WotBS Tolamaker's Burning Sky


Chapter 1 started here
Session 6
The party enters the Fire Forest, drinking their potions that at first are warm on their tongues, then cold in their stomachs. Traveling along the Elfroad, they each pick up on different oddities in the forest. Mishka, wanting to make sure they find the most straightforward path, journeys down the side roads, but soon discovers that they are not clear of fire like the Elfroad. Eluriah notes the way the fires burn, but don't consume the bark and leaves of the brush. Together, they surmise that some other force is protecting this road in particular. Orwin and Gruz keep an eye out for fire monsters and other refugees respectively, so Gruz is the first to notice three bodies on the road, one of which is half in the fires at the edge of the road. When he leans down to inspect it, the body leans up, and begs for him to kill it. Gruz asks for his name, and apologizes to Durval as he lops of his head. Unfortunately, the eyes blink awake, moaning in the horrible realization that he isn't dead.

Speaking with Durval, they reattach his head and learn that he and his companions attempted to pass through a few days earlier. He believed that his water magic would be enough, but he couldn't keep up protections, and they succumbed to the heat. He was attempting to make it to some burning houses he saw in the woods, but immediately caught flame. The party is unable to bring him out of his misery, so they leave him, kneeling in front of his companions' bodies.

Later, the group comes to a stone bridge crossing a gorge. The rocky area is free of fire, and they see a wagon with skeletons at the bottom. Artemis is sent down to investigate, and sees that the wagon had gold and potions, which Mishka retrieves. While down in the gorge, she sees flickering fiery bats hanging upside down under the bridge, and advises the party to travel quietly. Unfortunately, Gruz steps on a loose brick, that goes tumbling down, and the bats attack.

Gruz takes the brunt of the attacks, but Crystin suffers burns as well. Haddin roars in anger, and demands they heal her, which Orwin does. The battle takes time, because not only are the bats small and hard to hit, but they also regenerate after a while. Eluriah finds that stamping on them helps keep them dead. Eventually, the party defeats them, scavenging them for parts, and making their way across. In the distance, they see a village. Is it lost in the flames, or will they find some respite in this burning hellscape? We'll find out next week!

Post Session Thoughts
A fun session, but I felt like I made combat drag out too long. Definitely was affected by a lot of low rolls where nothing happened, but I still could have done something more interesting. Orwin is entirely fire focused, so Haddin got to yell at him for not being prepared. Orwin's player was quick to remind Haddin that all he was good for was invading people's minds. On the other hand, as a Tiefling he gets to resist all the fire damage coming his way, so it evens out. Artemis' fire immunity is turning out very useful in a fire forest as well.

The encounter with Durval was much darker than intended, but I liked it. I wasn't expecting them to actually put him out of his misery, so it was fun to have everyone have that "oh naughty word" moment at the same time when he opened his eyes. I'm also slightly glad that they weren't able to bring him along, partially to keep the NPC count low, but also because this party had a ton of luck when it came to raising the spirits of sunless Barovians last campaign. So its nice to know that some people can still succumb to trauma I suppose.

Changes to the Module
Not much. I cut the magma mephit encounter. I also simplified the bridge mechanics because I didn't want to roll twenty dice each turn in combat to see if they fell down. I simplified it to if they moved more than half speed, they knocked rubble loose. This would have been fine, but then I played the bats in a way where no one wanted to move anyway. If I were to change how I ran it, I would have had all the bats ambush them, and chase them off the bridge instead of a fight to the death. That way they'd want to run away and potentially risk falling. All in all, a good intro to the Fire Forest!

P.S. @Nod_Hero Fern is named Fern because Aripos' player thought that sounded like a nice naturey name for a Forest Gnome's pet. I finally remembered to ask.
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Session 7
The party heads towards the village they saw in the distance, when Crystin winces in pain, and shouts for Eluriah to move. Eluriah jumps back, and a lance of fire pierces the ground she had been standing on, and an enormous stag of fire emerges. The party fought gamely, cornering the stag with Mishka and Orwin taking the brunt of the fire damage. Torrent was knocked down, but healed by Eluriah. Eventually, the stag is defeated, and the wall of fire that had been advancing on them coalesces into a draconic face wreathed in horns, eventually fading into a pair of glowing eyes. The eyes speak into their minds, identifying themselves as Indomitability and demanding that they free it from its prison. When they agree, the eyes offer a gift, entering Eluriah and Orwin's bodies, giving them the ability to stabilize automatically on their turn.

