Sunday, September 15, 2019

D&D 5e [Princes of the Apocalypse] Session 12: Sigh, another side-quest? No wonder it's called the Sighing Valley!

Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
Serenity, Aasimar Wizard Divination-School (played by Mummy)

Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.

After several soul-searching days, Mummy finally decides on a name for her character! From here on, Mummy’s aasimar wizard is called ‘Serenity’; she wanted a name associated with ‘peace’ and it was also a nice tribute to the Firefly series.

I also asked the kids for a good name for the aarakocra who they rescued from Feathergale Spire, and Evan suggested ‘Kehaar’, which I thought was brilliant. Kehaar is the name of the verbally-abusive black-headed gull from the book ‘Watership Down’. I read that book to the kids some years back; if you ever wanted a kids story about anthropomorphised rabbits undergoing a survival adventure with the same level of paranoia as any decent zombie-flick, look no further!

Kehaar leads the small group of adventurers southwards into the Sighing Valley. At one point, the group flies over a bunch of opportunistic gnolls armed with bows, but after Folax blasts one of them right in the eye as it was attempting to aim an arrow at them, the rest scatter yippingly into the gloomy valley floor.

Eventually, they make it to Kehaar’s hideout, which looks like a series of large camouflaged nests up in the trees. There are five other aarakocra here, and after Kehaar makes introductions, the adventurers are invited to stay with them. They even find places for the hippogriff and the giant vulture to roost up in the trees.

“Wait a minute, dad!” says Jojo. “How do we know that Lord Thurl can’t track us here!? Maybe he can magically track the hippogriff or the vulture - I mean, they used to belong to the Feathergale knights, right?”

I flash her a rakish smile. “A tracking device? Not on this ship, sister!”

Jojo rolls her eyes, and proceeds to braid a leather collar with a spork pendant for her hippogriff. She makes another one for the giant vulture, but the brutish creature screeches menacingly at her and gulps down the collar. We conclude that the next time she tries to track the vulture, she’s either going to find it, or a pile of bird poop.

“Over the next day or two, you guys hide out with the aarakocra, but there is no sign of any Feathergale knights searching for you guys. The aarakocra all speak in low, serious tones except during meal-times when they devolve into a squawking mess, bickering like seagulls over chips.” The aarakocra tell the adventurers that they are here to 'find and destroy the source of the Elemental Evil Air', and they've heard rumours of an evil Prophetess of Air leading the air cultists. Mummy reasons that this must be the person who wants her wings.

The aarakocra have already scouted some parts of the Sighing Valley. So far, all they’ve discovered is Feathergale Spire (although the knights worship Yan-C-Bin, the Prince of Evil Air, the aarakocra insist that it is not the source of the evil). There’s also a griffon nest on a cliff-face to the west, where they’ve spotted a pair of mated griffons, likely guarding their nest of eggs.

“Griffons are fiercely protective over their eggs,” I tell them off-handedly. “Apparently, one griffon egg can is worth almost 2000 gold!” I should have anticipated what would happen next.

Evan sits up. “2000 gold? That’s a fortune! Hey, Jojo, let’s get those eggs!”

Jojo says, “I’m not going to steal eggs from a griffon’s nest! If you want to go get yourself killed, go by yourself!’

And so, going against all conventional wisdom, the gunslinger decides to raid the griffon’s nest all by himself. He borrows the ‘wing-suit’ from Tempest, and early the next morning while everyone’s asleep, he sneaks off and rides his vulture west towards the griffon’s nest.

I tell Evan, “The craggy cave entrance to the griffon’s nest is located on the side of a cliff-face. It’s a hard climb up or down to get to it.”

After some thought, Evan says, “Okay, I’m going to fly high above the nest, and then jump off the vulture. I’ll activate the wing-suit and glide down towards the entrance!” I get him to make a couple of Dexterity and Stealth rolls, and the gunslinger succeeds in gliding unnoticed to the cliff-face above the cave entrance. He cautiously pokes his head down to check, but I tell him that he sees nothing but gloom, although there’s a definite animal smell coming out from the cave.

The gunslinger carefully climbs down into the cave entrance. “Some ways in, you can see a large pile of sticks and branches. You’ll have to get closer to have a look inside.” I get him to roll more Stealth rolls, and make a few mysterious rolls of my own. It always gets the kids on the edge when I do that.

Folax creeps deeper into the cave, and gets right up to the pile of sticks and branches. “You peek over and see a griffon! It is currently snoozing with its legs tucked under it.”

“You mean, like a cat in the loaf position?” asks Jojo. “I love it when cats do that!”

Cat Loaf position. And yes, the expression is spot on with the griffon!

I nod affirmatively. Evan thinks some more, and then says, “It’s probably sitting on the eggs. I’ll wait for it to move.” So the gunslinger waits for about ten minutes before I tell him, “You hear a flapping noise at the cave entrance!”

“Oh no! Its mate is coming back!” hoots Jojo in sisterly evil glee.

I roll a few more mysterious rolls and say, “Yes, another griffon has turned up at the entrance! It doesn’t seem to have noticed you inside the cave, mainly because it seems preoccupied with carrying something in its beak and claws. It looks like a dead horse, still with a saddle and bulging packs!”

I look at Evan who shrugs, “I’ll stay hidden. See if the first griffon moves.”

The griffon carrying the horse is having difficulty pulling the dead horse into the cave, mainly because of the bulging packs on the horse’s saddle. The griffon sitting in the loaf position slits its eyes open and gives the struggling griffon at the entrance the universal look females give to males trying to perform something the female finds utterly idiotic. Eventually, it gets up with a grunt and goes to help its mate pull the dead horse in by first removing the bulging saddle packs.

