Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Modron Madness Part 1

The email hint for this campaign was that the party was going on vacation to Sylvania with Balial. This had also been revealed during the previous session.

Picking right up where the previous adventure had ended, with the PCs about to embark on "Spring Break" in Sylvania. The PCs spent a day or two gathering their supplies, feeding their plants and pets, and other random business around Sigil. Once that was all taken care of, the players all hopped onto Balial's wagon and headed off to Sylvania. PORTAL

Sylvania is in a constant state of celebration, with everyone partying and enjoying themselves in a very public fashion. You could imagine Sylvania as just one giant Bourbon Street or similar party location. Just a long strip of bars, restaurants and other places of pleasure. The PCs arrived just before the modrons were supposed to March through Sylvania, so it was even more excuse to party. The quote from the adventure in The Great Modron March sums it up nicely: "The modrons are coming? This calls for a drink. calls for a party!"

The group guided their cart to the Druken Leaf, a large inn just off the main drag of Sylvania. Speaking to the proprietor, Allisanaa Boughbender, that Balial had apparently paid for individual rooms for each of the PCs as well had agreed to pay whatever their tab was at the Druken Lead. The PCs, elated at this news, promply ordered a round of drinks from the options listed below. Balial then parted from the group to go find his old friends and party it up.

Knowing that the Modron March wouldn't be arriving for 3 days, the PCs decided to live it up and explore what Sylvania had to offer them. They were not disappointed. Instead of trying to describe every detail over the session, I'm going to point out the locations and highlights and the awesome details that really made it all work.

The Druken Leaf - on tap day 1: Baurier Golden Draught, Olympic Gutbuster, Elven Slomead - on tap day 2: Elysian Fields Wheat Beer, Elven Dark Root Ale, Baurier Sour ("taste the hay")

The Dipping Dragon (A Player's Primer to the Outlands) - bar rocks back and forth, throwing its patrons around. awesome party.

Other random drink encounters - drinking constest: Slaad Shakes. Need to drink super fast before it tries to kill you. everyone took the first shot them woke up the next morning with no memory of the night.

Also in Sylvania is a Sensate Embassy, which Nearin insisted the PCs go experience. The embassy itself is an architectural wonder being a hollowed pyramid made of petrified wood (A Player's Primer to the Outlands) with a huge open pantheon taking up the entire first floor with random offices and quarters suspended in the air by connections to the pyramid. One pestles all around the main chamber are sense stones which let the user experience completely one recorded memory. Each of the present PCs (Norbys, Kale, Nearin) decided to touch a differen sense stone each. To represent the experiences, I read of randomly from a huge list of sense stones from Planeswalker (which seems to currently be down). It was awesome and the players got a huge kick out of it.

The party also at one point started the day by going on a picnic in the forests and glades surrounding Sylvania. While there, Norbys used his ability to talk to small woodland creatures to begin a conversation with a badger. The badger, responding only with "badger", "food", and gestures, became very friendly to the PCs when they gave him some of their lunch. He then led them to a small bush nearby and began digging, while chanting "badger badger". Eventually, he brought a small ring to Norbys. It was a ring of feather fall!

The party also visited in ogre craftsman named Glorfo who specialized in glass wear. After a little back and forth the party commissioned a set of pimp chalices for each of the members. On the pimp chalice would be a depiction of the entire party, including Xanros, riding on the back of a monodrone and a quadrone with a banner saying "Planeatary Express". This was a really fun moment for the group and was a continued realization about how well the entire group gets along and how well the campaign had been going.

The entire time the party was enjoying the three days before the March they would randomly encounter Balial in the center of an amazing party. For example, one time they ran into him leading a giant conga line out of a bar, another time leaving his suite at the Drunken Leaf with a gorgeous tiefling and half elf, and another time being carried around the streets with a whistle in his mouth and handing out beads and garland. When ever he would spot the players he would ask them if they were having fun and exclaim how much fun it was working with them as they always got the job done.

Eventually, the Modron March was scheduled to arrive. The entire town poured into the main drag in preparation, everyone excited and partying. The party joined them and pushed their way into the throng. The whole group was on edge in fear of something going wrong considering their last two encounters with the modrons. At that momment, the modrons appeared from the portal and began walking along the path out of Sylvania and into the rest of the Outlands. The revelers proceeded to run amongst the modrons, pouring paint over them or covering them in garlands. This proceeded for a number of hours.