With the fires gone, the party moves towards the village. Mishka breaks into a tower that sits on the bridge, and sets off a spiritual weapon trap of Talasius, the god of marriage. They enter the tower, harassed by an enemy they can't attack, and search everything. Eluriah solves a riddle with Mishka's help, they find a notebook by a cleric of the tower, and Orwin finds a pouch of seeds with goblin script written on it. No one speaks Goblin. They escape from the tower, and wait until the sword disappears. Eluriah tries to identify the seeds, but doesn't recognize them. She uses druidcraft to make one sprout, and a small seedling sprouts. After looking over the town, they decide to take rest in the tower, and heal themselves.

Post-session Thoughts:
We were already missing one player, and then another player canceled last-minute, so I changed the two medium fire elementals to a single normal one, with an added Sweep attack with a recharge of 5-6. This let me attack everyone adjacent so my single boss wasn't completely boned. Mishka and Orwin both having resistance to the fire damage still made it a fairly easy fight. Indomitability's reveal was fun, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear them pick up on the draconic description. Everyone is suitably weirded out by him talking about "the singers." It was actually funny how close the questions from the group matched the suggested q/a in the module.

But then they hit the tower. Dear god. I think the spiritual weapon trap did more damage than the elemental as they ran through the tower, trying to find the rune (missing the DC by 1 two times) and grabbing all the loot they could find. They finally left the tower when Mishka was forced to use her Relentless Endurance two rounds before it dissipated for good (the trigger for the trap was harming the door, and Mishka already broke it off its hinges, so no need to hit it again.) I had no idea what plant would sprout from the seed, so I had Eluriah make a nature or arcana check, and said that the seed was so desiccated it would take a lot of druidic energy. Literally today I decided it will bloom into a "dream poppy."

Changes to the Module:

I already mentioned the fire elemental change. I also toned down the boon, mostly to keep things simple.

I only changed two words of the module in the tower, and that was the answer to the LotR door riddle. Just to be annoying, because I knew everyone would get it immediately, I changed the answer from just "friend" in elvish, to "Friend and enter". I always present riddles and such to players in text on Roll20, and I specifically removed the comma. Made the riddle last one turn longer than normal, and let the spiritual weapon hit one extra time. Was it a good change? Not particularly. Was it funny to hear everyone freak out when "mellon" wasn't the answer? Incredibly. They eventually solved it by just repeating the whole riddle back to the door.

Great session overall. Hectic and fun.
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Wasn't there a bearded devil somewhere before that? It's been so long since I ran that, but I vaguely recall that part...
Oops, yes, I also changed that a bit. So originally, there's supposed to be a hellhound that delivers a message from the devil written on a bone. I cut that after reading Jacob Driscoll's blog, where he believed he should have cut down the number of encounters/buildup to Kazyk, and just have Kazyk offer them a deal. That was originally supposed to happen before they reach the village, but I wanted to reward them for keeping up such a strong pace, so he will arrive later. Narratively, its because the inquisitor sent after Haddin was only killed some 6 hours ago, so it takes a bit of time for the information to reach higher ups, and for them to put two and two together over Inquisitor Boreus' death, and the intelligence case.


Session 8
The party rests in the tower. During that time, Eluriah reads through the journal of the cleric, named Bhurisrava, and learns that he was a cleric of Talasius who lived in Innenotdar (formerly Otdarel) as the flames began. He writes of struggles with faith, and of keeping those who succumb to the flames alive. The party decides to investigate the Shrine of Anyariel he had written of, and go to the center of town. Just as they are investigating the tree for a secret entrance, a pair of ghasts fall down and attack them, nearly eviscerating Aripos. The party deals with them, and are trying to figure out how to enter the tree again, when Aripos climbs the tree and finds a nest of young ghasts. Torrent is freaked out by undead children yearning for flesh, and casts Turn Undead, turning two of them, and opening the door to the shrine. Aripos finds a red cord in the ghast's nest after the fight.

