WotBS Tolamaker's Burning Sky

Tolamaker

Adventurer
I have a question as I start to prepare for the Temple of Echoed Souls adventure. At the end of Tears, it's stated that Shalosha isn't aware of Shaaladel's crimes in Innenotdar and Ycengled. Innenotdar I understand, but the genocide of the Taranesti in Ycengled is described as a crusade that he publicly declared. And the horrors of genocide led to the spirits to haunt the forest to the point that no one has returned in 40 years. If the public is unaware of the truth, how is the story of Ycengled told in modern day? That Shaaladel was more brutal than perhaps necessary in putting down a rebellion? What is the story the party would know, and what would Shalosha believe? I have a Taranesti druid, so I feel like she would at least know that Taranesti are seen as inferior in Shahalesti, but we haven't really touched on that much in the campaign.
 

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Fuzzybear

Explorer
My personal thoughts on this are two-fold -
First, Shalosha has been brainwashed effectively by her father her whole life, right? So she believes whatever he says to her.
Second, his official story here is that they were a threat to Shahalesti, so she would have thought that to be justified. She probably hasn't heard any specifics on acts intentionally and now it has happened so long ago that no one really talks about it spontaneously.

Since the Taranesti effectively don't exist, so there isn't a huge stigma about it as they keep to themselves (for fear ostensibly). The story of Shaaladel's is effectively unopposed in high society, and Shalosha wouldn't have heard other opinions being sheltered. As such, she doesn't think the war was unfounded against the Taranesti, but could have new thoughts once the truth is exposed as to what actually happened and the reasoning for her father's actions.

For your PC, I would assume they would be bitterly resentful to Shahalesti in general. They can make their own opinions on a sheltered and naive princess and whether she is implicit by association or not.
 

Tolamaker

Adventurer
Sessions 70 & 71: Best of Frenemies

Shalosha and her paladins catch up to the palanquin, and she demands that they hand over the Torch. Corban is able to convince her that they don't have it, which stymies her. She then trades some information, revealing that she has gone behind her father's back in order to work with General Magdus. "Not all Ragesians want this war. It is men like Magdus who will help end it." She reveals that he is willing to face Leska, and believes that he will be a better emperor. She convinces the party to bring a sending stone to Simeon. "It would be best if we share information."

The party is let go, and the palanquin comes to a stop about an hour later. They divvy up the loot with Clan Millorn, and find themselves about 80,000 gold richer. With stars in their eyes, they teleport to the treehouse with Darius, who is unsure of his place in a changing world. Aripos, not wanting to have to deal with house arrest for his earlier conviction, concocts an new identity as Sopira, Aripos' cousin from Clan Millorn. Eluriah's husband apparently planned since their last fiery entrance, and had cleared a space out for their return. Going to Simeon, they report on their dealings with Shalosha, as well as introducing Darius. Katrina and Kieran arrive later, with Katrina eyeing Darius when she enters.

The party goes about spending their exorbitant wealth at the various stores in Seaquen. Sopira and Corban get memorial tattoos of Aripos. Corban acts as a message carrier for the Resistance, and meets with Mishka's mother in Gate Pass, where he passes on many letters from Mishka, and returns with a belt made by Mishka's mother. Gruz begin researching a cauldron he's heard tell of in the north, and leaves the party for a while.

After some days, Simeon asks them to return. He tells that from the information from Darius' visions and Shalosha's collaboration, they believe that the assassin's took Coaltongue's body to Irrendra, the Lost City of Ycengled. He reminds them of Ycengled's terrible fate. "I wish I could give you better guidance, but my divinations are drowned out by the screams of the lost." He tells them that Sheena Larkin will take them to Shahalesti, just south of the forest, and they will have to find their way through its haunts.

When they arrive, Ycengled is like a shadowy cancer on the land. Once they enter it is eerily quiet, with no sound of animal or bird, and even their own footsteps are muffled in an unseasonable summer snow. The faint scrape of metal can be heard from the many chains hanging from the trees. Mishka takes the lead, and they travel within the oppressive forest. Eventually, she comes across a pair of meandering footprints, which lead them to a rather ridiculous man in a jester's outfit. Despite his clothing, he is incredibly muscular, and wields a large mallet. He introduces himself as Niel Lovestar, personal jester to Emperor Coaltongue. He has been traveling the continent trying to find out what happened to him. He leans in conspiratorially to reveal that "I believe the Emperor... was assassinated!"

