[WARNING: Potential spoilers for the heroic-tier section of the Scales of War adventure path below.]
As mentioned previously on this blog, we brought all three groups playing in my current D&D campaign together recently for one massive session. Each of the previous sessions ended with the group stepping through a portal to the Elemental Chaos, where they stood before a great obsidian tower floating on a sea of fire.
Due to some illnesses & other conflicts, we ended up with 12 players (plus 2 Dungeon Masters) for most of the game, with one player leaving before the final battle.
We began with an hour of pure role-playing, as the 14 characters (Greg & I each play in each other's games) got to know each other. I've been comparing this to "Avengers meet X-Men meet Fantastic Four" but it's really more like when DC would run their "Justice League of Earth-1 meets Justice Society of Earth-2" crossovers (and yes, I understand how old that makes me).
To incent conversation and sleuthing during this hour, each player received a note card with some tidbit about another one of the characters. These notes were designed to pique their interest--"So-and-so seems familiar to you, as if you've met her before" or "While standing near so-and-so, you get a very bad feeling."
In a couple of cases, however, the interest didn't really have to be manufactured.
The characters from the Depths campaign recognized Boldrik (the dwarf cleric with the Echoes group) as having adventured with them a couple months earlier, during their explorations of a ruined keep. They described watching Boldrik being pulled into a dark portal by inky black tendrils of shadow, never to be seen again...until now!
When confronted with this recognition, Boldrik's player simply looked blankly at them. "I've never met you people before. What are you talking about?"
But that mystery would have to wait, because Boldrik and his allies in turn recognized a member of the Depths team: Talerron, the eladrin swordmage who had tried to kill them several weeks ago while working for the dark creeper named Modra!
A tense standoff occurred, with the two teams of adventurers poised to draw weapons. Talerron claimed no memory of his accusers, but even his allies know very little about the eladrin's background before showing up in town a month ago, and what they've heard hasn't exactly made them comfortable.
Still, he's been a loyal comrade, and they weren't ready to turn him over to a bunch of complete strangers.
Eventually, Boldrik and his allies realized that they had more important work in front of them, and agreed merely to keep a close eye on the eladrin.
At that point, a wounded tiefling staggered toward the characters from the direction of the tower. Hammoth, the warforged fighter from the Echoes group, recognized the newcomer as Akmenos, a tiefling warlord who had briefly adventured alongside them before returning to the Shadowfell to insert himself into the Emissary's service and learn more about the vile shadar-kai's plans.
Akmenos described the challenges that lay before the characters:
1) To stem the tide of blood chaos flowing into the world, they must destroy the central controls. This task would require a team of smart, stealthy types (to slip past the many guards, deactivate the traps, and then destroy the controls).
2) To locate the prisoners they sought to rescue, they must descend into the toxic caverns beneath the tower and defeat the many tough guards. This task would require not only muscle, but physical stamina to survive the poisonous vapors and boiling magma.
To make matters more difficult, destroying the blood chaos controls would flood the lower caverns, killing all the prisoners, while rescuing the prisoners would raise an alarm throughout the tower, bringing many more guards to protect the controls.
The two tasks would have to be accomplished...simultaneously.
Throwing D&D Rule #1 (Never Split the Party) out the window, the group divided itself into two strike teams:
Team Heavy Metal: Vargach (dragonborn paladin of Kord), Hammoth (warforged fighter), Boldrik (dwarf cleric), Midgard (dragonborn paladin of the Raven Queen), Bahamus (dragonborn fighter), Alandir (half-elf warlord), and Einaar (dragonborn paladin of the Raven Queen).
Team Discovery Channel: Brinjac (human warlock), Cyrik Bloodweaver (eladrin wizard), Indulgence (tiefling warlock), Talerron (eladrin swordmage), Urendil (eladrin wizard), Skarakas (tiefling warlock), and Ash (human ranger).
I served as DM for Team DC, while Greg ran Team HM. We'd expected a split more-or-less like the one they came up with, and crafted the upcoming encounters accordingly (for instance, lots of minions for my group, lots of soldiers and brutes for Greg's).
Each team ran through two combat encounters (I added a skill challenge to my session to represent sneaking through the tower), culminating in the achievement of their team's goal. Amazingly, the two groups finished within 60 SECONDS of one another.
Then the two groups came together for one last knock-down, drag-out fight with the Emissary and various goons and allies, including five elites, nine standards, and 20 minions.
After about 4-1/2 hours of speedy play--early rounds took about 20 minutes, late rounds about 10--the battle was over and the characters victorious.
After saying a few farewells, they realigned the teleportation circles that had brought them to the Elemental Chaos and returned to their respective homes. The threat of the Emissary that had plagued each of the campaigns was ended...but the mystery of what entity lay behind these plans still remained.
Overall, the game was a great success. It ran even more smoothly than we'd hoped (I'd feared 30+ minute delays between turns for the final combat). While it's not something I'd want to do often, I can definitely see running another game like this in the future.