My hope is, and we've spoken about this several times, that he'll eventually feel comfortable enough with the system that he'll want to be the DM. I'm hoping that, sometime before paragon tier, we'll be able to swap out, but we'll just see how it goes.
Sounds awesome. I am a big fan of rotating DMs but in my experience it's not great for the storyline (even if the DMs are both good storytellers, it's a little disjointed). To be honest I would suggest having him run an alternate one shot story and see how he does with that before entrusting him with a story you have a lot invested in.
Fourth edition is so miniatures-focused, though. I'm thinking the best route to take might be to narrate most of the way, then slap down encounter zones when they pop up. Maybe that sounds obvious, but at first, I was considering using all my tiles to actually create the entire dungeon setup.
But that's a lot of work.
I find the best way to do this is map it out like a flow chart, and only prepare maps/encounters for the blocks on the flow chart, using narration and skill challenges to move between blocks. Don't map everything out, too much work and too inflexible. In an dungeon like this you want to be able to move combats around (behind the players' backs if necessary so that they hit all the major plot points despite their best intentions)
Anyway, I may run some of these ideas by Akkarin later today, and see what sticks. I'll probably tell him that I've got multiple ideas for how this whole thing could go down, and that it'd be nice if he could give me a little input on what sounds best. After all, stuff that sounds good to us might not appeal to him. We'll see how it goes.
Don't let him know about the Abiding One being behind this! Let him know as little as possible, for his sake as well as yours. You want to have your secrets, even if they help you out.
By the way, I do actually have a character ready to go for whenever I get a chance to play, and I can post him here whenever. Maybe I'll do that later today.
Anyway, more on that in a bit.
Don't have great expectations for this. I would try to live vicariously through your players instead of hoping to enter into the world that you've created, because the instant you are in it and someone else is DMing, it's no longer your world, and it takes on an entirely different feel. Maybe this is something you are okay with, but I would just like to warn you about it.
Though as a side note, I play a barbarian in one of our rotating DM games, and it's a lot of fun (I get to charge EVERYTHING!), but I can see how the Storm Sorc would fit your group better.
As far as swapping DMs goes, it's totally fine by me. Strasa, even though I've put a lot of work into it, really isn't "my" creation, after all. I'm running a game in the city, but it's very much a communal creation, and that's what I love about it. The Raining City is a collection of a lot of good ideas from a dozen or so really talented posters, and the way I see it, having Akkarin's player DM can only enhance it further. And in any event, I've intentionally been really, really vague about the rest of my campaign world outside Strasa; my players know that the area surrounding the city is a vast marshland full of bullywugs, lizardmen, goblins, etc. They know very little else. I've mentioned some minor areas in the world like "Northbridge" (a border town up north, where Mal hid out after framing Phaedra for murder), but I haven't said anything at all about it. Even though another DM may very well keep the action centered around the Raining City (and I hope he does), I've left the world completely open so that another DM isn't restrained creatively. It's very much a blank slate, and I'd like to keep it that way.
Also, I'm not expecting to be able to play at any point, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared, just in case. I'm constantly writing up characters anyway, and some of them really interest me. I flesh them out because that feels like the natural thing to do, and before I know it, I've got myself a character I'd really like to play.
At this point, honestly, all my time is being poured into Vhauglohrl; I want to make that encounter as epic, dynamic, and exciting as possible for everyone involved. Because Solo encounters tend to be, well ... boring HP grinds, to be honest, I've decided to use some variant rules for Solo encounters. There are "Worldbreaker" Solos over on the At-Will Blog, as well as a completely new "Boss Fight" rules over at the Angry DM blog. Both of these new rule sets have their own Pros and Cons, and I've decided to use a combination of the two with Vhaug. I'm very near to being completed with a basic version of the creature and the fight, which I'll obviously want to present to you guys. I think it'll be a lot of fun. The only issue is that I essentially have to build this multi-phased creature / encounter from the ground up.
