Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 16

While the previous session ended in a chaotic retreat, the Favorites of Selune did manage to grab the chalice of the dragon on their way out. That completed their quest to find the three sacred vessels for Sir Oakley to purify the temple of Gardmore Abbey.

Technically speaking the purification of the temple is a skill challenge, a special feature of 4th edition D&D. Despite numerous official and unofficial attempts to fix skill challenges, they never really work well. Either you handle them as a boring series of dice rolls and get very little narrative out of the exercise. Or you ask the players what they propose to do in a given situation, and then you have the problem of trying to translate their ideas into a skill check. If the players want to use powers or have ideas that don't correspond to skills, that gets rather tricky. So for the purification of the temple I used a mixed approach, asking everybody what they proposed to do to protect Sir Oakley while he was doing his purification ritual. I accepted all ideas, and asked for dice rolls only if appropriate.

When Sir Oakley started the purification ritual, the shadows in the temple began to move. At first they started to whisper trying to dissuade or distract Sir Oakley from his ritual. The players tried to chase the shadows by adding more light to the temple, and chanted religious hymns to overcome the whispers. Then the shadows changed tactics and started throwing debris at Sir Oakley. Some players used their shields and bodies to intervene, and the wizard used his mage hand to protect Sir Oakley from above, swatting stones away like ping pong balls.

Then the temple turned completely dark, and the players had a vision from the time of the fall of Gardmore Abbey: Wraiths coming out of a room in the vaults, up the stairs and into the temple. Having been there in the previous session, the players could identify the room where the wraiths came from as the one where the gnolls are. At the end of the vision, light returned to the temple, but the wraiths from the vision where now physically present and attacked. But that was an easy fight, and the players quickly dispatched them. Finally, at the end of the ritual, the shadows fled inside Sir Oakley, trying to possess him. But the players managed to overcome that final obstacle too with magic and religion. The purification of the temple was complete, and Bahamut sent a reward, the torc of justice, a +2 necklace with nice powers.

That being done, the vision during the purification had given the players a hint where to search for the source of the chaos in Gardmore Abbey. They went back into the vaults towards the room with the gnolls. As they feared being attacked in the back, they used spikes to block the door towards the minotaurs. But they also saw that the minotaurs themselves had nailed shut that door from the other side. The gnolls meanwhile had used stacked up vases behind their door to act as a primitive alarm system. The rogue couldn't completely silence that one, and so the fight against the gnolls began with both sides well warned.

When trying to use a card of the Deck of Many Things in that room, the players had another vision from the past: The captain of the guard of Gardmore Abbey during the orc attack, Havarr, decided to use the Deck of Many Things artifact in the hope of using it to beat back the orcs. But instead of a helpful result he drew the skull card and unleashed a horde of undead on they abbey. The combined assault of the undead from within and the orcs from outside then caused the fall of Gardmore Abbey.

The fight against the gnolls turned out to be somewhat too easy, mostly due to my experiments with the escalation die. Importing a rule from 13th Age, the escalation die gives the players an increasing bonus every round of the combat, up to a maximum of +6. The rule is designed to prevent combat from dragging on too long, but ultimately it is somewhat overpowered. I already have players with attack bonuses of up to +14 fighting monsters with an AC of 22. If they get a +6 bonus they hit even if they roll a 2 on the d20, which pretty much destroys all challenge. And while the gnoll fight WAS quite short due to this, it also meant that I didn't even have the opportunity to use all the powers of the various gnolls. And with the escalation die making combat very fast, any crowd control power that stops a monster for just one round becomes very powerful as well. In consequence I will not let the escalation die increase by 1 every combat round any more. Instead I'll just use it to give a bonus if the group fights more than one fight after an extended rest, +1 for the second fight, +2 for the third fight of the day, and so on.

I think the 13th ave guide was to use one level higher mobs to balance it out.
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