PCs defeat Miska, but relinquish the Crystal of the Ebon Flame

pemerton

Legend
In a fairly recent post I explained how the PCs, making their way across the Abyssal Barrens to Mal Arundak, defeated Ometh, Exarch of the Raven Queen.

The PCs made it to Mal Arundak after surviving the rigours of Abyssal travel (an exploration-style skill challenge adapted from the journey to Deadhold one in P2 - not run all that well by me, and not all that satisfying in the end, so I'll pass over it).

But they entered Mal Arundak by making it past the demon hordes via a mixture of sneakiness (Seeming and flying Phantom Steeds), and then combat (fighting a couple of demon horde swarms (elite 24th level brutes) while the invoker/wizard opened the doors to Mal Arundak. On the other side of the gates the bastion's self-deluded corrupted-angel guardians were waiting to welcome these heroic figures sent by Pelor to relieve the siege. The PCs had already learned that the siege was ages old, and upon inspecting it close-up and then talking to the guardians it seemed even clearer that its principal purpose was not to actual break into and sack Mal Arundak. They speculated as to why this might be, and concluded that its purposes was, perhaps, to corrupt the guardians.

It also became clear to them that there were chaotic forces within Mal Arundak as well as outside it - connected, they assumed, to the Ebon Flame, which they knew to be locked up inside the bastion and believed to contain the essence of the Elder Elemental Eye.

The "angels" showed the weary travellers to a room where they could rest and freshen up. The invoker/wizard used Purify Water to remove the corrupting sludge from the fountain in the room, and they took a long rest (they also may have done some divination, but the details escape me).

Reinvigorated, they went back out to speak to the angels, and presented as their principal concern the need to check the bastion's defences, and reinvigorate them if necessary. The paranoid "angels" began to suspect them, however, of wanting to be shown the way to the Flame so they could steal it. Matters came to something of a head when the invoker/wizard, as part of "reinforcing the magic wards", raised a Magic Circle vs Demons at the entrance to the reliquary where the Flame was stored - the angels could sense that they couldn't cross it, and accused him of treachery, but he (and his fellows) retorted that the angels has been corrupted by their long labours on the Abyss, and insisted that they join in a ritual of purification and reinvigoration in the spirit of Pelor. (This had been resolved a social skill challenge, in which the PCs were successful so far.)

The invoker/wizard then used his Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes to recall a teleport sigil from Pelor's hold in Hestavar, and opened a Planar Portal directly to that point (successful Arcana check), allowing Pelor's divine power to wash over the PCs and the angels. A successful Religion check purged them of their corruption, and they duly thanked the PCs for purifying them, and allowed them to enter the reliquary to learn where the chaos was coming from. (The invoker/wizard's Rod of 5 out of 7 Parts was going nuts with the urgent desire to enter the reliquary.)

I had statted up the reliquary based on E1: Pelor's Visage as a blasting fire and radiance trap at the entrance, and then twin corridors curving around on each side to the principal reliquary behind the entrance corridor, with each of those corridors guarded by two statues: an Angel of Madness doing psychic damage vs Will and debuff, and an Angel of Desolation doing necrotic damage vs Fort and debuff. (Stats attached.) Getting through here was fairly brutal surge-wise, but the invoker/wizard once again pulled them through with a move action to stand, Astral Step as a second move action to teleport the part past the Visage and the first angel statue, then a 3rd move action (from action point or a Timeless Locket, I can't remember which) to get himself out of the blast radius of the second angel statue.

Once the rest of the party made their way into the reliquary, they found an altar in a room that was gradually eroding under the force of destructive, chaotic energies coming from within the altar (for those who know the E1 map, the red glowing thing was the altar; the unfinished and rubble strewn floor was described as a once-finished room eroding from within). Great mosaics on the walls showed an evil primordial falling to the earth like a shooting star, sucking souls into himself rather than letting them go to rest in the Shadowfell, and ultimately being defeated by the gods and their allies and trapped within the reliquary. This was consistent with the PCs' expectations that within the altar they would find the Crystal of Ebon Flame with the essence of the Elemental Eye inside it.

