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(5e) Against the Idol of the Sun (high level, hexcrawl)


Session 1: 12/19/20

The party is 13th level, and coming off the Castlevania-based "Castle Dracula" campaign (see previous campaign log here). They are very well-equipped, and we just had a 5-year time-skip. The party is composed of:

-Dwarven life cleric
-Wood elf kensei monk
-Dwarven zealot barbarian
-Half-orc armorer artificer (new, not present last campaign)
-Half-elf vengeance paladin
-Half-elf arcane trickster 10/champion 3

They receive the messages documented in the "hook" adventure, calling them to Iberia. They make their preparations and head out, choosing to route through Venice and then a ship through the Mediterranean. I mentioned a single bandit attack along the way, but in an area where the average level is 3-5, a group of wealthy people pulling out glowing magical weapons that are covered in frost, lighting up with fire, etc., is a signal even the dumbest bandit can understand as "Not worth it."

The party lands and is directed inland, approaching the army camp. They meet with the king and are presented with 'the plan' by one of the nobles there. They generally agree to it, but have some thoughts on how to make the main army more effective. This results in some discussions of shields, pavises, tortoiseshell formations, and the like. Ultimately, the artificer goes outside camp with some spectators, gets a couple of big oak logs from an area where wood was being cut, and, in 10 minutes, transforms them into 160 heavy wooden shields that merely need leather straps added, via the magic of Fabricate. One of the nobles present immediately makes him a job offer for after the crisis is over.

After gathering information, the group decides to travel at night, since the Aaracokra only seem to attack during the day. They don't have terrible rolls at stealthy travel or picking good camping spots, and arrive early. The arcane trickster sneaks around the enemy fortification, doing recon. He rolls very well, has Invisibility, and many hours to watch, so they see everything important. The next morning, everything is normal, until a couple of patrols return around 10am. 30 minutes later, they watch 3/4 of the camp lift off and fly towards the main army camp.

The group then sneaks as close to the camp as they can. Once they reach about 200' away, there's no more cover, and they know they will be spotted. The arcane trickster goes invisible and heads out; the paladin grabs the barbarian and Dimension Doors to just on the inside of the kitchen gate, which they promptly unlock. The Hasted monk (via Artificer) dashes towards the fortified camp at an incredible speed, followed by the last two members of the party.

They blenderize the Aaracokra cooks and nearby guards. The artificer does the Iron Man thing and flies into the sky, drawing the attention of almost the entire Aaracokra Combat Air Patrol (CAP), which head for him. They pelt him with javelins for a couple of rounds. He has AC 23, so he usually get hit once per round for single-digit damage.

The senior priest on the temple uses Fire Storm on three of the party members, but rolls only 21 out of 7d10, and then they all save for peanuts damage. The acolyte's Fireball fares only slightly better. The monk engages the Champion atop the temple and does take substantial damage (including a Harm) - but not quickly, as his AC is quite good. The artificer keeps the CAP distracted, such that they do not return to the temple area fast enough to make a difference there. Once all of the high-level and spellcasting opponents are down, their only foes are the regular guards, who are not likely to do much damage at all, so I handwave the end of the battle by rolling 2d6 for the number of air-skiffs left in camp (8) and how many get away (5), leaving the party with 3 air-skiffs captured instead of rolling out all the chasing and stuff. It was late.

Mistakes I made as DM: Didn't call for Concentration checks when the artificer was hit for 3 damage. His saves are very good, but a broken Haste would have made things harder for the monk. I also forgot to use the +2 to hit and +1d6 damage Plunging Fire the Aaracokra possess, which led to a couple of missed attacks that would have otherwise hit.

Next time - the party frees the captives, inspects the air-skiffs, and chats with the yuan-ti slave.

12/26/20 Session 2

The barbarian and cleric were out due to illness. Not Covid. The party decide to free the captives, talk to the yuan-ti slave (named Amala), inspect the air-skiffs, loot the camp, and then spread accelerants and light it up.

They learn that the Aaracokra serve a deity named Huitzopochitl, who has four deities under him, and that he’s gathering power through sacrifices... and that that is the reason for the Aaracokra to come. Huitzopochitl killed Sseth, the Yuan-Ti deity; ever since then, the Y-T have lived in hiding, and only 1/10th of the babies born to them are male since that happened. They learn a few things about basic geography, including tortles on the east coast, scorpionfolk in the northern bad-lands, and giants in the southwestern mountains. Amala flat-out refuses to travel back with them, and won’t even tell them where the hidden village she grew up in before being enslaved was. She does, however, teach them the language during the prep period before traveling west. Between the Comprehend Languages spell and the monk’s ability to speak all languages, they put together a primer in a few days after returning to the Spanish army camp.

They examine the air-skiff, and with Amala’s help, figure out how it works. I hand over the 1-page document covering all the details. It travels at an altitude of 100’, at a speed of 60’/rd (6.8 mph), and only works during the daytime. It’s powered by 4 humanoid hearts sacrificed to the Aaracokra gods, which stay beating until it runs out of power. The party’s air-skiff has 8 weeks (56 days) of power left.

The party releases some of the prisoners to find their way back to the army camp, paying some off with a pittance of gold for a Bag of Holding that they find (the artificer then crafts 2 more Bags of Holding during the prep time). They have 3 air-skiffs, and haul as many prisoners as they can (about 55) back to camp on those, giving them money they looted from the camp to help them buy food. The party also used Prestidigitation to clean up all the prisoners, and gave out basic healing.

A conversation with the king follows, and of course the party is asked to take the air-skiff west to stop a follow-on invasion and deal with the source of this. There are comments about “We killed a lesser god before” thanks to Dracula and the avatar of Death. The group decides to spend a week on prep time, including fabricating Bags of Holding and Gauntlets of Ogre Power for the Paladin. They stock up on tools, ropes, fishing supplies, and some other things, but don’t grab oars.

They then take off on the 30-day westwards journey across the ocean. The air-skiffs only fly during the day, so they spend the nights on the water. They briefly discuss a sail, but don’t pursue it. They have the following encounters:

-A sea of mildly acidic kelp. They have to take turns all night scraping the skiff’s hull to avoid major damage.

-An abandoned air-skiff, floating on the ocean. The middle (power section) was crushed by something about 5’ across. There are old bloodstains and no supplies left on it. Party assumes kraken.

-A young black dragon (CR 7) crawls onboard during the night, and is instantly greeted by the draconic-speaking Arcane Trickster before the dragon even gets a chance to roar or make a threat. The dragon demands tribute. For varying reasons, from “he’s an outclassed teenage dragon being stupid” to “he has acid breath and we don’t want our ship damaged” the party ends up conversing with him for a little while and then handing over 1,000 gold. The dragon graciously responds with permission for them to continue sailing his waters.

-A storm. The party succeeds on the Sleight of Hand skill check (best equivalent for Use Rope) and none of their supplies are knocked overboard.

-A group of sahuagin attack. The Arcane Trickster loses over half his HP; the monk gets Held and tossed overboard (but points out that people don’t sink unless pulled down); the paladin walks around the deck one-shotting 22hp sahuagin with 3d8+2d6+5 damage.

-A group of mermen led by an aged sage, who had a vision concerning the party and the looming threat to the west. He gives them the Kraken Flail, a +2 flail that deals 1d4 cold & 1d4 psychic damage; if 4s are rolled on both dice (~12.5% probability), DC 16 Con save or the target is paralyzed for one round. Not sure who’s going to take this.

The party comes in sight of land, and that’s where we leave off.

Session 3: 1/9/2021

Cleric and arcane trickster are absent. I hand the party the blank 18x16 hexmap and go through how exploration works (Survival+Investigation+Perception+time to reach a DC to find things). A random roll puts them in hex 18.10, pretty much in the center of the eastern side of the map over the ocean.

They spend 4 hours checking the ocean hex, don’t find anything, and decide to move on (they miss an underwater structure). They arrive at a beach-to-jungle area occupied by tortles, and spot regular rows of trees. Investigating, they meet a trio (master/apprentice/understudy) of tortle sorcerers who brew potions. The monk makes peaceful contact and acts as the translator, and they get some information about the immediate surrounding area and tortle society (very loose). The party buys some potions, spends the night, then head west without continuing to investigate they area (so they don’t find the tortle village nearby).

They pass over the hex to the west and search the next one (15.10), finding a yuan-ti village (an odd tree formation). It’s dusk, so the air-skiff lands. They approach on foot, see some movement indicating they’re being flanked, and then encounter the village’s leader, a yuan-ti abomination named Ila. They exchange some information, make big promises, and get info about the exact location of the 5 Aaracokra cities, plus an idea of the enemy force sizes...and the location of the Cursed Forest to the north. On their way out, they meet a scarred yuan-ti who asks if they are worthy...they confidently says yes, and she tells them to seek the greater one to the southwest. The party takes that as their best lead/clue and starts heading southwest...earlier than I had anticipated.

They move southwest into 14.10 and search it, and finally have a random encounter (after 20 or so d6s, they finally get a 1). Three air elementals attack the ship, splitting attacks between passengers and the air-skiff. It gets down to about 15hp before they kill the elementals, which definitely makes them nervous. They do some repairs (Mending, and Fabricate the next morning).

The next day, they search and find a find an abandoned mine that had signs of troll occupation. They lift into the air in late afternoon, but before they can search and find the secondary Rodan Village (an ‘off-site backup’ of sorts for the Cult of Rodan that watches over the sleeping kaiju on a volcano about 30 miles away), they see another air-skiff. Since theirs only has about two weeks of power left, they immediately decide to be air-pirates, even though there are 11 Aaracokra with the other air-skiff. I’d rolled another airborne random encounter, and it happened to be the 2nd toughest patrol group, composed of a 13th level sun priest, a 9th-level wizard, 3 champions (roughly equal to fighter 8s), 4 SubCommanders, and 2 regular Guards.

The engagement begins at a distance of 360’ with arrow fire as the air-skiffs close on each other. The artificer hastes the barbarian, the paladin hastes himself, and then on the next round they Dimension Door approximately 240’ onto the enemy air-skiff and blenderize the two guards who were standing on it. This kicks off a battle that takes 2-3 hours, but which everyone says I ran well and could not have been sped up. Dozens of javelins were thrown, and many things happened. Here are the highlights that I recall:

I forget at least 8 times to call for Concentration checks on Haste. Big oops.

The wizard uses Bigby’s Hand to shove the paladin off the air-skiff. Paladin falls 100’ to ground, takes falling damage.

