This was a busy week as far as my notes are concerned, so lets get to it...
GM: This week, I am introducing a new spell into the campaign...
This is VERY unusual because it is GM's stated (and practiced) policy to avoid adding many new things to his world, such as spells and monsters from new books that come out, because, to paraphrase him: 'It is important that players have a good frame of reference for the challenges. They should not continuously encounter things that function in wildly different ways than they are used to; they should not have to deal with things that may invalidate well-informed character construction choices made by the players'. Normally, when new things do get added to the game, it is because the players have requested a new spell or Feat from a book outside the Core books, and GM must approve it.
GM: ...Ablative Dispelling. It is a 3rd Level arcane buff that lasts 1/minute per caster level or until discharged, and simply absorbs the first targetted Dispel cast on the subject.
Omit: There is a spell like that already. It's in one of the newer books, but it is 4th level...
GM: Well I'm unaware of that spell. This one is fine at 3rd Level.
Verian: Specific to [Ed: the Level 3 version]Dispel, or does it work on Greater Dispel too?
GM: Either, just the first targetted casting it's like the Psionic Ablative Dispel Screen.
Omit: The 4th level version doesn't work on Greater Dispelling.
Verian: The Psionic power doesn't actually work like that. It just adds +5 to the difficulty of the rolls to Dispel your buffs, though it is always the last thing to be checked by any dispel.
GM: That thing is SO broken...
Verian: It's Level 6... Wait, can you stack this thing? [In other words, have multiple copies on you...]
GM: Yes, why not.
Omit: The real spell does not stack; or at least, if you had multiple copies running the first Dispel would trigger and discharge them all, so you would get no added benefit.
Verian: You can't make this thing stack! That would result in caster's who are totally immune to dispelling...
GM: [Ponders this a little] Alright, I will change it so that it does not stack. Does anyone have any major objection to this spell as it stands? I strongly believe that this spell is needed...
House Dispelling Rules
At this point, I should take a moment out to note our "House Dispelling Rules" as they stand. As GM began to see dispelling as a problem in the campaign (probably around the second time that "a fight I [GM] spend hours planning" was "destroyed" by one targetted dispel magic blowing away more than half of the many buff spells on a monster or NPC caster), he began searching for new ways to treat Dispels in our game. The "true" Dispelling rules, as defined by the core boosk, have several key problems, first, second and last of which being utter randomness: for each buff on the target, roll 1d20 plus the Caster Level (CL) of the Dispel against 11 + CL of the buff. Some monsters have bizarrely high CL (compared to their challenge rating and Hit Dice), such that their spells are virtually unbreakable and their own dispels violently strip the target of everything, while other monsters have very poor CL, such that one dispel from a player strips them bare of buff spells. Against an caster of equal CL (what should be the ideal case for game balance) the results are totally random, since you effectively flip a coin for each spell. A target with only one spell on him might be utterly unaffected, while another target buffed from head-to-toe to "stacking bonus perfection" might find lose nearly everything.
The current version is meant to be an equitable solution to keep Dispelling in the game (it is a fairly essential function to prevent buff spells from dominating everything) and yet to stop us from, to paraphrase GM, "defeating an entire battle with one Dispel". In our game, a single-target casting of Dispel Magic eliminates exactly 2 spells: no more no less. Dispel Magic cast over an area eliminates exactly 1 spell per target. All randomness is eliminated. Caster Level no longer matters. By default, the higher level spells are dispelled first (for those unacquainted with the rules, I will just say that Caster Level and Spell Level are different quantities and leave it at that), however, if the caster of a Dispel wishes, they may choose which spells are dispelled instead. However, to do this, you must have a way to know which spells are active on the target - some (Mirror Image, Tenser's Transformation, Fire Shield, Haste) are quite obvious, but most spells (Bull's Strength, Prayer, Resist Elements) have no visible effect, and thus cannot be singled out unless you actually see them being cast, or have some other way of knowing (such as casting a fire spell on a target and having much of the damage warded away; you can safely assume some form of spell protecting against fire). In our version, Dispel Magic (level 3) only affects spells of Level 5 or lower, whereas Greater Dispelling (level 6) can hit any level of spell.
As an aside, since the advent of this system players cast Dispel Magic more often, not less, and (INCREDIBLY UNUSUAL) there have been VERY few player complaints about these changes.
There may have been some more objections, but there were no further strong or pertinent arguments against the spell aside from the precedents already given by Omit for comparison, so for the time being the spell was admitted into the game without uproar. Now at this point, [based on occurences in the following battle and my postmortem conversations with participants], I can tell you that there was some kind of telepathic exchange between Omit and Verian. Perhaps telepathic is too strong a word, but they shared a glance, and they shared an understanding that was mutual, such that without verbal communication, the following information was agreed upon by them:
Verian's Astral form lies in the higher reality of the consciousness. It is a tiny, compact sphere... a dull, unpolished shell of armor, perfect but for one clear crack down the side. From the sphere, crystalized ideas are expelled continuously at random intervals, while Verian struggles to preserve them... a few are entrapped by his bubbles and herded around behind him, but many more escape into the void, and the remainder fall into a hazy orbit some distance out, just out of reach of the sphere.
Verian: [Astral Form] So we are going to encounter an arcance caster this week, who will obviously have numerous buffs, protected by the new Ablative spell.
Omit's Astral form is much larger than the cautious, reclusive sphere - not necessarily greater in mass, but spread out, suspended like a plant using the elevated reality merely as a growing medium. It is a cluster of eyes, and although fewer ideas are expelled, it is surrounded by a miasma of external ideas, pulled in by its gravity from great distances away as it takes in all the information it can find. With no armored shell, its defenses take the form of razor spines, but these are withdrawn, concealed deep within the structure where they could not be unleashed without a great threat or provocation.
Omit: [Astral Form] Obviously, when we see an enemy who may or may not be an arcane caster, we should concentrate on him, using only area Dispels because they will avoid this "targetted Dispel" protection. We'll only get one buff per casting, but we should be able to hit his allies as well, in case they have anything.
Verian: [Astral Form] We need to ascertain if this spell is Self-only, or if it can target an ally... If it is the latter, you should purchase a Wand of it at the earliest possible opportunity so that you can abuse it and thus force GM to ban it.
Omit: [Astral Form] I was going to do that regardless, even if it is Self-only.
GM: I just want to note now that I am considering the party, with the inclusion of the NPC cleric to be equivalent to ECL 13. [This means that, using the book's encounter levels most encounters we face would be those designed to fight level 13 player characters, and in a "boss" encounter, we might be expected to face encounters designed to challenge a party of level 15 characters, or even up to level 16 equivalent for a "major end-of-campaign" type boss.]
Omit: So, we kill the gimp cleric...
Azheron: I think we can take him.
Verian: The XP for him would be poor, but he has good loot.
GM: He IS a fifth character: though lower in level he is still a fifth person who can take actions in combat.
Omit: [Grins evilly] Good lewt...
GM: Okay, Omit: can you refresh our memories as to what happened last session?
Omit: [Over the course of a few minutes, Omit recounts the battle that occupied most of our time last session - detailing the events of the battle practically move-by-move]
GM: Thank you, Omit. [GM can't think of any appropriate way to ask "Why can't everybody that acquiescent and thorough instead of just complaining when I ask them?"]
Verian: If you ask him, he could tell you the damage numbers too. [Since Omit recounted the battle without using his notes, it is quite likely that he could...]
GM: So, to start of this week's questioning, Balcoth: how does your character feel about torturing captured enemies for information?
Balcoth: I don't.
GM: You don't feel?
Balcoth: I don't torture.
GM: But would you do that, if you thought the information would help?
Balcoth: Not to people.
GM: Okay, but how do you define people?
Balcoth: You know, human...-like, non-evil people.
GM: Interesting. Now, second question: how do you feel about collateral damage?
Balcoth: Huh? [Ed: Obviously, Balcoth is familiar with the concept of collateral damage. He just fails to see how it applies here. He uses an axe; not cruise missiles.]
GM: What do you think of civilian casualties where magics are involved? What if your allies, in order to expedite victory with their area spells, would have to hit innocents as well as the enemies?
Balcoth shoots GM a withering glare that says "that's a stupid question" in a very strong, very final way. Though GM is actually quite resistant to Balcoth's crushing gaze, normally ignoring it and repeating the question, on this occasion he decides that there is little information to be gained so he graciously lets it go, proceeding on to his next line of questioning.
GM: Okay, those three unconscious dwarves you rescued the other day. Why didn't you search the bookcases for "loot"?
Omit: You said the bookcases were virtually empty...
Balcoth: The stuff there doesn't belong to us. If those dwarves survive, we can't just steal their stuff. And there may yet be other dwarves still alive somewhere in the mines...
GM: Okay, but hypothetically what if there were valuables there that represented your treasure for the last encounter?
Balcoth: [With solemnity] I think the time for reward will come... but not yet.
GM: You haven't answered the question.
Balcoth: Yes I have. That was my answer.
GM: Okay, answer me this: if you fight off their enemies, and you rescue and treat those dwarves and bring them back to health, do you deserve to take some of their treasure? Yes or no?
Balcoth: [Getting a little frustrated] It's far more complicated than yes or no!
Verian: He doesn't believe in the American hospital system...
Verian: No matter what's wrong with them, you take them in, do everything in your power to save them no matter what it cost, and then afterwards you loot them.
GM: [GM, a known proponent of the American Health Care system, sighs in irritation.] So, how do you feel about local authorities levying some sort of graduated income tax to help the poor, treat the sick, etc?
Verian: Oooo-kay, never saw THAT coming...
Balcoth: It depends, would it affect us?
GM: Certainly, you are all extremely wealthy individuals. Parting with just a small amount of your income could provide for many sick and starving people.
Omit: We're already affected! [Points emphatically at NPC cleric Donner's model on the battlemap]
Balcoth: F**k'em. Nobody gets to tax us. We kill all this stuff to help them.
Azheron: Yeah, we can just go kill Liches and Demons elsewhere; let them deal with it.
Verian: We could go to another plane, where Dimension Door works! [Ed: a short-ranged Teleportation-type effect. In the world where we started, Teleportation does not work, which has Pros and Cons...]
Balcoth: Well, would it count treasure that we find?
GM: Absolutely. When you haul all that stuff out of musty forgottom tombs, it has quite an effect on the local economy...
Verian: 'The Smashing and Lewting industries are up by 13 points.'
Omit: We already have to pay tax.
GM: What tax?
Omit: 20-50% on all items that we sell...
GM: Touche. Try looking at this tax proposal another way... What alignment are you?
Azheron: [Mimes holding something up in front of his face] Lead sheet! [Ed: A half-inch thickness of lead blocks most telepathic effects, although I'm not sure if it works on the Detect Alignment spell or not...]
GM: Eh Omit? What would you do if the city implemented such a tax on adventurers?
Omit: [With uncommon ferocity and not a trace of irony] I'd kill them.
GM: You aren't thinking of this from the macroeconomics point of view. You'd help improve the local industry...
Omit: I do improve the local industry!
GM: How do you improve the local industry?
Omit: By spending so much money in their city, buying limited-use magic items.
Balcoth: [directed at GM] Obviously you're not lawful if you're trying to tax citizens of another nation for helping protect your own lands.
GM: Well for now, I'm willing to accept that the progressive taxation of PCs is unpopular, so we'll let it go... for now.
The rest of us can't even be certain if GM was at all serious about this tax idea or if he just proposed it for the fun of it. In any case, when we left off, the heroes were trying to decide what to do next, and manually searching miles and miles of mine shafts is not a popular option. We were investigation a strange stone protrusion in to entrance chanber - a semicircle projecting from the wall which was obviously created by a Wall of Stone spell, but to what purpose?
Balcoth: I knock on it. Does it sound like it is hollow?
GM: No, your keen dwarven stone sense tells you there is rock right behind and up against the wall.
GM: Anyhow a couple more skeletons come up the spiral ramp carrying ore to the smelter.
Verian: You cut through it while I figure out what to divine...
After spending over half-an-hour last time considering what to ask, Verian seemed to be no closer, indicating that must have forgotten to ponder the question for the entire intervening week.
Azheron: Well I'll just stand here and whirlwind [attack] away any more skeletons that come up.
Verian: "I'm just going to whirlwind attack the air like this, and if you wander in and get blended, it's your own fault..."
Balcoth: Well I'm going to cut around and make door shaped incision so we can just pull it down, making an opening.
GM: You get through it in a few minutes using your penetrating Adamantine blade, but are somewhat limited by the fact that you're only 4-feet tall. Your opening will be at most 5 feet high. That's a bit of a small hole.
Balcoth: I think it's them that will be limited by the small hole.
GM: Well, once you pull away the foot-think chunk of the Wall of Stone, behind it is all small rocks and boulders. It looks like some sort of a cave-in that was being contained by the Wall of Stone spell.
Balcoth: I'll start to pull the rocks away.
GM: Sorry, maybe I gave you the wrong impression, the rocks aren't loose - they are packed in solid from however lonk they've been here. It would still be a lot of work to clear them out.
Balcoth: Fine, I'll start pulling out stones, prying them with my axe and stuff.
GM: [Donner Lifesaver] "It is truly Pelor's Work you are doing. I am not as strong as you, but I will gladly assist in any way that I can..."
This is greeted with the same eye-rolling enthusiasm as everything else GM says when roleplaying our gnomish healer.
Balcoth: Come on, man, you're just baiting me. "Sorry, I only have one Adamantine tool."
Omit: Instead of bear-baiting, it's Dwarf-baiting.
GM: I'm being perfectly nice, and you always react with such hostility.
balcoth: I'll intentionally chip the stone such that a piece flies off in the cleric's direction.
GM: [Looks hurt, and then compensates by having Donner Lifesaver talk some more] "Are you familiar with gnomish steam-powered heavy hammers? We could clear this away in no-time..."
Now that the main cutting is out of the way, Balcoth tries to further offend Donner by offering his mining pick to Azheron, who gives up on smashing defenseless skeleton miners to help dig for a bit. They uncover a metallic spoke or rod of some sort...
GM: [Donner Lifesaver] "Perhaps I could identify it... Do I have Knowledge(The Planes) perchance?" [He switches from in character to an out-of-character question about the NPCs character sheet without changing from his "gnome-voice"]
Verian: No. He doesn't even have Spellcraft [Ed: A basic skill amongst casters, used for many magic-related functions, but not strictly needed for casting spells]. He has his five ranks of Knowledge(Religion) for the bonus on Turning Undead, and he took 1 rank of Alchemy because Gnomes have a racial bonus in it...
GM: [Donner] "Ah, I'll get out my Alchemy kit..."
Verian: He hasn't got one. Those things cost like three-digit gold.
GM: [Still Donner, trying to be unabashed] "I'm sure I can scrounge one up... from materials around here..."
Verian: If you can go ahead, a free alchemy kit would be good. But of course, if some opportunity arose where we needed alchemy, logically we should have the skill check done (and the kit be used) by have the individual with the highest skill in alchemy...
GM: [GM seems a little abashed now. He can see where this is going]
Verian: Donner and I each have 1 rank, but my gargantuan Intelligence bonus far outstrips his +2 racial bonus. Assuming that Omit doesn't have us both beat by an order of magnitude... [He breaks into an imitation of Marvin the Robot from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] "Here I am: brain the size of a planet, telekinetically stealing your alchemy kit..."
At that point something other than a skeleton came up the shaft - a ghoul (sort of a putrid zombie). GM still declared the ghoul too puny to initiate combat (adventurers of our calibre simply butcher it - when the enemy is so beneath us that Verian could take it on in hand to hand with his shortsword, it is not worth making the rolls), but he warns that it is just barely beneath that threshold - a ghoul is quite a step up from the harmless miners, all told.
GM: You butcher it, but its corpse smells horrible. I mean, the stench it exudes causes nausea.
Balcoth: No it doesn't.
Verian: He's referring to its save DC. It can't be a hard enough Fortitude save that we could fail it...
GM: No, and regardless we aren't in combat with it. I don't expect you to roll saving throws, but it still stinks.
Azheron tosses the ghoul in the volcanic furnace of the smelting room to dispose of it. Balcoth tries to find a faster way to pull the rocks away from the metal object buried within.
Balcoth: I could rig some pulleys with all these chains. What could we use for a counterweight?
Verian: Well, if some idiot hadn't gotten rid of the only mining cart... [Yeah, SOME idiot...]
Despite this most minor of setbacks, Balcoth's enginuity prevailed, and the rest of the excavation proceeded rapidly. After the rod, we found a metal hand (not unlike the one from Terminator 2), and soon after we found the owner, who we extrapolated to be 03, a missing representative from Mechanus (the same model as 07 whom we met earlier with Dom Arod. We didn't have too much time to think of this though, as a full-plate caster burst into the room with a retinue of Wights - midlevel undead, but their ability to level-drain means they are still a little scary.
A BATTLE IN POINT FORM:
A number of Wights rush in, along with a full plate caster, another of those armored Mummies and a skeletal dragon.
Knowledge[Religion] checks verify that the dragon bones are JUST an animated skeleton, and the players breathe a sigh of relief that it is not a DracoLich (a horrific 2nd edition monster that was neither a Dragon, nor a Lich, but was more than a little unpleasant).
At the first hint of enemies, Omit hovers up and into a corner (on an initiative unmatchable by any of the other combattants).
Azheron levitates up to the 20 foot cieling as soon as he gets a chance, Enlarging himself and gliding over a short ways.
Verian flies up to the 20 foor cieling as soon as he gets a chance, and casts Entangling Ectoplasm to slow down and debuff the mummy.
Balcoth charges and hits the skeletal dragon for 15.5 damage. Roughly 1/3 of his blow is warded away by the skeleton's Damage Reduction.
Donner hides his skinny gnomish arse behind the 4-foot-something monolith of Adamantine plates and blades that is Balcoth.
Omit: [Concerned that this cleric-looking enemy might be another Lich] I put away my bow and pull out my sling.
Verian: Your sling? [We know by now that Liches take MUCH less damage from all weapons except bludgeoning ones, and that goes for the skeletal dragon as well, to a lesser degree]
Balcoth: A sling? Come on, man, Why don't you have blunt arrows with a ball at the end, or something?
Verian: [Cheerfully inciting] Yes Omit, please explain why?
GM disallowed Bludgeoning arrows because they weren't in any of the Core books, they would make the bow too flexible as an attack mode (due to its massive variety of possible problem-defeating ammunition), and because GM and certain other players doubted the aerodynamic viability of blunt arrows as a means of dealing lethal damage. This bothers Omit, particularly since he has seen blunt arrows fired in real life.
The enemy Cleric casts Prayer, giving himself and all his minions +1 to hit and weapon damage and +1 to all saving throws, and giving all players -1 to hit and weapon damage and -1 to all saving throws. Except that Verian and Omit are too far apart to both be caught in the area. The cleric chooses Omit to recieve his negative "blessings".
Donner (the NPC Cleric) casts Prayer, giving himself and all his minions +1 to hit and weapon damage and +1 to all saving throws, and giving all players -1 to hit and weapon damage and -1 to all saving throws. Except that Omit and one Wight are too far and are not affected.
The two opposed Prayer spells *mostly* cancel each other out. Net result: Verian and the Wight nearest to Omit each have a positive Prayer buff. Omit has a negative Prayer debuff. All other combattants have both a positive and a negative Prayer affecting them for zero net effect.
With the shimmer of a Klingon Bird of Prey decloaking to fire, a previously invisible arcane caster Hastes himself, the evil cleric and all of the undead.
The arcane caster was using Greater Invisibility, and thus remained visible for only an instant before "recloaking".
The Wights are literally leaping off the tables and other scenery to take swipes at the airborne Azheron and Verian.
Azheron glides over a short ways more, making full use of his array of mobility powers, and performs a whirlwind attack.
Azheron's chain lashes out at five enemies, all 15 feet below him, inflicting damage on most, but leaving the armored mummy unscathed.
Omit puts a sling stone into the huge skeleton, dealing virtually no damage past the skeleton Damage Reduction, but it did hit on a very bad to-hit roll, giving us a better feel for the abomination's Armor Class.
Verian: Balcoth appreciates your casting of "Detect AC", Omit.
Balcoth: So 19 hit him... did it look like it hit him really square?
Balcoth attacks the skeletal dragon head on, using Combat Expertise for 2 points and Power Attack for 4 [TOTAL: -6 to hit, +2 AC, +6 damage (4 x 1.5 for "adjusted" two-handed Power Attack)], and hits for 15.5, again.
Donner casts Invisibility Purge, creating a massive field (centred on himself) within which invisibility is suppressed.
Finding himself disturbingly visible, the previously invisible arcane caster summons a Spiritwall between himself and most of the players, blocking the field of Invisibility Purge and emmanating pulses of fear across the majority of the room.
The arcane caster was using Greater Invisibility, however, and thus "recloaks" as soon as the Wall comes into being between himself and the Invisibility Purge.
Azheron and the Cleric [the one who can cast "Remove Fear"] fail their Will saves and cower, set to run away on their next initiative.
Omit: I'm just going to iritate that caster...
Verian: Omit casts Iritation!