The invoker/wizard translated the supernal on the altar that announced that it contained the Ebon Flame. He prepared Object Reading (taking an hour) while the other PCs studied the sculptures and improvised some defences from the rubble where the floor had broken up. He then placed his hands into the marked slot and released his Object Reading. He learned that the altar had been made by Moradin and Pelor; that the Ebon Flame was within it; and that he was the first to touch it since it had been built. The altar itself spoke a riddle in Supernal (again from E1) - in summary form, what is the formless, colourless thing that moves the gods and causes victims of those who ignore it?

I was impressed that within five minutes or so of discussion the players had narrowed their options to Justice or Compassion/Benevolence. (Hope had also been canvassed but rule out as too non-specific; the contribution of the tiefling paladin of the Raven Queen, as played by his player, was to comment that this seemed to be about one of those good ideals rather than something like pride or revenge, and therefore the others could work it out.) The consensus seemed to be "Compassion", but the word had to be spoken in Supernal by the invoker/wizard, and he refused to place Compassion before Justice (he serves Erathis, Ioun, Bane, Vecna, Levistus, the Raven Queen, and Pelor only rather secondarily). Speaking the word "Justice" the altar blasted him with a crit for 77 points of damage, back into the angel of desolation where he took a bit more damage and had to be healed up before having another go. He then reluctantly spoke the word Compassion, and the altar opened up revealing the Ebon Flame - from which the form of Miska the Wolf Spider immediately burst forth (stats attached below).

The PCs had been expecting something bad, but not Miska. They decided not to hold back, and Miska was subjected to a barrage of daily powers, action points etc. The early part of the fight put some pressure on the PCs - he stunned the dwarf fighter who tried to close, beat up some of the others with a sweep of his morning star, had the archer-cleric locked well within his area of threatening reach, and ensnared the invoker/wizard in webs. But the sorcerer and archer let forth an unrelenting sequence of ranged attacks (the sorcerer's all doing minor teleports, which freed the PCs from the threatening reach and sent Miska into the zone of an angel of desolation, dazing him; the archer critting on Twin Strike with his demon-slaying bow). And the invoker/wizard got out more daze, and I discovered that the various action-denial recovery options I'd build into Miska weren't enough to let him get out his attacks. So Miska was defeated, with the archer landing the killing arrow, and his body was sucked back into the Ebon Flame.

The PCs took another short rest and then debated whether or not the invoker/wizard should pick up the Crystal. He decided to - he could already sense that it was a +6 orb, among other abilities - and he entered into a very happy communion with it, feeling the urgings of Miska's spirit (to deal chaos everywhere, and free the Chained God to strike back at the heavens) but also the presence of the divine within it. He also learned that it didn't, and never had, contained the Elemental Eye, which created some discussion as to the reasons for the deception around the nature of the reliquary and Mal Arundak. He also learned that it wanted to keep this fact secret from Lolth, so that she would not try and absorb more of Miska's essence. And he learned that Miska's body, after he was killed with the original Rod of Law before it shattered into the Rod of 7 Parts, passed through a portal to Carceri, and that Pelor had then bound his soul into the Ebon Flame, trapping him but also making him unable to be killed until the Flame is shattered by the fully rebuilt Rod.

The invoker/wizard wanted to take the Flame with him, and it was happy to go with him, but there was a lot of disagreement by other PCs who were worried about its corrupting tendencies, and also worried about the fact that other lore suggested that shattering it with the reformed Rod would trigger the end of time, which some are worried means the end of the mortal world and the establishment of the perfected (and static) Lattice of Heaven. There were also concerns that Pazrael/Pazuzu seemed to have led them to Mal Arundak in the first place, by leaving various clues and portents, and that he might have designs on the Ebon Flame even though they'd beaten back Miska.

