EPIC 4-1 Shooting the Moon
This past Saturday, July 28, 2012, we played EPIC 4-1 Shooting the Moon. We have a group that gets together once a month for marathon D&D sessions. Recently, though, we decided to make the session not quite as marathon, so we are splitting EPIC 4-1 in twain. This post describes what happened when we played the first half.
• Adrik, dwarf knight (Paul) – emissary of the mountain lands
• Luxius, eladrin wizard (Leo) – devotee of Corellon
• M.A.R.C. 01, warforged cleric (Ben) – self-proclaimed demigod of cutlery
• Carkoon, human rogue (Mark) – spymistress of Cormyr
• Fherul Hart, tiefling warlord (Chuck) – future queen of Impiltur
• Serbitar, human battlemind (me) – member of The Thirty (Abeir-Toril division)
[2 defenders, 2 leaders, 1 striker, 1 controller. The perfect 6-man party, if you ask me.]
[Brad (DM), Paul, Chuck, and I already played EPIC 4-1 at DDXP 2012. However, we liked it so much – and wanted the other three players to get a chance to play it – that we played it again.]
[Brad asked me to note: "any changes were made to present the re-players with surprises. I certainly don't think my ideas were better than the original. I am also making no changes to the two most important encounters since they are already soul-crushing, draining, terrifying, and exhilarating!"]
The adventure began in Myth Drannor – all of the PCs were invited to a special ceremony at which Coronal Ilsevele Miratar would set free several inanimate objects (spoons, ladles, chairs), much to M.A.R.C. 01’s delight. (The character worships Gond and believes that inanimate objects have souls and deserve to be free.) Each of the characters had his or her own reason to attend, as set forth by DM Brad in private communications.
Numerous noble elven and eladrin houses contributed their objects to the ritual, which would combine divination (to know where the objects were most needed) and teleportation or planar travel (to transport the objects to their new homes).
[At this point Ben joked that somewhere in the Nine Hells, a devil girl was having a bat mitzvah party and really needed a punch bowl.]
As the ritual concluded, it was interrupted by the voices of four inhabitants of Myth Drannor speaking every fourth word of an unpleasant greeting. Tsien Chang, the insane sorceress from CORE 1-12 The Sign of Four and villainess of the EPIC adventures, had tracked down the PCs.
A wave of magic washed over the assembled crowds, fusing several nearby innocents into horrible monstrosities. A eladrin and his mount became a centaur (“elataur"), three eladrin combined into a marilith (“eladrith"), and at least half-a-dozen elves and eladrin became a terrible amoeba-like creature with multiple pseudopods.
[picture: Myth Drannor Fight]
[picture: Blob of Eladrin]Spoiler:
Serbitar(*) reacted in horror at this turn of events – he cried out “Joinings!” and rushed to engage the gargantuan blob.
(*) Serbitar is the name of a character from the book Legend by David Gemmel. In that series, humans and animals can be combined by sorcery into a Joining, which is somewhat like a were-creature in D&D. In game terms, Serbitar has the Topaz Crusader epic destiny, which is focused on destroying the Far Realms and all aberrations. So this encounter was doubly horrific for Serbitar.
The party unleashed a variety of status effects on the blob (including weakened and dazed) while Serbitar kept it marked. The “eladrith” was briefly threatening, until Luxius stunned it. Meanwhile, Adrik handled the “elataur” with ease.
[Overall, this combat was not too challenging, but it wasn’t intended to be. Brad (the DM) added it to the beginning of the adventure to set the mood and give us a warm-up.]
[Carkoon, spymistress of Cormyr, says: " Immediately following combat, we learned that Coronal Ilsevele Miratar used us as bait to draw Tsien Chang out of hiding. The grand cutlery liberation ritual was an excuse to bring together three of the adventures who had been such a thorn in Tsien Chang's side. She could not help but make a mystical appearance in order to rub our face in our inability to stop her and otherwise monologue. The Coronal explained that Tsien had been using the power she stole in the previous adventures to cloak herself and her activities. By drawing Tsien Chang out, the Coronal was FINALLY able to track her down in Candlekeep ..."]