As Corban attempts to abandon the fool, the trees around them begin to sway, and a group of trees turn to reveal the desiccated bodies of Taranesti chained to them. Screams howl from their dead lips, and they surge forward.

Post-Session Thoughts
These two sessions were a bit haphazard, because they were separated by a week, and dealt with a lot of bookkeeping from levelling up and tallying up treasure and spending the money as they picked items out. I set the rules that they could pretty much get any magic item Very Rare and lower using the Discerning Merchant's Guide, and no repeats allowed. So everyone can't have animated shields buffing everyone at once. This put a decent dent in their treasure, and I'll be interested to see the effects of the magic item glut. This is more of a lore module in my opinion outside of the Temple itself, so I'm fine to treat this as a test chapter for combat difficulty.

I think overall I enjoyed Tears of the Burning Sky, but it did have some lulls. The main issue I had was that the lower level felt like just a holding pattern as before the meat on the top floor. The Sindairese nobles and the devils are ostensibly enemies, but I couldn't think of a way to meaningfully make the players pic up on any conflict there, so it turned into a slog as they killed everything. The party (and I) enjoyed the change of pace, but it started to wear out its welcome until they took the elevator up.

Changes to the Module
So, there is one part of the session that I left out, and that is the matter of Katrina. I decided that it made sense that Darius and Katrina would know each other, and in the session had Darius comment on it after they left. He basically spilled the beans about seeing her with Leska as one of her aides, assuming that this was common knowledge to the party. This lead to a very anticlimactic moment where the players ran back, but I said she had left, and then they seemed to take that as she had already escaped. Then we got caught up in other things, and it fell to the wayside. I've never been more tempted to do a retcon, and I'm still debating it. I had even planned for a chase and chance to talk to her and potentially turn her allegiance, but I had a brain fart that turned the whole thing into a kind of empty preemptive reveal. Part of this isn't helped that I haven't had Katrina feature very much in the campaign, so I think the main thing that makes it hurt is that she's Rantle's sister. So really only the Gate Passers care. I'll ask the players how they feel about it.

Going into Ycengled, I have decided to really pare down the encounters, to try and streamline it and keep things moving. This is the first time in some while that I've actively gone through an adventure and mapped out what I hope for each session. Right now, I've got it to seven more sessions. I'm sure it will go over, but it's heartening to see it all out on one notepad. One big change is
that I plan to have the temple be in Phorros Irrendra. I have some ideas for how 41 is manipulating Rhuarc, and having the rival party arrive a bit earlier than the temple itself which might lead to some earlier clashes.
 

Tolamaker

Adventurer
Alright, here I am a month later, and it's not because I'm lazy, but because October was cursed for everyone's schedules.
Session 72: Cursed Forest

The party defends themselves from the vile oak trees that attack them, and Eluriah is delighted to discover that she has finally found an enemy susceptible to her fire spells. Despite his ridiculous attire, Niel carries himself well in the fight, with a strange calm passing over him as he wields his mallet with great effectiveness. After defeating the trees, they reluctantly decide Niel can come along with them. He tries to lead them, but Eluriah subtly points them in the right direction, allowing them to discover the remains of a battle between Ragesians and Shahalesti. Mishka is unable to determine who won, though they do find tracks leading away: a pair of boots, and a set of pawprints.

AS they travel and day turns to night, howls fill the forest, and they find themselves surrounded by ghostly werewolves. As they fend of the attacks, a shriek sounds above them, and a corporeal werewolf with blood pouring from its neck lands among them, slashing and biting out at them. As they defeat the specters and are able to turn their attention on the wolf, a giant arctic fox comes out to aid them. They defeat the wolf, with a beam of radiance coming down to finish it off when it tries to rise again.