During this grand revelry, the party had to make checks are get separated from each other for the duration of the March passing through town. Every one but Kale failed, meaning that virtually everyone was now lost in the throng of the crowd. When the party eventually regrouped, Balial was no where to be found.

Worried that they had lost Balial, the party headed back to the Drunken Leaf and began questioning people as to if they had seen Balial or not. No one had seen him recently, but a few of the patrons had seen him in the crowd. Apparently, he was being followed by some bashers, the same bashers someone else had seen carrying off some random unconscious people. No one seemed to mind, though, as they were too busy partying. The one clue the group got was that the thugs had been carrying the people off into the woods out side of Sylvania.

Under the cover of darkness, the group went out into the woods to try and find Balial. Using Kale's ranger senses the party able to find track ways indicating people dragging bodies, which they then followed. Keeping to the shadows, the party kept on the trail until eventually they heard the sound of a half-human/half-machine scream heading their way. They paused only to witness a horrible site: Balial, or at least a Balial like thing, was slowly walking the path back to Sylvania. His body appeared tourtered and half of it had been replaced with various modron parts. His eyes were wild, with no indication of the Balial the party had once known.

Realizing the Balial had gone mad, they party jumped on him and attempted to subdue him and figure out what was going on. Modronoid Balial, screaming incoherently, attacked the party viciously, trying to kill them with his now blade-like hands. Eventually, the group was able to disable both his arms and tie him up. The subdued modronoid Balial just kep gnashing his teeth, screaming, and foaming at the mouth while the PCs contemplated what they had to do. And how they would find whoever did this to their beloved friend.

At this point, I decided to call the end of session. What a cliffhanger!?

This was the first half of what became a two part session. The players were in game furious that their awesome boss and friend Balial had been kidnapped and tortured, which was really cool to see. Never before had I really been able to stir up vengeance or bloodlust in PCs in a seemingly organic manner. Apparently it really affected the players as well, as when I saw them between this and the next session they would exclaim how angry they were. I felt really proud.

Hilariously, these two sessions happened around Spring Break at my Uni.

The adventure was just a campaign specific adaptation of "Modron Madness" which is Chapter V of The Great Modron March. The major differences were that I spent a lot longer on partying phase of the adventure in order to build tension and I used an already existing NPC instead of introducing someone to just kill off. I skipped chapters 3 and 4 of The Great Modron March because I did not think I could fit them within the central conceit of the campaign. Additionally, they didn't really suit my play style or GM-ing desires.

Also, if you haven't noticed, I enjoy when I get to use Outlands locations in adventures because it is an excuse for the players to use the awesome Mimir recordings from A Player's Primer to the Outlands.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Whistles in the Dark

The only hint given to the players was the title of the adventure: "Whistles in the Dark."

The PCs arrive at Plane-atary Express to find a flyer/note on their door inviting them to a performance at the Weary Head in the Hive. The Weary Head is a well known Bleak-nick bar where the artistic Bleakers gather and share their poetry and other forms of performance art. The flyer/note was signed H. H., which Bobby took to be some kind of salutation ("Hi Hommies!"). It is actually the signature of the advertiser Harys Hatchis (Uncaged: Faces of Sigil). Also, at the bottom of the flyer was a hand written note asking the PCs to meet with Jorun regarding a possible job opportunity.

When the PCs arrived at the Weary Head, the fensir twins Morvun and Phineas were performing (Uncaged: Faces of Sigil). This gave me the great opportunity to read some of Morvun's death "poems" which was really fun. Also, the art of the duo was really fun to show the players. During the performance, the PCs took up seats at the bar and hunted around for their contact.

After a few drinks and a little asking around, Jorun approached the group and informed them of the job. He wanted the PCs to go to the Slags and retrieve a tanar'ri supply cache. After that, he wanted them to take the cache to the town of Windglum in Pandemonium. Their, they'd get the portal key to come home and he'd pay them 2000 GP each and that they could find him at the House of the Griffen (Factol's Manifesto). The Slags are the most dangerous and decrepit part of the Hive where many crazy monsters wander around and no shops are set up (In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil).