The PCs caught their breath, then looked skyward to see the flying ship Mistress of the Night and her captain, the skeleton Elyuro Panahq. Captain Panahq informed the PCs that Tsien Chang had been spotted at the library of Candlekeep, so the party departed Myth Drannor in haste.
At Candlekeep, the PCs found out that a woman using the suspicious pseudonym Ailarrali Lilarri (four letters, repeated four times) had just finished doing research on various topics. Each PC went to a different section of the library to follow up on these leads, except Adrik (dwarf knight) who tagged along with Luxius the wizard.
M.A.R.C 01 decided to do a vanity search on his name in the religious archives. He was shocked to discover that not only was there a book about him, but that it contained detailed information about his capabilities. A check of the user edit list revealed the names of several villains of the Realms who had been defeated during M.A.R.C. 01’s ascent to demigod-hood – yet they had somehow found the wherewithal to compile this Wikipedia-like listing.
While the party was spread out doing research (or massaging his own ego in M.A.R.C. 01’s case), there arose a great hue and cry from the monks of the library. Strange, fiery creatures teleported into the building, intent on arson and murder. (And possibly also jaywalking if they ever got outside.)
In this combat encounter, the PCs did not initially have the benefit of being close together. Furthermore, to prevent the fiery creatures from burning up the books – books that contained valuable information about Tsien’s defenses – each PC in a book room had to spend a minor action each round to activate that room’s Sigil of Protection, which unfortunately also nullified the PC’s resistances and made him vulnerable 10 to all damage.
Serbitar was in the Intake room where he faced one magma elemental and two fire archons. One of the battlemind’s weaknesses is minimal ability to attack more than one target per round. Fortunately, Carkoon the rogue was nearby (questioning the monks using Streetwise) and used Knockout on the magma elemental, which allowed Serbitar to clear out the minions.
Fherul, the ranged warlord, was unhappy to find herself in the Prophecies room with a magma elemental. Thinking quickly, she used a massive push power to blow the thing completely out of the room, then stood two squares outside the door so it could not get past her easily. Fherul managed to shoot-and-scoot for a few rounds until Carkoon could finish her business at Intake and arrive to assist. (Poor Carkoon got petrified twice by the magma elementals’ death burst. Such are the perils of being a melee-only rogue.)
Luxius and Adrik faced two magma elementals and two fire archons in the Magic and Alchemy room. Luxius hemmed in the fire-based creatures with a wall of cold while Adrik kept them within his defender aura so they couldn’t take out their anger on the wizard.
M.A.R.C. 01 was alone in the Deities and Demigods room where Jalm (the efreet lord) and a few fire archons appeared. Jalm almost filled the room with fire effects including his fiery wall (20 squares) and rolling flames (burst 3). M.A.R.C. 01, the protector of inanimate objects, dutifully activated the Sigil of Protection every round, but got horribly burned by Jalm and the archons. Towards the end of the combat, Carkoon, Serbitar, and Fherul came to M.A.R.C. 01’s assistance – and not a moment too soon, from the warforged’s point of view.
Once Jalm was downed and disappeared into a pile of ash, Serbitar rushed over to the aid of Luxius and Adrik, declaring, “I’m sure that efreet lord is gone for good.” (This was me the player being a bit sarcastic, because I knew out-of-character that Jalm definitely would return thanks to his ring of the phoenix. Of course, my PC did not know that in character, so Serbitar had no reason to hang around Jalm’s ashes.)
Next round, Jalm re-appeared in a burst of flame (“Not again!” cried M.A.R.C. 01). But with three PCs (the warfoged, plus Carkoon and Fherul) to face him, the efreet didn’t last long. He was beaten into unconsciousness and then Intimidated into spilling his guts about what he knew of Tsien’s plans – which was next to nothing, as the fire creatures were merely hired muscle.
