Sunday, February 10, 2013, 6:39 PM
In Brimstone Angels, Farideh's pact with a cambion called Lorcan gets her, her sister, Havilar, and their adoptive father, a dragon-born called Mehen, kicked out of their village. They end up as bounty hunters searching for a woman called Constancia, who just happens to be searching for Brin, the weedy paladin to whom Havilar takes a fancy.
Their story line gets intertwined with the efforts of Glasya, daughter of Asmodeus, to acquire an aboleth in Neverwinter. The king asked the queen, and the queen asked the dairymaid… In effect, Glasya had Invadiah, queen of the erinyes (and Lorcan's mother), deal with the matter, and she has a resentful succubus, Rohini, try to accomplish the deed.
While our heroes play one side off against the other, Rohini goes over to the aboleths and Glasya's plot fails and the special guest star in the aftermath is Asmodeus himself. Invadiah is demoted, and replaced by Sairché, Lorcan's sister. Lorcan is left to her tender mercies, but Glasya says that she may have a use for him.
In Lesser Evils, the twins start out in Waterdeep where a scrap of paper and a fragment of stone send them off in search of the library of a Netherilian [sic] arcanist, Tarchamus, where Farideh hopes to find a way of getting Lorcan out of the Sixth Layer. The library itself is a trap which is inhabited both by the intellect of the wizard and his mummified body.
The expedition is also complicated by Mira and her associates who are Zhents, and just to add a twist, she's the daughter of Tam, the Harper who Farideh and Havilar have been with since before they arrived in Neverwinter. The Zhents are determined to keep the library from falling into the hands of the Shadovar.
Eventually Farideh frees Lorcan (but the two are bound together to keep them off Sairché's radar) and she then casts a particularly destructive spell, which destroys the library.
Sairché only has a small role in Lesser Evils, but Glasya informs her of Havilar's existence, and there is some great plot in which the tieflings will become entangled.
These are both girl-meets-boy stories with a good dose of they kiss, they fight, they kiss, they fight. Of the two, I preferred Brimstone Angels. Lesser Evils was split into two halves between Waterdeep and the library, but the latter dragged on a bit, which was another reminder of why I'm no fan of dungeon crawls.
Where having read a couple of Shadowbane novels, I'm not inclined to bother with that series any further, I may well continue with Brimstone Angels because the characters are engaging even if the settings may not be.
Thursday, January 17, 2013, 3:29 AM
Having read Shadowbane before rereading Shadowbane: Eye of Justice, I found the latter made more sense because I spent less time wondering what the author was talking about.
I did not spend more time thinking how much better the book was for knowing various facts about which I'd been unaware in the first place. I merely noted all the irritating instances of "coin", "lass", "lad", "folk" and "roil" which I'd missed on the previous occasion.
I noted the utter misuse of " 'ere" for "ere" as if the word was from "here" (which is isn't); or "fop" being used of a woman and "doxy" of a man; or "sir" being used as a title with Kalen Dren's surname. (He'd be "Sir Kalen".) Or the use of "rhetorical" when it meant nothing of the sort; or a bunch of thugs being called "assassins" when they were nothing of the sort; or a "footman" who was no footman at all.
I noted the copious instances of Myrin being referred to as a "wizard" when she's a "witch".
I noted the inappropriate diction such as a few too many instances of "stand down", at least one of "made us" and "strike plan", and an instance of "hock up a lung". What excellent heroic diction.
I got increasingly irked by the narrator's use of questions within narrative paragraphs where it was unclear whether the character was meant to be contemplating the question or the author was trying to provoke the reader in much the same way some school teacher might try to lead some pupil to an answer. If the approach had had a more avuncular tone or the thoughts had come from the characters, it might have worked.
There were a couple of times when someone (typically Kalen, I think) suspected that almost any encounter was bound to be a trap, even when there was no evidence to assume as much. This seemed to be an element of the tone of mystery and suspense with which the author tried to imbue the novel, but as a result, he seemed to be straining for effect.
