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

J-H

Hero
2023 edit:
The content of this campaign is posted on the DM's Guild.
Other campaign logs:
Castle Dracula/Castlevania (origin of the party that started this campaign; campaign on DM's Guild)
Baldur's Gate II in 5e (unrelated; no plans to DM's Guild it)

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

Hero
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

Hero
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.
 

J-H

Hero
Sorry, I forgot I was posting this here as well! Here comes an avalanche of posts. As of posting this (2/28/23) we are within 5 sessions of the end, unless the party dawdles. I'm getting close to finished with the editing process to put this on the DM's Guild.

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 Aarakocra who abandoned Huitzopochtli 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 Ahuitzotl accompanied by two water elementals. The Ahuitzotl 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 Ahuitzotl 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra. Bahadural, the dragon (under Greater Invisibility) asks a few questions, declines to answer theirs, and eventually decides that their goal of killing the Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Huitzopochtli. 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 leveled 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 Huitzopochtli. 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."
 

J-H

Hero
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.

Ssword
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 Aarakocra, 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 Aarakocra 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: Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra city and don’t want escapees to give away their position or existence. It was a hard choice.

They don’t even know the name of the god whose temple they are going to (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 Aarakocra, making disguises, and then “I’ll introduce myself as Aarakocra.”

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 Aarakocra.
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 decided 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra can reach it until 50 minutes elapsed.

The Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra. 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Huitzopochtli 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 initiative 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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, and artificer all have or grant save bonuses).
 

J-H

Hero
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 Aarakocra. 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra.

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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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.

Loot:
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 thumbs You 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 sacs You 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 Aarakocra 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
Feeblemind
Telepathy
Invulnerability
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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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.
 

J-H

Hero
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 Aarakocra, 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 Aarakocra 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.

Cover
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.

Power
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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra’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 Aarakocra 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
 

J-H

Hero
Session 13: 7/10/21
Barbarian & artificer both out.

The party decides to explore their way northwards and skirt the closest Aarakocra city. They know they’ll need to do some kind of a strike on one of the cities or temples to prove their chops.

They find a couple of sets of abandoned dwellings – one an old Aarakocra village from before the fall of the Yuan-ti, and the other an abandoned Giant fort. Moving into the jungle, I finally roll a couple of random encounters as they explore. I decide to combine the two. They spot a Roc diving on them and duck down into the jungle. In the jungle, the Paladin flies ahead on his summoned griffon, and a Titanic Snake (50’ long, big enough to swallow a horse) launches itself from a tree towards him. It successfully bites the griffon, which fails a Dexterity save to avoid being swallowed. Teador the Paladin gets a Dexterity save to avoid being swallowed with it, and gets a total of 7…so they are swallowed.

Meanwhile, Ratel the monk flies back up, readying an action to drop to the ground when the Roc goes for him. This helps, but the Roc is fast enough to reach him on the ground, damaging and grabbing him.

The Paladin drops a smiting hit inside the snake, but it passes the DC 21 Constitution save (barely) and doesn’t throw him up. The griffon is killed by acid damage and vanishes from the snake’s stomach.

Reybella the cleric uses Summon Celestial for the first time, summoning an Avenger (archer) that fires 3x 2d6+9 radiant arrows down into the snake. Pretty good damage.

Dmitri the barbarian is still being run by the party, so he hurls his returning greataxe at the Roc, and crits – twice. The monk then acrobatics his way out of the Roc’s talons and damages it some more. It departs on its turn, having lost over half its HP.

The Paladin makes a Concentration check, and casts Banishment at the snake from inside it (he can see in the dark, so he’s not blinded, and anyway he could tell where it was). Poof. He moves away, and actions are readied. When everyone’s ready, he dismisses concentration on Banishment, and the very confused snake reappears and is shredded.


The party also finds a secluded village of Myconids in the jungle. They are pretty peaceful, and the party finds out that the Aarakocra leave them alone because they have no hearts or blood. It's an interesting conversation, although they don't really learn anything plot-relevant. The myconids use spores to grant telepathy, and don't have individual names. It was fun trying to run "very alien mindset." They do grab a bag of telepathy spores and put them in the ice chest of preservation, so they have a 1-time 1-hour duration telepathy spore package now.

In the mountains to the west, the party later encounters an elderly cloud giant. He reacts poorly to fliers, but is otherwise willing to talk, although it becomes very quickly apparent that he has a major memory problem. He doesn’t remember quite what he’s out there to do or where he was going or which Giantish city he’s from. I wrote this deliberately as a “has dementia” characterization from personal experience. Anyway, he’s a cloud giant with innate spellcasting and a Staff of Frost, so even though he’s old and confused, he can deal a lot of damage. If the party had approached flying and not talking, or looked like Aarakocra, he would have greeted them with a Cone of Cold.

The party gets him to agree to travel back to the closest Giant city they know of with him. Along the way, they’re attacked by 4 Chimeras. The old giant rolls dead last on initiative, and proceeds to fail his Dexterity save against 3 Chimera breaths; he was only the main target for 1 of the 3, but he was in the blast zone for the other 2. He took 120/200hp in damage in the first round before he got to act. The Cleric gave him about 40hp of healing, and then on his turn he Misty Stepped to the side and blasted 2 Chimeras with Cone of Cold from his staff. The whole encounter lasted maybe 2-2.5 rounds. One of the Chimeras tried to escape, but was stopped cold by the Paladin’s Sentinel feat. The others went down so fast they didn’t get a chance.

Once returned to his city, the giant is separated from the Staff of Frost. One of the named NPCs brings it over to the party and tells them that he keeps managing to find the staff even when they hide it or take it away, and that he probably wouldn’t go off on his own without it… and asks the party to take it with them when they go.

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 Aarakocra territory in the way. They decide to thread the needle between a triangle of Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra need a better way to split the party up or use less blunt-weapon tactics (long ranged attacks, wear them down, etc.). The Aarakocra approach to battle makes this hard for them.

At this point, the party’s location is still generally known. They rest at night (Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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 Aarakocra 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.


Session 15: 8/14/2021

Everyone was here. Happy Birthday D!

The party starts taking their long rest, but after a little over an hour, it’s become unbearably hot, to the point where they can’t rest. It doesn’t take long to figure out that it’s Control Weather. They depart Mordenkainen’s Sanctum and travel a couple of hours east, but it’s still hot. Malamir the Artificer uses his Stone of True Seeing and spots a Scrying sensor. Teador the Paladin dispels it, but there’s no guarantee another scrying sensor isn’t there shortly after.

