PCs vs Demonweb Pits (continued)

pemerton

Legend
In my 4e session yesterday, the PCs finished their fight with Lolth, but this did involve some escalation into a fight with Pazuzu, as I will try to explain below. (Warning: long post ahead.)

In our previous session, the PCs had defeated Lolth in her drow sorcerer form surprisingly easily. This session began with Lolth transformed into her Spider Queen form, but stunned and prone.

Some of the PCs were also stunned, horrified by Lolth's transformation from person to beast.

In the first few turns, not much happened. The invoker/wizard recovered from his stun (Superior Will) but recoiled in fear (aftereffect: pushed squares equal to speed and dazed). Being dazed, he had only one action - I don't think he attacked, but instead used a minor action to deactivate his imp familiar (because he couldn't afford for it to die in an AoE from Lolth, because he needed access to the Eye of Vecna, which is implanted in the imp).

The sorcerer attacked but missed.

The ranger-cleric recovered from stun (Superior Will) but also recoiled in fear, and opted to fall over the side of the Thundercloud Tower (his Safewing Amulet let him land on his feet) so that he couldn't be attacked by Lolth (he was quite low on hp and taking ongoing damage).

Then Lolth came out of stun. The dwarf fighter used Supremacy of Steel to get two attacks, missed both (I think), and got impaled by one of Lolth's legs when he tried to shift.

The paladin also missed.

The it was Lolth's turn. She took auto-zone damage at the start of her turn (around 130 hp worth), but regenerated 100 (in my tweaking of Lolth from MM3, I had given her regen 100 to give her a bit more of a fighting chance, and to emulate her old Heal 3x/day ability). She teleported to a better position (but still prone), did an effective AoE with her burning webs (minor action), used her standard action to do a combined attack of bite and ranged attack against the dwarf (the sorcerer took an AoE for the ranged attack and hit; Lolth was ignoring the paladin's mark and took some damage), then spent an action point to teleport again - she teleported off the tower and out of the zones into the air, falling down to her webs. The players rolled the 7d10 damage.

At this point she had around 490 hp left.

The ranger attacked with Twin Strike and missed twice. (His player was absent, with the drow sorcerer rolling instead: 2 11s were consistent rolling, but not what was required.)

The invoker/wizard stood up from prone, used his Ring of Wizardry to recharge his encounter Domination Powe (minor), and then readied an action to operate the Thundercloud Tower - this was part of a cunning plan that involved the zones of auto-damage, as will become clearer in a moment.

Then the sorcerer acted, and missed with Prismatic Explosion but still managed to do around 60 points of damage. Lolth now had 428 hp left. He elected not to sustain his Primordial Form (epic destiny utility) and so shrank into a normal drow at the end of his turn (rather than a Huge primordial of thunder and lightning), but used his minor action to sustain one of his zones (the other being auto-sustain). And he used his move action to fly (with Dominant Winds) the invoker/wizard into the Thundercloud Tower's control circle - which (with his readied action) the invoker/wizard then activated, driving the tower straight down, tearing through the demonwebs.

The players knew they were doing something fairly drastic rending the demonwebs, but I had to decide exactly what happened as a result. Looking up Q1 (a very hard module to reference quickly, I discovered over the course of these two sessions), I read out to the group its description of the space beyond the demonwebs - "A player who steps of the paths of webbing is swept away into the howling winds of the Abyss". So I flipped through my copy of Manual of the Planes to find something suitable for these howling winds and decided that a Vacuum Rift (levelled from 14th to 28th) and an Entropic Fissure (levelled from 22nd to 30th) should do the job. Some quick calculations showed that the Tower would lose 35 hp/round while stuck in the rift like a bath-plug. And there was a serious danger of the ranger, who was out on the webs next to the tower, would get sucked into the rift and transformed into a Far Realm mutate (more on this below).

The other effect of driving the tower straight down was to allow the auto-damage zones to expand downwards about their points of origin, so that if Lolth were to be pulled back into them she would take the auto-damage for entering these squares.

