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4E First-time godslayers - PCs kill Torog

I started my 4e campaign using the old B/X module Night's Dark Terror. That module involves a magical tapestry which, when touched with the appropriately needle and thread, forms a picture depicting the location of a hidden valley.

As I ran it, though, the tapestry was a relic of the ancient minotaur kingdom, and it was not a map to a hidden valley but rather to one of the greatest secrets of the minotaurs, namely, the location of Torog's Soul Abattoir. The Soul Abattoir is (or, rather, was) a location containing metaphysical machinery giving Torog a hold over the souls of those who die in the Underdark. Torog has the souls tortured before they pass on to the Raven Queen, gaining power from that process of torture.

The PCs acquired the tapestry around about 6th level, and the needle and thread about 10 levels later. Not long after, they went into the Underdark and started following the map to the Soul Abattoir. This was mostly at the instigation of the Questing Knight PC, who as a paladin of the Raven Queen had the destruction of the Abattoir as his quest. (The player had made this choice for his PC.)

After getting distracted by this and that, including a detour via Mal Arundak on the Abyss, they finally made it to the Soul Abattoir, having just reached 25th level.

Although the Soul Abattoir is described in very general terms in the Underdark book, little detail is given. I located it at the end of icy tunnels running through the Shadowdark, on the far shore of the Soul Slough into which flows Lathan, the River of Souls. The "liquid souls" flowed under the ice and stone to the icy, Vault-of-the-Drow-style cavern containing the Soul Abattoir. The Abattoir itself was a series of buildings into which souls "flowed" in a fashion analogous to rivers. Inside the buildings the streams of souls were directed through Torog's various machines, which extracted soul energy from by way of torture, converting that energy into "darkspikes" from which Torog could then draw power by driving them into his body.

The destruction of the Soul Abattoir was run mostly as a skill challenge, but with a combat a little over halfway through (and some of this is reposted from other threads):

  • The entrance to the Soul Abattoir, at which the PCs had arrived, was an icy tunnel floor, ending at a cliff overlooking the cavern - the river of souls was flowing some way beneath the ice, and flowed out from the base of the entrance cliff into Torog's various machines;

  • The drow sorcerer and tiefling paladin flew to the bottom of the cliff, where the paladin blew his Fire Horn to render the ice more susceptible to heat, while the drow cast Flame Spiral to melt some of the ice, and then cast Wall of Water to block the flow of souls (check-wise, this was an Arcana check by the player of the drow, with a buff from the melting of the ice and use of the wall);

  • The paladin and invoker then headed to the largest building, at the other end of the cavern, while the cleric-ranger on his flying carpet provided archery cover and the sorcerer flew above them maintaining concentration on his wall spell (check-wise, this was an Acro check for the archer and the sorcerer, and an Intimidate check from the paladin assisted by the invoker to make their way through Torog's minions);

  • Once they got to the far building, the paladin and invoker sought the intervention of the Raven Queen to redirect the flow of souls directly to the Shadowfell rather than via Torog's infernal machines (one failed and one successful Religion check; the failure led to damage from a combination of psychic and necrotic energies generated by the suffering souls);

  • Meanwhile, with the flow of souls stopped, the fighter fought his way through the other (lesser) buildings, destroying the machinery inside them (Athletic check buffed by expenditure of a close burst encounter power to fight through the minions from building to building, and Dungeoneering to wreck the machinery);

  • When the PCs had all regrouped at the furthest (and most important) building resolution then switched from skill challenge mode to tactical combat mode, as they stormed the building and fought with Torog's shrivers plus a death titan;

  • After the (very challenging) fight, during which the last machine was turned off by the sorcerer (the player made a successful Thievery check as a standard action once the PCs had finally fought their way along the central gantry that ran above the pool of souls), the skill challenge then resumed as the Soul Abattoir itself started to collapse;