The party ends up turning back west to try to find whoever is casting the spell. They fly due west, arrayed over 1200’ in a north/south line (300’ spacing) on brooms, with the griffon, homunculus, and Silver Raven figurine extending the line. It’s about midnight, and they’re now on rocky terrain.

Suddenly, two glowing four-winged celestials flash into existence (randomly chosen in front of Dmitri, middle of the line), firing four arrows that all strike him for about 70 points of radiant damage.

The enemy forces are two senior priests (one concentrating on Control Weather), one scarred wizard (using the Magic Missile/Bigby’s Hand combo from before – they realize that he’s probably the one they killed before, but Raised from the dead), and two war priests, plus summoned Celestial Archers.

The party being spread out really hurts. Dmitri charges forward (but the brooms are slow) and is down to about 3hp before he gets into melee with the enemies. I had intended for the battle to happen in the middle of an area affected by Symbol:Death (10d10 necrotic/turn, Con save half) set up as a trap. However, I realized partway through the first round that Symbol’s exclusions only apply to triggering the spell, not to the effects. Since the Aarakocra wouldn’t stand in the area of effect, I had to move it further out. Ultimately, Dmitri was the only one who was harmed by it. Lesson learned.

Ratel the monk spent the whole battle closing distance while firing arrows at the big bright glowing summoned celestials. I think he popped 3 of the 4 (the war priests re-summoned them). They have good damage, but AC 16 and 40hp is pretty low for a 5th level slot.
Reybella, at the far right end of the line, spends the whole battle trying to get close enough to do anything. She doesn’t have any speed enhancers or mobility spells (life cleric).
Teador the Paladin used his last 4th-level slot to Dimension Door into the enemy group. Malamir spent a couple of rounds dashing with his winged (artificer suit) boots.

Dmitri stayed up at 0 hit points with multiple failed death saves (hits). Zealot barbarians with Rage Beyond Death are very very hard to actually put down. Hit point damage just flat doesn’t matter.

Ultimately, the Aarakocra Word of Recall out, with nobody dying on either side except some summons. Five Aarakocra casters have now encountered the party, fought them, and lived to analyze lessons learned for future battles.

The party moves an hour east and rests, figuring they can’t do anything to stop the scrying.

They then search the hex, and discover an old cart track and pile of boulders that looks like a deliberately blocked cave entrance. It turns out to be a 30’ high x 20’ wide (+-) mine shaft. They follow it a few hundred feet back before encountering some interesting mushrooms with holes on the side. Malamir decides to touch one, and the Shriekers shriek until destroyed.

This reveals a 30’ square shaft going 200’ down, blocked by a massive and extremely thick iron grate. Malamir uses Fabricate to create a hole, and the party drops down. There’s a Symbol: Fear at the bottom, but most of the group is within range of the Paladin’s aura and isn’t affected.

They systematically check hallways. The first hallway has some brown mold (DMG pg 105), and some giant scrap, plus 26 20lb bars of silver (100gp value each). The next hallway has a giantish corpse with some rot grubs. Around this time Dmitri realizes that he’s been wielding a short sword and could be using a shield. This saves him from getting bit by rot grubs (+0 to hit, rolled 19; he’d just changed AC from 18 to 20 by putting on his shield).
The grubs die swiftly, of course.

The next tunnel goes farther into the mountain, then down a long ramp, and around a corner to a dimly lit room. Several of the party spot something reflective on the ceiling. Malamir and Teador fly up to investigate, and pass their Charisma saves. It’s a mirror. Malamir decides to Identify it, using Identify as a ritual. We discuss, and he has to make 2 more Charisma saves (bless + flash of genius means he passes both with exactly 15 on a DC 15 ). It’s a mirror of life trapping. Discussion ensues.

Teador decides to smash the mirror.

8 deformed giant-things rain down on the floor 40’ below. To be continued next session…

I go ahead and have everyone level up to 15.

Not for party consumption notes:
They did survive an encounter with another kill team. There is no plan for defeating scrying, so I have another attempt on them scheduled for some convenient time in the near future. If they seek out the Yuan-Ti, they’ll either set off wards against scrying, or they’ll lead the Aarakocra to a Yuan-ti village that can then be destroyed.

The Aarakocra now know that the short guy with the short sword doesn’t show up on divinations and seems immune to hit point damage. They’ll have a better plan next time. The War Clerics and others with +6 to +9 to hit just don’t cut it reliably enough. Unfortunately, there are only about 30 or so Slayers in existence, and 5 of them just got killed a few days ago.

Running caster-heavy battles like this is also time consuming and a bit tiring. Unless they go with overwhelming numbers, which is hard to run at the table, they will have a hard time overcoming the party. Sure, I could send in 8 clerics who all open with Fireball, but this is where D&D as a fun game conflicts with “fighting a war effectively.”

Right now I’m leaning towards the Aarakocra just spying on the party and letting them wreak havoc in the party’s wake unless/until they attack Tezcatlipoca’s temple.
I’m not sure if they realize how bad being able to be scried on consistently is…and at least two of the Aarakocra temples have full-time scrying rooms.

Dmitri is very hard to kill. Since Ssword gives him Mind Blank, he can’t be affected by Calm Emotion. Sleep or Death effects are about the only way to put him down now. Hold, Paralysis, etc. work , but he’s got advantage on saves, a paladin aura, and a friendly artificer around, so those are not super reliable. Grapple also doesn’t work well against a raging barbarian. If they keep going for Tezcatlipoca’s temple, they’ll run into plenty of Death effects anyway.

Anyway, this is one of the dozen-or-more dungeons scattered around the map…they finally found one! There was silver on the first floor, so I’m sure they’ll continue exploring out of greed. It’ll probably take all of next session. Lots of fomorians of a few different types.
 

J-H

Hero
Session 16: 8/28/2021
Dmitri’s player wasn’t here, but we had someone run the character anyway. We opened with 8 formorians raining from the sky, catching Teador the paladin at the bottom. He Misty Steps out of the bottom of the pile, and the fomorians stand up, spot what looks like food, and the fighting begins. Their psychic-damage evil eye is pretty effective (except on Teador with his +14 Charisma save and Dmitri with his immunity to psychic damage from Ssword). Note that the Evil Eye Curse does take effect on a failed save, even if the damage doesn’t hit. Dmitri and Malamir end up cursed. Malamir snags two of the Fomorians in a Web that lasts the entire battle (DC 20 vs a +0 Dex save and a +6 strength check…they never rolled well enough to escape).