Evan says, “Okay, it moved! I’ll carefully grab a griffon egg!” The gunslinger peeks into the nest, and sees two beautiful shimmery toaster-sized griffon eggs. “Just two? Oh. I thought that there would be a lot more of them, and they wouldn’t miss one!” Committed now, the gunslinger reaches in and picks up one of the eggs.

At this point, one of my mysterious rolls comes up with a decent number. I tell Evan, “As you step back, there is the tiniest snap of a twig, and the griffons immediately look up and see you! Griffons have high Perception, but I’ve been rolling like crap for them all this while!” With a squawking roar, the male griffon charges at the gunslinger!

Evan says, “I fire my Wand of Magic Missiles!” The few magical bolts lance out and hit the charging creature, but it only infuriates it further! I roll for its claw and beak attacks, and when I announce the total damage, Evan looks aghast, “I’m DEAD!”

I tell him, “The last thing you see is the griffon’s beak slashing down at you, and then everything goes white!”


Meanwhile back in the aarakocra hideout, the others have woken up to find Folax and his vulture missing. The aarakocra have planned to do further scouting today, and Tempest and Serenity agree to help them. So Kehaar, the dragonborn and the aasimar form one scouting party and decide to head eastwards, while three other aarakocra head north-east. Two more stay behind to wait and see if the gunslinger turns up.

I tell Mummy and Jojo, “Kehaar leads you guys eastwards, and you can see that this part of the Sighing Valley is quite dangerous. At one point, you guys hide in the trees above while a pack of snarling hyenas and gnolls chase something through the forest below. Eventually, you guys reach the eastern-most end of the valley.”

I tell Jojo to roll a Perception check, and she rolls well. “There doesn’t seem to be anything here, but then you notice something half-hidden in the ground. You scrape a bit, and find a skull!”

“What type of skull is it? An animal skull, or a human?” Jojo makes an excellent Intelligence roll, and I tell her, “Of course, you know what creature’s skull this is! The lower protruding jaw,.. small forehead. It’s an orc skull!”

“Hmm… orcs.” As the dragonborn and the rest search, they find more bits of orc bones and skulls lying around. There is a trail of bone bits leading into the bushes which they follow. Eventually, the group comes to a cave entrance.

“Another griffon’s nest?” ponders Jojo. After a brief discussion, the group sends forward Mummy’s weasel familiar to check it out. The little creature scampers up to the cave and peers in. “Mummy sees through her weasel’s eyes, and she sees a gloomy cave littered with bones and bits of weapons and armour. Pacing around inside is a female manticore muttering to herself.

“Maybe the mate to the other manticore we killed the other night,” they consider. Eventually, they decide that they should leave it alone as fighting manticores wasn’t their primary objective.

“Mummy, you also see a stack of crates in the middle of the cave!” I elaborate. “It looks like cargo loot!” But Jojo and Mummy show considerably more restraint than their absent gunslinging companion, and decide to head back to the aarakocra hideout to report their findings.

“You guys arrive safely back at the aarakocra hideout. The two aarakocra who stayed behind reports that Folax’s vulture returned by itself without the gunslinger! And later, the other group which went north-east returns and reports that they found a narrow canyon entrance, where they spotted a few Feathergale knights going in. The aarakocra reason that this is likely where the source of Elemental Evil Air might be.”

Kehaar asks the adventurers if they will help them explore the canyon, but Tempest shakes her head. “I think we should go find what happened to Folax first,” Jojo says. “I cast Locate Object to see where Folax is.”

I ask, “Did you give him a spork? I don’t remember that!”

Evan says, “Of course she did! When we were back in Red Larch, she gave out sporks to everyone! In fact, I stuck mine on my helmet like a spork aerial!”

I shrug, and tell Jojo that she traces the magic rune for Locate Object in front of her (which looks like the ‘Find Friends’ app icon) detects that Evan’s spork is travelling southwards from where they are. This mystifies them, until Mummy says, “It’s probably inside the griffon after it ate Folax!”


Over the next few days, Evan would bug me about whether Folax is dead. And I’d smirk and reply, “Maybe.” Evan starts considering if he needs to start a new character, and one night after dinner, I finally ask him in front of Mummy and Jojo, “So, do you want to know what happened to Folax?”

“Yes, please!”

“Well,” I drawl. “First, you need to tell me. How.. religious is Folax?”

Evan winces. “Uh, not very, I think.”

“Oh, I see,” I nod contemplatively. “Well, in Faerun, there are many gods of all sorts. There’s a god of nature, a god of murder, etc. In fact, whether you have a great afterlife all depends on what type of character were you, and where you find yourself when you wake up. Like, if you were an assassin who died and woke up in the halls of the Bhaal the god of murder, you’ll know that you’re going to have a great afterlife, compared to if you woke up in the halls of a god or goddess belonging to the Life Domain!”

Evan says, “Okay, so where do I wake up? In the hall of the god of thieves?”

I say, “Well, not exactly. The first thing you see when you regain consciousness is a symbol floating above you. You feel pain all over! And you recognise this symbol.” I lean closer. “It’s the symbol. Of a warhammer and a pair of scales above it. In fact, you know this symbol because you are usually in jail when you see it. This is the symbol of Tyr, the god of Justice!”

Tyr, God of Justice!

Jojo and Mummy burst out laughing while Evan covers his face. “Arrgh! I’m SO DEAD!”

After a while, I tell him, “You suddenly realise that you’re moving, like along a bumpy road. As you regain more wakefulness, you realise that you’re in a covered wagon, and the symbol of Tyr is painted on the canvas ceiling.” The gunslinger looks around but it hurts to move.

