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4E Session report - the Mausoleum of the Raven Queen

In our last session, the PCs had escaped into the Mausoleum of the Raven Queen, which had been warded with a Hallowed Temple ritual. Because she is a lich, and hence undead, Jenna Osterneth could not follow them in. Which was good for them, because they were out of encounter powers and had 3 surges across the party, and multiple bloodied PCs including the fighter/cleric on 4 hp.

Their reason for being there was that the Mausoleum of the Raven Queen - like other lost things - had ended up on The Barrens in the Abyss. And Osterneth, as an agent of Vecna, had gone there to try and learn the Raven Queen's true name from her dead (mortal) body. The PCs were there to stop her - but with various degrees of enthusiasm, because they don't all exactly approve of her and her growing divine power. (Even though nearly everything they do seems to increase this!)

The Mausoleum had three areas: an entrance room, with a large statue and modest altar; a set of stairs with slightly elevated ramps on either side leading down to the principal room - very large (about 90' x 50') with a huge statue and two pools of water, corrupted by the Abyss; and then a smaller set of stairs leading down to the burial room, with a large altar and five statues and 4 side rooms (the sarcophagus room, the room with canopic jars, the grave goods room and the treasure room).

The PCs started in the entrance, where they took a short rest. This let them regain encounter powers, allowed the paladin to heal up to full from his ring, and then allowed some healing involving sharing the surges around the party (the ranger-cleric has the Shared Healing feat; our table convention for short rests and healing powers is to allow spending regained encounter healing at the end of the rest). They studied the murals and reliefs in the entrance chamber, which showed the Raven Queen's victories during her life, becoming the most powerful ruler in the world (crushing her enemies, being adulated by her subjects, etc - I told the players to think of Egyptian tomb paintings, Mesopotamian reliefs, and similar).

The invoker/wizard and ranger-cleric (having the best Perception in the party) then heard a slithering sound on the ramp. With his ring that grants darkvision the invoker/wizard could see a guardian naga. And the sphinx then came out, and told them that they must answer a riddle before they could pass further into the Mausoleum. I had mixed together abilities from a MM and MM2 sphinx, so they could either choose between accepting the challenge but suffering a debuff until answering it; or rejecting the challenge but granting the sphinx a power up. They chose to accept.

I wrote the riddle a few weeks ago on the train:

In the green garden, a sapling grows,
In time the tree dies, a seed remains.
In the grim garden shall that seed be sown,
Among the black poplars a new tree, a new name:
Shade shall it cast,
Frost endure,
Dooms outlast,
Pride cure.​

Appropriately enough, it was the player of the ridiculously zealous paladin of the Raven Queen who first conjectured that the subject of the riddle was the Raven Queen herself - first her mortal life, than her life after death in which she took on a new name ("the Raven Queen") and took control of the Shadowfell and death, of winter, and of fate.

When the players had reached agreement on this, they offered their answer. The sphinx accepted it, but insisted that they also tell him whose pride will be cured. After generic answers ("everyone dies"), which did not really satisfy the sphinx, the fighter/cleric answered "Us". The sphinx replied "Well, yes, you," and this was the clue for the player of the invoker/wizard, who answered "The gods" - because the fighter/cleric is now God of Jailing, Pain and Torture (having taken up Torog's portfolio). The sphinx then allowed them to pass down the stairs to the principal room, to venerate the dead queen.

In the principal room, they identified the Abyssal corruptions in the pools, and used a Tide of the First Storm (to summon cleansing water) enhanced by other water-quelling magic (sucked out of a Floating Shield) to purify one, so that they could safely pass it to get to the doorway to the burial room. The mural in the principal room - also a magical hazard if they got too close, which they made sure not to - depicted the mortal queen's magical achievements - including defeating a glabrezu on the Feywild, and travelling to the land of the dead (at that time, a land of black poplars ruled by Nerull).

The paladin looked in the cleansed pool to see what he could see, and saw episodes from the past depicting the Raven Queen's accretion of domains (fate from Lolth, in return for helping Corellon against her; winter from Khala, in return for sending her into death at the behest of the other gods); and then also the future, of a perfect world reborn following the destruction of the Dusk War, with her as ruler.

I also decided a further complication was needed: so I explained to the player of the fighter/cleric (who is now the god of imprisonment, and also has a theme that gives him a connection to primordial earth) that he could sense the Elemental Chaos surging up through the earth of the mortal world (because (i) Torog can no longer hold it back, and (ii) the Abyss, having been sealed, is no longer sucking it down the other way); and as a result, an ancient abomination sealed in the earth had been awakened from its slumber and would soon makes it way up to the surface of the world. I then filled them in on my version of the Tarrasque (the MM version with MM3 damage and a few tweaks to help it with action economy). This created suitable consternation, and was taken as another sign of the impending Dusk War.