All 8 Fomorians get killed off, although they do some clobbering in the meantime. If they were smart and coordinated instead of disoriented and confused, they could probably have brought down one or two characters by focus fire. Two are killed while being trapped by Web, and 3 others while trying to run away.
The battle is a bit loud.

The party heals up a bit, then heads on down the next passage, which shows signs of regular mining/digging at some point in the past, then down another very long ramp down farther underground. Near the bottom of the ramp, they hear someone counting down in Giantish “6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…go!” They book it back up the hall, leaving the fomorian ambush out of range.

A couple of arrows with Light on them are shot down the hall, and they can hear someone going “what is it?” in Giantish. Ratel the Monk heads down solo, with Teador following at ~120’ (Darkvision/Message range). He walks up slowly with no weapons drawn and manages to establish basic communication. The fomorians are very wary, especially when he mentions that there are others. They just heard all these scary sounds from above, and now here’s this little person who’s completely unworried and talking about “friends” and “surface” and “Aarakocra” and all sorts of other weird things.

He goes to the village alone and talks to a couple of their leaders, and eventually they figure out that he’s there looking for ways to be stronger. An exchange of gifts is determined. The party spends a couple of days using Fabricate to turn the big iron grating into several sets of giant-sized iron tools, to replace the bone tools the Fomorians have been using (the Fomorians have a couple of big mushroom farms and an Underdark-connected lake that they fish in extensively). They also do a bit of instruction on metal care, better tanning for fish hide, etc. They consider trying to get the Formorians to go to the surface, but realize they have 8 giant-sized bodies to hide... that part doesn't go so well. They do eventually Stone Shape away the recurring Symbol of Fear at the base of the elevator, so eventually there's nothing stopping the giants except a 200' vertical climb.

This takes 3 days. The Fomorians bring them a small (for them) container with a glowing blue liquid in it, saying it’s from the Fountain of Blessing that makes them tough. Nobody blinks at drinking a “this made us tough” liquid from some deformed giants. There’s enough for 3 doses.

Ratel the monk immediately chugs it and falls asleep. Teador the Paladin follows up by doing the same, and his player, who’s running Dmitri the Barbarian, says Dmitri would do so as well. They sleep for 8 hours, and the other 2 party members decide not to disturb their rest. The “Fountain of Blessing” has 3 effects, two beneficial and one negative. The +2 Constitution is fixed, and the others were a “roll to see what happens.” Here are the results:

Ratel (monk):
Constitution +2 (incl raising max)
Intelligence -2
Resistant to radiant damage, 20% of skin covered by jet black patches
Teador (Paladin):
Constitution +2 (incl max up)
Cha -2
Resistant to poison damage, 20% of skin covered with brown and yellow dots

Dmitri (Barbarian):
Constitution +2 (incl raising max)
Cha -2
Resistant to fire damage, burnt orange patches on 20% of skin

Ratel has a Headband of Intellect, so the downside on this doesn’t impact him at all. Radiant resistance is pretty good considering some of the enemies the party faces, too. Teador’s loss of Charisma hurts (reduced from 18 to 16), and Dmitri the paladin’s charisma is now down to only 6, but he’s got a LOT of hit points. Dmitri used to wear a Breastplate of Fire Resistance, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be happy with this.

Session 17: 9/12/2021

Two people felt sick, so we did this via discord.

The party headed towards Oztalun the aboleth to see about getting scrying-blockers. On the way, they explore and find an old mine-turned-living-space where something came out of a mirror and apparently killed everyone there several months ago. The place had been thoroughly looted.

They continue to explore and found a fog-covered valley inhabited by some druids. One of the druids spots a scrying sensor and kills it for them. They decide to leave to avoid bringing trouble down, and start discussing item-making, missing the chance to talk to the druids more and realize that the valley contains portals to the elemental planes.

I have the artificer roll an arcana check (22) and provide a link to the Amulet of Protection from Detection and Location. We start discussing special components to craft the amulets, and Nondetection only takes powdered gemstones, so…they’re crafted pretty fast.

They go on to assault the Temple of Tezcatlipoca, the god of death and cold. On the way, we hit day 100, and they see a big beam of light from the sun down towards the direction of the Aarakocra capital city that persists for about 30 minutes. The potential fight at the high temple of Huitzopochtli has gotten its first upgrade, as the flow of sacrifices has not been interrupted at all. There’s a continuing additive process going on in the background on the calendar.

The party decides to strike at noon. Ratel the monk flies up on his broom, keeping himself between the sun and town, and at about noon, drops 20 alchemist’s fires on the garrison, air-skiffs, and town, then drops himself down (Skyfall Boots), shattering one of the small barracks buildings. The rest of the party, meanwhile, approaches from the north and goes up to the top of the temple to enter through the skylight-type opening. Monks are fast, so with everyone moving around and in position, Ratel is delayed by 6 rounds.

The party drops down into a room full of magical darkness – but Teador the Paladin has a magic eye, Reybella the cleric uses True Sight, and Malamir the artificer has mounted his Gem of Seeing on his power armor. Dmitri the paladin can use Ssword’s divine sense as blindsight against enemies.

What followed was a long and massive battle with incredible carnage. The High Priest arrived late (round 3? Round 4?), having been alerted by his god only when the party was very close. The party fought a total of:
1 high priest, who cast Power Word Kill twice, Danse Macabre, and then got into melee with spirit shroud and 4 attacks per round, which went well until he got critted and shredded.
3 senior priests (2 escaped via Word of Recall), who put out 2 or 3 Cones of Cold, about a half-dozen Blights, 3 Harms, and I don’t recall what else.
4 acolytes who landed a Bane and a Hold Person but otherwise mostly didn’t have high enough DCs (2 escaped). By the time they had stuff to Counterspell, they were mostly dead.
5 shadow cats (1 dead, 4 escaped at <40hp via shadow stepping and mirror walking)
7 spellcasting skeletons (CR2, +6 to hit was not very useful)
5 regular skeletons raised by danse macabre
1 altar that casts Finger of Death every round on initiative count 20.

There were, if I recall correctly, four player character deaths, plus Dmitri the zealot spending most of the fight at 0hp and accumulating failed death saves, plus 2 PCs Banished and two or 3 PCs held at various times (usually briefly)

Around round 3 or 4, he had the bright idea of stabbing Ssword into the altar. This was one of the few ways of damaging the altar (nobody ever did a “hey, what would work?” question that would have triggered a moderately easy Religion check). This left Dmitri at disadvantage in the dark, as he lost his blindsight. He gamely swung away anyway, Recklessly attacking and taking quite a few hits.