The PCs agreed to the job and went off to hire some muscle to help them get through whatever they might encounter in the Slags. Hiring a group of four dwarves, the group headed into the Slags. While following the directions to the supply cache, Nearin was almost sucked into an ooze portal. Ooze portals are randomly appearing one-way portals between Sigil and the Para-Elemental Plane of Ooze, and the hands of ooze mephits have been known to grab at anyone walking by (In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil). As Nearin and one of the dwarves struggled with the ooze portal, a group of ooze mephits hovered into view from behind some collapsed buildings. A brief fight ensued with most of the players and dwarves fighting off the mephits while Nearn and a Dwarf struggled to pull themselves free.

After the fight, the PCs continued on to the supply cache. While approaching the cache, the PCs were struck by the strong smell of cinnamon. Also, near the cache itself there was a macabre scene of tiefling bones spread about in almost some kind of artistic manner. These were signs that the Kadyx had passed by recently (In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil). The cache itself was a small, human portable, sealed silver crate.

The portal to Pandemonium was two fallen columns just at the edge of the slags and the key was a bell without a clacker.

Entering into the Pandemonium layer of Phlegethon, the PCs stood at the entrance to a large cave. Deeper in the cave was the anthill of Windglum, a town of barmy people who had spent too much time in Pandemonium. Entering into the town, I described a few of the inhabitants and their various insanities. After that, I gave description over to the players to describe the behavior of an inhabitant.

At the Scaly Dog Inn, the PCs sat down and ordered a round of ales. While most of the patrons were sitting alone and muttering to themselves, a small group of bashers were sitting around a table scheming. The PCs, sitting near them, started dropping hints about why they were there and that they were looking for Kadin. Eventually, the other table noticed and ask the PCs to follow them to a back room.

In the back room, the leader of the three barmy bashers started demanding who they PCs were, why they were there, and who told them to come. The PCs tried being evasive for a while and eventually spilled the beans about who had hired them. The leader then took the box and had one of his cronies tell the PCs about the key to get back to Sigil. The key was a whistle that when blown produced no noise. The whole group of thugs was saying stuff about silence and luck the entire time, which the PCs didn't really pick up on.

After getting the key the PCs rushed to the portal and quickly tried to activate the key and portal. Turned out the Anarchists (Revolutionary League, this was obvious at this point) had tricked the PCs and given them wrong information! They were transported to some other part of Pandemonium and were surrounded in darkness.

While standing about in one of the many tubes that make up Pandemonium's second layer, the PCs were battered by a terrible wind and had to make checks versus "Wind Madness" (Planes of Chaos). Everyone passed the first round. When the winds finally died down, the PCs heard a terrible series of cries coming from their left. One of the voices was very high pitched with a stutter and the other was very low pitched punctuated with grunts. The voices were talking to each other, calling each other Cat (high voice) and Bru (low voice).

The PCs discerned that the two figures had decided to split up, with Bru heading towards the PCs. All the PCs have infravision, so they were able to see Bru the moment he got close. He was a cambion who had been blinded and was missing his eyes. The PCs sprung into action and tied up Bru, though he was able to get one cry off before he was subdued.

After a few second, Cat appeared on the ceiling. Because of the gravity in Pandemonium is screwy, it is always in the direction of your "feet". This meant that Cat, a blinded and sicked Beholder (!!!), was able to float over the heads of the PCs at shoot off an eye beam before they could react.

The fight was really intense and the PCs made good use of the gravity to aways have the wind to their advantage. Also, Cat was missing 3 of its eye stalks, which made their lives a little easier. Kale, Norbys, and Bobby were fighting valiantly but were racking up damage really fast. Nearin was able to shape change into an arcanoloth and scare off Cat by threatening it with an army of yugoloths.

After the fight, the PCs questioned Bru for a way home. Bru, in a show of good faith so they wouldn't kill him, showed them a stash of dead adventurers gear. Inside was a bunch of magical weapons and some gems stones, which the PCs happily took. At this point, I had the PCs make saves against Wind Madness again, which Nearin and Bobby failed. The first stage of wind madness is anger, which manifests as impatience and violent behavior. They kept threatening Bru the entire time. The items were a +1/+3 vs Chaos long sword, and 3 +1 daggers that were unaffected by wind.

