Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Modular Preparation: In Action

To follow up on the last post I'd like to share what happened when my players encountered my plan.

Of course, they chose the entry that I considered less likely (point A on the map, below the maintenance shaft). I knew this was possible. I decided in advance that this would be a slightly easier path, provided that they are stealthy and clever in their approach. They were slightly less than successful at the stealthy part of that contingency.

They spent much of the beginning of the session talking about letting the warforged PC sink to the bottom of the river to find where the water uptake location is. I was eventually able to explain that a trip to the bottom of the river was not necessary and that the river actually seems to dry up. Humorously, they chose to never pursue that after all. They decided correctly that it would be guarded and alarmed. They asked to look at the maintenance shaft to the sewer entrance instead. I thought that they would look at it then check out the river entrance. However, they got caught in the puzzle of how to go down the maintenance shaft instead.

To my amusement, they only barely contemplated actually going down the elevator of the maintenance shaft. Instead they decided to remove the elevator and the entire housing for the elevator from the top of the shaft and to lower the rogue down on their own. This was one of those moments where as a GM, you are happy for the players to have avoided a trap and also sad that they didn't even see it. I appeased my creative ego by allowing some engineers with the siege army (pleased to have something to do) remove the casing for the PCs over night using silenced tools. In the morning the engineers showed the PCs the trap I had created on the elevator. The trap was a cleverly covered break in the chain that would lower the PCs down the shaft for 10 feet and then drop them for 7d6 damage. It wasn't only my creative ego that caused this disclosure because the trap was also there to notify the PCs that the entrance was guarded after all. This countered previous intelligence they had received and alerted them that they would be expected.

The party cast invisibility on the rogue and had the warforged lower her down the elevator shaft. She did a great job searching and found a safe path but then she kept searching the shaft. . . including along the back wall of the elevator shaft. . . where I had a defending wizard cast explosive runes. This took the 7th level rogue to 13 hit points. With the trap triggered, the defenders swarmed into the bottom of the shaft. A rogue and a ranger started firing arrows randomly into the shaft at first missing her every time, then hearing her climbing efforts helped them figure out which 1/4 of the shaft she was in, they still faced the 50% miss chance because she was invisible. The wizard then cast Contagious Fog (Spell Compendium p. 52) at the top of the shaft. Since it descends 10ft/round there was a good chance she would fail her save at some time or another. When she failed her fort save on the first opportunity, I tried to pause long enough to allow her to use an Action Point but it didn't seem to be on her mind. She failed her save on the first round in the fog. She took 4 Dex damage, contracted the shakes, and lost her hold of the rope though her harness caught her. The players continued pulling her up and eventually worked out an escape plan for her. They cast Fly on a soldier standing nearby, got his consent, and then cast Baleful Transposition on the rogue and the soldier putting the soldier into the fog and giving him the shakes disease as well.

Once the PC rogue was out of the way, the PC wizard cast a fireball down the shaft, and singed two defenders. The PCs heard warforged footsteps running away then and decided this was still the best time to storm the entrance. They did so. The warforged tank of the PCs took a lot of damage from going first including most of the arrows from two 6th level hasted rangers and an Orb of Acid to the face from a defending wizard. The PC ranger and PC warforged killed the previously ranger and wizard (previously damaged by the PC wizard's fireball) in short order. The one remaining defender dropped his bow, walked up to the warforged PC, and with a dejected look in his eye, removed a kerchief from his head revealing another explosive rune on his forehead, this detonated right in the face of the warforged PC. The look on the players faces was a moment of GM gold. I think they were genuinely stunned. Suicide bomber warforged. Unfortunately, the explosive runes did very little damage and the warforged ranger was not killed by it. The PCs took care of that for him.

I'm still debating having their consciences catch up to them for killing a now unarmed and untrapped warforged. . . but probably won't. This campaign and this group aren't ripe for that kind of dilemma. Plus, I think their reaction to kill him ASAP was very natural.

This brought them to the acid trap/gate described in the last post (point B on the North side of the sewer system). They spent an hour or so considering it and we called it a night. We're spending some time on email between sessions trying to figure it out.

The ramification of the failed sneak attempt is unfortunate. One of the defenders hit by the wizard's fireball escaped and sent a reinforcement to the entrance. Now, the defenders know which side the PCs are coming from and the necromancer that was on the other side of the outer sewer ring (location E on the map), will move his ambush to their side (point F on the map). The Skull Watch spell will switch to the other entrance to the sewers (point F). The encounter will be very difficult. They'll face a fully prepared level 9 necromancer warforged (buffed with Augmented Summoning and a host of Summon Undead spells prepared), 2 zombie ogres, and a gray render zombie are lying in wait for the PCs, plus a 7th level changeling sorcerer will Dimension Door into the combat with 2, 8th level warforged barbarians on round 3 or 4. If they deal with the necromancer quickly, they'll do alright. Otherwise, it could be very difficult.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Modular Preparation: The Path to the Final Battle

I’m blogging backwards a little bit. I recently posted a series on preparing for the Final Battle. Because that Final Battle was, in my mind, the most important thing to focus on, I spent more time preparing for it and did so first. For the players to get from where they are to that final battle I have had in mind a sewer crawl.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been preparing that sewer crawl and trying to make sense of it. This post describes all the preparations. In subsequent posts, I'll describe what happened to these best laid plans once the PCs touched them.

