Dream Project 4 – Attacks on Two Cities

This is a summary of my ongoing Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition game, played with some friends from college over the internet using MapTool and Teamspeak.

When we last left our game, the citizens of Meersha had fled a dragon, Zekleinenezzar, who had taken over their town. They took refuge in an abandoned fortress overlooking the abandoned city of Decolay, which has been taken over by kenku, goblins, and possibly other forces. The fortress itself has the power to transport them to a dream world where a scholar named Sampa seems to be guiding them from the past.

The party consists of:
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 with a penchant for shapechanging spells
Donaar, dragonborn warlock and enemy of dragons, 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 and seems to have vampire heritage
Sully, formerly-retired half-elf paladin of Erathis and party NPC, who ran the tavern in Meersha.

This is level four.

I’m curious about something before we begin. Are these adventure summaries interesting to anyone except me and my players? I’ll probably keep posting them regardless, but I’d like to know if any readers not involved with the campaign enjoy these.

The party arrived back at the fortress with Jom, who was only slightly the worse for wear after his kidnapping. Nemeia, Eva’s employer, reported that the odd swell of magic in the fortress appeared to have dropped to background levels. The party rested for the remainder of the day, then went to sleep.

They woke up in the gray world, with the other townsfolk asleep and unresponsive. Instead of going into the tunnel beneath the fortress that led to the dream world, they decided to investigate the smaller version of the city of Decolay that they could see from the fortress. They nicknamed this smaller city “Decolette.” The party walked through a barren landscape, filled with cracked earth and nearly-dead trees, but before they reached the city, they came across an odd group of beings.

A scarred and pierced woman with gray skin was leading a group of skeletons down the road. She stopped the party and hailed them as “spirits,” telling them that they were dead and would soon pass on to the afterlife. The PCs objected that they were not dead, but the woman just smiled condescendingly. She informed them that the city of Decolette was called Mournhallow, and that spirits of the dead were not allowed there, on pain of unspecified force. Donaar’s hackles were raised in response to this apparent necromancer, but the party considered her warning a credible threat, and returned to the fortress to travel through the tunnel there.

Specifically, one of the players joked that the witch’s warning was a message from the GM that they were not high enough level to go to that quest area. This wasn’t strictly true — I’m not a believer in blocking off player options like that — but it was true that I hadn’t prepared Mournhallow in any real detail.

The Fall of Bael Tenning

The party traveled through the tunnel and found themselves in the cabin of a ship, in what seemed to be fine quarters. There was a knock on the door, and a soldier who looked half-tiefling (a hereditary impossibility) addressed them as “nobles,” informed them of an attack, and urged them to evacuate. The PCs headed up onto the deck and found themselves on an airship, flying high above the woods outside a city of white stone. As they reached the deck, an explosion rocked the ship, and they saw a group of soldiers with a small chest, speaking of getting “the relic” to safety. They also saw Sampa, the scholar from the other dream, speaking to a person with a glowing red symbol above his head.

Several of the people on deck had these symbols, which were ancient symbols for “I,” the first-person singular personal pronoun. No one appeared to notice the symbols except the PCs. Before they had the chance to investigate in detail, however, a group of hippogriffs with riders landed on the deck, and the party was hustled onto them. The chest with the relic was loaded onto a different griffon. As they dove away from the listing ship, the hippogriff with the chest was attacked by some sort of strange reptilian griffon ridden by a dragonborn, and the chest with the relic was stolen away.

On the ride down to the city below, Etzlojek pressed his rider (who had an “I” symbol) for information. The rider had an odd expression, as if he were trapped in his current course of action and couldn’t change it, even though he wanted to. The city below was called Bael Tenning, and they were being attacked by the dragonborn empire of Arkhosia. Donaar recognized these names. Arkhosia was an ancient dragonborn empire ruled by dragons (which Donaar regarded as exploitation of his ancient people). Bael Tenning was a major city of the opposing Tiefling empire, and was utterly destroyed in a great battle… although the legends were unclear exactly how this occurred.

The hippogriffs landed in an open grassy area in the middle of the city. Huge statues of devils stood among the buildings, and displaced families huddled at the edge of the grass. The party was approached by a tiefling who addressed them as “cousins” and ushered them to a large building in the very center of the city. There, they joined a large gathering of tiefling nobles who were bickering around a big table displaying the current state of the battle.

Here the PCs learned two things: first, they appeared to be tieflings when they looked in a mirror. Second, there was a city that appeared to be moving toward Bael Tenning. This city was referred to as Linnosh. With the help of Donaar’s historical knowledge and some asking around, they were able to guess that the city of Linnosh was a floating city, and that it historically destroyed the city of Bael Tenning.