The characters did nothing for me, either. Kalen Dren was like a broody 15-year-old; Myrin seemed quite endearing at times, and would then come across as a huffy schoolgirl; I did not care one way or the other about Ilira and Fayne, or Lilten and Kirenkirsalai, who were like dropped a couple of Action Men into a bunch of 1/32 scale Airfix commandos (or 6th formers into the 3rd form). But my indifference comes from not having a reason to care about them.
I still think this would be better as manga. It has the right sort of elements, viz. broody hero, silly and dangerous heroine, and ambiguous relationships.
Not a tale I'd recommend.
Sunday, December 30, 2012, 6:37 PM
When I go DVD shopping, I often buy DVDs out of curiosity rather than out of some great desire to actually watch the DVD in question. For example, I watched Premium Rush the other day, a movie which I would not otherwise have considered; but in China you take what you can get.
Until just recently, I'd never read any of the D&D novels. I've seen them in the bookshops for years, but have never been tempted. But I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy some for my Kindle. I started with Shadowbane: Eye of Justice (EoJ).
This was, in truth, a mistake. Because I did not do my research beforehand, I didn't realise that I was starting in media res, and had got a novel in which the characters already had well-established pasts. At best for the novice reader, EoJ supplied broad hints about events preceding the story, but wasn't exactly informative.
Kalen "Shadowbane" Dren ends up in the town of Westgate with Myrin Darkdance in search of someone called Rhett. There they encounter various mysterious people who may be good, bad, or just misunderstood.
There were several Shadowbanes; Myrin Darkdance, an amnesiac witch (yes, a witch, but perpetually and erroneously referred to as a "wizard"; is this apparent aversion to the word "witch" a consequence of the Salem witch trials?); someone called Levia, and someone else called Ilira; and a vampire called Kirenkirsalai who spent much of the book lurking in the background.
I needed to have read the previous book.
And so I bought Shadowbane in which Kalen Dren arrives in his hometown of Luskan, a squalid and wretched place presided over by gangs, and in the grip of a rather unpleasant plague. Shadowbane's sword, Vindicator, chooses Rhett, one of the guards from Waterdeep who have quarantined the town, as Dren's new apprentice. He soon discovers that Myrin is also in town, and there's a reason why he doesn't spend Christmas with his family. Dren tries to bring the gangs together and eventually has to fight the source of the plague itself.
I really need to reread EoJ before I form a definite judgement on the two books, but I would say that Shadowbane is the better one even if it, too, starts in the middle. Even although de Bie has a bit of a mania for mysterious mysteries [sic!], Shadowbane has a more concrete plot than EoJ. [I thought plots were abstract. –ed.] The mystery guest in the former is revealed and used effectively; in the latter, my reaction to Kirenkirsalai was, "Who are you? Why should I care?" I also felt, once I'd read Shadowbane, that Westgate repeated the disreputable town trope – differently, but the underlying idea was much the same.
The language frequently annoyed me.
- "Coin". Just say "money".
- "Lass". Exceptionally irritating; "lad" not much better.
- " 'Ere". No. It's "ere". Nothing has been elided; not ever. Old English ǣr "before". This creates a bad impression.
- "Wizard". Yes, for male characters; Myrin's a woman, ergo a witch.
- The halflings' Mummerset English. It's not cute.
- "Folk". Just let the word die once and for all. Use "people".
- Romance modification. Say "House of Bleth", "House of Thorsaf". English, please.
- Pointless h's: Jhorak, Vharan. Why?
- It's "breakfast" and "lunch". Why call it anything else?
- A "mug of tea"? Oh dear, how plebian.
- "Made us", "stand down". Is this fantasy lit. or an episode of Stargate SG1?
- "Roil". The most overused verb in the WotC repertoire. There's no excuse for this – ever.
- The adjective is "dwarfish".
- "Lair" and "task" as verbs grate to the point that I can hear and feel my brain being rasped away.
- "Ornery"? What is this? Some Zane Grey novel?
- "Nentir Vale" has never needed a definite article; nor "Shadowfell".
