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KotS Session 4: The Shadow Key June 21, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative.
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Jessica was leaving town for a a few weeks, so I knew that tonight’s session would be our last chance to all play together for a little bit. I wanted to design a session that would feel like a season finale–plots and quests get wrapped up in mind-blowing fashion with crazy action sequences and a big payoff. It probably fell short of all that, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so in the end I am pleased.

All Rested Up

As soon as the sun is up, the party–now well rested (meaning they have their daily powers and healing surges back)–heads back into the tunnel under the temple to see what else is down there. They come to the T-section where they had battled and killed Ninaran the night before (part 1 & part 2). Footprints are visible heading up the path to the North, while the path to the Southeast is bare; they head North. Soon they round a corner to find light softly flickering off of a wall ahead and to hear high-pitched squeaky voices laughing. Kat sneaks ahead to investigate and finds four small kobolds crowded around a wooden table, eating something furry and quite dead. The room is some kind of underground barracks/storeroom that had obviously not been used by any human in quite some time.

The party creeps up and Kat and Ronen are able to get a surprise round of action in before the kobolds know what is going on. Kat leans in with her two hand crossbows drawn and fires at the weaker-looking minions in the back. She misses one but kills the other. Ronen focuses his casting on the nearest kobold skirmisher, who stands crouched on a wooden crate by the table. By the time Ronen’s spell works its magic, the kobold is on the brink of death, kneeling on his rickety crate. This sets up Luna to run in and attack the kobold minion who is standing on the table, pulling him one space onto his kneeling comrade, who is then knocked onto the floor. He never makes it back onto his feet; Luna sticks her blade into him the second he tries to stand up.

The battle ends quickly and the party searches for items of interest. Thotham notices some holes in the walls just outside of a locked door in the back. He grabs one of the kobold bodies and tosses it in between the walls to see what happens. As soon as the body hits the floor, darts fly from the holes in the walls. Kat tries to disable the trap but is stuck by a poisoned dart in the process. Luckily the trap eventually runs out of ammunition. Then Kat unlocks the doors and the PCs enter a better-kept room with a bed that looks like it actually got some use.  At the foot of the bed is a decent-looking hope chest (the key to which they found on Ninaran’s corpse, when they went back through the tunnels), in which they find 2 stonemeal biscuits, some gold, a red leather book (Ninaran’s journal), and a velvet-wrapped box with a wand (Master’s Wand of Vicious Mockery +1) in it and a note that reads: “To my beloved Helvec. Love, Ninaran.” The party grabs the loot–Thotham taking the wand–and they even loaded the hope chest onto Thotham’s Floating Disc (that sounds better than Tenser… who is Tenser?), so they can have a chest in which to lock some of their items whilst they travel about.

From Ninaran’s journal they learn that Ninaran and her brother Niev were sent by their father to help Kalarel achieve his goals. Neither wanted to do so but for different reasons: Niev dislikes their father’s constant nefarious plotting and Ninaran hates that her father feels the need to accept help from outside the elven clan. She feels that her father has grown weak. Her journal also reveals the secret love affair between Ninaran and Helvec. Both were working for Kalarel and had thus met.

So That’s How She Did It!

They party follows the path north and comes out in Lord Padraig’s manor, in the courtyard right near where Ninaran disappeared. They meet with Lord Padraig who gives them a permanent place to stay in his manor while they are offering their services to the town of Winterhaven and to have his guards watch over their belongings. They descend into the tunnels once again to check out the Southeast path, but this trip is fruitless in terms of offering foes or adventure. They do discover a few more empty barrack rooms and realize that this tunnel system was designed as an underground bunker to hide troops and villagers.