Eventually, Bru told them that at the end of this tube was a bottemless pit called the "Screaming Pit" which the winds whip out of at incredible speeds. Apparently this could act as a portal back to Sigil if the user was able to accurately picture an image of pure silence. Bru couldn't use it because he had gone far too mad while living in Pandemonium.

At the edge of the Screaming Pit, I had the PCs make one last save versus Wind Madness. Norbys, Bobby, and Nearin all failed. Norbys went to stage one and got super impatient, while Bobby and Nearin entered the apathy stage where they were unable to motivate themselves. Norbys then, a person who believes their is not point to it all, had to convince the others to jump with him. This was an absolutely hilarious RP moment.

The PCs landed in the Market Ward, falling through the portal made up of a stall's canopy and on to a seller's apples. Back in Sigil, all the effects of Wind Madness stopped, and can only return on Pandemonium. The PCs were over joyed to be back home. They took a short rest then went to hunt down Jorun at the House of the Griffen, hiring the same dwarves again.

At the House of the Griffen, they tracked down Jorun and took him out back. Their the dwarves gave him the boots, medium style, until he finally agreed to pay the PCs more than he had initially said he would and that he would leave them alone forever. Jorun had initially planned on not paying the PCs as they were expected to die in Pandemonium. Jorun then led the PCs into the secret back room of the House of the Griffen and into his Anarchist cell's hideout. There he gave them the 2000gp and an additional 200gp for them to keep quiet.

The PCs then got a magical message from Balial that he had a surprise for them. Returning to Planeatary Express, Balial revealed that because the PCs were so good at their job he was going to take them on a week long vacation to Sylvania, the gate town that is always partying!

I wrote this adventure and I am decently proud of it. The obviously weakest part of the whole thing was the portal key deception in Windglum. It was generally the most railroaded thing I've done in a while, but the players were kind and went along with it, though, which helped. This adventure was also a real GMing landmark for me because for the first time in the 12+ years I've been playing, I felt I had run a completely engaging and interesting session. I was glowing for days.

The energy throughout the whole adventure was good. The players reactions to Wind Madness were priceless. The fact that getting home relied on an impatient Bleaker giving a pep talk to a depressed and uninterested Cipher and Sensate was incredible. It is still talked about weeks later.

Another really fun part of the whole adventure was that the players were able to actually fight a beholder, albeit a weakened and insane one. Beholders aren't the kind of monster you face on a regular basis, if at all, because they are too "classic" D&D. What better venue to encounter one than in Planescape?! One of the players even tweeted about it, which just about made my day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Taxing Mistakes: Hard Time

This adventure was part 2 of the "Taxing Mistakes" duet I set up for my players. The only clues they recieved prior to the adventure were that "mistakes" and Carceri were involved.

The adventure started with the PCs being hired by Tripicus, an ursinal scholar and expert on the Prime Material Planes (Uncaged: Faces of Sigil), to return a book to it's owner a dwarf named Zeracuk. The complication, however, is that Zeracuk died quite recently. Tripicus suspected, however, that he would have ended up in the Dwarven Mountain, a location in the Outlands were the dwarven gods live with their petitioners. Tripicus tells them the location of a known portal to the Dwarven Mountain behind a dwarven blacksmith's shop. They key to the portal is to brandish a dwarf crafted hammer.

The players head to the blacksmith's shop, purchase an (expensive) hammer from him, and brandish the hammer while passing through the portal to the Dwarven Mountain. A street teaming with drunk and merry dwarves greeted them, noticeably avoiding walking near the PCs. A large ale hall stood before them, large in the cavern amid the dwellings and shops.

The PCs entered Strongale Hall, the name of the large ale hall, and ordered drinks and started chatting to the extremely inebried dwarves. After a few hilarious conversations about what it means to be dwarven, the now drunk party meets a dwarven woman named Emera Stoutforge who offered to take the players to Soot Hall where the dwarven sages end up.

After a long walk deeper into the mountain, the PCs ended up in Soot Hall. A thick layer of soot coated everything, caused by the massive forges and refineries that fill the mountain. Norbys was extremely excited with this and began rolling in the soot. Emera dropped them off at the archives with the curator, Pyrus Chertchip.