Omit (whose corner position kept him safely out of the Wall's fear-cone), quickdraws his Wand of Dispel Magic and casts and area dispel covering most of the battle (although Verian is back out of range, and the area stops at the Spiritwall, thus missing the Invisible Arcane caster.
Area Dispel Magic (under our House rules) removes a fixed 1 spell-effect per affected target. By default, the highest level spell is dispelled, though if there is a conflict (multiple spell effects of the highest spell level on the target) we randomize which buff or debuff is removed.
The Fear effect on Azheron and Donner is higher level than any buff affecting them. It is removed (although the Wall activates each round, so they could be forced to save again).
All the enemies in the Dispel area are affected by Haste and two applications of Prayer (one positive, one negative). All are the same level (Level 3 Spells). Thus, each target has a 2/3 chance to be weakened by the Dispel.
Balcoth: ...Expertise for 2, Power Attack for 4... yeah I hit. I definitely hit. I did 15.5 damage.
GM: You notice that...
Balcoth: [Cutting him off as abruptly as possible] I know, 5 damage is warded away!
GM: [When Balcoth finishes interrupting]...approximately 1/3 of your blow is warded away.
LATER ON... Balcoth: I hit it for 16.5
GM: You note that roughly 1/3 of the damage is taken away by its DR.
Balcoth: ...So annoying...
GM: I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to inform you that your damage was being reduced - it is in the rules.
After the BIG Dispel... Omit: [Trying to suppress laughter] Are you taking notes? cause GM's swearing at me like nuts!
GM: Your Dispel got like 40 levels of positive buffs!
GM: [To Azheron] For a brief moment you feel compelled to KILL HIM! ...but you manage to shrug it off.
Balcoth fails his save against the magical Fear effect of the Spiritwall. Balcoth: [To Omit] Can't you do something to reveal that invisible guy? Harpoon him and reel him in.
Azheron: Traditionally, you cover them with flour.
Balcoth: [Looking at his inventory] I don't have flour. I have salt... would that help?
Omit: Salt doesn't really stick... and the grains are too small.
Balcoth: What if I make it wet?
With GM's luck, one in three is not very good odds. Not a single mob loses its 'negative' Prayer.
Skeletal dragon, having great difficulty in harming Balcoth, and tries tripping him instead.
Dwarves have a +4 bonus against being tripped. Balcoth does not (it was banned).
Balcoth is knocked down by a savage skeletal tail swipe, and the skeleton as well as the armored mummy attempt to capitalize by beating him into the ground.
GM: Take 18, Balcoth.
Balcoth: You notice that some of your damage is negated by my Damage Reduction.
Verian flies over the Spiritwall to the side that is NOT radiating a Fear save every round, and casts an area Dispel of his own. Only the invisible arcane caster is within the area. He loses a buff.
Evil Cleric casts Greater Command on Azheron, ordering him to slay Omit. Fortunately, Azheron makes his Will save and is unaffected.
Invisible arcane caster casts a targetted Dispel Magic on Verian, who is distressed to realize that he has not yet recharged his Ring of Counterspelling.
Verian loses his positive Prayer buff, and the spell he uses to simulate Uncanny Dodge. Fortunately, the Psionic version of Overland Flight is one level higher than the arcane version; normally a disadvantage, under our house Dispel rules it means it can only be affected by Greater Dispelling.
On invisible arcane caster's initiative, his Spiritwall sends out another pulse of Fear. This time, Azheron and Donner succeed their saves, but Balcoth fails and is Feared.
Azheron pounds on all the enemies around him. So far, he has nearly slain all the Wights, wounded the cleric significantly, assisted Balcoth in dealing damage to the skeletal dragon, and has had no effect whatsoever on the armored mummy, stumped by its impressive AC.
Donner casts Remove Fear on Balcoth, suffers an attack of opportunity as he moves away from the Wights at top speed, suffers some damage from proximity to the Spiritwall, makes a saving throw as he walks through it to avoid temporary level drain, and ends his action on the other side.
Suddenly, invisible arcane caster is on the same side of the Wall as the Invisibility Purge, and is revealed.
Okay, a HELL of a lot happened that week, and this report is already so long, I'm afraid I have to cut it short at this critical point in the battle. But I should leave you with a little bit more than a simple "To Be Continued", so...
COMMENTARY FROM THE ASTRAL PLANE:
Suspended in the upper reality, the tiny sphere with a small herd of ideas bubbled behind it floats across from the cluster of eyes (which is currently siphoning off more ideas from the lost ones which lacked escape velocity and fell into orbit around the sphere).
Verian: [Astral Form] Man, a lot happened in that battle, and it's far from over. Azheron has nearly exterminated the wights, and Balcoth has got the skeletal dragon low, but we should note that for all that has transpired, the player characters and the enemy leaders (the cleric, the arcane caster and the mummy) have suffered relatively little damage in total.
Omit: [Astral Form] Plus, your character has yet to do... well, anything really.
Verian: [Astral Form] Hey, I was running the cleric. Besides, we probably have to do 2 more fights before GM will let us rest. I can't afford to waste full-power spells into invisi-guy's Displacement miss-chance until it's dispelled.
Omit: [Astral Form] Nobody's complaining about the cleric...
The two philosophizing avatars are interrupted by Balcoth's astral form: a dwarf.
Balcoth: [Astral Form] You guys should have let me summon Stampy.
Verian: [Astral Form] We already used him two battles ago, and you can only call him three times per month...
Balcoth: [Astral Form] Hey, where's Azheron?
Omit: [Astral Form] I think he's asleep.
Azheron: [A faint voice] ...I'm awake... Balcoth: [Astral Form] You need to eat something salty to keep you sharp.
That was a busy week, that one I started in #11. This battle is far from over... When we left off, the invisible arcane caster was revealed once more by the Invisibility-purging field emanating from Donner, the NPC cleric, and Balcoth (who had been tripped by the skeletal dragon) was being beat on by all-and-sundry, who were trying to take advantage of the bonus to hit him whilst he was on the ground. Actually, they were still missing more than hitting, but the armored mummy (augmented with barbarian levels) managed to land a blow or two. Verian and Omit have been gang dispelling the invisible arcane caster (using only area dispels, on the 100% accurate assumption that he is using GM's newly invented Ablative Dispelling buff, which protects against targetted dispels).
Verian: Is the guy still Blinking? [Blinking is a powerful defensive ability causing the subject to phase rapidly and unpredictably in-and-out of our plane, causing 50% of attacks to miss (including most forms of magical or psionic attack).]
GM: No, that got dispelled.
Omit: What does he look like?
GM: Human-ish shaped, fine black robes with a hood that hangs low over his face, a black porcelain mask is all you can see beneath it, and he has black gloves.
Verian: Hmm. Well, I can't tell if he's undead, so I'll just have to Fire Ray him. Take 12d6+12 fire damage.
GM: He takes it. On his action he moves right through the Spiritwall, disappearing again. [Ed: as the Wall once again gets between the invisible arcane caster and Donner the Cleric's Invisibility-purging field.].
GM: Azheron, take 18. [The other players didn't seem to have realized, but the armored mummy had actually been attacking Azheron for some time, because although the room is 20 feet high, Azheron's psionic Enlargement increased his own height to about 10 feet, meaning he is only ten feet off the ground, and is within reach of the greatsword wielding undead.]
Azheron: [Doesn't appear to notice, as he is busy looking something up in one of the books]
Omit: [To get his attention] Azheron, take 38.
Azheron: [Without looking up, he gives Omit the finger]
GM: Then the Cleric gets out a scroll and starts casting.
Balcoth: [Venemous...] Mother****er, we're definitely gonna loot you.
GM: You're reacting pretty strongly...
Balcoth: He's drinking our treasure! [Technically you don't drink a scroll, but this has become the lingo for enemies who use consumable magic items, both making them harder to defeat AND preventing us from retrieving those items from their corpses.]
[Azheron is trying to mouth something the Verian, who appears totally oblivious to the subtle appeals. Balcoth, having previously been knocked prone, is trying to figure out how he can both get up (a move equivalent action) and do more than just a standard attack action, particularly since a gang of burly undead monsters had gathered around to beat on him (you get +4 to hit prone targets in melee) and they will all get an attack of opportunity just for trying to stand up in their threatened area. After investigating all his options, and considering that he has to make a new save against the Spiritwall's fear every turn on invisible arcane caster's initiative...]
Balcoth: Forget it. I'll just activate my Boots of Flying on the ground and fly up over to here... if I'm right above the wall, do I still have to save?
GM: No, the fear emanates in a cone in that direction [Indicates the side of the wall now occupied only by wights, a mummy, a huge skeletal dragon, an evil cleric, an invisible arcane caster (whom we can't see)... and Azheron]. It won't hit you if you are directly above it.
Balcoth: Good. That's what I'll do then. [The monsters still get an attack of opportunity, but they accomplish little against Balcoth's impressive Armor Class, and he soars in a very smooth and somehow un-dwarflike fashion over the wall]
Omit: I'm Dispelling that wall... it's starting to annoy me.
He does so with his Wand, eliminating anyone's need to make fear saves, allowing us to move freely through the room again, and rendering invisible arcane caster visible once more as line-of-effect is re-established between him and Donner's spell. Azheron's mouthing becomes more fervent, and Verian (currently controlling the NPC cleric) finally notices. His lip-reading may have been a little fuzzy, but "heal me" was coming through pretty clear at this point. However, by the time it was obvious enough for the less-than-observant Verian to notice, GM also noticed (although he could not quite lip-read looking at Azheron in profile).
GM: What's wrong, Azheron?
Azheron: [Shakes his head the way one does when one doesn't know what the speaker is getting at] Nothing.
GM: Yes, yes, you lie very well. You're getting low! [Starts thirstily re-examining the board position of his many killing assets and finds the situation more than satisfactory.]
Verian: [Appears a little distressed now, since cleric won't have a chance to act until after the monsters. Verian Seth himself is up though...] I'll glide over here and project a Fire Bolt through both enemy casters, the mummy and the bone dragon...
Azheron: Why couldn't you have done more of that while I was alive?
GM: The skeletal dragon fails its save, but it's still going. The mummy takes very little - much of the damage is warded away by fire resistance. The cleric and necromancer take a bunch of damage... one of the wights dies. [Showing that Azheron had beaten all the wights to within one-hit of destruction before being forced back.]
Azheron: Can you heal me?
Omit: He's a Small creature in Heavy armor, he moves at 15: there's no way he could get over there.
Verian: Cleric's next action was going to be Mass Cure Light Wounds anyway... but he can't do it until his turn comes up.
GM: The wights jump up on this table and attack you... [One gets lucky and hits, but Azheron makes his save and is NOT level-drained] The dragon will five-foot over to here, which puts Azheron within its reach. It will full-attack him...
Azheron: Of course. It won't be the first thing to home in on me.
GM: What? Should it double-move across the room and take an attack of opportunity from you to make no attacks but be in range of Balcoth for next turn, or does it make more sense for it to step one square over here and make like eight attacks on you?
Azheron: Sure. Whatever. I suppose in this case it might be more reasonable.
GM: What do you mean "in this case"???
Azheron: Oh yeah, like I've never been singled out in the past.
Balcoth: He really has been targetted by a lot of things.
GM: When have any of my monsters unreasonably targetted him? They all act however makes the most sense...
Azheron: Well, I wonder what I should come back as this time... I guess I have to be a halfling wizard if I don't want to get hosed.
Verian: You could come back as a Bard! [Our group (with the exception of Omit and possibly GM) has a very strong prejudice against the bard class]
Azheron: Nah, I'd probably do a point of damage and then he's ban the class or something.
GM: [Getting serious; he is quite exasperated at the continuous complaints about everything he does] Not now guys. Okay? REGARDLESS: Azheron, the skeletal dragon attacks you with two claws [rolls the attacks], one bite [rolls the attack], two wings [rolls the attacks] and one tail slap [rolls the attack].
Azheron: Yep, that's negative 12 hit points.
Omit: Sorry GM, you can't cast Death Knell on him then. [That spell is used to finish off a dying foe, stealing their life force to give the caster great temporary boosts. There were rumors that GM had one of his minions memorize it in anticipation of killing Verian or Omit] ...Hmm [To himself] ...looks like my calculations were off by 7 minutes. [Omit records Azheron's time of death in his notes.]
Azheron: [Very bitter, though probably not due to Omit's bookkeeping] F*** you...
GM: Well, you have my consolations. I don't rejoice in killing players, but I'd be doing you all a disservice if my monsters didn't do their best to defeat you. Anyway, don't worry, I should be sending some of your friends to join you soon... I still have some tricks to pull out, and it's time to get serious here.
Balcoth halfheartedly butchers a wight as he works his way towards the enemy casters and Omit readies his action against spellcasting, but it is clear that everyone is sort of coasting along in the wake of Azheron's most recent death. Verian has the Cleric cast Mass Cure Light Wounds, healing the allies somewhat, as well as dealing damage to all the undead, and we find that both the enemy casters were in fact living (so they are also healed). At least now we knew that anti-undead stuff wouldn't work on them.
GM: [Offhand] ...now I just have to kill Verian.
Azheron: [Dead] You'd probably have more success if your mobs tried to negatively impact him in any way, instead of killing me first.
GM: You were the only one there!
Azheron: [Dead] Oh I know. I'm always the only one there...
Balcoth: I'm sorry man, I had no idea you were so low.
Azheron: [Dead] Yeah, I know. But I had no idea that you'd suddenly disappear.
Balcoth: I needed to get out of those fear saves...
Azheron: [Dead] I always go in fighting, then nobody ever shows up to help cover me.
Omit: I was busy dispelling stuff the whole time...
Azheron: [Dead] I know, you and Verian where never there in the first place.
[Nobody questions Azheron's uncharacteristicly frustrated criticism (except anywhere he happens to dispute GM's choice in controlling monsters or proffessed targetting of Verian and Omit, in which case GM vociferously denies any bias or impropriety) because, for all our efforts, nothing speaks like results and the result of our rampant survivalist individualism is generally his demise. Although we tend to tabletalk a little (giving dubious out-of-character advice to each other from time to time), we don't necessarily act much like a cohesive unit. I don't spend a lot of effort recording this kind of thing though, so we move on...]
GM: Then the Cleric gets out a scroll and starts casting. Anyone with line of sight can make a Spellcraft check. It's DC 26.
Verian: Pfft. I make it. [Omit made it easily as well, but he doesn't boast about it]
GM: He's casting Heal.
Omit: I'll use my readied action to fire at him with Manyshot. [Omit hits with two arrows, forcing the evil cleric to make a VERY difficult concentration check or lose the spell.]
GM: Nope, he fails his concentration check. The spell fails, and his scroll is wasted. [GM seems more than a little put-off by this result.]
Verian: Okay, I'll cast Energy Stun (Electricity) targetting this vertex so that it hits both the cleric and the wizard.
Verian rolls extremely well, and his psionic power deals 55 damage to each of them, allowing a Reflex save (DC 23) for half (which both of them fail), and upon failure of the Reflex save, each is forced to make a Will save (at the same difficulty) or be stunned. GM rolls his saves, and appears VERY displeased...
GM: [Looking off into space as though trying to solve some problem in his head... makes an exasperated sigh.]
Verian: So I take it the wizard is stunned?
GM: [With finality] I give up.
Now all the players are stunned. Even Azheron. And he's dead.
GM: It's just too much.
[It takes GM a moment to regain his resolve. He was quite distraught that his wizard died with his "getting serious" tricks still unused; his potential unrealized. However, contrary to players' initial impressions, it was not so much the Energy Stun (although the high damage roll did kill the wizard, and furthermore the cleric was stunned for one round, dropping his shield and weapon and suffering a defense penalty). Rather, it was Omit's use of multishot on a readied action; the fact that it allowed him to interrupt spellcasting with multiple arrows blew GM's mind, since the concentration check goes from slightly difficult (damage from a single attack) to nigh on impossible (two attacks worth of damage). It raised serious concerns which he had not previously considered regarding the potential for a character with Manyshot to lock down spellcasters (assuming that the character could hit with both shots with the penalty every time). Regardless, GM felt a sense of obligation to the players, so he resolved to continue.]
Balcoth, Omit and Verian (mostly Balcoth and Omit) take down the evil cleric and the remainder of the crummy undead... except for the mummy, who was not only nearly unscathed, but started chasing after Donner in a fasion reminiscent of Jason (the hockey mask guy from the horror movies). In fact, Donner was taking damage at an astounding pace, and the useful heroes were still busy mopping up the other enemies. Verian, however, was hovering up near the ceiling not accomplishing anything.
Verian: Donner will disengage. So moving at half of his 15 foot speed, (rounded down) he moves 5 feet, then flees another 15 feet using the rest of his action. Then I [Ed: Verian Seth, the character] will hover down to here. [He places himself right next to the gnome cleric, making of himself an easy target for the armored barbarian-mummy w/greatsword (wizard sold separately).]
GM: The mummy charges here...
Verian: You can't charge, the table blocks your straight line.
GM: I'll move over here, and attack the cleric. Take 22.
Verian: 22? Crap, he's dead.
Balcoth: Dead dead?
Verian: He didn't expect to take over 20, the previous hits had been more around 18-19. No, he's down to negative 11, he's gone.
By this time, Balcoth was rushing over to help (alas, too late), and suddenly the mummy was the last enemy standing, and had to full attention of the party. But Azheron and the gimp cleric were dead - that's 40% casualties (call it 30%, since we didn't really value the NPC cleric too highly).
Verian: Dammit. Well, I no longer have a reason to be here, so I'll disengage 20 feet, then fly back up over here.
GM: I should have made a shorter room.
Verian: That would have made it a lot harder for us. But considering that 40% of us have already died...
Balcoth: I've got to stop buying miniatures for people...
Omit: Oh yeah, I just realized... [Balcoth had just brought in two new pewter miniatures; a spiked chain guy for Azheron's character, and a cleric. The cleric wasn't overly gnomish... in fact he was a big plate armor cleric with a mace, but we had started using him anyway.]
As Balcoth faced off against the augmented mummy, it became apparent that although this one was only a tiny bit tougher than the three we bested in the previous encounter, it was still going to be a very long painstaking process for Balcoth to beat him down, past his AC of 31 and his 6 points of universal damage reduction. The previous ones hadn't been this hard to take down, but then Verian had blasted them with a whole lot of pyrokinetic mental energy... which brought up another point. It became apparent that one of the reasons Verian had held off on nuking their foes until he was certain the wizard (his primary target) was stripped of defenses, was that Verian had expended a great deal of mana in the previous fight, and as we neared the end of this one, he had very little left - in fact, if he assisted against the mummy, he would have been unable to assist when we were inevitably attacked while trying to rest afterwards.
Verian: I can't do anything much to help. I guess I'll just loot the enemy cleric.
GM: [Something snapped...] The mummy moves over here and scoops up the wizard's body. Then he moves over this way...
Omit: What the hell? Is he worried we'll attack the body?
Verian: No, he's taking it so we don't get his loot. [Verian has no conception of how right he is...]
Balcoth: Hold on, I need that body!
Verian: I think he's gonna club you with the wizard.
GM: [The next round] The mummy pulls a deep purple potion from the wizard's robes and drinks it.
Balcoth: What the hell?
GM: Just drinking some more of your treasure. [The players were angry now, particularly Balcoth, but they could do little to accelerate the pace of the mummy's destruction. Balcoth couldn't use his Power Attack feat to beat through its DR faster because the penalty to hit would be too great against it's armor class.]
Verian: What the hell is it doing. It can't win if it doesn't fight back.
Omit: [With a flash on insight] THE FURNACE! IT's HEADING FOR THE FURNACE! Verian: [FIRST STAGE: DENIAL] It's trying to destroy his loot!?!
GM: You'll pry his treasure FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS!
Balcoth: [SECOND STAGE: ANGER] We will presently, Jackass!
Omit: That is UNacceptable! WALL OF FORCE! [Omit uses one of his expensive Wall of Force scrolls to create a solid wall, immune to physical damage, completely barring access to the volcanic furnace/forge room.]
GM: You aren't close enough... the range on Wall of Force is only...
Omit: Fine! I'll move over here!
GM: You're so lucky. If you hadn't noticed that turn, one Run action and he would have been in there, and everything on the body would have been destroyed.
Verian: [THIRD STAGE: BARGAINING] If I died, I wouldn't care what happened to my stuff... I'd be dead. Why would this mummy be willing to sacrifice himself just to rob us of some magic junk?
GM: He has his reasons. He'll move over here into the side-room.
Balcoth: Man, the guy's such an ass. What an ASS!
Omit: Oh no you don't! Hunt him down!
Verian: What, is there a secret door in there? Because Omit searched that room pretty thoroughly...
Balcoth: [Continues chasing and chopping at the mummy, inflicting some damage, but wearing very slowly at its well-over-a-hundred HP. Omit is in on the act now, shooting three arrows per round into the rotting villain, but skilled though he is, his arrows don't do very reliable damage past the 6/- DR.]
GM: The mummy stops in the corner, turns to face you, and pulls out a violet potion and a small crystal vial. Then he crushes them, letting the precious contents seep into the floor.
Balcoth: [In sheer disbelief] Can we torture it?
Verian: Just kill it. I don't think you can torture it... it's a thousand-year old dessicated corpse already.