Someone kills the wizard by casting Hold Person, causing him to crash to the ground for 10d6 falling damage. The priest dies much the same way, with falling damage popping his Death Ward. The barbarian then jumps out of a tree (which he’d climbed back up) to split 7d6 falling damage with the 1hp priest below him.

The barbarian takes the controls of the enemy air-skiff, making it go down to pick up the paladin. The priest hits them with Firestorm, hurting the barbarian and I think also the paladin, and more importantly, destroying the 30-hp power cabinet in the middle of the air-skiff, which then crashes to the ground with more falling damage.

The party’s air-skiff, still damaged from fighting the air elementals, gets fireballed. The monk takes no damage. The vessel catches on fire and takes 1d6 damage per round. It gets fireballed again 3-4 rounds later and destroyed. The monk takes no falling damage thanks to his boots, and the artificer just floats there like iron man.

The barbarian soaked something like 250 points of damage.

Aaracokra tactics (plunging fire, using lances for flyby attacks, etc.) were generally effective – they were just outgunned by the party. It was by no means a cakewalk.

At the end of the session, the party is all still alive, although the monk is nearly undamaged. They have no air-skiff at all now. They did pick up a +2 Unicorn spear (attunement, resist poison, advantage on saves vs poison, charm, fear). We’ll see if they get a good long rest in tonight or if they roll a devastation centipede or something while on the ground.

Three of the Aaracokra escaped, and may bring word back to their bosses. Or maybe not... I’ll look at the map later and figure out if their chances of getting home while split up and wounded are very good.

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Session 4: 1/23/21

Arcane trickster & barbarian are out.

The party decides to finish searching the hex they are in (14.10), and finds a small, sheltered village occupied by the cult of Rodan. This peaceful village in a valley does not seem to worry about attack, and is host to goliaths, yuan-ti, tortles, an old Aaracokra who abandoned Huitzopochitl long ago, and a reclusive drow.

Rodan is a kaiju who sleeps atop a volcano a few hexes away (12.09), with the main body of the Rodanites living at the base of the volcano and burning incense and keeping him asleep and happy. There is an obelisk in town with some information, but nobody present in the party could read it, and they didn’t ask for a translation.

They spend some time there and get a few more details filled in about what’s nearby, and a warning to not bring their war to the village. The drow worships Vhaeraun, and ends up trading the party the Eyepatch of Teeth (no attunement, wearer can cast Eyebite once per day) for the snake scepter (+1 light hammer, +2d4 poison on hit, adds Poison Spray to cantrip list). This gives the party two items from the Panoply of the Shark; when someone wears both items, they gain blindsight 15’/60’ underwater due to a keen sense of smell. The drow mentions a few Eilistraee worshippers at the volcano town that he doesn’t get along with.

The party’s artificer, Malamir, works with the tortle carpenter/artificer in town to make a spider-like cart with legs that can walk, follow the party around, and climb trees. Boston Dynamics, eat your heart out.

Teador, the Paladin, has decided he’d rather have his +2 Anyweapon re-attuned, and starts bugging the artificer for a +1 shield repeatedly in character.

The kaiju warlock patron is available for any replacement characters as an option, as is the Goliath race and the option to be a lone drow.

The group heads southeast on foot, intending to set up some sort of a home base or area where they could stash items. In the next hex, they run into 7 satyrs (could be a PC race, but not from this group), who turn out to be hungry cannibal druids.

The druids open with some Call Lightnings and an Erupting Earth (which does pitiful damage), and most of them start wildshaping into Allosaurs (indicating that Allosaurs are present somewhere reasonably close in the campaign world). Heat Metal proves effective (two of them use it), but the bulk of the damage comes from repeated lightning strikes that hurt the paladin pretty badly as they build up. It had (randomly) been raining in the hex, so 4d10 per strike still does about 10 points of damage even on a failed save. Ultimately, the party prevails, with several critical hits providing some sudden splattering. The cleric (Reybella)’s Spiritual Weapon pretty much always hits and does some pretty consistent damage, as does Inflict Wounds.

With three down, the other four attempt to run; the Paladin gets back-to-back Sentinel attacks that prevent two of them from running away… the only two that make it out were two who had not turned into Allosaurs early on. 60’ move + dash is a pretty good Escape button.

This took some time to play out because of the number of dice rolls; tracking HP and status changes back and forth from druid to dino and back went OK, except that my labels on the map need to be bigger. The druids were (by my calculations) CR 5. They may have been better served using some crowd control, but…cannibal druids are going to cast one spell and then try to eat people, not hang back and fling spells while hiding in trees.

The next day, the party finds a small abandoned wooden fort (50’x50’) that looks like it was attacked and wrecked at least a few seasons ago. They decide to fix it up some, without repairing the buildings, and use Stone Shape and Fabricate to create a hidden basement tunnel that they can store supplies and stuff in as a home base.

Session 5: 2/13/21

We’re back! The Arcane Trickster’s player has decided to drop out. Everyone is fine having a replacement, and I am fine running with 6 players, so we’ll probably have a new person next time. Everyone was in favor of implementing the Tasha’s optional class features, which mostly benefited the barbarian and cleric.

The group left their hidey-hole behind, along with the big and bulky door the artificer is working on (trying to create a small room/storage area similar to a Genie warlock’s chamber). They head southwest into an area of low-lying mountains, and while passing a pond are attacked (random encounter) by an Ahuitzolotl accompanied by two water elementals. The Ahuitzolotl is from Aztec/Mesoamerican mythology, and is an ugly, spiky-furred creature about the size of an Irish Wolfhound or Saint Bernard, but with hands instead of paws, a hand on the end of its tail, and the ability to drown people nearby (functionally it’s the poisoned condition, but not poison). I set it at CR 7, AC 17, 108HP, DC 14 on the drowning AOE.

It was underwater, so they didn’t have a way to see it coming. I rolled randomly and it ended up popping up next to the Paladin, who of course passed his save against drowning. The water elementals then popped up, and the whole combat took about two rounds. The party did a lot of damage pretty quickly, and the Ahuitzolotl did poorly on its attack rolls.

The random encounter dice have been super in the party’s favor, with never more than one per day. They spend several days searching this and another hex to the northwest, finding some vine ropes left behind somewhere, and a rocky area eroded away by acid, with a +1 adamantine acid dagger at the top. The backstory is that some acid-emitting oozes were here, and someone at one point used the dagger to help escape, the dagger having survived the acid... but the party didn’t put all that together.

I clarify some directions, as their search pattern for “The great one” was going to take them right towards an Aaracokra city. They move southwest again, making this the 3rd hex bordering the dragon’s actual hex that they’ve entered!

They search for a couple of days and eventually find a hidden yuan-ti camp. Approaching the camp peacefully, they meet with the leader, who refuses to shed light on the “great one” thing – but the Paladin catches him lying. The artificer gets into a discussion about magical theory with the local wizards, who sell wizard stuff – but nothing the party wants. The monk goes and commissions some local-style clothing from some clothing-makers in town. This bit was made up on the spot of course – but the clothing makers are three yuan-ti women sitting under an awning in front of a house. He describes what he wants, and in the conversation, they mention that the trousers are similar to what “our husband wears.” He asks a couple of questions and they respond that of course they’d never let a man go risking himself adventuring, etc., and that he does some of the sewing and tailoring. That’s about when the penny drops and the “one in 10 yuan-ti is born male” fact from a couple of sessions ago really comes together with the realization that their society is basically matriarchal and the men are rare, protected (and also limited as a result), and have multiple wives.

The party digs around a bit more with questions on “the great one” and get an answer from the leader that I specifically phrased as “cannot say.” I’m not sure they fully picked up on that implication.

They finally head into the hex where Bahadural, the dragon, lives...

I have some passive rolls pre-done, and Dmitri the barbarian, with his brand new Nature proficiency, noticed that the birds are acting strange, just watching them. The party discusses whether they could be familiars, or controlled by druids, and note that it’s just the birds. They actually talk towards some of the birds, saying they want to talk and meet. A half an hour later, in a more open area of the jungle (for DM ease of use and dragon flight), a booming invisible voice asks what an elf and dwarves are doing in this part of the world. There’s some back and forth in which the party talks about seeking to stop the Aaracokra. Bahadural, the dragon (under Greater Invisibility) asks a few questions, declines to answer theirs, and eventually decides that their goal of killing the Aaracokra leadership and priests is close enough to the deal he has regarding the sword he’s hanging on to. “Fine. Let the test begin.” 90’ cone poison breath, 22d6 damage, Con DC half.

The monk had already moved to the side and into the trees during the conversation, so he was out of the way (and immune to poison). Everyone saves except the artificer; the two dwarves take half damage after saving; the artificer’s Unicorn Spear grants resistance to poison and immunity to fear & charm, but he forgot about all this for round one, so he still takes 33 damage.

The party all goes before Bahadural (but he’s acted so he gets legendary actions). The monk lands one arrow blindly for 8 damage, and everything else pretty much misses; one Legendary Resistance is burned against a Faerie Fire from the artificer. Everyone passes their save against dragon fear except the artificer, who forgot his immunity. I’m certainly not tracking every item, resistance, and immunity that 5 different 13th level PCs loaded with gear have....

The player for the barbarian had a hard stop at 10pm (3 hour session), so we are currently paused after 4 rounds of battle. The dragon is above 50%hp still, the party has burned a substantial number of spell slots, and I think the party is also above 50%hp. Highlights and notes:

· The monk got bitten in round 2 or 3. My big dragons have “bite and throw” and he failed the opposed athletics check to avoid being caught and thrown to the side (random direction, 1d6x10 feet, 60’). Lucky him, he is immune to fall damage.

· The paladin figured out that Dispel can target a magical effect, and some quick googling returned results from Enworld & Stackexchange agreeing that you can dispel an invisibility spell within range, even if you don’t know where it is. 4th level spell slot, and Bahadural is visible...I think in round 2.

· Bless has been cast on everyone twice; lost the first time by a failed Concentration check from a claw or tail attack on the cleric. She also did a mass cure wounds for 33hp healing on 3 characters, and a 4th-level guiding bolt for 30-something damage.

· The barbarian drank a potion of Enlarge Person that’s been sitting in his inventory for a LONG time (possibly since level 5) and pulled out his halberd, allowing him to engage the dragon, who’s been keeping about 20’ off the ground. Getting bigger put him in range for a tail slap, but he was fine with that.