The PCs are heading to Forge, the first city for warforged, in the Mournlands. The history of this location in my world is that prior to the Day of Mourning, a secret Cyrian creation forge was housed in an underground research facility disguised in part, as a bucolic farming village. On the day of mourning, the occupants of the village were decimated as was every living creature in the Mournland. The creation forge remained. I began this campaign with the standard modules for Eberron, beginning with the 1-st level adventure in the back of the campaign setting. I refigured all subsequent modules so that the PCs continued searching for schemas. The PCs, pissed off Lady Elaydren from the stock modules, so their noble contact for continued searches for the schemas became the mother on a Dragon Marker Heir PC. By the end of the Vampire’s Blade module, the PCs learned that the schemas were used to create warforged and that is the reason the Lord of the Blades and practically every other faction on the continent has been trying to get the schemas from the beginning. The PCs know that there is at least one functional creation forge in the warforged city Forge. They also know that the Lord of the Blades has tried to create a second creation forge in the city but they don’t know whether or not he has gotten it working yet. He hasn't, but unbeknownst to the PCs the creation forge is set to begin creating warforged on the day that the PCs arrive to attack the Lord of the Blades.

So, my whole idea from the beginning has been to get the PCs to get into the city through sewers. I don’t know why. I just wanted that. So, I concocted a reason for sewers to exist under a former "bucolic village". The former Cyrian village was built near a small river for a very specific purpose made up by me; forges require a vast amount of cooling. They essentially have to be ringed in flowing water to not overheat with arcane energy. Now, I’ve got an excuse for a series of secret tunnels under a formerly bucolic village to maintain the creation forge. The dungeon crawl I’ve designed has three entrances. First, a natural entrance from a larger series of underground limestone tunnels which the PCs could have used to get from a monastery in a previous session. Second, up river from Forge, where the Lord of Blades has had to divert even more of the water flow to the city in order to create the second forge, the small river now dries up. By exploring the location where the water levels seem to drop most, the PCs can find stone covered drains in the bed of the river. By entering the drains, they enter the sewer crawl. The first entrance to the sewers form the natural caverns mentioned earlier intersects this second entrance at one point. Third, on the outskirts of the village, in what is now outside the outer walls of Forge, there is a maintenance shaft to the exit of the diverted water flow just before it is supposed to rejoin the river. My idea here was that there was a need to monitor the exit of the water from the system as it rejoined the river.

Sewer layout:
I had to figure out how to create the sewer system between those entry points. The fastest way would be to create a single tunnel that followed the course of the diverted river straight under the city. I decided early that this would be too linear to be a good dungeon crawl. So I put two concentric circles (G and J on the map below) on the line to start. Pretty quickly these began to look like diversion lines in case of emergency so I felt I had a pretty reasonable ecological reason for creating the extra branches. I also created tunnels (gray on the map below) aligned at 45° from the main line connecting back toward the center. My argument for these tunnels is that they make it look like a “normal” sewer so that if anyone ever got suspicious about the original bucolic village, with a far too developed sewer system, they wouldn’t have reason to believe it was anything but a pipe dream (pun intended) for an increase in the size of the village some day.

A. Main Entrances: I set up defenders at the main entrances for scenario 2 and 3 and created a map so that the same floor plan would do for both entrances. By the time the May session ended, I knew the PCs wouldn’t use the cavern entrance.

B. Acid Trap/Gate: I placed an acid trap/gate that I dreamed up next. Literally I woke up in the morning with a dream with a fully engineered acid trap. The PCs might be able to muscle their way through the acid trap but if they spend some time to figure it out they won’t take any damage. I play tested this trap with my 6 year old and she got it in 5 minutes so I think my adult players will get it eventually.

From there, if approaching from up river (the bottom of the map below), the series of encounters are different.

C. A water purification room. This room is laced with pipes and the hum of a controlled water elemental removing large detritus from the incoming water. This room is guarded by a couple of opportunistic Fiendish Chokers that have taken up residence to eat the random organic matter filtered out of the water.