Okay guys, I'd really like your opinions on this. I've been working pretty hard on the Vhauglohrl encounter, using several variant rule-sets that I found on the Angry DM and At-Will blogs that were designed to make Solo encounters more dynamic and exciting. Both variants have their ups and downs, so I decided to use a combination of the two. Essentially, I've split the Dragon up from a single 225 HP monster into three monsters with 75 HP each. The players will fight Vhauglohrl in a series of consecutive phases (once Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp is defeated, she's replaced by Vhauglohrl, Queen-Of-Crows, who's then replaced by Vhauglohrl, "Name Coming Soon" at the end).
Each monster is essentially a unique creature with only a few traits and abilities in common. For example, in the beginning, Vhaug is at the height of her arrogance, and she's essentially an airborne skirmisher; when phase 2 hits, I'll reduce her flight mobility to clumsy to represent that she's taken damage to her wings, and she'll gain a new set of ground-based moves with a fewer flight options; during the final phase of the fight, Vhaug essentially becomes a brute, and her attacks get super-aggressive -- lots of push and prone effects, additional damage at the cost of lower defenses, etc.
Each creature has a transition ability that allows them to break away from the "gank n' spank" (or "surround n' pound", or whatever other people call it) that usually happens to Solos in 4th edition. Essentially, when they're reduced to 0 HP or fewer, they escape from the pack and transition to the next phase from a more powerful position.
Worldbreaker abilities come from the At-Will blog, and I'm pretty excited to see how they work in practice. Worldbreaker abilities enable the creature to create some massive encounter-changing event, and players have to respond by using skills or abilities appropriately. Examples from the creator include a White Dragon that's able to summon up a howling snow storm (not so different from what I've done with Vhaug, to be honest), and a Gorgon that can splinter the earth and create huge stretches of difficult terrain while showering its enemies with chunks of rock. While these Worldbreaker core abilities are active, the creature gains a suite of new attack powers that can only be used while its corresponding Worldbreaker ability is in effect. Vhaug can exhale a billowing cloud of noxious fumes that covers the battlefield, for example, and while that's happening, she's able to stealthily stalk her foes or call upon the Crow Eater Tribe for assistance.
I think they're neat abilities, but I need to know what you guys think.
I've used the modified attack and damage values from the Monster Math Cruncher, so I'm pretty certain the values I have in place there are solid. I removed a couple of the standard Black Dragon abilities, and added several, which is really where I'd like some input. I took out Cloud of Darkness, for example, because I find it a little complicated to use, and in practice, all that happens is the Dragon sits in the cloud with impunity while it recharges its most powerful attacks, then jumps out. I just don't like it, so I replaced it with a minor action attack (usable only once per round) called Eye of Shadow, which targets Will and temporarily blinds the target. I figure that's a good middle-ground, but if it's not, I'm open to suggestions.
Of course, I added in the standard suite of "Solo Boosting" traits, like Draconic Alacrity and Resilience, which help make up for the action disadvantage that Solos face, as well as their lockdown vulnerability.
I'm still working on Phases 2 and 3, but I'm prepared to show you guys Phase 1 at this point. Please, let me know what you think.
For reference: (M) is a Melee attack; (MB) is a Melee Basic attack; (R) is a Ranged attack; (RB) is a Ranged Basic attack; (C) is a Close attack; and ... I think that's it?
Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp Level 4 Solo Skirmisher Large Natural Magical Beast (Aquatic, Dragon, Worldbreaker)
Traits: Draconic Alacrity: Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp makes two initiative checks at the beginning of combat, and takes a full turn on each initiative result. She may take one immediate action between the end of each turn and the beginning of the next.
Draconic Resilience: Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp is entitled to a saving throw, at the end of each of her turns, against any effect or condition that causes her to become Dazed, Dominated, or Stunned. She is entitled to this even if the effect or condition does not normally allow a save. A successful save ends the effect or condition immediately.