· The artificer tanked an entire full attack (3 attacks at +16) from the dragon using Mirror Image and his high AC. The dragon rolled pretty poorly.

· The monk has been consistently plinking away for 10 to 30 damage per round with his arrows.

· Once he became visible, the dragon cast Crown of Stars and has been firing one per round for some decent radiant damage. He also cast Hold Monster (3 targets), and everyone saved, and he used his breath weapon again. Everyone saved, had resistance, or both. 22d6, take 16 points of damage is pretty good. The dragon’s been moving around and attacking various targets.

· The paladin Hasted himself, then on the next round, Misty Stepped onto the dragon’s back, unleashing 3 smite attacks totaling over 100 points of damage. Pretty good! He took a tail slap in retaliation, and then after the barbarian moved up to poke with his halberd, Bahadural used his wing buffet attack; a failed save and the paladin takes damage and is knocked prone, and I have him roll another Dex save to stay on the back of a moving dragon that’s just knocked him off his feet... he rolls a 3 and falls to the ground. His concentration on Haste fails, and he’s down his next round’s actions.

Overall, the party has in four-ish rounds done less than 300 hit points in damage. This is not the kind of performance that impresses an ancient dragon and makes it think you are worthy of being handed an artifact that’s being held for the right person/group. They have enough defenses to possibly outlast it, but it’ll be a HP slog. Someone made a comment (maybe out of character) about needing a plan, and he taunted them about wanting to fight the Aaracokra and not even having a plan for dealing with flying enemies.

He still has two spells left. Originally this was Heal and Fire Storm, but too many Aaracokra use Fire Storm, so I need to swap it out for something else, of 6th level or above. I’m currently contemplating Wall of Thorns, which offers some nice battlefield control + damage.

I’m also thinking about him simply deciding that the party is not able to handle killing high priests and divine avatars yet, since they can’t even pose a lethal threat to him in a reasonable timespan, and telling them to go away and come back later. If I do that, I have to walk the line between being contemptuous but not so insulting that they decide that they want to hunt him down (his lair is nearby but requires going underwater to reach, so not easy to find). I want the party to have this sword, but right now, they are simply not meeting the qualifications of “competent enough to be trusted to actually do the job with it and not die.”

I think they’re still a bit too confident... trying for a PC kill is possible, but aside from the paladin, everyone’s still fairly high hp, and his average damage per round (excluding legendaries) is only about 60hp (30 to the barbarian). I’d have to land some crowd control first. I do like the idea of him landing in front of someone, eating a full set of attacks, and then just responding with a legendary action Heal on himself. If I do it, it’ll need to be next round, as the paladin is temporarily disabled due to losing Haste.

Stopping when we did ended up being good, because it gives me some time to think about this and how I want to handle it.


Between-session update:

We have a new player coming in to replace the Arcane Trickster. It looks like he's making a Goliath Ranger. Still no primary caster except the life cleric!

I constructed a better metric for "Is the party worthy of this item?"

They must be:

Openly be willing to declare that they are against Huitzopochitl. success

Have at least one previous noteworthy achievement. success

Able to survive a battle with him. undetermined

Able to injure him consistently and persistently – if they can’t keep up with a single dragon, how can they handle multiple flying priests and champions? currently a failure, <100hp/round average is not enough for high-end combat

Be able to reach a difficult target through stealth or mobility (teleportation, stealth, or high speed) for melee attacks. Too inconsistent currently. The only PC who has managed to attack pretty much every round is the monk using his longbow.

If they are not worthy, he may kill or eat one or more until they flee, if they do not do so when told that they have failed the test.

I have swapped out Fire Storm for Wall of Thorns on Bahadural's entry. I let Legendary creatures cast a levelled spell at a cost of two Legendary actions. The dragon is currently a little ways away from most of the party.

My current plan is to have him cast Wall of Thorns between himself and the party, and then say something like this:

"A band of five adventurers from a far off-land, claiming to have slain a powerful being and now to be opposed to Huitzopochitl. It had the ring of fate about it. Maybe the bargain would finally be done, and I could expect my reward soon.

But no, you are not worthy. You are too likely to fail. Leave, or I will start eating you, and will add the items you bear to my hoard."


Session 6: 2/27/2021

We jumped right into the remainder of the dragon battle. After the artificer went, I had Bahadural give his little speech and then cast Wall of Thorns. Hit two characters, both saved, 23 damage. The party did some moderate damage that round, but not a lot (ok, maybe 70 out of ~200hp left); the barbarian had to get closer and the paladin lost his turn due to losing Haste. At the end of the round (his initiative), I had the dragon land so that he could use his Stone of Earth Elemental Control to summon an earth elemental. This hurt more than it helped, as he took more attacks from everyone. The life cleric mass-cured everyone for 19hp each, and the Paladin Hasted himself and headed over to get towards the fight.

The (zealot) barbarian got right up in the dragon’s face and attacked him, doing damage. Tail slap for damage. Bite for damage. Claw for damage... down to 3hp. Crown of Stars zap to 0hp, DC 10 CON save and the barbarian is still at 1hp. Claw for damage to 0hp, CON save, barbarian is still at 1hp.

At this point, Bahadural was down to less than 150hp; his next legendary action was to use the wing attack/move half speed effect. Two of the three PCs next to him saved, and he took about 65 points of damage from OAs provoked by the movement. At this point, he was really low, and I was going to have him completely fly away... but the paladin, hasted, used his move action and hasted action to move and dash up the tree next to him, then try to jump on the dragon’s back. He’s jumping upwards while climbing to land on a dragon – Athletics DC 20 – fail. “Ok, when I see that my jump isn’t working, I misty step.” Bonus action used.

What’s left? The regular full attack action...on a paladin. Smite. Dragon has 20hp left. “STOP!”

The party earned the sword after all.


Artifact, requires attunement

This +3 mithril short sword’s surface has a snake-scale pattern on the surface, and is tinged green. The crossguard is made from a pair of giant fangs, and the pommel is an emerald set in gold.

True Poison. When you strike a target, it takes 2d12 poison damage or acid damage, whichever it is less resistant or more vulnerable to.

Divinity Sense. While you hold the weapon, you are aware of the location and position of all deities and divine spellcasters within 120’. At a range of 30’ or less, your awareness becomes perfect, granting you Blindsense against such creatures and thus the ability to attack without being hindered by Blindness or Illusion-based defenses.

Godslayer. When making an attack with this weapon against a divine creature or spellcaster whose spells come from a deity, your critical hit range is increased by 2.

Mind Shield. The wielder benefits from the effects of a Mind Blank spell, becoming immune to psychic damage, charm & domination effects, divination spells, and anything that would sense its emotions or thoughts, even when cast with the power of a Wish spell.

Sentience. Ssword is a sentient lawful evil weapon with an Intelligence of 10, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 14. It has hearing and Darkvision out to a distance of 60’.

The weapon can speak, read, and understand all languages spoken within the region, and can telepathically communicate with its wielder in a sibilant, snake-like voice. Once per day, it can cast See Invisibility on itself and its wielder.

This weapon is the legacy of a last attempt to stop the Aaracokra, and he’s been guarding it. There’s more plot stuff associated with it, which hasn’t come up yet.

So guess who gets the short sword? The barbarian! He thinks the 2d12 will balance out the loss of Great Weapon Master and will let him hit more consistently. There are two other candidates in line in case he ends up not using it. Interestingly, the bonus attack from GWM (on a crit or kill) applies even if not wielding a big weapon.

Dmitri introduces himself to the sword as Kingslayer; in the discussion of killing gods and priests, the sword asks if he’ll do it intelligently. “More with noise and extreme violence and enthusiasm” is the answer.

We now introduce (via convenient timing and Sending) the new party member, a Goliath Hunter Ranger. Magic items of note are the +1 quiver just like the others got, a +2 Bow of the Woodlands (the staff but converted – and oops, free Pass Without Trace always), and the two Shark Panoply items so far. He also gets handed the Bracers of Archery by the artificer, and inherits the Mirrored Helm from the barbarian, who no longer needs it. At level 13 with Dex 20, Archery Fighting Style, and gear, he’s got +15 to hit and +10 to damage. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes Sharpshooter later.

The group heads back to their little buried bunker, enlarges it a bit, and decides what to do. After considering and dismissing the idea of going back to the “are you worthy?” wizard and rubbing in her face that they were, in fact, worthy, and look at the shiny sword...they decide to instead head north to check out the slightly more isolated Aaracokra city near the Cursed Forest. This is, in fact, the least-populated one, although they don’t realize it.

They don’t explore in transit, just moving.

Random encounter: Tendriculous; they see it first and avoid

Random encounter: Small rust monster nest; “I’m bored, let’s kill them.” They have no non-magical gear at this point. It’s an extremely one-sided stomp.

They continue traveling north, randomly not encountering the Tortle Ranger Vampire whose territory they pass through the edge of.

Random encounter: Bee tree (large) – oddly enough, not 10 minutes after a discussion of using beeswax to make carbon fiber.

Random encounter: Two swarms of bugs carrying a disease; the bugs fail to hit. They are immune to weapon damage, but 2d12 acid/poison damage is surprisingly effective, as is the paladin’s radiant damage + thunder axe. The artificer was also a bug-zapper for this.

Random encounter near their destination: Aaracokra patrol flying above the forest. There’s debate about what to do, and I end up setting a 2 minute timer for them to decide (the patrol is moving). Ultimately, they’re too close to the Aaracokra city and don’t want escapees to give away their position or existence. It was a hard choice.

I have not, at this point, fully statted out the city of Ueysetlotl, which is the home of the temple of Tezcatlipoca, which is where they are going. They don’t even know his name (didn’t ask/didn’t stop to ask Yuan-ti). Tezcatlipoca is the god of night, cold, and death/undeath. Hold the night bit in your head, it’ll be relevant soon.

They approach the map hex, which is mostly farms surrounding the village, garrison, and temple. After some discussion, the monk uses his Silver Raven figurine to do some aerial scouting to get the lay of the land and general locations (garrison 100-400, spots for 8-10 air-skiffs, temple away from city, etc.).

There’s a discussion here (not very serious) about plucking some Aaracokra, making disguises, and then “I’ll introduce myself as Aaroncokra.”

The artificer has Arcane Eye (max range 18,000ft/1 hr) and wants to get close.

For some reason, they feel like they have to capture a structure to do recon from, and decide to capture a farmhouse reasonably close to town. The party’s stealth (with Pass Without Trace) ranges from 18 to 40 so they of course manage to sneak close in the dark; most of the patrols, and the air-skiffs, are daytime events anyway.

