Dream Project 5 – The Battle for the Fortress

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. They returned from a trip to the dream world to find kobold worshipers of the dragon making advances on the fortress.

The party consists of:
Etzlojek, kobold rogue and lover of fine things, adopted by the town’s general store owner; he is branded Etzlojek the Traitor by the attacking kobolds
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 five.

The party grabbed all of the usable equipment from the bodies of the kobolds for use in the defense of the townsfolk and headed for the fortress, where one of the youths they had deputized was beckoning them. He explained that the kobolds had arrived about an hour before, and upon being unable to enter the fortress on account of its defensive force walls, settled in to lay siege. This worried the party, so they began to gather information and make plans.

The PCs decided that the townsfolk who were unarmed should retreat to the living area in case of an attack, where the fortress’s force dome could be activated to protect them. Diesa instructed some of the deputized guards to drill the other townsfolk in emergency procedures.

Meanwhile, Eva borrowed a spyglass from his mentor, Nemeia, and observed the road leading to the fortress. Unable to see far enough, he decided that the party should scale the tower in the center of the fortress. They used the grappling hook and rope they took from the kobold raiding party and had Diesa climb the tower, then lower a rope ladder down to allow others to join her. Atop the tower, they found many metal rods that appeared to be part of two magical devices within the tower. One generated a low-level mental enchantment effect, possibly the one Nemeia had discovered earlier. The other appeared to be focused on the large oculus in the north wall of the fortress, and could generate some sort of transportation effect.

From this high vantage point, the group scanned the surrounding countryside. They saw nothing worrying, but planted a guard there to continue watching. The PCs went down to interrogate the kobold they had taken prisoner in the first attack on the city. She was stubborn, but they managed to encourage her to brag about the strength of her god, Zekleinenezzar. She revealed in a roundabout fashion that the dragon’s forces would begin attacking at dawn, that he would likely come in person, and that one of the abilities he granted was a way to provide kobolds with some of his power through his own shed scales.

Somewhere during all of this (I don’t recall exactly when), the links of the Chain of Accord began moving in the PCs’ pockets, drawing attention to themselves. The party took out a book for them to write in, and the Chain explained through writing that it had gained respect for the group due to their imprisonment of the kobold and their recent increase in power (level gain). It was willing to grant them a new power: once per encounter, each of them could teleport up to ten squares to a square adjacent to another party member.

As an artifact, the Chain of Accord has a Concordance score that increase when the PCs do things the artifact likes or gain a level. It decreases when the PCs do things the artifact doesn’t like. At certain levels, the artifact grants extra abilities. Likewise, if Concordance gets too low, the artifact will take abilities away or even assign penalties to encourage the party to give it away to a more suitable group of owners.

The party decided to complete their preparations. Eva cast a Magic Circle ritual, warded against creatures of Natural origin, across the main gate of the fortress. It meant that any kobolds would be blocked, but also would prevent the party from passing through. That was all right, though, as some rope and the teleportation granted by their Chain of Accord artifact would let them go up and down from the ramparts with relative ease. Eva took out the crystals from the control board that would send the party into the dream world, and they slept.

Early in the morning, kobolds began attacking the fortress in waves. The deputy on watch reported that several winged beings had landed near the crossroads a mile or so away and hidden in the woods before the attack. The first rush of kobolds was repelled with the help of the fortress’s defensive ballistae and the deputized townsfolk guarding the walls. However, when the party looked around to make sure, they spotted some kobolds that had snuck into a large culvert beneath the entrance ramps, against the base of the walls. The party snuck down to ground level and approached. The kobolds were placing a large bag against the foundation of the fortress wall, presumably to collapse it and provide an entrance other than the one that was blocked. The PCs disapproved, and attacked.

3 Kobold Vermin Handlers
4 Kobold Dragonshields
8 Kobold Minions (optional)

The “optional” there is part of an experiment I ran. Each of the combats in this adventure except the boss battle had things that the party could do beforehand to make them easier. These were essentially skill challenges, but instead of granting XP and having consequences for failure, each roll would weaken the upcoming battle. In this case, each successful roll or extended task spent preparing the defenses would remove two minions from the battle, to represent the attrition due to proper defenses. The party 1) put someone on watch with a spyglass, 2) gave the deputies training for the upcoming attack, 3) successfully interrogated the prisoner, and 4) cast the ward over the gates. As a result, no minions were actually included in the encounter.

The party emerged victorious, and in the process ruined the explosive charge by dumping it in the stream that wound around the fortress. As they were returning to the fortress, however, a figure emerged from hiding. It was Wrax, the kenku lieutenant that the party had befriended. He explained that while his tribe, the Ravencrows, couldn’t help in a direct fight, that they had sent some soldiers to help in subtler ways. They had noticed a group of lizardfolk with drakes approaching from the back of the fortress, to the west. They were willing to help thin the lizardfolk’s numbers, if the party could get some of the less-well-trained soldiers to enter the forest alone.