Standard Actions: (MB) Bite (Standard; At-Will) * Acid Reach 2; +9 vs AC; 1d6+4 damage, and ongoing 5 acid damage (save ends).
(M) Flyby Attack (Standard; 2/Encounter) * Acid The dragon flies up to 7 squares and makes a bite attack at any point during the move without provoking an opportunity attack from the target.
(C) Strafe (Standard; Encounter) * Acid The dragon flies up to 7 squares and makes a breath weapon attack at any point during the move without provoking an opportunity attack from the target.
(C) Breath Weapon (Standard; Encounter) * Acid Close blast 5; +7 vs Reflex; 3d6+4 acid damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 acid damage and takes a -4 penalty to AC (save ends both).
Gas Chamber (Standard; 1/Encounter) * Acid, Worldbreaker, Zone Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp exhales a noxious cloud of viridian gas that quickly spreads across the battlefield, obscuring vision and corrupting all it touches. Vhauglohrl disappears into the fog; remove her from the game when this ability is activated. For the duration of this ability's effect, Vhauglohrl loses the benefit of Draconic Alacrity, and acts only once per round, on her second initiative count. This effect lasts for 1d4 rounds. While Gas Chamber is active, all player characters are slowed, and their vision is severely limited; any creature standing more than 2 squares away from a player has concealment, and any creature standing 5 or more squares away has total concealment. When this ability is first activated, each player is entitled to a special skill check, as a free action: * Endurance DC 15: Success grants the player immunity to the Gas Chamber's slowing effect. * Insight DC 15: Success grants the player a +2 bonus to all defenses for the remainder of the Gas Chamber's effect. * Nature DC 15: Success grants the player a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls, skill checks, and all defenses for the duration of the Gas Chamber's effect. * Perception DC 15: Success allows the player pierce the fog, and see much further than others; for the duration of the Gas Chamber ability, creatures don't gain concealment from the player until they're 5 or more squares away, and don't gain total concealment until they're 10 or more squares away. * Stealth DC 15: Success grants the player concealment from any enemies 2 or more squares away, and total concealment from creatures 5 or more squares away for the duration of the Gas Chamber's effect.
Lurker In The Swamp (Standard; Special) * Gas Chamber Can only be used during Gas Chamber. Vhauglohrl stalks and pounces on the PCs from within the fog. Each player rolls Perception against Vhauglohrl's Stealth. Any player who rolls lower takes 1d10+4 damage from the dragon's surprise attack. Any player who rolls higher not only escapes damage, but can also make an opportunity attack. After Lurker In the Swamp has been resolved, remove Vhauglohrl from the game once again.
Mother's Call (Standard; Special) * Gas Chamber Can only be used during Gas Chamber. Vhauglohrl summons the vicious Crow Eaters to her aid. Place 1d4+1 Crow Eater Goblins anywhere on the map at least 5 squares away from a player character. A Crow Eater Goblin is a small-sized minion with 18 Armour Class, 15 Fortitude, 16 Reflex, and 15 Will. All summoned minions act on Vhauglohrl's initiative order, and can use the following attack: (M) +9 vs AC; 5 damage.  Their speed is 6.
Minor Actions: (M) Tail Slap (Minor; 1/Round; At-Will) Reach 2; +7 vs Reflex; 1d6+4 damage, and the target is knocked prone.
(R) Eye of Shadow (Minor; 1/Round; At-Will) Range 10; +7 vs Will; the target is blind until the end of its next turn.
Triggered Actions: (M) Wing Buffet (Immediate Reaction, when any enemy misses the dragon; At-Will) Reach 2; +9 vs AC; 1d6+4 damage, and the target is pushed 1 square.
Ear-Shattering Roar (No Action, when Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp is reduced to 0 or fewer HP; special) * Thunder (C) Close Burst 5; +7 vs Fortitude; 3d6+4 thunder damage. Effect: The target is pushed 2 squares and knocked prone. Vhauglohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp shifts up to 7 squares. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks. Remove Vhaughlohrl, Mother-In-The-Swamp from the game, and replace her with Vhauglohrl, Queen-Of-Crows.
