Session Report - hijinks in the Elemental Chaos


Our group has been inquorate for a few sessions, and so playing some Burning Wheel rather than 4e.

But today we had all five players (rain ended day 4 of the test early, so our 5th player left the MCG to join us).

In the last post I made, the PCs had defeated the Frost Giants and the Prince of Frost on the Feywild. After that, they headed into the Elemental Chaos, flying their Thundercloud Tower (taken from the Storm Titan Mirmakur) down the edge of the Obelisk of Ice.

During that trip, they were attacked by entropic slaads (various sorts of black slaads, plus a white slaad and Acolytes of Entropy led by Skirnex), all under the leadership of Ygorl riding Shkiv. This was a level 33 combat against the level 28 party, and so was inevitably going to take a little while to resolve. We didn't get it finished in our last session (early November) and picked up again today, doing our best to make sense of the photographs taken of the battlemap at the end of the last session.

As published, the black slaads have slightly varying mechanics for representing their entropic nature, but I had systematised these as attacks that inflicted various degrees of vulnerable all (save ends), with a rider that the vulnerability stacks with other vulnerabilities. In combination ranged attacks from two non-minion black slaads, 8 minions and Skirnex, this meant quite a bit of stacking vulnerability, which meant that at some stages my minions were hitting for 30+ points of damage per attack!

Some dramatic highlights included the first time the white slaad used its ability to split into time-slices of itself, which caught the players by surprise and through a bit of a minion-esque spanner into their works; and also the fighter leaping off the parapets of the tower and surfing the slaads that were riding the waves of chaos as they made ranged attacks.

Ygorl was relatively effective, with a good aura of more entropic vulnerability that also gave his slaad allies multiple rolls to hit. And given that he comes into being at the end of time and is moving backwards towards the beginning of the world, I needed to give him an ability that prevented him being killed - a no action attack cancellation + teleport that recharged every time he used it to avoid dropping to zero hit points.

As the details of this became clearer to the players, their frustration grew somewhat. I suggested that they needed to find a way to create an alternate timeline, and the player of the drow sorcerer was encouraging the wizard/invoker to try and do something with his +42 Arcana and his Timeless Locket. But that player came up with a different plan instead, which they then implemented.

First, he summoned the Crystal of the Ebon Flame, which was currently stored in an angelic redoubt on the Abyss inside his Leomund's Secret Chest (play report here).

Then, he prepared the Crystal to receive and trap Ygorl when the latter was struck with the Sceptre of Law (= the Rod of Seven Parts, currently in a 5-stage assembly). This required an Arcana and Religion check, both of which are auto-successes for him but contributed to the overall skill challenge.

Meanwhile, Ygorl was fleeing, double-moving through the Chaos at speed 8, while the PCs in the Tower were chasing him, also double-moving at 8, which meant that the pilot PC (the sorcerer) did not get to take a short rest, and neither did the invoker/wizard making his preparations.

The pilot made his DC 30 Arcana check to navigate through the Chaos in pursuit of Ygorl, and once the ritual involving the Sceptre and the Crystal was complete the next step of the plan was put into action.

The gap between the Tower and Ygorl alternated between 28 and 12 squares (28 sq after Ygorl's move, 12 sq after the Tower's move). To touch Ygorl with the Sceptre this gap had to be closed, which required reducing Ygorl's speed. The party had no way to slow him without also inflicting damage, which would drop him below zero hp and therefore trigger his attack negation ability. So they came up with a plan to grapple him instead, which would immobilise him, forcing him to double-teleport at 6, which would allow the Tower to close in three rounds (gaining 4 squares each time).

Grappling required getting someone close. Luckily, back on the elemental chaos the invoker/wizard had tamed a giant (roc-sized) Frosthawk, which itself had a speed of 8. So with a double fly taken after the Tower's move but before Ygorl's, they could catch up to Ygorl (go stop-motion action resolution!).

The dwarf fighter had the best chance to grapple. Ygorl's Reflex defence is 39. The dwarf had +14 from level, +4 from epic tier (a house rule to make non-enhancement-bonus attacks still viable at higher tiers), +8 from STR and +1 from the ranger's quarry on Ygorl (Battlefield Archer, flavoured as the Raven Queen's curse). So he needed a 12. The ranger and paladin decided that they would fly out with the invoker and fighter on the bird and help hurl the fighter onto Ygorl, giving +4 from Aiding Another. Which seemed fine to me, and reduced the target number to 8. In case of emergency, the fighter tucked the ranger's Flying Carpet into the top of his Handy Haversack.

The bird flew out with the 4 PCs riding it. The dwarf duly leaped onto Ygorl, aided by his brothers-in-arms, and the player proceeded to roll a 6. So he went tumbling, but with his minor action pulled out the carpet and with his move action flew 6 squares. That meant that, when his next turn came around Ygorl was 10 squares away (after double-moving for 16 - non-tracking of diagonal moving makes this 3-dimensional combat much easier to resolve!).

We then looked up the jumping rules. The character has +27 Athletics, and with Mighty Sprint can give himself another +5, and with his +10 daily Epic Destiny bonus to STR checks and skills was able to push the total to +42. So with a mighty leap he cleared the 50-odd feet between him and Ygorl. In my generosity I gave him a +2 to hit for combat advantage, because Ygorl was not expecting that. So he needed a 10 to hit. The roll was, once again, a 6.