The dwarf fighter then set about doing this, by moving to the corner of the tower and using Warrior's Urging.

At this point, I had to make some rulings (and a fair bit of what follows is a repost from the current "Best of 4e" thread, where I posted it as part of a discussion of "rulings not rules"). The description of what happened in the dwarf fighter's turn, and the paladin's turn after that, will be fairly lengthy.

The players didn't know about the divine discorporation rules - I had mentioned them during an earlier fight with Torog, but that was about a year ago (real time) and had not been remembered. Whereas I did know about them, and also knew that being pulled through both zones would do enough damage to bloody Lolth and hence lead to her discorporation: when the dice were actually rolled, as she passed into the first auto-damage zone she was left about 50 hp above bloodied, and then - when she was drawn through the next zone - she was down to 307 hp (her bloodied value is 317 hp).

I had already decided, in thinking about how the encounter with Lolth would resolve over the fortnight since our last session, that when Lolth discorporated she would die but the Queen of Chaos would be freed. The Queen of Chaos is a primordial/demon (described in the Demonomicon sourcebook) that only the sorcerer knew about up until now, as it was a pact with her that had established him as a Demonskin Adept back in the lead-up to Paragon tier. (And as a result he had her symbol branded on the inside of his eyelids - which is what causes him to become blind when he sees glimpses of the Abyss, his 16th level path feature.)

So I rolled Bluff for Lolth and then got the players to roll Insight - two of them beat her (the paladin and the invoker/wizard) and so I told them they could see her smirking, and almost welcoming being bloodied - and then when they asked why I told them that they suddenly recalled (one in his capacity as a Marshall of Letherna, the other as a Sage of Ages with Memories of 1000 Lifetimes) that a deity who is bloodied might discorporate - and the Sage of Ages (bearing the Rod of Law and having made the better check, beating a Hard DC) could also sense the Queen of Chaos about to break free.

Last session I had hinted, and this session I confirmed to the player (and PC), via telepathic communication from Lolth/the Queen of Chaos as she was on the verge of discorporation, that all this time he had been chanelling chaos energy from her (especially via Demonsoul Bolts) so that he could come and kill Lolth and free her. (My Lolth backstory: she became corrupted because, when she used her webs to hold the world together she encountered, and was possessed by, the Queen of Chaos at the bottom of the Abyss.) I like it when old backstory - in this case, the fiction around a PC's paragon path acquisition from a session over four years ago - comes back into focus to support further backstory, as it did here.

And I dropped in another reveal that I'd been thinking about for a while - the Queen of Chaos (taking control over Lolth as her discorporation approached) called out to the invoker/wizard that the 7th part of his Rod of Law (currently made of 6 parts) could be recovered from Miska the Wolf-Spider in his prison in Carceri. The sorcerer realised the significance of this, because he knows the prophecy (from Demonomicon) that when the Rod of 7 Parts is restored "A’othorh’s shroud will darken the gateway”, the Queen of Chaos will return and the Dusk War begin.

Anyway, all this led led to some discussion and debate among the players (and PCs) - should the fighter not pull Lolth in at all? - but he was resolute that now was the time to somehow try and kill her. So when Lolth came within two squares of him, and thereby entered the second zone, she became bloodied.

This was the trigger for Lolth's discorporation, and it takes place as "no action". The fighter has a power, Sudden Opportunity, that is a free action when an enemy becomes bloodied. I let him take his attack. He rolled a crit, which took another 100-odd points of Lolth, but still left her up, just below 200 hit points.

Because the attack roll was a 20, the fighter was able to use his paragon path ability to recover a daily power - I ruled that he could recover Sudden Opportunity. Sudden Opportunity is triggered on an enemy become bloodied or being critted. So I ruled that the fighter, having recovered it by critting, could use it again.

The player rolled a 17, which was enough to hit (he needed 15 or better: +31 based, +2 for combat advantage from Deadly Draw, +1 because Lolth was subject to the Battlefield Archer ranger's Hunter's Quarry vs AC 49). This did enough damage to bring Lolth down to 117 hp.