 By the way, she only has 1 Action Point because they're spread out amongst the Phases, and I didn't give her Frightening Presence because I wanted to use it on a later Phase of the fight.
[edit again] Also, after "transition abilities" are resolved, all player characters are allowed to spend a healing surge and regain the use of one of their encounter powers. These variant rules were intended to make Solos harder, after all, so I have no problem allowing them to shore up their hit points and regain a power after each phase. Also, one of the biggest problems I've encountered with Solos is that everyone naturally fires off all of their abilities straight away, and then they're down to just At-Will attacks for the last 150 hit points or so; allowing each player to regain the use of an encounter power after each transition helps keep things interesting for the players, too.
Awesome idea, but I think that worldbreaker and staged doesn't mix as well as you would hope, since they are both effectively solving the same thing. If each of your stages has a worldbreaker then effectively you have a 6 stage monster. I really like the gas chamber stage but I think that it should be your stage II, not something in stage one. It would make for more distinct stages than your current stage II and III (which from your initial description, sound like they could be the same).
The result is a fight that goes like this:
Queen of the Swamp. Skirmisher. I would make her flyby attack recharge 4 or 5, so she can use it often, but not every round. At this point she's toying with the party, testing their limits. When she gets 'killed' she becomes "Lurker in the Swamp" flies up into the air spews out tons of acid smoke and dives into the water.
Lurker in the Swamp. Lurker. Popping in and out of hiding, she picks at the party. This is her most dangerous stage and she's fighting tactically and using minions to absorb attacks and damage. I would make her need to get out every few rounds to spew out more acid smoke, at which point she is more vulnerable. When she is finally beaten here she lets out a roar and attempts to fly away, but one of her wings is broken or damaged and it simply ends up blowing away the smoke before she crashes back into the playing field bloodied and broken as the "Swamp Monster"
Swamp Monster. Brute/controller. With damaged wings hampering flight and swimming, Vhauglorhl fights a desperate battle on land. She is brutal and does a lot of forced movement. Her acidic blood oozes out at those who strike her and she tears up the terrain, blasting holes with her remaining acidic bile. If she can disable enough of the party (particularly any with range) she limps away to fight again.
Before you tell me any more about the fight, tell me about the terrain. I'm imagining a large square sort of island arena, composed of ruined buildings, crisscrossed by waterways and bridges with taller ruined buildings around the outside that can provide perches for Vhauglorhl to fly between. I expect you have your own knowledge of what it will look like, but I'm just throwing that out there. You are putting a lot of work into this, and I think it will show. Good luck!
Thanks for the input, Shovel. I think you're spot-on about the Worldbreaker powers. It was a fear of mine that I was over-complicating the fight, and I'm glad you called it out. I was actually thinking of using the Gas Chamber as a sort of transition power, at first. It wasn't until later that I decided to go full-on Worldbreaker with it. Dragons, in my vision of the world, are really primordial beings; their race was infused with the elemental stuff of creation at the dawn of existence. Dragons, to me, are essentially the embodiments of certain elements. I don't try to explain away their ability to breath fire or acid with biological mumbo-jumbo; to me, they're basically massive elemental furnaces, and that's just how it is. Black Dragons have within them the very essence of shadows and acid, so I want to play up abilities that show that as often as possible.
I see the fight as basically going like this: Mother-In-The-Swamp, wherein Vhaug is essentially this haughty and arrogant skirmisher (maybe a bit of artillery) that toys with the PCs with flyby and ranged attacks; this transitions to Queen-Of-Crows, wherein Vhaug realizes she can't push the 'Watch over the way she's accustomed to, and summons up goblin minions while capitalizing on her superior speed (lots of shifts, and if there's water -which I hope there is, but I haven't gotten that far into the terrain development yet- then lots of Aquatic movement as well); finally, stage three is essentially the way you described it -- lots of forced movement and brutal attacks. In some ways, not as dangerous as phase 2, since there's less of an emphasis on defense and strategy, and more of an emphasis on brutal, overpowering assault.