At this point there was much debate: at least an hour at the table, I would say. They couldn't agree on what they wanted to do - destroy the body (mabye by bringing in the sphere of annihilation, which had been left outside when they fled into the Mausoleum); perhaps destroy the whole Mausoleum; or, as the fighter/cleric advocated, learn her name first so they could use that to bargain with her and compel cooperation without her getting to acquire new domains.

The guardians - who could understand all this, given their Supernal tongue, and could follow it, given their high INT and WIS and Arcana and Religion and Insight - insisted that no Sphere of Annihilation might be brought into the Mausoleum, and that the remains of the dead queen, and her burial goods, not be disturbed. The PCs weren't wanting to start any conflict at this point, and at least three of them (paladin, ranger-cleric and invoker/wizard) were happy with this in any event. So they with the guardian's permission they went down the last set of stairs to the burial room.

This room had a statue in each of four corners - the Raven Queen mortal, ruling death, ruling fate and ruling winter. The fifth statute faced a large altar, and showed her in her future state, as universal ruler. The murals and reliefs here showed the future (continuing the theme of the rooms: the entry room showed her mortal life; the principal room her magical life, including her passage into death; this room her future as a god). I made up some salient images, based on important events of the campaign: an image of the Wolf-Spider; an image of the a great staff or rod with six dividing lines on it (ie the completed Rod of 7 Parts, which is to be the trigger for the Dusk War); an image of an earthmote eclipsing the sun (the players don't know what this one is yet, though in principle they should, so I'll leave it unexplained for now); an image of a bridge with an armoured knight on it, or perhaps astride it - this was not clear given the "flat-ness" of the perspective, and the presence of horns on the knight was also hard to discern (the players immediately recognised this as the paladin taking charge of The Bridge That Can Be Traversed But Once); and an image of the tarrasque wreaking havoc.

More discussion and debate ensued. Closer inspection showed that where it was possible the queen's name had once been written on the walls, this had been erased. The invoker/wizard decided to test whether this could be undone, by using a Make Whole ritual: he made a DC 52 Arcana check, and was able to do so (though losing a third of his (less than max) hp in the process, from forcing through the wards of the Mausoleum). Which resulted in him learning the name of the Raven Queen. And becoming more concerned than ever that it is vulnerable to others learning it to.

Asking the guardians confirmed that they also know her name, though will not speak it, as that would be an insult to the dead.

The new plan arrived at - now that it seemed that sequestering or destroying the body wouldn't be enough, and would require fighting the guardians also - was to surround the whole thing in a Magic Circle vs "all" while the collapse of the Abyss takes the whole thing. They thought the Circle would have a good chance of keeping out level 40 or so beings (given the invoker/wizard's high Arcana bonus). But this takes 1 minute per square, and a quick calculation showed the circle would need to be about 30 squares radius, for around 3000 squares area, or 50 hours. (I think during the session someone might have mucked up by a factor of 10, because 20 days was bandied about as the time required - either way too long to do without first dealing with Osterneth.)

So the discussion then shifted to defeating Osterneth. The player of the sorcerer had been very keen on the possibility of a magical chariot among the grave goods, and so I decided that there was a gilt-and-bronze Chariot of Sustarre (fly speed 8, 1x/enc cl burst 3 fire attack). They persuaded the guardians to let them borrow it, as the necessary cost of preventing Osterneth coming in and defiling the body.

The sorcerer then powered up the Chariot with a quickened version of his Enhance Vessel ritual, making it speed 10 (he spent extra residuum after a successful DC 32 Arcana check). And they pushed open the doors and launched an assault on Osterneth, who was still waiting outside.

This ended up being fairly quick to resolve and went the PCs' way. The basic strategy was to have the fighter (on the back of the sorcerer-driven Chariot) drive Jenna to the ground with a prone-ing attack, and then to keep her pinned there. (Which he did via a "death from above" charge where, on a hit, I let him add half the 30 damage he took to his attack vs Osterneth.) A crit from each of the ranger-cleric, the sorcerer, the invoker/wizard and the paladin (wielding the Sword of Kas to get bonuses vs a Vecna-ite and former ally) helped things along. The invoker/wizard was dropped to zero, but was able to Reverse Time and come back with more hp than before and another action (because the ability changes position in the initiative sequence).

Reduced to zero hp, Osterneth turned to dust - but will reform in 1 day by her phylactery, the location of which is not known to the PCs.

The other thing the invoker/wizard was doing was trying to call back the Sphere of Annihilation - which had been called down towards the heart of the Abyss. What exactly the effects are, of having the Sphere go to the heart and then be called back, will have to be discovered next session! Though I suspect the session may start with an extended rest.
 
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I am very impressed by the colourful setting that you and your players create. The mausoleum, the sphinx (and the poplars!), the search for the name of the goddess, the players' debate about how to deal with the threat - everything drips with life. I will have to read your other session reports.
 