4e's timing rules around free actions and no actions (which discorporation is) have always been a bit hand-wavey, so I had to make rulings here. The rulings on Sudden Opportunity's recharge and re-trigger could probably have gone either way, but if a player is worried about Lolth discorporating before he can kill her, and looks down his sheet and sees a triggered daily power that could stop that, then rolls a crit and has a recharge ability that could let him reuse it, and the rules permit that interpretation, then I am going to go with it!

So Lolth was getting very low on hp, but was still about to discorporate.

But while this was all being resolved at the table the paladin player had, in the meantime, declared that he wanted to use his Ring of Tenacious Will - which has a "no action" ability that allows it's wearer to hang on when normally s/he would be killed - to instead make Lolth hang on rather than discorporate: in effect to externalise rather than internalise the ring's power. There is well-established precedent in our game for PCs permanently burning magic items for thematically related but not canonical effects, and that sort of control over life and death is a part of his PC's schtick as a Marshall of Letherna. (In the previous session, he had made a Religion check to divert the souls from the Demonweb to that part of the Shadowfell that is under his control, the Bridge that May be Traversed But Once.)

I asked him if he recalled how he had got the ring - in particular, how he had called on Pazrael (Pazuzu) for aid. With that prompting from me, he did. I said that to "externalise" it, he would need Pazrael's help. He was happy to do that. I also pointed out that this would destroy the ring, costing him 5 surges (because his Surge base would shift from a +9 CHA bonus back to a +4 CON bonus) which would leave him with exactly zero remaining. The player replied "I'm a Questing Knight - we all die sooner!" - no "or later" was forthcoming.

Pazuzu's motive for doing this was to stop the Queen of Chaos benefiting from the demise of the Demonweb and hence the unleashing of the ultimate chaos of the Abyss, which only Lolth's webs were keeping at bay, per the Underdark sourcebook. (That Lolth's webs had remade and held creation together as part of the Dawn War was a well-established detail in our campaign that the players knew - so they knew that in killing her and wrecking the Demonweb they were taking a risk).

Then, to show that I wasn't a completely arbitrary GM, I pulled a slip of paper out of my GM folder, from its somewhat tattered state clearly written a while ago (from memory, probably about 2 or 3 years ago) and showed it to the players. It written on it, "Pazuzu may appear to the PCs". I declared myself to be playing it an interrupt speed, and so Pazuzu appeared, and helped the paladin externalise the power of his ring. (The players were amused, although the player of the dwarf fighter did point out that I might have dozens of such bits of paper with all manner of plot point written on them.)

It wasn't clear exactly how long Pazuzu's manipulation of the Ring of Tenacious Will, in conjunction with the exercise of will by a 28th level Marshall of Letherna, would stop Lolth's discorporation, but it was now established that her discorporation was sufficiently delayed that the fighter could complete his pull (from warrior's urging) and take his attack - which hit again (I think 15 exactly was rolled) and brought her down to 56 hp left. The paladin's turn was next - as Lolth was marked by him he used Winter's Arrival to teleport into a flank of her with the fighter, attacked with a reasonable-damage power needing only a 12 to hit (compared to the fighter he had +2 to hit for her being bloodied, and a +1 bonus from his Blessed Weapon) and rolled a 14, and did enough damage to drop Lolth to -3. And so Lolth died rather than discorporated. (And before her turn came up - which would have been next - so I didn't need to rule on how Lolth/the Queen of Chaos might break free of the influence of the Ring of Tenacious Will and Pazuzu.)