Just then, the canvas door leading to the driver’s seat of the wagon flaps open and a woman peers in. I tell Evan that the woman is wearing full plate armour, and has a stern but fair face. She sees Folax and says, “I thought I heard you stirring back there. I am Lady Ushien Stormbanner of the Knights of Samular. And you are very lucky to be alive.”

“The egg,” croaks Folax. “Do I still have the egg?”

Evan blanches when I tell him 'No'. Lady Ushien looks at him critically. “Why would anyone want to take a griffon’s egg? We were trying to retrieve the saddle bags of the horse that griffon carried off, and when we got to the nest, we found you facing off two griffons at once! And then, just as the griffon was going to skewer you with its beak, there was a blinding flash! We think it must have been this thing you were holding - the griffon must have broken it when it attacked. You’re lucky that the flash blinded the griffons long enough for us to drag you and the saddle bags out of there!” And she holds up the broken remains of the Wand of Magic Missiles.

Adventure Notes:

I follow the very inadvisable adage while DMing of ‘when in doubt, roll a random encounter’. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just creates more work! This session, I did not expect Folax to run off griffon egg-stealing on his own, and while I wanted to grant him a very (very) small chance of success, I also wanted to ensure that there was some twist to get him out of that mess. So while he was waiting for the female griffon to move, I rolled on the Random Encounters chart in the campaign book, and it gave me ‘Knights of Samular’. I took that as a lead, and made the male griffon turn up carrying the dead horse belonging to a knight of Samular. All in all, I’m quite happy with the way things turned out, because it gave me the opportunity to introduce another faction of the Dessarin Valley to everyone.

I’d never even heard of the Knights of Samular, and I needed to do some research on them beforehand, hence why it took a couple of days before I could tell Evan what had happened to Folax. And yes, I felt it was fair to destroy the Wand of Magic Missiles as a sort of penalty instead of outright death. This time round. devil

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

How to run an Awesome KKCon 2019

Thanks everyone again for an awesome KKCon! I had a fantastic time, and it really gives me and Cynthia a buzz to see so many people playing games and having a great time! One might ask ‘how do you run an awesome KKCon?’. Well, I’m glad you asked, pseudo-person who sounds just like that voice in my head! Here are the fool-proof steps for doing just that!

1. Have keen friends who turn up early and leave late! 

I used to worry about starting KKCon too early, but I’ve figured out now that some people turn up early and leave early, and some people turn up late and leave late. And then there’s these guys who turn up early AND leave late. So kudos to Steve, Ben and Joe!

2. Have a trustworthy Raffle Guy! 

This year, I left the running of the raffle to a trustworthy Raffle Guy! Evan collected the funds, prepared tickets, ignored bribes and was generally the best Raffle Guy I’ve ever coerced into the job! Well done, boy!

3. Have a Looping Louie “Doubles” Tournament! 

This was the highlight of the day for me! Looping Louie “Doubles” was an idea which came up a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t sure how well it would work. Needless to say, it was AMAZING! I had such a buzz from seeing everyone really getting into the tournament. Congratulations to Evan and Jonathan who won the tournament this year! That “back-slash” move that they came up with is truly fearsome! And thanks to my beautiful Jojo who organised the matches! Great work, girl!

4. Have an awesome game-themed cake!

The cake this year was based off “Marrakech”, which is a board game about earning money by building carpets. It starts off docile enough, but by the last few turns, it becomes a pretty cut-throat affair as players lay down their carpets to cover up other carpets. I must say that this is the only game I know that uses bits of felt carpets as a game mechanic - and it works!

As mentioned during my speech, the game has some special significance to Cynthia and me. Early in the year, Cynthia had a rough start with her vision impairment, and for a couple of months, we didn’t feel like playing any games. But after her eyesight recovered well enough to recognise colours, I picked up this colourful game as this first game to play!

5. Have a Cheese & Bacon Cob. Made by Maureen!

This is essential. Apparently, a portion of attendees were there strictly for Maureen’s Party Cob, which was (as expected) made to perfection! Thanks Maureen for preparing not one, but two cobs for the con!

6. Have a good cause to donate Raffle money to! 

Contrary to popular belief, the money raised in the KKCon raffle does not go to the ‘KK Board Game Fund’! We’ve been supporting our charity partner for years, and this year, we were pleased to tell them that we raised $871.05! I believe this beats last year ($800), so many thanks to everyone’s generosity!

7. Have a cool Fridge Magnet Gift! 

This year’s door gift is based off Blokus, which seems to be a big hit amongst the board gamers at work. So much so that it apparently takes about 45 mins to play now because everyone is busy calculating and re-calculating their best moves. Fast to learn, slow to master - and there seems to be more masters of this game at work nowadays!

8. Invite lots and lots of awesome attendees! 

Surely it makes sense that if a gaming con is only as great as its attendees, then an AWESOME gaming con must have AWESOME attendees! Thank you all for being awesome attendees to KKCon this year!

See all photos of KKCon 2019 here.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

D&D 5e [Princes of the Apocalypse] Session 11: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
To-be-named, Aasimar Wizard Divination-School (played by Mummy)

Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.

We took a break from D&D for a couple of weeks, but it was interesting to see conversations about our campaign pop-up here and there during that time. Mummy mentioned that she was surprised how captivated she was by the story so far, and she’s made suggestions to the kids on how she might leverage off her “adoring Feathergale knight fans”. And Jojo drew up some sketches of her character:

After settling everyone down for our next session, I show the group the full map of Feathergale Spire as an encouragement to explore it.

I tell them, “Okay, it’s still the night when you guys killed that manticore for Lord Thurl. The Feathergale knights are enamoured by Mummy and her wings, and Lord Thurl allocates rooms for you all. Are you all sleeping in separate rooms?”