The PCs spotted Sampa, the scholar, again, and were able to eavesdrop on her talking to a nobleman. She was trying to get him to tell her the portal symbol sequence for Bael Tenning. The nobleman didn’t know, but the party decided that if Sampa wanted to know, they wanted to know as well. They left the war room and explored the hallways of the city-hall-cum-hellish-temple. With Linnosh coming ever closer, they finally found their way to the teleportation room, which was scaled to allow very large creatures to enter. In the middle of the room was a large magic circle marked with the symbols the group needed.

I played this as a skill challenge. In order to find the room, the party needed to use Historical knowledge of architecture, Perceive the building around them, use Arcane senses to pick up on magical emanations, and so on. It went pretty smoothly. I announced that this was a skill challenge, if I remember correctly, and it seemed to run better than when I just played them behind the screen. Players, feel free to give your opinions in the comments.

Once Eva had copied down the coordinates, the skylight in the ceiling of the room grew dark, as if something big had taken position over the city. The party decided to make a break for it, and headed for the exit, only to be greeted with a crush of bodies as everyone else in the building had the same idea. They managed to push and climb their way through the crowd to the exit (with Etzlo taking a moment to steal someone’s moneypouch), only to find that there was an enormous city descending on them and that there was no time to get out of Bael Tenning before impact. The party desperately opened a sewer grate and dove in just as the city landed, and found themselves in darkness.

This was another skill challenge, and one that was mostly physical. Endurance, Athletics, and Acrobatics were all quite useful.

Eva cast Light, and the party discovered that they were back in the cabin of the ship. There was a knock on the door, and the soldier came to inform them of the attack on the city. The party realized that they were reliving the same events, so they rushed up on deck and demanded access to the relic in the chest.

The chest was locked magically, and Etzlojek struggled to unlock it as a young dragon (apparently the source of the attack on the airship) flew ever-closer. At the last minute, Etzlo got the chest open. Inside were five large metal loops, like the links of a chain. They were engraved on one side in Supernal and on the other in Primordial… two of the few languages spoken by no one in the party. They quickly grabbed the links, distributed them among the party, and boarded their hippogriffs, allowing the empty chest to be loaded onto one just as it had been before.

The party fled the ship, and the mount bearing the chest was attacked just as before, and the empty chest was stolen. The party landed in the city and were led to the war room, where Etlzo announced that they had rescued the relic. They learned that it was an ancient artifact called the Chain of Accord. Donaar had heard of such an artifact, but from what he could remember, it belonged to the Arkhosian Empire, and had been used in a heroic act to trap some great evil of legend. It certainly wasn’t the property of the tieflings.

Etzlo turned over the chain, and requested some “spending money” from his fellow nobleman, who gave him his pocket change (about 5.5 platinum pieces). They then asked to speak to someone with more info on the chain. They were directed to a mage who was monitoring the battle with a team of assistants and a scrying pool. He informed them that the Chain of Accord was a relic from before the time of the material world’s creation, a leftover from a much larger chain, and that the Supernal and Primordial writing on each link read “Together We Imprison Universal Threat.”

Upon learning that the Chain had been placed in the vault, the party went down to the basement to investigate. They found the vault guarded by several humans and some devils. Upon chatting with them for a bit, the PCs decided not to try to break in. They found sewer access below the building, and took refuge there until Linnosh crushed the city.

The party found themselves back on the airship. They went on deck, opened the chest, got the Chain of Accord, mounted their hippogriffs, and this time told the riders to drop them off far outside the city. Once there, the party began walking away from the city, hoping to survive its destruction and break the cycle. They soon encountered a weird gray mist that muted all their senses. They had encountered a denser version of this in the city in places where no one had been; it seemed that the dream world faded to nothingness where dreamers had no memory of it, or where there was little detail needed. Loathe to go further into the mist, the party sat down to rest and wait until Bael Tenning’s destruction.

As they sat, words began to form in the mist around the party, written in simultaneous Supernal and Primordial. Eva copied them down (since no one spoke those languages), and cast a ritual to Comprehend Languages. He discovered that the Chain of Accord the party carried was speaking to them in writing, and convinced it to switch to Common and Giant, corrupted versions of its native languages. It informed them that it had been trapped here for countless cycles of the dream, and that it would work with them and grant them powers if they would agree to work with it and take it out of the dream. The party agreed, and put their heads together to figure out how to break the cycle. They finally decided that they needed to cause a change so dramatic that it would tear apart the reality of the dream world. Once they had reached this decision, Linnosh landed on Bael Tenning, and the shock wave overtook the party.