As a compromise, the wizard summoned his Leomund's Secret Chest, put the Flame inside that, and then put the whole package back in the Altar, which the dwarf then sealed (he is also a cleric of Moradin). So the Flame remains secured in Mal Arundak, but the invoker/wizard can summon it if need requires him to.

The dwarf and the drow sorcerer (who worships Corellon) then urged the invoker/wizard to restore the reliquary where it had been eroded by chaos, and he did so, casting Make Whole but drawing upon the divine power within the altar. This not only repaired the physical form of the reliquary, but reactivated two angelic statues in the reliquary - Angels of Defeat - which started blasting the PCs with radiant damage (vs Reflex) and debuffs.

This made the escape back through the gauntlet of blasting traps a bit trickier than anticipated, but Arcane Gate did the job of avoiding most of the hurt. Having started their investigation of the reliquary at full health, the PCs are down to 5 surges on each of the archer and sorcerer, 3 on the invoker/wizard, and 13 each on the defenders.

They were preparing to take another extended rest, but the paladin and ranger-cleric (who also serves the Raven Queen) received an urgent vision from their mistress, where they saw a blue-white star falling through the sky from behind the purple star Caiphon, oddly sitting high above the horizon. The general theory is that this is related to the fact that killing Ometh broke the Raven Queen's pact with the Far Realm to keep her name secret, so the PCs will now head off to deal with this. (As the paladin put it, "My mistress is not one to be blackmailed by a giant inside-out dwarf.")
 

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  • Mal Arundak reliquary.doc
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Good write-up as always @pemerton. Always enjoy reading them. Couple of questions:

1 - I know you aren't a big fan of running exploration Skill Challenges but I would be interested in finding out more about the Abyssal travel Skill Challenge. What was at stake? (eg Getting lost and having to deal with something terrible and then another Skill Challenge to get "un-lost?" Exposure to Abyssal conditions, loss of surges, dangerous hazards/encounters, and/or possibly contracting an Abyssal Disease?)? What complexity? How was it initially framed? What complications did you use along the way to exert pressure on specific PCs? What was their response? What was the outcome and how did it change things mechanically and within the fiction?

2 - Were you happy with the functionality of play in the resolution of the Crystal of the Ebon Flame scene within the reliquary? Would you have rather have framed it as a punitive Skill Challenge where failures (including answering the riddle incorrectly as a failure accrued) equals exposure to the Angelic "Hazards", psychic damage due to feedback exposure to forbidden lore @ 2 (or so) Healing Surges lost apiece for the group, with ultimate failure releasing Miska for an epic fight? The narrative that you've written looks good and PCs clearly deployed thematic resources to resolve the conflict. I'm just curious if you're happy with the functionality of play GM-side. The reason that I ask is because I've done something very similar (in spirit) to what you've written there (in this case it was an exorcism where the players were shunted into the mind of the victim to deal with the demon) except it was in Skill Challenge format.
 


pemerton

Legend
I really enjoyed that!
Thanks.

Good write-up as always
And thanks.

I know you aren't a big fan of running exploration Skill Challenges but I would be interested in finding out more about the Abyssal travel Skill Challenge. What was at stake? (eg Getting lost and having to deal with something terrible and then another Skill Challenge to get "un-lost?" Exposure to Abyssal conditions, loss of surges, dangerous hazards/encounters, and/or possibly contracting an Abyssal Disease?)? What complexity? How was it initially framed? What complications did you use along the way to exert pressure on specific PCs? What was their response? What was the outcome and how did it change things mechanically and within the fiction?
I've attached my write-up to this post (though it was 23rd rather than 24th, as they went their earlier than I had anticipated; and the stats for the demon swarms aren't on there, as they were handwritten on another page). It was heavily derived from the P2 one I mentioned, and so emphasised endurance, and steps to help with that, with a series of vignette-style encoutners along the way.

The one with the giant Abyssal dragon bones was fine - the invoker/wizard broke off a shard of bone for future use - and the one with the tombstones was OK too, reinforcing the idea of Abyssal emnity towards the PCs.