As the fight progresses, I see Vhaug start to lose control of the roiling chaotic elements that churn around inside her. Each phase gets more and more overtly "acid and shadow" powers. By the end, yeah, there's acid blood bursting out as immediate reactions, maybe an aura; we'll see how it goes.
Today is actually my 27th birthday, so I can't be on here very long. When I wake up in the morning, and I've got a coffee in my hands, I'll try to be a lot more specific, and answer your questions a little better. Until then, thanks as always for all the input, Shovel.
Okay, I'm back. Even though I've been super busy lately, I've managed to build up a concept that I'm pretty happy with. I appreciate your input Shovel, but I wanted to pull back and write up the rest of the adventure on my own, so as not to spoil anything else for you or anyone else reading through the thread. We'll be playing this weekend, so I'll have a full review available on Sunday (or Monday, depending on what else I have to do this weekend). I can, however, paint you guys a quick picture of what's currently happening in Strasa:
Only a few short hours have passed since the Warlord, Zessith, led a daring, full-scale invasion against the raining city. Open conflict has more-or-less ended, but pockets of resistance still remain. Their leaders have pulled them from the front lines, and are attempting to consolidate their strength before pushing back against the lizardmen (in much the same way that the 'Watch is holding out temporarily inside the Temple of the Everlasting Storm). Up on the hill, the bulk of Zessith's forces have begun their siege of the Council chambers. The warlord seeks to crack the tower's shell, and force the remaining Councilmen to legitimize his rule, ending the Strasan resistance (on paper, at least).
Below Cecil's Wall, the poorer sections of the city have been devastated. Vhauglohrl, the self-styled Queen-of-Crows, has made a roost of its ruins. Her Crow Eater goblins have spread through the area like a plague, dragging survivors out into the street to be dealt with: half of everyone they find are killed outright; a quarter are simply maimed (their legs broken, so that they can only kneel before the Mother-In-The-Swamp, and their fingers crushed, so that they can never raise a sword against Her); another quarter are brought before Vhauglohrl herself, to be devoured -- only the lucky ones are eaten right away, of course: the unlucky ones are tied to bits of rubble and tossed into the canals, to be consumed once they're properly "pickled".
The Crow Eaters haven't pressed past Cecil's Wall, however. Shortly after the invasion began, the necromancers of the Ferryman Institute opened the doors of their vaults and released dozens of skeletal warders. These undead creations aren't perfect defenders, though; they were meant to be used as a labour force, capable of working underwater indefinitely. As such, they are only capable of understanding very simple commands. They're doing a fine job of defending the streets (in fact, the area between Cecil's Wall and the Council's Hill is almost completely free from conflict), however, they aren't always capable of distinguishing friend from foe. Civilians in the area are completely safe, so long as they remain in their houses, but anyone out on the streets (especially those visibly armed with steel and magic) is likely to be confronted by the undead.
Essentially, I've split the city up into 3 sections with 3 completely different "styles":
Council Hill: Fighting in this section of the city is mostly against Lizardmen, culminating in an encounter with Zessith, himself. Minor quests in the area involve seeking out and rallying pockets of resistance, to aid the 'Watch in lifting the siege.
Strasa Proper: This is the "main" section of the city, where the Roost, the Temple of the Everlasting Storm, the Ferryman's Institute of Practical Necromancy, and the Brazen Foal exist. Thanks to the Ferrymen, this section of the city is relatively free from open conflict. If the 'Watch it traveling through it, however, they're likely going to have to fight some skeletons -- this is essentially just a "buffer zone" between the Hill and the area beneath Cecil's Wall. There could be some minor quests, but I haven't thought of many yet.
