Don’t Stop Running

Yesterday’s session was rather slow. We were supposed to hold the session last Saturday, but a storm hit the country and power got knocked out, so playing would be pretty frustrating in the dark. Yesterday was a holiday, so we tried to take advantage of our collective free schedules and play.

Unfortunately, Lyka’s player couldn’t make it, while Kikkeni’s player was visiting the cemetery and would only be around after lunch.

Linny’s player is unfortunately out; her parents were no longer allowing her for some unclear reason. It couldn’t be helped, so I decided to ask a regular attendee (who doesn’t play but watches) to take over her character. At first I told him he could use his own character, but he said the party needed a buffer/healer and graciously offered to play as Linny.

We started yesterday with Holden and Loven’s player handling Lyka as well, while Linny’s new player also handled Kikkeni until her actual player arrived.

The party started standing over the rapidly-dissolving body of the Rakshasa they’d killed last session; I had forgotten to roll treasure for it, so I gave them the following: 3500 GP, a large Khyber dragonshard, some gems, a Vest of Defense, an Oil of Bless Weapon, a Scroll of Invisibility, and a Handy Haversack.

They went to report their success to the authorities and booked themselves at the Stone Wyvern for the night.

The Stone Wyvern

When they got to the Stone Wyvern, the gnome owner squeaked “AAAH! ADVENTURERS!” when he saw his new guests, and slammed the door.

When the party actually went in to see what the problem was, he apologized and explained that he’s always been paranoid of adventurers because he was afraid of them unpetrifying the wyvern.

“Ah, yes, we’ll have to talk to you about that…”

The PCs offered a great deal of money–an initial downpayment of 750 GP—to take out the wyvern and unpetrify it for use as a mount in the coming battle. Holden said that the Church of the Silver Flame would compensate for whatever damage and/or profit loss that taking the wyvern might cause–after all, the wyvern WAS a Thrane air cavalry unit and as such was property of the Church. After a Diplomacy check, the gnome, Mr. Yule, reluctantly agreed.

The next morning (Day 35) , they awoke to find Yule sitting nervously under the wyvern, so much so that when he saw them coming down the stairs, he stood up and almost knocked himself out on the stone monster.

Then came the hilarious problem of getting the wyvern out of the building—if you read the writeup of Brindol, it says the inn was built around the petrified wyvern. Holden asked Yule what kind of an idiot built his inn around a petrified monster, to which Yule replied that it made a lot of entrepreneurial sense when his father did it—mostly founded on how only an idiot would unpetrify the wyvern while it was inside the building.

There were several issues here: wyverns weighed one ton unpetrified, so the obviously denser statue would be far too heavy to drag out without smashing the floorboards. Even if they did manage to drag it, it was too big to fit out the door. Finally, if they unpetrified it while inside the building, it would likely trash the place.

Holden offered more gold and set about unhinging the door, while Loven took everyone’s rope and tied the petrified wyvern up as tightly as he could.

They then called Delora Zann in case they needed someone to handle the animal (though they were reluctant since they knew Delora was trying to keep her dragonmark a secret), in addition to some soldiers.

Just before Linny cast Break Enchantment on the wyvern, the soldiers all backed off and began to express their fear. Most of them knew that the wyvern was part of one of Thrane’s infamous air cavalry units, and some of them knew what it was like to see friends getting snatched up by wyverns and smeared on the ground.

Holden says that’s exactly WHY they wanted to unpetrify the wyvern, and tells Linny to go ahead.

As the wyvern turned back into flesh and blood, it made a series of strength checks against all the ropes, but failed to break any single one. Delora was about to use her dragonmark as the creature struggled, but it instantly calmed down when it smelled Holden.

Delora explained that it might have been accustomed to the scent of the standard-issue armor polish that Thrane soldiers used, and as such was calmed down despite having been stoned for quite a while. Holden and Lyka lead it out of the door without much trouble, and then realize that they don’t have a stable to put it in.

They ask the gnome if they could let the animal roost on the roof of the inn, but Yule refuses outright. They decide to chain the wyvern to a large stake they hammer down into the middle of the Cathedral square—after Lyka takes it for a spin.

Meet the Lions

The PCs then head off to Brindol Keep to ask if there is anything that needs to be done.
Jarmaath and Cpt. Ulverth introduce the PCs to the Lions of Brindol squad they’ll be fighting with during the battle: Teyani Sura, whom they’d met in Drellin’s Ferry, and three others: Wrogann, Jonz and Narcy.