Coming out of the forest to the side of the arctic fox is a wood elf, who is suspicious, but ultimately thankful for their help in defeating the werewolf. "I was laying a trail for her, but apparently she found you to be more delectable. Her mistake, I suppose." She introduces herself as Fayne, and she is especially glad to see Eluriah, another Taranesti. When she hears of their search for Irrendra, she takes them back to the small burrow where the survivors of the Ycengled elves have been staying.

There, they speak with Halafrin, an elder, who is resistant to showing them where Irrendra is. "The last time we allowed someone to go there, he turned against us!" Halafrin tells them of Rhuarc, a half-taranesti/half shahalesti elf who claimed to want to help the Ycengled elves regain their forest. Mishka makes an impassioned plea, telling him of their hope for an end of the war with the torch. With great reluctance, he tells them the secret to navigating the tunnels: lighting a fire behind to let their shadows guide them. Fayne tells them she will lead them to the entrance, where they will have to navigate it on their own.

Post Session Thoughts
This session was pretty good, even though I felt like I was rushing things. I did a bit of ad libbing in this session, making liberal use of the encounters in the book and occasionally shifting them to suit moving things along faster, and I think it worked out ultimately. I didn't do a great job of showing Malhun to be a Shahalesti, by which I mean I totally forgot she was a Shahalesti, and so I think people will think of her as only a vampire/wolf of Ycengled. I think I'll have the other elf vampire mention her when they see her. She'll disavow that her apprentice was terrorizing the forest of course.

Changes to the Module

I realized that in the past year we had only finished two modules, and coupled with the missed month, I decided to cut the adventure down even further. There's not a lot of plot going on in the rest of Ycengled, so I felt okay crunching that down. The tunnels will get a cut as well, though I think I'll keep Irrendra and the Temple largely as is (though I am putting the temple in Irrendra). If it all feels too sudden, I think I'll bring the Henge combat back for the end of the module.
 

Tolamaker

Adventurer
Session 73: 🎶Secret Tunnel🎶

The party is led by Fayne up the Nallanthes river to the tunnels that lead to the city of Irrendra. They pass a patrol of Shahalesti, who Fayne almost attacks, but Corban convinces her that they have a job to do. Eluriah spooks the guards with sounds of an owl, making it easier to sneak past. When they reach the tunnels, Fayne leaves them. Following the directions of the Taranesti, Eluriah brings out Artemis to act as their backlight, revealing a network of elaborate knots in the shadows, showing which direction to go. THey wind their way, intersecting with other tunnels, and occasionally backtracking.

In the distance down one tunnel, they find three beautiful drow playing a mournful song, and they arise happy to find others. They say that Rhuarc abandoned them in the tunnels, and they'll do just anything if the party brings them with. A voice whispers in Eluriah's ear. "What is your deepest desire?" However, Corban had been playing a song of countercharm, and so when the drow shed their disguises to reveal their demonic succubus and incubus forms, they are unable to charm anyone. The group defeats the demons, and continue forward to a cavern where three larger demons stand waiting. Daukran, the leader, laughs cruelly, happy that people have come for the Torch of the Burning Sky. He tells them that he is bound to Rhuarc by his mother, who cared more about her son's life than her own while making deals with devils. He asks if any of them have the will to use the Torch, and Aripos admits he'd like to take over the world. Laughing triumphantly, Daukran calls out to them, "Then prove you have the mettle to wield it!" and attacks.

A flurry of power word Stuns fly, with Corban countering one and then getting caught in the next along with Eluriah. Aripos, unhappy that the demon he thought he was getting along with is attacking them, focuses his fire on Daukran, landing bolt after devastating bolt. Mishka runs forward to take on two at a time, while Niel takes on one on his own. Eluriah breaks free and begins to aid Niel, and Aripos unleashes a magical barrage of arrows bringing one down, enabling Mishka and Niel to finish off theirs.

Continuing to travel, the party emerges into a valley, overlooking the forest city of Irrendra.

Post Session Thoughts
These were two fun combats! While the succubus/incubus fight wasn't especially difficult, it was a great surprise when Corban's player began his countercharm before he even saw the enemies. Something about my description of the music (even though I mentioned that it was down a path they were meant to take) seemed eerie enough for him to start it up, and I loved the reveal that justified his actions. It was also fun, because I played all of the demons as pouty party people. Even their deaths were hot.