The party hurried to the base of the western wall. Etzlojek hid in the forest and covered Eva. Eva, meanwhile, shapeshifted into a lizardperson and went into the woods to meet with them. He Bluffed them, telling them that some of their men were needed on the eastern wall, and that they should split up and go separate ways, to avoid detection. The lizardman leader was willing to spare two, and so he sent one of the soldiers one way and one another. Eva returned to the party, and when the group was close enough, they attacked.

3 Greenscale Darters (Lizardfolk)
2 Rage Drakes
4 Lizardfolk Grunts (Reworked Gnoll Minions, optional)

In this encounter, the skill challenge was very direct; every Grunt the party got alone would get taken care of by the Ravencrows. I judged that Etzlo’s successful Stealth check worked with Eva’s Bluff check to give Eva more confidence and be more convincing, so together they split off two of the four grunts.

After defeating the Lizardfolk, the party returned to the main gate. They waited for a bit, and soon saw a kobold approaching holding a white cloth. He expressed a desire to parlay with the town. He bore a message from Zekleinenezzar: the dragon wished to destroy the PCs personally for daring to defy him. If they would not come out to meet him and his forces on their own, he would fly over the fortress and kill the townsfolk protecting the walls. If they did agree to meet, then the dragon would give them a chance to kill him, if they could defeat his champions first. The party agreed, but insisted on a battle location: a spot just outside the range of the ballistae, so that they could retreat in case of trickery. The kobold prepared to kill himself as penance for speaking blasphemy that suggested the dragon, his god, could be killed, but the party convinced him that he had to live so that he could deliver the return message.

Soon, the party departed to meet the dragon and his champions at the agreed spot. They saw seven creatures approaching: one kobold in robes and armor, four who looked oddly strong, and two drake-like creatures. On closer examination, they realized that the creatures were kobolds who had been warped into the shape of dragons by horrid magic. Once they were in place, the battle began.

1 Kobold Warpriest
4 Dragonkin Sentries
2 Wyrmwarped Atrocities

The skill challenge for this battle was one that reduced hit points. It represented a better understanding of the warped kobolds’ natures. The first two successes reduced each Atrocity’s HP by 25%, and the second two dropped each Dragonkin’s HP by 25%. The dragonkin had been made stronger by having the dragon’s discarded scales sewn to their chests and magically bonded to their beings. I don’t recall exactly how many successes the party earned on this challenge, but they handled the battle quite well.

Finally, the big showdown arrived. Zekleinenezzar himself approached, accompanied by a heavily-scarred kobold in armor who looked strangely familiar. Suddenly, it dawned on Etzlojek: the dragon’s companion was his mother, who he had been separated from at an early age when he and his father had raided Meersha. She looked troubled as she approached. Zekleinenezzar gave Etzlojek one last chance to repent, or his dishonor would be erased by his own mother. He declined, and the battle was on.

Zekleinenezzar (Young Green Dragon)
Kaelajek (Kobold Chieftan with the Grizzled Veteran template from the DMG2)

The skill challenge here was a diplomatic one: the party could convince Etzlo’s mother to renounce the dragon and side with her son. Eventually, during battle, they managed to do just that, appealing both to her maternal tendencies and to the fact that they were successfully harming her false god. It was a good thing, too; Kaelajek was a nasty fighter. She had a power thanks to her template that let her gain combat advantage against anyone as a minor action with no attack roll, dealt sneak attack damage, got a free attack against anyone who missed her in melee, and could slow or stun opponents.

This combat was quite tricky. It was more than one level above the players, and featured a solo and an elite. Diesa fell unconscious once, and I believe everyone except maybe Donaar was bloodied by the end of it. One thing that really helped was a daily that Etzlo scored with on the first round that dealt a lot of damage and greatly reduced the dragon’s mobility; mobility is one of the strong points of green dragons in 4e.

The dragon was vanquished to cries of “FOR ETZLO!” Kaelajek walked forward and chopped off the dragon’s head with a vengeful swing. The dragon who had forced the town of Meersha out of their homes and enslaved entire tribes was dead.

Next time: the second half of heroic tier awaits. Don’t dragons usually have a hoard? And where will the party and the townsfolk go now that the threat to Meersha is gone?

3 thoughts on “Dream Project 5 – The Battle for the Fortress

  1. The battle against Zekleinenezzar wasn’t helped any by his apparent immunity (or at least resistance) to my fancy new daily spell.

    Also, we did take at least one other defensive action before the large attack. We sealed up the “control room” to prevent a possible strategic attack on it. I think there may have been another, but can’t quite recall.

    I think you’ve also missed a very important part of the assault–the suicidal runs by kobolds against the front gate. Although it had very little gameplay impact since it was handled by the NPC guards, it does provide good characterization of the situation we were facing and the fanaticism (or perhaps fear) the dragon inspired in his followers.

    1. That’s right. I should have mentioned that. Your spell — Stinking Cloud — does poison damage, and as a green, Zekleinenezzar has resistance 15 versus poison.

      And the suicidal runs were also important, you’re right. I waited too long to write this one up, and so I forgot many of the details.

      1. I think that resistance 15 vs. poison means that the spell was incapable of doing damage to him (1d10 + int modifier is the ongoing damage which is 1d10 + 5 for me).

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