[This combat dealt a tremendous amount of damage, especially because the PCs were conscientious about activating the Sigils of Protection – that “vulnerable 10 all” adds up fast. The fire archons were deceptively dangerous. They’re minions, but they have a deadly accurate ranged attack that targets Reflex, which is generally the lowest defense for many defenders and leaders. That attack deals effectively 41 damage if the vulnerability is in place – 11 (+10) fire damage and 10 (+10) ongoing fire.]
In the aftermath of the Candlekeep battle, the party was pleased to find that not a single book or scroll had burned. The PCs made notes on all the relevant details about Tsien and her research. Many of those notes pointed to the lost city of Myth Dyraalis, so the group boarded the Mistress of the Night once again and set off.
Usually skill challenges to get from point A to point B are routine, but not this time. This time, almost everyone in the party had terrible luck with his dice. Four PCs ended up with no choice but to bull their way through the curtain of blue fire that surrounded Myth Dyraalis. The specific (temporary) spellscars were:
• Luxius – Whenever the PC spends a healing surge, he gains ongoing 20 radiant and fire damage (save ends).
• Adrik – The PC takes a -2 penalty to all attack rolls.
• M.A.R.C. 01 – The PC grants combat advantage to all enemies.
• Serbitar – Whenever the PC heals, they regain only half as many hit points.
[M.A.R.C. 01 wasn’t too badly hurt by his spellscar because he has a feat that prevents most of the negative effects of granting combat advantage. Adrik stolidly endured his reduced accuracy, but it had to hurt. Luxius and Serbitar managed to avoid the need to spend healing surges in the city of Myth Dyraalis itself, but they were terribly constrained during the next fight in the Garden of Seven Mysteries.]
Once inside Myth Dyraalis, the party quickly deduced that everyone in the city had been turned to stone at the instant that the spellplague hit. In the town’s central square, the PCs discovered huge piles of treasure, including two items that pinged as epicly powerful on Luxius’s constantly active detect magic effect. Intrigued, M.A.R.C. 01 stepped forward to examine a fountain filled with gold – at which point the coinage tried (but failed) to dominate him, and several creatures emerged.
[Brad changed this combat significantly. Instead of facing a mated pair of dragons, the PCs faced a city golem (literally made of chunks of buildings and streets), an energy being, and 2 gargoyles.]
Most of the battle took place near the central fountain, where Serbitar and Adrik locked down the golem and energy being with defender powers. One of the gargoyles attempted to engage Luxius and Fherul, but the eladrin wizard summoned a chain devil to keep the gargoyle occupied. Everyone managed to avoid ending his turn adjacent to the piles of treasure, so no one got dominated.
[I think Brad removed so much control from this encounter that it wasn’t threatening enough, although as a player I certainly appreciated my PC not being slid around or restrained by the dragons.]
After the city guardians were smashed to rubble or dispersed, the party set about efficiently looting the place. Fherul was pleased to discover the great hero’s gauntlets, which she gladly equipped. [Those are nice gauntlets! +2 attacks when you AP, and if that attack deals damage, gain temp HP equal to your surge value.]
Avandra’s ring wasn’t quite as sexy, so Luxius dumped it in his bag of holding. (I propose that we create a running joke that any magic item not immediately put to use ends up lost somewhere in Luxius’s bag.)
Onwards to the Garden of Seven Mysteries, where Sehanine had placed her deific power when she decided to fade from the world. Once again, Tsien got there before the party, and before anyone could do anything the Shou sorceress drained one of the statues containing Sehanine’s power. In addition to Tsien herself, the bad guys consisted of 3 storm archon dervishes, 3 invokers, and 2 gorgons.
[pictures: Garden of Seven Mysteries]
Initiative was rolled, and thanks to Fherul’s insane initiative buffs, the party would act before any of the monsters – except Tsien, although we didn’t know that yet. Carkoon decided to use a power to give herself an initiative of 69 (huh huh (shut up, Beavis)). The daring rogue raced all the way across the garden to one of the statues, used a Bull Rush (!!!) to move the dervish away from it, and claimed its elfin goodness in the name of Cormyr.