Over the next 3-4 rounds, the altar had a 50% chance to fail to cast Finger of Death. At initiative count 20 on the 4th round, the altar exploded, dealing 8d6 (24) necrotic damage to all priests in the room, and dropping the shroud of darkness in the entire temple.

Ssword wanted to be stabbed into the high priest’s heart after the high priest got killed by Teador the Paladin. Now Ssword can cast Inflict Wounds on hit twice per day, and Cure Wounds (2d8+4) twice per day.

This whole time they have been fighting in one room. We end at a bit after midnight, and rather than choose to stay and take on the rest of the temple, the party will retreat (almost), leaving a dead high priest and shattered altar behind, but the rest of the temple intact.

Teador the paladin explicitly picked up the high priest’s corpse to take with them. In addition to taking the loot, they are going to do what they can to prevent resurrection.

Ratel the monk gets on his flying broom and is going to charge the garrison in town, then drop into town and wreak some carnage before trying to run away to meet up with the party. I will have to run the numbers, but I think he may get himself killed doing this. It depends on how many casters are with the patrols present and if any of them can land a Hold Person.

It was actually really convenient to do this on Discord, as I had a map spreadsheet available to move enemies outside the room around on, and could use Excel to do my math for me.

Loot:
Breastplate +1
Shield +1
Spear +2
Ring of Spell Turning
Nightcloak
Rare, requires attunement
This black cape has faint grey spots, like those of a hunting cat. The wearer is immune to the Blinded condition. In darkness or dim light, the wearer can turn Invisible (as the spell, but without Concentration required) as an action.

Session 17b: 9/20-9/22/2021
We did this over Discord chat.

Ratel the monk’s player decided to not go “assassin mode” by charging the village, but instead to run due east, stopping and setting fires every so often. I tracked movement round by round until it became pointless. A 60’ move speed monk (dash 120’) vs 50’ move speed Aarakocra (dash 100’) makes for a big difference over time.

It has been about 2 minutes since his dynamic landing.

Approximately 200 civilians are flying around in the village at low altitude.

All Aarakocra troops are out and about, but some are still fastening on armor. The guards at the prison are on high alert.
Both air-skiffs have lifted off.
Daytime forces of 40 Aarakocra:
20 Guardsmen
10 subcommanders
5 Champions
3 sun acolytes
2 war priests
1 senior priest

Ratel heads due east setting fires and firing arrows. A patrol in a nearby (eastern ish) hex is vectored on to him by Sending and/or the scryers from the temple (they can't scry him, but can scry friendlies). It has been about 2 minutes since his dynamic landing.

Approximately 200 civilians are flying around in the village at low altitude.

All Aarakocra troops are out and about, but some are still fastening on armor. The guards at the prison are on high alert.
Both air-skiffs have lifted off.
Daytime forces of 40 Aarakocra:
20 Guardsmen
10 subcommanders
5 Champions
3 sun acolytes
2 war priests
1 senior priest

Ratel heads due east setting fires and firing arrows. He continually pulls slightly away from the Aarakocra by dashing. A patrol in a nearby (eastern-ish) hex is vectored on to him by Sending and/or the scryers from the temple (they can't scry him, but can scry friendlies).
Patrol difficulty:
1-2 Pat 1
3-5 Pat 2
5-8 Pat 3
9-10 Pat 4
(roll) 6

Time for appearing is 2d10 minutes (16), which would be near the edge of the hex.
Patrol 3:
2 guards: stay with air-skiff
4 subcommanders 1 stays with air-skiff
So total is.
3 subcommanders hp 48
3 champions hp 96
1 wizard
1 senior priest {Tez}
Tactics: No heal, just disable/kill. They’re mad and focused on killing enemies.

I have him roll perception to see how far away the inbound hostiles are in front of him when he spots them. With his Cragtop bow, his long range is 1200’. The enemies close at 100’/rd (dashing) towards him, while he’s either dashing (120’) or going normal speed (60’) plus firing.
I used average damage for his bow shots at long range to speed things up.

Round 1:
Front Distance 1200', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 1200', close by 40'
1 champion hit for 12+12=24 damage

Round 2:
Front Distance 1040', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 1160', close by 40'
same target hit 1x for 12 damage, 1 miss

Round 3:
Front Distance 880', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 1120', close by 40'
Different target hit 2x for 24 damage


Round 4:
Front Distance 720', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 1080', close by 40'
2x misses

Round 5:
Front Distance 560', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 1040', close by 40'
2 hits for 24 damage to one target

Round 6:
Front Distance 400', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 1000', close by 40'
1 hit/1 miss against a different target.

Round 7:
Front Distance 240', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 960', close by 40'
2 arrows fired at wizard, blocked by Shield

Round 8:
Front Distance 80', close by 160'
Pursuit Distance 920', close by 40'
2 arrows fired, killed wizard with purple worm-poison laden arrows.

Round 9:
Front Distance 30', close by 50' as they descend
Pursuit Distance 920', close by 40'
Subcommanders 6x atl-atl at +8 for 1d8+4+1d6, 5 misses, 1 deflected
Champion 6x javelin +9 to hit for 2d6+4, 4 misses, 2 hit for 28
Tezcatlipoca priest casts Cone of Cold, 31 damage
Ratel Dashes 120'

Round 10:
Front Distance 90', close by 50' to 40' range; no more plunging fire
Pursuit Distance 940', pull away by 20'
Subcommanders 6x atl-atl at +6 for 1d8+4 1 hit deflected, rest miss
Champion 6x javelin +7 to hit for 1d6+4 all miss
Tezcatlipoca priest casts Hold Person, save failed. Uses Diamond Soul to succeed.
Ratel dashes 120'

Round 11:
Front group Distance 210', close by 50' to 160' range, except Champions close by 100' to 110'range
Pursuit Distance 960', pull away by 20'
Ratel dashes 120'. Out of range of clerics and champions, atl-atl users can't reliably hit enough to overcome deflection.

After just 11 rounds, he’s zoomed past them, and is pulling away!

In retrospect, I could have used the chase rule from the DMG of dashing 3+CON times and then having to make a DC 10 Con save to avoid exhaustion. However, this would have applied equally to the monk and the Aarakocra, so he still would have pulled away. What about the incoming patrol that intercepted him from the front? I already had them heading back at maximum speed (dashing) as well.
At most, it would have added one round of time-on-target for them. Ratel as a high-level wood elf monk was still faster.

This is a nice case that shows why white-room optimization doesn’t cover all the bases. The only other ways I can think of for a character to keep up such a high ground speed for an entire hour are:
1) A shapeshifted druid
2) Ann arcane caster stacking Longstrider (+10’ speed) and Expeditious Retreat (granting dash as a bonus action for up to 10 minutes per casting) to triple dash for 120’rd until the caster runs out of spell slots or loses concentration
3) A rogue triple-dashing (90’, 105’ wood elf, 120’ tabaxi).