They come up underneath Valthrun’s Tower and decide to pay him a visit. He excitedly ushers them in and says that he finally had some time to look at enchanting or imbuing that ring Thotham had given him. He says that he would not be willing to imbue it with power because it is an elven house ring, explaining that these rings are passed down from generation to generation from the noble Elf families of the clans and often used as betrothal rings. Instead he offers Thotham a trade; he will let each adventurer choose a low-level (level 1) magic item from a drawer that he has filled with them if they will give him the ring. He explains that the house mage of the elf clan from whence this ring comes has a ritual that Valthrun wants, but as of yet this mage has not been willing to share. Valthrun believes that returning the ring will tip the scale in his favor. Valthrun also gives them the remaining reagents that they need to be able to perform the ritual that will bring the Shadow Key into the Mortal World. The adventurers head out to the cave with the map they received from Delphina Moongleam to lead the way.

The Faded Acaelia Cave

They arrive at the cave without incident and find the path behind the waterfall to enter. Kat sneaks up ahead to scout out what is inside the cave. Unfortunately she fails her stealth check and as quickly as she spots the eight kobolds standing guard inside (two kobold skirmishers and six minions), they also spot her.

Kat attacks first, tossing a vial of alchemist’s fire at a group of congregated kobolds. Two minions are enveloped in flame and the skirmisher takes some fire damage as well. Some of the kobolds attempt to rush attack the party as they stand on the edge of the waterfall in the mouth of the cave. One kobold in particular tries to charge into Luna, but trips right before he gets to her (rolls a 1) and ends up face down in the water at Luna’s feet. She swiftly ends his life and his body drifts off the edge of the cave entrance, swept up in the current. The party dispatches the minions very quickly (which is good, because this party has no controller) and begins to work the skirmishers down during the first round of combat.

The party spreads into their positions with Luna and Kat in the front dealing and taking damage, engaging and drawing most of the foes towards them. Ronen steps to the side to take on some foes flanking in from another passage, and Thotham stays back attacking from range. The few kobolds that try to take him on prove too weak to land much of any hits on the Goliath with the massive bow.

The second round starts with more kobold minions running into the cave entrance to join the fray. The party continues its assault and fares well for the next two rounds, before the final wave of enemies rushes in. Ronen spots them first as he breaks through the enemies flanking in from the side passage. An abnormally large goblin named Grimp (Irontooth from KotS, lvl 3 Brute), two kobold dragonshields (lvl 2 Soldier) and a kobold wyrmpriest (lvl 3 Artillery–Leader) all make their way toward the PCs.

The wyrmpriest immediately yells out to the kobold troops, inciting faith in them to fight on (he heals them). Grimp pulls out his two large battle axes and charges at Luna. The battle grows intense and eventually Ronen decides to try out the new summoning spell he learned from studying his Turathian Tome; he summons an infernal mongrel to his side (a custom creature of my own creation: a devilish dog with a barbed tail). The mongrel comes leaping through the summoning portal and latches onto the neck of the kobold dragonshield in front of it.

Thotham balances attacking the kobolds around him and his friends and even manages to shout out some inspiring words to urge them on in battle (he heals them). The nastiest of the melee occurs in the center of the cave entrance, where Luna, Katryn, Grimp, and a couple of kobolds battle it out. Luna is able to get herself separated enough at one point to ram charge into Grimp, laying him down flat on the ground. Ronen continues his swath of terror and destruction to the side of the room, attacking with his mongrel and unleashing his dark powers on the kobolds around him.

At one point Kat slips into the shadows and reappears in flanking position, ready to stab a foe in the back. She then moves to the wyrmpriest and uses her Shadowdance leather armor’s daily power to darken the light above the wyrmpriest’s head, concealing her in the now prevalent shadows so she can sneak attack him.

The fight rages on for a few more rounds until our heroes emerge victorious. They search and find plenty of Faded Acaelia for use in the ritual and to give to Valthrun. They loot the bodies and find Grimp’s treasure trove, where he had been stockpiling the loot from the caravans raids. Luna finds a matching armor set that has leather veteran’s armor and a horned helm that will be perfect for her ram assault charges that she loves to make.