In the fiction, what happened during the fighter's and paladin's turns? Lolth, prone (due to being already prone when teleporting plus falling from her teleport 70' up) but angry scuttles across her demonwebs to attack the PCs, who are 15' above web-level in their half-"submerged" fighter". As she does so, she enters the sorcerer's zones, which scour here with thunder plus the Swords of the Marilith, causing her to begin discorporation (against Lolth's will, perhaps, but strongly willed by the Queen of Chaos latent within her). As she starts to discorporate the dwarf is laying into her with Overwhelm, his hammer, again (the crit) and again (the second Sudden Opportunity). Then Pazuzu suddenly appears (responding to the silent call of the paladin) and takes the paladin's ring from him, and th two use its power over life and death to delay the discorporation and the Queen of Chaos's emergence. Lolth closes on the fighter, trying to gain the upper hand, but he continues to lay into her with his hammer (the attack for Warrior's Urging) and then the paladin teleport in a shroud of ice adjacent to her and stabs her with his khopesh (like Sam against Shelob), destroying her physical form before she can discorporate and the Queen of Chaos manifest herself at the chaotic heart of the Abyss.

Lolth's dying telepathic projection to the sorcerer (who, while a Demonskin Adept and Emergent Primordial is also a votary of Corellon) was in Elvish: "Tell Corellon . . . I . . . always . . . lo----". And then she was gone. The sorcerer player completed it as "loved him", the invoker/wizard player as "loathed his guts".

So in the end Lolth lasted three rounds - one last session, two this session. The ending - with a crit, three hits in a row from the fighter when 15+ was needed, the paladin summoning in Pazuzu and burning his uber-ring - was dramatic. But the situation wasn't resolved, and the session wasn't over.

Pazuzu was still there, standing on the tower next to the invoker/wizard wielding the Rod of Law (made up of 6 of its 7 parts). I started to mention to the player that his rod had a strong urge to lay into Pazuzu, but didn't have to finish the sentence - the player was way ahead of me. But Pazuzu's turn came up first. He wanted to take the rod - because he wants to stop the prophecy of the Dusk War, which doesn't name him as the one who takes control of the powers of chaos! But he didn't want to turn all the PCs against him (I hadn't anticipated him turning up, and so hadn't restatted him from Demonomicon, which means that he is a solo without very good action economy or defence against action denial).

So he decided to attack the invoker/wizard subtly. I rolled a very high Bluff check (50-something) for him, which meant that no one but the invoker noticed his use of Soul Corruption (a power with the charm and psychic keywords, so no overt manifestation) - at least until he kept it up and bloodied the PC!)to try and dominate that PC. Because he was adjacent to the PC, and because that is a ranged power, it triggered an OA which the invoker/wizard took(though he needed a 20 to hit, and it would not have been a crit, and he missed). Of course this swin with the rod was very obvious, and Pazuzu then called out that he'd been attacked "unprovoked" and used his Pestilence power to shift (fly) away, which also happened to let him attack the PC with a poison cloud.

The only evidence that the other PCs had for Pazuzu initiating these attacks were the invoker/wizard's protestations, so they did not respond right away.

The paladin was down on the web near the rift, and he got sucked into it even as he was yelling at the invoker/wizard not to attack Pazuzu. And the ranger also got sucked in, and into the Far Realm, only to be spat back out as helpless protoplasmic mutates. (This is the effect of the Entropic Fissure in MotP.)

The invoker/wizard cursed that he had to rescue them when he should be fighting Pazuzu, leaped over the edge of the tower (taking some small amount of damage) and then used Astral Step to teleport the three of them (himself prone, having just leaped down without Acrobatics training) up onto the top of the tower. He also reactivated his familiar, ready to power-up with the Eye of Vecna.

The drow then spent his turn piloting the Tower up and out of the hole in the demonwebs (because he didn't want it taking any more damage) and then negotiating with Eclavadra (the leader of the six drow who were running across the Demonwebs in pursuit of the PCs). He tried to call them to service in the name of Corellon, which was not that effective. But Eclavdra is a former servant of the Elemental Eye, and had just seen (i) the PCs kill her god, and (ii) the drow PC taking the form of a Huge primodial. So she swore herself and her underling to serve him and the powers of Chaos, as the obviously true power given Lolth's evident failure. (This produced amusement from the invoker player, who thought it was very Drow-ish.)

At this point the player of the fighter had had to leave the session, and so on his turn the dwarf - having no obvious enemy to chop, and not knowing that he should be trying to target Pazuzu, did nothing.