I'm going to reread EoJ before I move on to the Brimstone Angels novels to see whether my judgement of it needs revising.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 7:36 AM
As I suspected, the end of the holidays and the advent of term saw the end of any progress on Last Breath of the Dragon Queen. I left the heroes in the fountain room about to enter the white dragon's lair. Since then, I haven't been inclined to do any writing, although the story does pop into my head from time to time, and even more quickly pops out.
I was thinking about Last Breath of the Dragon Queen again this evening. I've had it in mind for some time that the party will tackle the matrons in the order in which they tackled Tiamat's exarchs. To this end, I've been thinking that the entrance to the white dragon's lair will be in alabaster covered in astral diamonds. The other entrances will follow the same sort of pattern: emeralds on jade, jet on obsidian, sapphires on lapis lazuli, and rubies on carnelian (or jasper).
I've also been thinking that the dragons inside will be in human(oid) form. I know everyone wants to kill a dragon, but I also think that it makes for better drama if the enemy is outwardly familiar and apparently less harmless than she appears.
The white dragon is a slightly plump elderly woman in a sparkling grey dress. (She's a bit Miss Haversham.) Her hair is silvery grey and in a disorderly state. The green dragon looks like a girl of about 18 with green eyes, but there is something reptilian about her. I haven't decided whether she should look like a tart or a milkmaid. The black dragon has the appearance of a vampire, with pale skin and jet-black hair. She appears to be in her late thirties, but is struggling to be as sexy at 38 as she was at 28. The blue dragon is middle aged. She's short and chubby, and dresses her age, and looks a little like a senior librarian – a homicidal senior librarian. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do with the red dragon apart from red hair and red clothing; tall and malevolent; er, well…; that's it!
There are a few ideas, but far from feeling the urge to write, I feel the urge to sleep.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 4:12 AM
One of the things that I've never ceased to dislike about China is the appalling long school day. It's not conducive to being creative: just look at my AS class this afternoon. Bias in the media was the topic. "What do you think?" I asked. I should've said, "What? Do you think?" They had plenty of time to discuss the questions I put to them, but my exhortations to them last year to be creative and imaginative seem to have been forgotten over the summer.
Fortunately in spite of the school day here I managed to find the energy to finish off Test of Fire. It starts with Xerefri turning up in Sayre to fetch the heroes. The adventure makes much of the damage he causes, but rather than having the company remonstrate with him, I had some belligerent woman accosting him about his thoughtless damage to the town, which allowed him to explain insurance and its invention in Amn or the Nine Hells.
I didn't waste too much time taking the party to Keening Delve. I left the slaads out because they're a.) stupid frog monsters. Er, well… That's it! (And that's all the excuse I need.) In fact, I dispensed with all of the monsters in the Delve apart from the final group. The problem was that the monsters would simply attack anyone passing through the caves, which left me wondering how Bashumgarda's disloyal opposition could come and go without getting beaten up.
The narrowness of some of the passages was an issue, but I let the party employ stone-to-mud spells (not 4e?) so that they could all get through. There were places which were pointlessly narrow which I flagged as annoying. Nicoramus, who is a spirit troll, was not keen on jumping into a pool of elemental fire to enter the City of Brass.
I found Estumishu's demand that the party should assassinate Bashumgarda to be repetitive because this plot device had already been used in Tyranny of Souls. I also found it philosophically objectionable. If Estumishu wanted Bashumgarda dead, he should've done it himself or sent his people to do it. In effect, the PCs are being asked to replace one unelected tyrant of a foreign power with another.
I turned the journey across the City of Brass in series of skill challenges which involved Gunpowder telling some outrageous porkies. (Kingdom lied about his height and was Bashumgarda's top spy; Saecula had non-regulation breasts; Nicoramus wasn't visible enough.) All right, I'm not so keen on a lot of tedious fighting, preferring cunning to brutality. It only lasted until they entered the Furnace where some fighting was unavoidable although I let Gunpowder ask an afrît pyre master about how they got water into the City of Brass for visitors who might need it.
By the time the adventurers headed to the Pavilion of the Eternal Flame I'd forgotten that they'd aready been told about Tiamat's plan to harness the power of Elemental Chaos (no definite article required). The white dragon firelord was a little silly to say the least because here's a creature which sends up clouds of steam which not only grant concealment but also stop it from seeing anything. I had it blunder cluelessly about while the PCs tried to disconnect the power of Elemental Chaos from Tiamat's army.