Evan declares, “I’m sleeping in my wagon! I’m not letting it out of my sight!” With that, Mummy and Jojo decide that they should share a single room.

I tell them, “Everyone in the spire settles down, with the knights in their chambers and the spire staff all sleeping communally in the feasting hall near the big fireplaces.” I turn tol Evan, “Roll a d20!” Evan rolls a 16. “In the early hours of the morning, you are suddenly awakened in your wagon by the sound of the drawbridge being lowered!”

Evan complains, “That was a Perception roll? Gah, I wish I failed it and continued sleeping!” Now that he was awake, the gunslinger peeks out from his wagon to see the drawbridge come fully down, and a group of Feathergale knights coming in. Two in front seem to be escorting a prisoner between them, while another two carry a large blocky chest sealed with iron clasps. “The prisoner is dressed in leathers and is quite rough-looking. And the chest that is being carried looks like it’s dripping wet.”

I describe how the knights quickly pass the parked wagon and bring their prisoner and chest up the spiral stairway. “Just as they start going up, the chest gives a sudden jolt! The knights carrying it swear a bit but they continue to carry it upstairs.”

I look at Evan who shrugs. “Meh, I’m going back to sleep.” And he does.

I get Mummy and Jojo to make Perception rolls as well, and when Jojo succeeds, she wakes Mummy up. “There’s a sound of a group of people heading up the stairs next to your bedroom. What do you want to do?”

Mummy says, “I’ll send my ferret to follow them.”

I frown, “Ferret? I thought it was a weasel?”

“Really? Wasn’t it a ferret?”

After several magical switches between ferret and weasel, a very mustelid-confused weasel follows the knights as they ascend all the way to the top of the Spire. “Mummy, you recognise this prisoner! He’s one of the guys you saw in that clearing when you guys were travelling to Feathergale Spire!”

Jojo nods, “Oh, the knights found the water cultists after all!”

It’s still several hours to dawn, and sky is still dark. However, the top of the spire has a group of knights gathered there, and torches flickering in the wind. Lord Thurl is there and he is presented with the prisoner. He tsks, “Well, what brings the Crushing Wave cult into our domain, hmm? Perhaps you have forgotten the penalty of violating our territory?”

The prisoner looks sullen, “I’m not saying anything. You’re going to kill me anyway!”

Lord Thurl smiles, “Yes, you are quite right.” He motions to a knight next to him, and it’s the same young teenage boy whom Mummy rescued. “It’s time for you to prove you are truly a knight of the air.” He hands the boy a ritual knife. I describe how the prisoner is pushed to the edge of the spire, and a symbol is carved into his chest before they throw him off. As the prisoner falls into the mist below, something large flies by and snaps him up.

A knight asks Lord Thurl, “So what do you want us to do with the Fathomer in the chest?” The chest gives another jolt, and a few drops of water jump off. Lord Thurl stifles a yawn, “It’s late. Put the Fathomer into a holding cell. I’ll see him tomorrow.” With that, the knights carry the dripping chest down one level, and Mummy’s weasel observes them bringing it into a chamber. A knight is posted outside the room as a guard. Mummy dismisses her familiar as the rest of the knights file down the stairway.

The next morning, the adventurers meet up at the wagon. Tempest says, “Okay, I was going to prepare my Detect Good and Evil spell, but after last night, I think these guys are definitely evil!”

Mummy says, “I still have to do my sales pitch to them. Besides, I don’t think we’re in any danger while they are still enchanted by my wings.” She gives them a slight flutter.

Folax says, “Well, I want to check on my vulture!” The adventurers go down to the stables, and the giant vulture screeches when it recognises Folax.

I tell them, “There seems to be several knights here minding their hippogriffs. One of the stables is empty, its side doors open to the sky. As you guys watch, you see a figure fly in through the open side doors! The figure is wearing some sort of wing-suit with flaps between the arms and legs. It does a neat somersault and lands next to you guys!”

The figure takes off its helmet, and the adventurers recognise Savra, Kaylessa’s niece. “What a glorious morning to fly!” the girl exclaims. “Have you tried our wingwear suits? You really must!” She beckons the adventurers to follow her up the stairs. Mummy and Tempest follow her, while Folax tries to feed the vulture and take it out for a morning flight.

Savra leads them right up to the top of Feathergale Spire. “You guys see a few knights up here putting on those suits that Savra is currently wearing. She gets a spare one and hands it to Tempest.”

Jojo says, “Aw geez. She wants to me put it on and try flying!” With some encouragement from Mummy, Tempest eventually puts on the wingwear suit and stands at the edge of the spire. “They probably sabotaged it to kill me!”

Mummy says, “I’ll fly with you, just in case.” With that, the aasimar wizard and wingwear-clad dragonborn launch themselves off the edge of the spire. I describe how exhilarating it was to fly over the morning mist of the nearby valley. Folax joins them as well, riding his giant vulture.

“Well, you guys can actually explore the valley a bit, if you want. Or do you want to head back into the spire?” After a cursory flight around the spire, they decide to head back in, much to my disappointment. Ah well, encounters in the Sighing Valley will have to wait.

They land in the stables level of the spire, and a knight greets Mummy. “Lord Thurl wishes to see what sort of decorative armour can your guild supply.” Mummy tells him that she can do her presentation right here in the stables. While Lord Thurl and the knights gather for Mummy’s sales pitch, Tempest and Folax decide that they are going to try to sneak into the ‘holding cell’ chamber to check out that chest containing the Fathomer.

I get Mummy to start off her presentation to Lord Thurl, and she does so with a flourish. Using her Minor Illusion spell, the aasimar wizard shows off examples of hippogriff armour on a real hippogriff. “And my guild can even change the colour, or design-patterns on the sides of the hippogriff. What colour or patterns would you prefer?” Lord Thurl seems overwhelmed by the options (“This is all so HARD!”) while his knights excitedly call out suggestions in the background.