[In Carkoon's own words: "When all was said and done, Carkoon opened the encounter by slamming into one of the closer storm archon dervishes with Bull Rush in order to knock it back a square and then absorb a statue. I pictured a full-on, kung-fu leap into the air, feet first, which sent her foe stumbling back out sheer disbelief. The highly dextrous and not particularly strong Carkoon ONLY pulled this off because she attached with her action point (rather than her standard action), which gave her a +9 to her attack bonus and her "Seize the Moment" power gave her an additional attack bonus on top of its initiative and speed bonuses. Even with all of the stacking bonuses and a roll of 15 on the die, she still barely pulled it off. I haven't been so proud of her since rushing across the entire battle field at the beginning of the encounter to start the Corellon cleansing ritual, all the while "impersonating" Gruumsh with her hat of disguise (during EPIC 3-1)."]
Tsien acted next and effortlessly drained another statue, making the score Evil B*tch 2, Good Guys 1.
With a heroic shout, Serbitar leapt into battle against one of the gorgons. He used a doubly augmented lodestone lure to pull it away from the statue, which utterly failed thanks to the gorgon’s immunity to forced movement. What about the prone effect from lodestone lure? Nope; the gorgon was immune to proning as well. Curses!
Fortunately, the rest of the party was able to make up for Serbitar’s blunder, and overall we finished the drain-the-statues game with a score of Good Guys 4, Evil B*tch 3.
However, that is glossing over the truly epic amounts of damage thrown around in this fight.
Tsien herself was frighteningly effective, as befits a monster (or Hazard) of her potency. The PCs quickly figured out (via knowledge checks and liberal DM hints) not to bother attacking Tsien. The PCs also quickly figured out that she would drain their temporary hit points, which was a major bummer for both defenders, who relied on liberal temporary hit point cushions as part of their shticks.
The storm archon invokers, with their hard-hitting ranged attacks, were considered so dangerous that at various times four of the PCs ventured up to the bridge to combat them – thanks to the mass fly spell cast by Luxius for those character who didn’t have airstriders.
Unfortunately, by leaving the ground-based creatures (dervishes and gorgons) alone, the party allowed too much damage to accrue to Fherul and M.A.R.C. 01.
Fherul had to bust out her combination of reorient the axis (everyone shifts 9) plus a power that lets everyone attack as a minor action for one round – naturally all this was done while the party was already under the effects of “reroll all attacks and choose the higher result” and various buffs to attack and damage rolls. To top it off, Fherul rolled a crit on her own attack, which thanks to the Legendary Sovereign epic destiny set off a party-wide cycle of basic attacks. When the dust cleared, three enemies were dead, which drastically cut down the amount of damage the PCs took over the remainder of the fight.
Both Luxius and Serbitar were forced to spend healing surges during the combat, despite both of them possessing spellscars that made healing painful or less effective. Still, painful and less effective healing was better than no healing.
After the longest three or four rounds of the PCs’ lives, the Mistress of the Night arrived for a daring rescue. Or it would have, if Tsien hadn’t teleported onto the skyship, dominated the entire crew, and forced Captain Panahq to sail away without the PCs.
In a rage, the party crushed the remaining opposition and then sank to ground in exhaustion.
[This encounter was just as brutal as I remembered it from my first experience with EPIC 4-1. The defenders could have done a better job defending (i.e., kept monsters off Fherul and M.A.R.C. 01), but the players/PCs seemed to have a tacit agreement that the best way to survive was to kill enemies as quickly as possible.
Interestingly, not a single PC dropped to 0 or fewer hit points. Chalk that up to the mass amounts of healing output by the two leaders.
Here’s another interesting thing that happened, or almost happened, during this encounter:
Serbitar contemplated using Lodestone Lure while in midair near the bridge. Lodestone Lure states that the enemy cannot move to any square not adjacent to the battlemind; when fully augmented it also prones the target. Normally a creature in midair will fall if knocked prone (unless it has hover).
But as of Rules Compendium, “move” means “Any instance of movement, whether it is done willingly or unwillingly. Whenever a creature, an object, or an effect leaves a square to enter another, it is moving.”
