4E Session report - (Apect of) Vecna defeated, demon bargained with

pemerton

Legend
The PCs in my 4e game, after defeating Torog, had confirmed (via divination rituals) rumours that frost giants were massing in the Feywild, as part of a plan to defeat the Summer Fey and steal the power of winter from the Raven Queen, to the benefit of Lolth. They therefore headed off to a place they had heard of but never visited - the Tower of Sunset, which undergoes worldfall every dusk, and then returns to the Feywild at dawn.

They knew that the Tower would have hags living in it, as they had (much earlier in the campaign) dealt with some of the hags' sisters. They didn't know that it was atop an earthmote floating alongside a cliff (with a path leading up, and a spring on the mote being the source of a stream falling over the side of the mote onto the rocks below). This could a suitably impressed response from my players, and turned out to matter later on.

When they arrived, an Aspect of Vecna was waiting for them. It wanted to bargain to get the Eye of Vecna back from the party invoker. (Backstory to this is here.) The Eye is in the invoker's imp, placed there both to achieve a power up, and to stop Levistus (who placed the imp with the invoker) using the imp as a spy (by creating a Vecna-ish shield of secrecy). Unfortunately the party's conflict with Torog, as linked to above, had led to the invoker choosing the Raven Queen over Vecna as recipient of the souls of the Underdark's dead In retaliation, Vecna had used his control over the Eye to strike down the imp, which meant that the imp was currently lifeless (and hence the Eye inactive).

The bargaining was unsuccessful, however, as in an earlier session the invoker had already agreed to help the rest of the party try and destroy the Eye if they could find a way; and he now held to that agreement. The Aspect threatened a bit, but the PCs stood their ground and (recognising a superior force) it teleported away.

The PCs then waited for worldfall of the tower. When it arrived, they got into an argument with its hag owners - the PCs insisted on entering the tower so they could cross over to the Feywild, but the hags refused to let them in. The PCs, and their players, (correctly) suspected the hags were helping the Winter Fey, and a home invasion ensued. The one surviving hag ended up agreeing to let the PCs in. But before even a short rest could be taken, the Aspect of Vecna reappeared bringing back up (undead cultists, lich vestiges and four demons under its control).

Despite having just come off the back of a 30th level encounter with the hags (and hangers-on), and having no recovery except action point refreshment (my one concession to a plea for something in lieu of a short rest), the players had no trouble dealing with this 28th level follow-up. In the first round the invoker dominated Vecna and made him dismiss one of his summoned demons. (I had described the demon appearing by means of gate. The player had his PC order Vecna to end the summoning. The established fictional positioning made this clearly feasible, and so it happened.) And then before Vecna's turn could come around again, the cleric-ranger stunned him with a reasonably newly acquired daily power. To add insult to injury, the chaos sorcerer rolled a 1, pushing Vecna 1 square. Vecna failed his save and went tumbling 100' to the ledges below the earthmote. Then something (I guess one of the demons?) hit the paladin and pushed him over the edge. At which point an Acrobatics roll was requested, to "do a Gandalf" (from the Two Towers film) and fall down on top of Vecna. The roll was successful, and the paladin dealt damage to Vecna with a successful basic attack, as well as taking damage himself for the fall.

While the other PCs cleaned up uptop, the paladin successfully solo-ed the now-bloodied Aspect, but (at the behest of the invoker) only knocked it unconscious (and then used his Marshal of Letherna daily utility to prevent any regeneration that might let it come back to consciousness). The invoker then came down and used an Undead Ward ritual, with the Aspect as a focus, to try and sever the connection between Vecna and his Eye. This was successful (between stats, feats and Sage of Ages the character has bonuses of around +40 to most of his ritual checks), so the imp came back to life, still powered up by the Eye but no longer subject to Vecna's influence. (But therefore once again able to send information to Levistus. When I chided the player for his PC not sticking the liberated eye in his own socket, his reply was that Malstaph (the PC) is not foolish enough to think that he's a god.)

The PCs then slept while they waited for dawn and travel to the Feywild, except the fighter-cleric who had used only two daily powers and 2 or 3 out of 14-odd surges, and therefore spent the night chatting to the hag (and therefore getting useful info about the disposition of the Winter Fey forces, frost giant stats etc).

