Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Terrinoth #41 - Blood & Gold, finale

Therion takes shelter in the pool, while the rest battle the Count
Campaign Diary

For the whole morning the party (click here for PC profiles) traveled westwards along the south bank of the Flametail River. A little after noon, a fog began to rise and cover the river. Our heroes pushed on, until at last they saw a dark shape loom a short distace ahead of them. A sudden gust of wind parted the fog long enough for them to see a small castle upon an island in the middle of the river: castle Pfalzenstein.

The party hid themselves and their mule cart among the vegetation by the river, and observed the castle from a distance. A pair of guards patrolled the ramparts of the castle, while another one stood watch at the top of the keep in the centre. As they watched, they saw a barge coming across the river to the bank they are on; on the barge was a familiar-looking carriage. With the aid of some men along the shore, the driver of the carriage drove the carriage onto the shore, and soon the carriage was moving past our heroes. Inside the carriage rode the steward, Lazar, and a young man with dark hair and dark eyes.

With the way to the castle watched constantly by guards, our heroes decided to steal their way into the castle late at night. Whisper stole a boat from a farmstead upstream, and with the aid of Therion's water magic, the party moved silently across the river to reach the little island.

Here, once more with the aid of Therion's magic, Tom scaled the wall of the castle unseen and opened the gate to let the others in. A quick reconnoiter of the compound showed that walls of the castle surrounded a small compound, in the middle of which stood the keep. The door to the keep was not found at the ground level, but was reached by a wooden bridge that spanned from the ramparts of the wall. Near the gate was a well.

Tom once more ascended the walls, and from there let down a rope, which the others then climbed up. Then Whisper crossed the bridge silently, and picked the lock to the door - the party entered the keep, and shut the door behind them.

Even now, within the keep, they did not let their guard down. They found themselves in a hall, which was dimly lit by the moonlight streaming in from the narrow windows. On one end of the hall was a spiral staircase. Our heroes debated where to go in whispers, and at last deferred to Giso's wisdom to head downwards.

The level below the hall turned out to be the servants' quarters, and our heroes took care to not wake them. Descending further, our heroes found themselves in the storage area, which was piled full of sacks of wheat, barrels of beer, and preserved meat. With the rest of the party unable to see in the dark, Whisper had to do most of the searching, Her keen eyes soon noticed that a path had been left that led to one corner of the room. Walking to the end of the path, she found an empty barrel placed against the corner of the room. She shifted the barrel aside, and found a loose flagstone beneath it. She lifted the flagstone, and found a flight of stairs descending into the ground below.

With their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, the party gingerly made their way down the stairs, in complete darkness. It was only when they were all underground and had replaced the flagstone above them that Giso dared to conjure up a light. The steps of the stairs were cut into living rock and were clean. They led some twenty foot into the ground, which Whisper surmised would take them to the level of the river.

At the bottom of the stairs a narrow corridor led to a heavy wooden door, which was unlocked. With their weapons drawn, our heroes pushed open the door, and stepped beyond it...

Our heroes found themselves in a large cavern, party-natural, part-shaped by hand. On one side of the cavern was a pool of water, which was illuminated from above by moonlight shining through the well in the courtyard above. Niches were carved into the walls of the cavern, and within them were sarcophagi.

Our heroes crept silently into the cavern, but were interrupted by a voice calling out to them:

"It took you long enough. But tell me, have you taken care of Weiss?"

They followed the source of the voice to the other side of the hall. Here, on a dais, was a long table, upon which was placed alchemical apparatus, books, and other paraphernalia. A man in a noble's clothes sat at the table. His skin was pale, and his eyes and hair dark. On his belt he wore an ornate rapier. He was the Count of Pfalzenstein.

Our heroes at first tried to feign ignorance, but the Count made it clear that he knew who they each was.

Our heroes demanded to know his purpose for poisoning the populace of Tamalir with Red Mist. The Count replied that the creation of Red Mist was but a 'hobby' to him - something to pass the boredom brought about by the gift of immortality; the ill effects of Red Mist, he explained, was but an unfortunate side-effect of his diversion. Alchemy, he elaborated, was a passion of his, and he had for years tried to find a way to keep vampire blood stable in sunlight, a task which he accomplished a while ago.

On a whim he decided to let his servant Lazar sell it as a drug to the rich and famous of Tamalir to see its effects and, after the novelty had worn off, had decided to end the business. However, the emergence of a rival drug-dealer, which also meant the presence of a rival vampire who had also found the secret to keeping vampire blood stable, piqued his interest again, and he set himself the aim of destroying this upstart. When Lazar's thugs failed to find and eliminate this rival, he turned to our heroes, who did the job, but not well enough. Soon afterwards, Weiss, his rival, would use his own tactic against him, and trick our heroes into breaking up his Red Mist business.

Now the Count made an offer to our heroes: help him hunt down and destroy Weiss, and he would end his Red Mist business altogether. After all, he asked, had they not come because they wished to see the drug trade ended?

Whisper asked the Count if this meant he would not think up other schemes that might harm the people of Tamalir, but the Count would not commit.

Frustrated by this, Giso bellowed out a warcry, and sent forth three scorching rays of light that struck the Count. Injured and enraged, the Count swept the contents of his tabletop towards the party, and as the glassware struck the floor and broke, a red mist began to form, and soon our heroes were caught in a cloud of noxious gas.