I am very impressed by the colourful setting that you and your players create. The mausoleum, the sphinx (and the poplars!), the search for the name of the goddess, the players' debate about how to deal with the threat - everything drips with life. I will have to read your other session reports.
Thanks, Fighter-Cricket!

I think a lot of the credit goes to the designers of the 4e defualt setting - it's very playable, if that makes sense, rather than just a backdrop or something for the GM to enjoy reading about between sessions.

But I also have players who get pretty invested and take their PCs seriously. And aren't afraid to play their PCs in a way that pushes towards rather than away from bringing elements in the setting to life (if that makes sense). They're not afraid to make their PCs vulnerable in that way, by having things they care about and are invested in.

Because the PCs all have slightly different goals, I keep waiting for the blow-up to come. And because it hasn't, yet, I keep piling on more-and-more. There has been a lot of discussion over the course of the campaign, especially in this final half of the epic tier, about the Raven Queen's aspiration to dominate the world. But this session was the first where I made that an overt fact of the gameworld (with the story and statutes in the Mausoleum).

Afterwords, the player of the paladin told me that he had passed a note to the player of the ranger-cleric (also a Raven Queen worshipper, but not quite as zealous) that stated that he was getting ready to use the Sword of Kas on the (somewhat anti-Raven Queen) fighter/cleric. But then the fighter/cleric gave up on his idea of trying to get the Raven Queen's name themselves so they could use it to force her to help the other gods without demanding more portfolios as payment.

And so the blow-up was avoided for another session, which means the stakes will be getting higher and higher on all sides if (when) it finally comes.
 

Nastra

Villager
I'm gonna take a break from lurker to say that it's a pleasure to read these session updates. I don't head enough about epic level content and it kind of gets me hyped for a campaign I'm in that's currently in mid-paragon tier. We're already dealing with gods and the like on a regular basis so I cam only hope it gets to the scale I'm reading about right now!
 
I'm gonna take a break from lurker to say that it's a pleasure to read these session updates.
Thanks!

I don't head enough about epic level content and it kind of gets me hyped for a campaign I'm in that's currently in mid-paragon tier. We're already dealing with gods and the like on a regular basis so I cam only hope it gets to the scale I'm reading about right now!
Are you using the default 4e setting?
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
What can I say?

Seriously, I save all of your session report posts and read them both as inspiration and as a reminder that I really need to lift my game as a DM! :)

How I wish someone at WotC during the 4E years had grokked 4E, especially the Epic Tier, in the same way you had/have. We would probably be only looking at the 5E playtest around about now....
 
I save all of your session report posts and read them both as inspiration and as a reminder that I really need to lift my game as a DM!
Thanks, Scrivener of Doom. I'm glad you find them interesting.

How I wish someone at WotC during the 4E years had grokked 4E, especially the Epic Tier, in the same way you had/have.
I think Chris Perkins seems to have got it, based on the columns he used to post on the WotC website.

But to get up on my soapbox a little bit: in the D&D GMing community there seems sometimes to be too much timidity about letting the players take the reins of the game and really do things - dramatic things, world-changing things - with their PCs. At low levels this won't necessarily be such a problem, but once you get into paragon and epic, where the PCs are the equals of kings and gods respectively, the GM really has to let go of control, and instead feed the fires of the players' own enthusiasm. Make everything count - so then the players will really see the point of playing the game (and I think 4e does ask for quite a bit of buy-in by players, because it's not a simple system); but the flip side is that if everything counts, then sometimes the players are going to get their way. (Kill a god, capture a kingdom, seal the Abyss, or whatever it might be.)

And that's a good thing! The game is robust enough that it still has the scope (both mechanically and in terms of the fiction) to pose challenges to PCs who are doing those things.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) I think Chris Perkins seems to have got it, based on the columns he used to post on the WotC website. (snip)
Oops.

I was going to specifically mention him and those columns but I got interrupted by my kids and missed that I hadn't finished editing my comments before posting.

Yes, Chris definitely got it and those DM Experience columns are excellent reading.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) I think Chris Perkins seems to have got it, based on the columns he used to post on the WotC website. (snip)
Oops.

I was going to specifically mention him and those columns but I got interrupted by my kids and missed that I hadn't finished editing my comments before posting.

Yes, Chris definitely got it and those DM Experience columns are excellent reading.
 

Imaculata

Explorer
Its fun reading about this campaign. Keep it up! Looks like you have a great group of players, and they have an excellent DM.
 

D'karr

Villager
Wow, what a time warp! I guess I get to say AGAIN how much I enjoy reading these campaign gameplay reports.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
Wow, what a time warp! I guess I get to say AGAIN how much I enjoy reading these campaign gameplay reports.
I recently went back and saved them all because I was thinking that ENWorld seems to sh*t itself every year or two. It seems I was right.... ;) And they really do make great reading.
 

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