposed to be the first encounter where my party was to meet The Others – the rival adventuring party. Oops. I forgot all about that, and I hadn’t prepared The Others in MapTool yet anyway. Major oversight on my part, but I have an idea of how I’ll fix this.
My other oversight is that I once again forgot to have the cards from the Deck do anything in combat, but that’s in part because combat was a little weird in starting. This encounter began with a skill challenge for the party to figure out what was going on with these knights praying in the catacombs. Sir Oakley joined in the prayers at the urging of the PCs. A religion check from the warpriest showed that the lead knight was making up some of the prayers as he went along, and the other knights were following his lead. They also noticed that the knights had their scabbards loosened and kept their hands close to their weapons, as though they were expecting a fight. However, they failed to recall any history of the Abbey that might be helpful in understanding the situation, and they twice failed to notice that the knights weren’t casting shadows.
Thus, the skill challenge was failed, and the knights attacked with a surprise round. It soon became clear that these weren’t actual knights – they were pale reavers disguised in the forms they once held in life. I loved describing the first attack, as one of the minions disappeared into a wall, reappeared next to a PC, and then reached for his sword, which somehow transformed into a long mane of hair as the reaver’s true form was revealed.
The fight was challenging with the surprise round and the good initiative roll from the lead reaver, but our warpriest finally got to Smite Undead on the lead reaver, and the group kept him pinned in a corner for much of the fight while they beat up his friends and later focused on him. Some surges were spent, but none were actually drained by the reavers themselves.
Examining the room showed that the altar to Bahamut could infuse a weapon with the one-time ability to deal fire damage, which Homer the hunter was all over. Sir Oakley helped him with the prayers, and the dragon heads on the altar came to life and bathed Homer’s bow in flames, which then died down, leaving the bow warm to the touch. This came in handy in the next fight.
One sarcophagus in this room had been pried open, and the skeleton within was missing its skull. Corruption emanated from this coffin, and the party was able to figure out that the corruption could only be cleansed if the skull could be returned. No skull was to be found in this room, however.
Onward to the east, then! The stone doors opened smoothly enough, revealing a room with a badly damaged ceiling. Roots from above had grown through the ceiling, creating a tangle that extended most of the way to the floor, stopping six feet above the ground. Stasi’s Sun’s Glow showed a good portion of the room, and the party could hear some shuffling footsteps in a far corner and a very faint sound of movement coming from another corner of the room near the ceiling (up in the roots). After Stasi and Sora moved into the room, the light revealed a mummy coming toward them
Encounter 25: Memorial Chamber was under way. Homer won initiative but delayed, staying back in the Altar of Glory chamber. The mummy moved toward the doorway and cursed Stasi, so that she would take necrotic damage every time she tried to hurt the mummy (a brutal but cool ability). Sora figured out that she could yank on the roots in order to bring the fragile ceiling down on the mummy, which worked like a charm (I decided that DC16 Strength would be for a minor action check and DC12 would be for a standard action). That mummy struggled for the next three rounds to free its legs from the rubble (immobilized, save ends).
Knowing that they had heard other movement in the chamber, the party was cautious about moving farther in. Too bad for them, then, when a swarm of rot scarab beetles stealthily crawled through the roots on the ceiling without attracting attention and then rained down onto Sora’s head. This was a wonderfully disgusting moment, leaving Sora the swordmage inside the swarm. Homer eventually jumped into initiative at the end of the round, after Sir Oakley told him that the mummy would catch fire if hit with fire, using Bahamut’s blessing from the previous chamber to light that mummy up.
At the beginning of round two, I remembered that I wanted to use the Deck of Many Things, and I decided later that I actually kind of prefer having the Deck manifest its power after the first round of battle. It feels artificial for the Deck to know exactly when combat is breaking out and to show up immediately; I like the idea that it responds to the stress of actual combat and then manifests.
In this case, the image of the Key appeared next to Stasi as a big glowing light. A minor action Arcana check revealed that someone standing in the Key square could use a move action to teleport 5 squares; pretty cool stuff!
Round two is also when the Flameskull revealed itself from behind a mosaic-covered wall on the far side of the room and dropped a fireball that enveloped three of the PCs plus the mummy and the scarab swarm. Uh oh! The new threat caused some major concern.
Eventually, Sir Oakley ended up charging into the chamber largely to get away from the swarm’s aura and to go after the Flameskull (and because I wanted to make the combat more dynamic than a chokepoint between two rooms). He was left to his own devices for a while as the PCs finished off the mummy and the swarm. Finally, the PCs came to help, rescuing Sir Oakley from unconsciousness and destroying the Flameskull.
When the Flameskull was defeated, the skull’s fires went out, leaving behind a normal skull. The PCs immediately thought – aha, perhaps this is the missing skull from the earlier sarcophagus. Indeed it was, and Stasi the warpriest returned it to its rightful place and used some healing magic to cleanse the corruption – in the process gaining Bahamut’s blessing and the one-time ability to breathe fire.
The Memorial Chamber was revealed to have a secret door to the north (the Perception check beat a 19, but not a 23), which led to a small room with three long-dead knights of Bahamut beneath a mural depicting the Platinum Dragon as a dracolich. Sir Oakley was able to explain that this was a private practice of some worshippers of Bahamut, and that it represented adherents steeling themselves to face death rather than worshipping undeath. Some searching of this secret chapel revealed two other doors leading to other chambers, three topazes that had been taken from the temple, and the fact that these knights evidently closed themselves in this room and starved to death rather than leaving. Interesting stuff. Having Oakley along at this point has been helpful.
From here, the party decided to go through the door on the west part of the north wall of the Memorial Chamber, which revealed a short hallway, beyond which was a room with a fountain – and a couple of skeletons.
Encounter 24: Font of Divine Health began with two skeletal tomb guardians arising and attacking. I once again had Sir Oakley get himself in the middle of things in order to create some movement. A blazing skeleton popped out from a niche to light Stasi on fire.
In round two, the Fates revealed themselves. The new card from the Deck manifested adjacent to Stasi, who boldly stepped into the light and understood that if she were hit by an attack while in the Fates’ square, she could force a re-roll of that attack with a -2 penalty. This power appealed greatly to Homer, the great chicken of the party, who camped in that square for several rounds.
Meanwhile, the tomb guardians were slicing and dicing all over the place, making effectively four attacks per round (a fun mechanic). Some skeletal minons revealed themselves, providing a flank for the guardians. All the while, the blazing skeleton kept burning things from a distance.
The fight ended with Stasi using a daily power, then finishing the final foe in a blaze of holy might. At this point, the mosaic of the head of Bahamut inlaid in the floor glowed brightly, and the whole party regained some free hit points. It was soon discovered that drinking from the fountain in this room would also regain some free hit points, plus grant some necrotic resistance. Good times; I love these alternate, short-term rewards.
Here we stopped for the night, with Homer and Stasi suggesting an extended rest in the secret chamber and Sir Oakley adamant that they must press on and find the holy relics. I hope they do press on; they’re not in severe shape just yet (Oakley is the lowest on surges by far). If they decide to rest in the secret chapel, so be it. It’s possible that their entrance has guaranteed that it will not remain secret indefinitely…
-Michael the OnlineDM
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Next session: Session five