The Abyss sealed, the drow freed, the campaign reaches its climax

pemerton

Legend
As reported here, the PCs in my 4e game had killed Lolth and were facing off against Pazuzu.

We played a session today which saw some fairly significant occurrences.

The session started with the dominated Pazuzu taking his turn. The controlling PC - the invoker/wizard - commanded him to fly into the Abyssal rift. The roll needed to hit was 13, but +2 from combat advantage (vs a dominated target) made it 11. The player rolled, and got a 10. 1 short. Then another player argued that, because the command was for Pazuzu to "charge into the Rift" it should get a +1 to hit. Being a soft-hearted GM, and feeling that the Pazuzu plot-line had probably run its course, I acceded. So Pazuzu flew into the rift and got grappled.

This then triggered a secondary attack to suck him into the heart of the Abyss. The roll for that was 13 (with something like a 9 or 10 required) and so in Pazuzu went!

It then came to the drow sorcerer's turn. In an email a few days ago the player had told me that he had a plan to seal off the Abyssal rift created by the tearing of the Demonwebs and the killing of Lolth, that relied upon the second law of thermodynamics. Now was the time for him to explain it. It took quite a while at the table (20 minutes? Maybe more? There was a lot of interjection and discussion). Here is the summary version:

* The second law of thermodynamics tells us that time and entropy are correlated: increases in entropy from moment to moment are indicative of the arrow of time;

* Hence, when entropy reaches its maximum state - and so cannot increase - time has stopped;

* Hence, if an effect that would normally last until the end of the encounter could be turned into an effect of ultimate chaos (entropy), time would stop in respect of the effect and it would not come to an end.​

So far, so good, but how is this helping to seal off the Abyss?

* Earlier in the encounter the sorcerer had created a Cloak of Winter Storm which, using an elemental swapping item, was actually a zone of thunder (larger than normal because created while a Huge primordial) that caused shift 1 sq which, through various feat combos, was actually teleportation;

* If this could be extended in size, and converted into a zone of ultimate entropy instead of just a zone of thunder, then it would not come to an end (for the reasons given above);

* Furthermore, anyone who approached it would slow down (as time came to a stop with the increase in entropy) and, if they hit it, be teleported back 1 square;

* As to how a zone of elemental thunder might be converted into a zone of ultimate entropy, that's what a chaos sorcerer is for - especially as, at that time, the Slaad lord of Entropy, Ygorl, was trapped inside the Crystal of Ebon Flame and so control over entropy was arguably unclaimed by any other entity and hence available to be claimed by the sorcerer PC.​

But couldn't someone who wanted to pass through this entropic barrier just teleport from one side to the other?

* On his turn, the sorcerer therefore spent his move action to stand from prone (I can't now remember why he had started the session prone), and used his minor action to activate his Cloud of Darkness - through which only he can see;

* He then readied his standard action to help the invoker/wizard perform the mighty feat of Arcana that would merge the darkness and the zone into a visually and physically impenetrable entropic field, through which nothing could pass unless able to teleport without needing line of sight.​

Unfortunately, the invoker/wizard wasn't ready to help with this plan, and had doubts about its chaotic aspect. On his turn, he instead rescued the paladin and fighter PCs who had become trapped in the Abyssal rift (by casting Tide of the First Storm to wash them back up onto the top of the PCs' Thundercloud Tower).

He also used his Erathis's Beacon blessing - a heal effect - to instead cast Remove Affliction as a minor action rather than the normal 1 hour ritual, which rescued the dwarf PC from Far Realm-induced protoplasmic helplessness. (As is the convention in the game, this non-standard use permanently exhausted the blessing.) The healing unfortunately reduced the dwarf fighter to unconsciousness, but his Ring of Pelor (I can't remember now what it's name is in the rulebook) activated and he turned into a cloud of ash, ready to recorporate next round with half his hit points back, and to take on Pazuzu if necessary.

The paladin then used his turn to bodily pick up the drow and carry him into the control circle of the Tower (at the drow's request).

