Session 4 (Session 3 concluded here)
Darrien - human cleric of Pelor
Erevan - high elf rogue
Rajabu - dwarf fighter
With Aha the sorcerer's player unable to make this session, we started by figuring out what to do with Aha's character. I floated the idea of each player taking Aha for an hour, but Erevan suggested we just let her character "wait for us" by the stairway down to level two, so that's what we decided. I was all ready to go, having prepped the session by mapping out in detail the set piece battle that they were about to walk into on a sheet of 18"x24" sketch paper. While the previous session, which had taken six blog posts to document (whew!) had featured a variety of role play, exploration, and some combat, this session would be purely combat.
The heroes, with their ghoul allies leading the charge, ran after the orcs who had turned and fled after their commander had been so quickly slain by the spells and arrows of the human invaders. A chase began down the twisting corridors of the dungeon.
It's times like this that I am glad that I don't use a grid of any kind in my combats, but instead use a tape measure to judge movement distance. I feel that this opens the combat up, and leads to a less board-gamey feel than counting squares while moving. I often read about groups choosing to use either grid based combat, or go completely Theater of the Mind, but I rarely if ever hear abut anyone trying out the old tape measure method.
The orcs ran into a large chamber which contained a raised section that held a boiling cauldron and several goblinoids. Next to the cauldron, an obvious spell casting orc of some kind (the Shaman Glaragula) stood reciting a vile incantation. He was surrounded by four creatures that appeared somewhat like orcs, but a bit larger and more hulking, with flesh that bore a faded grayish pallor, and breath that exhaled from their fanged mouths with visible steam.
These were the thouls that Glaragula had already produced, and mechanics-wise they were beefed up orcs with two claw attacks and 1d6 per round regeneration.
On the ground level of the chamber were a couple of standard orc guards, and two goblins scuttling about next to a series of cupboards.
I had stocked these cupboards with all sorts of goodies, including sacks of ball bearings, alchemists' fire, acid, healing potions, and orc vitality drinks.
Before the first wave of ghouls was able to reach the doorway to the chamber, a goblin spilled a bag of ball bearings on the floor, then scuttled back to the cupboard. The invaders would have to tread carefully or wind up flat on their backs.
The players thought for a moment, and considered just standing outside the door and peppering the enemies inside with spells and missile weapons. This idea was nixed when the goblins started throwing alchemists' fire at them.
The doorway became a choke point, as orc guards defended against ghoul attackers. The battle continued for quite some time at a stalemate.
It was then that my dice rolls, which had been very cold last session up till now, finally warmed up.
When the thouls joined the fray, however, the massive power of their rending claws tore through ghoul flesh, and one after another of the undead allies fell. Glaragula was biding his time, hiding behind a marble pillar, and casting a defensive spell upon himself that caused his skin to harden like the hide of a lizard (and gain +4 AC). Quickly the melee turned in favor of the goblinoids, and the heroes, with only two ghouls and their ghast ally Glustinok left alive, started to feel some desperation.
A big catalyst in that desperation was the fact that thouls can regenerate damage. When they learned this, it made them rethink the whole attack rather quickly.
Holding aloft his holy symbol - Darrien called upon the power of Pelor in an attempt to repel the unholy thouls.
This left me in quandary. Thouls were composed partly of ghouls, true, but they were not technically undead. I made a quick ruling that the thouls would get their saving throw at advantage to represent this fact mechanically. Darrien was lucky, as three of the four thouls were turned, along with their two remaining ghoul allies, who fled down the corridors into the darkness. The thouls, covering their eyes and faces from the display of holy power, slowly retreated back into the ritual chamber.
The heroes at that point mounted a full scale retreat, but Glaragula descended the steps and rallied the ghouls to the corridor corner, just out of sight of the cleric, and as soon as Darrien let the holy symbol drop, they gave pursuit. They caught up with Darrien in the hallway, and the cleric managed to slay one of the thouls when Glaragula himself engaged Darrien, and extended his clawed hand out to touch him.
The players were surprised to learn that Inflict Light Wounds did 3d8 damage. I had Darrien roll how own damage, and described how his flesh painfully separated under the chainmail, and blood began pooling and dripping from the links. He was reduced to just two hit points away from final death, and slumped to the ground unconscious.
In a dramatic gambit, Erevan poked out from behind a shadowy corner and targeted the Shaman with his longbow, and the deadly arrow hit the mark, and Glaragula the Shaman too crumpled to the ground, next to Darrien.
Erevan attempted to convince the thouls to surrender at that point, and I had him roll a Charisma contest against their Wisdom. He rolled poorly, and lost the contest, but I decided that I would hold that losing roll and use it against him later.
The thouls stood motionless, looking around confused, their "creator" laying dead next to them.
The thouls could understand orchsih only, and although the PCs did not know orcish, a quick Intelligence check on Glustinok determined that he in fact did. And so, they were able to command the thouls, and they continued their march through the dungeon. But, along the way, Glustinok began talking to the thouls on his own, and the PCs had no way of knowing what he was telling them. The group made their way into another chamber that contained a huge, yawning pit, with several ghouls inside it, and a group of orcs flanking the sides of the pit, marching toward them.
From the darkness beyond, outside of the range of their light source, the heroes heard a female voice call out,
"Heroes of Anvilar, I am here!"
They recognized the voice. It was Lady Alba, a noble from Anvilar, their home base.
In my notes, I had written down that Lady Alba was simply a noble from Anvilar that had been captured by the orcs in the raid, and that they were about to feed her to the ghouls in the pit. But, Erevan's player suddenly latched onto the question of: why was this woman here with the orcs? Was she somehow involved in the whole plot? And so, since this was a much more interesting idea, I decided on the spot that I would go with it. Rajabu's player, the dwarf fighter with the "thug" background, jumped onto this idea too, and asked me if he could use his Streetwise skill to see if he knew anything about Lady Alba and her dealings in the underworld. He succeeded in his Intelligence (+ skill) check, so I turned the question back to him, and asked him what Rajabu knew about this Lady Alba. He thought a moment, and then said how it was rumored back in town that she likes to have sex with orcs. Okay ... new, vile doorways suddenly opened up in the story in my head, and a half-orc warlord, and a plot of noble revenge started to form. Lady Alba went from an inconsequential note, almost an afterthought, to the mother of Hagugh the Destroyer, who was rallying orc, barbarian, and dwarf forces as he built up an army bent on revenge and conquest.
continued in Session 5 here