When the paladin's turn came, he tried to reason with Pazuzu that it was all a misunderstanding and they should be friends. He succeeded on a Medium Diplomacy check, but that was not enough to sway Pazuzu.

Then Pazuzu's turn came up again and he struck for real. (As best I can recall - I think the description below might be missing a turn cycle, but it's my best recollection!)

At the start of his turn he used his Master Manipulator trait to slide the dwarf, who was standing on the edge of the tower, 3 squares. Even with a 2 square reduction (dwarf plus theme) this was enough to force a saving throw, which was rolled and failed, and the dwarf went tumbling over the edge. He would then be sucked into the rift, and into the Far Realm, and spat out as another helpless mutate.

Then Pazuzu attacked the invoker/wizard for real, using his Soul Corruption first, then moving in and using a suite of standard and minor actions to really lay into him. But the invoker/wizard triggered his ectoplasmic armour to become insubstantial, which mitigated some of the damage. I can't remember the exact sequence but I know that he was bloodied by one attack and then went unconscious , but then was revived with a Majestic Word from the sorcerer (who dabbles as a bard). The sorcerer's own attack missed, however.

On the invoker/wizard's turn he stood up (move), activated the Eye of Vecna to get +10 to hit (minor) and then unleashed Compel Action, his encounter Domination ability. With the buff, he hit, dominating Pazuzu. He also took a lot of damage (ongoing, plus an aura) but his ectoplasmic armour helped with that, so he ended his turn with 8 hp left. His plan for Pazuzu's turn is to have him fly into the Abyssal rift!

The paladin took the last turn of the session: he pulled the Flying Carpet from the body of the mutate ranger (minor), flew on it down to the edge of the rift (move) and grabbed the dwarf who had been spat out by the Far Realm (minor). But he himself got grabbed by the rift, and is in danger of being sucked in.

So there is quite a bit to resolve next session: Will Pazuzu be successfully sent into the rift ? If not, it could be ugly, as he still has his full complement of 1252 hp left. Will the paladin - who is himself stuck at the edge of the rift - be able to escape? Will the drow NPCs remain Elemental loyalists, or is Pazuzu the new rising power?

My calculations tell me that Lolth (level 35 solo) plus Pazuzu (level 33 solo) plus a 28th and 30th level hazard make for a level 38 encounter overall (ie party level +10). With the quest XP for dealing with Lolth and the drow, this encounter is overall 500,000 XP - or 100,000 each. With the PCs only about twelve-and-half thousand short of 29th at the start of it, they will be halfway to 30th when it resolves, assuming they survive.
 

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pemerton

Legend
I think this may be my favourite of your session reports yet.

Well done to all. Superb.
Thanks. It was fun, and the crit (and follow-ups) to stop Lolth discorporating were exciting!

Intra-party bickering is also always fun, which this session had (with the paladin-Pazuzu-invoker triangle).

I also liked that the role of Lolth's webs in holding the world together was able to come out in the context of the combat - it's good when the cosmological can be recognised and experienced in the microcosm of action-resolution, I think, because it makes it more "real" as a part of the game.
 

pemerton

Legend
Another thing I should have mentioned: once Lolth was dead, I asked the player of the drow sorcerer if he'd considered travelling back in time to try and stop Lolth getting corrupted.

He said that he hadn't - though I did point out that the PCs had travelled back in time on a previous occasion, and had fought a creature (Ygorl) who travels back in time from the end of the world.

I think it's too late, now that Lolth has been killed and her soul condemned by a Marshall of Letherna.

EDIT: Another bit I left out of the write-up, which elaborates on why Lolth's soul was condemned - the paladin used Clarion of Sorrow (epic destiny utility that stops creatures regenerating or returning as undead) on the turn when he teleported in and killed Lolth. When you want an enemy to go down and stay down.
 
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D'karr

Adventurer
Definitely Epic feel! Very exciting, and innovative. I like the idea of a floating tower piercing its way through the demonweb, very evocative. I particularly liked the back and forth of actions. Made the whole thing feel very fluid and tense.