The glabrezu fight was good, simply because the demons were actually landing their hits and spells. I feel like I often have the worst luck when it comes to NPC rolls, and this was just a nice solid fight with big damage rolls that the players managed to pull through. It was also good little trickle of Rhuarc info. The players are currently of the opinion that he is a trillith, or that he used to be a person who was replaced by a trillith.

Changes to the Module
I made a few changes to facilitate getting through the tunnels faster. I cut a basilisk fight, simply because I rarely enjoy single-monster fights, and it felt like the odd-duck compared to the demon encounters.

I also cut the problems that are supposed to arise from flashes of light in the tunnels, largely because they have no consequence other than taking more time, and there wasn't a compelling reason to make them take longer. Eluriah was using a moonbeam, and I debated making anyone downstream of the light get booted out to another tunnel, but we were very close to the end of the session, and I felt like it wasn't going to make a huge difference.

Next session, I'll be running Irrendra as a point crawl!
 

Fuzzybear

Explorer
Session 73: 🎶Secret Tunnel🎶
My group as well did the "Secret Tunnel" fun actually. We have some very similar players I feel!
Avatar The Last Airbender Dancing GIF by Nickelodeon
 

Tolamaker

Adventurer
Session 74 & 75: In the City of the Valley of the Forest of the Shadow of Death

The party enters Phorros Irrendra, and sees a deserted forest city. With several locations peeking through the trees, they make their way to a high peak that lets them look over the valley. In a cluster of homes among the trees, they spy a manor house that looks like it has been well kept. Traveling down and to the house, they are ambushed by two drow women, who seek to toss them off the branches to the forest floor. Corban manages to turn the tables, pushing one drow woman off, but casting feather fall on her. Cornering the other woman, they get her to throw down her weapons. As the fallen woman returns, they reluctantly reveal themselves to be Quillathe and Yvonnel, part of the assassination squad against Emperor Coaltongue. They say they were hired by Rhuarc, and they don't know who gave him the job. They were willing to join thanks to the pay, as well as the knowledge that Shahalesti would be blamed for the attack. However, they've been stuck in Irrendra ever since recieving payment, and Rhuarc refuses to tell them how to leave, so they are unaware of how the war is going.

When the party asks how they were able to kill the immortal Coaltongue, Quillathe says that "Rhuarc's scimitar allow him-" when a bolt shoots through a window and hits her in the throat, killing her instantly. Yvonnel falls to help her, while the party fights off a shadowy being and several creatures who Tragedies who take on the faces of their loved ones. Once she has some breathing room, Eluriah reaches down and revivifies Quillathe, telling her and Yvonnel to get somewhere safe. Aripos leaves the house to find Rhuarc standing off in the trees. They exchange fire, both hitting each other with sneak attack damage, when Rhuarc grins at Aripos, and disappears. Incredibly angry, Aripos turns himself invisible with his new tattoo, and follows, two invisible assassins running through the trees.

The party finishes off the tragedies, and split up. Eluriah and Mishka follow after Aripos and Rhuarc, while Corban and Niel search around for the shadowy figure who has disappeared. Deciding they need to get back to the party, Corban gives Niel flight. With their combined efforts, the group is able to stay just behind Rhuarc, who leads them into a forge, running towards a chest. Niel gets their first, and opens it to find that it is empty, and Rhuarc smiles and disappears under a hail of moonbeams from Eluriah, revealing it was Rhuarc's shadow. The real Rhuarc emerges from the trees and kicks a specially placed stone that leads to the entire building and several logs tumbling to the forest floor.

The party wriggles their way free with some pain. They return to the drow, and learn that Rhuarc's scimitar takes the soul, storing them in soul gems. With the party hemming and hawing over what to do, Yvonnel says that she will trade information for information. The party will tell them how to leave Phorros Irrendra, and she will tell them where Coaltongue's body is. The party agrees, and she shows the secret compartment below the manor, where Coaltongue's body lies in a lead coffin, his head and body separated. Niel is ecstatic to find his emperor, while the others restrain themselves from desecrating his unblemished body. With some experimentation, they reattach his head, though he does not rise, even after healing spells are cast. Niel is intent on reuniting Coaltongue's soul with his body, though the other's are unconvinced.