So would a non-hovering, flying creature that gets knocked prone and pulled adjacent to a battlemind with Lodestone Lure be able to fall? Or would it remain magnetized to the battlemind, as the flavor of Lodestone Lure suggests? I didn’t want to discuss this rules nightmare at the table, so I chose not to use that power in that situation.]
[Carkoon again: "Forcing the PCs to utilize all of their resources, including standard actions and action points to free up and absorb statues, during the first couple of rounds made this encounter all that much more punishing. All of the damage and conditions that we would have otherwise dropped on our foes in order to contain their effectiveness was negated. Add to that Tsien being a nearly unstoppable hazard with two sets of actions each round, it was a meat grinder!!!
Only Fherul, who avoided the statue challenge in order to use her powers to set up the rest of the party with free attacks and shifts, allowed us to drop three foes by the second round. Without our kick-ass warlord, I cannot imagine how much more insanely brutal it would have been. Exhilarating, yes, but completely insane!!!"]
Before the PCs departed from the Garden of Seven Mysteries, they received a vision from the vestige of Sehanine. The goddess directed them to journey throughout Faerun to gather up armies to attack I’Cath, Tsien’s island stronghold. Each PC set off for the region or country most amenable to his or her influence:
• Adrik, dwarf knight, went to Baldur’s Gate and gathered an army of mercenaries.
• Luxius, eladrin wizard, returned to Myth Drannor where he used his position as Wizard of the Spiral Tower to gather a force of elf and eladrin arcanists.
• M.A.R.C. 01, warforged cleric, headed to Waterdeep where he used his membership in the Heirs of Mirt to gather numerous current and former adventurers.
• Carkoon, human rogue, made a private nighttime visit to Lord Erzoured of Cormyr. (As Brad put it, “Carkoon doesn’t get an extended rest, but she does spend the night.") She received the best equipped troops in Cormyr for her, ehem, services.
• Fherul Hart, tiefling warlord, used her position as Legendary Sovereign of Impiltur to gather that country’s armies.
• Serbitar, human battlemind, initially went back to Myth Drannor where he had been living, then headed into the Dalelands. He gathered those fit to become part of The Thirty along with many other worshippers of The Source.
[Carkoon's personal statement regarding her, ehem, escapades in Cormyr: "Carkoon totally blew her initial skill check to raise an army in Cormyr, forcing her to improvise. She negotiated for "The Kiss of Lolth" as a story reward in EPIC3-3 -- two auto-successes at a social based skill check. Who knew she'd need it so quickly? If using "The Kiss of Lolth" to seduce Lord Erzoured with a night of passion is what it took, then for Faerûn's sake, it is what it took!"]
[Carkoon further wishes to let the following be known: "Tsien Chang has raised the ire of Carkoon like no enemy before her. Even Carkoon's arch nemeses, the Netherese, have not gotten her dander up like Tsien. This has moved FAR BEYOND the bitter taste left in Carkoon's mouth following "The Sign of Four." The Mistress of the Night was the final straw...
Tossing both arms into the air, with measureless imprecations, Carkoon shouts, "She tasks me! She tasks me, and I shall have her! I'll chase her round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round Perdition's flames before I give her up!!!"]
[Carkoon is apparently a fan of the Wrath of Khan version of Ahab's famous speech from Moby ****.] [hahah, the message board software censors the name of a great novel]
All of the forces journeyed by moonbridge to assault I’Cath:
• Adrik’s mercenaries withstood the First Wave of the attack. (Endurance)
• Luxius’s arcanists took on the Tower Assault using magic against magic. (Arcana)
• M.A.R.C. 01’s adventurers entered through the catacombs of I’Cath, fighting off undead. (Religion) (*)
• Carkoon’s Cormyrian forces snuck around in a Flanking Maneuver. (Stealth)
• Fherul’s armies of Impiltur smashed the Main Gates. (Athletics)
• Serbitar’s Source-worshippers headed through the Forests of I’Cath. (Nature) (**)
(*) Brad added some addition skill checks to the official options.
(**) Yay, Background skill training!
And that’s where we left off, with the outcome of the assault hanging in the balance.