GM: [Next round] It pulls out a finely crafted Masterwork Wakizashi and smashes it in half on the ground. [Makes a defiant grinning face on behalf of the monster.]
Balcoth: [FOURTH STAGE: DEPRESSION] But that's a sword... we can have it repaired, right?
[GM says nothing to acknowledge this, nor do Omit and Verian, who are fairly certain that repairing the weapon would be a waste of money; it could be reforged, but it wouldn't be Masterwork anymore. The one saving grace was the system GM put in place many levels ago with regard to magic items; essentially, magic items could be repaired (at minimal cost), so that sundering attacks and other, similar freak powers (such as the weapon destroying acidic skin of a Babau demon) would be of tactical value, and could cause problems (needing a smith to repair a "destroyed" magic weapon before it could be used again) but such abilities would not permanently or irrevocably destroy treasure. Because of this, we could be fairly certain that (now that the furnace plan was averted) at least the wizard's magic items would survive to reimburse us, however slightly, for our losses.]
GM: The mummy crushes the wizard's 500 gp porcelain Sobi mask, and shreds up his ornate robes.
Verian: Are you sure that destroying items should be a move-equivalent action, because I don't think he should be able to do 2 per turn...
Balcoth: But we can just re-forge the sword, right?
Azheron: [Dead] Can we just call it a night. It's getting late. They'll kill it eventually.
GM: At the rate you guys are killing him, it wouldn't matter. That Wall of Force has a duration measured in rounds, and when it runs out he will toss the stuff in there...
Omit: Or I could just use another scroll... he won't live THAT long...
GM: Go ahead. How much do those scrolls cost you again?
Omit: I shoot him 3 times... take 13... 7... 9... and 3d6 fire damage!
GM: You're whipping out the fire arrows? Sure. The damage is warded away.
Omit: Fine, but I know he's using Protection from Fire, the level 3 one, and it has a limit... it can only absorb so much damage before I burn through.
GM: That will take forever anyway. But be my guest.
Omit: We'll win eventually, why don't you just let us take the magic stuff.
GM: Okay, sure. If you spend your second Wall of Force scroll, I'll concede that you can take him down in time.
Omit: No! I'm not spending that.
GM: Then you'll bloody well chase him down.
Verian: Or you could dispel his fire ward.
Omit: Oh man, I didn't even think of that... [This is a sign of just how ticked off Omit is, even if it doesn't show in the dialogue] I dispel him.
GM: Hmm, that changes the math.
Omit: So NOW can we just assume we win.
GM: Alright. In my infinite generosity we'll call it a night and let you keep his treasure.
Verian: So what did he have?
GM: Let's see, there is no more 500 gp lotus extract... no more Cure Serious Wounds potion with Caster Level 20... no more Masterwork Wakisashi, no more 500 gp Sobi Mask, no more 500 gp ornate robes...
Omit: [FIFTH STAGE: MORE ANGER] So what IS left...
GM: Bracers of Armor +3, a Ring of Deflection +2, ten 5 gp Onyx gems, 50 platinum pieces, a platinum ring worth 50 gp, and my undying hatred.
Azheron: [Dead] Let's leave the undying hatred on the corpse.
WARNING: SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE EMOTIONAL SCARRING AND VEHICULAR HOMICIDE.
Bear in mind that this report carries with it only a fraction of the bitterness generated on all sides. In fact, reading this report could be hazardous to all our health...
With both Azheron (or at least, his most recent character, the late spiked-chain-wielding Elocator, Malevaune) and our NPC cleric (the gnome, Donner Lifesaver) having died the previous week, Azheron would be introducing a new character, and since we unanimously exempted Azheron indefinitely from our "survivor"-style lottery (next one to die has to come back as a healer), GM has decreed that we must have an NPC cleric in order to function. He gave us a choice this time; either Verian or Omit could design the new cleric as would normally be our default, or Balcoth could do it (to "expand his horizons" or some such), in which case the cleric could be a dwarf; exempting this useful NPC from the existing ban on dwarven characters. It is possible that Balcoth has been pushed even further in his efforts to make his own character invincible by both the "house rule" limitations imposed by GM, AND by the fact that if he dies, he is forbidden from coming back as a dwarf. So over the intervening week, Balcoth took the task very seriously, intent on adding this new dwarf to the party and hoping to influence GM's roleplaying of the new cleric to reflect proper dwarfy standards.
[Though no stranger to the rules and specifically to building D&D 3.5 characters, making a divine caster would be something of a new challenge for Balcoth (who normally concentrates on honing the ultimate melee fighting machines), and he would need a little advice here and there on spells, but GM forbade Verian and Omit from helping out, offering his own time and advice wherever needed (meanwhile, Azheron was busy developing his own new character in secrecy). Omit couldn't help but interject his savvy at certain points, which appeared to infuriate GM, who attempted to silence him by responding to each of Omit's suggestions by cutting him off with extremely dubious advice of his own (such as compromising dexterity in order to increase the cleric's charisma stat because it is useful for undead-turning), which Balcoth in turn ignored. In the end, Balcoth ignored enough of the advice from all sides that he ended up with a perfectly good dwarven cleric, all set to heal us, cast dispel magic and not die (too easily). As a bonus, he settled upon the deity Farlagn to grant him spells, because Farlagn (God of Travel and Wanderlust) has the best domains. GM has often made light of the tendency for all Verian's clerics to worship that particular faith (with the 1/day reroll from the Luck domain and the wizardlike mobility spells and automatic-free-action power granted by the Travel domain), so it was satisfying to see Balcoth independantly reach the same conclusion.]
We rolled a d6 to determine who would run the NPC cleric this week, and it turned out to be Verian. Then we were right into the "interrogation phase".
GM: Okay guys, first question: How many fights do you think your party should be able to handle per day (between resting). Be honest... [He asks each person in turn, starting with those whose opinion on the subject was least known to him.]
Balcoth: I'd say two to three.
Azheron: Two for sure, maybe three.
Verian: That's pretty much it.
GM avoided sighing or mentioning that the book says a party of upper-mid-level adventurers should be able to handle 4 even-level encounters per day, having discussed it many times with Omit and Verian, who argue that the book's figure is based on so-called "full-powered PCs" unhindered by our many house-rules, and also not taking into consideration the great length to which GM goes to "optimize" encounters (using only the enemies with the best to-hit and armor class numbers, combining the most efficient casters and the occasional mob of much lower-level monsters who still have some ability to expend our resources), and the fact that the book itself says specifically that Game Masters must take into account the fact that some encounters are far more draining upon a party. Regardless, GM had no desire to rehash this discussion and eat unnecessarily into our gaming time...
GM: So, what's your new character, Azheron?
Azheron: I was hoping to keep it more of a secret...
GM: I'm sorry, I don't want to interfere with any roleplaying or anything. Just tell me this: it isn't anything I wouldn't like, is it?
Azheron: No, no. [Sigh] Well I'd have to describe her soon enough anyway. I'm an Air Mephling.
GM: A Mephling? Verian: Ooh. [Last time he read about them, GM hated Mephlings] They have ECL...
ECL, or Equivalent Character Level, balances more powerful player races by literally costing one or more experience levels.
With the Mephling's ECL of 1, Azheron's new character will come in as level 10 rather than 11. He should catch up quickly though...
GM: [Has this "You're trying to destroy my game?" look] The ones that Fast-Heal? [Fast healing, the "little brother" of Regeneration, is a REALLY powerful ability in the hands of a player character, even 1 or 2 points is actually pretty crazy.]
Azheron: No not a Mephit, a Mephling.
Verian: [Still trying to prevent GM from overreacting by feeding him informatin] They're the ones from the Manual of the Planes that were designed to be a player race. ECL:1, no fast healing...
Azheron: A really bad breath weapon, once per day, that has probably never been used by a player anywhere.
GM: [Sigh] Let me see the book... [GM is certain that he didn't like this race, and he's certain there must have been a good reason.] You can FLY??
Azheron: I have wings, yes.
Verian: And he had to spend a Feat just to get to a useful speed. [Without the Feat he'd have a flight speed of 10. Most races have landspeed of 30.]
GM: [Trying to put it precisely, in the hopes of making the players understand] Innate flight is a very powerful ability
Azheron: This isn't a level 5 campaign... everybody has flight in one way or another, even Balcoth! This just means I don't have to cast it...
GM: You aren't getting +1 Caster Level on all your Air spells or something...?
He is not. GM reviews the rest of the race description and (with some misgivings) decides that at the current level of the party, the winged flight does not present any game-breaking problem, and the rest of it is okay, considering that it is an ECL race.
GM: Okay. But your class isn't anything bizarre or broken, is it?
Azheron: No, nothing weird at all. I'm just the Warmage from The Complete Arcane [Handbook].
Verian: Ooh. [Last time he read about them, GM hated the Warmage ] They cast like a sorceror, but lack any sort of vesatility or defensive buffs.
GM: [Sigh] Let me see that. [Takes the proffered book and skims through the class entry] You're an arcane caster, on D6s, with Armor?
Azheron: Light armor.
Verian: Is Light armor and an extra hit point per level [Ed: from d6 hit dice in place or d4s] as good as having access to arcane defensive spells? Mirror Image, False Life, Greater Invisibility? He can't even Dispel...
GM: [As he keeps reading] And it turns into MEDIUM Armor? Verian: There's no real difference between Light and Medium armor.
GM: Yes there is! The difference is MEDIUM armor!
Azheron: Medium armor is at best 1 more AC than a Chain shirt [the best Light armor]. There's no point in wearing Medium armor; I just use a Chain Shirt.
GM: That's 1 more AC than you have!
Azheron: If I went up to Medium armor I'd lose movement. Why would I give up so much mobility just for 1 point of AC.
GM: Because that's 1 more AC than you have.
Omit: GM, he'd be a fool to go to the heavier armor just for 1 point. It's not worth it - not at all.
GM: What page is his spell list? [Finds it, starts checking through. He sounds more than a little reticent] So you are really just a more specialized nuke-delivery-system?
Verian: No versatility... no dispelling. His spell list is 95% damage spells, and 5% the most offensive defensive buffs they could find. Like Fire Shield.
GM: [Thorougly unconvinced...] Let me look up their new spells first...
GM spends some time looking up those spells with which he was unfamiliar, that is to say, the ones from the new book within which the class resides, and after checking them, he reluctantly approves, albeit with a bad feeling that the players will neither appreciate nor even acknowledge his generosity in allowing the class... and the race... But he doesn't want to hose Azheron, and doesn't see any immediate dangers to his adventure. Besides, another more unexpected issue cropped up:
Balcoth: You should burn it. It's offensive...
Balcoth: That table.
The appartment living room we use for gaming (which is typically unoccupied the other 6 1/2 days of the week as the occupants just stick to their own bedrooms where their electronics are) had recently recieved a donation of old (but mostly new condition) furniture, easily doubling the number of sitting devices even AFTER we threw the worst of the old chairs in a dumpster. There was also a new (brand new hardwood) table, which GM hoped would finally allow us to keep the battle-map and miniature table pristine, and uncluttered by the food, books and character sheets. He looked forward to the players using this new table as a writing surface so the map could remain clear.
Verian: [As shocked and confused as everybody else] What about the table?
Balcoth: Everything about it is offensive... it's round, it's not the right amount of space... it's too high. Sitting here it is just staring me in the face. The single leg, the supports are all wrong.
GM: I had no idea you were so... exacting when it comes to furniture.
Verian: It isn't as though we paid for it. It is hardwood.
Balcoth: It's too tall...
Verian: It's only an inch taller than the other one, and THIS table actually has room for our knees, instead of those stupid panels that drop down and block you.
Azheron: Yeah. [Azheron donated the "map table", which his family was otherwise going to throw out. He is well acquainted with it's horrible drawbacks.]
GM: Anyhow, nobody's forcing you to use it. You can sit over there (indicates the other new couch-like seating device).
Balcoth: I don't need it to write on anyway... [Balcoth's style is to grab one of the many outdated, obsolete books and use it as a tablet to write on] Why don't we just put it over there... [In the corner of two perpendicular couch-like seating devices]
Azheron: Then what am I going to write on? I can't write sideways over the armrest.
GM: The point of the new arrangement is that players have something to write on, and we can keep all that junk off the map table.
Azheron: I need to face forward to write. If we put it in the corner there's no point in having it.
Balcoth: [With deep loathing] ...should light it on fire... throw it off the balcony...
It was apparent that there was some history between Balcoth and the round table, but Verian traded places with him so he wouldn't be stuck within reach of it, and we moved on.
GM: Due to the death of Donner and... and... [You can tell we've been doing too much fighting and not enough RPing from the fact that GM can't recall the name of Azheron's most recent incarnation]
Azheron: F*** you.
GM: Azheron X Azheron: [Generously sharing the wisdom of his middle finger] F*** you both. [The name was Malevaune...]
GM: Sorry, I couldn't resist. [We all think the movie Jason X was hilariously stupid, and some previous reference had been made to it when Omit noted that Malevaune was Azheron's 10th character of the campaign.]
Azheron: [There is general laughter] F*** everyone.
GM: Anyhow, due to their death last week, I'll be bringing in Azheron's new character and the new cleric. You two were called called upon by King Grandular [Ed: The Dwarven King on another continent who sent our poor level 3 characters on our first quest, and subsequently sent our then-level-7 characters across the sea on the current quest], who, concerned about the lack of word from the party, sent you to determine their fate and to aid them in any way that you can. You portaled from Sigil to Aberia Del-Fayr, and Dom Arod escorted you to the edge of the southern dwarven Kingdom [Where the undead-infested mines lie] and cast Wind Walk to get you the rest of the way. So you two reach the gates of the Dwarven underkingdom, and find the massive iron doors shut, looking all but impregnable.
Verian: By the way, since his 4rth and 5th level Domain spells for Travel [Dimension Door and Teleport, respectively] don't work on this plane, what replacement Domain Spells should I get. We could replace the fourth level one with Air Walk...
GM: No way.
Verian: Well my third level domain spell is Fly... it's actually the same thing, only worse. Plus it fits the travel theme...
GM: There's no way you're getting something that strong. You can take Divine Power instead.
Verian: Uh, okay... even though that has nothing to do with travel and is a much more powerful spell, so sure, why not?
GM: Well, you put me on the spot... [Looking through the book for replacement spells] Oh, Air Walk, I thought you meant Wind Walk.
Verian: No, not the higher-level efficient long-range group travel spell, the 4th level spell that is just like Fly (which I have, at a lower level) only worse than Fly. So can I just take Air Walk?
GM: No. You can take Divination.
Verian: [With distaste] Divination? So not Divine Power? What does Divination have to do with the Travel domain?
GM: You "read the winds" for information.
Verian: Can I just take a lower level spell from one of my domains instead?
GM: No [Actually you can, but we all forgot. It never made a difference]
Omit: [Suddenly bursts out laughing] Oh man, I'm gonna have this Permanencied on me!
Omit: [Was reading the Manual of the Planes] This spell makes you explode like a Balor when you die. BOOM! Okay, sorry. I didn't mean to disrupt everything, I apologize for the outburst.
Permanency is one of the old standbys of wizardly power from way back in the old days. In modern versions, it allows an arcane caster to make certain spells (there is a specific list so that you can't become permanently Invisible or anything gross like that) permanent upon themselves at a significant cost in Experience Points. Normally, this is a pretty dumb thing to do, because you never want to spend 1000 XP on the ability to See Invisible permanently (always on), only to have some dick (of equal or higher caster level) Dispel it. So the version we worked out with GM is that dispelling Permanent spells suppresses them, but as long as you know the spell, and you know Permanency (you didn't just cheat it off a scroll), your spell will renew itself automatically the next day.
Verian: I guess I'll just take Free Action from my OTHER domain at 4th level. Even though its been nerfed beyond any actual usefulness.
Omit: [To GM] You should let him have a spell that lets him Wind Walk for a few rounds after his death.
Anyway, the newcomers find the 3 injured dwarves who we had left in the care of the sentient flying carpet, Sepathula, just outside the underground fortress.
GM: [Turlock, the NPC cleric] "We must avenge my kinsmen. These fiends dishonor my clan-"
Balcoth: It isn't his clan; he's from Sigil. [A major city that functions as something of an interplanar hub. Obviously, it lies on a plane where teleportation works...]
GM: [Corrects himself and tries to move on without missing a beat] "...slain my kinsmen, my fellow dwarves. By Moradin's Beard-"
Balcoth: He doesn't worship Moradin [The dwarven "default" deity], he worships Farlaghn.
GM: "By Farlagn's lucky beard..." [Luck is one of Farlagn's domains; the one with the REALLY good domain power]
Omit: Farlagn doesn't have a beard.
GM: "By Farlagn's... by the hair of Farlagne...", whatever. [Shoots a venemous glance at Verian who has played and advocated Farlagn clerics just often enough to be blamed for all travel-related twinking and Farlagn-ery in general, whether or not he was in the room when Balcoth was building the cleric.]
Balcoth: He doesn't talk like that; he isn't that kind of cleric. [Balcoth is determined that GM not turn his creation "against" him by roleplaying him as an in-your-face "obnoxious" cleric.]
GM: He's a dwarf!
Balcoth: ...and you're not!
So GM tries again to get us started. We focus on the characters inside first.
GM: You guys all hear a rumbling, and feel the ground shake beneath your feet. It continues for a moment, and then a Huge Earth Elemental bursts out of the wall. "Greetings Balcoth, Omit and Verian Seth." As he speaks, his voice booms and echoes across the room, like a grating of stone plates, or an echo down a long tunnel.
Azheron: Wow, even his voice has Reach [Ed: Reach is the distance a creature can attack from in melee, but it is commonly used to refer to having a Reach GREATER than the standard one 5-foot square.]
Omit: [Bemused] "Greetings."
GM: The colossal pile of stone and gemstones...
Balcoth: Wait, is it Huge or Colossal? [Sometimes the official size categories interfere with descriptive vocabulary...]
GM: No it's Huge. Poor choice of descriptive words... "It appears that you were triumphant."
Omit: "We won, but our triumph was marred by the loss of two of our friends."
GM: "Yes, I am sorry for the loss of your fallen foes-", er, allies! [corrects himself] "...fallen allies. Ah, the mighty Azheron-X and Donner."
Azheron: My character's body rolls over and gives you the finger.
GM: [Getting serious again, but the elemental's tone remains genial] "I must thank you for defeating Aaron Crash. With my master dead, I will have my freedom once my task is complete."
Verian: [His RPG sense kicking in] I don't like where this is going.
Balcoth: "What was you mission?"
GM: [The Elemental] "I must guard the tomb from all intruders. The wording was specific in that regard, however, without my former master around to issue further orders, there is nothing preventing me from helping you to some extent.
Balcoth: "Can you take us to the tomb?"
GM: [The Elemental] "...Yes. In fact it is doubtful whether you could reach the tomb without my aid. Aaron Crash did not specify that I could not bring intruders to the tomb, simply that I must defend it from them. However, I must ask a favor in return."
Omit: "What favor?"
GM: [The Elemental] "If I take you to the tomb then I must ask the you destroy me. I have been denied the joys of my home [Ed: the Elemental Plane of Earth] for far too long. I cannot die on this plane, but destroying my current form would return my spirit to my home. If you could do this, I would be very grateful, and would reward you greatly should you later visit me in my home. If you go to the Elemental Plane of Earth you have only to say my name."
Omit: "Which is?"
GM: [The Elemental] "Garama-rush-arom-arom-arush." [Those who tend to make notes make note of the name as best they can]
Balcoth: [Sympathetic] "It sucks that you have to come here."
Equations of Honor...
There is a historic movement amongst our extended gaming group (all those with whom we have played over the last 5 years or so), initially incited by Verian, though he has since attempted to distance himself from it (though it should be further be noted that he has done little to discourage it, nor did it need any help perpetuating itself). It is a simple mantra, sung to the tune of a song, sung by an un-named purple dinosaur rip-off from a Simpsons Episode, but rather than "2 plus 2 is 4... 2 plus 2 is 4", the new words (which spring quickly to players lips in any number of situations) were quite simply "Honor equals dumb."
When it started, it was used to shoot down plans and suggested courses of actions from GM (then a player), and was oft accompanied with examples of movie villains who stupidly allowed themselves to be killed due to various Honor-inspired errors. Soon, examples were no longer required, and any suggestion of an inconveniently honorable course of action was met with an enthusiastic chorus of "Honor equals dumb".
The movement reached its peak when GM attempted to run a campaign set in the Oriental game setting of Rokugan (of L5R fame). The (enforced) assumption of the society that all members of the noble (Samurai) class should act with great honor above all, created innumerable situations where the honorable course of action was at best inconvenient, and far more often stupid and perversely "undignified" to the players' Westernized sensibilities. Furthermore, all but one player chose his heritage to be from the Crab clan (who were renowned as the most uncultured and uncouth of the Great clans, and thus had slightly less expectations upon their conduct), and furthermore, each of them chose to be from the Hida house because Hida starting equipment included the oriental version of full plate armor, and they qualified for potent armor-enhancing Feats. GM's fervent objections that to wear armor outside of battle was not-as-honorable, particularly for a Shugenja (sort of an Oriental priest) were dismissed by Verian's comment "But there's no PENALTY for Shugenja casting in heavy armor" and many rounds of "Honor equals dumb" from all other players. Of course, by this time Verian knew that it was more difficult to hold him accountable if he did not add his own voice.