The party enters the shrine, which has a soft green glow about it. Inside the shrine, they find two bodies at the foot of a statue of Anyariel, the elven hero of Otdarel. One body is dead, with claw marks on its body. The other is "alive" with the flames of Innenotdar wreathing it. As the party tries to figure out what is worth looting, Mishka rearranges the body of the priest, and asks for his guidance as they try to save Innenotdar. The light in the room pulses, and an angel of Meditrina emerges, with two snakes for a head. The angel informs them that though Bhurisrava was a cleric of Talasius, the healing work he did in the final days won him sainthood with Meditrina, who sent the angel as a guardian of his resting place. The angel heals the party, and the burning body, and it wakes up. The body is Diashan, a Shahalesti warrior who has been down here since the fire started.

Leaving the shrine, Diashan collapses at the sight of the burning forest, but picks herself up. The party begins making their way down the river to the source of the unending fire. As they walk, Orwin feeds Aripos an experimental elixir that lets him grow gills. He begins swimming in the river, and finds a necklace with an inscription he can't read. Mishka asks Diashel if she speaks Goblin (to help them find out what is in the seed bag), and Diashan quickly denies that she speaks Goblin. Mishka isn't sure if she believes her.

Gruz is keeping watch, and hears a whumph of fire as a creature teleports nearby. Seeing that they are found out, whoever it is teleports away. Soon, two imps appear, asking if they will speak with their master. When the party is unwilling to cooperate, a whumph of fire appears by the imps, and a grandiose devil announces himself as Kazyk, and offers an alliance.

Post Session Thoughts
I had mixed feelings about how this one went. The only two ways into the shrine are a Strength check or Turn undead, and there's really no clue to make it a puzzle. I 100% added the ghast children just to justify Torrent Turning Undead, when it's going into the shrine isn't mandatory, and it felt cheap. Especially because a player suddenly came up with an answer that seemed completely plausible answer after the door had opened (putting an offering of water in the bowl at the shrine). If I had waited ten seconds before calling for initiative, I would have let a player have a cool moment. One of my biggest struggles as a DM is just letting the players figure something out on their own. I often get caught up in figuring out how to lead them to the answer, which is both patronizing and unfun. My favorite memories of play are often when the players figure something out on their own, or go wildly in the wrong direction. You'd think I'd have learned to let the reins loose by now.

On the other hand, the interactions with the angel and Diashan were great, and I really enjoyed the player's theories on what's going on in Innenotdar. A lot of comments about Old Coaltongue's affinity for fire. I also gave them a bit of lore about the Torch, which just further convinced them of Ragesia's complicity in the unending flames. Bwahaha.

Changes to the Module:
I added the ghast children on a whim, but that was because the book says the ghast couple were an actual couple who became ghasts becasue they ate children. I figured why not add to the horror and have the children half eaten, and turned ghastly? Gross stuff.

The angel had two snakes for a head, because Meditrina's symbol is basically the caduceus. Not really a change, but it was fun to showcase a nonstandard angel.

I'm never good at implying to the players that they should spend time searching in specific areas, so instead, whenever one searched for stuff, if they met the DC, I just rolled a d4 to see which item they found.

Diashan became a woman, and didn't confess. After I basically forced them into the shrine, I decided to make puzzling out the source of the fire a bit less straightforward. I almost thought I overcorrected, but then Mishka's player asked Diashan if she knew what the dream seed bag said. chef kiss The seeds of distrust are sown.

Overall, a good session, I just need to take a step back. Time to bargain with a devil next week.
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Session 9
The devil Kazyk explains that there is a loophole in his current contract to hunt down the group, depending on them being in the Fire Forest of Innenotdar. If the forest is no longer on fire, he doesn't have to kill them. However, he still needs the case with the information. The party discusses, and tries to find loopholes of their own, but ultimately decide that they can't make that decision yet. Kazyk shakes his head and says he'll give them a taste of opposition and attacks. The fight goes mostly well, with two imps going down, and Kazyk running/teleporting away, but Aripos goes down once. After the fight, the group decides to keep an eye out for trouble.