I found it a bit ridiculous but also awesome.

He travels for 2 hours in the Cursed Forest (dim light, difficult terrain, lots of spooky and dead plants) without stealth. Random encounter rolls, he picks up a Shadow Cat that just decides to follow him.

He stops to survey the terrain with his spyglass. Roll: Shadow Cat gets a natural 20 on its Wisdom check to not attack.
Ratel’s perception was 9+4 to spot the shadow cat while he was stopped
Shadow cat natural 20 + 13 to stay hidden and spying.
Ratel then stealthily proceeds into the jungle, and I roll for random encounters. He gets a troop of monkeys and a low roll to not spot them until he's in the middle of the group. He slowly backs out and away, which is a good response that does not provoke the monkeys into a poo-flinging loud riot that could draw attention.
I roll more random encounter dice and get another troop of monkeys and a couple of "nothing" responses, so he then settles in at the north end of the hex to await the party that evening….
But he still has a Shadow Cat tailing him, so the party will get attacked.

The next attack force would either be an adventuring-party configuration of Aarakocra elites (a monk, barbarian, sorcerer, etc.) or would be one where they get a Helm of Teleportation if they fight off their attackers. I don't want to keep them from exploring north, so I'll hold off on this and have the Shadow Cat pace them at a distance using its high move speed (50'/rd + 30' shadow to shadow teleport). It's a fiend, so it doesn't tire.
Of course, Ssword pings on Shadow Cats, so when the party meets up with Ratel, they may notice it, if it strays too close. I'll roll dice throughout the next session to see if they spot it.

If not, it'll follow them for a few days until I feel the time is right for an Aarakocra party using the Helm of Teleportation to bamf in and attack them. At this point, access to teleportation doesn’t exist only because their only primary caster is a cleric, and clerics don’t have anything good for same-plane transportation.

Also, I roll 4d6 for random encounters while the party rests and they get nothing, so they're going to level up to 16. They're a bit short by XP, but I use milestone leveling, and they passed the minimum requirements (destroy altar & kill high priest).

In theory, they could move very quickly with surgical strikes and finish out the campaign in a few battles. In reality, none of the other temples are nearly as easy to reach - all of them are in the middle of larger cities, with the exception of the main temple of Huitzopochtli, which backs up to a lake. I'm kind of hoping they sneak up to that one underwater when the time comes, because it's a really cool moment to create, and totally possible (especially if they get the rest of the Panoply of the Shark).
 

J-H

Hero
Session 18: 9/25/2021

The players for Dmitri the Barbarian and Reybella the Cleric were both out. Unlike last session, we had very little fighting, partly because I forgot to roll random encounter dice some of the time (lots of travel). When I did roll, I’d get results like “A tendriculous”, which doesn’t matter because they’re flying, or an Aarakocra patrol, which I don’t want to deal with again right now, and which is up high while the party is under the jungle canopy.

The party reunites and, of course, surprises me by heading east and then south into the Cursed Forest towards the Phase Spider tower they had taken over. En route, they discover a hexagon of standing stones. It will summon a copy of a powerful enemy from the past of whoever stands in the middle; if the summoner is reduced to 0hp, the enemy becomes real and can leave the area. There’s some discussion of using it to bring Dracula back, but they decide against it.

They pass through another hex, and hear a big meaty thumping noisy. It turns out to be a pair of Clay Golems brawling with each other in an unsophisticated fistfight that has ruined at least half a square mile of forest. There’s discussion of coming back later to deal with them or find whatever made them.

The party pushes on in a forced march to rest in the old Phase Spider Tower.

They then travel south to a yuan-ti village. On their way there, they are attacked by two Hellwasp swarms, which do substantial damage but are ultimately killed off. Teador takes 38 damage from a critical hit when the hellwasps get inside his helmet. Malamir makes good use of Chill (fire) Shield.

At the village, they speak with the leader, Ilsa (snake/abomination swordmaster). They do not disclose Ssword yet, but do show off the body of the high priest, which they had put in the extradimensional crafting space to avoid scrying. Ila is impressed, and shares information about the party’s planned next target, the temple of Tlaltecuhtli. It’s in the middle of a city of at least 20,000, with two garrison outposts. From the exterior warehouse district to the temple is a distance of over 1,000 ft. The temple itself is a giant block of stone raised from the earth and shot through with tunnels, and it’s inhabited by some kind of devouring creature that goes through a lot of meat. Ila is about a hundred miles away and doesn’t have more detailed information.

The party starts planning how to handle this, and settle on a plan involving potions of Invisibility (they have 1) and creating scrolls of Dimension Door for fast in/out. The yuan-ti can contribute some forces to attack in a diversion, kill guards so they can get into the city un-noticed, or something similar.

Ila greets the party the next morning with the news that it has tried Sending to four different contacts in the village the party had visited before, and none have responded. They volunteer to investigate, fearing the worst.
En route, they pass through a hex that they have never explored, so they pause to explore it, discovering a 15’ diameter circular ring of flowers that seems fey-ish to them. They decide to come back to it later, and proceed to find the destroyed yuan-ti village. They move south to another village (I thought they’d found it before based on notes, but they didn’t recall the description). They visit briefly, find out that none of the others in the area were destroyed, and leave to not endanger this village, which has more kids and families.

On the way back up, they decide to stop in the fey ring. They step in, and find themselves somewhere else. It’s a beautiful summer’s night, but after consuming the Hero’s Feast, they depart without dancing with the fey, exploring the rainbow-colored forest, or doing anything else. They return to 1 day before they entered. The players were already suspicious about time passing, and I did note that they did not see the footprints they would have left. I forgot about Malamir’s spider-cart-wagon thing. It would have been fun to have it be “not there” and then show up a day later or something. Oops.

They travel on towards the coast to try to buy potions from the tortle potioneers. As they travel, they ask about the moon to see if time has shifted. It takes a while of “the moon looks exactly the same as it did last night” for them to catch on that they traveled back in time 24 hours.
There’s discussion of exploiting time travel, but there are challenges related to fey unreliability.

They explore their way up the coast, finding a bunch of tortle villages. Most of them are fairly small and boring; there’s not a lot to do with a bunch of 70-120-person fishing villages. They do get a few warnings about an area to the west in the forest being weird or dangerous, and they buy a Necklace of Fireballs that a hunter found in a shark’s stomach last year.