The Shadow Key

The party goes back to the mausoleum to perform the ritual. Thotham casts the ritual and, as he proceeds, Katryn begins to feel a familiarity that she hasn’t felt in a long time–she feels home. The room enwraps in shadow and she feels the presence of a powerful shadow presence. The Shadow Key eventually reveals itself, coming almost fully into the Mortal World; it is a silver-hilted dagger where shadows dance and flicker throughout the clear obsidian blade (it is a Sacrifical Dagger +2 to which I gave an additional power that enhances/extends her Shadow Jaunt by 2 squares. She can choose to use either the Shadow Jaunt Enhancement or the inherent Sacrificial Dagger power each day).

What Worked

For the Valthrun ring trade scene, I printed off 8 item cards for things like a magic rod +1, an amulet of protection +1, burglar’s gloves, etc. This allowed them to feel like they were shopping I think, and it meant that I didn’t have to decide their magic items as much–it allowed them to decide what they wanted a little bit more.

Revealing how Ninaran escaped was a good idea I think. It wasn’t anything incredible, but everyone–especially Brian–seemed genuinely intrigued by the revelation.

Giving the players Area of Effect (AoE) weapons–the Alchemist’s Fire–allowed for them to deal with the large number of minions without getting overwhelmed. I gave them three, thinking that they’d use all three. Instead they only used one and then fought off the rest through other means. I am glad to know that there are ways to make up for the lack of a particular role in a group (although Controller may be the easiest one for which to compensate).

I finally made up for the lack of Magic Items that the PCs had been receiving. It felt like a treasure dump to me, but my hope is that to them it felt like a hard-earned reward. It was nice to be able to hand them an Item Card and see their eyes light up.

Where It Faltered

Having the combat come at them in waves was an interesting shift from the normal combat encounters we’ve been running. It allowed for them to fight more monsters in a manageable way. I do feel like it dragged by the end, though. I think I need to work on ways to make the 2nd or 3rd wave bring something new to the table and not just be more combat. For example, the third wave of Grimp and friends could have been the 2nd wave and then we could have just done away with the 2nd wave. The fight wouldn’t have dragged on as long and Grimp’s arrival would have felt more significant.

Sierra is pregnant and as such gets exhausted rather easily. By the end  of this session she was lying on the couch falling asleep. The combat had taken so long that I was concerned that other players would be burned out on the whole experience so I just sort of rushed through the scene’s descriptions and actions. Looking back I realize two things:

1. I didn’t need to end the session with them obtaining the Shadow Key. I could have left it on a cliffhanger with them arriving to the mausoleum and as they prepare to get the key, something bad happens, someone shows up, or whatever. If time is gone and patience is up, don’t be afraid to just call it quits by leaving things undone for the next time.

2. Combat always takes longer than I anticipate. There is a logical amount of action that a single 3 hour session can fit in and I keep trying to squeeze in more than it can handle. Pretty much a 3-hour session can realistically fit in two combat encounters of the party’s level and some small amounts of role playing. If the battle is going to be massive then I need to make it one encounter and bring in a Skill Challenge instead.

Enders

I am very interested in some feedback from you guys who play in these games. What I am looking for in particular is the following:

1. Write-up help. My memory is not that great so there will be lots of things that I miss. Especially where combat is concerned, as I just have too many things to try and remember/focus on during the battle to remember all of the fun/cool moments. Please feel free to chime in with your recollections of what you thought was fun, cool, exciting, crazy, terrifying, or whatever.

2. Critiques. I am relatively new to this DMing thing. While I do feel very confident in my abilities to run a fun game, I know that I need constant improvement and I welcome that. Anything that you feel just wasn’t done correctly? Let me know.

3. Requests. Is there something on here that you are not seeing that you would like to see? I am willing to try my hand at just about anything that you would be interested in seeing (despite my meager and limited resources). This could be that you want me to record the sessions on my laptop while we play and then post them up here for you to download and listen to. Maybe you want a more “behind the scenes” look at adventure prep. Perhaps you want more visual aides to enhance the write-up experience. Whatever you’d enjoy, let me know and I will see what I can do.

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