I skipped the main part of the battle against Namissi because I had too many other ideas bouncing around inside my head, but I ought to go back to it and say something more.
I had Bahamut whisked off to Empyron to be cured and then had him conveniently arrive back just in time for speeches with Estumishu and they mutually and insincerely congratulated each other on their successes.
In reality, the battle for the City of Brass would probably be waged over weeks and months; but Tiamat doesn't like to be kept waiting and the afârît are just going to have to wipe their own posteriors.
And thus I head off to deal with the final adventure, Last Breath of the Dragon Queen in which, once again, the Heroes of Overlook must assassinate the leader of their enemies. Now where have I seen that plot before?
Saturday, September 1, 2012, 1:55 AM
Work on the Scales of War has slowed but not stopped with the approach of the start of the new term. I'm late in the third part of Test of Fire with Bashumgarda about to get given a spanking.
I've also been looking at something to fill the gap once I've finished with the Scales of War on which I've probably been working for two and a half years. This summer saw some extreme progress on the Adventure Path because there were no interruptions. My next aim may be one of Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Paths where I perhaps aim to write up each part in the space of a month or so.
I've been wondering about adopting the approach in Neverwinter Nights and reducing the party to a pair of characters. The longer I've been writing the Adventure Path, the more I've been thinking that too many of the main characters go by the board. I let Gunpowder do most of the talking. Saecula tends to ask the right questions. Kingdom and Power are a kind of double act; so, too, Gevyen-Lucian. In some of the earlier tales I'd focus on particular characters on particular occasions, but at the end of the day it's become all about Gunpowder so that there's some degree of focus.
I've come up with an idea for a story. (I was going to say "adventure", but I don't think this would work as a proper adventure.)
An archaeologist by the name of Limsíthe has been excavating the ruins of one of the fallen Netherilian [sic!] cities near the southern edge of Anauroch. He and his party recently found the remains of a house belonging to a wizard called Úso, who had the most fashionable hat in all the cities of Netheril. Limsíthe is hoping the hat has been preserved by the desiccated desert air.
A skeleton and a wand have been found close to the ruins, but these belong to a mage called Melenad, who was in love with the captain of one of the units of the city guard, who preferred girls. Melenad created a wand which would change the captain's sexual orientation and was on his way to use it when the city fell from the sky and the mage was killed. Having excavated and recorded the wand, Limsíthe placed it on top of the remains of one of the walls, but caught it by accident with his arm. The wand fell to the ground and went off.
Some Zhentarim raiders chose that as their moment to attack the expedition, killing or scattering the archaeologists, and capturing Limsíthe who was turned into a woman by the magic of the wand. The problem was that Melenad was a little too eager when he crafted the wand and had no idea that that was to be the outcome of its magic. When the Zhentarim get back to their camp, the chief brigand falls in love with Limsíthe in spite of his protests and announces that he will marry him, well, her at the start of the next month in two ten-days' time.
One Limsíthe's assistants, Daidi, managed to escape from the Zhentarim and was rather surprised to see a woman dressed in the archaeologist's clothes being led from the ruins. From the woman's protests, Daidi has concluded this woman really is Limsíthe, and she tracks the Zhentarim to their camp where she overhears their chief's plans, and she must devise some way of rescuing Limsíthe from his captors. She also has some ideas of her own.
Daidi has guessed that the archaeologist rather likes her, but she's not that way inclined. Now that he's a woman, and an attractive one at that, Daidi thinks that she might have a solution to his problem. Her price for his rescue will be that he remains a woman. He'll be happy; she'll be happy; and with these rather dubious conclusions in mind, Daidi goes off to the nearby town of Baladyâbis where she finds a small band of mercenaries whom she recruits, but insists that she has to go with them.
Thus the adventurers have to
- Rescue Limsíthe from the Zhentarim.
- Recover the wand and restore the arachaeologist to his original form (perhaps; unless Daidi gets to the wand first).
- And find Úso's fabulous hat (which confers nothing beyond its value as a historical relic).