Beneath Cecil's Wall: Fighting in this section of the city is mostly against goblins, culminating in an encounter with Vhauglohrl. Minor quests in the area involve locating and rescuing survivors, preventing canibalistic rituals from taking place, etc.
So, yeah, that's the basic outline I've formed for the adventure. I don't anticipate the group will make it all the way to Zessith or Vhaug in one session; we only play for a few hours at a time, and combat takes a while in 4e. I expect they'll get pretty close to either major villain, depending on which direction they take, but not all the way to the end. Anyway, let me know if you've got any questions, comments, or suggestions. I'm always open to ideas.
I don't know if you are still looking at this, but this is a great time if you wanted to give one of your players a DMing experience. Since you've already split it up, you could easily add another section that's under the control of your aspiring DM. Just tell Akkarin the basics of what's going on in the other sections and give him some reign to make things happen.
That being said, you continue to impress me with your story and design! Good job!
I tried to get this up for you guys yesterday, but Sundays are pretty busy around here. Anyway, better late than never:
Well, Game 7 almost didn't happen: Victoria is my wife, and our babysitter fell through about half an hour before we were supposed to play. We tried calling around for a replacement, but we couldn't make anything happen on such short notice. In the end, we decided that she would stay here with our son, and I'd go run D&D. I have some experience playing a Cleric, so I figured I could manage Victoria in combat while running the monsters as well. We wanted her to be there, obviously, but the alternative was to call off D&D entirely, and since Virgil has to drive like 45 minutes into town just to play, I really didn't want to do that. Anyway, Game 7 was a lot of fun, even though I had to run Victoria.
Here's a quick re-cap of what was going down in the city when the game started (taken directly from my game notes):
Only a few short hours have passed since the warlord, Zessith, led a daring, full-scale invasion against the Raining City. Open conflict lasted only a short while, as the Lizardmen, alongside Crow Eater goblins, and the infamous black dragon, Vhauglohrl, cut through the streets with little effort, leaving only corpses in their wake. Pockets of resistance still remain on Council Hill, but their leaders have temporarily pulled them from the front lines, hoping to consolidate their strength before launching a counter-offensive. These men are led by the dauntless Captain Sternheart, who miraculously survived the initial attack, and has been skirmishing with the lizardmen for several hours.
Never-the-less, up on the Hill, Zessith and his tribes have initiated a siege of the Council building. The warlord seeks to crack the tower's shell, and force the remaining Councilmen to legitimize his rule, ending the Strasan resistance -- on paper, at least.
Down below Cecil's Wall, the docksides have been utterly devastated; Vhauglohrl, the self-styled Queen-Of-Crows, has made a roost of its ruins. Her Crow Eater goblins have spread through the area like a plague, dragging survivors out into the sterets to be dealt with: reports indicate that fully half of everyone they find is killed outright; another quarter are simply maimed (their legs broken, so that they can only kneel before the Mother-In-The-Swamp, and their fingers crushed, so that they can never raise a sword against Her); the rest ar ebrought before Vhauglohrl herself, to be devoured -- the lucky ones are eaten right away ... the unlucky ones are still alive when they're tied to bits of rubble, and tossed into the canals, to be eaten once they've been properly "pickled".
The Crow Eaters haven't pressed past Cecil's Wall, however. Shortly after the invasion began, the necromancers of the Ferryman Institute opened the doors of their vaults, and released dozens of their skeletal workers into the streets. These undead servants have proven invaluable in keeping the area between Cecil's Wall and Council Hill free from conflict with the invaders, but they aren't perfect defenders; they were created to serve as a labour-force, capable of working underwater for indefinite periods of time. They are only capable of understanding a very limited set of commands, and as such, have a difficult time distinquishing between friends and foes. Civilians in the area are safe, so long as they remain indoors, but anyone caught out into the streets (especially those armed with steel and magic), should expect to encounter the Ferrymen's de facto guardians sooner or later.