Pazuzu's turn came around, but he did not re-emerge from the rift. This caused some speculation, but there was a general consensus that he could probably survive the harsh Abyssal forces and so mightn't suffer in the same way the PCs had upon being sucked in.

The drow's turn then came around. He used his move action to fly the Tower up and out of the two zones (darkness and thunder). He then used a minor action to cast Stretch Spell - as written, a range-boosting effect but it seemed fitting, in spirit, to try to extend and compress zones to create a barrier of ultimate, impenetrable entropy. And then he got ready to make his Arcana check as a standard action.

Now INT is pretty much a dump stat for everyone in the party but the invoker/wizard. In the case of the sorcerer it is 12 - so with training and level, he has an Arcana bonus of +20. So when I stated that the DC was 41, it looked a bit challenging. (It was always going to be a Hard check - if any confirmation was needed, the Rules Compendium suggests that manipulating the energies of a magical phenomenon is a Hard Arcana improvisation.)

So he started looking around for bonuses. As a chaos mage, he asked whether he could burn healing surges for a bonus on the roll - giving of his very essence. I thought that sounded reasonable, and so allowed 4 surges for +8. Unfortunately he had only 2 surges left, so the other half of the bonus had to come from taking damage equal to his bloodied value - which was OK, as he was currently unbloodied.

He scraped another +2 from somewhere (I can't remember now), brining the roll needed down to 11. The dice was rolled - and came up 18! So he succeeded in converting his zones of darkness and thunder into a compressed, extended, physically and visually impenetrable entropic barrier, in which time doesn't pass (and hence the effects don't end), sealing off the Abyss at its 66th layer.

The unfortunate side effect, as was clarified between me (as GM) and the player before the action was declared, was that - as the effects never end - so he can never recharge his Cloak of Darkness encounter power or his Cloak of the Winter Storm daily.

A modest price to pay for cementing the defeat of Lolth and sealing off the bottom of the Abyss from the rest of creation.

The drow NPCs who had been pacified last session were let into the tower, and the PCs themselves then left the tower behind to teleport (via portal, so no LoS required) to Mal Arundak (on the Barrens, the 100th layer of the Abyss, but under the control of friendly angels), where they wanted to take an extended rest before taking the fight to Orcus.

They rested up, and in this time it also became clear how much the sorcerer had changed: not only had he lost his Cloud of Darkness power (becoming less drow-ish and more elven!) but his demonskins sloughed off - no longer a Demonskin Adept drawing power from the Abyss in order to defeat Lolth, he has become a Voice of Thunder in the service of Corellon; and the eyes on his Robe of Eyes (which protected him from his Paragon Path feature of becoming blinded when delivering a critical hit) had permanently opened like iridescent peacock feathers - it was now a Robe of Scintillating Colours (from Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium). Having lost the variable resistance feature from his former paragon path he now had to roll to determine his chaotic resistance, and got a necrotic result! - thereupon declaring that there are to be no more rests (and, hence, no more rerolls of that resistance) until Orcus is dead!

The PCs (and players) then pondered how to get to Thanatos, on the 333rd layer of the Abyss. The invoker/wizard remembered that they had an Aspect of Orcus trapped back in the duergar hold that had been invaded by demons, and thought that it might have information about a secret way in.

The PCs therefore teleported to Phaevorul (the nearest portal that they knew) and travelled through the Underdark to the duergar hold. This provided a chance to introduce a bit of colour illustrating the effects that their godslaying had had upon the world: with Torog dead the Underdark had reverted to roiling chaos, and in combination with the death of Lolth dead this meant that the drow civilisation had virtually collapsed.