When the Tower shifted into the Feywild the PCs (following the hag's directions) headed north. The invoker summoned them phantom steeds, in the form of giant flying dragonflies. (When the player mentioned the dragonflies, I suggested rainbow gossamer wings, but he wouldn't come at that. So the Feywild charged him 100 gp rather than 70 gp worth of residuum for the ritual.)

As the PCs were flying along, they saw an eladrin hunting party, with a displacer beast pack, below them in the woods. As they were turning about to investigate more closely, the eladrin feyknight whistled and called the drow sorcerer's dragonfly to him. (The mysterious magic of the Feywild!) Pleasantries, which included the drow prominently displaying his symbol of Corellon to prove his good faith (he is a member of a small drow cult of Corellon worshippers who seek to end the influence of Lolth and undo the sundering of the elves), revealed that the eladrin was a Marcher Baron, Lord Distan. (The PCs and players recognised that name, as someone who had kicked the hags out of their former home 20-odd years ago, leading them to taking up residence in their Tower instead.)

He invited them back to his home, where it quickly became clear that he didn't really want their company, but rather wanted them to help him with a problem - he was expecting a visit in a few days from his Duke overlord, but his special apple grove was not fruiting as it normally would.

This was an adaptation to 4e mechanics and backstory of the scenario "The Demon of the Red Grove" in Robin Laws's HeroWars Narrator's Book. The reason for the trees in the grove not fruiting is that a demon, long bound there, has recently been awoken but remains trapped within the grove, and hence is cursing the trees. Mechanically, this was resolved as a skill challenge. First the PCs had to endure the demon's three cries of "Go Away!" (group checks, with failing PCs taking psychic damage - the sorcerer, who is also a multi-class bard, was the most flamboyant here, spending his Rhythm of Disorientation encounter power to open up the use of Diplomacy for the check, which in the fiction was him singing a song of apples blossoming in the summer). Somewhere during this process the cleric-ranger and invoker both succeeded at Perception checks and could hear the high-pitched whistling of a song bird. And the sorcerer's Arcana check revealed the presence of the demon - an ancient and mighty glabrezu (level 27 solo, as I told the players in order to try to convey the requisite sense of gravity).

At this point I thought they would attack the demon, but they decided to speak to it first, to find out how it had got there and what it was doing there. With successful Diplomacy checks they learned that it had been summoned long ago during the Dawn War ("When Miska's armies were marshalling on the Plain of a Thousand Portals") by a powerful drow who had come into the Abyss, in order to ambush a strong and cruel sorceress. But the sorceress had defeated it and trapped it in the grove. When they asked it the name of the sorceress, it replied that the name had been erased from its memory - at which point the player of the paladin of the Raven Queen worked out the sorceress was his mistress, and the player of the drow worked out that the ambusher must be Lolth. They also learned that it had been woken a year ago by an NPC wizard who was, earlier in the campaign, a nemesis of the PCs, as part of his attempts to learn the true name of the Raven Queen.

They then debated whether to bargain with it, but doubted its promise that "My word is my bond." The player of the invoker decided to use the Adjure ritual - that works on immortal creatures only, so he used it to try and change the immortal magic of the Raven Queen that was binding the demon. Instead of being trapped in the grove, they wanted the demon to instead go forth and fight frost giants and formorians. A roll was made (with help from the paladin, the ranger-cleric (who is also a Raven Queen devotee) and the sorcerer (who hates the giants because they serve evil primordials and he serves Chan, a "good" archomental). Unfortunately the roll was not very high, which meant that even with the bonuses it didn't achieve a full success, so the demon is bound for a week only - and hence was quite cheerful as it flew off to the north to beat up on frost giants.