Mishka reaches out with her senses to look for fiends and undead, sensing them in several other locations in the valley. Similarly, Eluriah casts a spell to locate Rhuarc if he is nearby. They decide to avoid the cemetery that the demon told them about, instead traveling to the temple. As they go up the steps, a figure arises and tells them to turn back, because "it isn't time yet." The ghostly figure tells them to return when they have the torch. As they try to enter the temple anyway, the figure doubles over in pain, and says "I can't hold him back for very long. Please, leave now!" The party leaves, heading towards the other large house on a hill they saw. As they near it, Eluriah senses the presence of Rhuarc.

Post-Session Thoughts
These two sessions were good, with the Rhuarc fights both being standouts. I really botched the drow fight, and it was nowhere near as interesting as I believe it could have been. I had them ambush on either side of the rope bridge, but really all that meant was that they were both on their own to get ganged up on. In the future, I would probably have them ambush the party after they enter the house, potentially maneuvering them into the trapdoor there.

I was surprised to see Aripos run after Rhuarc, and ran the chase as a challenge, with each player contributing. They came out middling, so I figured they caught up after Rhuarc had changed out with his shadow to lure them. If they had done better, I might have let them find the real Rhuarc, though that might have been anticlimactic for Irrendra. But that didn't happen, so I don't have to think about that. The party really hates Rhuarc, which is very funny. I was worried that it wouldn't be fun on a personal level, but I think it's gone pretty well.

The way the party is talking, it sound more and more like they are hellbent on destroying the torch when they get it. I don't have a problem with that in the broad sense, because I think that would be an interesting departure, but I do wonder where the AP blatantly assumes the Torch is being used. The only one I can think of is that I think the final battle with Leska assumes they are using the torch to get to her.

Changes to the Module
I think I largely stayed true to the module. I mentioned before that I put the temple in Irrendra, and by and large I feel like that's worked out alright.
 

Man, if the folks at Seaquen found out the party destroyed the Torch, they would be SOOOO pissed. Canonically I don't know if they can manage it yet, but of course feel free to do what you want.

The big change would be the third act adventures that assume the Torch is protecting the party from being incinerated, especially when they bring masses of people. Adventure 12 (canonically) would basically be an auto-win for Leska, since she would have the necessary time to put the finishing touches on her ritual.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Man, if the folks at Seaquen found out the party destroyed the Torch, they would be SOOOO pissed. Canonically I don't know if they can manage it yet, but of course feel free to do what you want.

The big change would be the third act adventures that assume the Torch is protecting the party from being incinerated, especially when they bring masses of people. Adventure 12 (canonically) would basically be an auto-win for Leska, since she would have the necessary time to put the finishing touches on her ritual.
Maybe they capture Tempest?
 

Tolamaker

Adventurer
Session 76, 77, 78: Mirrors of the Soul

Okay! A Winter break, some personal issues, a forgetful mind, and I'm back two months later to continue the tale of the Stormbreakers!

The party is careful as they cross the bridge to the manor, and are able to keep on their toes as Rhuarc's shadow jumps out and slices the bridge clear. With magic and some tenacity, they scramble into the house as Rhuarc fires deadly bolts down on them. Inside the house, they fight through Tragedies, a few summoned demons, and finally defeat Rhuarc when they are able to trap him in a force cage, where he fails three times in a row to teleport out, and they manage to finish him off as they all prepare to dispatch him. As he falls, a color seems to leave his face, and one of the dull gems in his scimitar begins to glow. When Corban picks up the weapon (against Eluriah's wishes), and feels a dark but welcoming presence settle about him. When the presence offers its protection, he accepts. In the top floor of the house, the party finds the damaged Torch of the Burning Sky. After talking it through, they decide that they will at least bring it back to Seaquen, though they will be careful with who they share the information with considering the spies they've found in their midst.