In the small skill challenge to travel to the duergar hold and deal with the Aspect:

* The wizard/invoker maintained the PCs' phantom steeds (with a +40-something Arcana bonus this was an auto-success that didn't need to be rolled for);

* The player of the ranger-cleric made a successful Dungeoneering check, aided by the dwarf, to steer a path through the now everchanging, roiling Underdark;

* The sorcerer made a successful Diplomacy check (he had retrained Insight to Diplomacy and succeeded against a Hard DC) to persuade the wandering and raving drow that now was the time to return to the surface and dance once more under the stars, as they had with their elven kin in the times of old;

* Once they arrived at the duergar hold, the paladin made a successful Diplomacy check to persuade the duergar to let them gain access to the trapped Aspect of Orcus so that they could take the fight to the Abyss;

* The duergar - who had always felt comfortable dealing with a fellow bearer of diabolic taint (the paladin is a tiefling) - explained that Asmodeus was now calling upon them to join him in an assault upon the Abyss, and sought advice as to what they should do;

* The paladin cautioned them against becoming bound to devils, instancing the downfall of the tieflings as an indicator of the possible costs and pointing to the fact that the drown were now freed from Lolth's yoke - I asked, to clarify, whether he was trying to persuade the duergar not to go along with Asmodeus, and he said yes, so I called for the Diplomacy check against a Hard DC;

* The invoker/wizard indicated that he would help, and made a successful check as he cautioned the duergar against being manipulated by Asmodeus into being his fodder in a futile war; but together with the paladin player's rather dismal roll this wasn't quite enough (from memory, 6 (roll) +32 (skill) +2 (aid another) for 40 rather than 41);

* There was then a brief discussion in which I reminded the player of the invoker/wizard of some backstory he had forgotten, namely, that the reason Levistus and Bane had let him be resurrected (back in mid-Paragon) was on the condition that he help prevent Asmodeus invading the Abyss and thereby risking a spread of chaos;

* Back in the game rather than the metagame, the PC could tell that his imp was itching to speak;

* So the player spent his action point to let his imp speak to the duergar, thereby giving an extra bonus to make the roll succeed - mechanically, this was the imp granting its +4 Diplomacy bonus vs devils and their friends (from the invoker/wizard PC's variant Devil's Pawn theme) to the paladin; and in the fiction, the imp explained to the duergar that it was Levistus who, of the archdevils, had the backs of mortals, and they should not let themselves be tricked by Asmodeus into a foolish sacrifice;

* The players weren't entirely sure that switching the duergar from Asmodeus to Levistus was maximum progress - the dwarf fighter/cleric was mumbling "What about Moradin?" somewhere in the background; but at least Asmodeus will not have his duergar army when he assaults the Plain of One Thousand Portals;

* Attention now turned to the Aspect of Orcus - it had been trapped by channelling power from Vecna, and the player of the invoker/wizard had already pointed out that Vecna would be alerted if the PCs tried to steal secrets from it; now, a successful Religion check (made easily against a Hard DC, with a +40 bonus) allowed the invoker/wizard to make contact with Vecna and ask him to rip information of a secret entrance into Thanatos from the mind of the Aspect;

* Vecna indicated a willingness to do so, but only on conditions - that the trapped Aspect of Vecna (whom the invoker/wizard and the paladin had bound drawing upon the power of the Raven Queen) be released;

* The invoker/wizard would only do this if the paladin agreed, and the latter was not keen; I told the players that with a successful Insight check vs a Hard DC the invoker/wizard could read the secret from Vecna without needing to be overtly told - so the PC said to Vecna "We'll find another way" and then rolled the check, which missed by 1, but then he activated his Memory of One Thousand Lifetimes and rolled a 6, which was enough for a success and, he hoped, enough to mean that Vecna may not know that his mind had been read;

* With the secret entrance into Everlost, Orcus's palace of bones on Thanatos, now acquired, all that was required was to cast the Planar Portal to teleport there: I read out to the players the description of Thanatos and the palace from the MotP, and they were glad they hadn't tried for a frontal assault; this also described Thanatos as being "inhospitable even by the standards of the Abyss", and so - although the PCs had Endure Primordial Elements up - I called for the 8th check of the skill challenge - a group Endurance vs Medium DC (ie 31);