Each village typically has 2-4 hunters, a couple of monks, a druid, and maybe a sorcerer. Their casters go up to about 5th-level spells, so the party could try to get a bunch of them together and they’d have a good fighting force…but the logistics of persuading a few people from each tiny village to group up would be challenging.

We end the night with them finding a petrified Nalfeshnee with a maul near the edge of the cursed forest. Greater Restoration clears petrification, so they’ll probably free it next session – but maybe not.

In this session, I saw them moving from “tactical assault with just the party” to looking more at war-fighting and what the yuan-ti can bring to the table in terms of enabling attacks on cities. This is a good step forwards in their planning, and will definitely make them more successful.

I have a bunch of random encounter tables, but I find myself skipping a lot in favor of just moving the exploration or plot ahead. Random Plant monster #5 or Aarakocra Patrol #10 is too much filler right now. That’s fine, it’s a DM’s job to manage time and encounters for that sort of reason.

In the background, the calendar is still ticking away. They have a generous helping of time, and I hope they explore more and find more cool stuff, but if they dawdle for many, many months, they will be in trouble. The Shadow Cat followed them as far as the Phase Spider tower. I need to do some more rolling to see if it made it farther than that to the yuan-ti village. Per the calendar, they’re due for another Enemy Action, so I’ll probably have the Aarakocra trap the Phase Spider Tower. That might be a good way to trigger one of the enemy elite-type attacks – trap/alarm -> helm of teleportation strike force while party is dealing with a Symbol or something. It’ll also make them mad to lose one of “their” places.

Session 19: 10/9/2021
Players for Reybella (cleric) and Malamir (artificer) were out.

Ultimately, they decide to attempt a Circle Against Evil/Greater Restoration/Planar Binding on the petrified Nalfeshnee. Reybella’s player gives approval over the phone. Once it orients itself, the Nalfeshnee tries to bargain with them, and finds their terms of “We’ll use your desire for carnage for good, just hold still for an hour while we finish casting” to be insufficient. It teleports out, manages to miss most of its attack rolls for a round or two, and then teleports over and tries to grab Reybella to abduct or threaten her as she continues to cast Planar Binding. It’s knocked unconscious and placed back in the circle.

Planar Binding says nothing about knowing whether or not the target made the save, so there are some deception/insight checks. It plays along. Dmitri the barbarian makes a religion check to see what they could use to trap it. “Tell us your True Name.” “My name is You’reanidiot” (attempted teleport). Dmitri wins the opposed Initiative check and knocks the Nalfeshnee out. Something similar happens the 2nd time around, and they kill it, taking the Maul of Extreme Pain.

They then head north into the cursed forest, finding an old, abandoned, and thoroughly ruined temple to some ocean deity or spirit. They rest overnight in a Stone-Shaped concealed area. Ratel the monk walks out the next morning to find 5 lobster-creatures with big claws and poison tentacles on their face. The party ends up killing four of them – the last kill is run down as it retreats in the water (Ratel runs on the water until he runs out of move, then sinks and kills it) because it was spotted carrying an amulet that it had just picked up (the party had missed it in their investigation). The whole fight, the monk hears no talking from them.
After the fact, the creatures are identified as Chuul, believed to be old servants of aboleths who have the ability to sense magic and magical items, and are known to seek such items out and guard or hoard them.

Somewhere along here there’s a random encounter with disease-carrying bugs. Ratel is the only one on the ground, so they go for him, but he’s immune to disease.

The party moves on to the north, finding a set of stone pillars in the cursed forest in the next hex up:

You find a pair of stone pillars 4’ across rising thirty
feet high. Two more pillars are set just in front of
them, but only 8’ high, and another pair 15’ in front of
that. There are no markings on the pillars.
Investigation/Perception DC 10: There are some remnants of
stone benches in a large arc around the short pillars.
Investigation/Perception DC 20: Near one of the pillars, you find
a wooden chest. One side bears a mark like it was
damaged by a blow from a weapon, but it’s otherwise
untouched. It is not locked.
Inside is a Bag of Holding Type 1. The Bag holds
several old drums, drumsticks, and two guitars. One
of them is very strange – it’s a neon yellow color and
made mostly of metal. (It’s a Guitar of Electricity).

Proceeding north, they enter the North Desert for the first time. It’s a desert/badlands area with scrubby vegetation and lots of mesas and boulders. There, at the top edge of the map, they find a crater with a giant onyx meteorite in it not long before sunset. Malamir can determine that it has a magical aura of necromancy, but doesn’t know exactly what it’s for.

A random encounter produces an Aarakocra patrol spotted in the distance. It’s near sunset, so the party decides to head that way and attack them as they are grounded. It’s about a 1 hour forced march, which is pretty trivial to succeed on.

DM notes: No progress on the main quest right now, but that’s OK.
They really like the Panoply of the Shark set and requested more item sets for future campaigns. The last item in the set is a leather armor, so it’s not really great for anyone in this party, but that’s ok.
Teador has dropped his shield and AC to try out the Maul of Extreme Pain.
I wonder if they’ll make the Chuul/Aboleth connection ever?
The party is running low on gold, but hasn’t tried to sell any magical items at all.
The onyx meteorite gives a boost to Animate/Create Undead, including allowing it to function with bigger or different creature types than it normally would. Of course, getting a dragon corpse or something there would be quite a chore.
I expect them to handily kill off this patrol group, even though it’s the toughest type. Based on their conversation about someone always getting away, they’ll probably have 1-2 people on straggler patrol . The Aarakocra have worse Darkvision, a clear weakness along with their air-skiffs grounding at sundown.

Session 20: 10/23/2021
Malamir the artificer and Reybella the cleric’s players couldn’t make it.

The three PCs sneak up on the patrol, which has landed and is making a campfire. Their stealth rolls are okay. The one guard flying around notices “something” and flies over to investigate. Ratel the kensei monk drops him with a single poisoned arrow. The assault goes off as planned and they kill all the Aarakocra rapidly. Now they have an air-skiff!

There’s discussion of selling extra magical items to raise gold to pay for implanting troll hearts or, if they get adamantium, getting the adamantine skeleton graft. They communicate with the yuan-ti via Sending. They also try to sell the air-skiff, but nobody seems to be interested in such a high profile transport option. The yuan-ti will buy some items, but need time to gather cash on hand. We also decide to handle this via Discord.

They start exploring west and find an empty fortified campsite, and later encounter the Shabaka tribe of scorpionfolk as they continue to explore. The scorpionfolk are Large and have formidable natural weapons, but they observe that they are currently wielding mostly shortbows, and make frequent use of necromancy on the corpses of their own as well as dead Aarakocra. They are very interested in killing Aarakocra but desperately short on numbers. Their own undead are kept mostly outside the camp.