After resting, they make their way to the temple, where they are admitted to a hallway with a mirror. There, they are greeted by the ghost of the monk once again, who explains that they will face three trials, and that a being only known as 41 has taken over the temple. He explains that the purpose of the temple was to reshape one's soul into the desired shape, and that it can restore the Torch as well. As they talk, a second set of footsteps arrive behind them, and the see a motley crew of Shalosha, Katrina, and some Ragesians. Shalosha is happy to see them, and willingly says they are here for the torch, though she doesn't know that they have it. When one of the Ragesians attempts to attack them, his blade is repelled, and the ghost explains that it is not time yet. The mirror shimmers, and they are beckoned through. Shalosha says she will speak to the others about a peaceful negotiation before they enter.

As they pass through, the other party disappears, and the Stormbreakers make their way into a series of meditation rooms, where each of them goes to the room that speaks to them most, gaining a number of gifts in return. The next hallway features a bell that hurts them when they speak or make noise, and they quickly make their way through the next set of mirrors. Here they are separated into two rooms that overlap in a ghostly manner. In one, There is an angel, and the other a monstrosity. The angel seems surprised to be there, and realizes that each of them has a piece of amber that contains their soul in it. Aripos, seeing an amber-shaped hole in the wall, immediately runs forward, plugs his amber into it, and falls over dead.

While ELuriah and COrban attempt to revive him, Mishka and Niel battle with the mostrosity, which sends shattering wails to harangue them, but they are able to defeat it. In the next room, they find a bare set of walls, and talk about what they must do with Aripos. Soon after, the other party also comes through, with a Soleis Palancis carrying the body of Shalosha, who apparently made the same sacrifice as Aripos. As the two parties assess each other, the Torch appears in the middle of the room, spirited out of their bag of holding. With the peace-talker dead, the Ragesians seize the chance to attack.

The spellcasters in the opposing party take control, countering spells and trying to corral the Stormbreakers into AoE spells. However, they didn't read the campaign guide, and weren't prepared for all living creatures to be resistant or immune to fire, and the Stormbreakers are soon able to turn the tide. The final nail in the coffin is when Eluriah is cornered by an Inquisitor atop a polar bear, Aripos stirs, and finds that he is able to cast a major healing spell. The party mops up the rest of the enemies, and tries to figure out what is going on with the Torch. Avision showed how it was created, but before they cant attempt to connect the soul gem with the Torch, 41 comes forth and attacks them, thanking them for providing the soul energies to repower the artifact. In the small space, he puts up a wall of force that leaves him alone to pick off the party one by one. Will he succeed, or will the Stormbreakers defeat yet another foe?

Post-Session Thoughts
This was three sessions, so I have several thoughts and reflections. I misread several things across these sessions, including the force cage traps in the Rhuarc fight, and the puzzle of the first trial. Neither was catastrophic, but definitely lead to some odd moments in the respective sessions.

The temple lead to a lot of great moments through the visions of the past provided. I pretty much rolled a die to see who would get what vision, and because I had told the players to think about their backstories ahead of the temple, I was able to give them a prompt and they would describe the vision. I would then end it with some sort of corruption, as 41 has twisted the temple to his ends. The players also really liked the meditation chambers, which I pretty much just improvised strange little vignettes for their chosen items and rewards.

By pure luck, right as I described Aripos dying, my power went out, and I had to end the session early as I couldn't get back into the game due to a storm. I made sure to chat with the player to explain what was going on, but left the other players in the dark, so they were left biting their nails for two weeks, as Aripos' player couldn't play the next session. When they came back (claiming to have a new character ready), Aripos sprang back to life, and it was a great moment.

Changes to the Adventure
I decided to have Shalosha be dead because it made sense thematically, but also because I felt like having her there would make the battle royale too easy. As it was, Katrina was very shaken, and Corban has all but convinced her to come back to Seaquen, which I'm glad of, because I felt like I didn't do an amazing job of making her sympathetic. Still, the fight went very well, and I was glad that the bonus Heal spell was necessary. It definitely made it feel more earned.

I added the corruptions to the visions (loved one reveals disdain, a defeated foe appears to have succeeded) because the ghost monk warned that 41 would try to corrupt them, but there wasn't any real sign of that in the visions as written. This did lead to a few moments where the players thought it was a puzzle where they had to figure out what was changed.

Next session, I hope to finish the module!
 

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