This time the fighter had no Flying Carpet to pull out, and so kept falling. Luckily the waves of chaos buffered his fall (gravity in the Elemental Chaos is far from straightforward) and there was an earthmote beneath him. So I declared that he took only 4d12 damage from his landing (I think around 30 points after rolling). More on that below.

The STR of the paladin and the cleric-ranger was now compared: 14 (he's a CHA paladin) vs 12, (he's an archer-ranger) so the paladin was next in line to try a grab on Ygorl. The player was reluctant, deeming his chances of success too low, but the player of the invoker was egging him on (the word "coward" was thrown around a bit). He decided to try it, and the roll was 17. So Ygorl was grabbed, hence immobilised, hence reduced to teleport as a movement option. Ygorl used his Arcana to try to injure the paladin via dangerous teleports through the waves of chaos, but with 3 attempts succeeded only on 2 of his DC 40 Arcana checks, and only one of the resulting attacks hit the paladin's Fort defence. He took 30-ish (?) hp of damage.

With the Tower caught up to Ygorl, the invoker/wizard was able to muster his arcane forces, touch him with the Sceptre and force him into the Crystal. There was no room for Miska in there as well, and I put a choice to the player - either Miska manifests here and now in the Tower, or he is whole but trapped in the prison-plane Carceri. The player opted for the latter. I then mentioned to the player of the drow, who is a Corellon worshipper, that he had heard that Carceri is not fully secure, and that it "leaks" prisoners into Arvandor, where Corellon and the other elven gods and chosen hunt them down. Whether more powerful prisoners are more likely to escape and requiring hunting is something that the PC is not sure about.

The player of the invoker/wizard was happy with this outcome, because Miska is now ready for him to kill once he gets his Rod of 7 Parts fully powered up. It also produced some speculation about how these events fit into Ygorl's timeline from the future - the best theory is that the Crystal of Ebon Flame is integral in the end of the world, and that Ygorl is the Crystal, or an emanation of it, that came into being at the precise moment before being trapped by the PCs and then commenced his trajectory into the past. I was happy to have yet another event apparently confirming the imminence of the Dusk War, which is what everything seems to be building towards.

Now, back to the dwarf. As he was falling, he could see that the earthmote below him was some dozens of miles wide, and had a building in its centre that looked like a fortified village or compount of some sort. As he got closer he could see humanoid creatures there, drilling in unarmed combat - githzerai! (I described the scene as resembling the closing scene of Tai Chi master, for anyone who knows that early-90s Jet Li flim.)

As he got still closer, he could see 20 disciples and two masters, one looking old and wizened even for a githzerai. When one of the disciples looked up at this dwarf falling gradually down, the younger master struck him across the cheek, with a curt instruction not to be distracted - "It will get here in due time, and you will see it then."

When the dwarf eventually landed (and officially took his 4d12 damage, although it had already been resolved), he picked himself up as the same young master came towards him and asked where he had come from and what he was doing there. The dwarf said something to the effect of it being a long story. The older master then said something that the dwarf couldn't understand, presumably in Deep Speech. The young master said "My master, Liricosa, asks if you can fight." The dwarf replied "Yes." The master said, "He asks that you spar with the disciples, to prove it." The dwarf replied "Only twenty!" At which point the disciples started rushing in as he pulled out his polearm (Polearm Gamble is quite effective against closing minions!).

We had to end the session at that point, but the player of the dwarf thinks he can finish 20 minions in three rounds. We'll see. The other thing to follow up is the name "Liricosa". Ygorl was repeatedly saying it during the fight with the PCs, and when one of them asked something to the effect of "What the hell is that?" Ygorl had replied, "By the flickering portal.” When asked "Which one is that?" - the player of the drow thinking there might be many such portals - Ygorl replied "To learn the truth, you must go where it can be found.”

In my original scripting of Ygorl's words I had been looking for something that would make sense when read in reverse order - because Ygorl is travelling backwards in time, after all - but as it played out I'm not 100% sure it makes sense:

Ygorl: "To learn the truth, you must go where it can be found.”
PC: "Which one is that?"
Ygorl: "By the flickering portal."
PC: "What the hell is that?" [or words to that effect]
Ygorl: "Liricosa" [repeated many times]

A little opaque, but then slaads are notorious for their senselessness.

Next session the PCs will learn that the flickering portal is an unstable gate at the entryway to the Room with No Doors, where Liricosa and his disciples stand guard. Will the PCs go through? I expect so, but stranger deviations from expectations have happened in the past.
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Very entertaining session report.

It's interesting that you ran the chase using the movement rules. This is something I used to do with 3.x, but was never satisfying and created/posed many problems.

With 4e I had started to do them as skill challenges and those were better but still not satisfying. So I started to make chases into abstracted challenges (mixture of combat and very loose skill challenge). It works rather similar to the way combat movement works in 13th age and Edge of the Empire. In that way the relative positioning of the opponents can be easily abstracted and a long jump does not require an exorbitant roll to make. It really helps that I've gotten rather familiar with making ad-hoc rulings with the DMG page 42 table.


Very entertaining session report.

It's interesting that you ran the chase using the movement rules.
Skill challenge is the other way to do it - or a variant thereof like you describe.

But in this case the players - especially of the two magic-users - were rather invested in the relative movement rates of the Tower and Ygorl, and there was a fun moment where someone said "Hey, don't we still have that giant bird?" So using movement rates seemed the way to go, and it's nice to have a high-level fighter's Athletics come into play.

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