Trouble comes when further down the river, they spy a fairy with butterfly wings dipping a bucket into the river. She is beset by four other fairies who throw a net over her and begin to pull her away. The party attacks, and soon finds the tiny fairies pack a mean punch, as Aripos goes down twice, and Gruz goes down once. Eventually, after a tug of war match, the group is able to rescue the fairy, and knock out one of the assailants while the rest run off. Aripos starts calling himself The Phoenix because of the number of times he's "risen again."

The fairy introduces herself as Tiljann, a seela of the forest. She was born only shortly before the fires began, and doesn't remember a time before that. She carries her assailant, Birch, to a village at the edge of a lake. A tower stands by the mouth of the river, where four seela stand atop singing a dolorous song like a funeral dirge. Tiljann leads them towards an elder's hut, saying that "Papuvin will tell you how we keep the forest alive."

Post-Session Thoughts
A pretty combat-heavy session, which is not the norm for this group, and it went mostly okay. The devil fight went poorly on my end, because I made the absolutely bonkers decision to have Kazyk misty step into the middle of a group of people. I wanted him to hit as many people as possible okay? But it turned out that just made it easier to wail on him. Luckily, he got away to terrorize them at an opportune time.

The seela fight. Hoo boy. The very first attack was a crit on my end, and I immediately dropped all the seela down to one attack instead of two. It still was a nasty fight, even though I had the seela preoccupied with capturing Tiljann, so they weren't always concerned with doing damage. Had to do a quick retcon when I started to have them fly across the river, realized that the party could never catch up, tried to think of a BS reason why they wouldn't, and then realized they didn't have a fly speed, only glide! Problem solved. I probably wouldn't have pulled as many punches if they hadn't fought Kazyk like ten minutes earlier.

I liked ending the session with them coming into the Seela Village. Describing the bedraggled fairies and the mournful song made it seem like a downer, and then Tiljann's statement had the group talking excitedly at the end. Also, it's funny how combat-heavy sessions feel action-packed, but when written out are super short.

Changes to the module
Not too many changes. Kazyk appeared here for reasons I outlined in an earlier post. I changed the seela rebels from outright killing Tiljann (which they could have in about two turns) and instead figured it would make more sense for Vuhl to tell them he just wanted to capture her. "That way more people will stop singing quicker!" He would then kill her similar to how the book outlines him killing Gwenvere, and try and use her body in the same way as he uses Timbre's. I also figure he would like lying as much as possible to as many people as possible. If the rebels had gotten away with her, I think her body would have demoralized a lot of seela, but not completely interrupted them like Timbre's body would. It would have shortened the timeline for the players by more than just their potion count, as a large group of seela would give up.
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Session 10
Tiljann leads the party to Papuvin, the elder Seela who explains that the song they have been hearing is the Song of Forms, a fey magic song that gives form to spirits, and preserves the forest. It is this song that has been ensuring the forest stays alive throughout the fire. The party goes around asking questions for how they can potentially stop the flames. Orwin double checks to make sure that the Song is only keeping the forest alive, not the flames as well, while Gruz speaks with a seela who saw some of the orcs and goblins who set the forest ablaze. He says that they didn't come from the Ragesian border, but traveled through the forest up to the north to set the fire. The orcs were constantly drinking potions, and the goblins ate seeds from a pouch.

Mishka, who was unable to get any information from anyone, is approached by Vuhl, a seela who leads a group of dissenters who believe they should stop singing in order to let Indomitability free. He says that Indomitability is a fire spirit who is keeping the forest ablaze, and if he runs free, the fires will end. He's willing to gamble on that, because he says life isn't worth living here in constant pain.

Eventually, Tiljann tells them how to sing the song (if they know Sylvan) and says they might go talk to Gwenivere, as she might know something about it. They travel around the lake to a clear and cool pond, mostly untouched by the flames and ash. They find a cave that holds a shrine, with a lock of hair around an idol of Talasius. When Mishka picks up the idol, she becomes hideous, and Gwenivere emerges from the pool, accusing them of thievery.

Eluriah and Gruz manage to talk Gwenivere down, and convince her they are trying to save the forest. The way Gruz talks about Anyariel makes Gwenivere open up: She and Anyariel were lovers, which means that Timbre hates her. Timbre has been taken by the fire, and won't respond to anything other than Anyariel's hair, or Gwenivere's head on a pike. The group convinces her to give them a bit of Anyariel's hair. Begrudgingly, she also turns Mishka face back to normal.