At this point, I presented the players with a couple of major quests: The first was presented by First-Councilor Hagen (who had been honouring the Watch during the festival of Storm's Harvest when the invasion began -- he was injured by the explosion, and taken into the Temple along with a large number of other Strasans); he asks the players to end the warlord's siege, and save the remaining Councilmen. In return, he promises that his men will skin the hide from Zessith's wretched body, and the finest craftsmen in Strasa will forge a masterwork set of scalemail from it (+2 Drakescale Armour of Poison Resistance). Furthermore, Horace Durham, High-Cleric of the temple, asks that the players remove the goblins from the dockside as quickly as possible. He claims that the Crow Eaters are an affront to Kord, because they worship a false god; Vhauglohrl. She and her goblins are also a much larger threat to the people of Strasa at this point -- Zessith is an evil warlord, but his men aren't dragging women and children out into the streets to be slaughtered, maimed, or eaten. He issues a bounty of 7 gold for every goblin slaim, and one-hundred times that amount (an additional 700 gold) when Vhauglohrl is slain.
I pointed out to the players that this adventure isn't "time sensitive", meaning that they don't have to worry about Zessith taking over the Council building if they choose to go after Vhaug first, or worry about Vhaug killing half the people left in the dockside if they want to break the siege first. I want them to do whatever feels natural and fun, without having to worry about that kind of stuff. So, armed with that information, they decided to go after Vhauglohrl first, since she and the Crow Eaters are presenting a more immediate threat to the Raining City (Zessith is preparing a siege on Council Hill, but there are also pockets of resistance there -- meanwhile, dockside is a bloodbath).
Getting to Cecil's Wall was basically a skill challenge, but I hid that fact from the players, and basically allowed them to tell me how they planned to get across the city. It was a complexity 6 challenge, and every 2 successes, I presented a "twist". The first one came pretty quickly, after Phaedra scouted ahead for the rest of the group with Stealth, and Virgil used Perception to spot a gap in the skeletal patrols. The Watch was moving up a dark alley (did I mention it was night time? The conditions outside are Low-Light, so only Phaedra can see without the aid of a light source) when they heard some quiet voices coming from the street, up ahead. Phaedra scouted up once again, and had a look at what was going on:
She saw four figures around the corner: one was an overweight fellow, obviously nervous, carrying a lantern and serving as a lookout for the others; another was a wiry man with hard, mean features. Everyone seemed to listen when he spoke, but they seemed motivated more by fear than respect. The remaining two looked like hired muscle. Pretty nondescript, really. All but the lookout were hunched over some dead bodies, searching them for valuables. Phaedra told the others about the looters, and they all moved up the alley to confront them. Wanting to take the men by surprise (or just scare them off entirely), Phaedra flicked a dagger at the lookout's lantern, and sent it crashing to the ground. The man flipped out, and the leader stood up immediately, drew his daggers, and called out through the darkness, proclaiming that he wasn't afraid.
Virgil stepped forward into view, and the two men had a pretty brief conversation; essentially, Virgil told them to bugger off, and the leader told him the same. The wiry man told the Watch that they had permission from the Guild (ie: the Thief's Guild) to scavenge up whatever they could, and so they have every right to keep whatever they find. The conversation quickly turned into violence (I actually had anticipated the group would try to use Diplomacy or Intimidate to deal with these guys, but violence works just as well, lol) -- it was a pretty anticlimactic fight, though, since all four looters were just Level 1 Human Rabble Minions: Virgil charged the lookout during the surprise round, and essentially cut the man in half; Phaedra leapt over the fallen bodies and cut down their leader; Virgil's turn was next up, so he used a multi-attack encounter power to finish off the other two goons. The fight was over essentially before it even started ... Akkarin and Victoria never even got to move.