They burst into the house; I have them roll initiative, and one of the commoners inside wins; the commoner goes, flips something around on the wall so that the mirror facing the wall now faces the room, and then surrenders. I rolled randomly and there were 2 adults and 2 kids in the house, all Aaracokra.

Inspired by some stuff I read including a short story, Tezcatlipoca is served by mirror-walking Shadow Cats (kind of similar to Shadow Fiends, but more dangerous) and has a general “mirror use” theme going on.

We have the only and biggest alignment discussion I’ve ever seen, lasting 10-15 minutes and relating to whether or not they will kill the captives. There were a couple of dares back and forth in character like “go ahead, stab me!”

Ultimately, they decide to not kill the captives. The LG paladin and life cleric probably would have stopped it anyway.

They discuss doing commerce-raiding, food-supply/supply chain disruptions, and being land pirates – no, privateers, as a king sent them on this mission.

The artificer sends in his Arcane Eye. I pretty much say “I haven’t gotten all of the details worked out, so just ask questions.” Garrison is verified at 200. He sends the eye into the temple and sees decorations of stars, big cats, lots of mirrors, and some undead. Then one of the shadow cats walks out of a mirror next to the invisible sensor and eats it.

It’s late, and I push for what the party is going to do. I have rolled while they weren’t paying attention, and after they got spotted in the mirror, they were scried. If they stayed put, 3 shadow cats would be moving towards them.

The current plan is they are going to try to raid the temple or town, and the monk (fast) is going to get hasted and then break off to start some fires in the fields elsewhere as a diversion. Since their presence is already somewhat known and shadow cats are en route, he’s probably going to have to fight one by himself between sessions. It’s CR 10 but best indoors and with allies, so he’ll likely win but get hurt badly.

They have decide to attack the temple of a god of night, cold, and death at night, in the darkness. It’s going to be pitch black inside and enemies are going to have advantage on a lot of things as a result. This is the one temple (of 5) in which a daytime attack is flat out always the best choice.

They’ll probably get in and out alive, but I’ll be surprised if they manage to kill the high priest and desecrate the altar. If they do, it’ll be a big accomplishment.

They’ll level up at the end of the overall encounter either way.

It was a fun and eventful session.

Session 6a: 3/6/21

At the end of last session, the monk decided to go start some fires as a diversion. He informed me earlier this week that he had a church commitment at the time of our next session, so I did a quick one-on-one with him to resolve what happens and why he’s not with the party when they hit the temple.

The party is approaching the temple from the southeast. They’re about 2 miles away (based on the distance required for Arcane Eye). At a normal travel time (25’ dwarf speed) they will get to the temple in about 45 minutes. After the mirror incident, 3 Shadow Cats were dispatched from the temple towards them, and are en route. Shadow Cats are CR 10 creatures, basically jaguars made of darkness, on-theme for Tezcatlipoca. They’re fast (50’), have 20 Dex, AC 19, a few minor immunities, and have 4d6 sneak attack, pack tactics, and a 30’ range version of the monk Shadow Step feature, plus the ability to travel via mirrors up to 500’ at a time. We started with 10 in the temple. They are substantial threats that can deal good damage, and can maneuver all over the temple basically at will due to the mirrors hanging there.

It is night time, probably around 9pm-11pm.

Knowing the monk player’s general plans, I pre-calculated everyone’s travel speeds to make things easier to track. Here’s what happened:

He started with 10 rounds of Haste from someone (Artificer?), and used that to dash ½ mile in 1 minute (Usain Bolt eat your heart out). He then spent the next 5 minutes running west to cover the next mile, putting him approximately due south of town. 6 minutes elapsed.

We had a short discussion of corn growing height, and I rolled to determine wind speed and direction. Ratel the monk then peeled off some dead corn leaves, made a pile, shortened a candle and put it next to the pile so it’d burn for only about 10 minutes before the fire reached the pile... then used one of his pints of oil to soak a 50’ rope and the pile, and strung the rope along the top of the corn for 50’. Candle was lit at 21 minutes elapsed time, triggering the fire at 31 minutes.

The Aaracokra garrison has a few soldiers fly around at night on patrol over the village, and they have some torches along the walls to make it easy to spot the movement of anyone or anything sneaking in, despite lacking Darkvision. Flying 50-150’ up, at night, how long does it take to spot a 50’ line of fire to the south, possibly with some trees in the way? Not long. Roll 1d4, 3. Fire spotted at 34 minutes. At a fly speed of 1000’/minute, it takes about 8 minutes to reach 1.5 miles south of town... so the very first soldier arrives at the first fire at minute 42... after a 50’ long strip of corn has been burning and spreading fire for 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, the monk runs west one mile, and starts setting up another one, which he ignites immediately at 39 minutes. This one is spotted 1 minute later, but with the greater distance, no Aaracokra can reach it until 50 minutes elapsed.

The Aaracokra don’t have Darkvision, and don’t carry signaling gear (lamps, etc.?) for long-distance signaling at night. Dancing Lights or Light works, but the first responders are generally the guys lower in the power structure who aren’t likely to be casters. They have two fires that are turning into major grass/corn fires, and a round-trip messenger time of 10 minutes and 16 minutes respectively. It’s going to take a lot of time and manpower to get blankets or buckets down there to try to contain the fires. Scrying has a casting time of 10 minutes, so it’s not great for emergency dispatching.

By 55 minutes in, the garrison is all wide awake, and the temple has been notified. They’re starting to move out to contain the fire, and everyone’s on alert. The temple sends 3 more shadow cats out to hunt, heading towards the western end of the western fire (at this point, regional scrying or mirror communication lets them figure out roughly where things are happening faster).

The cats arrive at the western fire area at 63 minutes in (travel speed is 100’ dash + 30’ shadow step per round). I roll perception checks and one of them spots the monk’s tracks. He wasn’t trying to be sneaky, and dashing through cornfields leaves tracks and sign. The shadow cats are somewhat lone operators, so only one pursues him. The others look around for other clues and are out of the picture for now.

Ratel, meanwhile, has moved west 5 miles, watches for aerial enemies, and then ignites a 3rd fire at 77 minutes. He’s now used up all 3 pints of oil.

He heads northwest into the edge of the adjacent hex, which is light jungle, and climbs a tree there. The shadow cat isn’t dashing, and arrives at about minute 95 (I gave it some pauses for tracking). The monk moves tree-to-tree as soon as he spots motion to try to get away (Acrobatics DC 15, 4 successes). It finds his tracks at the base of the first tree and searches...and with a 29 on its Perception score, it does beat his 19 on Hide, but with layers of tree limbs and stuff in the way, it takes time. He barely beats its stealth roll, and hears it coming up the tree he’s in. Instead of shooting at it with his longbow, he jumps 30’ down to land on a branch right next to it, dealing 3d6 damage, dex save half, in a 10’ radius thanks to his Skyfall boots. This doesn’t hurt the cat much, but does break the tree branch. He then falls the remaining 10’ to the ground, taking no damage from either fall due to the boots.

Cue initiative.

The cat shadow steps next to Ratel, biting for 24 damage (getting sneak attack due to advantage), but missing with a claw swipe. He can now see that it’s an unnaturally dark jaguar, seeming to drink in the light around it; there are only a few motes of light on its coat, like from distant, dying stars. Also, it’s trying to eat him. He counters with two swings of his flail and two kicks, connecting with one of each for a total of 26 damage.

The shadow cat then blinks out of sight, reappearing 30’ away and immediately charging him from behind. It hits with its claw attack (advantage/sneak attack), dealing 24 damage, and knocking him prone when he fails a save. It almost bites his leg, but misses. He stands up and counterstrikes, landing one flail strike and one punch for a total of 26 damage. The flail’s paralysis ability triggers, but the shadow cat saves.

On round 3, the shadow cat does the blink/charge thing again, hitting with both claw and bite for 27 damage; Ratel is able to keep on his feet this time, and then counters with two solid flail blows and one unarmed strikes, dealing a total of 46 damage. The shadow cat is now at 26/130hp, and Ratel is barely bloodied. The cat shadow steps away, and then dashes 100’.

With the hunt time involved, we are now at about 2 hours since the party split. It will take 24 more minutes for the badly injured shadow cat to arrive back at the temple... which the party will reach 45-1 hour of elapsed time in – so the cat is now totally irrelevant unless the party delays.

Ratel uses tree-to-tree movement to travel south for a while, trying to leave no tracks, and takes a short rest.

Here’s how this impacts the next session:

10 shadow cats at temple to start with; 3 dispatched toward party's captured house

-3 dispatched towards fire; 1 tracked Ratel

-2 more dispatched to western fire (I actually think I forgot to roll tracking for them, but they are not at the temple either way).

= net 2 Shadow Cats at temple, plus 3 more that may run into party.

Garrison and civilians are completely distracted with three fires to fight out of town.

Subtract 2 guards from prison/jailhouse.

Temple is on alert and will respond quickly. Priests who would previously have been in their rooms on "asleep" status are instead missing from temple, dispatched to fire and issues. The village is there to support the garrison and temple, so the priests aren’t just going to ignore a fire. This removes 4 acolytes and a senior priest from the battlefield.

I’m also going to rejigger enemy placements in the temple to reflect the alert status. They’ll collapse in on the party more quickly, making for a sharper fight.

Session 7: 3/27/21

Not attending: The ranger and the barbarian.

The previous session was cancelled due to a lot of people being busy – I didn’t want to run a 3-person party for this.

The monk’s player was here, and I gave him the option to go ahead and level up to 14 now and pretend that his one-on-one session didn’t happen; he and the group decided to use Sending (the cleric apparently did have it prepared) to coordinate meeting up. The party (paladin, cleric, artificer) fort up in the farmhouse to pass time. 15 minutes later, 2 Shadow Cats arrive. I had originally planned for 3, but cut to 2 due to party size. These were dispatched by the temple to check out the weird mirror activity (last session) and traveled in a straight line; had the party left, they may have not encountered them, depending on their course.

