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Against the Idol of the Sun: A 5e high-level campaign log

J-H

Adventurer
This is a new campaign I have written and have started running. When it's done, I'll make any necessary changes, edit it, and then put it up on the DM's Guild, probably for $14.99. I am pretty sure I am over 200 pages of content. No art, because I don't do art.

The main thrust of the campaign is that it will be large hexcrawl (18x16, with each hex 12mi across). The party is opposing a group of Aztec-like Aaracokra who are gathering sacrifices and power so that Huitzopochitl, their evil chief god, can manifest on the Prime Material Plane in person. The group will have to travel around finding information, mapping the region, and gathering allies to stop his plans. If they take too long, they get to fight a manifested god, which may be a TPK unless they get really creative. Once they have crossed the ocean and arrived on the main map, I will be tracking the passage of time and having enemy actions take place. The speed at which Huitzopochitl upgrades and manifests may be impacted by them attacking the temples of his subsidiary deities.

I have, currently, over 50 custom items available if the party finds them, including a very plot-significant item. I'll try to note what they are when they come up.

I'll try to keep things low-spoiler since my party members may find this. If you're in my game, you already know it from this introduction.

Feel free to ask questions! Unless you're in my party.

12/19/20 Session 1
The party is 13th level, and coming off the Castlevania-based "Castle Dracula" campaign. They are very well-equipped, and we just had a 5-year time-skip. Some of them got an extra skill proficiency during the downtime. Major changes noted here. The party is composed of:
-Dwarven life cleric (Has a druid cantrip & 1st & 2nd level druid spell as a result of actions taken during last campaign)
-Wood elf kensei monk (houseruled: Kensei are no longer incentivized to not use their weapon to gain +2 AC; they get it just by making any unarmed attack, including their bonus martial arts attacks)
-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."
Message 1:
The Lord Mayor of Porto,
To the noble adventurers of the Belmont Order:
Greetings and well-wishes. Knowing your efforts in
ending the invasion of the dread vampire Dracula and
his armies, I wish to alert you to a situation which may
require your talents. Recently, we have received
reports of strange ships flying through the air,
accompanied by men who have wings like birds.
Guardsmen sent to interrogate them have either been
ignored, or have disappeared. Outlying villages have
been depopulated, with signs of fire magic and
javelins raining from the sky. This is beyond our
experience, and some of our wealthier merchants and
citizens, concerned for what the next months may
hold, have taken up a collection to reward those who
bring military force to protect our city.

Message 2: Received in Venice
Relayed by Sending. Porto has fallen. Thundercleave
Keep besieged. Flying enemies with powerful magic.
Send help.

Message 3: Delivered by east-bound ship near Malta
His Royal Majesty Fernando, King of Iberia and
Protector of its Peoples, Duke de Aragon,
To the Belmont order, with utmost urgency:
A small army of bird-people, equipped with flying
boats the like of which we have never seen, has
occupied the western portion of Iberia. They are able
to bypass walls entirely, and appear to be enslaving
many whom they capture. They have set up a
fortified encampment at Zamora. A particularly skilled
local hunter eluded their eyes, and reports that they
have constructed an odd temple, resembling a blocky
version of the many pyramids used by the priest-kings
of the Egyptians… and that they take many captives
there, and kill them in the light of the noonday sun.
Their priests wield potent magics. My vassals are
summoned for war, but horses and lances are of little
use when we cannot make even one hidalgo in a
hundred fly for a battle.

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.
 

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J-H

Adventurer
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.
 

J-H

Adventurer
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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