E. From there the PCs will find the sewers littered with the undecaying bodies of former Cyrians before they reach juncture F. At the juncture where the entrance tunnel leads to the emergency diversion lines, some of those bodies will be strategically arranged zombies (2 ogre zombies and 1 Gray Render Zombie) and their warforged necromancer master waiting to ambush the PCs. This was designed to be a very difficult encounter.

From down river, after the acid trap, the encounters are a little different. I considered this the least likely path the PCs would take.

D. Warforged Titans. They enter a room of the same dimensions as the water purification room in the up river path but here it is guarded by 2 warforged titans and an artificer.

F. The tunnel nexus from this direction will be guarded only by a Skull Watch spell (Spell Compendium p.191) set by the necromancer lying in wait nearly a ¼ mile away at the other entrance point E. This Skull Watch spell can be avoided if the PCs are using their bull’s eye lantern and succeed in a spot check instead of neck coins with everburning light cast on them (which they often use instead). Hopefully, the description of the tunnel reaching beyond their sight will prompt the lantern use.

G. The outer sewer ring (due to the curvature of the pipe, visibility is 80 ft.) is also patrolled by a sorcerer warforged and two barbarian warforged. They will dimension door to the Skull Watch trap after a couple rounds of buffing.

Last Prelude:
From there the two paths are essentially just mirrors of one another. If the PCs, bypassed the necromancer and the sorcerer patrol party but make a lot of noise, they may have to face those encounters anyway.

H. These intersections are locked grates (both the necromancer and the sorcerer have keys).

I. Here, is what I call "The Chained Man Dilemma". These are locked grates again though there are no keys within the crawl to these grates. In the intersection, undecaying Cyrian soldiers have been chained (with adamantine chain thank you very much) to the grates. The grates open away from the chained man so there is no immediate way to open the grates without pulling on the chained man. These undecaying bodies will cry out if moved. And above their heads, there is an open sewer grate which could alert the warforged above.
From within the four identical nexus points, the PCs can see the inner circle (marked J and colored red). And they can see the entrance to the smaller tunnels marked K. But all four of the tunnels (marked K) are closed off by a wall of compressed warforged bodies; the victims of the Lord of the Blades resolving an insurgency against him. Searches can reveal a hidden handmade entrance that the PCs can just barely squeeze through crawling. If this is a high tension moment, they may encounter an NPC emerging from one of these secret tunnels. This NPC is Chiron, the former cleric to the Lord of the Blades who survived the insurgency and created the secret passages through the Crushed warforged bodies.

L. Each circle here marks one of the creation forges. The one in the North (top of the map) is the new one being started on the day the PCs intend to confront the Lord of the Blades. It is creating a bridge to Dal Quor to create warforged bodies with Quori spirits. On the surface, the forges are marked by pyramids (indicated on the map by the square around the circle.

M. The secret passage brings the PCs to a small room beneath a sewer grate in the center of audience area for the amphitheater described in my Final Battle Encounter. Chiron will tell the PCs that the Lord of the Blades is expected to come out and address the crowd from the dais the next day. The Lord of the Blades has established a hierarchy based on might by which anyone can challenge a higher up to over rule that person. He proposes that you all challenge the Lord of the Blades and depose him. They’ll have a couple of choices then. They can rest for a day in this secret passage, dimension door or sneak to one of the towers near the dais and rest there, or dimension door or sneak to another location within the city walls after questioning Chiron. They could go into one of the creation forges where I created an alternate final battle terrain once I realized that would be a viable option. They could try to connect with other insurgent members in the city, or they could go some other crazy, unpredicted path which I can’t prepare for. I’m expecting one way or another for them to rest and regain spells.


Setting the final scene:
During the night they will hear the wind whip up. I'm now imaging the weird weather effects as the result of starting this second creation forge which is actually a way of creating Inspired warforged so the creation forge has been altered by making planar connections to Dal Quor. In the morning, the cleric will wake a little before the time for his prayers and realize he has been filled with the power of his deity and can heal and cast restoration spells as necessary. This will catch them up and allow the cleric and wizard to memorize new spells at the time of dawn. During this time, they will hear or see, a crowd gathering in audience before the amphitheater. Once they have cast their preparation spells, Screw, the inspired warforged and replacement cleric to the Lord of the Blade will emerge and pick a tower (not the one the PCs are in) to begin his public address. The mother of the rogue PC will be brought forward after Screw has whipped the crowd up a bit. Whipping the crowd up will describe how she (through hiring the PCs to secure creation schemas) had sought to deprive the warforged of their ability to reproduce. He will also announce that today the new forge will become active. Screw will then accuse her of crimes against the warforged for which the only penalty can be death:

“A death delivered by our leader, our champion, our ideal. The Lord of the Blades.”

The Lord of Blades will emerge then and with little ceremony move forward to kill the Rogue’s mother.

Roll initiative.