Dream Project 2 – Exploring Decolay
When we last left our game, the citizens of Meersha had fled a dragon who had taken over their town. They arrived at their theoretical refuge to find the city of Decolay in ruins, and took refuge in an empty, abandoned fortress overlooking the town. The purpose of some of the strange structures there was revealed when the party found themselves sharing a dream, where they encountered the private demons of a long-dead eladrin noblewoman and saw echoes of a tiefling scholar named Sampa.
The dream was experienced by five people:
Etzlojek, kobold rogue and lover of fine things, adopted by the town’s general store owner
Eva, student of the local ritual mage and magic shop owner, who seems like a perfectly normal human wizard
Donaar, dragonborn warlock, who ended up in town after his home city was overrun by undead
Diesa, stalwart dwarven fighter grossed out by bugs, who was visiting family in town
Sully, formerly-retired half-elf paladin of Erathis and party NPC, who ran the tavern in Meersha.
This is level two. Note that I began doubling experience at this point.
The party awoke and gathered together. There were some awkward inquiries before they established that yes, they had all had the same dream. Since it seemed the townsfolk would be staying there for a while, the party organized some local farmers to begin clearing abandoned fields next to the tower, and got some of the young people in town to act as guards for when the party was away. Once this was done, one of the kids that was exploring the fortress ran up and asked if they’d “seen the hidden door.”
The kid was a gentle nudge to the party, as their actions and agenda suggested they’d forgotten about or not recognized the significance of the final vision with Sampa.
The party investigated this door, and found that there was a section of the ramparts above the main gate that was blocked off with a hidden door. On the door was the faint engraving of a beholder. After a roll, they realized that this beholder may be connected to the beholder bas relief on the tower and to the beholder in the dream. Eva headed over to the tower and pushed on the eye that Sampa had gestured to in the dream, and the door slid open.
I still felt the need to offer an INT roll to remind the party of the clue. Evidently I had not telegraphed it strongly enough, or hadn’t been clear enough about the connection… or maybe the players had a hard time remembering something that happened at the very end of the last session just after an intense combat and connecting it with something they’d seen two weeks or more before.
Behind the door was an odd device made from metal and wood. They wheeled it out and unfolded it and discovered that it was a small ballista designed to be fired from the ramparts. Behind the ballista was a small control room. A stone pedestal bore strange runes and crystals. After much investigation, the party found that there were two crystals of the same color assigned to each PC, set into two rows of sockets, and that if both crystals of a pair were in sockets aligned vertically, the crystal would glow when the assigned PC was near. With the help of a textbook on runes that was left behind by Sampa, they found that the top row of sockets was labeled something about bypassing a night wall, and the bottom row was some sort of perimeter activation.
There were also four pairs of buttons that turned on and off various magical force walls to supplement the fortress’s defenses. They got their impromptu guards to man the control panel and headed for the city, sealing the force walls behind them.
The party took a different route through the city, and narrowly avoided falling into a makeshift pit trap that would have dumped them in a cellar with a rat swarm. They dispatched the rats, defused the traps, and gathered some supplies from the cellar. These included a Bag of Holding.
3 Pit Traps
8 Alchemist Fire Mines (custom minion traps)
1 Rat Swarm
This encounter was a classic example of successful character building and tactics. They took some damage, but passed it quite readily. The instinct of a GM in this situation can be to not award XP for such an encounter, or to up the difficulty when the party is doing well, or reduce the rewards. Bad idea. The party planned right, acted right, and so they rightfully defeated the encounter and got full XP.
The party moved on and soon found themselves at the site of the previous night’s encounter with ghosts, near the body of the crucified orc. Ghostly voices tried to dissuade them again. Maybe it was the light of day, or simple stubbornness, but the party refused to stop. Before they got past the intersection a small, cloaked figure jumped down from a rooftop and bade them to stop in a croaky voice. They learned that he was Calyx, a Wingtip of the Ravencrows, and he asked after their business in town. They said they were exploring and possibly looking for supplies. He offered to let them meet with his leader if they agreed to go blindfolded with their weapons tied into their sheathes. The party reluctantly agreed.
The Ravencrows are a tribe of Kenku. Kenku are a really cool avian race from the fourth edition Monster Manual 2.
The party met with the Ravencrow Beak, an old bird named Wrax. He offered a trade agreement if the party would show their good intentions by taking care of a little problem. A hatchling dragon had showed up in a cistern near the Ravencrows’ settlement, and they were reluctant to fight it themselves. The party agreed to take a whack at it. Donaar agreed the loudest; as a dragonborn, he has some historical resentment of how dragons treated his people, so he’s always willing to fight a dragon. Calyx led the party to the site: a sinkhole in a courtyard.