Meanwhile, Tempest casts ‘Pass without Trace’ and she and Folax sneak up to the level where ‘holding cell’ chamber is. “There’s a single knight guarding the door, but he looks like he’s having a doze while leaning against the wall.” Tempest decides to cast “Deafness” on him, and when he doesn’t wake up from his doze, the two adventurers sneak past him into the chamber.

I tell them, “Still dripping wet, you see the latched chest on one side of the chamber. However, you also see that there’s someone else in this chamber!” I pull open the Monster Manual, and show them this:

“It’s an aarakocra, a humanoid being with a bird’s head and wings! And he’s chained to the wall on the other side of the chamber!” The aarakocra regards them curiously, his bird head cocked to one side.

Jojo says, “Um, Hi? Don’t mind us; we’re just here to see the chest. Can you understand me?”

I tell them, “The aarakocra speaks in a low, serious voice, ‘If you are not part of the air cult, free me.’”

The kids discuss this, and Jojo replies, “Yeah, well, do you know what’s inside this chest?”

The aarakocra answers, “I wouldn’t open it if I were you. It contains a Fathomer, a powerful water cultist with blue skin who can turn himself in a water serpent. Water cultists are as evil as air cultists who worship Yan-C-Bin, the air prince of elemental evil. If you truly are not part of the air cult, I strongly suggest you free me and we escape this spire. The air cultists are never going to let you leave unless you join them!”

Meanwhile, downstairs at the sales presentation, I tell Mummy that Lord Thurl is interrupted by one of his knights who whispers something into his ear. “Apologies, my lady,” says Lord Thurl. “But we will have to pause the presentation for now. I have an urgent summons. Let’s break for now.” With that, Lord Thurl goes up the stairs towards the level where Tempest and Folax are. There’s a moment of panic among them as Mummy scours her spell list to see if there’s anything she can use to delay Lord Thurl. Out of desperation, Mummy says, “I’ll send my weasel familiar to stop Lord Thurl!”

“How’s it going to do that!? Hug his ankles!?”

In the end, her weasel familiar scurries after Lord Thurl. Mummy sits at a table while listening through her familiar’s ears.

I tell them that Lord Thurl goes up to the same level where Tempest and Folax are, but instead of going to the holding cell chamber, he enters his own chambers which is next door. Mummy’s weasel scurries up to the chamber door and listens. “You can hear Lord Thurl speaking to someone else. There seems to be a thrum of magic. A woman’s voice asks, ‘So, I hear that you have some interesting visitors at the spire.’ Lord Thurl affirms this, and the woman’s voice continues, ‘And one of them has wings? Real wings? Are they as pretty as mine?’ Lord Thurl gives some response, and the woman replies, ‘I want you to bring her to me. Perhaps Yan-C-Bin will grant me her wings, for my own!’”

Mummy looks horrified. “That woman wants my wings!?”

Jojo says to me, “Dad, you took this plot straight from ‘Malificient’, didn’t you!?”

I shrug innocently. “While Mummy is sitting at her table looking unsettled, a knight sits next to her and enthusiastically starts giving her design suggestions. Mummy can’t hear a word he’s saying because she’s still listening through her weasel’s ears, and just nods politely.”

The group unanimously decides, “Okay, I think it’s time to get out of here!” They free the aarakocra who thanks them and says, “We need a diversion before we can flee from this spire.” After an intense discussion of various escape plans, the group decides that the key to their diversion will be to release the Fathomer. I’m not exactly sure of the logic of their plan, but in the end, it was decided that Tempest will carry the chest containing the Fathomer downstairs a few levels, and meet Mummy at the stables before releasing the Fathomer. During the diversion, Folax and the aarakocra will come out and head upstairs to the top of the spire where the aarakocra will fly Folax down to the stables level where Folax can collect his vulture.

So the dragonborn cleric heaves the chest by herself past the snoozing guard (who is still deaf). She grabs the weasel familiar outside Lord Thurl’s door and speaks into it like a microphone, “Hello? I’m coming down to get you. We’re getting out of here, roger that?” before dumping the poor creature.

I tell Jojo, “And then, you suddenly see it.”

Jojo narrows her eyes. “See what?”

I say, “Next to Lord Thurl’s chamber door, you see a breakfast tray. On the tray, is a golden spork!” Jojo actually anguishes for a full minute before deciding to ignore the spork and continue to lug the chest downstairs. Pity, I would have awarded her an Inspiration for trying to take it.

The dragonborn cleric meets another knight coming up, and a good story about ‘hippogriff food’ and a favourable Deception roll has the knight actually helping the dragonborn to carry the chest downstairs. Once they place the chest down and the helpful knight heads off, the dragonborn casts Invoke Duplicity to create a duplicate of herself standing next to the chest. Then she goes down to the stables and meets Mummy. “I cast Thaumaturgy from my duplicate to open the chest latch and then shout ‘Help! He’s out! Help!’!”

I roleplay a little scene where Tempest’s duplicate is shouting for help, and several puzzled-looking knights turn up to see what the matter is. After several embarrassing moments, the chest finally bursts open, and an angry blue-skinned Fathomer emerges from it. “Knights are now yelling and everyone seems distracted by the fight on the level with the Fathomer!” On cue, Folax and the aarakocra come out of their chamber (going past the snoozing knight who is still deaf) and head upstairs, swiping the golden spork as they pass. Then the aarakocra flies Folax down to the stables level of the spire to meet up with Tempest and Mummy. Finally, the adventurers leave the spire, with Tempest on a hippogriff, Folax on his vulture, Mummy and the aarakocra flying with their own wings.