The tale is a little bit Shakespearian, a little bit Old Arcadia, and a little bit Ranma½ with the gender bending, but I was looking for something that wasn't about hordes of demons/drow/orcs/etc. and big threats, or finding the Most Valuable Artefact in the World™, which could turn the balance of power.
Friday, August 17, 2012, 8:09 PM
One of the problems with Those Once Loyal is that it's a linear adventure which tries to be non-linear by stating that the order of the encounters, excluding the last, doesn't matter. In fact, it does matter. It also matters that when the PCs go to Celestia, they randomly appear outside Bahamut's Palace unless (and this is unlikely) one of them has previously been to Empyron, the City of Healing, which is their preferred destination.
Once inside Bahamut's Palace the party eventually encounters Dispater, whose conversation is based on the assumption that they've already been to Empyron and that Amyria has been abducted. Certainly, the story works much better this way because I had to treat Dispater like a devilish version of a wikipedia entry before I sent him on his way. I had to pretend that he had left Bahamut's Palace via another exit because there was nothing to stop him finding the party's spelljammer, boarding it, and making off with Amyria. I could have let that happen, but Dakranad is the real villain here.
After the encounter with Dispater, I added a map of Celestia to the loot which the company pillaged from Bahamut's vault so that they could fly off to Empyron without ambling all over the island in search of it. There the story got back on the right track. There was a reunion with Kalad, a fight with a couple of dragons, and Amyria was abducted by devils.
Since the PCs had been to Bahamut's Palace, they had to go to the Soulforge, but first they had to find it. I skipped the skill challenge and had Lord Ghoren of Torzak-Belgirn escort the party to Rainfather's Beard, the waterfall behind which the Soulforge was to be found. Why didn't I make the PCs jump through hoops? Because this is Moradin's forge. He'd need a constant supply of raw materials inwards, and there'd be a constant flow of manufactured goods outwards. I can, however, understand why Moradin might not welcome casual visitors.
“The storm titan dwells in the pool and emerges to deny access to the Soulforge to anyone it deems unworthy.”
I had the storm titan ask the party if they were worthy to enter. Gunpowder said, "Yes", and the titan let them in. Well, who is it to judge who's worthy and who isn't?
The encounter with the hydra, Morgol the Undying, was ridiculous because the creature was little more than a gun turret. I also note that the hydra cannot speak. If that's the case, how did it get a name? Was Moradin feeling a bit whimsical? I also note that the hydra would need feeding and mucking out, which, again, undermines the idea that the Soulforge is ever so secret.
I had the golems in the next room destroy themselves with a little help from a dark spell cast by Lucian. I've never been keen on golems (i.e., robots) in spite of their literary pedigree. D&D golems are tiresomely monominded and as great a danger to allies as they are to enemies. I would surmise that the original killer robot was probably first found in classic American pulp fiction such as Amazing Stories (once owned by WotC and, subsequently, Hasbro) as a metaphor, intentional or otherwise, for the alleged pernicious effects of tecnology on humanity.
The following encounter with the angels was another opportunity for Kingdom to use some trickery by claiming that the party had all been killed in the explosion which had destroyed the golems and were, therefore, wandering spirits seeking their final resting place.
The party then entered the forge itself where they dispelled the enchantment which Dakarand had cast on Moradin's aspect, who fearing the wrath of the real Moradin was eager to help and supplied them with the sigils for Asiryet.
Having got increasingly fed up with dim-witted angels as stupidly intransigent enemies, I had Dakranad bat aside Zachariel, the angel on guard at the Bridge of al-Sihal, and walk through the golden curtain. Amyria emerged a few moments later with no recollection of anything much and the angel was as intractable as ever.
In the epilogue, the company returned to Sayre where the Coalition Council demanded to know by what right Gunpowder had disbanded the mercenary army and had then taken Amyria off to Celestia. In truth, there's little Caliandra, who is now the de facto leader of the Coalition, or the Council can do about the matter.