GM: [Garama-rush-arom-arom-arush] "Yes. There is one more problem though: I am bound to only be defeated in honorable combat. I cannot return home in dishonor."
GM: Why are you guys always against honor-duels?
Azheron: [Rhyme not intended] Honor duels are for monks and fools.
GM: When Omit ran his crazy-assed module I fought his honor duel!
Omit: [Laughs] I was so surprised when anybody accepted that.
GM: WHY? Balcoth: You accepted an honor duel with a demon who was the final boss of a dungeon module.
GM: I kicked his ass!
Omit: You did beat him up very effectively before you died.
GM: ANYWAY... [Garama-rush-arom-arom-arush] "I must warn that although I am much weaker here than in my home I am still, without pride, a very powerful being. Some of you will likely perish in the attempt."
Balcoth: "Do you think we can defeat you?"
GM: [Garish-garage] "It is... possible. But if you fail I will bury you all with honor. I can see that you are weary from your battle, and I can guarantee your safety as you rest and prepare to face me."
Verian: Cool. [Verian had been very vocal about the fact that our actions had to take into account the guarantee of one attack per attempt to rest (and regain spells) and the great likelyhood of a second such interruption per night.]
GM: [Garbage-mush] "I sense the presence of two beings outside the gates. Should I destroy them?" Remember that buddy's voice is deafening... its like talking to an aircraft engine.
Balcoth: [In no way biased by the out-of-character-knowledge that the new replacement party-members were waiting outside] "No, let's see what they are first..."
The Elemental opens the doors, we meet up with the newcomers and explain the situation. Though some party members are concerned by GM's continued allusions that we will die, and GM gives us many attempts to back out, we eventually decide to fight to free the Elemental (after being shown the tomb and thus accomplishing most of what we came here to do). But before any of that can happen:
GM: Azheron, can you describe your new character?
Azheron: Her nake is Rikkon. She's a 4-foot tall humanoid, with light blue skin and almost translucent wings. She's wearing light armor [Ed: Light armor translates as a Chain Shirt], and she's carrying a flute and shortsword.
Balcoth: A flute? You're not a bard are you?
Balcoth: Cause we'd have to destroy you on sight. You could come back as something useful, like a cleric.
Azheron: I'm not a bard. I got the flute just to have something different. Why don't you come back as a cleric, Balcoth? You might enjoy it... I know I did for the first 3 or 4 times...
Balcoth: Well, do you know how to play it?
Azheron: Better than you...
Omit: Not better than me. You want a flute-off? [Ed: I know that sounds dirty, but it's not...]
Azheron: What, you have ranks in Perform? [Azheron's new character is a Warmage; a sorceror variant, and thus casts spells using his Charisma stat. Meaning that his Charisma is probably at least twice that of a normal character, and Charisma is the stat for social skills such as Perform(Instrument or otherwise)]
Omit: Yes I do. I'll get out my clarinet...
Verian: A clarinet? That seems, I dunno, a little out of place in most medieval settings...
Omit: It's a woodwind instrument, like a recorder. They've been around forever.
Verian: I think a clarinet is a bit more advanced than a recorder...
GM: [The instument thing started out RP-ish, but it had gotten way off-topic] OKAY, and what's the cleric like?
Balcoth: He's a dwarf.
GM: What's his name?
Verian: Turlock Irongreaves.
Balcoth: Greaves? No.
Verian: What's wrong with greaves? It's an armor piece.
Azheron: I think we should follow the AxeBeard rule for dwarven names.
Balcoth: Greaves? We should call him Grimbeard.
So his name is retroactively changed to Turlock Grimbeard. Anyhow, the Elemental protects us as we rest, and we get ready for the journey to the tomb, which Garama-rusha-rom-arush assures us we cannot reach without him.
GM: You rest completely unmolested, without a single random encounter, let alone TWO random encounters...
Verian: Sweet. [Happily records the refilling of his Psionic Power Points]
GM: [Grumbling-russian-rash] "You must enter within me if you are to travel through the ground to reach the tomb."
The history of Stampy (and the usage thereof) may not be too well known to most readers. Stampy is, of course, the Simpsons-referenced-nickname given to Balcoth's Figurine of Wondrous Power: Elephant, which conjures a real, live african elephant from its heavy statue 3 times per month for up to one day at a time. The elephant will obey the owner's simple commands unerringly to the best of its abilities; it is a powerful beast of burden, capable of great feats of strength, as well as beating on large enemies, trampling over small enemies, and using its bountiful elephantine hit points to simply take hits for us on occasion, interposing its 3x3 square mass where necessary, fearless (unless hit by a Fear effect) because the death of the conjured beast has no permanent impact on the magic item itself.
However, these uses hardly seem like enough. Balcoth has considered many controversial uses, including (but not limited to), "Stampy, eat these corpses", and one particular incident in the desert a couple weeks before I began these journals. The party was being pursued by an unfathomably obnoxious incorporeal undead: a Dread Wraith. The Dread Wraith posessed an armor class (and touch armor class) high enough to cause us concern, its incorporeal miss chance gave it 50% protection against all sources of damage except a handful of spells, none of which we had. As undead, it was immune to mind affecting attacks and critical hits. Its touch was unlikely to miss and inflicted significant Strength-drain, and its preferred method of attack was to spring attack out of the walls or ground, drain STR, then re-submerge itself in solid matter so that it was hidden and not targettable for all but a split second of every round. Worst of all, it's movement rate was nigh unmatchable: there was no outrunning it (except for Omit).
However, GM let slip that it always attacked the nearest living thing (it's primary sensory ability was life-detection), and it could pass through any non-living matter at will to get there. So Balcoth hit upon the idea: Stampy could swallow us, and we could use his bulk (and his copious Strength) to shield us from the wraith while Stampy ran away at its best speed. We never did adopt this plan.
Azheron: [Whose new character, Rikkon, is related by blood to the denizens of the Elemental Plane of Air, who are typically opposed to the Plane of Earth] "...Uh, is this really necessary?"
Balcoth: "Yeah, I'm not sure I want to jump inside the Earth Elemental."
Azheron: Oh sure, when it's Stampy you can't wait to get inside, but when it's the big friendly elemental...
Balcoth: Stampy does what I tell him. When I say "barf", he barfs."
GM: [Not too encouraging] Right.
Balcoth: "Stampy: drink lots of water", "Stampy: burp every hour."
Azheron: You could bring a bedroll in there.
Balcoth: "Eat small underbrush... don't chew too much. While you're at it, I could use a steak..."
The elemental escorts us safely within him some unknown distance into a large natural cavern, part of which has been hewn to make a stately tomb. It is very ancient, and the only staircase appears to have been collapsed thoroughly, probably through the work of a large (or possibly huge) Earth Elemental under the command of a planar binding spell of some sort. There is a raised dais with the tomb proper, but the majority of the room has rough mostly natural cave floor, the ceiling is of varying elevation and there are large stalagmites projecting from the ground in places. And there is a large stone disk standing upright against a wall, which we recognize as a planar portal.
Grom (or whatever the Elemental's name was) wants to give us every advantage to prepare, but as soon as we say it's on, it's on, and the will be no more mercy. After giving us the command words for the portal (in case we win and choose to depart that way), he descends into the ground and waits for us to call out his name. We stake out the section of the room with the highest ceiling/deepest floor, but we can see right from the outset that there is nowhere tall enough for us to get out of reach of a Huge creature which can pop out and attack from the ceiling as easily as the floor. Nevertheless, we all take to the air through our various means (Boots of Flying, Wings, Elocator levitation and Psionic Overland Flight) because Earth Elementals suffer penalties to attack you if you aren't touching the ground. After all GM's warnings of the lethality of the Elemental, Grimbeard the new NPC cleric cast Prayer, and Omit used a precious scroll of Good Hope, so between the two spells we were swimming in to-hit and saving throw bonuses. Then Balcoth summoned Stampy the super-elephant, Grimbeard used HIS brand new (and far stranger) Figurines of Wondrous Power to summon the mystical Goat of Travail and the Goat of Terror (large constructs). And thus prepared (with Verian and Omit casting their own buffs as usual, Azheron and Verian triggering their Rings of Invisibility, figuring that the Elemental's tremorsense would not help it to locate flying targets, and Omit taking the extra step of using his Wand of Magic Weapon [CL 20] to upgrade Balcoth's Axe to a +5), Grimbeard cast Aid and Shield Other to protect Balcoth, and finally we felt ready to initiate...
A BATTLE IN POINT FORM:
The pets (Stampy and the 2 Goat Golems) are arranged to form a perimeter.
The Elemental (once called) pops out of the ground (smoothly, leaving no mark or sign of his passage) near Goat of Travail's quadrant.
Azheron uses his readied action to snap off an Orb of Force, hitting the Elemental for 39 damage (Force).
Verian uses his readied action to cover the Elemental in Entangling Ectoplasm, slowing its movement and giving it -2 to hit and AC.
Elemental hits the Goat of Travail for 39 damage (Bludgeoning).
Omit: "A small portion of the damage is warded away by its thick hide."
Azheron realizes he forgot to add his Warmage Edge (his class adds his Int bonus to spell damage). Elemental takes 1 retroactive damage (Force).
GM will no longer be telling us "what AC" enemies hit. He will resume asking our AC, and telling us only "Yes or No" whether or not we were hit. This more closely follows the the procedure for when players are attacking, the idea being to give us less information (or at least, make us work harder for it).
Verian casts Inflict Pain on Elemental. Elemental makes its Will save, and thus suffers only -2 to hit (in addition to the Ectoplasm from earlier).
Omit and Balcoth rearrange the pets. Goat of Travail retreats; it and Goat of Terror reposition, hoping to run around the huge stalagmite and outflank Elemental. Stampy moves in to meat-shield for us.
Stampy attempts to gore Elemental.
Balcoth charges Elemental, attacking between Stampy and a stone spire, using Powerattack for 5, Expertise for 5. The total of -10 to hit from these maneuvers is too much, and he misses.
Elemental full-attack action. On Stampy's death, Elemental uses Cleave to hit Balcoth for 38 damage (Bludgeoning).
Balcoth: "You barely hit..."
GM: "44 barely hit?"
A portion of the damage is warded away by the DR from Balcoth's Adamantite Plate armor, then half of the remaining damage is redirected to the NPC cleric by his Shield Other spell.
Azheron hits Elemental with another Orb of Force for 41 damage (Force).
Omit shoots three Fire arrows into Elemental. All three hit, and the lowest to-hit roll was 27, giving us a much better idea of its AC.
Verian blasts Elemental with Energy Ray: Fire, for 58 damage (Fire).
Grimbeard wanted to heal Balcoth, but after Damage Reduction, the half of the damage absorbed by Grimbeard himself (transfered by Shield Other) and the temporary HP granted by his Aid buff, Balcoth doesn't need healing.
Grimbeard drops a small cure spell on himself.
Balcoth full-attacks Elemental with Power Attack:5, Expertise:3, hitting for 31 (Bludgeoning). Roughly 1/3 of the damage is warded away.
The Artificial Goats make a two-pronged attack, suffering significant damage from Elemental's attacks of opportunity (reach), and inflicting little or none in return.
Elemental hits the fells Goat of Terror with 35 damage, Cleaves the Goat of Travail for 37 damage, finishing it off.
Elemental sinks into the ground and out of sight.
As it escapes, Balcoth strikes it for 22 damage (Slashing) on his attack of opportunity. About half of his damage is absorbed by Elemental's damage reduction.
Balcoth regroups, and Grimbeard stays near.
The pansy characters rearrange slightly, unsure where Elemental will come from next.
The heroes nervously ready their actions for the first sight of the enemy re-emerging.
Elemental pops out near Azheron.
Azheron: "Again I have the aggro..."
GM: "Come on, look-"
Balcoth: "Don't charge." [Charging into melee is considered to be the #1 cause of Azheron deaths]
Azheron: "THIS character will NEVER charge."
Verian uses his readied action to snap off an Energy Ray(Fire) for 60 damage.
Azheron uses his readied action to cast a Fireball for 27 damage.
Elemental continues its action, scoring a critical hit on Azheron, but rolling astoundingly badly, for a total of 36 damage.
Momentarily forgetting the new information restriction, GM let slip that Elemental's attack roll hit AC 48.
GM: ...and it's a critical!
Azheron: Oh, big surprise.
GM: That's like my first crit ever on you in weeks.
Verian: There are LOTS of Azheron characters on the heap with "critical" written all over them.
Omit uses a Scroll of Summon Monster VI (which we got off the Lich) to summon a Fiendish Rhinocerus.
Fiendish Rhinocerus hits Elemental with its horn for 20 damage (Piercing). Half of the damage is prevented.
Elemental beats the Rhinocerus into the ground then repositions to be within reach of the entire party for next turn.
Omit had selected the Fiendish Rhinocerus from the Summon Monster VI list specifically because it had a chance of taking more than one hit for Elemental to kill. It did its job.
GM: [Ponders Elemental's next action] "I wanna kill Verian."
Azheron:[Shudders] Great, that means I'm dead now...
Elemental's first attack hits Verian for 35.
Verian: "That takes out most of my Vigor spell."
Elemental's second attack hits Verian for 31.
Verian: "That hurts me..."
Azheron finishes off Elemental with an Arc of Electricity for 39 damage (Electricity).
Of note, there was something of an exchange when Azheron popped off his first Orb of Force spell...
GM: Orb of FORCE?
Azheron: Yeah. It caps out at 10d6. The other ones all cap at 15d6 and have a special effect the target has to save against. So in one level, the other ones will already all be better. [Azheron is currently only CL 10, whereas when he levels he will get 11d6 with the non-Force Orb spells.]
GM: It's FORCE! It affects EVERYTHING.
Verian: That's why it does less.
GM: No no, that spell is brutal. I don't like that at all. It's like a one-stop solution to all problems...
Azheron: You looked at all the spells. You said the Orbs were okay. GM: I didn't see that one, okay? It was just a quick look through. But surely you can see that you can't have a 4th level spell that does 10d6 Force damage, with no save? [There is one Orb spell (and a lesser version) for each of the five main energy types, so it is understandable to have flipped through them and missed the Force one, it being the "odd-one-out" from that perspective]
Verian: It's not that much more than an Empowered Magic Missile, which would be a 3rd level spell equivalent, and has no to-hit roll. This is a level 4 single-target spell.
Omit: There's a Greater Magic Missile spell in another book, that does-"
GM: [Sigh, really heartfelt...] We'll review it at a later time.
Yet strangely enough, GM was no more pleased after the fight... As though he expected this 8-round battle to go more like 28 rounds, particularly with the amount of warning and prep time he gave us.
GM: [His tone is almost (but not quite) accusatory] You guys did 250+ spell damage to it.
Omit: We have two nukers now.
Once again, GM is frustrated to find a flaw which appears major to him, and utterly unconcerning (if not positive) to the other players. In any case, the Elemental's body "poofs", leaving none of its valuable gemstone behind, which indicates that it was brought physically from its home plane the hard way, rather than being conjured via the usual Summon spells and made out of local materials. However, it drops one large Gem, which turns out to be a Stone of Earth Elemental control/summoning. With his "dying" breath, Garam-arush-arom-arom-arush thanks us and "lends" us this powerful magic gem, requesting that we return it some day. Searching the tomb, we uncover little else of value. The body lying in state is so old that even its armor appears to have decayed away. Only an old not-very-special looking warhammer remained intact. However, when Balcoth grasped the hammer, he was beset by visions and fell unconscious. We were unable to wake him.
Omit: Can we wake him with water on his face?
GM: No, he's really out.
Azheron: I start stripping off his armor, does THAT wake him?
Azheron: Okay, nothing we can do will wake him.
Balcoth: [Unconscious] Make sure you get my elephant. [The Figurine of Wondrous Power that summons Stampy is left wherever the conjured elephant dies.]
Verian: I'm sure you would have remembered to grab it before walking over and knocking yourself unconscious with a hammer.
And finally, I can't really figure out from my notes what inspired this exchange, but for the record, I'm sure GM was annoying Omit in some manner (whether or not Omits frustration was warranted is not recorded):
Omit: GM, how would you like it if I shove the Manual of the Planes up your ass?
Azheron: I wouldn't like it! It's my book!
Verian: No, I think that's just the old 3.0 one.
Omit: Yeah, this is the obsolete one.
Azheron: Oh, okay then.
[In case anyone is at all confused, I should make it clear that we DO NOT sit around referring to each other by character names. That's just my thin privacy protection method for these reports. In reality, we refer to each other by real names, and in fact we tend to do so sometimes even when we are otherwise "in character", which is pretty poor practice for roleplaying, and leads to some of us occasionally even forgetting the names of our fellow party members, particularly Azheron's characters. But anyhow...]
GM: Have a seat, Balcoth, tonight we a dispensing with the usual interrogation phase.
GM: Azheron, could you refresh out memories as to last week's events?
Azheron: We fought the big elemental, he tore all our summons to shreds then "randomly" aggroed onto me...
GM: [Exasperated Sigh at the implications of "randomly aggroed onto Azheron"]
Azheron: ...Then we killed it, and Balcoth picked up the hammer from the tomb and fell unconscious.
GM: Thank you, that pretty much covers it. Now, on a related note, the following spells have been changed: Stupid Force Orb has been changed from 1d6 per level (capped at 10d6) to 1d4 per level (capped at 10d4). That is all.
Verian: So now it hardly does any more than an Empowered Magic Missile spell, which is only level 3, and hits automatically, whereas Force Orb is level 4 and has a To-Hit roll.
BY THE NUMBERS: [As cast by a 10th level Wizad]
Orb of Force [Complete Arcane Handbook]: Level 4 Spell
10d6 average = 35 damage (Ranged Touch, No Save)
Orb of Force [nerfed]: Level 4 Spell
10d4 average = 25 damage (Ranged Touch, No Save)
Magic Missile [PHB]: Level 1 Spell
5d4+5 average = 17.5 damage (Autohit, No Save)
Magic Missile [w/Empower Feat]: Level 3 Spell
(5d4+5) x 1.5 average = 26.25 damage (Autohit, No Save)
GM: I have a strong dislike of efficient Force effects, or anything else that seems to present an ideal solution to all problems.
Verian: So you don't want us going into that "Force disciple" prestige class.
GM: That piece of junk? You're welcome to it...
Verian: [His "Munchkin"-sense is tingling] Really? I should go do the math and make you revisit that...
GM: You guys know that when you slip through a character, or feat, or spell because I have missed some application or combo, I generally let is go the first time, then ban or change it afterwards. But when you know, without a shadow of a doubt that something will be banned after I see it in action, why don't you just cut to the chase? Why not reduce ONCE to ZERO?
Verian: [Weakly, and perhaps a mite defensive] Sometimes the player has a different opinion than you of what is unbalanced...
Balcoth: What about when you snipped my nut-sack? [Ed: Recall that Balcoth is to be "last of the Player Character dwarfs". Dwarves in GM's game have been relegated to NPC status, but that ruling was grandfathered to permit the party's only pre-existing Dwarf, which we tend to liken to a visceral end to Balcoth (the character)'s procreative abilities.]
Azheron: Yeah, he never really tried to use them.
Balcoth: You never add in something else. Everything is always a negative contribution, to keep changing things after "review".
GM: None of my contributions are negative! - Besides which, I'm going to kill you all.
Moving on... we started out, examining the room more closely. Balcoth, being unconscious in-game, gets up to visit the kitchen and stuff. The tomb yields very little of value; in fact, nothing other than the crappy looking and apparently non-magical (and yet obviously magical) hammer Balcoth touched. GM says everything else has decayed into uselessness, including any magical items that might have been there. He later mentions that the junk has been there over 700 years, and the players balk at the idea that magic items would not only stop working, but would in fact rust away to nothing in such a short span, since most NON-magic metals would survive virtually unscathed in the sealed tomb. When Balcoth returns into the room...
GM: Balcoth, you wake up to see Omit standing over you trying to steal your stuff.
Omit: I wasn't doing anything!
GM: A likely story...
Verian: [Sarcastic] Yes, obviously Omit is trying to steal your stuff. He really wants that armor... [Omit has a VERY high dexterity, and some class-based defenses and other bonuses that don't work if he wears any armor, let alone Balcoth's 50 lbs of Adamantite.]
GM: Actually, you're pretty sure Verian Seth was trying to steal your stuff too. He's been after it for some time...
Balcoth: Whatever. So what does the hammer do?
GM: Well it's made of gold and platinum, encrusted with precious jewels, and as you hold it you are sure that it is very powerful and that you should hold on to it.
Verian: But it still looks like junk to the rest of us?
Balcoth: Oh great. I'm not cursed, am I?
Azheron: "Don't put on the Ring!" [Blatant LotR reference]
GM: I'm sure it's fine. But there's a voice in your head. It says "You must slay Tyrannus."
Balcoth: Who the hell's 'Tyrannus'?