Holding their breaths, our heroes backed out of the cloud, even as the Count strode into the middle of it, seemingly unaffected by the gas. He did not draw his rapier, but from his hands he sent out tendrils of darkness, which when they struck our heroes drained strength from their limbs, and held them immobile. Therion began a song of encouragement to the party, and our heroes began darting into and out of the cloud, attacking the Count in turn as a pack of wolves would. But the Count had supernatural speed and strength, and when he struck our heroes with his bare hands he sent them hurtling through the air.

Still, Therion's clarion voice lifted their morale, and they continued their attack on the count, who summoned forth undead servants from the sarcophagi. Giso called upon the aid of Kellos to keep the undead servants at bay, and sent one of them fleeing back into its sarcophagus.

Soon the red mist dissipated, and the Count sought to hunt down Therion, who fled into the pool at the other end of the hall, which the undead servants would not follow.

With the threat of the mist gone, the other heroes closed in on the Count; Giso drew his attacks and fended off his blows with his shield; Tom attacked with his makeshift spear of bog-oak tip; Whisper attacked with a bog-oak stake as well as her fist. Surrounded and outnumbered, the Count in the end succumbed to an enchantment from Therion, and fell to the ground laughing manically. Then, in the moments before his death, he turned to Therion, lifted his rapier, and said: take this.

At the moment that the Count died, the undead servants too fell dead.

For a moment there was silence, but before our heroes could catch their breaths, they heard footsteps coming from the corridor which they had entered from...

Prepping and Running the Game

This was supposed to be the final session in the Blood & Gold arc for the B Team, but I ended the session on a cliff-hanger for a reason which I will reveal later.

This session was not based on any module, but was a natural continuation of the story so far. I knew I wanted them to fight the Count in his lair, which meant I needed to make him a lair. After the previous session, I also knew I needed to give the players more confidence that they are on the right track.

The lair which I chose for the Count was Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, and actual Rhine castle. Honestly: does this not look like it should be a vampire castle?

I managed to find plans of the castle from a site by a guy who made a Lego version of the castle. From there, it was a job of deciding what each of the rooms held. I made a list of the number of guards, servants, and retainers who would be found inside the castle, as well as on the river bank, and bought a random items table to fill the Count's study in the top floor of the keep (which the PCs did not visit).

As this was sort of a heist scenario, I had to be prepared for different approaches. I had the boatmen on the river bank who I thought would welcome the PCs and perhaps give them more information about the castle and the Count if they had decided to approach them.

The Count, I decided, had a 'system' for keeping his identity hidden over the centuries. He would marry a noblewoman, bring her to his castle, and then murder her, kidnap a baby who looked like him, and then announce that his wife had died in labour. The child would be raised as his heir, and then when he reached a certain age, would also be murdered, and the Count would then take his place and announce that the old count had passed away. To keep this ruse up, he would routinely change the guards and other servants in his castle.

Unfortunately, the players decided to take a stealthy approach, which meant that they managed to not interact with any NPC until the boss fight. Also, by choosing to go directly into the keep, and once inside to go down instead of up, they managed to avoid all the guards and the bodyguard, whose stats I had ready behind my screen.

We had a bit of fun roleplaying the stealthy approach though. To illustrated how dark the inside of the castle looked, I actually switched the lights inside my apartment off for a while. For most of the session, the players were actually whispering to each other as they discussed what to do.

The actual conversation with the Count was also done in-character, and I think for a while they were in fact tempted to work with the Count.

For the Count's stats I chose to base them off the Deathlock Mastermind instead of a Vampire. A Vampire as written would have been too powerful for the party, and was also to me a little too predictable. The Realms of Terrinoth book did not give vampires the classic Dracula powers, but gave them some ranged magical abilities, so that was what I wanted to do too. The Deathlock Mastermind had both a formidable melee attack, as well as a ranged magical attack which could keep attackers away from himself. I wanted also to do the movie vampire thing where their melee attacks were so powerful they would fling an opponent they struck backwards, so I ruled that he would throw an opponent back by a number of squares equal to the damage he inflicted, and that the opponent would be prone. In addition, I decided to give him Legendary Resistance and Legendary Actions. On top of all this, I decided that for his opening move, he would do the Breaking Bad thing of using a chemical attack, which would further weaken the PCs.

Despite all that, and the addition of three minions based on Deathlock stats, the fight was less deadly than I had hoped as the Count managed to roll below 8 for most of his attacks. At the same time, Therion's player managed to resist the temptation to attack, and instead stayed in a supportive role throughout the combat, which gave the others just enough temporary hit points to stay alive. The fight lasted for 6 or 7 rounds, but seemed longer because of the Legendary Actions and the presence of the minions. The PCs actually managed to force me to use my my Legendary Resistances, and won the fight the honest way.

Still, as a back-up in case I rolled really well or they rolled poorly, I had the three Justicars on stand-by, ready to rappel down the well, having decided to follow the PCs.

The battle mat is once again from Heroic Maps, specifically their Down The Well map set. I have been using my map books for the past few sessions, but the layout of the Down The Well set is just so evocative, I could not help using it as the arena for my boss fight.

When the fight ended I told the players they hear footsteps coming, and then paused the game there. We skipped ahead a bit give them the dropped loot and to roll for random loot, but I told them these would not be in their possession until we resolved the next session...

And the reason why I had to end the session this way is because of this:

I saw this announced a couple of days before I ran this session, and I thought it would be a hilarious way to end off the arc, similar to how we ended the A Team arc on a The Hangover parody. I have originally planned to not game on the Monday before Halloween (it being a long weekend and I try to avoid gaming on a long weekend so the players can spend time with their families), but now it seemed like the perfect date for the perfect scenario.

The module will only be released on 01 October, so I am taking a bit of a risk planning the next session based on a cover, but hopefully there is enough material for me to work something out.

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