The one with the three Abyssal skirmishers was easy as a combat encounter, and was more interesting for the fall down the pit, which triggered the encounter with the oublietted Elidyr (which I worked out on the spot, and which I mentioned in the Ometh writeup).

The castle one led to the Ometh encounter, plus recovery of a sealed box that they haven't opened yet due to between-sessions forgetfullness.

The avoidance ones, with a demon horde and the dragon flying overhead, were fairly quick to resolve but didn't really add anything, I don't think. In retrospect the whole thing would have been better done as a single group Endurance check for a larger amount of damage at stake (max damage on fail, half damage on Easy, no damage on Moderate, with group failure leading to double damage, or something like that) - and then I could have just dropped in some of the vignettes. Though in that case no one would have been down surges during the Ometh fight, and that was relevant for the situation of the invoker/wizard, who was doing the worst with Endurance checks.

Were you happy with the functionality of play in the resolution of the Crystal of the Ebon Flame scene within the reliquary?
Yes, I was happy with all of this. The gauntlet of blasters, which I was worried might be a bit tedious in resolution due to lack of dynamism, actually worked pretty well, with just enough in it to require some thought about how to get through, but not so much to bog down once the teleport strategy had been implemented.

The dealing with the altar was also fine - the riddle, which again I had been worried might bog down, was easily solved but in a way that brought out different outlooks among the PCs as to which values are pre-eminent; the Object Reading gave me an opportunity to download some more backstory, which the players need as they are moving towards the resolution of the cosmological conflicts in which they are embroiled; the fight with Miska, though not as vicious as I had been aiming for, reinforced some key story elements, incuding that beating Miska back into submission would, at least for the moment, eliminate the chaotic forces; and the Make Whole at the end was basically set-dressing, and so as soon as the players were able to nominate a source of components strong enough to make it work (the altar) I was happy for it to work.

When I was writing up, I realised that the write-up very much emphasised the priority of the invoker/wizard in the events, and that is probably accurate, but the other players and PCs - especially but not only the Corellon-worshipping demonskin-wearing chaos drow - were heavily involved in making choices and shaping the direction of events. I've posted before that I'm worried that the party might implode before they get to 30th level due to all the inherent tensions, and I felt the whole reliquary/Miska/Ebon Flame episode allowed those tensions to be further elaborated and developed while the party still maintained a (perhaps fragile) truce, based in this case on the Leomund's Chest compromise.
 

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  • Journey to Mal Arundak.doc
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Quickleaf

Legend
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] Solid write-up! If anyone doubts that rituals can be a centerpiece of a 4e game, they haven't met your invoker-wizard player! There were like 8 or 9 rituals dropped in that session alone! :)
 

pemerton

Legend
If anyone doubts that rituals can be a centerpiece of a 4e game, they haven't met your invoker-wizard player! There were like 8 or 9 rituals dropped in that session alone!
He likes doing funky things with rituals (like opening a portal to Pelor's divine grace) and with his Arcana and Religion skills more generally. He took the feat to give +2 to all ritual checks, and is also a Sage of Ages (+6 to Dungeoneering, Nature, History, Arcana and Religion) and so they are something of a forte of his.

(The chaos drow likes to do funky things with Arcana too, but has a +17 bonus, and so generally lends himself and/or others in trouble.)

One thing I do is drop a lot of components (at this tier, mostly residuum) as treasure, and also ritual books. The way I do items in my game I follow wishlist requests, but they are mostly gifted or upgraded from existing items via the forces of luck and divinity, so the actual amount of coin flowing in the game is fairly limited. I think this reduces that money spent on rituals is money wasted.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
@pemerton Solid write-up! If anyone doubts that rituals can be a centerpiece of a 4e game, they haven't met your invoker-wizard player! There were like 8 or 9 rituals dropped in that session alone! :)

So true.

I read [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s write-ups and wish I had players who were as creative as that... then I correct myself and remind myself that I need to lay out more ritual-related treasures and whatnot, as pemerton explains, to encourage this.
 

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