Backtracking to Timbre's glade, the group passes Vuhl, who encourages them to kill Timbre. The group finds Timbre in a glade, underneath a willow that looks exactly like Anyariel's Shrine. With the gift of Anyariel's hair, the burning dryad explains that her heart, the Sword of Anyariel, is keeping Indomitability pinned to the lakebed. The party must remove the sword, and then kill Indomitability, for if the sword is destroyed, the forest will die. The party thanks Anyariel for her very straightforward explanation that everyone understands, and goes back to the Seela village to prepare for the fight.

Post Session Thoughts
"Straightforward explanation" has about twenty air quotes and an eyeroll on top, because I got so mixed up when trying to explain things I actually had to step out of the game to just reread the adventure. I was honest with the players, and they thought it was funny. I kept getting details of Song of Forms and Indomitability's effects, and the Sword of Anyariel mixed up, it was ridiculous. I think I eventually summed it up right, but it took a bit of rephrasing and rehashing to finally set the record straight. I also had to tell them OOC that some of the other information they had gotten earlier might be faulty on purpose, because I didn't want them to think the other conflicting information was just a mixup as well.

They really got a move on this session. It felt like they were trying to speedrun the module compared to previous sessions, and they got all the way through the mystery of how to deal with the forest in just a few short hours, I almost felt like we didn't get to spend enough time with Gwenivere and Timbre. But it was a fun RP session, and they're ready to fight Indomitability, so I'm not complaining! Kazyk is waiting in the wings to jump them, and that should be fun.

Changes to the module:
The biggest explicit change I made was to have Gwenivere and Anyariel actually be lovers, to add to the drama of the situation. I did this for two reasons. One, Jacob Driscoll's blog referred to the situation as a lesbian love triangle, which I guess it kind of was, but as written, it just came off as a nymph who couldn't get over their crush. Two, I felt like so much of the adventure was talking about Anyariel as this great hero and savior of the forest, and I wanted to see how the players would react to find out that she wasn't perfect, and actually had cheated on her wife. Didn't change much of the story, just the dynamic between Gwenvere and Timbre became much more bitter. I also tried to play Gwenvere as more sympathetic, the "other woman" who wasn't recognized as someone worthy of a token of remembrance when Anyariel's body was recovered.

Because I didn't want Diashan to just up and spill the beans, I added a seela who had seen the fire start. After the session ended, Mishka's player messaged the group with her "wild conspiracy theory" that was... completely correct. Every detail from the potions being disguise self, to Shahalesti pulling a false flag operation. I was so happy that she had found the truth in my ramblings, but then she seemed to back off second-guessing herself. I'm going to tug at that next session, but I don't want to be too obvious.

Next time, they go scuba diving!
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(my own musings, as this is coming up quickly in my playthrough)

I do like that angle on the Anyariel/Gwenvere/Timbre triangle. As functionally immortal fey, Gwenvere and Timbre would have been acquaintences, friends, or rivals for ages... but the love of the mortal Anyariel would have easily pit them against one another. If Gwenvere was indeed Anyariel's lover, rather than Timbre, that makes Gwenvere's actions all the more relatable... and Gwen's wrath towards Timbre could easily have been something akin to, "you turned my love into a warrior, a hero... and she died for it. All you wanted was a champion for your forest!"

I imagine that as Timbre effectively "groomed" the elf into her own personal champion, there was mutual attraction, temptation, and perhaps even indiscretion, that only fueled the feud between the two fey, as Anyariel desperately struggled to maintain a balance between her duty to the woods, attraction to Timbre, and love for Gwenvere. After Anyariel's death, the two fey only became more bitter towards one another (Timbre believed "she did nothing wrong, Anyariel made her own choices", while Gwenvere "was callously swept aside by a powerful rival").

My interpretation above paints Timbre in a decidedly unpleasant light. I'm not sure if there's a good balance between the Dryad and Nymph, in who was right or wrong, but at least this gives Timbre's likely death a slight hint of "poetic justice," rather than "accepting death for an eternal reward..."

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