Shabaka has a problem: His daughter (low level druid) is betrothed to a warrior from a neighboring clan, but the marriage is delayed because the warrior needs more seasoning. The two of them have disappeared, likely to “The Death Knight’s Tomb” in an attempt to prove themselves. He’s sent one of his top necromancers and the neighbors have sent one of their best warriors, but they aren’t optimistic.

They get directions and go.

Scrawled across the outside in crude carvings is “Death Knight Trapped Here. Time passes fast. Not worth the risk.”

The entry area is smashed, but seems warded against dust and bugs.
Carved into the wall near the door in elegant elven, with some letters filled in with silver, is the following (requires Elven or language magic to read):
Facility Rules
1. No temporal manipulation magic, including passive magical speed effects.
2. Do not leave the facility without checking with Manager Baartie.
3. Outsiders are not permitted to know of this facility.
4. We shall change the past to protect our future.



They also find a stone-shaped message in the ceiling:
Aryvandaar has fallen. We tried our best to undo it, but in the end, we have toiled these centuries, only to be undone by a Death Knight in service of some mortal kingdom that grew up while we focused on temporal manipulation. Senior Researcher Othshan and the others bought time, and smashed the Heart of Time, trapping the unliving here, and I alone have escaped. Its master is denied any prize and the service of a potent servant, but it is a hollow victory. The non-material planes beyond the Border Ethereal are unaffected, so the undead’s aura is beginning to permeate the area. If anyone of learning reads this, I shall abandon my heritage, change my name, and seek my fortune elsewhere. Perhaps I will return with an army one day.
--Junior Researcher Eliepiir Vyshaan


There are a few names here that go back to ancient FR history.

They find a room with some de-powered magical appliances, an elevator, and some Temporal Stabilization Discs. Malamir’s knowledge is called on to determine that these are important and should be synced with the rune circles in the room they were in, and worn.

The three take an elevator down and find a smashed storage room that appears a bit old and thoroughly looted. There’s a big greatclub near a giant splatter of old blood.

They take the elevator down again and find two adult scorpionfolk squaring off with a pair of Bodaks. The scorpionfolk (the rescue team) are surprised to have allies show up just moments after they stepped off the elevator and started fighting. The bodaks are put down pretty quickly and the teenagers/young adults rescued (they had used Invisibility potions and barricaded themselves in a room). Some decomposing elven corpses are found along with a lot of nice but old furniture and elven décor, as well as magic-powered washing/drying machines and similar.

They then go down to the 4th level (counting top as 1) and find two zombie ogres, another bodak, and two zombie wights. The zombie ogres explode when they die. Everyone makes a beeline for the bodak and kills it pretty quickly. Teador casts Haste. I have him roll an INT check and he gets a natural 1; that was his chance to remember the rules. He takes 5d20 (57) damage and loses his turn due to the inherent temporal properties of the area. The zombie wights do some damage with their greatclubs, but go down. One of them asks “Where did you come from?” at the party in clear surprise. The party loots the area, finding a +2 longbow, some +2 arrows, four wizard spell scrolls, boots of elvenkind, and mithril elven chain, and a few other minor items. The boots come off of a body where the blood is still leaking out. The rooms appear to have been barely searched. As the party loots, they get a very sped-up Sending from the yuan-ti asking where they’ve been and that it’s been months.

We left off there, and I think they are going to go up to the 1st floor to take a short rest before continuing down.


DM notes:
Hurray! This is the second actual dungeon they’ve gone into fully (the first was the fomorian/silver mine area). The single-room raid on the Tezcatlipoca temple doesn’t really count. It was brought up (by them) and they compared what they did to a guerilla/decapitation strike.

As you can tell there is some temporal displacement into the future going on here. There are two more floors, and the bottom floor is still frozen in time after thousands of years… 6 seconds there is like 600 years up top. They’re going to get some ominous sending from the future where they disappeared and Huitzopochtli won. There were some puzzled looks as they tried to figure out where time was passing at what rate, which way they should go, etc.

I think they’re going to head back up to the top floor for a short rest. Everyone’s down substantial chunks of HP from bodak aura, bodak glare, bodak scream, wight club, exploding zombies, etc. There is time pressure and if they leave, they won’t have enough Temporal Stabilization Disks to return… so there is no option to long-rest-recover their way through this.
If Malamir and Reybella show up next time, they’ll have no attrition, so it’s all manageable – but this is also a way to deliberately achieve the 5e paradigm of multiple encounters separated by perhaps one short rest, and preventing nova-ing. The paladin has mostly been sitting on his spells slots.




Session 21: 11/13/2021

Malamir (artificer) and Reybella (cleric) did not join us tonight.

The remaining 3 characters, injured from their explorations, go to the top floor, having Reybella heal them along the way. On the top floor, their temporal stabilization disks start to emit a whine, which gets louder as they approach the front door. After a couple of arcane and religion checks, they decide to go on back down to finish what they’re doing instead of activating the disks early.

The 5th floor (4th down) has two zombie ogres snacking on a recently dead elf, and should have had two bodaks, but I made a mistake and only threw two more ogre wights at them instead. The battle was pretty one-sided, but the PCs took a bit of damage. This floor had a bunch of metal tables, lab equipment, and chalkboards covered in obscure arcane symbols, complex mathematics, etc. Even the INT-19 (headband) monk could not figure out most of it without needing a lot of study.

They then took the elevator down to the bottom floor. On the way down, they heard a triumphant shriek, like an eagle, in their heads, and got a headache… apparently Huitzopochtli triumphed.

The bottom floor was a single room, 90’ in diameter, with a shattered crystal mounting in the middle, crystal shards laying all around, and 3 dead elven wizards… plus a towering figure in black plate with glowing eyes, wielding a warhammer in one hand and a longsword in the other. Drezhar the Destroyer, the ogre death knight, told the party that their little mercenary band was too late… and that he was prophesied to have his name live for thousands of years, and that they faced a legend.

Dmitri charges forth first, wielding Ssword, the artifact, which still functions. It actually harms Drezhar, which surprises him. He goes next, disarming Dmitri and kicking Ssword away (towards an ogre zombie also in the room). Drezhar hits like a truck for 3d8+7 weapon damage + 1d8 necrotic damage, several times over. As Ratel and Teador (monk and paladin) advance into the room, they discover that none of their magic items function… everyone is under the effects of an anti-magic field. Except for Ssword, none of their weapons now count as magic against a foe resistant to non-magic weapon damage.