I also introduced them to Rampant, Cpt. Ulverth’s 7’5′ tall warforged lieutenant. Rampant is a bit unusual in appearance as warforged go; his head plates are shaped into a lion’s head, complete with mane, and his left arm is conspicuously larger and has an armor-plated hose running along its length.

Teyani was rather upset that Loven was checking her out and smacked him upside the head; Wrogann brought up the unfortunate topic of female dwarf facial hair; Jonz explained he didn’t talk much because his parents were from Karrnath and were often accused of being spies; Narcy enjoyed teasing Loven regarding his height.

At this point, Cpt. Ulverth asks the PCs what special training they’d like him to give the Lions—Holden’s player doesn’t really get this at first since he thinks they’re asking for a battlefield deployment order and not a training specialization; Ulverth hints at this—would they rather have a sniper, or a close combat sword specialist, etc. As such, Holden wants the Lions to help them charge the incoming warforged titans. Ulverth is flabbergasted at this supposed veteran’s war experience and shoots down the idea.

Eventually I break down and tell them OOC that this is a chance for them to “customize” the Lions so that they aren’t just sword/boarders. Furthermore, if the players are willing to do some one-on-one training with the Lions for a week, they can swap out that last fighter level for a single level in crusader (for Holden), warblade (for Lyka), rogue (for Loven), duskblade (for Linny) and finally psychic warrior (for Kikkeni) if they pass a series of skill checks appropriate to the class.

They agree that Jonz, who is more dexterous than the others, can be a sniper, while Wrogann (who is the strongest of the four) would be trained as a crusader and Teyani could be a warblade (she’s the smartest and that extra Int would at least help with warblade’s first-level abilities). Finally Narcy (apparently, sarcasm = Wis) is going to swap her fourth Fighter level for Psychic Warrior, assuming their PC-trainers make the appropriate skill checks.

Finally, Jarmaath informs the PCs that the hobgoblins are closing around the town of Talar, and that the town council delayed evacuating, so the villagers were in danger of being overtaken by the outriders.

The PCs take their horses and ride hard to Talar, covering the distance in three hours.

Talar

They arrive at Talar around noon. The people are packing up, but don’t seem to be in any particular hurry. Holden and the other PCs go check on the town council, which was said to have been responsible for the delay.

They find Lady Celiira, the lord of the town, arguing with the council. The council wants to stay, but Lady Celiira advocates immediate evacuation. The PCs passionately argue and convince the council to hasten the evacuation, but the proud old men decide to stay behind with some volunteers to attempt to delay whatever is coming their way.

The evacuation is completed at dusk.

Don’t Stop Running
The PCs leave the town last, along with 20 villagers who are the weakest and not capable of running all the way. After about an hour of walking, they stop to camp, as most of these people are incapable of marching overnight to Brindol.

Just as they’re about to pitch their tents, however, horrid howling echoes out of the woods. Linny identifies the sounds as barghest howls!

Immediately the villagers panic and begin running, and soon after, four hobgoblin outriders on incredibly fast worgs begin running out of the woods and strafing. Linny immediately buffs the party and the three weakest villagers (three children, one of whom was fat—I ran out of halfling miniatures and represented him with a dwarf wizard :P) with Mass Shield of Faith. Kikkeni activates one of the darklights and hands it to the fat kid—the 80 ft. radius of bright illumination helps the PCs a lot in dealing with the attackers.

The PCs try to keep a screen around the villagers, but the worgs’ superior mobility allows them to run circles around everyone—three villagers get shot down. The riders get off a lot of painful shots against Linny, including a critical hit that drops her to 12 HP. The panicking villagers make it difficult for Kikkeni to lay down supressing fire, so Holden tells them to stop and get down to avoid getting sniped.

To make matters worse, two Barghests dimdoored into the woods close to Kikkeni and began attacking her and Lyka.

Kikkeni launched an energy ball into the woods close to her, setting it on fire. One by one the worgs were shot or cut down; one of the barghests was incinerated with a scorching ray while the other got its head caved in by Holden. Amusingly enough, one of the worgs (already riderless) tried to trip Linny, but she actually SUCCEEDED on the strength check and slapped the bad doggy away.
Linny splattered the last of the goblins with Sound Lance, while Lyka and Holden took down its worg.

The PCs then kept running with the villagers.

When the Night is Darkest
The PCs continue moving with the villagers toward Brindol through the night, and this time Loven keeps attempting spot checks.