The Chain of Accord is a custom artifact that I made that ties into the greater plot of the campaign. It grants various powers, including telepathy among the party members, the ability to know where each other link is at any time, and two restriction-themed attack powers, one with a primordial feel (the Storm Warlock level 1 encounter power Whirlwind) and one with a divine feel (the Invoker level 1 encounter power Spear of the Inquisitor). Unfortunately, the books don’t provide any real guidelines for building your own artifacts, but I think I gave the artifact an appropriate power level for my campaign.

The airship again. The party went on deck, retrieved the chain, and got on their hippogryphs. This time, after the chest was stolen, the party turned toward Linnosh, intending to stop the dragonborn city from getting to Bael Tenning. As they rode toward the city, the dragon that was attacking the airship pulled away to intercept them.

ENCOUNTER:
1 Red Dragon Wyrmling
3 Fire Bats

This battle was done riding hippogriffs and fighting in midair in 3D. First, I will say that this would have been much easier on a physical table; we could have used spare dice to indicate elevation, or raised the tokens on physical supports. In MapTool, I made a little side-view diagram on the map to indicate elevation, but there was still confusion regarding who could reach whom, especially without the use of gestures to aid description.

Etzlojek’s player is very concerned — some of my players might say obsessed — with his character’s mobility. He’s taken essentially every ability that lets him move extra spaces, or shift an extra time, or move as part of an attack. His first response to a mounted combat was something like, “So I can’t use any of my extra movement?” Sheesh, you give someone a mount that can fly 10 squares in a single move action and all they do is complain. Still, I can see his perspective; it would be like telling a barbarian he couldn’t charge for one battle, or putting a fire-themed mage underwater.

Having dispatched their second dragon of the campaign, the party continued on toward Linnosh. They found a city engulfed in battle, with dragons, hippogriffs, riding drakes, and airships all exchanging spells and missiles. The party dropped below the battle to try and make it to the city, but they were spotted by the rider on the scaly griffon, who flew toward them with two companions on riding drakes. The party raced to get to land in the city before they were overtaken.

I had originally intended this to be another aerial battle, but the party didn’t seem interested in that, so I gave them an impromptu skill challenge. It went well, I think; History let Donaar figure out Arkhosian battle techniques, Etzlo Stealthed to drop out of sight, Eva Bluffed the pursuers, Diesa used Athletics to pull off some grueling stunts, and Donaar Intimidated them into losing ground. [edited for truth; thanks, Guy]

The party landed and hitched up their hippogriffs, then prepared for battle. Their pursuers attacked.

ENCOUNTER:
1 Dragonborn Soldier, riding
1 Dragontouched Destroyer Griffon (a template from the DMG2)
2 Dragonborn Snipers, riding
2 Warwing Drakes

This was a hard battle (level 7 for a level 4 party), made even harder by the loss of mobility due to ditching the hippogriffs. The whole party was bloodied a couple of turns in, and I had to make a GM call: the griffon was supposed to get stronger when it became bloodied, but after people started dropping below zero HP, I decided to have its bloodrage get taken out on one of the hippogriffs. It spent several turns feasting on one of the mounts, which gave the players enough respite to recover and finish off the others before taking care of the griffon. It was still a grueling battle.

The party, heavily wounded, examined the bodies. The lead soldier was stripped of his nice armor and weapon, and Donaar heard him chanting as he died, and learned an Ancient Battle Chant of His People. Before long, though, the world around the PCs began melting, and Donaar realized that this soldier was an ancient hero, whose destiny did not include being killed by a band of tieflings. Sampa appeared, and cast a Light spell on the dead griffon’s head. Diesa made sure to stay very close to her hippogriff as the world melted. Before long, the world dissolved completely, and the party woke up in their fortress.

The Ancient Battle Chant is mechanically equivalent to Davros Elden’s Hasty Resurgence, a Grandmaster Training from the DMG2. On an unrelated note, I’m annoyed at D&D 4e’s restrictions on which kinds of weapons can have which magic properties. A Grasping Warhammer makes perfect sense, and I should be able to build it in the Character Builder without resorting to sneaky modification of weapon damage.

Assault of the Kobolds

It was early morning, just before sunup, and most of the townsfolk were still asleep. The party had several things from the dream, including the pouch of platinum Etzlo grifted off of the tiefling noble, Diesa’s hippogriff, and (most importantly) the Chain of Accord. Eva immediately went to the tower and cast Light on the bas-relief of a griffon’s head there. A doorway opened up, revealing a room with a portal circle and an odd rainbow light. Eva dispelled his spell and decided to save the room for later.