The Dungeon Master's Guide says I need to parcel out a certain amount of treasure throughout each level, and so I decided there was going to be 470 gold available here. But gold, I figured, was boring. It would be more interesting to give them actual loot that added up in value to 470 gold. All in all, the group found a Whitewood Wedding Band, several simple brass bands, a heavy wooden drinking stein, a polished mahogany broach, a set of 10 silver buttons ornately designed in a floral pattern, and an old chess set (the figures representing the armies of the Brother Kings, Veras and Hadrias, who went to war with one another over their father's kingdom after his passing), along with about a hundred gold pieces.
The group argued for a little bit about what to do with all the treasure. Virgil wanted to keep some of it (like the stein), but I think that had more to do with Virgil's PLAYER wanting it, rather than what the character Virgil actually wanted. In the end, they decided to figure it out later, and continue on toward Cecil's Wall (see, that's what's fun about treasure, rather than gold -- Gold would have just been written down and divied up later, but treasure actually promotes discussion amongst the group). Their fight with the looters, however, and their subsequent argument over the stolen goods, had attracted a skeletal patrol, so now everyone had to roll for initiative.
The fight went pretty well. It was four standard Skeletons (level 4 Soldiers), and they dished out a fair amount of punishment. Every character has grown leaps and bounds, and they're all so much more effective at their individual roles. I realized right away that I'm going to have to re-tune some future encounters because I hadn't realized how effective they now were at level 4 (they skipped level 3 completely, if you remember, so this is new territory for all of us).
After that fight ended, they pressed on toawrd the dockside, and after a few more skill checks, they saw a figure moving through the shadows down the street, toward them. Phaedra moved up ahead, and took advantage of her natural Low-Light vision to scout the figure out: she saw a young woman, stumbling through the darkness, dressed in rags. In one hand, the woman held a dagger, and steadied herself against the buildings, while the other hand clutched at an open wound in her belly. Phaedra relayed this information to the others, and Akkarin called out to the young woman, asking if she needed help. She raised her dagger defensively in response, pain clearly visible now on her tattooed face (at this distance, they determined she was an elf -- likely escaped from dockside), and the woman collapsed on the ground. The 'Watch moved up, and Virgil used his Heal skill to try and stabilize her condition. When she came around, Phaedra spoke to the woman in elvish.
The elven girl told Phaedra that she and her children had attempted to flee to the Temple when the invasion began, but were cut off by Crow Eaters. She explains that she tried to save her children, but the goblins dragged them off, back toward the docks, and that she barely escaped with her own life. She coughs up blood in between sentences, and admits that she wishes she'd been the one who'd been taken instead of them. She begs the players to save her two children. So at this point, I give the players a minor quest to do just that. Virgil asks his man, Thomas (whom he hired in the previous session to sort of follow them around and help out) to escort the young woman back to the Temple of the Everlasting Storm, and get her the aid she requires. The Watch then pressed on toward Cecil's Wall, which was looming not so far away now.
When the group finally reached the Wall, they noticed that almost every entrance was being guarded by the Crow Eaters. Conflict, they determined, was inevitable, so they rushed in to fight at a location with a nice choke-point they could use. The fight was a hell of a lot easier than I expected it to be. See, I wanted to use a lot of weaker goblins, rather than a handful of higher leveled ones, because that sort of fits with the whole "strength in numbers" tactic that goblins always use. So I had a level 3 goblin brute, two level 1 lurkers, 4 level 1 minions, a level 2 skirmisher, and a level 2 artillery. Lots of enemies, but honestly, they weren't a threat to the group at all; their attack ratings were so low, they had a tremendously difficult time even landing hits, and their damage wasn't great, either. Add on top of that that Akkarin now has access to some new control powers (like being able to immobilize two enemies with one attack, blinding ranged attackers so they aren't immediately threatening, and creating a field of spinning blades that will auto-kill any minions who try to attack from a space adjacent to him), and the fight was just a push-over.
Which is fine, because that's where we ended for the night. I believe we'll be playing again next weekend, so I'll use my time during the week to adjust the next several encounters before the Vhauglohrl fight, so they're a bit more difficult.