“Wait a minute! What about my wagon!?” asks Evan.

“Ah right, the wagon,” I say. “Sometime during the chaos of the fight, someone trips a hidden switch which activates the large wooden eagle suspended above the main entrance hall where the wagon is parked. The wooden eagle is actually a battering ram trap, and it swings down and smashes the wagon right through the spire’s drawbridge, leaving a wagon-shaped hole! Thankfully, Mervus the horse isn’t still tethered to it!”

To the astonishment of the adventurers, they witness the wagon smash through the spire’s drawbridge and sail clumsily in the air before it falls to the canyon below. Folax and Tempest dive their mounts and manage to catch the wagon before it hits the ground. With the wagon clutched between them, the flying group follows the aarakocra who leads them southwards in the Sighing Valley.

Adventure Notes:
That group of water cultists from last session actually came in handy. Weaving random events into a coherent story is a special joy to me.

By showing them the map of Feathergale Spire, I was hoping that the group would take time to explore the spire’s rooms, but it seems like they were more focused on particular goals, like checking out that chest with the Fathomer. The 'holding cell' chamber doesn't actually exist in the actual map, but I needed a place to hold prisoners in the Spire, and for some reason, the Feathergale knights don't have one. Perhaps they prefer to throw their prisoners off the spire rather than keep them!

I’m just going to keep using Folax’s wagon for comedic effect. Let’s see how battered we can get this wagon to be! 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

D&D 5e [Princes of the Apocalypse] Session 10: My dear guests! Welcome to Feathergale Spire!

Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
To-be-named, Aasimar Wizard Divination-School (played by Mummy)

Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.

As I fire up the laptop at the start of this session, Jojo is trying to get Mummy to accept a spork from her character. “Why do I need a spork?” asks Mummy quizzically.

“It’s… a gift! My dragonborn hands out sporks to all her friends! Here, just take it!”

“Riiight. Thanks,” says Mummy as Jojo writes it into her character sheet for her.

I go through the motions of getting everyone to answer ‘Who are you? What can you do?’ and then tell everyone, “So, I take it that you’re all going to Feathergale Spire?”

Jojo says, “Yeah. Oh, where’s Zoey anyway? Is she coming with us?”

“Ah yes, Zoey,” I reply. “Well, you haven’t seen Zoey in over a week. A day or two after the events at the sinkhole, she told you that she’s worried about those Mirabar trade bars you guys found on the Black Earth Cult priest. They look like the ones from the Mirabar delegation that she used to work for, and some of the delegates were her friends. Anyway, she’s gone off to see if anything has happened to them.”

Jojo is disappointed that the half-orc caravan guard isn’t going to be with them. Evan, on the other hand, is more interested to know if his wagon has been retrieved from the sinkhole. I tell him that the humans and dwarves managed to lift out the heavy wagon using an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes. Thelorn inspects the damage to the wagon’s rear axle, and tells Folax that he can get it fixed in the overnight shift. The adventurers agree that they will leave as soon as the wagon is ready the next day.

The next morning, Tempest is on her way down from her room at the Swinging Sword Inn, when she is stopped by Kaylessa the inn-keeper. “I heard you’re going to Feathergale Spire,” she says with a worried tone. “I was just wondering if you do me a favour and..”

Jojo says, “Oh, I’ll check on your niece for you. Don’t worry about it.”

Folax and Mummy are already waiting outside the inn when Tempest joins them. Thelorn approaches them from out of his store. “He looks a little apologetic,” I tell them. “He says, ‘Ah, Folax, we’ve fixed your wagon, but there’s one slight problem.’”

Evan winces, “Oh no. What is it?”

“Well, we didn’t have any more wheels of the same type as the front ones of your wagon. So we’ve fitted another set of back wheels which are larger than the front ones.” Thelorn profusely assures the gunslinger that although the wagon looks strange, it still should drive fine.

“You mean, my wagon now looks like a hot-rod!?”

“Um, pretty much, yes.”

Folax unpeels his tongue from the roof of his mouth and rasps to Thelorn, “It’s perfect!” He tries to stick the Wand of Magic Missiles to the back to the wagon to act as a booster, but the others dissuade him. Thelorn has his workers hitch the wagon to a horse that arrived from the farm the day before.

Jojo exclaims, “We now have a horse!? What’s his name?”

“You can name him. He’s a workhorse, you know, the kind which pull heavy loads. A very nervous-looking workhorse, that is.” They decide to name the horse ‘Mervus the Nervous’. Soon, the adventurers are on their way out of town on their odd-looking wagon.

“Who’s driving?” I ask them.

“Not me,” says Evan. “I’m going to sleep in the wagon! Mummy can drive!”

Mummy says, “Aren’t I your customer? Why should I be driving!?”

“You hired the wagon! It’s like Uber!”

“That’s not how Uber works! If this was Uber, you’re the worst Uber driver ever!”

In the end, Tempest drives the wagon while Mummy sits next to her. I tell them, “You follow the road into the Sumber Hills for several hours, and then come to a turning which looks newly cleared, with a make-shift sign that says, ‘To Feathergale Spire’. You turn into a recently cleared dirt road, and already, you can see Feathergale Spire in the horizon.”

I pull open the Random Encounters chart in the PotA campaign book, and roll the d20 to see what fate deals to us today. A 13. I look up the result, and say out loud, “How’s that going to happen!?” I had the urge to re-roll, but decide to adhere to Tina Fey's First Rule of Improv (Say Yes), and stick with it.

“As you guys go along, you suddenly hear the faint sounds of arguing! It sounds like it’s coming from off the side of the road, beyond some trees!”