The artificer is on the roof and has 60’ darkvision. The other two are inside. The artificer barely makes the perception check to see the one of the Shadow Cats. Initiative is rolled, and he has a Shadow Cat next to him pretty suddenly – 50’ move + 30’ Shadow Step. The Shadow Cat has advantage on its next attack after Shadow Stepping, rolls well, and hits with both attacks including 4d6 sneak damage on one and 2d6 necrotic or cold (bite/claw). The Paladin Misty Steps up to the roof, misses with one attack and hits with the other, and then the other Shadow Cat “bamfs” next to him and does something similar. The cleric, down below, does not have any vertical mobility options. She casts Toll the Dead, but her target saves. There’s another round or so of attacks, and the artificer gets knocked down to 20 or 30hp (from max/total of 99). The farmhouse is 30’x30’, and there’s not room for the Shadow Cats to teleport, do a 20’ charge, and get the knockdown opportunity, but that’s okay.

The artificer uses the Stopwatch to activate Time Stop for 3 rounds, and uses the time to fly down into the farmhouse next to the cleric and cast Cure Wounds on himself 3 times. The Shadow Cat hunting him Shadow Steps next to him and attacks both the artificer and cleric. The other cat takes more hits from the Paladin including a smite or two, and ends up Shadow Stepping and dashing away with 15 hp left. The Paladin drops down into the building through the roof door (taking minor fall damage) to attack the remaining Shadow Cat. The artificer decides to fly up to try to spot and shoot the runner, eating a Natural 20 OA for 30-something damage and then not having the movement to get the black shadowy cat on a moonless night into Darkvision range.

The other shadow cat tries to escape the next round, but pursuit and Magic Missile does take off its remaining hit points.

Between Misty Step, smites, and healing, the party spent more than 10 spell slots on this encounter. I subtly reminded them that this was a scouting party.

The party leaves, with the cleric using Pass Without Trace (she has this as a result of stuff in Castle Dracula). They circle around to the north to meet up with the monk, noticing some fires off to the south of town in the process.

After some discussion, they decide that they do not have the levels and gear to take on the temple at this time. They short rest, and travel east into the Cursed Forest area, congratulating themselves on at least inconveniencing the Aaracokra. The Cursed Forest has lots of thick briars and brambles and is 100% difficult terrain. The party has already been adventuring for 4+ hours, and crossing the 12-mile difficult terrain hex will take 8 hours. They long rest.

This hex is a bit unusual, in that instead of “stuff to find” it is “after 2d6 hours, a group of Yuan-ti zombie assassins will attack the group, acting in coordination under Tezcatlipoca’s direction.” These are CR 8 assassins who deal 1d6+4 piercing + 1d6 cold + 5d6 poison damage (Con DC 15 half) + 4d6 sneak damage, with Assassinate, 2 attacks per round, and advantage on Initiative checks.

The monk is on watch and does not roll well on his Perception checks. Everyone is sleeping with their armor off. The monk gets to go (attacking one out of 5 zombie assassins), and then all of the assassins go next. A couple can’t reach the party in melee due to terrain, but others do. The cleric eats two crits, but her dwarven advantage on save vs poison + resistance cuts the 10d6 poison damage (I don’t double the poison damage on a crit; it’s 5d6 per hit) down to a manageable size. The paladin has no such resistance and takes 90-something damage.

This is the cleric’s first time taking a critical hit; since the very first Castle Dracula session (3rd level) she’s been wearing an Adamantine Breastplate.

The artificer wakes up, stands from prone, does the Iron Man 2 thing where his armor unfolds around him, then uses his action to grab the badly damaged cleric and haul her off the ground to a 15’ altitude with him. It was pretty neat.

The paladin, meanwhile, has about AC 13 or 14. He gets knocked to 0 and killed, then revivified, then knocked to 0 and nearly killed again. The monk stands over his 0-hp body (I decide this negates the advantage on melee attacks vs prone) and draws some of the fire. The party prevails, but the paladin now has two levels of exhaustion.

They discuss taking the yuan-ti bodies back to the yuan-ti for burial. A religion check informs them that hauling around bodies animated by an abnormally powerful (divine) process could be risky in terms of tracking, so they decide not to.

Long rests can be interrupted for only 1 hour, so they move 1 ½ miles away (the Paladin summons a Griffon to ride since his speed is halved). The monk, who has had 4 hours of elven trance already, keeps watch. It’s now daytime!

Two Aaracokra patrols pass overhead but don’t see them (50’ high creepy jungle trees mean they needed about a 21 to spot the party…close, but not quite). I ran this as “4d6 per hour, on a 1, there’s an Aaracokra patrol.” There’s an active search out for them.

They move on to the east into the next hex, and very quickly (4 hours) find an old abandoned tower (40’ diameter/30’ wide/2 floors) full of phase spiders. The artificer has been looking for something capable of shifting to the ethereal plane or casting plane shift since about the 2nd session to finish his extradimensional crafting workshop – he was happy to see these. With a Gem of True Seeing, Magic Missile, Spiritual Weapon (the cleric can’t see the target so she attacked with disadvantage, but it’s still force damage), and the paladin and monk being willing to invite attacks, they clean out the 8 Phase Spiders pretty quickly.

The party finds an old tablet; the paladin speaks and reads Celestial, so they could interpret them; it’s a short rhyme that is intended as a hint about what Huitzopochitl is doing.

The God-Form devoured the lifeblood of foes,

Gathering unto himself the small powers of those,

Until he shall appear here,

Filling our enemies with fear,

Giving us his power,

Our enemies to devour.

They are contemplating turning this old tower into a secondary base-type area. I’m not quite sure what they will do next.

The party has accumulated about the right amount of XP to level. They have successfully encountered one of the 5 main Aaracokra towns/temples, done some damage, and lived to tell the tale. Everyone levels to 14.

Attacking the temple now could have been a TPK, especially with 1/3 of the party missing. They made the right choice.

There was a lot of spiderweb from Phase Spiders left over. I have been asked about its use in crafting.


Session 8: 4/11/21

The ranger and barbarian’s players couldn’t make it again.

The party decided to do a bit of fortifying on the old tower they found, using Stone Shape to close the roof hole and to (by gathering more rock) make a nice solid door for it. They explore the runes on the outer walls, and determine that they created an Unhallow effect with the Tongues benefit for any inside it. It could be reactivated, but they elect not to spend the time doing so. There’s a good bit of discussion, and the party heads due south and then slightly east. They travel for 3 days to reach their buried base in an abandoned fort. The dice are very in their favor with zero random encounters.

While the artificer, Malamir, works on his pocket-plane workshop door, the monk (Ratel) and paladin (Teador, on griffonback) decide to explore the hex. There’s nothing else of specific interest here, but they are poking around, so I roll a couple of random encounter options. They spot some wyverns flying above the jungle and pop up to shoot at them. The wyverns attack, thinking they have easy prey at first. A round and a half later, one wyvern is dead and the other two flee. A very successful Nature check roll helps them butcher it, salvaging the hide, the skull, and the stinger. The monk later gets (roll) 8 doses of wyvern poison (7d6, Con DC 15 half) and pre-applies them to some arrows.

The group then travels southwest a couple of days (still with no 1s on the random encounter d6s) to reach a Yuan-ti village they had previously visited (hex 12.12). The monk gets his new clothes, sells the wyvern hide, and gets the skull boiled clean while there.

There’s a good bit of discussion and debate I’m skipping here, but they eventually elect to not show off Ssword to the Yuan-ti. They do ask questions, and get a short summary of each of the 5 Aaracokra gods, their city names, and what each god is generally about (domains/alignment) and the general activity known about their city/area. This includes typical garrison sizes (200, or 2000 for the capital city). They decide that they will need some allies to fight the Aaracokra due to the size of the enemy military involved; I do have a method for tracking combat power deployed to a fight and tell them so.

They decide (using knowledge from the absent Goliath ranger Helwyn) to go visit the giants in the southwest corner of the map, exploring along the way. They go one hex south and start searching it. I finally roll a random encounter, and it’s the toughest Aaracokra patrol (1 wizard, 2 clerics, 4 champions, 2 mid-rankers).

They hear or spot the patrol passing overhead. The monk dashes up a tree to see what it is, and tries to stealthily see from the top of the jungle canopy. He rolls a 23 or 24 for stealth. The Aaracokra roll a 16 and 17 on the perception dice, and the average perception score for most of them was +8…so they see him. Roll initiative.

This fight took the rest of the session and lasted for about 7 rounds.

Ratel wins initative and burns some ki points to put two arrows into the enemy wizard (closest one/front of the air-skiff), dealing about 60% of the wizard’s HP in damage. That wizard goes Greater Invisible on his turn, and stays that way (moving around) until nearly the end of the battle. Nobody tries to track or target him.

Reybella (cleric) tries out her new spell (Firestorm) and deals 35 or 17 damage to 5 or 6 enemies, as well as blowing out the heart/power box on the air-skiff. I thought they’d try to capture it for mobility, but nope. Boom.

The enemy senior cleric opens up with Dawn, but since you have to end your turn in it for it to take effect, it’s pretty worthless.

We mis-read the Boots of Speed and think they give disadvantage on all attacks. Combined with the Artificer’s AC 24, he’s nearly un-hittable despite being the focus of a lot of attention at first. Magic Missile, Harm, Blight, and a Sacred Flame do connect over time.

The paladin and cleric are riding the paladin’s summoned griffon. It works pretty well, up until the Aaracokra start targeting it after a round or two of failing to hit the paladin’s AC 22. They do eat a couple of rounds of Spiritual Guardian damage in the process.

One of the enemy priests casts Cure Mass Wounds twice, as well as Cure Wounds once (on the wizard). Healing 5 enemies for ~22hp each is a pretty big battle-extender, especially when the party lacks AOE damage. This makes him enemy numero uno for the party.

The artificer, boosted by Haste and Boots of Speed, comes up with a combo plan with the monk (who has boots that give immunity to fall damage, and a high speed). The monk runs up a tree. The artificer picks him up, then flies up 100’+ (I don’t recall the exact number), then uses the monk as an improvised weapon to attack the enemy priest that’s done most of the healing. On a hit, the enemy takes fall damage, and the monk gets to take one attack. On a near miss, the monk can make a dexterity save to re-aim himself (this happens once, successfully). The first time it was 9d6 damage; the second time, the artificer went higher and it was 15d6 damage, plus some AOE damage from the boots. The monk then fell another 70’ to the ground, landing next to and damaging the cleric who had been grounded when the griffon was killed (oops!).