  • The ranger and sorcerer flew out of the cavern (successful Acro checks) while the paladin ran out beneath them, but was struck by falling rocks (failed Aths check, making the 3-person group check a success altogether as a majority succeeded, but costing the paladin damage for the failure);

  • The fighter shielded the invoker (Endurance check) as the latter held off the powerful soul energy while the others made their escape (Religion check);

  • The invoker noticed that Vecna was trying to take control of the soul energy via the invoker's imp familiar that has the Eye of Vecna implanted in it (as GM, I had decided that this was the moment when Vecna would try and steal the souls for himself; mechanically I asked the player to make an Insight check, which was successful);

  • The invoker, having to choose between two of his patrons (he is a very pluralist divine PC) stopped Vecna redirecting the souls away from the Raven Queen, making sure that they flowed to her instead (in play, at this point I asked the player whether his PC - who at this point still had the erupting soul energy under his mystical control - whether he was going to let the souls flow to Vecna, or rather direct them to the Raven Queen; the player though for probably about 20 seconds, and then replied "The Raven Queen"; I decided that, on the basis of the earlier Religion check with no further check required, and I also decided that Vecna in anger shut down the offending imp via his Eye);

  • The invoker and fighter then ran out of the collapsing cavern behind their companions, the invoker being shielded from falling rocks by the burly dwarf fighter (Athletics checks, with the fighter doing well enough to grant an "aid another" bonus to the invoker, so from memory neither took any damage).

At the end of the session, I made it clear to the players that Torog was after them. The invoker made his monster knowledge check, and I briefed them on Torog's stats - they were suitably impressed by his 34th level status, with his main ability being a 3-target close burst 20. (And the only party member who can attack effectively from outside that range is the archer-ranger, and the invoker is the only other one with a reliable attack above 10 squares, with Mantle of the Infidel).

We then had a three-week break between sessions, during which the players plotted and planned about whether to stay and fight Torog, or instead try and escape to their waiting Planar Dromond (anchored on the Soul Slough and crewed by devils from Stygia harvesting souls for Levistus).

In the end, after a bit more debate at the start of the next session, they decided to stand and fight. They made some preparations, in the form of powering up with Wrath of the Gods (+8 to damage) and also preparing a Wizard's Curtain to improve their chances of hiding in the opening round. The sorcerer also got ready to lay down his auto-damage zone for when Torog broke through from beneath the tunnel floor. (Successful Dungeoneering from the ranger had revealed the direction Torog was coming from.)

I had also told the players that Torog, deprived of dark spikes, would weaken rapidly over the course of a confrontation: to be manifested mechanically in the form of a d8 escalation die (ie a die start at 0 but then counting up by 1 each round) granting a bonus to both attacks and damage for the PCs.

In the end, Torog did not have a chance: he was killed in the round that the escalation die was showing 5.

I had Torog burst up from beneath the tunnel floor, creating a 130' rift splitting the tunnel in two. That worked fairly well for Torog - with his CB 20 slide 5 attack, he was able to knock first the paladin down, then the ranger, sorcerer and invoker, and then the paladin again! But that didn't save him. The first attack of the combat was delivered by the paladin, who critted with Strength of Ten to push Torog back down (allowing other party members to stay hidden behind the Wizard's Curtain for an extra turn while they took their attacks). There were 3 or 4 more crits, I think - two from Torog and at least one from the sorcerer - but these favoured the PCs over Torog, as they were able to recover from the damage, while Torog had no regen or healing options.

The sorcerer also landed a stun on Torog, and despite the god having a power to get an immediate save he rolled a 1, which was not enough, and therefore lost a whole turn of attacks.

As already mentioned, the zenith of Torog's achievement was getting four PCs - paladin, invoker, ranger and sorcerer - down the pit.

The paladin survived the first fall fine, and was able to fly back up when the ranger threw down his flying carpet. But it wasn't long before he was knocked back down again.