It is a weakness of the entire adventure path that the war against Tiamat has not been better integrated into the whole plot. At this point, the Coalition seems utterly irrelevant (as it has been throughout the Epic tier), and yet in Test of Fire, their allies will be found fighting side-by-side with the rest of Bahamut's forces. Meanwhile, as a consequence of this, it would theoretically be quite possible for the party to learn from, say, the devas of Nefelus that Bahamut is indeed back; but he himself, it seems, can't be bothered to let his saviours know.
Friday, August 10, 2012, 7:57 PM
Overall, I thought Legacy of Io was the most interesting of the Epic tier adventures so far.
It starts with Amyria having visions of the Arrow of Fate (a bone arrow wrapped in flesh? Nothing suggestive here), which sends the party off to the city of Hestavar, the home of Erathis, Ioun, and Pelor.
Things don't start well because Bahamut's own people seem determined to stop the company, the reasons for which become clearer in the next adventure. I had a flight of angels turn up after the fight, but fudged their proper reaction (which should be, "I'll have to ask you to accompany me to the station") once they knew who the adventurers were.
I treated the library in the Swan Tower like the Cambridge University Library – you can't just walk in, but, if you're not a member of the university, need a letter of introduction to get a card. That allowed me to work Guionne into the story as the party's reference letter.
I was going to have the adventurers reconnoitre each of the three locations before attempting to destroy the seals. Didn't quite work as I planned and there was more fudging. I threw in the ambush (Bahamut's people again with some devilish allies) in Methion as the party was heading to the marketplace, and then changed tack by going straight to the encounter in which the seal was destroyed. (I was deliberately vague about the amount of time between the ambush and the encounter in the market.)
I wanted the company to use cunning rather than violence in the destruction of the seals, although some violence was unavoidable. To destroy the seal of Erathis, they pretended to be council workers fixing the drains. The fight with Goran Steelgate was explained away as a dispute between the union and management.
As for the part about human sacrifice, I pulled a Terry Pratchett with that one and replaced people with chickens. I wasn't keen on human sacrifice because I think it's at odds with Erathis who, I don't believe, would be so casual about the lives of twenty of her subjects. (I admit I'm laying myself open to charges of contrariness because I think of the gods of D&D as largely indifferent; even the best of them wouldn't really be bothered about human sacrifice.)
Nicoramus, who is premanently invisible, went and had a look around the Dawnbell Bastion before the adventurers went strolling in pretending to be officials from the Bell Inspectorate, flattering some of the angels with promises of good reports and frightening others with promises of bad ones.
For the Sealed Library, I abandoned the idea of reconnaissance and had them go back to the Swan Tower in search of anomalous behaviour among library users to find the portal to Ioun's hidden library. There they had to fight five sexy librarians, each of whom was killed by Kingdom and died with the words, "I'll be back" on their lips. (And, indeed, they were resurrected.) There was then a fight with the chief librarian, Dr Burage, and the sphinx, Granosos, but the latter eventually withdrew from the battle with a warning about what the party had unleashed.
After a rest in the Bole of Solace (Saecula had retrieved the ritual from Salt), the party stole an astral skiff and sailed into the eye of the storm to battle the titan, Nekheten. Gunpowder's brilliant plan was to hit the titan – a lot. The arrow was recovered, and the force of the waters swept the party to the island where Guionne was waiting with his allies.
Thanks to the burst of energy from the storm titan, the adventurers were ready for another confrontation and Gunpowder's suspicions of Guionne were justified.
But things didn't quite end there. Kwennotumtios, the irascible captain from the marketplace in Methion, Bethul Tegum, one of the angels from the Dawnbell Bastion, and the librarians from the Sealed Library, meet up at the pub later and from the stories they tell realise that they've all been had.
The official report blamed almost everything on Guionne, his co-conspirators being another gang led by a misogynistic, librarian-hating halfling. Granosos was also being sought in connection with the death of Dr Burage.
So let's see. Which divinities have the Heroes of Overlook annoyed so far?
- Tiamat (obviously).
- Dispater (sort of; well, they beat up his aspect).
What happens when they've defeated Tiamat and Bahamut is introducing them to the other gods. About the only gods who are going to be their friends are Vecna (for annoying Kas and killing Irfelujhar) and Lolth or the Raven Queen (but not both) because they're total party girls.