Teador grabs Ssword and tosses it back to Dmitri, while Ratel shoots a couple of arrows. Drezhar uses his legendary actions to slowly bash through the barbarian’s massive pool of hit points with 3 more hits. I think one was actually a disarm again, but since it wasn’t the ogre’s turn, Ssword remained in Dmitri’s space and was easy to pick up.

It is pointed out that Death Knights typically have paladin/divine casting, and should be subject to Ssword’s expanded critical hit rate. This is correct, and Dmitri crits once this round for a lot of damage, allowing him to attack 3 times. Teador hits the ogre zombie for not a lot of damage, and Ratel runs in to start punching with unarmed strikes (Ki fist means they count as magic) but has a flurry of misses.

Drezhar tries to disarm Dmitri, but can’t quite stick the opposed rolls. He doesn’t need to knock Dmitri prone due to Reckless Attack. They trade HP damage, and Drezhar is pretty low when Dmitri hits 0 and has to save to avoid dying. Dying when your soul is 2,000 years in the future means you can’t be raised from the dead…
He can tell Dmitri should be dead from HP damage but isn’t, and gives an order to “just go ahead and disintegrate the short one.” Cue minor freakout. Ratel uses his next to last Ki point and lands a stunning blow on the Death Knight! Teador dashes over and uses Lay on Hands, which doesn’t qualify as magic in an AMF, to burst-heal Dmitri up to 80hp.

The two zombie beholders in the back of the room then close their central eyes, allowing all magic items to function again. Each one fires a Disintegration ray at Dmitri, but he makes his saves. Drezhar is then stabbed to death while stunned, and the zombie beholders go down pretty quickly, with only one more ray fired.

The party loots the death knight and discovers that the crystals of the Heart of Time are very hazardous and shouldn’t be messed with. Ratel considers taking them with him, but the temporal interference means he might end up in another millennium.

They then activate the stabilization discs and return to the room and time at which they attuned to them. Leaving that room, they meet the four scorpionfolk who just stepped off the elevator from below…from the middle of last session. Confusion ensues. Time travel is fun!

They escort the scorpionfolk back to their camp, where the adventuresome young fools are yelled at by the clan head for a very long period of time. The group rests there and buys several Oils of Sharpness from the smith.

They decide to head west to find adamantine for skeletal surgery. They explore as they travel, finding several scorpionfolk camps. They rescue a couple of low-level druids who were trapped by some gorgons. Ratel saves against gorgon breath once, then finds out what it is, and after that the party decides to kite and avoid the petrification-causing iron bulls. They are given a Goodberry Bag (10 goodberries/charge, holds 1 charge, recharges at dawn on a 6 on 1d6).

They meet an old scorpionfolk woman who keeps track of locations and lore of the land (cartography) and get some general terrain info for about 3 squares around, as well as being told that something strange is going on in 07.02 in the mountains.

We leave off with the party about to reach hex 08.03.

DM notes:
ALMOST got a PC kill. It was close! I gave Drezhar about an extra 40hp on the fly so that he didn’t go down before the beholders were at least revealed.
This was really fun and I enjoyed having a chance to pull off some time travel.
The artificer’s player hasn’t been for several sessions. They are close to finding the Adamantine golem. If he’s there, I think they’ll discuss turning it into giant power armor, which I have planned for (cue Pacific Rim music). It seems like their main motivation right now is finding adamantine and troll hearts to become nearly immortal, and the wealth to afford the surgery. They’d rather pursue that than go ahead and make the attack on Tlalchantli’s city, which the Yuan-ti are ready to support.

They are due by the calendar for an Enemy Action, so I’ll have it target something close to them to remind them that the clock is ticking.


Teador took the Full Plate +2, bringing him to AC 20, 23 with shield. Ratel took Eclipse and gave Dmitri the Skyfall boots.

Session 22: 12/11/21


Fairly short session today. The party attacked the Adamantine golem, and after a long fight in which 3 players were knocked to <20hp, successfully stabbed, shot, and bludgeoned it to death. This is an Adamantine Golem that I came up with, not the one from the book. CR 26, a kick attack to knock enemies back and prone, a vibrosword that gets two attacks in melee, and a coilgun (gauss rifle) on the other arm with a long range. The coilgun does 3d20 bludgeoning + 1d10 lightning damage with a strength save to avoid knockdown. Ratel hung out at long range pelting it with +2 arrows, Teador flew overhead (losing his griffin to a cannonball, but retaining his broom) and used Chill Touch repeatedly to keep it from regenerating, and Malamir switched between a few tactics, including trying out Summon Construct.

After salvaging 3,000 lbs of adamantium, 28,000 lbs of steel, and 50 lbs of mithril, they headed east and then south to sell materials to the yuan-ti and then visit the Fleshcrafter to get adamantium coatings applied to their bones. En route, they were attacked by a Rodan-descended Roc. Teador Dimension-doored atop it and attacked it a couple of times before it spun and knocked him off; Dmitri managed to jump onto it too, and hung on for an extra round, but then got knocked off. As it flew away, Ratel the monk used his sharpshooter damage and long range to kill it.

We ended there… selling and buying to be handled on discord, as well as potentially who’s doing what surgery in what order.

There was also some discussion of what to do with the Aarakocra after they “win.” Ratel is in favor of wiping them out as well as killing the yuan-ti. Teador the paladin is not. Ssword is listening and the campaign’s long-term ending will depend partly on what sort of values they convince it to follow.

I had it written up so that someone who wants to do the extra work and take on the risk could potentially crawl inside it and disable it while it’s functioning, and then retrofit it into a giant mech suit. It’s at the high end of powerful, but this is high end D&D. Unfortunately, the players decided to just wreck it.

The player for Dmitri the barbarian was sick and couldn’t make it. The player for Reybella the cleric may be taking a break from D&D… and this was the last session for the player for Malamir the Artificer; his work schedule means he has to leave at 9pm, so he can only come for around 2 hours. Malamir is going to go work with Oztalun’s people on a way to teleport back to Europe, where he hopes to create some items and maybe send over reinforcements occasionally. It’s hard to DM for just 2 people, and Dmitri is definitely the party’s hard tank/carry (zealot + artifact sword), so when he’s gone someone has to play him or they are at risk of getting squashed (2 PCs vs. threats designed for 4+). We may try to recruit an additional player.
The next scheduled session would also be on Christmas day, so we may not meet again until January unless something lines up for everyone’s schedules. That’s kind of disappointing.

The party is now very rich, although I’m sure they’ll find ways to spend most of it.
 

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