The 130' fall would have killed the invoker, who was already unconscious from other damage taken, but the ranger managed to grab hold of him as he fell beside him (successful Acro check) and then between his strong Acro and amulet of reducing falling distance (I can't remember its proper name) kept the damage they both took to 20 hp only.

And the sorcerer's Acro kept him alive too.

Regrouping at the bottom of the pit while the fighter solo-ed Torog (using second wind to get +8 to all defences, with a Defending polearm, which meant that Torog missed at least two of three attacks, making for another ineffectual turn), the ranger-cleric healed them all with a Word of Vigour. The invoker-wizard then leapt onto the carpet (which the paladin had readied for him), flew up with a double move and opened an Arcane Gate linking the bottom of the pit to its top. The others rushed through and Torog was dead.

The two lost rounds really hurt him. He was also taking close to 100 damage a turn from zones - both the sorcerer's, and a Firestorm that the ranger-cleric dropped. But even without the auto-damage the PCs pretty clearly had the best of him: by the time he died the escalation die was tipping the tide of the battle, and the PCs hadn't quite dropped all of their big guns yet. And both fighter and paladin had plenty of surges left, the fighter with a second Second Wind still ready to go. (Perhaps the more important consequence of the zones was to shut down Torog's minion crawling blood swarms via auto-damage.)

At the moment when he chose not to discorporate, and rather to give in to his death-wish, Torog warned the PCs of the chaos that would follow his death, as the Underdark collapsed completely under the onslaught of elemental chaos. The sorcerer (who is a Demonskin Adept chaos sorcerer as well as Primordial Adept who reveres Chan, Queen of Good Air Elementals) is somewhat welcoming of this prospect, but while the others were above the pit, the invoker - who was still at the bottom when Torog's dead body tumbled down - said a quick prayer to try and bind Torog's departing soul to Bane and the Raven Queen, so that it can continue to act as something of a buffer against chaotic forces. The player's religion check was good (50+, from memory) and so the prayer was at least temporarily effective.

The PCs then headed back down the tunnels - still collapsing or threatening to do so - to find their waiting Dromond starting to set off, about 20 yards from shore. The invoker summoned the Tide of the First Storm to wash them most of the way to the vessel, and Athletics or flight got them the rest of the way. After a friendly chat with the devils (the fighter, the first to reach the ship, made a successful Diplomacy check and thereby concluded this complexity 2 post-Torog skill challenge) - who explained that they had only been intended to keep the Dromond safe from any ensuing onslaught from the collapsing tunnels - the PCs and crew set off, about 4000 XP short of 26th.

Depending where they go, next session may involve having to deal with Vecna, or the Elemental Chaos, or mad once-were-angels in the Astral Sea, or perhaps the Hells themselves (though the chaos sorcerer is not too keen on that idea).
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], great recap. I know you aren't a big fan of extended, physical skill challenges, but it looks like you pulled of a rewarding one for the climax of this portion of your group's game. The multi-session report reads very much like the genre love child of Indiana Jones and X-Men. If it worked out that way in play then it must have been great fun.

One wonders what the implications of the instantaneous release (at Torog's defeat) of all of the formerly extracted, tormented psychic residue, from all of the souls that Torog processed and subsumed, would be for the multiverse.

Thanks for sharing.
 

SkidAce

Adventurer
Did you post part of the set up in a different thread...I feel like I have read it before.

Fantastic by the way.
 
Thanks all for replies.
[MENTION=7706]SkidAce[/MENTION], you're right that some of the skill challenge is a repost from the "versatile fighters" thread (the bit about the imp has also been discussed in the big alignment thread, but I think you have sensibly kept out of that one!). In the OP I noted that bits were a repost.
[MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] - I thought both sessions went pretty well. I didn't summarise the fight with the scrivers, but it was pretty good too. The set up was a round-ish chamber about 12 sq across, with a central catwalk 20' above the level of the souls, and then a perimeter gantry 40' above the central one, with steep steps linking the two levels at the far end from the entry. It took the PCs several rounds (probably 5 or more) to make their way along the gantry to the far end where they could shut down the machine (which was inflicting 15 auto-damage psychic/necrotic per round, under the control of the chief scriver). And there were flying/teleporting scrivers up on the high gantry, swooping down and hurlng darkspikes at the exposed PCs on the lower gantry. You mentioned X-Men, but I also had the Obi-Wan Death Star machinery scene in mind too.
 