* The dwarf has a +34 bonus, and so the player of the dwarf asked if he could try to shelter someone else - I said he could grant a +2 in return for facing a Hard DC (41), which he did - and he succeeded; the paladin also succeeded, as did the ranger-cleric once the bonus from the dwarf was factored in; the sorcerer failed by with an Easy success, so I docked him a healing surge; the invoker/wizard failed with a result below an Easy success, and so I rolled damage for him - about a healing surge's worth.​

The session ended there, with the PCs stepping through their portal into the secret way into Orcus's throne room. I now have to find a suitable map for this - one of the players has a copy of Bloodstone which he will loan me, and I have some maps of my own from various modules which might have something suitable.

I told the players that Orcus doesn't fail forward! - so if they win, they will be 30th level, but if they die then it will be game over at 29th. This is the culmination of 6 years of play.

If they do survive, it's not clear what comes next. The invoker/wizard wants to go and find Miska on Carceri to get the final part of the Rod of Seven Parts, but this is prophesied to bring on the Dusk War, which the sorcerer - who has now killed Lolth and liberated the drow - is not so keen on. He agreed to help defeat Orcus as a quid quo pro for the others helping against Lolth, but there has been no similar deal for Miska.

And the paladin of the Raven Queen is keen to go against Vecna, but that would also be stepping into uncharted, and potentially controversial territory.

Hopefully in two weeks the paths ahead will become clearer.
 

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Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
Awesome.

Again.

Seriously, I want to gush like a fanboy.., but I'm 46 so I can't. :) These posts of yours really are part of an unofficial DMGIII for 4E. You guys really know how to do Epic.
 


pemerton

Legend
This game is approaching Sepulchrave levels of complexity.
My general motto is "more plot rather than less plot". Inevitably lots of stuff that happens over the course of six years of play will be forgotten between sessions - so pile it on to make sure that what does get remembered is enough to keep things moving!

Relating to the "Best thing of 4e" thread, I think the default 4e lore is well-designed for this. There are enough connections between the various beings that players can orient themselves (Raven Queen vs Orcus and Vecna; duergar worship devils; etc), but it's loose enough in the details that there's no need to keep track of incredible intricacies in order for it to make sense (eg Raven Queen vs Orcus is about death and undeath, a key thematic element of D&D fantasy; it's not about some intricate detail of personal interaction between the two of them).

These posts of yours really are part of an unofficial DMGIII for 4E. You guys really know how to do Epic.
This relates back to the "Best of" thread too!

4e makes this easy, because of the maths and overarching mechanical framework.

There are some rough edges: for instance, a Sage of Ages basically cannot fail a knowledge skill check, which means that framing challenges for that PC requires some nuance from me as GM (eg in the episode with the Aspect of Vecna, opening up the Insight check.)

And, as is well known, the high level solos need a bit of work to deal with action purging.

Nevertheless, the mechanics remain very tight. I think it was a huge break through for D&D to move resolution away from the "free text" approach of spells like Transmute Rock to Mud, Create Demiplane, etc - which put all this pressure on the GM to fairly adjudicate these causal processes in this imaginary, high fantasy fiction - and instead to put the mechanical weight on the maths, meaning that the fiction can be as free-wheeling as you like but the players still have to make hard choices, run the risk of failure etc.

Another thing about Epic: you have to be prepared to treat the gameworld as an object for play, rather than a precious thing in itself! Epic isn't consistent with GM-forced metaplot or any sort of status-quo world. (If you don't want the world to change in major ways, you have to stop at Paragon.)
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Awesome as always [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]! Do you have your own stats for Orcus cooked up? An idea of how you'll run the combat encounter with the Demon Prince of Undead?
 

pemerton

Legend
Awesome as always [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]! Do you have your own stats for Orcus cooked up? An idea of how you'll run the combat encounter with the Demon Prince of Undead?
I can post my Orcus stats, because the players already know them (but for hit points and defences) - it's the MM Orcus, but adjusted by reference to Demonomicon (especially Zuggtmoy) plus a few ideas of my own (defences and ability scores are as from the MM; hit points are as appropriate for a post-MM3 solo).