The adventurers shrug. “It’s just people arguing. Let’s keep going, but maybe send someone to check it out.” As they look through their character sheets, Mummy says, “Can I cast ‘Find Familiar’ and send my familiar to check it out?”

“Oh, that’s a great idea! The problem is that ‘Find Familiar’ takes an hour to cast!”

“What!? I didn’t know that! I would have cast it way before now!”

In a magnanimous gesture, I reverse game time by several hours to allow Mummy to cast her Find Familiar spell so that she has her familiar at this time. Yes, DMing your wife is a good way to score brownie points.

“What sort of creature is your familiar?” I rattle off a list of potential creatures from the PHB. Jojo laughingly suggests ‘Octopus’, but in the end, Mummy chooses a weasel. Her weasel familiar pops into existence and leaps off the wagon to check out the sounds.

“While you’re seeing and hearing from your familiar’s eyes and ears, you can’t see or hear yourself,” I say. “In fact, it says here that you can even cast Touch spells from your familiar!” We muse that having a cat familiar rub itself against someone and casting Shocking Grasp would be quite entertaining.

Mummy’s weasel makes it way through the trees, and eventually comes to a hidden clearing where there is a large group of about a dozen people. “These guys look weird! They seem to be armed with strange saw-toothed swords, and two of them are these big, blue-green skinned humanoids arguing with another guy in a tattered blue priest’s robe. “It’s been three days since we last saw water!” growls one of the big guys to the priest. “I say we turn back NOW!” I lift up the PotA campaign book to show everyone how the big, blue-green skinned guys look like:

“Water cult,” surmises the kids. By now, they'd figured that they'll be encountering cultists from all four elements soon. “Let’s keep moving!”

Mummy says, “Are you sure? Maybe we should-”

“No! Look at Dad’s face! Let’s keep moving now!”

One of the saw-toothed sword-bearing guys glances up. “Shh! I think I hear someone on the road!”

Tempest snaps the reins to speed Mervus up, and eventually they leave the band of suspected Water cultists behind. I tell Mummy that she can just make her familiar vanish back to whatever realm it came from until she re-summons it again.

Eventually, the road ends at a cliff-edge. “You guys have made it to Feathergale Spire!” I read from the campaign book: “Feathergale Spire rises from a pillar of rock high into the air, the tallest point for miles. Built from white limestone and embellished in marble, the spire resembles a gleaming sword that pierces the sky.” I describe how there is a drawbridge that is currently up. Between their cliff-edge and the spire is a gap of twenty feet which span across a drop that is several hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon. “Near the ledge, a brass bell hangs from a wooden post.”

Mummy rings the bell, and a small window opens. “Welcome!” calls out a female voice, “What brings you to Feathergale Spire?” Mummy replies that she is a guild representative and states her business. At once, the drawbridge is lowered, and the adventurers roll their wagon across. I tell them that they seem to be in an impressive white hall that has twelve-foot-tall doors at one end. Most distinguishingly is a large eagle carved from timber suspended from the far-end of the ceiling, its head fashioned with steel.

“Nice,” says Jojo. The woman who greeted them joins them, and they see that it’s Savra, Kaylessa’s niece. The young woman introduces herself to Mummy, and says that she’ll bring them to see Lord Thurl, her lord commander. She leads them up a large spiral stairway, going up several floors until they reach the very top. I read from the campaign book: “At the apex of the tower, the stairs terminate at a round stone gazebo that continues upwards in a needle-like minaret. Beyond this enclosure, a small lawn grows upon the top of the tower. Four paths paved with white stones point the directions of the compass, each path ending in a pointed stone crenellation. At the pinnacle’s edge is a spyglass on a tripod, pointed downward.” I describe the supreme view of all the whole nearby canyon and the Sumber Hills beyond.

“A man turns from viewing the spy-glass when you arrive. Tempest and Folax recognise this man! It’s the same guy who you met in Session 1 with the owlbear, and then again when he brought Savra to visit Kaylessa at the inn!” The man has white-grey hair, and is wearing armor with feather patterns. “The kids won’t know this,” I tell Mummy, feeling inspired. “But this guy looks a lot like that white-suited guy from that 80s TV show ‘Fantasy Island’!”

Mummy laughs. “You serious? Is there a short guy looking out and calling, ‘The plane! The plane!’!?”

Jojo says, “I don’t know who this guy is, but he looks dodgy!”

Lord Thurl gives the adventurers a low courteous bow. I try to give him a Mexican accent. “My dear guests! I am Lord Thurl, the lord commander of the Feathergale knights! Welcome to Feathergale Spire!”

Lord Thurl listens intently to Mummy’s description of what sort of decorative armour her guild can craft. “Ah yes, I’ve heard of your guild while I was in Waterdeep. I recall your guild making the decorative horse armour for one of the merchant lords.” Mummy affirms and offers to show Lord Thurl some armour designs, but the commander lifts his hand. “Of course, but perhaps this can wait till morning. We must celebrate the arrival of our guests with a proper feast! Let’s go below to the grand hall.”

And with that, the adventurers are led to a large, semi-circular feasting hall. “There are about twenty feathergale knights here, all feasting and chatting loudly. You guys are given guests of honour seats next to Lord Thurl who is very courteous and conversational. Do you guys want to ask him anything?”

Jojo says, “So um, Lord Thurl. I’m not sure if you recall, but we’ve met before. You were attacking an owlbear, and we happened to be there as well.”

Lord Thurl frowns, and then smiles. “Ah yes, of course! The dragonborn who lightning-breathed the owlbear before we carried it off.” He laughs. “What a night, eh?”

“Don’t you think going around attacking animals is wrong?”