JamesonCourage

Villager
Cool stuff. Epic tier sounds so different in PC capabilities than Heroic tier (my PCs are only level 6). It'll be interesting to see the progress.

Again, it was a nice write-up of the fight. How do you think they would have done without the escalation die? I know you don't use the expertise feats, and it sounds like Torog was 9 levels higher than the party.
 
Cool stuff.
Thanks.

Epic tier sounds so different in PC capabilities than Heroic tier
I think that the shift from Heroic to Paragon was bigger, at least for my group, than Paragon to Epic. Four encounter powers, plus action-point features, make a huge difference.

That said, in the scriver fight within the Soul Abattoir the paladin came back from the dead once (between a power and a ring he can do so twice per day), and likewise the ranger (Demigod Epic Destiny), and likewise the fighter (using his Ring of Pelor (= Ring of the Phoenix) which lets him reappear from death in a burst of flame), and the invoker-wizard used a ring that, if he would otherwise drop below 0 hp, grants him a fairly decent temp hp buffer - which kept him up!

This "death = speed-bump" thing is definitely a distinctive feature of Epic tier.

How do you think they would have done without the escalation die? I know you don't use the expertise feats, and it sounds like Torog was 9 levels higher than the party.
They might have won, but it would have been noticeably harder. The opening crit would have hit anyway, and that really did get them off to a good start, but I'm sure there were at least some attacks that hit only because of the escalation die. And the bonus to damage was helping too, including on the zone damage.

Given the use of the escalation die, for milestone and XP purposes I treated the encounter as level 30 rather than level 34.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
They might have won, but it would have been noticeably harder. The opening crit would have hit anyway, and that really did get them off to a good start, but I'm sure there were at least some attacks that hit only because of the escalation die. And the bonus to damage was helping too, including on the zone damage.

Given the use of the escalation die, for milestone and XP purposes I treated the encounter as level 30 rather than level 34.
So is everyone and his cousin swiping that 13Age mechanic for 4e or what ;)
 

MortalPlague

Adventurer
Quite honestly, I was more impressed by your skill challenge. That was an amazing work that really felt epic. Battling Torog seems like a great way to cap it off, though I'm not surprised by the results. I've set gods against PCs before, and it never ends up being as challenging as one expects.
 

Balesir

Villager
I've set gods against PCs before, and it never ends up being as challenging as one expects.
Yep - we're just starting Epic, and I've almost certainly got some of this sort of stuff coming up. Reading accounts like this helps me with mental prep a lot!

Epic currently seems like quite a big paradigm shift - but I have some plans for getting the players going on it "gently".

Character stories, aims and destinies seem to really come to the fore in Epic. The PCs really start to demand coherent backstory of the DM and serious ambition and focus from the players. I'm really looking forward to it!
 
Quite honestly, I was more impressed by your skill challenge. That was an amazing work that really felt epic.
Thanks. In these actual play posts I try to give a feel for how play actually unfolded, as well as what the ingame story was.

In this case, framing the skill challenge was collaborative between players and GM. I use a technique I learned from [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION], of setting out a die to represent successes required (in this case, a d12) and a die for failures (I don't have a d6 marked 1 to 3 twice, so I use a d4 and tell them when it gets to 3 it's game over).