This was my biggest skill challenge failure of the campaign so far. There were three skill challenges in a row here: one to find the Ravencrows posing as ghosts, one to convince Calyx to parlay, and one to arrange passage with Wrax. I didn’t announce any of these as skill challenges; I tried running them under the radar. The party rushed the first, choosing to just keep walking, which forced my hand and caused several artificial-feeling rolls. The second challenge worked about how I expected. The final challenge, however, came down to a bunch of talking from one player, and I finally just waived it instead of having him make repeated Diplomacy checks. In retrospect, I should have guided the negotiations with Wrax so that more varied checks were required, and used a Burning-Wheel-style “Let it Ride” rule on Diplomacy: “Eva, you rolled well once, so you get one success on the challenge, speak convincingly, and don’t roll again unless circumstances change.”
The party descended into the sinkhole, and fought the baby dragon and various hangers-on.
Black Dragon Wyrmling
12 Clutching Roaches (reskinned from Crawling Claws)
2 Fire Beetles
Two interesting things happened in this encounter. First, one of the fire beetles proved very difficult to hit; most rolls against it failed, even when it was fleeing for its life. The party decided that it was another prime example of insect evolution, and captured it for possible cross-breeding with the “superbug” from the dream. Second, just before the dragon died, Diesa suddenly grappled it and drank its blood. She felt ill afterwards, and the party became rather wary, but she showed no other vampiric tendencies. She did, however, gain a Legendary Boon from it that provided acid resistance and similar effects. Boons are cool alternatives to magic items from the DMG2. They provide the same sorts of bonuses as magic items, but are inherent qualities like divine blessings or special training.
Sully found an abandoned minor shrine to Erathis in the ruined cellar below the sinkhole, and cleaned it up. By reclaiming the shrine, he also gained a Boon (Erathis’s Beacon). The party returned to the surface, and were thanked profusely by the Ravencrows. They were given tokens of safe passage, and Calyx arranged for them to receive a set of Kenku armor, which Donaar put on. Calyx also mentioned that the Ravencrows had recently found an old botanical laboratory, but hadn’t explored it; if the party was interested in seedcrop for their farming efforts, they might find it there.
Eva, concerned about internal conflict among the townsfolk, suggested that the party fetch Jom, a farmer who had been the ringleader of the reluctant-to-evacuate faction when Meersha had first been in danger. The party had Jom negotiate the trade agreement with the Ravencrows while the PCs explored the laboratory.
The party found a small complex of rooms, each of which originally had a skylight to supply growing plants. They found, among other things, a dead money tree growing out of ore-rich soil and a pair of plants that provided healing fruit. Donaar also found a live plant that had been engineered to grow arcane rods. He took the rod from it; it was not yet complete, as it needed to be properly charged. He soon found out that it could be completed by fulfilling his pact boon (killing people subject to his Warlock’s Curse).
One wing of the laboratory was in shambles due to an interaction between the ant fungus experiment and the growth formula experiment. The party came a bit too close to the resulting giant ants and had to fight them.
1 Hive Soldier (Giant Ant)
3 Hive Warriors (Giant Ant)
4 Hive Workers (Giant Ant)
During the battle, Diesa managed to overcome her extreme aversion to bugs and tried to drink one of the ants’ blood. It proved acidic and unappetizing.
The one remaining room in the laboratory was a huge icy door with an elaborate lock. By working together, the party was able to open it.
This door was run as a heavily directed skill challenge. Etzlojek’s player was absent, so I ran him as an NPC making repeated Thievery checks while other characters made knowledge-related checks to solve the puzzle parts of the lock. It went smoothly.
Inside, the party found a large magical freezer room lined with drawers and racks of plants. They also found that a locked freezer door had burst, releasing an icy plant creature and its companions.
1 Frostborn Vine Horror (custom Elite monster)
2 Bloodthorn Vines
8 Frosty Thornsprouts (custom Minions)
Upon defeating the plants, the party was able to collect several varieties of magically enhanced seeds. With Jom’s help, they selected an array of seeds that would best help the townsfolk grow food as soon as possible. They also potted the healing plants so that they could be transplanted into the fortress.
This was the end of level 2. In Level 3, the party will delve below the city of Decolay in an attempt to rescue Jom from a group of kidnappers.