When asked about Zeracuk, Pyrus does not know anyone by that name but does tell the PCs that a cross-trader had randomly ended up in Soot Hall and that they had unceremoniously shoved him through a portal into Carceri where he probably belonged. Suspicion grew that maybe Zeracuk and that man had "switched cosmic places" and that now Zeracuk was stuck in Carceri and needed to be found and brought back. Pyrus all but threated the PCs about this, saying that they'd face the wrath of the dwarves if they didn't help right this cosmic wrong. Pyrus then led the PCs to the portal they shoved the random through and opened it for them.

The PCs emerged on the other side of the portal standing on a small ledge at the end of a rope bridge spanning an impossibly deep chasm. The chasm separated them form a small town spread over two ridges and connected by similar rope bridges. As the PCs crossed the bridge, Norbys failed his Dex check and fell on to the slats of the bridge and got a good and frightening look at the near-infinite distance he almost fell. A crowd also gathered in the town, Gaola, with the folks jeering and taking bets on if the PCs would fall or not. When they finally made it across, the crowd dispersed unhappily.

After talking to a few of the unhappy residents of Gaola, the PCs learn that a dwarf had recently been in town and taken the only bridge out of town. He may have gone to the town of Straifling, the steading of the hill giant power Grolantor, or the palatial temple of the titan Crius. The PCs head out on the path for Zeracuk.

After getting half way across the bridge out of town, the Watcher of the town threatens to cut the bridge unless one of the PCs comes to her and coughs up some jink as means of a "toll." If more than one comes, or they fail to pay, she would have cut the bridge loose and the PCs could have fallen to their deaths. Bobby gathered the necessary funds and headed back to pay the Watcher.

Out of town, the PCs carefully treaded along the paths along the crags. Frequently I had them make Dex checks to see if they might fall or tumble, which led to a few of the PCs falling a little bit but catching themselves a little worse for the wear.

Eventually, the PCs came to a fork in the road where a very dirty female giant was standing and looking quite confused. When approached, she dropped her club and cowered in fear of the PCs saying she didn't want any trouble. Eventually, when the PCs were able to calm her down, she explained that she was lost and was looking for her god, Grolantor. The PCs offered to help her find her way which made her very happy. She offered to help the PCs move over the treacherous terrain and used a rope to tie them all together.

The PCs headed right on the trail, which was a very long and arduous journey which eventually led them into a terrible wind storm. Pressing on, the wind grew and grew in intensity until it suddenly stopped at the exact moment a giant fortress suddenly appeared before them. Tanaaka, the hill giant, curious that this was the steading of her god offered to run up to the gate and ask if they had seen Zeracuk. After a brief conversation with the gate guards, she came back and, sadly, said they had not seen any dwarves. At this, the party bid farewell to Tanaaka as she left to join her god in his home.

The PCs the returned to the cross-roads and took the left path. After a while, there was another fork in the road: one path to the right which headed straight up one of the treacherous peaks, and the path to the left which stayed level but went around a different peak.

The PCs chose to head left, up the peak. After walking up the sheer cliff, the PCs came upon a level ridge forming a platform from where a cave loomed from within the rocks. Bones were scattered over the ridge. A loud series of noises emanated from the cave: cursing, screaming, laughter, crying. It seemed as if the sounds were coming from a single being. As the PCs got near the cave, the noises mime sagely stopped. The PCs began to deliberate over what to do when Bobby declared "I go in." Being a Cipher, Bobby has to comply with whatever the player said.

As Bobby approached the cave, a hoarse "Who's there?" came out of the cave as a arcanoloth peaked it's head out of the cave. Krell, the arcanoloth, appeared gaunt and malnourished, her ribs could be seen beneath her skin, her eyes were red from weeping, and she smelled horrid. Her cave emitted the stench of waste and rot. The PCs started talking to the pitiful arcanoloth as she wailed and wailed about how she was so hungry. Eventually, the PCs struck a deal where they gave her some rations in exchange for a descriptive map of the region. She all but attacked the food offered to her and told the PCs everything they could possibly want. While she really wanted "souls," the rations suited her just fine.

Armed with a verbal map of the mountains of Colothys (the layer of Carceri the PCs were on), they quickly moved to Crius' Temple where Krell had said the dwarf probably went to.