I described the geography of the ingame situation, and then we started talking about options. The idea of using Waterwall to dam the souls came completely from the players; the idea that the fighter would hack his way through the scrivers to destroy the machines came from that player, but I was the one who told him that he could buff his roll with an encounter power (from my point of view as GM, I know, and from his position he suspects, that there may be a combat coming without a short rest where he would miss that power if he used it now, so there is a resource management aspect to the choice).

When it came time to escape, I called for the checks needed to escape without taking damage (Aths, or Acro for those airborne ones). But it was the fighter player who wanted to stay behind to protect the invoker-wizard, which I then called as an Endurance check, and then he was the one who wanted to shield him by making an Aths roll good enough to both get himself out and provide a bonus to the check for the frail PC.

I liked the feel of it in play. For me it's got the right mixing of tactical/resource-style play and working within and building on the fiction. I also like that the players and GM can work together on framing the mechanics of the check without it feeling like "cheating", because the d20 still has to actually be rolled, and then if it fails the player still has to make mechanically meaningful choices about how to cope with the failure (eg we have a rule that if you fail you can spend an action point to add +2 or take a reroll). In that respect it's like combat mechanics, I guess - cooperation in framing up to the point of resolution doesn't blunt the actual force of the attack and damage roll, and the consequences that flow from those.

I've set gods against PCs before, and it never ends up being as challenging as one expects.
Hmm. I anticipate battles with at least Lolth and Orcus in the party's future. Orcus obviously needs a lot of work from his MM version! But I will definitely be looking at Lolth too, in light of the Torog experience.

I think the biggest thing was Torog's lack of a recovery mechanic; he wasn't flexible enough. I think some sort of flexible recovery mechanic would have worked better than just finding more ways to nerf the stun - even though that stun definitely helped kill him, it was actually a lot of fun at the table. So rather than condition nerf, for future design of these sorts of solos I'm looking at ways of regaining some momentum. (Eg ways of generating additional action points.)

Epic currently seems like quite a big paradigm shift - but I have some plans for getting the players going on it "gently".

Character stories, aims and destinies seem to really come to the fore in Epic. The PCs really start to demand coherent backstory of the DM and serious ambition and focus from the players.
I've heard people complain that epic in 4e is just dungeon crawls with bigger numbers. Personally I'm not a big fan of dungeon crawls even when the numbers aren't big! The story is what makes it interesting.

I think part of why the story is especially important at epic is that the conflicts have to get mechanically bigger in scope, or otherwise the players will just coast through on their "1x/day when you die . . ." abilities and their largely unlimited supply of encounter powers. And conflicts that are mechanically bigger in scope I think need more story momentum too to keep them going.

Also, without story killing Torog is kind of cheesy. Whereas with story it can also be kind of awesome.
 

JamesonCourage

Villager
So rather than condition nerf, for future design of these sorts of solos I'm looking at ways of regaining some momentum. (Eg ways of generating additional action points.)
I've done this with a couple solos that I've homebrewed in my campaign.

The first one was from the first session. It was an orc necromancer / ice wizard, who had set up four ice mirrors that he could use to attack through, summon minions, or teleport to. The PCs destroyed one (since he kept using them), and I told them that he had gained an action point (a successful Arcana from the Wizard and Warpriest told them this, if I remember correctly). He could do this with every mirror, but no more than 1/round (it was an immediate reaction, I think). This caused the PCs to focus on the mirrors quickly, but the solo ended up with two extra action points.

The second solo was encountered recently, when the level 4 PCs faced off against a level 13 solo death knight. He destroyed the party, but at one point, the Warpriest used an action point, and I told them that he had gained one (I think it was via an Arcana and Religion). He wasn't limited to only 1/round, either, but it never came up. Of course, with that solo, some of his actions cost action points (like traveling between the Nine Hells and the natural world), so if he uses them all in combat, he can't escape.

At any rate, I do like the idea of action point recovery for solos. I like it a bit more than minor action attacks, honestly, unless the attack is tied to something that can be stopped halfway through the encounter (like the ice mirrors I mentioned). But that's just my preference so far with my admittedly small amount of experience (the PCs are barely level 6).
 