The wizard eventually drops his invisibility in round 5 or round 6 and hits the artificer (very high up, >200’ above the party) with Bigby’s Grappling Hand. Over two rounds, this drops the artificer to 1hp. The two weakest Aaracokra attack him while he’s grappled, but still fail to hit his AC 24. The remaining enemy priest says to just take one for sacrifices, and they start to fly away. The monk makes two shots at disadvantage, popping the priest’s death ward and then killing it with the follow-up. The artificer gets reduced to 0 by magic missile after being squeezed, but he’s a half-orc, so he stays at 1hp. On his turn, he manages to use his action to escape from the hand. He’s still Hasted (never failed a Concentration save), and uses his move and hasted action to dash/fly towards the ground super-fast.

One enemy wizard and two enemy warriors escaped.

The cleric went down to about 20hp at one point, but the paladin and monk didn’t take much damage from what I can recall. The monk completely negated a critical-hit javelin with Deflect Arrows, then threw it back at the enemy and did 13 damage… and he spent a lot of time under the jungle canopy and thus mostly out of sight.

One of the enemies was carrying a potion of Supreme Healing, but used it during the fight. The party did acquire a new magical spear from one of the enemy champions:

Skirmisher’s Spear

Very rare, requires attunement

The wielder of this +3 spear’s speed is increased by 10 ft. If the wielder moves more than ½ his move speed during his turn, he may make an attack against an enemy as a Bonus Action during that move.

The monk wants it to make his speed even higher. I need to look up retraining rules to let him drop his trident kensei weapon (which he hasn’t used in 4 levels) for something else.

The party chooses to head southeast into some mountains and long-rests, knowing that they have probably earned some specific enemy attention. This is their second run-in with a patrol in this area of the map with escapees, plus some of them were seen during the attacks they did around Tezcatlipoca’s temple.

I’ll have to figure out enemy reactions between sessions. There will definitely be some heavy patrolling and reinforced search parties for them. The wizard in particular can shed light on what does and doesn’t work on them. The party succeeded on saves vs blindness (once) hold person (twice) and a few other things during the fight. Lower-CR enemies are still a threat, but DC 12 or DC 14 is fairly easy for most of them to make (monk, paladin, artificer all have or grant save bonuses).

Session 9: 4/24/2021

Our ranger player has dropped out due to the traveling/distance involved.

The cleric’s player could not make it tonight, leaving us with the barbarian, artificer, paladin, and monk.

The group decides to go ahead and detail-search the hex they are in (low mountains). They spend two days on it, nearly hitting the target # at the end of day 3, so I shift the encounter to happening at night. The Paladin (highest on the random Perception roll) spots some lights in the near distance that he can identify as Dancing Lights. The party decides to investigate. As they head up-slope, a few crossbow bolts miss them, but their foes stay well-hidden. They call out in various languages, but get no response. Ultimately, they get closer to discover that they are fighting against four drow warriors (the CR 5 kind from the MM). The only real danger comes from a lucky Faerie Fire hitting the artificer, who decides to come down to the ground anyway to try to disarm the drow. Thanks to the advantage, they land several hits, but thanks to his poison resistance, the damage is ultimately minimal.

Once the paladin and barbarian make their way up the difficult terrain, the fight is essentially over; the barbarian uses his thrown greataxe a couple of times, and then finally closes to melee, where he crits for 70-something damage against an undamaged 71 hp drow warrior.

They enter the cave that the lights had been in, kill the last drow (who was shooting up a vertical chimney in the cave), and end up meeting a pair of Triton warlocks who follow Oztalun, an elder aboleth who is one of the regional powers. After some discussion, the warlocks offer to take them to meet their Master (although without discussing who or what it is).

They travel across 2 hexes, then are shown an entry in an abandoned-looking stone hut located in a distinctive tree grove atop a hill.

From there, it’s a ladder, a mile-long tunnel, stairs, and a 3 hour walk in a big cavern with some guard posts and mushroom farms to another stairway, which goes down another 400’ or so to a crafting village centered around a lake. This is just one part of Oztalun’s lair, which is a large underground complex that stretches for dozens of miles and would be a nightmare to take against a telepathically-coordinated defense team capable of using levitation at will to navigate all the vertical terrain.

The party talks to the aboleth who meets them, Ekchuah, about weapons and armor and building a coalition against the Aaracokra. Ekchuah is very interested in Ssword and offers to buy it [the aboleths are against all gods and would destroy it, as it’s a fragment of a dead god], but the party declines. The artificer starts talking about making a flying vessel, and Ekchuah demurs in favor of having them make an appointment with Acat, another aboleth, who shows up the next day.

Acat gives me an opportunity to use knowledge of all the existing spells and items in the game when discussing options with them. After a lot of discussion, the party ultimately settles on Brooms of Flying as a cheap way to get flight for everyone – one that can be set up quickly. Uncommon = 500gp, crafting cost = 250, artificer half cost = 125gp; crafting speed 50gp/week on magic items… but all the Warlocks can cast Levitate at will, and there’s plenty of help around, so I call it 5 days for 5 brooms.

The party also gets better information about who’s where on the map, including learning about the Scorpionfolk and the possible old Aaracokra stomping grounds, and the existence of the Death Knight’s Tomb near the cursed forest – although not what that dungeon is.

There’s a moderate-length discussion about AC-improving items, so one of the Tritons mentions that they’ve had some contact with someone who claims to be able to improve and toughen bodies – a Fleshcrafter.

The party decides to head for him, so after spending a full 7 days underground in the (warded) lair), they head southwest on their brooms.

They start searching the next hex southwest, because they have figured out that searching is what led them to find out about the aboleth and a lot of good information and another regional power.

I roll a random encounter, and it’s the weakest possible Aaracokra patrol. There’s not much to hide behind, and their stealth checks were middling, so they get spotted. At this point, the party is pretty distinctive, as it includes the only dwarf for a few hundred miles and a flying iron man suit. They have been encountered multiple times, including by a wizard based out of the nearest city, and are known to be dangerous to the Aaracokra.

This patrol shadows them at about a quarter-mile distance. When the party splits, the patrol splits, using their speed advantage over the Brooms of Flying to keep at a distance. The monk goes northwest while the rest of the party goes southwest. After about an hour (3 miles each way) of distance passes, the group decides to pincer them. They coordinate via Sending, and herd the southwest group of followers north. A hasted griffin dashing moves 480’ per round all out, and so can reach them in about 3 rounds. The monk drops from above on one of them, and then they run down the other two from the split group – but by this time, they’ ve already sighted another Aaracokra patrol to the west.

They decide to head for the nearest jungle hex, which happens to be the one Bahadural the dragon lairs in … but he is cautious, and will only intervene if they use Sending to ask him to or something.

The air-skiffs withdraw as the end of the day nears, but most of the Aaracokra remain until replaced by fresh troops – always staying far from the party.

The party flies under the jungle cover, takes a short rest, and then does a forced march flight for about 3 hours, before, saddle-sore, taking a long rest. This means they won’t be done resting until after sun-up.

At this point, they are prime targets for a Scry’N’Die, except that the Aaracokra spellcasters are mostly clerical… so getting there will be more complex for them. I’ll have to look at options, but I think it may involve two high-level priests and Plane Shift. The Aaracokra could just fly in, but Scrying doesn’t reveal a large enough area to be great for navigation unless there are major landmarks around. It’ll be a caster-heavy strike force, as the non-caster Aaracokra have demonstrated that they struggle to hit… and they’ll show up buffed.

I have a couple of weeks to figure out what happens. If the enemy mis-jumps and/or arrives with only half their force, it’ll be funny (I’ll roll if they use Teleport and whatever happens, happens). If they arrive in full force, maybe they’ll kill some PCs or capture some, setting up for a prison-break-in-transit or something. We’ll see.

Session 10: 5/8/2021

I pre-rolled to see if anyone would fail the Wisdom save against Scrying the next morning (someone did). I set up a strike force of 2 Champions with +1 Lances, 2 War Priests (melee) with macahuitls that do +1d8 damage (so their total hit is like 3d8+5) and who start with Spirit Guardians up, 2 Senior Priests with 15th-level clerical casting, and 2 Wizards with spells up to 5th level. They used Transport Via Plants (the nearest Aaracokra city is the nature/earth deity) and came in flying, except for the War Priests. One of the Senior Priests opened up with Earthquake, creating several major rifts (nobody fell in) and knocking people prone.

The fight was over in about 3 rounds, with the exception of one fleeing Champion who got chased down via hasted griffin. CR 5-7 opponents with +7 to +9 to hit can’t connect often enough to be a threat to most of the party.

Ssword came into play for the first time, critting two or three times in conjunction with the Zealot Barbarian damage. I think there was one hit for exactly 100hp and another for about 90. Senior Priests count for two points, so it has accumulated 5 points in dead enemy divine casters.

The monk spent his time in a tree (passing all saves to stay in the tree during the earthquake) and using some of his remaining wyvern poison arrows to do 30-50 damage per hit when he hit. The life cleric cast Firestorm and hit 5 or 6 enemies (all but one standing) for 39 damage, with about half of them failing their save. The Paladin did his thing with Smite, but also at one point cast Hold Person, incapacitating one of the highest-level priests and causing him to fall (fall damage & accessibility to melee). The Artificer with the Skirmisher’s Spear +3 (bonus action attack if you move at least half your speed) plus Gauntlets of Ogre Power is now a pretty decent melee damage-dealer. The party having Brooms of Flying sure helps them reach their targets, despite the speed.

Meanwhile, Harm, Blight, Bigby’s Hand, etc. didn’t connect reliably, and not many clerics can pass a DC 35 Concentration save.


Lance +1 x2

Macahuitl of Blood (+1d8 slashing) x2

Potion of Greater Healing x2 (the wizards even get a chance to chug these)

The party moves on and out to the next hex to the southwest, searching it and eventually encountering a cultivated area in the jungle and a yuan-ti patrol, who curtly tell them to move on and go away. They do.

I roll random encounters in the next hex for the next day and get 3 1s, so I roll a few times and combine. The party gets attacked by two Dread Blossom Swarms (adapted from 3.5) with a Tendriculous on the ground below their brooms. The paladin and barbarian’s radiant & acid damage are most of what kills the two swarms off (65hp but lots of resistances). The paladin is paralyzed but on griffinback. Several players take some nasty Constitution damage, including the barbarian (it all comes back on a short rest). The monk runs up a tree, then drops onto a branch to deal thunder/shockwave damage to one of the swarms. The branch of course breaks, and he hits the ground within the sensing radius of the Tendriculous.