I've also had a look forward at Those Once Loyal, which seems mostly good apart from the third part, but I'll see what I can do about that.
Overall, I'm less satisfied with the Epic tier adventures so far. The Battle of Tunarath and the defeat of Zetcher (no superfluous apostrophes required) were the culmination of the Heroic and Paragon tiers. The Platinum Dragon Coalition doesn't mean anything for the people of Elsir Vale any longer because the githyanki have ceased to be a threat.
There is a thread, but the first two adventures of the Epic tier are more to do with Vecna's revenge, and what happened in them didn't matter. Betrayal at Monadhan is a bit like The Lost Mines of Karak or Fist of Mourning because it's all about the XP rather than the story. Grasp of the Mantled Citadel might've worked better if the PCs had known exactly what the ritual was going to do and had raced to be too late to save Bahamut. But they didn't know Bahamut's life was in deadly peril, and his death was played wholly off stage.
Legacy of Io and Those Once Loyal seem to be another two-part adventure, the former to recover the Arrow of Fate and the latter to resurrect Bahamut, but there's a definite divide between the first two adventures and these two.
I'm also inclined to think the base for this tier should've been an Epic locale such as Sigil or Hestavar. I thought the Epic tier was meant to be about a higher plane of existence about which Heroic and Paragon level PCs know little or nothing; but the party is still based in Sayre and there's no sense that they're in any way special.
Saturday, August 4, 2012, 6:49 PM
Having lost interest with Betrayal at Monadhan, I decided to take a different approach with Grasp of the Mantled Citadel. As I said in the previous entry, I've been writing these adventures keeping in mind that the reader can only know what the heroes know. In most cases I follow the various checks (even if I am thinking, "How in the name of Erathis can you possibly know that?") in the adventures, but when it comes to NPCs, it can only be what that character seems to be doing.
In Grasp of the Mantled Citadel, I did three things: I was more authorial; the monsters took centre stage; and I wrote the whole thing in reverse order. I also used Darrhkerrar the Adherent of Tiamat as the thread binding things together so that he was the one who passed on the news about the new band of raiders and their progress through the woods.
The tale began with the party returning to Sayre and discovering that they were too late. The ritual had been done and Tiamat seems to have won. Gunpowder dismissed the Sword of Kas. According to the adventure, Rachaela insists that the Coalition Council should have charge of the weapon, but since she's one of Vecna's people, it might reasonably be expected that she would demand the sword or it would know her true allegiance. I did have the heroes unmask her because it seemed too obvious that Vecna was probably pulling the strings. Both Kas and Irfelujhar had betrayed him (and why wasn't the latter whisked off to Monadhan as well?).
Irfelujhar was in his chambers wondering whether there was anything more to be added to the account of the ritual and its history. He's been writing the book for a thousand years. Darrhkerrar kept interrupting with news and then the party itself.
The nameless half-elf thaumaturge became Eric Stretham, Bishop of Vaerothim. I gave him a history of greed which had led him to worship Tiamat. I threw in spurious bits of scripture
Blessed are the needlessly greedy, for they will be eternally grasping.
Damned are the rich who perform good works.
My enemies did not know they had given until their bodies and souls were mine.
Blessed are those who give everything for the goddess.
Who does not covet is an abomination in my sight.
From the Liber Cupiditatis.
and the death knight in his immediate entourage became Sir Cedric Oxley, a bluff old cove who had fought in the deserts of Anauroch against the Zhents in the 1320s and was a source of all manner of tales of derring-do from the time.
Eric was working on a sermon for the evening service, and then remembered that he needed to give the abyssal ghouls a class about the worship of Tiamat. Fortunately, the arrival of the mercenaries spared him the latter because the ghouls were not exactly interested in draconic theology.
Darrhkerrar, who was the messenger for most of the adventure, had his own problems. He wanted to be bishop (which was expected of him; if you're not greedy and grasping, you can't be a faithful follower of the Dragon Queen), and he wanted the wraiths to do a spot of dusting. He also sees the tensions within Tiamat's philosophy, that greed is good. She encourages covetousness, but not of her throne, which does seem a little hypocritical.