Azheron and Verian: [Together] Count Dooku. [Blatant Episode II/III reference]
And so we turned our attention to getting out of the tomb (although GM made clear that he wasn't going to hose us with "running out of oxygen" any time in the forseeable future. We got in with the help of a powerful earth elemental. But then we killed him, so THAT option is out. He left us the command words to operate the Stargate-like ring of the dimensional portal (which Garam-arush-arom-arom-arush said he had dragged down here from elsewhere in the mine tunnels in case we wished to use it), but we have no idea where it goes. From our previous experience with these portals, we know it's rarely anywhere good. GM has suggested that while we could go that way, he made sure it was not the only way out (despite the fact that the tomb's only access was a staircase, which the elemental had THOROUGHLY collapsed on Aaron Crash's orders before we killed the evil wizard.
GM: Oh that reminds me: the Stone of Earth Elemental Control that he left you summons a Huge elemental. I'm adjusting and/or clarifying that because the DMG entry is pretty unclear...
Verian: No kidding. It suggests that you get a Huge elemental unless the earth or stone available are unsuitable, in which case you only get a Large elemental. But it gives absolutely no information on what the requirements are...
GM: Yes. Now, the stone CAN be used once per day, but with this particular stone, belonging to Garam-arush-arom-arom-arush, if you use it more than once per week, you will owe favors to the beings you summon in the manner described by the spell Lesser Planar Ally.
Azheron: So we got a defective stone. So noted.
Omit: [Turning to the question of finding an alternate route out] How far down are we?
GM: There's no way to tell... "Far..."
Omit: No, I mean have Balcoth figure it our using his Dwarf senses.
GM: They can't just sense how deep they are. They just have an incredible aptitude for tunnels that lets them determine whether or not it is sloping and what the grade is.
Balcoth: I'm pretty sure that part got snipped off...
Omit: [After looking it up in the PHB] Yes, he can. Dwarves automatically know their depth when they are below ground.
GM: I'm sorry, I was unaware of that. You guys are down about... 2 miles. Balcoth: a voice in your head says "Why aren't you preparing to kill Tyrannus!!"
Balcoth: Verian, you know Disintegrate, right?
Verian: I do. But it would take Eons to drill up to the surface. Ten cubic feet per casting, figure I could do it about 5 times per day and still have half my power points left for combat (after my daily buffs)...
Not a single person even thinks to ask how we'd would find anything to attack us in a sealed cavern 2 miles beneath the earth. It's just assumed that something would come along. Probably while we were sleeping.
GM: If that's your plan, then air may become an issue...
Balcoth: That's not what I meant. [It takes us a while to catch on; Balcoth is actually so concerned that he may have been cursed by the ancient hammer we found that he is already considering drastic means of removing it...]
Verian: So how long would the air last?
GM: Two days.
Azheron: [In character] "I don't like it in here. It's dark and I can't see the sky...[With a new character, and anticipating a longer lifespan than some of his ill-fated incarnations, Azheron is making efforts to roleplay his half-Air-Mephit spellcaster, but has a difficult time making and RP headway with the rest of the players still insistant on playing like cold analysts.]
Balcoth: Can you use the spell Regeneration? Like burn an arm off and grow a new one.
GM: That spell is just there to counter a bad game mechanic that normally never happens. Losing limbs is normally only a result of bad critical-hit-tables...
Verian: Or traps. Anyway, if there's no way in here, and we have no idea what's on the other side of the portal, then we should take this opportunity to rest safely, so we have all our resources for Planar D-day.
GM is visibly displeased by this notion. After "generously" giving us a chance to rest unmolested before fighting the Elemental, he was expecting us to make some effort to at least try to do the 2-3 fights per day the players had admitted to be reasonable, if not the 4 GM wanted. We had done one, and were already resting AGAIN.
GM: You may rest in peace.
Azheron: That's not what I want to hear...
GM: [The old-school Batman tune] NANA-Nana-nana-Nana-Azheron Twelve!
Azheron is not pleased by the simultaneous "many death" and "future death" allusion so 'elequently' put. Anyway, we rested safely, and with all our spells and hit points replenished we were ready to address the issue of the planar portal.
Balcoth: Worst case, if we go through and what's on the other side is really bad, we just jump back and shut it.
Azheron: And then we're stuck right back here again.
Verian: We could bull rush the enemies through the portal and then seal it.
Azheron: [Whose new character Rikkon is a Small sized frail-winged 8 Str creature, on meagre d6 hit dice] I'm not bull rushing anything. Verian: [Cheerfully encouraging] You can do it, just put your heart into it!
Azheron: [Lets his finger do the talking]
GM: When you speak the command words, the portal opens, filling the ring with a shimmering glow, but this time it is a red glow, whereas the previous portals you have seen all glowed blue.
Verian: If it is different, that may indicate that this portal is one-way, so retreat may not be an option.
Balcoth: We could... [We have already given up on all the normal ideas for testing a portal, such as sending through an expendible object tethered to a rope and trying to reel it back, since none of these ways actually work (most portals will sever such a tether in transit, leaving you no real idea if the other side is safe at all). However, Balcoth refuses to give up and is always attempting to innovate with new forms of non-magical problem-solving...] ...We could put some spin on a ball and roll it through, so that if it is clear it will inevitably spin back through. And we can check if it's hot or cold so we know if its the plane of fire or something.
Verian: That's a good idea, but it doesn't really work. I mean, if it came back it would tell us a lot, but if it doesn't return that gives us no real information. It wouldn't roll back if the surface on the other side was slanted, or too rough, or if the portal was on a different orientation. Plus, we know from previous portals that passing through generates random time-dilation; we pop out in random order rather than the order we went through. We can't know for sure if passage retains physical orientation either; didn't some of us come out of the Plane of Fire portal facing the wrong way? [No one can remember.]
Balcoth: [Giving up... for now] What about the three wounded dwarves with us?
Verian: Didn't the elemental give them to the carpet to take care of them?
GM: He said he'd take care of them if you all died. [GM seems a little disappointed that this particular contingency did not arise]
Verian: Well, we have a shortage of strong people now. Just roll them through. [In fact, the average Strength score of the four player characters is currently 11. It's lower if you factor in Grimbeard, the new NPC cleric.]
Balcoth elects to lug through his injured brethren using his superior carrying capacity (and the dwarven power to move the same under their maximum load as they do when unencumbered), rather than to give them over to such indignities. Anyway, everyone starts to fly (using their own individual means, from wings to psionics to Balcoth's magic boots) and those who can turn invisible do so. Then with one last check to make sure we haven't forgotten anything, we all pass through.
We emerge from the other side in complete darkness. Fortunately everyone by now has some form of darkvision, allowing us to percieve the nearest 60 feet of the cavernous space in clear black-and-white. The portal is lying horizontally, parallel to the ground such that the travellers are ejected upwards, and the portal beneath them appears closed - an empty space, save for the instant that each character emerges, meaning there is no return - either the gate is one-way, or the command words that would take us back (or to any other portals that may be linked with it) are different and unknown to us. In fact, Verian Seth's speculations prove eerily accurate on nearly all counts.
GM: [Once establishing that everyone does in fact have darkvision ] The portal you came through is lying on a massive cart being dragged by about twenty orcs. They look rougher than regular orcs, but still pretty orky and obviously no match for you.
Balcoth: Good. I'll kill'em all.
Verian: You could try to 'dialogue' with them...
Balcoth: Fine, I'll leave some alive.
GM: The chaos orcs have seen you now, and they are all snarling at you and waving their weapons.
Balcoth: I'll drop down and hit one.
GM: *Thunk* He dies in one hit.
Balcoth: Good, good. I have Cleave, so I'll kill four a round...
Verian: [To Omit] Do you not speak Orc?
Omit: Fine, what are they saying? [Verian knows that Omit invested heavily in the Speak Language skill, and with his high intelligence score, his list of languages resembles that of Nazi Jill's usual character in AGC.]
GM: They are cursing you and threatening you and describing how they are going to kill you. Some of them are pulling out crossbows. But I should reiterate that they are absolutely no threat to you guys. They just have no idea how outclassed they are.
Balcoth: I'll make sure to leave one batch alive. Then I'll continue on killing the rest.
GM: They ARE making efforts NOT to be slaughtered four-per-round. Spreading out and such...
GM: The ones you left alive kneel down, turn their blades towards their stomachs, and...
Omit: He didn't leave them to commit sepukku.
Balcoth: I knocked them unconscious with the flat of the blade. That's what I mean by "not killing them". I don't just walk past a bunch of guys trying to hack at me.
GM: Fine. The last ones that ARE conscious kneel down and commit suicide, cursing you as they die.
Balcoth: Alright, I'll tie up the ones I left alive, then we'll wake one of them.
GM: He starts cursing you and...
Balcoth: I didn't say I ungagged him. [Balcoth proceeds to threaten him in no uncertain terms and imply (but not actually offer) a chance of freedom if he cooperates.] Hey, is one of them the leader?
GM: No. You killed the Lieutenant - you were just butchering your way through when you noticed your axe stuck on him... "Huh? Second hit-die?"
Balcoth: Okay, NOW I un-gag him. Omit, ask this guy who he works for?
Omit: Fine. I translate his question.
GM: "I'll tell you nothing! My soul is prepared! When I die at the hands of you infidels I will travel to the glorious fiery pits, where my seven virgins await, and..."
Balcoth: Okay, I gag him and move on to the next one.
We get no useful information from the stupid religiously brainwashed orcs.
GM: Are you done torturing your captives for information?
Balcoth: [Makes very clear that he is not violating his personal concept of Lawful Good alignment in the treatment of evil monsters] I'm not torturing - not causing any pain.
Omit: We aren't getting any more out of them. We'd be better off using Speak with Dead.
Azheron: "Corpses never lie..."
Balcoth: Okay. I put my foot through his head, then I put my fist through the other one's head.
GM: Ow. You successfully defeat your bound and helpless foes.
Balcoth: That reminds me, I'll get my bindings back.
GM: [Sighs at his inability to instil any sort of conscience via his subtle but pointed wording of his responses.]
Balcoth: Whatever, they're Masterwork...
GM: Anyway, as you guys get your bearings, Verian and Balcoth begin to feel uneasy. Azheron better feel uneasy. Omit: you feel right at home. The cleric feels VERY uneasy...
Verian: [Moans. The uneasyness tends to indicate the the plane we are on is strongly tuned to an alignment, and based on the players named, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know this plane is stongly Chaotic. Verian Seth is even more uneasy than GM states, because while his character sheet says "Lawful Neutral", he has always emphasized the Lawful aspect. In fact, if he had to describe in brief why he was Lawful Neutral and not Lawful Good, it is because he feels that the importance of law and order often supercedes the individual "good".]
Azheron: [Like everyone else, reads the planar alignment loud and clear]It shouldn't affect me.
GM: [A little dismayed] You aren't Lawful Good?
Azheron: No, Chaotic Good.
GM: Balcoth, you HAVE to be Lawful...
Balcoth: Yes, it's required to be a Dwarven Defender [prestige class].
Verian: You guys pat them down for religious symbols.
Balcoth: Let's get the portal off the cart so we can use it.
GM: You're looting the CART?
Balcoth: Sure. We could put the injured dwarves on it.
GM: It is HUGE. Moving it took 20 orcs... It weighs like 2000 lbs!
Balcoth: I thought they were just there to guard it. How big IS it?
GM: It's like the size of this room!
Omit: What's it made of?
Omit: That's a lot of iron.
Balcoth: Well if we can't use it, we'd better destroy it. I'll wreck the back of the cart with my axe.
GM: Always with the axe...
Verian: Watch out; if we take it for scrap it'll get turned to tinfoil.
A Speak with Dead spell from Omit's stash yielded a little information from the "captives": now we had some names to go on.
The tinfoil comment is a loose but pointed reference to the Adamanatite affair. Way back on Lizard Island (during the sea journey we began at level 7), our rescue mission led us to a familiar-looking planar gate (blue glow, rather than red) which took us to a small fortress on the Elemental Plane of Fire. With an endless ocean of lava just outside the windows (and at least one enemy trying to launch us out into it via Telekinesis) we fought many tough battles, including the "bugged red dragon" (which inflicted maximum damage with its breath-weapon because of a misunderstanding on the properties of the Elemental Plane of Fire).
Once we'd cleared the castle of dragons and efreeti and golems and wizards and a salamander, we were able to free a djinn, who was imprisoned in a cage of foot-thick adamantite bars. The players went nuts, drooling over the adamantite, cut them out, and all of them, ESPECIALLY Balcoth, hauled as much of it as the could over great distances to find a town where they could sell it. GM was somewhat surprised by their reaction, having set up the bars as described simply because the cage needed to be strong enough to hold the djinn; the real treasure was supposed to be the djinn granting a Wish for each person. In D&D, a wish has limitations, but it is a powerful thing. When Balcoth was seriously contemplating using his Wish to have the djinn aid in transporting all the Adamantite, GM realized he may have given out too much, and amended or errated it to have been steel cored bars with only inch-thick Adamantine. When Balcoth still insisted on filling out every pound of his maximum weight allowance, jettisoning less essential gear to make room for more, GM started making more concrete assesments of the value for a mass of the metal: GM: THREE-HUNDRED THOUSAND GOLD! That was the original (solid Adamantine bars) amount. Already it had been reduced to more like 50 thousand gold, but even that was more than GM had ever intended it to be worth (that's about the value of two wishes). And so the "purity" of the Adamantine turned out to be low, to the point that players complained that the "solid adamantine bars" were now more like Adamantine-leaf coated bars, and the mass that Balcoth had been carrying was finally barely worth the effort. Figuratively speaking, GM had turned gold into lead.
We summon and load the sickly dwarves onto the Goat of Travail, but before we headed through the endless caves of The Abyss to find the Screaming Fortress of Incarceroni and its cruel master Blong Cho, and possibly even rescue some of his countless slaves... there was a little bookkeeping to cover:
GM: Balcoth, what's your Move Silent check?
Balcoth: Pretty horrible.
GM: Yeah. I need a number.
Omit: It'll be in the negatives.
Balcoth's number was pretty bad (about -7), but it turned out not to matter since Grimbeard (our brand new dwarven NPC cleric), also in full armor and heavy shield, but with less dexterity than Balcoth to mitigate the noise, rings in at around -10 Move Silently. That means if he is walking down a hallway (taking a 10 for an average MS check), he clanks loud enough that a casual observer (somebody not specifically listening for trouble) with average Wisdom and no particular Listen skill would automatically notice the sound from 100 feet away around a corner. An alert sentry with good ears could hear him coming from 300 feet or farther. That's a minute and a half's walk for a character in heavy armor.
Whether or not this blatantly out-of-character heads-up was part of the decision, Omit (whose hovering strides an alert sentry with good ears would be hard pressed to detect from 6 inches away, and whose darkvision actually extends 120 feet) decides to scout ahead. Well ahead. We don't have to travel too long...
GM: Omit, an easy spot check reveals that a group of chaos orcs are laying an ambush for the much noisier members of the party.
Like a night breeze, Omit returns swiftly to stop the party, who order Grimbeard to march in place while they decide what to do (thus keeping up the noise level so the enemy won't realize they've been detected). While contemplating possible plans of attack, Omit gets bored, so he just sneaks off and slits the throats of all the orcs himself. A couple of them clue in just in time to fire off some misses with their crossbows, but they may as well have been attacked by Batman. This leaves a different problem though, as the rest of the party catches up. The orcs were accompanied by ten or so human slaves whom we now have to deal with. The party breaks all the chains to free them.
GM: [A slave] "Who are you?" They all cower in fear after watching the slaughter.
Omit: [Thinks for only a second] "I am your God! Behold the magic goat." [Indicates the Goat of Travail, as it effortlessly lugs around the three unconscious dwarves.].
GM: They all bow down in fear and apparent reverence.
Omit: [Not sounding overly pious...] Sweeeet...
Balcoth: Find out how many other slaves are in the fortress.
Omit: I'll ask them "How many other slaves were in the fortress you came from?"
GM: [A slave] "Many... the Master has many slaves, too many to count." Another one interrupts: "This is the True master! You speak of the False Master!" The second one grabs the first one and starts bashing his head against the ground. [With almost insane fervor:] "I'm the most faithful! See how I punish the heretic!"
Balcoth: I'll walk over and kill him. Just chop his head off. "No more violence!"
Omit: "This is the Dark One. He punishes disobedience. Now everyone be silent."
GM: They shut right up, although some of them are sniffling. They stare at Balcoth, frightened out of their wits. Your reaction sure was extreme Balcoth...
Balcoth: He killed a guy... he was obviously evil.
GM: Balcoth they're all Chaotic Evil. They don't know anything else.
Balcoth: We should just kill them all then.
GM: That doesn't sound very Lawful Good.
Balcoth: They're evil... we kill them.
GM: It's possible that they are only evil because of their environment. If they were born on this plane, their whole life they've known nothing else.
Azheron: And they don't have any stuff to take when you kill them.
As much as everyone but Omit would love to be rid of them, we freed them so we have some obligation to try to keep the slaves alive. Which means (perversely enough) we have to bring them with us, where they will doubtless be exposed to harmful AoEs and other adventuring risks.
Balcoth: "Well we should chain them together then."
GM: You guys broke all the chains.
Balcoth: I have lots of chains.
GM: [The slaves] "Yes, chain us! We're not worthy!"
Balcoth: They aren't worthy of the chains... I'll use rope instead.
After travelling a ways more, with Omit revelling in his new "Divine" status only from a 120 foot scouting lead, we encountered the exact same thing. Exactly. Another group of orcs heard what sounded like an army of armored dwarves trudging down the hall, and were setting up an ambush. They all fell from spontaneous throat cancer, with pointy steel tumors that sprouted feathered wooden shafts. Leaving Omit with another ten parishioners. As the party caught up, he shared his message of faith with great enthusiasm and (being the fickle self-serving wretches that they were) they instantly converted to believe whatever they thought would result in their least immediate demise. Balcoth roped them together, but the another tussle had one of them killing another. Balcoth cut him down.
Omit: "Behold! You must forsake evil and killing, or I will be forced to feed your souls to the Evil One over there!" [Indicates Balcoth]
GM: You know, I'm in favor of turning children into Soilent Green and sending old people into space, and even I find your callous disregard for life troubling, Balcoth.
Balcoth: They're evil. Anyway, I'll free the dead ones from the ropes so they don't slow the others down.
Verian: The scary thing is, this isn't even the dumbest religion I've heard of. At least they've SEEN the magic goat.
Our path took us onward to a massive round chasm, ringed by a wide path spiralling down. The chasm went farther down than we could see, but also went upwards for miles where a tiny round patch of sky showed through. Azheron's character was all for going up, but this was impractical due to the mass of slaves plus the original three injured dwarves. It was also far more likely that the fortress was downward, since the orcs had no way to fly with the 2000 lb iron cart and the stargate... although the tunnels had branched off once, and though we chose this route based on the foot traffic and the suspicion that both routes led eventually to the fortress, it was still possible that we may have gone the wrong way.
Balcoth: Can I fly with 3 dwarves on my back?
GM: What, using them for a parachute?
Balcoth: No. I can fly...
GM: Then it depends on your carrying capacity...
Omit (with his far greater vision) spots a pair of Dretches ahead of us down the shaft. They are Demons (or are they Devils?) of the lowest rung, and not a threat on their own, but they are telepathic and we don't want to attract the attention of anything linked to their eyes. Omit follows them quietly for a ways, then sees them obliterated by a beam of light from the darkness. Now, sane people would just find another way to progress, but as adventurers, the party is powerful, not that sane, and dependant on the Game Master to set difficulty based on appropriate guidelines, so they advance to see what the deal is.
What they found was the ramp opening into a large cavern that typified the anti-geological forces that shaped the Abyss. The chamber was irregular in every regard; the floor and ceiling were uneven, and riddled with both stalagtites and stalagmites protruding up and down, and with shafts or tunnels projecting both up and down from the cavern. Not the ideal environment to encounter anything. What popped up was even less welcome... a spherical creature with one large eye at the center, and 4 eyestalks on top. Not a true beholder, but beholder-kin known as a Gauth. Lacking the full power Anti-Magic eye of its bigger cousins, or the profluence of instant-death powers, what Gauths do have is a strong Dispelling ability, multiple weak paralysis-type effects, and the means to deal damage that is not massive, not impressive, but inevitable in its consistency.
Aware (thanks to Omit) of at least a couple other lurking creatures in the shafts, and particularly after seeing a Gauth, we were very cautious. Though succeeding in their spot/listen checks, and thus able to act in the surprise round, the two arcane-ish casters, Azheron and Verian, chose not to, remaining instead invisible at least until they could determine the exact nature of the threat (in other words, line up more than 2 targets for their Area of Effect spells). Omit managed to take cover around a corner, using another of his Good Hope scrolls to boost the party's saving throws and to-hit rolls. This left only the two armored dwarves, Balcoth and Grimbeard as available targets for the Gauth. And the next Gauth, which popped out of a vertical tunnel, fired off two beams then retreated back into cover using the Flyby attack feat. Then a third Gauth, which also fired without leaving itself exposed for more than an instant. Then a fourth, fifth, sixth... and another six. Several of the twelve beholder-kin were forced to drift away from their hidey-holes to get line of sight, and were stranded out in the open, but more than half were able to attack with relative impunity, using two eye-stalks (a free action) and then retreating back to safety. Each attacking Gauth chose two of its four eyes; the Dispel Magic eye (ray automatically stripping two spell effects with our House dispelling rules), a paralysis eye (ray and Will save DC 17, which if failed would paralyze long enough to take you completely out of the battle), a single Scorching Ray (ray, 4d6 fire damage, no save), and a Cause Wounds (ray, 3d8+5 negative energy damage, Will 17 for half). And later in the battle, when closer, their main eye provided a Gaze attack with Will DC 19 capable of Stunning for several rounds.