MortalPlague

Adventurer
Hmm. I anticipate battles with at least Lolth and Orcus in the party's future. Orcus obviously needs a lot of work from his MM version! But I will definitely be looking at Lolth too, in light of the Torog experience.
My own experience with high level god-slaying came during a break between campaigns. We decided to have everyone roll up a 30th level character and we'd see how tough the gods were. The first session was a practice against a whole armada of high level dragons / demons. I don't even think a single PC took damage. Then we moved on to the real deal, with a beefed-up Ogremoch. The second fight was Lolth, and the third was with Vecna.

I go into more detail in the thread http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?300634-Epic-4th-Edition-We-Fought-The-Gods&p=5449423#post5449423

Of particular note, I stole some of RangerWickett's creations for the Lolth fight (which was the most successful of the three), so you'd do well to check out his work too:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?297874-Lolth-takes-Rio-de-Janeiro-(was-The-drow-pantheon)
 
My own experience with high level god-slaying came during a break between campaigns. We decided to have everyone roll up a 30th level character and we'd see how tough the gods were.

<snip>

I go into more detail in the thread http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?300634-Epic-4th-Edition-We-Fought-The-Gods&p=5449423#post5449423
I remember that thread from when you originally posted it!

I saw that you gave the gods a free save without the +5 vs "til next turn" effects. For Torog I gave him such a save with his bonus, but costing him his immediate action (as an interrupt).

Am I also right in thinking your PCs were at full strength for each fight? Or did they get only a short rest between them?

In my case, the PCs had fought a 30th level encounter already (at 24th level - that's what got them to 25th), then done the skill challenge, fought the shrivers (challenge plus shrivers was another level 30 encounter I think), then Torog. Part of why they found the shrivers hard was because they thought they might have to face Torog and so were holding dailies in reserve: which they then duly unleashed! (Like their zones, and the sorcerer's stunning power.)
 

MortalPlague

Adventurer
Am I also right in thinking your PCs were at full strength for each fight? Or did they get only a short rest between them?
The PCs had the benefit of a full rest between each fight. It was more of an exercise in high-powered epic combat to see how the capabilities of a full epic party worked against the gods. For an actual campaign, they'd have been whittled down by the time they reached one of the deities. :D
 

MortalPlague

Adventurer
@MortalPlague - did your group ever do Vecna?
Yes.

I wasn't as thrilled with the design of the Vecna fight as the other two, and the fight wasn't nearly as interesting or fun as the others.


What Went Well:

Vecna, Lord of Secrets had many secrets during the fight. I didn't write him on the initiative, and he had more than one action each round. When he acted was up to the DM, and he acted frequently and decisively. I also kept it a secret when he became bloodied, and when he passed below 0 hit points. To unravel the Lord of Secrets, one had to solve the Great Mysteries of Vecna.

As a result of these things, Vecna felt very different to fight than the others, and appropriately mysterious.

In addition, Vecna carried a great Book of Secrets. He could trap a PC in the book, and they became Forgotten. Everyone else had to make a saving throw to remember the existence of their missing comrade. The book could be destroyed to release the forgotten adventurers.


What Went Wrong:

Firstly, Vecna was met alone. This was a mistake. He had the capability to fight the party well enough, especially taking so many actions, but he felt much less intense than Lolth and her pantheon, or Ogremoch and his guardians. Combine that with the relative lack of visible progress in the fight, and things were less than exciting (not exactly dull, but not as riveting as I'd hoped).

The second problem was the book; I trapped the barbarian early, and nobody realized that the book was what had sprung the trap. I didn't clue in to the fact that it hadn't been apparent, so the barbarian's player was sitting for a couple rounds (a while in epic). I finally had to point out that the book could be attacked.

So yeah, it wasn't as good a fight as the others. The PCs still won, but the Lolth fight was still a closer battle.
 

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