When the player of the wizard/invoker made his Arcana check (auto, or very close to) and I read out the relevant stats, the player of the drow sorcerer/bard reflected that Orcus might do them in . . .

Orcus Level 33 solo brute
Gargantuan elemental humanoid (demon)

Perception +28, darkvision

Speed 6, fly 10 (clumsy), teleport 6

Immune disease, poison, necrotic

Aura 20 of death: enemies that enter or ST take 17 necrotic (35 necrotic if Orcus is bloodied)
Aura 5 of rot: enemies suffer -4 to Fortitude, -2 to saving throws and lose necrotic resistance/immunity
Aura 2 of soul-stealing: if an enemy spends a HS, Orcus makes a melee basic attack as a free action with +5 to hit and +10 to damage
Aura 6 of ‘the dead rise’: DT for enemies; at the S_Orcus’s_T, all dead creatures (other than any killed by the Wand of Orcus) rise as Abyssal husk under Orcus’s control

Power of Thanatos: even if dazed, stunned or dominated Orcus may take actions as normal on his turn

Standard Actions – at will unless indicated otherwise

*Wand of Orcus (melee 4 vs 1 creature): +37 vs Fort for 6d12+17 necrotic & wk (SE); if target is killed it rises as an Abyssal wraith under Orcus’s control at the S_Orcus’s_NT (provided it is still dead at that time)

Terror of Thanatos: Orcus makes 3 basic attacks (4 if bloodied) – if dazed, stunned or dominated he loses 1, 2 or 3 of these (if dominated he also performs his dominated action as a free action on his turn)

Touch of Death (R5,6; necrotic; melee 4 vs 1 creature): +33 vs Fort, target is reduced to 0 hp (necrotic resistance or immunity does not apply) Miss: target suffers necrotic damage equal to its bloodied value

Final Word (R6; enemies in cl burst 10): +38 vs Fort for 4d12+12 necrotic, and undead in the burst regain 20 hp

Minor Actions – may use 1x/round only

Sweeping blow (cl blast 4 vs enemies): +37 vs AC for 5d12 +14 necrotic, push 2 sq & knock prone; if target is killed it rises as an Abyssal wraith under Orcus’s control at the S_Orcus’s_NT (provided it is still dead at that time)

Tail lash (melee 5 vs 1 creature): +38 vs AC for 3d12+16, knocked prone and stunned til E_Orcus’s_NT

Triggered Actions
If an enemy moves or shifts adjacent, use tail lash as an immediate reaction​

Orcus won't be on his own, but I'll post about that after this weekend (I'm pretty sure we'll be playing). Overall I have a level 37 encounter planned, which should be suitable. A mix of demons (obviously) and undead (equally obviously) plus a twist or two.

For the throne room I've drawn up my own map (4 A4-pages each of 12x17 squares, so 24x34 altogether), combining the Raven Queen's throne room from module E1 with Orcus's throne room from H4 Throne of Blooodstone. There are some big open spaces but also some architectural features that I think might be interesting.

I took pity on the players, who have not had a treasure drop for a long time, and decided that the Raven Queen intercepted their teleport to Thanatos to give them some power-up items (some other gods also got in on the action, for a few blessings etc). (This was emailed through last weekend, so that when the session starts we can get into the action!)

The sorcerer's change of paragon path, plus loss of Cloak of Winter, is a big hit to the PCs' auto-damage zones, which is what they relied on heavily against both Torog and Lolth. The fact that they're going in fresh has pros (full surges and dailies) but also cons (the paladin's Meliorating Armour is not charged up, and the invoker/wizard's ring's stave-off-death ability only works after a milestone). So I think it could be pretty tough. Fatal? We'll see, but I think as a party they've pulled through worse.
 

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