Balcoth: What a gay-ass room.
Azheron: I don't think they have [the spell] Geas, and besides, Geas has no save.
Balcoth, in truth, shrugged off these attacks. His touch Armor Class (quite impressive compared to most full plate wearers) was high enough to reduce the number of hits somewhat, his Ring of Fire Resistance reduced the average net Searing Ray damage to between zero and four, and his high Will save (quite impressive compared to most non-spellcasters, thanks to his Crystal Mask of Mindarmor and his dwarven bonus against magic saves) left him taking half damage from the Cause Wounds rays, and with very little chance of paralysis. Grimbeard, however, was bloodied by the assault, since he was an easy target for the rays and lacked the Fire Resistance. The only other target visible, the Goat of Travail, was left unscathed for now, in favor of the nearer, more humanoid targets.
Azheron: I say we leave the "Eye-pods" where they are.
Balcoth: Screw this. I'm not going into the heart of the Death Star.
Omit: As far as I'm concerned they can all ray each other in the butt!
As my deadline has arrived, you will all be thrilled to hear that this report is already pretty darn long, PLUS, I happen to know that the following week was a little... er... light on content, and thus should benefit from being combined with the conclusion of this week. Therefore, I should subject you all to another obnoxious
TO BE CONTINUED...
Will ANYONE survive the 12-Gauth ambush? How much complaining will that entail? All this and more in next week's D&D Excerpt!
Well, in the end I had enough material that I didn't have to combine this report with the next week (although I anticipate some combined-week posts for some fairly slow weeks that followed this one). Just to clear up (in advance) in case there is any confusion at all: our gaming group is all male. Anything that looks like I'm referring to Azheron as "she" is actually referring to his character Rikkon, who is female. I try to keep this clear, but I don't want a bunch of confused comments...
[At this point, nobody had any desire to remain and have a shootout with a veritable army of opponents who could partially outmaneuver even flying melee combattants, and who could use the massive natural advantage of the terrain to avoid being blasted en-masse by area attacks. However, the concern which made the situation truly untenable was that retreating up the ramp into the massive chasm would leave even more space to spread out, allowing them still to avoid area attacks, and giving no real opportunity to escape.]
Grimbeard cast Prayer to try to help with the saving throw problems. Omit cast a Wall of Stone from a scroll (he'd been saving that one; normally he uses the indestructible Wall of Force spell, but he knows that would be dispelled by the Gauths, whereas Wall of Stone is unique in that it creates a real, solid stone wall instanteneously, such that it is not subject to Dispel Magic) and retreats back a huge distance up the ramp. Balcoth (disliking being one of the only targets) also retreats. Verian and Azheron, glad that at least these enemies lack countermeasures against their invisibility rings, are still hovering around, readied, trying desperately to find an opening to hit multiple targets with their spells. Neither of them wishes to risk exposing themself until they have the opportunity to reduce the volume of fire incoming. With the Wall in place, the enemies will necessarily have to come closer to aim over it, or at least expose themselves further.
As with most real world battles, things hit the fan surprisingly fast, with no real way out, and without a cohesive plan on the player's side, the veritable battery of beam weapons cut into Grimbeard who, having rolled bad initiative, acted last every round - after the rest of the visible characters acted and after the monsters' attack, and was thus left (along with the Goat of Travail) being the only target near enough to be attacked practically by the Gauths. Though this round the Gauths did waste a few shots on the poor magic goat, they drew closer to the wall (or rose up to the ceiling to get an angle over it) and systematically burned down the NPC cleric, the last hit dropping him below -9 into permanent death almost before anyone realised. It was only then tha Verian saw his first realistic opening - three of the obnoxious orbs lined up with altitudes in close enough sequence, and Verian revealed himself by firing off a bolt of fire, injuring them severely (almost 60 damage), but the situation took on an even more dire dimension as they proved to have more hit points than Verian could deal damage in a single attack.
Verian, angered that he had been unable to save Grimbeard, had acted last in that round only because he had readied his action earlier. His actual initiative was high, so he was able to act again almost immediately (after Omit, of course, who sprung into action, and finished one of the injured ones in a hail of arrows, showing their hit points to be in the 70-90 range). Verian, measuring the deadly risks against the maximum potential damage that he could deal, soars brazenly over the wall and down, positioning himself to fire another fiery beam of psionic energy, this time cutting through one Gauth right next to him, plus three more that were clustering just behind the wall where they had been making popup attacks. Though one of the saved, most suffered damage in the mid-fifties, before turning angrily to retort.
Less than half of the Gauths had the opportunity to act before Azheron's initiative, at which point Verian was certain many of the wounded foes would begin to fall, but he rapidly realized that he had miscalculated in one regard. Although his Overland Flight psionic power (one level higher than the Arcane equivalent) was too powerful to be touched by the Gauths' Dispel Magic, the Fire protection he had been counting on, although he could use it as an immediate action, would stop at most one Searing Ray before being Dispelled. One more ray would easily erase Omit and Grimbeard's saving throw buffs from him, at which point even the paralysis effect had a small chance of success. As he was targetted by the first ray, Verian ran through his normally impressive list of defenses and found nothing that would stand up under the barrage of dispelling. He realized that his chances of survival had dropped to neglidgeable, even if his allies were successful at capitalizing on the damage he had caused...
Each Gauth can only fire 2 rays per turn in any given 90 degree arc,
GM was doing his best to manage the Gauths impartially: as he had put it, his job is to design enemies to be efficient, design encounters to be lethal, but once the battle starts he is only an adjudicator, and it is his job not only to be impartial, but also to have each creature act according to its own intelligence. This is not an easy thing to do; just as players have to try to avoid using "player knowledge" (if you read the AGC comic archives you know all about this), similarly monsters should not be able to act on information which they don't have, information they have no means to have acquired, plus some monsters have different behaviors listed in the book: some of them are fiendish tactics, but some are not-so-bright (some enemies are dumb enough that they simply attack the nearest foe, for example). In this case, the Gauths are not unintelligent, and they know (whether by instinct or experience) the best tactics for their own mix of flying maneuvers and ranged attacks, but they are not overly cogent of their foes. In particular, they are not good at determining whether a foe is immune to one or more of their powers. They just keep trying until it works.
but many of them were also close enough to use the Stun gaze of their central eye on the Psionicist (a standard action, meaning it takes just over half of their turn to do so, although their eyestalks fire as a free action). GM had them firing randomly selected rays, since they aren't really smart enough to evaluate how well their attacks are working on the target (they just keep shooting until everything is dead). Initially, any ray generating a status effect with a saving throw (Paralysis, Sleep, Exhaustion) was highly unlikely to succeed, and Verian was partially covering his eyes to avoid the gaze attacks of many of them (partially averting eyes gives a 50% chance to avoid any gaze, and though it normally generates penalties, those penalties did not really apply to the area attack he was using - it's hard to miss with a five-foot wide beam that hits everything in its path). However, things were far more dire than that. The difficulty of the Stun gaze saving throw was higher than that of the rays from the smaller eyestalks, and although he avoided some of them, Verian was forced to save against several of them, and failed one, forcing him to use the power of his Luckblade. The reroll allowed him to escape that stun, but usable only once per day, it was one less defense available to him.
Gauths began to open fire. They still had to roll to hit, but rays are touch attacks, ignoring armor, and Verian's touch armor class was not high enough to pose much of a challenge to them. He shrugged off a Sleep ray, was burned by a Searing ray, ignored a Paralysis ray... but attacks kept coming. He saved against several Cause Wounds rays, but those ones are "save for half", so the damage kept coming, wearing him down. A Dispel magic ray hit, and with no save, stripped off the Prayer and Good Hope buffs which had been augmenting his saving throws, and suddenly each ray was 15% more likely to affect him (or 300% more effective, from the perspective that 4 pips on a d20 now represented a failure, rather than just 1). A couple more damage rays struck him, and excess Dispels bounced off - unable to strip away his mental flight power, and already having removed all lesser enchantments. But the relentless assault continued, and as his body jerked back and forth, one of the orbs behind him focused its gaze into a beam, and Verian rolled a 2. He was Stunnd (the random duration came up only 2 rounds, but two rounds of this pounding was more than it would take...). Now he could no longer dodge AND attackers gained +2 to hit. They no longer needed to roll, their rays would all hit automatically. Verian's body fell limp, bobbing listlessly in the air, shuddering under the continued attacks.
Azheron's initiative finally came up, and "decloaking", his mephling glided over a couple wingbeats and drew a line in the air between her slender blue index fingers - a line that was echoed by a fierce Arc of Lightning from one Gauth to another, catching a third target in between. The massive release of arcane electricity ruptured their central eyes, which spilled fluid like burst water-balloons as the bizarre creatures floated lazily downward, their extended eye stalks twitching uncontrolledly. Three of the orbs which had been wounded by Verian were terminated, but dozens of other eyes perked up, assessing the new attacker; a new target. Balcoth advanced cautiously, but to fly up above over the wall now would make him a target for many Gauths currently hidden behind it. For the moment, he grabbed his floating shield out of the air, commanding it to fire one of its large magic spikes through the air, wounding one of the enemies.
There were still several Gauths who had yet to act. A couple of them blasted Azheron, inflicting some damage and dispelling his buffs. Then one moved past Verian and gave the players another shock - one which some of them (those more familiar with the Monstrous Manual) must have known about, but which nobody appeared to have recalled. The Gauth floated past Verian, hit Azheron with another fire ray and another failed sleep ray, but turned a paralyze ray and a Cause Wounds ray upon the motionless Verian. Gauths are limited to 2 rays per-round, per- 90-degree arc, but actually firing the eye-stalks is a free action, so if they can place themselves in between victims, they can make more attacks per round.
Azheron suffers several more attacks. While the amount of fire that stikes him is not as great as that Verian took earlier in the round, it becomes apparent that Verian's psionic micromanagement of the energy infusing his Elan body had made him much tougher than his fragile human appearance would tend to indicate, even under the tide of Dispelling. Azheron's new character (actually named Rikkon) was clearly a lot more fragile, and could not possibly take another round like this. At least she was able to remain aloft because she flew using wings, rather than magic. However, one of the Gauths attacking her also blasted motionless Verian. The heroes had thought he was limp before, but he had still been in standing position... now he leaned over twisting to the left and down and fell slowly as the energy of his psionic flight dissipated. He drifted down, spinnning very slowly until he settled on the ground - that he lost altitude control could only mean that he had lost consciousness... He was not bleeding, and though burned severely in places, Balcoth and Omit had seen him looking worse. His ordinary skin color was such a light caucasian tone that only Omit's keen eyes could make out the palor caused by the negative energy damage of the Cause Wounds spells - damage which left no marks, but was perhaps even deadlier than the burns. Omit could also detect thin shuddering breaths. But there was not much time.
Omit was acting first, so he might have a chance... but the situation was incredibly rough because whatever he might possibly do to save Verian would not necessarily help the fact that he was still in range of most of the monsters; plus, Omit was very far away, hovering just above the Wall of Stone's height, but with a large chunk of the map table between himself and Verian's body. He had a lot of thinking to do...
Omit: [Thinking hard and out loud...] Does that work...?
GM: Being the ultimate arbiter of Justice, you could ask me. Would you like to tip your hat... my apologies, tip your hand?
Omit: [Dismissively] No, it doesn't matter...
Omit was pouring over his list of one-use and charge-based items, not so much physically as mentally running through them. Counting map-squares on the board. Trying to predict the actions of his allies and the likely fire-arcs of the Gauths.
GM: You planning on doing anything there Omit?
Omit: I'm thinking...
GM: Right. So how's that comin' along?
Omit: [Still concentrating] mmmmph...
GM: Tell you what: I'll be generous. You can have another 2 minutes in addition to the 10 you've already taken.
Omit: Four and a half, actually. I'll ready my action. [After all that... how thrilling. There's really just nothing he can do.]
The Gauths take aim at Azheron, and although they put a few shots into Omit as well, his high armor class (ALL of which is touch armor class) is too much for these somewhat lower level enemies, who were counting on the fact that they make ranged touch attacks in order to affect players several levels above them. Only a very small percentage of the attacks made against Omit in this battle succeed. But Azheron takes a severe battering... And some of the Gauths attacking him line up their rear arcs and fire sleeps, and paralysis and exhaustion rays into Verian's body. And then with nothing better for their side or rear arc eyestalks to do, they scorch him with fire rays and inflict negative energy damage upon his corpse even rounds after he dies, killed not by a masterstroke or coup-de-grace, but with a casual visciousness. And there is no time to mourn, in the middle of combat, with 8 Gauths left, many of them undamaged. In fact, if retreat weren't more-or-less impossible (except for Omit and possibly Azheron if he lives long enough to go re-invis), the survivors would prefer to give up and turn tail right now. Oh, that and...
Balcoth: Wait, who has the stone? [The Stone of Earth Control we were supposed to return to the Elemental Lord, Garam-arush-arom-arom-arush]
Omit: [Can't help the irony that creeps into his voice] Verian.
Balcoth: Go get it man.
Just before Azheron's initiative, one more pops up to attack altitude (above the height of the Wall of Stone) to try and kill him before he can cast again.
Omit: I'll use my readied action before it can attack. I'm casting Polar Ray GM: Polar Ray?
Azheron: Isn't that like a level 8 spell?
GM: [Still in disbelief, although not "OMG your destroying my game!" disbelief. More of a "I can't believe you have one of those lying around!" sort of disbelief. Polar Ray was a high level spell, but couldn't possibly sway the battle much] What's the caster level on that scroll?
Verian: [Dead] Doesn't matter, it's Polar Ray.
GM: I'm counting how much money Omit has spent on this fight...
Omit: The minimum. [He means the caster level, because it sure as hell isn't the money]
GM: So it's level 15...
Omit: [Rolling] ...Holy...Crap... 83 damage.
GM: 83 damage?!? Omit: 83 damage.
GM: [Exaggerating his annoyance] You cheatin' ass... whatever...you dick...
Azheron: That's like Maximized Polar Ray...
Omit: No kidding. I rolled 9 sixes, 5 fives and 1 four!
Omit chanted, his mouth hidden beneath the darkness of his hood, reading the mystic syllable which unleashed the energy of the stained-brown roll of parchment, which partially crumbled as though the spell stored within was the only thing holding the scraps together. His arm glowed a light blue from the elbow right down to his index finger, the point of which was bright enough to make the Rikkon and Balcoth blink and shy away, though they couldn't rip their eyes from it completely. "How do YOU like it, YOU BASTARDS!" A foot wide beam of blue light eclipsed the rising orb of the Beholder-kin, encasing it in ice crystals. All its eye-stalks were instantly stilled, and the monstrous milky central eye cracked. The beam did not fade yet, instead increasing in intensity with the rushing sound of an arctic wind, blowing the frozen eyestalks right off, then virtually sandblasting away the entire frozen sphere from the outside in until there was nothing left except a patina of icy shards embedded in the stalagtites of the uneven cieling behind the space a Gauth had once occupied. Only then did the chilling illumination dissipate.
Azheron: Best Polar Ray... Ever!
GM: [Looks at Omit] You're moving up on the termination schedule.
Balcoth: He was next anyway.
GM: You don't think it was you?
Balcoth: What are you going to do to me? You suck.
GM: [Stares at Balcoth in mixed disbelief and annoyance]
Spared that last series of attacks, Azheron did not waste the time given him; he targetted the old standby of arcane casters, Fireball, hitting four of the orb-like enemies lurking about the wall, using it as cover for their "popup" attacks. A pair of them were previously wounded ones - they had suffered enough burns from Verian's fiery ectoplasm, the additional flame was too much for them and the succumbed to the pain, sinking through the air at odd angles on their natural buoyancy, smoldering from internal fires which could be seen flicking out in places from beneath their outer carapace. Two more were wounded by the fireball, but still they were still far from finished, and were enraged by the pain, and by the spectacle of their allies, who touched the ground but who, unlike the crashed zepplin they resembled, could not find rest there, touching off, and half-floating half-rolling sickly across the cave floor like ashen tumbleweeds.
GM: Back by popular demand it's the Interrogation Phase. Balcoth: Could you tell us what happened last week?
Balcoth: WE didn't bring it back!
GM: [Starts over without missing a beat] Back by unpopular demand... So Balcoth, could you refresh our memories as to the events of last week?
Balcoth: [With great reluctance]We fought through the room specifically designed to kill Verian...
Azheron: Yeah, but according to GM, every room for the last year has been specifically designed to kill Verian.
GM: I don't design anything specifically against anyone! I design each encounter to be as challenging as possible within the CR system, which has nothing to do with the actual composition of the party. Although I do always have high hopes for my mobs... So how did you handle the encounter with the Gauths?
Balcoth: I so hate this part: let's just move past it.
GM: [Misheard] I'm a smoking bastard?
Balcoth: That too. [Repeats what he ACTUALLY said]
Azheron: We went into the Gauth "whack-a-mole" room and lost Verian, thus proving my theory that if you ACTUALLY went after him instead of killing me, he might go down.
GM: Anyhow, what did you guys do about the NPCs?
Verian: There were NPCs? [His brain kicks in and he answers his own question] ...oh yeah, the lemmings.
GM: Now you know why we have these sessions.
Omit: We just left them behind. It's too bad... I kinda liked them pretending to worship me.
GM: All these poor slaves, who you simply abandoned in the dark tunnels of the Abyss because they were inconvenient to you.
Omit: I should have had them all try to eat each other first... I could have declared that the last one standing would be the Chosen One. [Chuckles to himself]
Verian: They are native to that plane, they'll be fine.
GM: ...with no concern for what might happen to them when they are recaptured. Or that they might simply starve to death.
Verian: [Slightly sarcastic] Maybe they'll find food down the Gauth-holes.
GM: Omit? What charge-based items did you expend last week?
Omit: Why this line of questioning?
GM: Just to see how much you're spending.
Omit: You can just check your notes.
GM: I could, but I want to hear it from you. [As he says this, though, GM start rifling through his papers to find his record for comparison purposes.]
Omit: There was a scroll of Wall of Stone, the scroll of Planeshift... the scroll of Polar Ray.
GM: [Still sifting through papers] ...this is kind of annoying that I can't find it, actually... Anyway, that wasn't all you used. What was the Caster Level on your scroll of Good Hope.
Omit: That wasn't a scroll. I used my wand of Good Hope. You just asked for scrolls...
GM: [Starting to be ruffled a bit by Omit's gentle grin and "helpful" tone of voice] I said "charge-based items"!
Omit: I'm sorry, I must have misheard.
Balcoth: Hey, speaking of items. I was reading some other books, and I was wondering: that big diamond we got from the elemental...
Verian: The Stone of Earth control?
Balcoth: Is it a Moaning Diamond we have? From the description there, it sounds just like ours, except it moans.
Everyone sits in stunned silence trying to get their minds around the question.
GM: It's a Stone of Earth Control. It summons an Elemental.
Azheron: [Changing the subject] So, to be clear, do we have a new gimp heal-bot?
Verian: No, I'm a Mystic Theurge [Ed: that is, his new character since Verian Seth died], so I can heal a bunch. Not as much as a full cleric of our level, but I can handle all the downtime-reducing and status-removal.
GM: And I object to the term "gimp heal-bot".
Anyhow, at the end of the previous session, Omit had Planeshifted the players to the Outlands, an outlying region around the interplanar nexus and city of Sigil, a safe ground in which anyone, even Angels and Demons, can walk without fear of attack due to the protection of a neutral entity of Deific power called the Lady of Pain, who would visit instant and final retribution upon anyone who dared break the peace in her city. GM skipped them ahead to the city, seeing no reason to slow down the game with meaningless encounters before they had a chance to meet up with Verian's new character. They passed through a commonly known portal from the Outlands into the city proper, which was actually several days travel away by foot - emerging in the back room of a bar.
GM: The barkeeper, hearing the portal, comes to greet you. "Welcome to The City of Doors [another name for Sigil]. I'll take your Head-tax now."
GM: It's a flat, per-person fee for taking the portal into somebody's property. Everyone pays it.
Azheron: "How much is it?"
GM: "1 gp/head."
Balcoth: [Jokingly] "I'm a head shorter, so I shouldn't have to pay."
GM: [Falsely jovial, with a hint of menace, or perhaps just the inherent frustration of any occupation that deals with the public] "If you don't want to pay, I can take your head instead."