Overall I was quite happy with the Red Grove scenario as a good introduction to the Feywild, and establishing some suitable flavour within the context of the broader campaign backstory. I had first made notes for running this scenario 3 or more years ago, back when the PCs were upper Heroic/low Paragon, and was glad to finally be able to use it (though with everything levelled up a bit!). Framing the PCs into the situation in the first place - via the eladrin encounter - was a bit harder than I would normally do things, but I knew that the players would be interested in the Lolt/Raven Queen backstory. And the outcome in relation to the demon was unexpected and certainly gives material for future developments. I haven't yet decided how to handle the consequences of the demon becoming free after a week, but it is potentially quite amusing.
 

pemerton

Legend
Note to self (et al): Now that is how you do Epic.
Thanks!

The player of the invoker really likes pushing and stretching his rituals, which makes for interesing outcomes. And the fact that PCs can survive 100' falls means that combats on earthmotes, next to great pits, etc, can become these spectacular (imaginary) scenery pieces rather than just death traps. I find it a lot of fun.

A couple of recent threads (on sim vs game, and DMing as a fine art, and some others too) have seen posters talking about the extent to which players will engage the fiction at any level other than playing their PCs as self-aggrandising sociopaths. I'm glad that my players are happy to go beyond that sort of approach.

By my standards, at least, some posters on these boards seem a little bit uptight about letting the players have their heads and take control of the gameworld and the ingame situation. But I think if you want vibrant play - especially at epic, where the stakes should be high and you want everyone to be invested - you really have to let go as a GM, and just see where your players take things.
 
A couple of recent threads (on sim vs game, and DMing as a fine art, and some others too) have seen posters talking about the extent to which players will engage the fiction at any level other than playing their PCs as self-aggrandising sociopaths. I'm glad that my players are happy to go beyond that sort of approach.

By my standards, at least, some posters on these boards seem a little bit uptight about letting the players have their heads and take control of the gameworld and the ingame situation. But I think if you want vibrant play - especially at epic, where the stakes should be high and you want everyone to be invested - you really have to let go as a GM, and just see where your players take things.
Good play report and I couldn't agree more with the above. I cannot recall the last time that I felt that my group of players approached a situation from a pawn stance/murderhobo perspective rather than a fiction first perspective. This all the while the metagame is in their face constantly. I don't think there is much correlation, as has been purported by some, with overt metagame information and superficial pawn stance/murderhobo play. If anything, I've found that my players feel more immersed as their mental focus is less on performing permutations and solving for x and more on inhabiting the philosophical and emotional aspects of their respective PCs and producing genre-coherent responses accordingly.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) The player of the invoker really likes pushing and stretching his rituals, which makes for interesing outcomes. (snip)
One of my favourite parts of your session reports is reading about how your invoker uses (and abuses! :) ) his rituals. It's a type of creative play I have yet to see in my own 4E games but I'm working up to it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more. :)
 

pemerton

Legend
One of my favourite parts of your session reports is reading about how your invoker uses (and abuses! :) ) his rituals. It's a type of creative play I have yet to see in my own 4E games but I'm working up to it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more.
Thanks!

Like you say (or at least imply), he does like to push them, and I'm pretty permissive. A strong factor there is that the player is quite self-limiting - he often has very clear conceptions of how certain metaphysical or magical things work, and what is or isn't possible, and I let him take the lead on that. So sometimes another player (in or out of character) will ask "Why can't you do XYZ?" and he will explain why he thinks it can't be done, without reference to me but just drawing on his own sense of how the campaign world works.

With this sort of player, I don't need to impose my own limits when his are just as interesting!

Another factor is that he is a notorious builder of deliberately quirky or underpowered PCs - his last Rolemaster character was a competent fighter, but had as his best skills armour- and weapon-smithing. His current PC has multiple skill focus, linguist and skill training feats. This inclines me to being liberal in respect of those parts of his PC that he has built up and wants to do stuff with.

The sorcerer player likes to do wacky stuff too (but has only a few rituals, from a Mark of Storm and an ad hoc Epic Destiny deal that I reached with him, so mostly with Arcana checks) but I'm stricter with him, and like to punish these check failures with chaotic backlash - because he is playing a strongly optimised striker who already has a heap of impact on the game without getting to take over the utility magic side of things as well.

If I was GMing for strangers, or in a pick-up game, I'd probably have to approach things differently. But given that I know my players and we have long-established relationship (both within and beyond the gaming context), I take all that into account in my GMing. And hopefully am not too unfair most of the time.
 

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