They hit upon a very serious snag, though—none of them have both good sensory and stealth capabilities at the same time. Loven has no darkvision and has a lousy Spot modifier; while Lyka has Low-Light Vision, she has no ranks in Spot. As such, nobody can scout ahead, so they stick together and try spotting every 20 feet instead.

They get closer to the abandoned watchtower at the edge of the wood, which marks the beginning of the open road. Their technique of spotting doesn’t work when the enemies are Invisible thanks to a Greater Barghest’s Invisibility Sphere, though.

Loven trips a trap (he has no ranks in Search and isn’t exactly cautious) that casts Ghost Sound behind them—-more Barghest howling. They immediately take positions around the PCs, with Holden and Lyka closest to the sound and Loven, Kikkeni and Linny farthest from the sound. Between then the villagers huddle.

After a few tense moments of hearing crashing through the forest, a thunderous bang erupts in the middle of the crowd of villagers. It was a Great Thunderclap spell, which knocks out all the villagers, renders Holden and Linny prone, and deafens Holden. The other PCs are unable to see where the spell came from, but soon after they begin hearing movement from the road.

At this point, a 9-foot tall hobgoblin duskblade bursts out of the woods with a long, curved sword crackling with lightning and slashes at Kikkeni. Her HP drops to 22 out of 55 in one attack, and she begins making plans to set fire to the woods again—unfortunately, she can’t see very far through the dense trees even with the darklight. Linny quickly casts Righteous Wrath of the Faithful on the party.

Things go to hell really quickly.

A hobgoblin knight—riding a tiger—materializes out of the darkness and mauls Kikkeni. Almost all of his attacks miss, but the tiger’s claws and the rider’s lance are enough to drop her to -5 immediately. Even worse, the hidden Greater Barghest (advanced and elite) casts Charm Monster on Loven, ordering him to shoot the Kalashtar—he misses due to Kikkeni’s shield of faith and inertial armor. The PCs run to Kikkeni’s aid, and Holden heals her with his healing belt. Lyka moves in quickly and eviscerates the duskblade, while a second enlarged duskblade teleports beside Linny and swipes at her, but misses. Two more knights break invisibility; one charges Linny while the other, without a clear path, simply moves up and stabs Kikkeni, dropping her to -7.

Loven’s turn comes up, and again he hears the compulsion. He tries to fight it off with a charisma check, but fails miserably. He takes the shot, hoping it’s a miss—and rolls a natural 20. Due to the Righteous Wrath of the Faithful buff, even if he rolled a 1 on his damage die he’d still end up killing her. For the record, he rolls, and gets a 6. Kikkeni bites the dust.

The Greater Barghest rewards Loven by pouncing on him and biting, but the beast misses. Linny blasts the tiger knights and the duskblade with Earth Reaver, knocking down the duskblade and burning one of the tigers partially.

Since Lyka’s player was absent and she was avoiding raging and shifting for RP reasons, we contact her over Yahoo Messenger and tell her what happened. She immediately agrees to let us rage and shift her character, and Lyka flips out on the two Tiger Knights. She cuts down one tiger from beneath its rider and badly injures another, but as it stands, it’s too little, too late.

Exhausted, we agree to end the session there, 4 rounds into the battle.

Thoughts
-I’ve decided to give the PCs more customization control over the four Lions of Brindol—I wanted them to have more of an attachment to them while retaining their relative squishiness. By giving the players some control over what he NPCs are and by giving them personalities and even portraits (I drew the four of them), I’ve given them a group of underlings who are more than cannon fodder without them being spotlight-hogging DMPCs. If the PCs fail at the skill checks needed for their special training, they remain 4th-level fighters in the specialization that the players chose.
-They still don’t know what to do with the wyvern, actually. Holden is the only guy with ranks in Ride, and he’s too heavy for the wyvern to carry and still be able to fly. Lyka is much lighter, but her big problem is that she has no ranks in Ride and her maneuvers are completely useless in the air.
-Kikkeni is my fifth PC kill in my 3-year DMing career.
-While this battle is going to be hard, the PCs should be able to overcome it. Unfortunately, there’s still a caster they’ve failed to spot.
-The PCs plan on raising Kikkeni with the Staff of Life—it’s all they’ve got—but having her come back at Lv 8 is going to deal a painful blow to their combat options. They’re going to have to rely on Linny’s 5th level spell slots for True Seeing now that Kikkeni will not be able to cast it until she levels up again.

-Greater Barghests are pretty damn scary for CR 5 monsters (this one was advanced to CR 8, though).

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