The temple was massive and made of white and grey marble. The pillars and doors were sized for a titan and not a normal human, so the PCs were dwarfed by everything. The front door to the temple was open and the PCs walked inside with care. After entering into the temple, one of Crius' guards stepped out and demanded the PCs business. He wasn't very interested in actually stopping the PCs so much as "doing his job" in the weakest sense of the phrase. After giving a good enough excuse, the PCs asked the guard if he knew where the dwarf was. He pointed vaguely to one corner of the tremendous titan-sized temple, saying that in the hall one of the rooms should hold him.

In hallway, the PCs entered one room that was filled with different works of art made by Crius. They were beautiful and exquisite works created with incredible care. Each of the pieces was rooted to the floor using Crius' command of gravity. Norby's player spontaneously described how there was one piece of art that was just paint strokes suspended in air as a three dimensional piece of abstract art. This was a really awesome moment.

After inspecting the art gallery, the PCs opened the door that happened to be the prison of Zeracuk. Cautioning them not to enter the puzzle cage, he explained how the door was unlocked but he was unable to see the handle as the whole cage was of perfectly smooth marble. If the PCs grasped the door and pulled, but didn't enter, he could get out. Following his commands, they freed him. He then told them that a portal back to Sigil was in the storeroom just next door. Turns out that Zeracuk was an expert in portals and had gone to Crius' temple to find this portal but had been captured by the titan.

At this point, Crius appeared before the PCs. Towering over them, he rooted them to the ground with his gravity command and offered them a deal. If they could answer a riddle correctly, he would let them go. If they failed, he would imprison them for as long as he saw fit. Faced with no other options, the PCs consented to the deal.

The riddle: I pull you down. I let you soar. I diminish in water yet remain the same. I constancy hold you in my grip. Some say I'm interminable. What am I?

Given a few moments to deliberate, Crius demanded the PCs answer. Weakly, Kale answered "gravity." Crius, annoyed, responded that this wasn't strictly right but it was close enough to the correct answer of "weight" that he would let the PCs go.

The PCs then jumped through the portal to Sigil, took Zeracuk to the portal to the Dwarven Mountain behind the blacksmith's home, and delivered him to Soot Hall. In return for their help, Zeracuk gave each of the PCs an ability Manual of their choice. These are books that, when read, increase an ability score by 1. This is the only way to increase the base value of a stat.

This adventure was adapted from a pre-written module from Well of the Worlds titled "Chapter V: Hard Time". The transition from the Dwarven Mountain to Carceri was really forced and I felt was by far the weakest part of the module. I had a really hard time on the fly improving it and I still feel it came off really weak. It is really hard to write and succeed at hand-offs during adventures, and I felt this was rather ham-fisted. From both a module as written and a my execution of it perspective. The art of the first town in Carceri was great and I really enjoyed showing it to the players.

Carceri was a lot of fun to run. By using the organizational email to hint that the party was going to Carceri, I really put the players on their toes. They spent the majority of the beginning of the session being very afraid and cautions, out of game, and it was a fun to slowly reveal how and why they were going there.

I really hammed up the Arcanoloth, grabbing at my face and nearly screatcing with the desire for food. It really freaked out the players and was a great role play moment for them, especially with how Bobby and all of them realized that it was just hungry and didn't really want to hurt them per se. Well, beyond eating them. But only a little bit.

I started using of the art material from the books a lot more to help illustrate the scenes for the players. A lot of the planar locations and characters can be really tough to describe, so adding the images helped a lot. Additionally, because I own physical copies of almost every Planescape manual and boxed set (missing Planes of Conflict sadly), I put up a map/poster relating to each session. I just use a simple and cheap poster frame I bought and can easily replace the concents in. I'd always wanted to really take advantage of the posters and maps in this fashion so I finally pulled the trigger for this campaign and I've been using it for every session. The players seem to really appreicate it.

Also, this adventure represented a general transition in how I "bill" sessions in the organizational email. I'd already been very prone to naming adventures, but the use of a hint or preview element has become a neat element I'm trying to integrate more. It is a lot like doing "scenes from next week's episode" for my campaign, which fits because of the extremely episodic structure.