Down in the dungeons, Mornujhar, Tiamat's black exarch, was indulging in a spot of torture and chatting to Mr Grimoire, the carving of a beholder eye which the exarch had copied from Icehome (see Alliance at Nefelus). I left it open as to whether Mr Grimoire really was saying anything. Agyrturyte, the angel of Bahamut, suddenly says in Old Draconic, "Marti-baryās ayindanti, sonhasa-ca xšuaš hanti." ("The death-bringers are coming, and they are six in number." All right, it's just some adapted Avestan, but it does have proper grammar.) She's right.
Uthnis Maiali, the eladrin lich who is a staunch follower of Irfelujhar, is tormenting the lich vestiges. He has learnt that you only have to use the word "evil" and liches don't tend to hear the part about "draining you of all your powers". He's trying to get the vestiges to fetch sticks, but he needs to call them evil sticks.
Out in the forest, the ghosts got nowhere.
"[G]hosts are incorporeal and cannot interact with the material world,” said Gunpowder.
The dryad lich was granted her wish to be laid to rest.
The Sword of Kas interrupted at an inopportune moment while they were chatting to Rithkerrar, the Aspect of Vecna. As I noted above, one of the short-comings of the adventure was to forget about the Sword of Kas's antipathy towards the followers of Vecna.
As for the rest of the encounters, I ignored them if the monsters were merely constructs (i.e., robots). Grasp of the Mantled Citadel had more going for it than the endless grind through the caves beneath Monadhan, and tackling it in reverse order did make it somewhat more interesting.
Next up, Legacy of Io in which the party annoys three quite powerful gods in their search for a vital artefact.
Friday, July 27, 2012, 6:45 PM
I finished off Betrayal at Monadhan without much ceremony. The tale had been going well enough even if it seemed to have the party working through two encounters back-to-back. First was the encounter outside Sarissa's hut, which was immediately followed by the encounter with the well-hard vampire somewhere in the village; and then there was the encounter with Rolain, which was immediately followed by the encounter with the desecration.
Kas then arrived at that point to ask the adventurers to retrieve his sword for him in return for which, he'd tell them what Arantor's weakness was. Things didn't quite work at that point because Kas, in effect, had to pay the party's wages first. The request also overlooked the fact that Kas has a band of his own: Rolain, Gwenth, various callophage and disfigured vampires, who together could have taken on Arantor and the skill challenge. He did not need to rely on outside help.
That was as far as Betrayal at Monadhan went before it became a comainducing dungeon grind. I dealt with the encounter in the Cavern of Water. I had the party walk in on the cambions splashing about in the water while the naga looked on with something akin to maternal pride. After that I stopped bothering with the details and mocked my way briefly through the rest.
There were problems with the reality of Monadhan. For one thing, it wouldn't take a party of PCs two days to reach the village from any point in the valley. Let me put it like this, a two-day trip would either be incredibly slow for no good reason or you'd have to draw a 1.7km line all over the map to equal a journey of two days. Apart from the encounter with the hydra as the party made its way to the village, they got there in about five minutes.
The village is supposed to be home to 3,000 inhabitants, but I did my little calculation and found 600 would be nearer the mark. A village of 3,000 would have to extend out to the Pit.
In Monadhan day and night aren't distinguished. The problem was that the encounter with Rolain was meant to be at midnight in a place where there is no midnight.
Betrayal at Monadhan is very much like The Lost Mines of Karak or Fist of Mourning in that it's filler. Even worse is that just as Fist of Mourning ushered out the Heroic Tier with a whimper, Betrayal at Monadhan ushers the Epic Tier in with a whimper. The idea that Vecna wants to torment Kas by letting him get so close to a.) recovering his sword and b.) escaping from Monadhan is not a bad one. It might have worked better if Kas had been alone and had merely known there was a key to activate the portal. At the last minute as the adventurers were stepping through the portal, he could've learnt that the key was his sword. Oh vexation!
I haven't quite done with the story altogether. It's not ever going to be 30 pages long, but I might try for 10,000 words at least with some judicious padding here and there.