The party often complains about pointless money-sinks and fees, but because this one is minor (actually 1 gp per person is very expensive in terms of a basic economy, but Sigil is a wealthier city than most, and the amount is trivial compared to the fortune carried by the players) and because the fee is relating to extradimensional teleportation, they pay up without further prompting and move out into the streets. Soon they were bumbling about the MASSIVE (weeks to walk across) metropolis and Star-Wars-Cantina-atmosphere of Sigil, looking for anyone who could help them find one of the many hidden portals back to the Prime Material Plane where most of their previous adventures had taken place. They passed by creatures of all races, species, ones from different planes, even different orders of life entirely. Natural enemies passing by each other with uneasy glances, or simply pretending not to see each other. And Omit spotted one Xeph (a brown-skinned race, reknowned for their wanderlust, and whose appearance is more or less indistinguishable from humans) in a black cloak with light-grey almost silvered spiderweb embroidery, using a short, stout quarterstaff as a walking stick in one hand, but wearing a silver spiked-gauntlet on his offhand and a broad black blindfold over his eyes. There were a lot of things on the street that were far stranger than a wealthy, strangely-garbed blind-man, but for one detail - a familiar smart-assed grin.
Omit: "Is that you?"
Verian: [Roleplaying for his new character] "It's been ages since I've seen you. You've changed quite a bit..." [The blindfolded "blind-man" sidles up quite nimbly, and Verian mimes with his cupped hand as his character whispers sidelong to Omit:] "What name are you going by these days?"
Omit: [Whispers back] "Omit." [Out loud:] "I see you have changed quite a bit as well."
Verian: [To the others] "Omit and I knew each other years ago. We knew how to get things done... my name is Rhaek. Good to meet you all." Just so you know, the 'blindfold' is actually just the way he wears his Headband of Intellect, and of course he can see just fine through it. It's easy to have black fabric look like a proper blindfold, because there is no light behind it, making it appear opaque from the outside. Even when I'm not pretending to be blind, I usually wear it this way, because even if it's a little odd, it is sometimes received better than my glowing blue eyes from having Permanencied Arcane Sight.
GM: You wouldmake Permanent the one spell that had a blatant special effect. Only you...
While we spend a moment discussing our options, trying to figure out what to do next, we were somewhat indecisive and had no idea how to find a portal back to the Prime Material plane, or even just a quiet inn to get a room and chat... and were suddenly accosted by an assortment of NPCs:
GM: A fellow comes up to you, overhearing your discussion: "I hear you are in need of a guide. I could show you around the city for only a few silver..."
Verian: [Lying smoothly in an effort to get rid of him] "I can show my friends around the city. We have no need of assistance."
Balcoth: I ignore him completely.
GM: [Abrasive NPC #1 continues] "Or you said you are looking for an inn? I can help you find a good place to stay..."
Balcoth: We don't care what he says. Let's move on.
GM: Another person comes up to you: "Would you be interested in some sweets? Spices?"
Balcoth: I ignore them all. Lets move on.
Omit: "Yes, let's go find an inn where we can catch up in peace."
GM: A small cluster of children pass by, and...
Balcoth: Given that I bought a small bag for my earplugs, they should be easier to find now.
Azheron: This is why he banned [Ed: the spell] Silence.
Omit: Do we see any inns?
Even in a weird place like this, inns ought to stand out by virtue of the big vertical signs. Even on dark-age earth, innkeepers and shops of all sorts understood the value of advertising. We found one place and headed in, seeking short term shelter more than a night's resting place, although we were of course willing to pay for the whole night for our privacy.
GM: [This establishment's barkeep] "What can I do for you?"
Verian: "We're looking for a room."
GM: "Of course, of course. All together, or separate rooms? What's your price range?"
Omit: "We're all together, but how much is your finest suite?"
GM: [Quotes a price, which I failed to record] "...but there's an extra 10% charge for dwarves."
Balcoth: I'm not staying in this inn. This guy is an ass.
Balcoth wanders out into the crowded street in search of something less annoying. He is out of luck. As the rest of the party catches up with him, the same sleaze NPC from before (Abrasive NPC#1) attempts to sell some "service" or another to help us with our most recent needs. We all ignore him and dodge into the next inn we come across. This inn is full of (and run by) ogres, who begin looking at the smaller party members with what can only be described as an "unhealthy" interest.
GM: [An Ogre] "Hey little ones." [Turns to his patrons] "Looks like the entertainment's arrived."
Verian: [Trying to pre-empt any trouble] "Hello, we're looking for a room."
GM: "Sure thing Rhaek." [Since Verian's new character, Rhaek, has been in Sigil for some time, GM is playing up the aspect that he is known by some of the locals] "I'll even give you a discount if you sing us a song of yer deeds."
GM: [Another Ogre] "Ay, is we 'avin dwarfmeat today?"
Balcoth: [To GM] Man, I've got very little self-control.
Verian: [His expression IRL clearly shows that he is trying to think of a way around this, but the character, Rhaek, has the Bluff skill, and thus his intentions are much harder to read...]
Omit: "I'll sing..."
And IRL he breaks spontaneously into a loud, bawdy inane song which he made up as he went. Now, it was as impossible to predict this as it was to record it, but the tune went: "da-da-DAAAH, do-do-DOOOH, da-da-DAAAAAAAH, dun-dun-DUNNN", except that if a verse had a word or two with far too many syllables, he would just cram it in anyway. So keeping this in mind, I'll make an attempt to recreate the song, or at least to demonstrate the gist as closely as possible...
Omit: [Loudly and with exaggerated feeling] "Take a drink, sing a song, drink and drink all night long; Crush their skulls, break their bones, eviscerate your enemies..." [He pauses for a moment and tell GM as an ultimatum:] I'm gonna keep singing till we get a room. [Launches back into song] "Bash their balls, stomp their heads, eat their brains and laugh at them"
The lyrical qualities of Omit's unrehearsed solo are not having the desired "torture him into being more reasonable" result, however. GM actually thinks it's great, and the ogres all begin to join in - although they don't know the words, they certainly help reinforce the 'melody'. The rest of the players are all laughing (so hard, in Azheron's case, that his face is beginning to redden). Omit, refuses to be defeated, and simply ups his "enthusiasm" (ie. volume) another notch.
GM: [Ogres] "Another verse!"
Omit: [Beginning to improvise even further with the general tune] "Oh the glorious romantic songs of the ogre civili-zations, as they step on everyone smaller than them." GM: [Is finally inspired to take over the tune, as the ogres of course] "Grab the dwarf, lift him up, smash his gear, drink his potions..."
Both Azheron and Verian are now having fits of laughter, and Omit, though still smiling (particularly since he got a break from singing while GM took up the tune), is looking at Balcoth, since this hits pretty close to home after the treasure-destroying-mummy, and since it played to memories of the city guard who once asked us to remove our weapons and armor and submit ourselves for "processing".
The "processing" incident has been a bone of contention since it happened, about a month before I began recording these reports. We had arrived at our destination, Aberia Del-Fayr, only to encounter guards who LITERALLY requested not only that we hand over our weapons, but our armor as well, and allow ourselves to be taken in for "processing." The word processing of course, was a poor choice, as it conjured images of Nazi or Cardassian prisons, but more importantly the players all viewed the handover of BODY ARMOR as crossing the line; we were being treated, we felt, as prisonners or criminals who had done nothing but make a dangerous journey across the desert to deliver a letter to the city's ruler. Furthermore, in additional to the actual and symbolic surrender of all our defenses, there was the issue that Balcoth's armor alone was worth more than the total amount of money that these guards would earn over the course of their entire lives. The incident resulted in drawn weapons, and the players being barred from the city. Open combat between players and guards was only narrowly avoided. The incident was so problematic (since the guards would have to spread word of a dangerous band who wouldn't submit to basic protocols, and since the players NEEDED to enter the city for their quest to continue), GM was unfortunately forced to effectively rule those events to have never happened. It was "all a dream", and instead, we travelled weeks more through dangerous desert before finally reaching the city. For an event which "never happened", the players have complained (and made snide references) about it as often as any event which DID occur, frustrating GM to no end.
Balcoth: This town sucks. We need to leave here and get back to Dom Arod's town.
GM: You just hate everything, Balcoth.
Verian: No he doesn't; he just gave a specific example of something he doesn't hate.
Balcoth departs the ogre inn, and strides relentlessly through the crowd, making a beeline for nothing in particular in a strange city about which he knows nothing except that it sucks and that everybody is a dick. And you aren't allowed to hit them, or else you're liable to have your soul destroyed by the locally-omniscient Lady of Pain. The other party members would have followed, having no desire to get separated in this place, and no particular affinity for the company in this inn, but Balcoth was in the crowds and out of sight before anyone else could even think of a way to disengage from the rowdy drunks of the ogre bar.
GM: Alright, Balcoth, you're walking along and a scantily clad female dwarf comes up to you. "My, you're a handsome one..."
Balcoth: I'm ignoring her completely as I keep going.
GM: [Still the female dwarf] "Come now, surely I could..."
Balcoth: I wouldn't know, because I can't hear her, because I'm already gone.
GM: [Sighs and presents Balcoth with several different such roleplaying opportunities, each one similarly rebuffed. Abrasive NPC #1] "Would you like to buy some Lotus extract?"
Balcoth: I don't hear him, because I refuse to acknowledge him.
GM: Another dwarf comes along and chides him: "Hey, leave the man alone, can't you see he wants nothing to do with you." The man wanders off reluctantly. "Hello good sir, you look like you be needing so help."
Balcoth: [Emphatic for the first word:] "Yes. Hi there. I'm looking for a portal back to the Prime Material plane. Do you know where I could find one?"
Verian: Oh sure, he'll deal with any NON-hooker dwarf.
GM: [Friendly NPC Dwarf] "I'm afraid I don't know where to find one myself. But there is a wandering sage who is due to come by in a couple days. I'm sure he could help you find yer way."
Balcoth: [Who had no intention of accepting any advice that would take more than a couple hours to get him out of Sigil] "Well there must be a better way than that. Do you know a better way?"
GM: [The dwarf has been trying to help, but he's stymied by this] "I'm afraid I don't. But why don't you come with me. I have a place ye can stay, and I would love to exchange tales with ye."
Balcoth: "No thanks." I'll just walk away then.
GM: [In disbelief] You're just going to walk away? "Are you sure lad? I'd be honored to offer you the hospitality of my household."
Balcoth: "Sorry. I've got to find a portal." I keep walking.
Flabberghasted that he had offered Balcoth a friendly, inoffensive, un-abrasive dwarf, eager to help, and that he had STILL chosen to avoid any interaction... baffled as to what more Balcoth could possibly want, GM turned his focus back to the rest of the party for a moment.
GM: As for the rest of you, the ogres slide you each a huge mug of the thick brown ale they are drinking. It's about this big: [indicates a container size larger than a bucket] I'm just warning you, you probably shouldn't drink it.
Azheron: Yeah, I gathered.
Omit: I'll take a sniff.
GM: It smells worse than the outhouse next to the ogre bar. After thinking about it, you decide that was dumb.
Verian: We'd better excuse ourselves to go find Balcoth.
This was easier said than done, since Balcoth had been powerwalking for minutes now, plowing past every NPC who was either annoying him, trying to get money from him, or seemed untrustworthy - which is to say, all of them. And there were no shortage of NPCs... GM just kept trying to goad a reaction out of the dour dwarf.
GM: A shabbily dressed man tugs at your sleeve. "Would you like to hear a joke? Only a copper."
Balcoth: [This was so stupid to Balcoth that he was unable to ignore it properly] "I'm not paying for a joke."
GM: [The Joker] "But you're so wealthy, and it's only a copper. Why, you armor alone must be worth..."
Balcoth: "No!" I ignore him and walk away.
GM: He pointedly walks over to another person on the street: "Would you like to hear a joke about the dwarf who whouldn't pay a copper for one of my jokes? This one is free:"
Balcoth: I can't hear him because I'm ignoring him. I have my earplugs in and I've already walked away.
GM: [The Joker] "There once was a confused dwarf, who refused to pay one copper for a joke. He was wandering aimlessly when he fell in a hole, and nobody missed him!"
Balcoth: I'll make sure there are no holes ahead of me and keep going.
GM: [Concerned that all this is going nowhere, fast] Okay, you can just wander around aimlessly FOREVER and I'll keep making NPCs for you to interract with...
Azheron: Or not interract with.
GM: ...or not. But I don't know what you want, so you're just going to keep running into things at random until you give me some idea. Do you even KNOW what you want?
GM: Then what are you looking for?
Balcoth: I can't tell you, because if I do, you'll just use it to screw me over somehow.
GM: [Cannot comprehend the mentality of utter distrust] What makes you think that I'd use it to screw you over??? Balcoth: Because every NPC we ever run into is just trying to annoy us, or get money from us, or to trick us and screw us.
GM, needless to say, is less than thrilled with this assessment, and voices his disagreement. It takes him a little while to recover from the affront, but as he has been for the whole session, he tries to goad the players into making SOME decision, or doing SOMETHING. And while he tries to get us to do anything, for every few seconds we take without taking any action, he throws another minor roleplaying encounter out there (which is somewhat counterproductive in terms of getting the PCs to make decisions or do anything proactive).
GM: A thing that resembles nothing so much as a big mass of tentacles wanders into your path. You think it's looking at you.
Balcoth: "What's up?"
GM: [In a momentary lapse of judgement] "WHAAZZZUUUUUUUUUUUP?" [Give him a break. Balcoth is causing him a lot of stress]
Balcoth: I go around it and keep walking.
GM: A half-giant woman wearing practically nothing presents herself. "Hey short-stuff, lookin' for a good time?"
Balcoth: I'm not looking for half-giants.
Verian: Let alone half-naked half-giants.
GM: [Giving it one last, more inspired try] A loud voice booms out across the crowded street: "YOU!" The crowd parts as a huge and familiar four-armed, dog-faced horned demon advances upon Balcoth.
GM: It's Bizmatorak. He stomps right up to you, bends down, and breathes in your face. "I've been looking for you."
Balcoth: Bizmatorak? Is that...
Azheron: That's the Glabrezu we wasted. [The large Demon who tried to bargain with us, didn't like our attitude and tried to slay us back in Excerpt #6: we later learned how he'd been loosed upon the world and that his name was in fact Bizmatorak.]
Balcoth: [Is suddenly greatly cheered up] "Ahahaha. Excellent."
GM: [Bizmatorak] "How brave of you to be here alone."
Balcoth: [Taking "unintimidated" to new levels] "Haha, I took your ring."
In order to truly and permanently destroy a Demon or Devil, one must do so on their home plane (the Abyss, or the Nine Hells of Bator, respectively). Otherwise, their souls are immortal; if they are slain anywhere else in the planes, they are merely banished thence, where their body is reformed and they can begin to plot revenge. When one is slain on the Prime Material plane (the place where Earth-like worlds exist), as in the case of the Glabrezu Bizmatorak, they are irrevocably banished from the Prime for 100 years, less-a-day. And they are inevitably pissed.
[Balcoth proudly displays the +3 Ring of Protection he had looted after the powerful demon's corporeal form had disappeared, infuriating Bizmatorak to no end. ]
GM: [Bizmatorak] "I'll devour your soul!" He summons some Dretches, and the lesser demons teleport in and surround you.
Balcoth: "I'm going into that bar. I'll buy you a beer."
Balcoth, being nobody's fool, does not even consider reacting to the demon's blustering and threats, seeing them for what they were - a feeble attempt to trick the dwarf into violating the Lady's Ban. Balcoth was utterly unflustered because he knew the demon had no desire to have its soul destroyed either. In fact, Bismatorak accepted his offer, took his beer and drank beside him in the bar (threatening him all the while, much to Balcoth's amusement). Finally, the Glabrezu gave up, and left on this note:
GM: [Bizmatorak] "I'll see you in 99 years, IF you even live that long."
Balcoth: [Dwarves usually live about 400 years] "I hope you do. It'll be funny. By that time you'll still be the same, and I won't even be middle aged, but I'll be level 20 or more, and you weren't even a threat when we faced you the first time."
Pardon my French, but PWNED! Well, that came out to be a lot more than I thought because of all the Roleplaying. You know what? I'm just going to stop trying to predict the length of these things in advance. See what happens to whom, and who annoys what, next time!
The players will have to forgive the loose paraphrasing of dialogue for this segment, this week's installment covers the second half of a full night of roleplaying, and I decided to expound upon these events both because some funny stuff happened, and for continuity's sake (since the early reports, where continuity didn't matter at all, it has become more the norm to actually show readers how we get "from here to there"). Therefore, forgive me if the conversations stray from the word-for-word truth, as long as they maintain the gyst. Here comes some storytelling;
Balcoth's desire to leave the interplanar metropolis of Sigil seemed to grow more urgent with every NPC who confronted him, and he was urged on also by the belief that more dwarves (like the 3 injured ones we'd been caring for as we lugged them across the universe) whom we had left behind in the undead-infested mines of the abandoned dwarven kingdom, and that they could be dying as we wandered through the city, searching for any way back to the Prime Material Plane. We decided to seek the help of the powerful Dom Arod, who was doubtless wondering what had become of us after he sent us into the desert of the ancient dwarven lands (with the sentient flying carpet Sepathula). So we set out for the magic quarter.
It wasn't too hard to get directions to the magic quarter. The zone is surrounded by a massive prismatic barrier from top to bottom (to D&D players, prismatic is a word that throws up a lot of red flags about high level spells with random and generally lethal effects; that and pretty colors). At the gate, we were met by a wizardy-lookin' gnome.
GM: [Gatekeeper] "This is the Wizard's district. Only wizards are permitted to pass. Are ANY of you wizards?"
Verian: "I am. And the rest of them are with me."
The gnome eyes the party with some suspicion. For starters, the dwarf, hefting what must be an ungodly-heavy pack with relative ease, weilding axe and shield with a handful more sheathed and holstered weapons (including but not limited to a longbow, shortsword, and a full-sized two-handed dwarven double-weapon called an Urgosh) and clad from head-to-toe in spiked adamantine armor, which, though not overly ornamented, was obviously of masterful craftsmanship and had an uncommon overabundance of complex joints and clasps... the dwarf, was obviously no wizard. The mephling (the slight blue-skinned winged female) was quite an attractive one, though her nose was far too small as far as this gnome was concerned... she was wearing light armor, which was generally enough to exclude her as a potential arcane caster, particularly as she wielded an ornate magic shortsword (actually, he would have been wrong on this account, as Rikkon is in fact a Warmage). The other two seemed a toss-up to the gatekeeper; their fine hooded cloaks had none of the telltale protrusions that would indicate armor: the one who spoke (a Xeph, or perhaps a dark-skinned Human or Maenad, or any one of a dozen races that all looked more-or-less the same to this gnome) had his hood down, and wore a blindfold and wielded only a short, stout staff - or a long walking stick, depending on your point of view - on the surface, he did not appear to be the physical type. The other one, whose black hood obscured most of his face, wielded a fine masterwork bow, but he could have had pointed ears under there, and the gatekeeper had known many elven wizards to dabble in archery. However, on closer inspection, the gnome had seen that body positioning before - the hooded one held himself in a way that looked falsely relaxed, but (without tensing up) was ready to move in any direction at a split second's notice - he was the type who could have a fireball dropped right on him, and when the smoke cleared you'd find him mysteriously unscathed. No, he didn't seem like a wizard after all. But for all the gatekeeper's experienced eye could tell him, the rules were clear:
GM: [Gatekeeper] "If you want to enter, you have to prove you're a wizard. So what about you?" [His question seemed directed at Verian's character Rhaek, who still seemed to be the only likely candidate for entry]
Verian: Well, based on my permanencied Arcane Sight, how many buffs does he have running?
GM: Hmm? The gnome? None.
Verian: Rhaek reaches up and pushes up his 'blindfold of Intellect' just enough to reveal one of his glowing blue eyes. "I could ask you the same thing; you don't have a single aura about you."
GM: [Gatekeeper, taken a little offguard] "What? Of course I'm a wizard." He casts Cantrip, making a little glowing sphere of light appear above his palm. "Now, you can't enter without proof."
Verian: [Mumbling something about Arcane Sight being a self-only arcane spell which cannot be cast or permanencied upon you by someone else] Fine. I cast Mage Hand and telekinetically snatch the light from above his hand.
GM: [Gatekeeper] "Very well, you may enter. But the rest of you cannot, unless you can also cast."
Verian: "But my companions are with me... surely if I speak for them..."
GM: [Gatekeeper] "Only wizards may enter. If they can't cast, they can't come."
The players took a moment to discuss. Verian was pretty sure that Omit could bluff, feign or otherwise hornswoggle his way in (perhaps by casting one of his minor psionics powers along with a bluff or performance check to make the gnome think it was just an unfamiliar arcane spell). Though we hand't asked, we were fairly certain that a non-wizard arcane spellcaster like Azheron could get in, but the main reason to get somebody other than Verian in was that his character, Rhaek, was a newer addition to the party who had never met Dom Arod, whose aid we were seeking. Although Azheron's new character, Rikkon, had met him very briefly, she likely wouldn't carry much more sway, appearing without any member of the original party. However, the others assured Verian that it wasn't worth the effort, since all he had to do was get in touch and say that Balcoth and Omit needed a way back to the Prime Material Plane. Plus, the others seemed more than content to avoid any excess roleplaying...