Next round, it attacks 3 times, critting on one hit, for a total of 99 damage. The round after that, he gets swallowed – but only after the cleric heals him for 40-something HP. The barbarian charges in and gets grappled, but never gets swallowed. The rest of the party stays at range, pelting the 280-something HP plant creature with Acid Splash (artificer), Toll the Dead (cleric), and Chill Touch (paladin). The creature goes down with the monk still having 10-20 hit points.

This combined encounter ended up as more of a threat than the Scry & Transport Via Plants force did, in terms of HP loss and potential for causing a PC death!

Proceeding south in search of the Fleshcrafter, the party finds a group of scarecrows standing in a crudely-hacked out meadow. They investigate, spotting a couple of dead rabbits that don’t appear to have been eaten. The monk spends a couple of hours hunting, eventually catching a live chicken. He flies far overhead and drops the chicken to see what happens. It dies on impact (1hp, 600’ fall, chicken rolled poorly to fly). The paladin starts to ride his griffin down, but it gets a bad feeling (Wis save barely passed) and suggests they not.

After some debate, the party moves on. They end up encountering 3 unicorns and 2 dryads, and having a chat. The area has felt scary since a few days ago, after some sprites reported freeing some straw people, but they don’t know anything specific about it. They mention some druids to the west. The artificer asks “Got any” and the paladin’s player jumps in with “Grapes?” and everyone lost it for a bit. There was a bit more conversation, but I don’t recall anything super-important.

Long rest, end of session. The party is now using Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum to block scrying while they sleep.

Session 11: 5/29/2021

Absent: Dmitri the Paladin, Reybella the Cleric. Party is temporarily dwarfless.

The party heads south into the next hex, where they automatically find a giant (2 mile diameter) area of cornfields. The perimeter is guarded by groups of scarecrows, but there are some cleared paths to “something” at the middle. Two of the three walk down the cleared path. Teador the Paladin flies his broom over the cornfield (having told his griffon to circle around outside and stay out of sight)… scarecrows head towards him, and he joins the others on the path, at which point the scarecrows stop.

They reach a small compound encircled by a seamless 10’ high stone wall. A gate is half-open. They knock, and a Magic Mouth spell tells them to wait a bit. After a few minutes, Farlas Clerval, the fleshcrafter, comes out and waves them over to his parlor. Farlas is an eladrin elf with white hair in three braids (so the two eyes in the back of his head aren’t blocked) who wears a rust-red (dried blood color) lab coat and a large surgical knife at his belt.

He has a homunculus bring them cookies, and lemonade fortified with corn whiskey. After a short discussion, the party gets the menu of available enhancements. He’s missing parts for the ones they’re most interested in, which are adamantine bone plating (immunity to crits) and a troll heart (regenerate 2hp/rd). Major operations also require substantial downtime to recover, and the troll heart implantation requires two surgical assistants, one of whom must be able to cast Heal twice per day, and a Constitution save at the end to not die.

Ratel the monk ultimately opts for two enhancements (at a cost of 8 hours of surgery @ 500gp/hr, plus 2 days recovery time):

Extra thumbsYou grow a second thumb on each hand, located adjacent to your pinky finger. You have advantage on all checks related to avoiding being disarmed or dropping something, and a +2 bonus on any checks related to climbing. Most gloves require modification to fit.
Poison jet sacsYou get a small, greenish sac implanted on the underside of one or both wrists. Each sac can be used once per day to squirt a 5'x20' line of poison dealing 1d6 poison damage per point of Constitution modifier, with a dexterity save for half damage (DC 8+Proficiency+Con). Alternatively each sac can be used twice per day as an object interaction to coat a weapon or piece of ammunition with poison dealing the same amount of damage.

The party during this time explores the compound a bit, seeing the semi-automated (scarecrow+homunculus) corn processing and distillery. A lot of the alcohol is used for powering the giant walk-in cooler area (they didn’t see details on it), but Farlas also drinks a LOT. Nobody seemed to bothered by the surgeon drinking on the job as he didn’t seem to act drunk…

From there, they head west towards giantish territory. They search the jungle along the way and find a crystalline greatsword embedded in a stone. There are 5 bowl-like depressions on the top of the stone, and writing – but all of the writing is in Sylvan or Druid. Nobody reads either of those languages, and nobody has Comprehend Languages on their spell list. Malamir the artificer copies down the writing. They try to pull the sword out, but nothing happens. Malamir does cast Identify on it, discovering that it’s a+3 greatsword that can be used as a reaction to try to block a single-target spell with a Dexterity save; on a successful save, the sword absorbs the spell and casts it into the next target hit within 1 hour.

Without the ability to read what’s written, no progress is made, but they’ll probably come back to it later.

Heading west into the mountains, they then find some bonfire stacks of wood like old signal beacons (think LOTR). In the next hex west, they encounter a herd of about 20 horse-sized goats. Ratel wants to try to get one, but when they land, the goats charge at them with bloody sharp teeth. The party decides that fighting about 20 horse-sized goats with big sharp teeth is probably a bad idea, and flies away from the Eater Goat herd. There is discussion about getting the goats to chase them towards the Aaracokra cities, or maybe capturing and air-dropping them…

Eventually, they find an abandoned giantish city with lots of collapsed tunnels. They explore, and explore, and get attacked by a purple worm. Malamir is swallowed, but the worm is killed. The monster manual specifies that purple worms usually have gems and gold in their gullet, so I roll and they get about 750gp (don’t recall exact amount), and they take the stinger. Nearly everyone is resistant or immune to poison, so the purple worm poison doesn’t ever land as hard as it should.

They long rest and then explore much of the rest of the city, eventually spotting some light through a pile of rubble. One Stone Shape from the cleric (who’s character is present when convenient when she’s out) and they end up finding a library that’s still partially intact and lit by Continual Flame. They search it, and roll near max on wizard scroll counts, finding: 2 9th level scrolls, 3 8th level scrolls, 2 7th level scrolls, and a Pearl of Power. I rolled on the wizard list and they got:

Finger of Death

Delayed Blast Fireball

Horrid Wilting




Psychic Scream

They were not stealthy when searching through the scrolls, tablets, and metal plates… so on their way out, two purple worms attacked them. Again, the party buzzsawed through them. Purple Worms aren’t very smart. One was close to getting away, so Teador used Banishment on it (DC 18 Cha save vs d20-3) to keep it from running away while they dealt with the other worm. Boom, 2 worms dead, about 1500 more gold and 2 more stingers.

They exit the abandoned city and we ended there.

The 3 purple worms were technically 39000xp (CR 15), which is over 1/4th of what the party needs to go from 14 to 15. They are pretty close to leveling by XP total. I think the PWs are a bit over-CR’d, as all they have going for them is big numbers, and the numbers are dependent on landing poison, swallowing enemies, or being able to retreat into the stone without getting hit by 3 OAs including one from someone who has Sentinel and can shut down retreating.

They won’t get to level until they accomplish something substantially relevant to the plot. It may be a few more sessions.

I am now at the point on the calendar where we’re due for an Enemy Action. I’ll probably have the Aaracokra find and attack one of the hidden yuan-ti cities that the party has visited, so that when they go back for a visit they find ashes and ruins. The enemy gets a vote, and it needs to be something the party can see.

Between session enemy action: The Aaracokra village in 12.12 is found and attacked. (d100) 80% of the population is killed. The remaining 20% escape. This is the village that the party visited and bought clothes at.

Assuming 2-1 losses, the Aaracokra lose 10 war power (about 30-40 troops) non-recoverable casualties.

If the party goes to that hex, they’ll find the village a bunch of burnt ruins with scattered bones and broken javelins. Useful items will have generally been looted.

Session 12: 6/12/2021

Dmitri the Barbarian’s player could not make it. Teador the Paladin’s player was late due to fighting Strahd in another campaign (the fight will be finished next session and 1 PC is dead, but it sounds like they’ll win).

The giant-inhabited mountains are somewhat safer, with random encounters being triggered on a roll of 1 on a d8 every 2 hours. I rolled over 20d8 this session and got zero random encounters.

The party continues exploring to find the giants. They explore a couple of hexes and pretty quickly locate two more signal beacon firewood stacks in the mountains. After this, they locate a small large hunting camp (ha) containing 4 stone giants and about 10 goliaths. They land, chat, and learn some things about where some of the giant cities are located (mostly to the west), and some basics about how the giants are governed. Quoted from my faction info section:

“The giants are long-lived, and consequently risk-

averse, prone to considering all risks.

Instead of the Ordning, adult giants are divided into

twenty-six different Clans, based on what astrological

sign they were born under (13 lunar months), and

whether the moon was waning or waxing during that

time. Each Clan head is elected by members of his

clan within the specific area or enclave, and rules for

two weeks, with the counsel of those who rule

immediately before and after him. Thanks to the

caution and consideration practiced by the giants, this

is actually a stable form of government, as no ruler

will take actions that he believes will be overturned

after his yearly term is ended.”

The goliaths generally follow the giants’ lead and do things that require smaller eyes and hands. They haven’t had too many problems with the Aaracokra, and (this is developed over several NPC conversations) usually have battles mostly via missile fire – javelins from above vs. rocks and ballista bolts from below. The Aaracokra don’t tend to fare well in melee against goliaths and stone giants.

One of the hunters in the camp is attending an archery competition soon, and mentions it. Ka Fareye, a very old and legendary archer among the goliaths, is looking for someone very skilled to get his powerful longbow. Ratel, our kensei monk, is interested in this. The party travels with some of the goliaths (getting some of the info above) overland to a couple of hexes away, where the archery competition is.

There are 4 phases to the competition over 2 days. I had picked out 6 NPC contestants as noteworthy , and had pre-rolled their results:

Arxerx, Drow eldritch knight, hailing from the Rodanite village (12.09)

Enele, Goliath arcane archer

Ka’ena, Goliath Ranger (female)

Aolani, Goliath Bard (female)

Redleaf, Satyr archer (champion)

Harenda, Yuan-ti abomination

Here are the competitions:

Rapid Fire

At 150 feet, 5 targets are set up. Contestants have as many arrows as they need to strike the bullseye (AC 22) once per target. Scoring:
Starting point value: 20

-1 point per arrow fired

-1 point per round or partial round used to shoot

Highest point value places first.

Long Distance

3 Targets are set up at 550’ (long range). The bullseyes are not much larger (AC 22), but most shooters will have disadvantage due to the range. A DC 24 Perception check gives +2 to the attack roll. Each contestant gets 6 arrows.

1 point is awarded for each bullseye hit. Highest score places first.