I made mention in the best things about 4e thread that tales of Epic play are one of my favorite things. The merging of relevant and coherent mechanics, emerging story, mythic backstory and climactic action is definitely one of the highlights. Threads like this reinforce those preferences.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) I also liked that the role of Lolth's webs in holding the world together was able to come out in the context of the combat - it's good when the cosmological can be recognised and experienced in the microcosm of action-resolution, I think, because it makes it more "real" as a part of the game.

Agreed. This was what probably appealed to me most of all about your session report.

Another thing I should have mentioned: once Lolth was dead, I asked the player of the drow sorcerer if he'd considered travelling back in time to try and stop Lolth getting corrupted.

He said that he hadn't - though I did point out that the PCs had travelled back in time on a previous occasion, and had fought a creature (Ygorl) who travels back in time from the end of the world.

I think it's too late, now that Lolth has been killed and her soul condemned by a Marshall of Letherna.

EDIT: Another bit I left out of the write-up, which elaborates on why Lolth's soul was condemned - the paladin used Clarion of Sorrow (epic destiny utility that stops creatures regenerating or returning as undead) on the turn when he teleported in and killed Lolth. When you want an enemy to go down and stay down.

I must admit, I am really curious about who or what will replace Lolth...?
 

pemerton

Legend
I am really curious about who or what will replace Lolth...?
The campaign has a few competing trajectories.

The dwarf fighter/cleric of Moradin/Eternal Defender and the drow sorcerer want to make the mortal world safe for ordinary people. The problem with the drow's methods is that they involve a lot of invocation of chaotic power (while a devotee of Corellon, he is also a Demonskin Adept - thought that may now be unravelling - and an Emergent Primordial of lightning and thunder, allied with Chan, the Queen of Good Air Elementals).

The invoker with his staff of law is pushing - whether willingly or not - towards restoration of the Lattice of Heaven, which those other two - especially the drow - feel may stultify the mortal world.

Meanwhile the Raven Queen die-hards - of whom the paladin is the more fanatical - are in practical terms getting their way. The Raven Queen has Torog's souls, winter in the Feywild as well as the mortal world, and now no longer has Lolth scheming to take back the domain of fate.

In practical terms of leading the drow, the sorcerer PC wants to bring them to Corellon, but that may be hard. In terms of being a god of scheming and lies, that portfolio may go unclaimed, or perhaps the Raven Queen is the new god of scheming!

As far as holding the world together, I'm not sure anyone is doing that. Every step the PCs take - killing Torog, killing Lolth, assembing the Rod of 7 Parts - seems to be bringing the Dusk War that much closer. And it's not as if they don't know it - they knew it when they tackled Torog and again when they tackled Lolth. I don't know what their plan is for holding off the chaos, or if they even have one!
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
I think this may be my favourite of your session reports yet.

Well done to all. Superb.
Likewise. This sounds truly epic. Bravo.

Every step the PCs take - killing Torog, killing Lolth, assembing the Rod of 7 Parts - seems to be bringing the Dusk War that much closer. And it's not as if they don't know it - they knew it when they tackled Torog and again when they tackled Lolth. I don't know what their plan is for holding off the chaos, or if they even have one!
They're PC's; their plan is undoubtedly the same plan of all PC's everywhere: "Deal With It."
 


pemerton

Legend
Another cross-post from the "Best of 4e" thread: a recent email exchange between me and the player of the drow sorcerer:

Another thought, namely, Jett's paragon path.

If you stay with Demonskin Adpet, you really are choosing to go down the dark path, as there is no longer any mediation - Jett would be aligning himself with the raw forces of the Demonweb.

If Jett wants to go down another path, a quick review of PHB2 and Arcane Power suggest Voice of Thunder and Essence Mage as possibilities.

Thoughts?

************************

Jett has been chasing power to accomplish his great goal. With Lolth defeated, he will be a drow redeemed. Voice of Thunder, thanks be to Great Father.

Updated Jett attached. With the multi-class, power swapping and paragon path he’s nearly half bard.​

I haven't decided yet how the drow NPCs will react when he casts of his demonskins!
 

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