Shortly thereafter, the party was approached by a panicked guard, one of the townsfolk that the party deputized in the interest of security. He had discovered Cabo, another guard, unconscious on the southern ramparts. The party rushed to investigate. With her healing knowledge, Diesa was able to figure out that the young man had been stabbed with a small poisoned blade. She administered first aid as the rest of the party discovered a grappling hook and rope dangling from the wall and leading to the ground far below. The party looked around for possible hiding places for the intruder, and spotted a stone awning where one of the townsfolk families had set up privacy curtains. Etzlo snuck up and peeked in, and spotted some kobolds wearing the green vests of the dragon Zekleinenezzar’s cultists. The PCs quietly woke the nearby townsfolk and moved them away, then attacked.

ENCOUNTER:
3 Kobold Minions
1 Kobold Slyblade
1 Poisonscale Collector
1 Wyrm-Wisp
4 Hobble Snares (homebrewed L4 minion traps)

I added a bit of flavor to this battle by making the Wyrm-Wisp’s (a sort of ghost dragon) regeneration ability come from a jawbone hanging around the Collector’s neck. If the players had broken it, the Wisp would have stopped regenerating, but they didn’t end up needing to do so. I like generating IC reasons for things in my campaigns, even if the players would never need to know it. There’s not really any way for the PCs to find out, but the jawbone was taken from one of Zekleinenezzar’s clutch-mates, whom he killed and ate to eliminate competition… and then brought back as an undead wraith using draconic magic. Chromatic dragons tend to be jerks a lot of the time.

The party knocked down the curtains around the awning and battled the intruders. Near the end of the battle, the slyblade called Etzlojek “the traitor.” As he was about to kill her, another PC suggested capturing and interrogating them instead. They did so, and were able to stabilize three of the others in addition to the slyblade. They placed them in a small, secure room sealed with an Arcane Lock ritual to recover.

The curtained awning was the temporary home of the Feller couple, who had been poisoned just like Cabo. Diesa had the town’s most experienced healer, Old Lady Bingham, start preparing an anti-venom and care for the three poisoned townsfolk. The party also increased the guard and told them to be especially alert.

The party then took time to investigate the room in the tower more closely. It contained a portal circle, as well as a Robe of Scintillation (which Eva took) and a chalkboard, on which were various portal addresses. The board had symbol sequences for Decolay (presumably somewhere in the town proper), Pax (Eva’s home city), Tallaria (Donaar’s home city which was overrun by undead), Mevisim (which rumors said had been destroyed by a meteor), and Lashay (unknown to the party). The PCs added the two sequences they knew: Bael Tenning and the home sequence for the fortress.

The PCs went to speak to the prisoners. The slyblade tried to ambush them, but the party was ready, and she was knocked from her place over the door and sprained her ankle. Etzlojek stayed out of sight as the rest asked her questions. According to her, Zekleinenezzar’s forces were growing even stronger, and he had discovered their location and would be coming to destroy them. She also asked where the traitor Etzlojek was, and said that he would be killed by his own blood, which he seemed to find a bit ominous.

The party thought about what to do, and decided to further investigate the underground “subway” tunnel where they had fought the goblins. They trekked down there and proceeded further, only to encounter a barricade that had probably been constructed after their previous battle. They tried to break it apart, but a chunk fell from the ceiling and injured Diesa. It seemed that the barricade had been made structural, and that it would take some work to dismantle it safely.

I gently suggested that using townsfolk would be a good way to handle the task of removing the barrier, and the players seemed excited at the idea of having henchmen to do their bidding.

The PCs headed back toward the townspeople, but when they were in sight of the fortress, Etzlojek spotted some people lurking behind a rock. They proceeded forward, expecting an ambush, and were proven correct.

ENCOUNTER:
2 Bloodseeker Drakes
1 Kobold Wyrmpriest
2 Kobold Dragonshields
2 Kobold Skirmishers
4 Kobold Minions

The PCs did quite well in this encounter, I think. They used positioning and the environment well, everyone played their role, and Diesa was able to function despite being surrounded by quite a lot of enemies at once.

Next time: What does the cruel self-proclaimed god Zekleinenezzar have in store for our intrepid heroes?

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9 thoughts on “Dream Project 4 – Attacks on Two Cities

  1. I would note that, while avoiding the Dragonborn rider, Etzlo acutally used stealth to mislead the enemy riders and I used bluff to divert them.

  2. +1 to enjoying them; this was an especially good one. I could use a touch more backstory though — I keep forgetting who Jom is, though it didn’t matter this time.

    1. All right. For future reference, Jom is the farmer who was initially reluctant to evacuate Meersha; he’s the third most prominent possible leader among the townsfolk, behind Sully the party NPC (the tavern owner) and Etzlojek’s foster father, Dorren Rockfoot (the general store owner).

  3. As a game master, I think they’re very interesting. I just don’t have the time to post detailed thoughts, even though I’m brimming over with them.

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