The interior of the wizard's quarter of Sigil was the kind of place that non-wizards are better off not going, if only for their own sanity. Many of the buildings featured architecture that bore no relation to structural engineering as we know it, and real-estate was of a more three-dimensional nature, with warious floating buildings and upside-down towers and such. Flying was not Rhaek's preferred form of travel, and as such he had only a pair of cheap boots of levitation should he need to access any floating structures, but as he looked around in mild bewilderment and disorientation, he remembered why in all his time in Sigil he had stayed away from this dump (not least of which was that he had started out as a priest, and thus wasn't as enthralled with the art of "extravagent mockery of physics" as most wizards seemed to be). He prefered dealing with people, seing them as simultaneously a more important quantity, and one that required more skill to manipulate than simple physics. As such, he was simultaneously relieved and annoyed when he was confronted by an (apparently) autonomous floating sphere; a "guide".
GM: [Guide] "How can I be of assistance?"
Verian: "I am trying to contact Dom Arod."
GM: [Guide] "One moment..." The crystal-ball-looking thing goes dark for a moment. Then a face appears - an individual in robes. "Yes? Who is this? You want an appointment with Dom Arod?"
Verian: "Yes. I'm a friend of Omit and Balcoth. They are here in Sigil, and have important information about their mission. When is the soonest we could get an audience with Dom Arod?"
GM: [Functionary] "That depends. There is a fee..."
Verian: [Bribes; not altogether unexpected] "How much?"
GM: [Functionary] "The Dom's time is very valuable. If you wish to speak with him it will cost 2000 gold."
Verian: [Balks] "Two-THOUSAND gold? If you simply tell him that it's about Omit and Balcoth's mission, I'm certain that he'll get back to use at his soonest convenience."
GM: [Functionary] "If you cannot provide the fee, I can't bother the Dom on your behalf."
Verian: "But surely just a message. If he finds out that Omit and Balcoth tried to contact him and you wouldn't even take a message..."
GM: [Functionary] "Do you have the 2000 gold?"
Verian: [Sighs] "I'll have to talk with them."
GM: [Functionary] "Then good day." The crystal-ball goes dark.
Verian heads back out of the wizard's quarter to inform the other characters, though of course IRL they are already deep in "discussion".
Balcoth: What the hell? Verian: So do we have any other plans? Ones that don't involve a 2000 gold bribe?
GM: Donner pipes in "We could always just pay..."
Verian: [Flatly] Donner's dead.
Balcoth: [Less flatly] So's his successor! GM: I miss having someone to RP with you...
Balcoth: What about all those punks???
GM: [Sarcastic] They were mostly just there to annoy you.
The players chose to interpret that more as a confession and less as the sardonic remark it was doubtless intended to be. What GM was really missing, it seems, was having a conduit for roleplaying whom the party needed, and therefore couldn't ditch. Although technically, the majority view amongst the players was that the NPC clerics (who were 2-3 levels below party average, stole 1/9th of our treasure and XP as their "henchman's share", and justified a small increase in the average challenge rating of encounters we had to face) were less needed and more forced. But anyway, now that Verian had taken up the mantle of party healer (or at least downtime-reducer and status-effect-remover, since his new character, Rhaek wasn't that good as a frontline battle medic), we had unburdened ourselves of any "talking-dead-weight" NPCs.
Regardless, although Omit may have been on the verge of suggesting that we pay (guessing that based on our previous dealings with him, he would almost certainly cover the 2000 for us, and possibly punish the functionary), after GM suggested it there wasn't a chance the others would go for it so he kept his silence. As the players searched around for another way, GM decided that the players seemed to have exhausted all their options, and finally relented on his "city is so big, you can't find any thing, nor anyone-who-knows-and-is-not-a-dick" motif, allowing the players to find a known portal to the Prime. The portal was accessed through a bar; the owner complained that he could no longer access the cellar because the portal had opened up right in the middle of the stairs. The players paid the head tax and passed through, emerging into a dark storage room, or possibly an attic.
The characters prepared themselves for any potential danger, checked their darkvision, then progressed out through the door. Into a high class ballroom. The heroes had only a moment to adjust to the light, and the wealthy nobles who mostly failed to notice them, when a full-armored, uniformed guard - apparently not unused to the occasional appearance of small bands of utterly unusual individuals emerging from that particular back room - checked us for invitations, and establishing the absence of such documentation he escorted us respectfully but firmly out of the mansion. Now, all this would have been perfectly acceptable except for one off note as the guard "greeted" us:
GM: [Guard] "I serve the Flaming Fist!"
Azheron: We're in Baldur's Gate...
GM: This isn't actually the Sword Coast [Ed: the setting of the popular Baldur's Gate computer RPG], I'm just borrowing the... paradigm. It creates the right atmosphere.
Outside, we try to get our bearings. We establish that we are on the Prime Material Plane (which in GM's setting is only one world, strangely enough), so we are at least on the right planet. Unfortunately, we learn that we are on another continent; we are neither in the Kingdom of Grandular (from whence we began our quest over a year ago), nor in the desert lands surrounding Aberia Del-Fayr and the now-deserted dwarven lands we had been exploring as recently as two-days previous. Either destination was a long ocean journey away - weeks, if not months. Balcoth was dismayed, making it clear that (based on information provided by that Earth elemental before we smashed him and sent him home) there were still a number of dwarves left alive, held somewhere deep in those mines, and that every passing day could see more of them suffer or even die. Though the others respected this (new to them) sense of racial/civic responsibility, there was a strong conflicting vibe amongst the others that we (A) were not in Sigil anymore (B) had basically finished with the dwarven mines (C) hadn't killed anything in hours.
As the players debated where to go from here, a wealthily-dressed, well-fed noblewoman passed by with a small entourage, and seeing such a strange group gathered in the street in the evening, she made it her business.
GM: [Blimp] "Well, what have we here?"
Omit: [Falsely polite] "Good evening, madam. Are you headed to the party?"
Nobles may be useless at virtually everything, but they have their own specialized skillsets. For example, her well trained eye may be blind to many obvious things, but cannot fail to recognize the cut, the craftsmanship and the material of Omit's robes (which though non-magical, are worth over 7000 gold).
GM: [Blimp] "Naturally. Although it's early yet. I do have to keep up appearances. But who are you? I don't recognize you, but I should compliment you on your outfit. The 'couture' is simple, yet quite elegant."
Omit: "Why, thank you. I must say you are dressed very finely this evening."
GM: [the Blimp seems well pleased] "Oh, this old thing? I'm actually heading to the tailor just this minute to pick up the new dress I commissioned for tonight."
Verian: [Leans heavily on his walking stick, and makes a "feeble old man" voice IRL] "Master, I don't wish to interrupt you but we must be going... you do not want to be late."
Omit: [Not sure yet whether to use the "out" Verian had provided in attempting to dodge a roleplaying encounter] "We are travellers from afar. We've just arrived in your fair city, my lady."
GM: [Blimp] "Well, I am definitely the person to talk to in this city. Even the Flaming Fist runs errands for me. But you have quite an interesting group there. What does the blind servant do?"
Omit: [Has just decided to enjoy this encounter] "He has served me well for years."
GM: [Blimp] "And is this a fairy you have with you?"
Azheron: [Rikkon is small, female and winged, but the similarities end there] "I'm NOT a Fairy."
Omit: "She's not a Fairy, she's actually a Pixie"
Azheron: [Casting Bigby's Chastising Finger] "Screw you, I'm not a Pixie!"
Balcoth: "We need to buy some horses. Do you know where we can get some horses?"
GM: [Blimp] "Horses? Who do you think I am little man"
Balcoth: [Correcting] "Dwarf."
GM: [Blimp] "You vulgar..." [To Omit, who has clearly duped her into thinking he was, if not her social equal, at least in similar circles] "Your servant has the tongue of a ruffian"
Azheron: [Noting that this is downright civil for Balcoth dealing with an annoying NPC] Wow, she things THAT's vulgar...
Omit: "Please forgive him. He is a highly skilled bodyguard."
Balcoth: [Though well used to this sort of creative "problem diffusing" indignity, that doesn't mean he LIKES it...] "We're just looking for a way out of here..."
GM: [Blimp] "Well he must be for you to tolerate that sort of behavior. You should have the old man teach your bodyguard to be more respectful. I am Lady [SOME FANCY NAME], and I am VERY important to the Flaming Fist. I should have him jailed just for his lip.
Omit: [Changing the subject] "So will you be seeing you at the party, Lady [SOME FANCY NAME]?"
GM: [Blimp] "Of course, but I must pick up my new dress. It wouldn't do to wear something that has been seen, and I must be sure to arrive appropriately late... for fashion's sake."
Omit: "Then I look forward to it."
Thus appeased, the plump noblewoman and her retinue headed out, doubtless to annoy some exclusive and expensive tailor before arriving at the party fashionably late.
Balcoth: [Has been holding it in admirably well up to this point] FRANCE! It's F***ing FRANCE!
Politics won out once again. Now that everybody had that lovely image runing through their heads, it was much easier for Balcoth to convince us that we didn't want to be here (despite GM's assurances that the choice was up to us - he would provide story arcs and encounters whether we stayed here, or paid the bribe to contact Dom Arod, or took the next ship back to somewhere we had been). Balcoth still wanted to get back to the mines as soon as possible, and weeks or months didn't sit well with him, so the party was going back through the portal into Sigil, to try and find a gate that would drop us much closer to where we were going.
Once it was decided that we had to have to pass back through the ballroom, Rhaek set down his Heward's Handy Haversack (and as Verian carefully wasted everyone's time in describing), pulled from the extradimensional space a long waterproof leather-covered hardwood case (this one alone, at 6-inches deep, appeared to be large enough to fill the entire main section of the backpack). He then pulled out another case of the same length but slightly lesser thickness, then removed the silver gauntlet from his left hand. Gingerly, he reached into the soft-leather-lined spiked metal glove, and withdrew a pair of keys from the flat part on the inside of the wrist. Unlocking both cases, he used his large Cloak of the Arachnida for privacy as underneath, he removed his crossed shoulder-straps (with at least one empty wand-holster) and the many grey belt-like straps that ran all down his loose black pants. Without them, the pants looked almost like cut-but-unsewn cloth as he folded them neatly and placed them in the shallow case (which had been empty). Opening the thicker case, it was full of silk and ruffs, black and yellow with a smaller box full of gold jewelry inside. By the time he was done changing, Rhaek had gone from the "ready-for-trouble" roguish look to a fine fitted black uniform-like suit, with knee length black boots worn right over his pants (and his scruffy-looking Boots of Levitation), gold buttons and trim (including four superfluous gold buttons down the forefinger of the left elbow-length black glove and four simple gold studs in his left ear). He pushed up his Headband of intellect from blindfold position to its "proper" place as a head band, letting his bangs flop overtop of it, and put on a pair of dark-frosted stained-glasses to conceal his eyes' everpresent magic-detecting blue glow. Finally, it was all topped off with yellow ruffled cuffs, sash-belt, and a yellow neck kerchief that could not be pulled off by anyone with skin even a shade lighter than Rhaek's creamy-brown tones. He looked as though he fit right in with the foppish nobles at the formal ball.
Verian: Normally I'd wear my Cloak of the Arachnida overtop, but since they saw me with it before, I'll have to pack it up this once.
Balcoth: [After the description of Verian's character's new attire, Balcoth looks at Verian as if to say "What a FRUIT!" ]
Verian: [His character carefully finishes packing and sealing his cases, returning them to their extradimensional bag. He decides NOT to ask Balcoth to play up the servant role by carying his pack.]
Azheron: [Takes the much more straightforward and logical approach to his own character Rikkon's own unusual appearance, and simply activates her Ring of Invisibility. The waif-like angelic beauty appears to simply dissolve into her native element - the air.]
Omit: [Is so skilled at such deception that he doesn't bother with props or tricks; a master like him can achieve almost as much just with a change of posture and a pack of lies. However, he lends his magical Hat of Disguise to Balcoth.]
Balcoth: [(As he has done while passing through any number of towns which had withdrawn their welcome) Uses the illusion-making headgear to make him look like different person the easy way; in this case a well-dressed human, although he can't bring himself to appear as foppish, expensive and truly at home with the idol rich as Verian's character's disguise. ]
GM: [Guard at mansion] "Name?" [He prepares to check down his invitation list]
Omit: "We're in the party of Lady [SOME FANCY NAME]."
GM: [Guard] "She hasn't arrived yet." [He doesn't even have to check the list for that. Her comings and goings are pretty obvious]
Omit: "No, she asked us to let everyone know she's running a little late. Between you and me, she is just now getting her new outfit from the tailor."
GM: [Guard] "Of course. Far be it for her to make way for the schedules of any of the other nobles and dignitaries..."
Verian: "You know how important she is to the Flaming Fist." [Somehow he manages to pronounce this without giving away whether he was in agreement with the guard's sarcastic appraisal, or whether he was making an unsubtle reminder of the Blimp's influence. The guard decides that it would be wise to get away from the conversation before it went any further.]
GM: [Guard] "Enjoy the evening."
In moments, we were back in Sigil. Even as they paid the innkeeper his head tax (again), Verian was immediately wasting more time (with the keys, and cases, and outfits) changing back to his "normal" clothes. Rhaek obviously preferred not to broadcast his wealth in this fashion, and seemed quite relieved to get back into his magic cloak (despite the fact that it was worth about 15X as much as his "noble" costume). Since it seemed unlikely that GM would provide another easy portal (no matter how much Balcoth wanted one), Omit managed to convince the others to shell out the 2000 gold bribe for Dom Arod's attention. So Verian was more or less shoved through the gate back into the wizard's quarter, contacted the functionary through the guide, watched reluctantly as his sacs of coin "poofed", and within an hour (very fast considering how powerful, important and most of all busy the Dom is), Dom Arod greeted us in person outside the gate of the Wizards' quarter.
GM: [Dom Arod] "So what happened? And where is Verian Seth?"
Balcoth: "He died"
Omit: "It was a harsh battle in the Abyss."
GM: [Dom Arod] "It must have been... Who is this?" [Points to Rhaek]
Omit:"He's an old friend of mine."
Verian: "I'm honored to meet you, Dom Arod."
GM: [The Dom eyes him suspiciously for a moment, but trusts to Omit's discretion for now. He doesn't know Rikkon too well, but he at least met her once when he was bringing her into the campaign, and knows Azheron's new character was sent by King Grandular] "Your message said that you know who was responsible for the invasion of the Dwarven Kingdom?"
Verian: [out of character] Baron Crash.
GM: AARON Crash. [Ever since the name was dropped, when the Elemental told us whose body the ass-mummy was trying to dispose of, Verian has been deliberately getting this name wrong, making it sound more ridiculous. Independant psychiatric analysis indicates this is probably misplaced aggression relating to last time Verian GMed a campaign, where nearly all his NPCs gained mocking "pet names" used by the players. "Macan Cathay" became "McCain Coffee", for example.]
Omit: We tell him all that happened.
GM: So, tell him all that happened... [He wants to get their account in-character, to see what kind of spin they put on things, and thus, what questions the Dom should ask and what his reaction should be.]
Omit: Come on GM, I have a headache and a sore throat from ogre karaoke...
GM: I liked that...
Omit: I know you did. "I give you permission to read Balcoth's mind all you want."
GM: [Dom Arod] "I'd be amenable to that..."
Balcoth: [Doesn't like the way that is going...] "OR, you could read Omit's mind. I'm stupid, He's smart..."
GM: [Dom Arod, but with a hint of GM's own eagerness] "I'd be amenable to that..."
Omit: [Moans from headache, but has NO desire to let anyone know what his character REALLY thinks about a lot of things] "We fought a lich, and then a wizard in a porcelain mask, and..."
Balcoth: [Victorious] "Here comes the verbal explanation."
And so Omit gives a detailed account of everything we had discovered since around the time when Azheron's last character (Malevaune) died, including the fact that someone had already stolen the third "Lich-box" (part of the big story-arc relating to the protection that prevents teleportation-type effects on the Prime Material Plane). After the retelling, the Dom decided this was indeed important enough to take precedence over the ancient treaties, and so he would go to the abandoned Dwarven Kingdom in person and sort it out himself, taking responsibility for any surviving dwarves still there (thus freeing Balcoth to go whence he will without worrying). Since we still wanted to return to the Prime Material Plane (to get out of Sigil), the Dom walks us towards an appropriate portal that is known to him. On the way...
Verian: Since I have Arcane Sight permanencied, I'll spend a round concentrating on it on the Dom as we go, which tells me the highest level of spell or spell-like ability which he has memorized or available right now.
GM: [Reluctant] You ass. The highest level of spell he has memorized is Level 9 [Ed: the maximum]. I try hard not to put in much higher level NPCs that overshadow the players, but he is one of the two exceptions I've had to make.
So Verian is looking inapropriately smug as the Dom stops at the edge of the "Celestial" zone of the city. The area, under the stewardship of the paragons of Lawful-Goodness in the universe, was one of the small pockets of Sigil which the Lady of Pain did not extend her control to, perhaps in accordance with ancient treaties or whatnot, it allowed various beings to stay in the city where otherwise they might not be able to maintain their strict beliefs under the Lady's no-acts-of-aggression doctrine. This allowed Celestials to pass judgement in their own way in this part of the city (and doubtless allowed Demons and Devils in their own special zones to torture the innocent and devour souls in accordance with their nature). Regardless, the Dom told us that his friends here would see us safely through the Celestials' portal to the Prime Material Plane. Omit grew uneasy... And sure enough, no sooner had the Dom left us to their care, then a problem arose.
GM: [Some Celestial] "You!" [Directed solely at Omit] "What are your intentions on the Prime?"
Omit: "I'm just going there with my friends."
GM: [Celestial, even more suspicious if that is possible] "Will you swear not to commit any crimes or evil acts while there?"
Verian: Just say "yes", lie-detection spells all suck; not only do you get a Will save, but the save DCs are low. These little ones can't cast Geas.
Balcoth: [Getting annoyed] "What is it with Omit? What does everyone have a problem with?"
GM: [Celestial] "You mean you travel with them, and you have not even told them your true heritage?"
Omit: "I myself do not know. My mother was human." [Omit's Intelligence score was verging on the supernatural. The likelyhood of him NOT being able to piece together his racial characteristics on his own was pretty slim]
GM: [Celestial] "And she did not even tell you what your father was?"
Verian: "Would you expect her to? If she even knew what it was..."
Omit: "She was raped. She never told me about her attacker."
Azheron: [Is steering clear of this discussion, since in character he hasn't known Omit very long. At least Celestials know enough to tell that his wings are due to Air Elemental heritage, rather than Fiendish in nature many fools assume... or as Omit is.]
GM: [Celestial] "The rest of you may use the portal, but this one may not."
Balcoth: "Look, he has proved himself trustworthy and saved my life countless times in the past. There is no reason to doubt him."
GM: [Celestial] "Would you swear an oath to that effect? That you would keep him from committing any villainy on the Prime?"
Balcoth: [Doesn't like the idea, but if it will allow us to get on with it.] "Uh, I guess so."
GM: They send word, and in a minute or so a Planetar [Ed: second highest rank of Celestial] strides over. "Will you swear an oath under Geas that this one will break no laws and do no evil on the Prime?"
Omit: "Forget it, let's just get out of here."
Balcoth: "Just take the Geas".
GM: [Planetar] "It is not him but you who must submit to the Geas, if you wish to vouch for him. You would be responsible for his actions; only then will we grant you access to the Prime."
Balcoth: "What?" [Looks over at Omit a lot less trustingly]
Omit: I told you, forget it. They're going to be retarded about it, we'll just find another way.
Balcoth: What happens if he breaks it?
GM: You don't die or anything...
Balcoth: How long does it last?
Azheron: 1 day/level.
Verian: So probably about 2 weeks.
Balcoth: "Your spell's bogus dude!" Let's get out of here.
Omit: I knew it was going to be like that... stupid gay-ass Celestials.
GM: [Is in disbelief] "You guys are just going to walk out?"
Omit: Hell yes.
Balcoth: You just couldn't stop making it more gay...
GM: [Candid] I was going to have a lot of fun if you'd accepted... But what are you guys going to do now?
Balcoth: It doesn't matter. They were supposed to help us, and instead they're all dicks about it... I did nothing wrong. They did wrong.
GM: They can't let through someone like him without assurances...
Balcoth: You're just railroading us.
Railroading is a pretty severe term in terms of Roleplaying Games. In a small, sealed campaign like a store-bought adventure (often called modules) there is not much outside what is written, so necessarily players are more-or-less forced down a relatively linear path (their may be multiple ways to get from point A to point B, but they are all fairly rigid and preplanned attempts to predict what players might attempt). However, in a more serious, longterm campaign, players expect a greater degree of freedom as they gain in power. Railroading suggests that the GM is overcontrolling, or at the very least lazy and poor at improvising.
GM: [Flabberghasted once again] Railroading? [Looks pleadingly at the other players]
Verian: [Seems to be chuckling silently]
GM: Railroading? He knows! [Indicates Verian] He knows how hard I've tried to give you guys options. You just refuse to do anything! I could have given you adventures in "France", or you could have shipped out from there to wherever you want... you could have looked for things to do in Sigil, you could have stayed in the Abyss - you didn't even have to go through the portal TO the Abyss! I specifically gave you the Stone of Earth Elemental summoning to avoid railroading you!"
Balcoth: Goddamn it, you're totally right. Why didn't we think of that. [That is, of using the Stone to summon an Earth Elemental to reopen the collapsed stairway from the tomb, rather than taking the portal to who knows where...]
Certainly, Balcoth would not accept some BS about chances to adventure in GM's Sigil.
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