Targets are set up at a range of 50’, 100’, and 150’, all benefiting from half cover (+5 AC). Targets are AC 20 + cover. Shooters with the Sharpshooter feat or other ways to negate cover do well on this one.

Each contestant gets 6 arrows.

1 point is awarded for each bullseye hit. Highest score places first.


A hardened target with a thin layer of iron is set up at a distance of 50 feet. The bullseyes are AC 20, but the targets have a hardness of 10. Any arrow which deals less than 10 damage will bounce off.

Each contestant gets three arrows.

1 point is awarded for each bullseye hit. Highest score places first.

During the competition, they talked to several NPCs. The Yuan-ti warned that the Aaracokra sacrifices seem to be gathering power for something. The party also caught a couple of shenanigans:

-Aolani, a Goliath Bard, had been vociferously insulting people and talking the whole time. She got caught in competition 2 or 3 using Cutting Words. Teador the Paladin took her aside, and he and Reybella the cleric set up dispel/counterspell to counter Aolani if they caught her doing it again.

-Arxerx, the drow eldritch knight from the Rodanite village, got caught by Teador’s celestial griffin sneaking to competitors’ tents and casting Dancing Lights to make them tired. Teador told him to stop, and checked to verify it was nothing more harmful. 3 competitors suffered -1s on their total scores the next day as a result of this.

Ratel ended up tying with Redleaf the Satyr champion in overall scoring. Contestants with the Sharpshooter feat did substantially better (of course), but his overall higher attack bonus and kensei extra damage ability helped out a lot with the Power competition, meaning he and Redleaf were the only two who even scored any points.

I had Redleaf (fey) ask what sort of bet or contest they should use to settle who was best. Ratel first proposed shooting at targets guarded by the other (deflect arrows), but the satyr didn’t go for this. Malamir the artificer then suggested moving targets. We ended up settling on an animated target (AC 26) at a distance of 150’ and 450’ (disadvantage), with the iron on it so it required at least 10 damage for an arrow to stick, scored like the Rapid Fire section.

There were then a lot of dice rolled. Ratel cleared the close range target quickly, but it took 11 arrows (IIRC) to score on the 2nd target because he was rolling with disadvantage. Redleaf could not use the Sharpshooter damage bonus against the target (+10 to hit becomes +5, vs. AC 26). Lots of arrows were blown on the short range shooting, and then he scored a critical hit during his action surged 6-arrow first round against the 450’ target. Final score: Ratel 6, Redleaf 7. It was pretty tense and close!

Redleaf got the Bow of the Quetzal +3, which gives 1 arrow per round a Chaos Bolt effect. Ratel was pretty happy with the runner-up prize, a Cragtop Bow +2. It doesn’t require attunement, and has double the normal range increments for a longbow. He’s talking about getting Sharpshooter at 16, shooting enemies from 1200’ away for lots of damage, and I think he’s pivoting from melee monk over to archer.

During discussions, they got the fey riddle on the stone translated:

Useless to the blind,
A drinker, a spiller,

Chains this crystal blade bind,

Until offering is made in kind.

Dryness of ocean,

Melting of rock,

Color of air,

Flow of clock,

Hair of the wielder,

Place to unlock.

Ka Fareye, the old goliath, also told them that he’s seen plenty of people say they would stop the Aaracokra or overthrow them, and they all fail. More than just words will be needed to get allies to take the risk of moving, and that the Aaracokra’s strength is their connection to their gods. Overthrowing their high temples would be a good start.

Ratel wants to hire Arxerx (the drow) to sneak up to Aaracokra ships at night and light them up with Faerie Fire for bombing, but the drow is wary of losing his home with the Rodanites.

A bunch of discussion ensues about high-altitude bombing, making alchemical grenades, returning boulders, etc.

After this, the party headed north and found another giant city. They get the book they found in the purple worm ruins (improvised last session as a giantish diary containing a reference to the library) turned in and find out what it is. Shopping-wise, they find someone who makes +1 steel armors, a sage who can cast Find the Path and record results for them, and a giant who makes +1 Returning Boulders…. That giant was put there over 6 months ago when I wrote this area up, and happened to show up less than 1 hour after boulder-bombing was discussed. Funny!

Session ended there. This is the first D&D session I’ve ever run that had zero combat.
Here’s a map of the party’s travels so far.
Map after session 12.jpg


Session 14: 7/24/2021

Player-facing recap:

Everyone made it!

The party decides to work on raiding/destroying the temple of Tezcatlipoca, which is halfway across the map, with Aaracokra territory in the way. They decide to thread the needle between a triangle of Aaracokra cities, searching along the way.

They find a shrine with a snake twisted around a pole in the middle of a suspiciously regular item. They rest there safely, find 3 healing potions, and Ssword likes it there.

Moving on, the group continues to head northeast, finding some kind of Aaracokra operation with a couple of big gashes in the ground and buildings around it. It is bypassed and the group continues on northeast. They find a damaged nest that apparently belonged to wasps the size of dogs at some point in the past. Ratel (monk), Teador (paladin), and Dmitri (barbarian) go down to investigate, while Reybella (cleric) and Malamir(artificer) stay in the air. Dmitri’s sense of divine creatures pings, and Reybella and Malamir’s perception checks let them pick up on the general presence of some invisible flying somethings. Five pretty agile Aaracokra Slayers, each dual-wielding short swords, attack; their invisibility drops on their first attack.

I have them split into two initiative blocks and roll dual 20s (= 26 total) so all 5 go before the party does. They do some substantial damage with 4 attacks per round, and have some elemental resistances.

After 2 rounds, a couple of higher level priests arrive, using Firestorm a couple of times, Harm, and then a few other spells that don’t land very well.

2 rounds later, a couple of mid-level priests also arrive.

The party ends up killing all enemies except two of the priests (one Word of Recalls out).

None of the PCs outright die, but it’s pretty close. Dmitri uses his barbarian features to avoid going down at 0hp, and a couple of the others get down to single digit HP. Reybella pumps out a lot of healing with mass cure spells, probably 80-100hp per PC over the course of the fight. That made a huge difference.

Ratel used Stunning Strike for the first time ever, stunlocking one of the slayers into oblivion.

There are a good number of critical hits on both sides of the fight.

Dmitri stabs enough slayers and priests to death to get Ssword a little bit of an upgrade, with its mental stats slightly improved and its telepathy now extended to a 30’ range.

At the end of the fight, the group loots the area and boogie on to the northeast.

The artificer leaves his homunculus bird behind to see what happens; the Aaracokra do come and clean up the area.

The party travels for the next half of the day with nothing happening, and settles down for a long rest the next hex over…but I tell them to not actually take/apply the rest yet.

Non-player facing recap:

“Let’s fly through the middle of enemy territory across trade routes investigating everything while on our slow magic brooms and being very distinctive!”

+1 point on Ssword’s development chart for bringing him to a shrine to Sseth.

The party found an Aaracokra gem mine, but bypassed it. At this point I rolled random encounters, and got a 1 (regular encounter) and for this hex a 2, which meant Aaracokra patrol. The regular encounter was just some air elementals. Since the party is not in an air-skiff, the elementals ignored them as they moved out of the elemental’s path.

The group is very distinctive (nobody else on the continent is rocking Iron Man armor and flying brooms), so I had the patrol just hang back at a distance/high altitude. I set a DC 20 Perception check to spot them, and nobody made it on their pre-rolled scores, or on the Perception check for searching the next hex…

This was an on-the-fly call, and I think the right one since they were within 30 miles of Aaracokra cities. With the distinctiveness and failure of a previous strike team, some of the elite Slayers get called in. They are CR 14 (AC 20/HP150, Multiattack +12 for 1d6+14, heal 1hp each time they damage an enemy, elemental resists, minor blessings from Aaracokra gods). They attack from invisibility. I have priestly backup with 2 senior priests arriving later (following at a distance to not be spotted) and then two more War Priests later.

The War Priests really should have been there first. The +2d8 on each attack from Holy Weapon would have been pretty big for the Slayers, since they get 3 attacks with their main weapon.

There is a very limited population of Slayers, so they will not make an appearance again for a while. This means the next deliberate attack on the party will probably need to rely on summoned creatures for melee/beatstick firepower. I’ll probably go with some sort of evil conjured creature(s).

From this, the Aaracokra should learn:

-One of the party keeps not showing up on divination or scrying (the dwarf, effect of Ssword)

-Casters aren’t enough; high-end melee isn’t enough

-Area of effect spells and debuffs tend to fail often (party has generally good saves)

-Larger numbers are needed – this is hard to run at the table. I still forgot to use the Warding Light (light cleric reaction) feature the senior priests have most of the time.

-The Aaracokra need a better way to split the party up or use less blunt-weapon tactics (long ranged attacks, wear them down, etc.). The Aaracokra approach to battle makes this hard for them.

At this point, the party’s location is still generally known. They rest at night (Aaracokra do not have Darkvision) using Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum. At this point, given the number of divinations that can be directed at the party (near 3 cities, several reported fights, etc.) it’s safe to say the Aaracokra know where they are and can locate their resting place. The sound & vision blocking of Sanctum works both ways.

I need to figure out a less “roll initiative” way for the Aaracokra to wear down the party. They have Weather Control, and I’m considering having them park near the party and use Weather Control to create “unbearable heat” conditions. I need to dig into this a bit more, but I think it could keep them from resting fully.

Another option is just to spam summons or fireballs or whatever into the Sanctum.

The Aaracokra will have a problem in that the monk’s Cragtop bow +2 has a super-long range, longer than most spells, so they can’t attack from full safety.

They also explicitly have Symbol on the spell list for senior priests, so they could set up several Symbols as a trap, and then attack from the far side of them.

There are also plenty of lower-level Aaracokra around. I may need to stat up a group or mob template to represent 4 or 6 soldiers flinging javelins en masse. The party will buzzsaw through them, but it’ll be faster at the table than a bunch of individual soldiers running around with lots of misses.

The party has no teleportation, no earth glide, and no faster mode of travel than the brooms of flying, so I need to set up something where they can be defeated and run away without being TPK’d, but where it’s still possible to lose a PC or two. Luckily, the Aaracokra are militant, angry, and are not a hyper-organized/optimized society, so it’s OK if I design a plan that’s not perfect for them.

Now that Ssword can talk to the group and is a bit more aware, he’ll probably tell them they need to work on ways to get around without being seen. I’m not sure what to have him suggest, as I don’t see any great options for this on the cleric, artificer, or paladin lists.

Level Up!

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