Lord Thurl replies, “We were hunting, and hunting is a gentleman’s sport. The owlbear was a dangerous creature anyway, so we dispatched it.”

Jojo frowns. “Gah! I don’t know if this guy is evil or not! I wish I prepared my ‘Detect Good and Evil’ spell!”

Just then, the doors of the feasting hall burst open, and a sentry from the pinnacle enters. He shouts, “Manticore! It’s on the move!” At this announcement, the Feathergale knights rise as one. Lord Thurl says, “We should take this opportunity to slay the monster! A prize for the one who brings me the beast’s head!” He removes a golden ring and holds it aloft.

The kids and Mummy are excited now. “A manticore!? Isn’t that a lion with wings?” I take the opportunity to look up the Monster Manual and tell them some information on manticores. “Yes, a lion’s body, dragon-wings, and a tail with spikes that shoot out! They’re super evil, and like to torment their victims.” I tell them that the Feathergale knights would lend them hippogriffs to fly on if they wanted to join in the manticore hunt.

Somewhere between the announcement of the manticore, and me showing how dangerous this creature was, Evan had a change of heart. “I’ll stay with my wagon,” he says. “You guys go.”

I shrug, “Sure, you can stay behind.” I did have one ace up my sleeve though. I tell him, “Folax follows Mummy and Tempest down to the hippogriff stables which are located at the lowest level of the spire. Four knights are getting mounted on their hippogriffs, while Mummy and Tempest are being shown a couple of hippogriffs which they can ride. And then, you hear the most awful screech you’ve ever heard coming in a barred stable!”

The gunslinger turns and sees a giant vulture in the stable, flapping its black wings and making an awful racket with its screeching because of all the excitement. “Folax, it’s the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen!”

A passing knight tells Folax, “We’re starting to bring these giant vultures in. This is our first one, and it’s very, very temperamental! No one has tried riding it yet!”

Evan says, “I try approaching it! Is there food? I try feeding it!” The gunslinger finds some scraps of meat, and approaches the giant flapping bird. I get Evan to roll an Animal Handling check, and he succeeds! “The giant vulture snaps the scrap of meat from your hand, and gulps it down in one go!”

“Right! I’ll feed it a few more scraps, and then I’ll try mounting it!” With a few knights watching curiously, the gunslinger manages to put on a saddle on the vulture which is still busy devouring its food scraps. Then, he gets on. “One of the knights pulls a lever that opens the side of the stable into the open, and with a great flap of wings, the vulture is off! With you riding on its back!”

The gunslinger is soon joined by Mummy and Tempest on their hippogriffs. The four other Feathergale knights join them. “We’ll form two teams,” suggests one of the knights. “That way, we can search a wider area.”

I tell the kids that the canyon beyond Feathergale Spire is called the “Sighing Valley” because of the peculiar wailing sounds that the wind makes as it blows through it. “It’s night-time now, but there’s a bright moon. Below, you can only see clouds of mist which cover the valley floor. Here and there, some rocky pinnacles poke out of the mists, and above is the clear night sky.” I tell them that flying out in the night is exhilarating, and for a moment, you can see why some people would want to stay with in Feathergale Spire.

The group splits into two, with the one knight with the kids and Mummy in one team, while the other team of three knights fly off in a different direction. I roll a few d20s and tell them, “You guys fly for about 20 minutes, but you don’t see any sign of the manticore. Then suddenly, you hear a blaring horn coming from somewhere to your left!”

“They found it!” declares Jojo. Their group hastily flies towards the blaring horn. “Suddenly, out from the mists, a terrifying manticore lunges out towards your group! You can see some arrows already sticking out from its hide! The manticore snarls, ‘I will tear your skin off your flesh!’, and flings its tail spikes at you!”

Everyone rolls for Initiative, and the manticore gets to fire off a wave of spikes at the group. Tempest hits it with a Guiding Bolt, while Folax grazes it with a rifle shot. I get everyone to roll for Perception which the kids fail, “The manticore suddenly dives into the mist, and Tempest and Folax lose sight of it! Mummy and the other knight, on the other hand, pursue it into the mist!”

I tell Mummy that she’s following behind the other feathergale knight, and she can see the manticore flying away in front of them. Mummy casts Witch Bolt, but it misses and hits a rocky pinnacle. The manticore dips and turns around the pinnacle, and the knight follows, only to be surprised when the creature springs out from behind the pinnacle and claws him off his hippogriff! “You see the knight falling away! It’s too late to turn your hippogriff around to save him, but you might be able to save him by diving down with your own wings!”

Mummy says, “I’ll do it! Jump off my hippogriff and rescue the knight!” So the aasimar wizard leaps off, and her wings spread out from under her cloak. I tell her that she can see the knight trying to spread his arms out along his sides, “He seems to be trying to activate something on his suit, like wing flaps from a wing-suit, but these are torn by the manticore! You swoop down and catch him under his arms! You can see that he’s actually a young teenage boy under his helm!”

Meanwhile, Tempest and Folax are trying to find where the others have gone. I roll a d4, and tell them, “Unseen by you two, a dark shadow passes in the mist beneath you! Suddenly, the manticore lunges out and attacks Folax on his vulture!” The manticore scores a bite on the gunslinger, and its rear legs claw at the vulture viciously, scattering black feathers everywhere. Struggling wildly, the gunslinger points his rifle point-blank at the manticore’s head and pulls the trigger.

I tell them, “From a distance, Tempest can see Folax and his vulture struggling with the manticore, and then there’s an explosion of red. Very slowly, the manticore’s headless body falls down, turning the white mist into red as it vanishes below!”

“Evan! You were supposed to save the head! How are we going to present it to Lord Thurl if you’ve blown it to bits!?”

Evan snorts, “Well, he can pick the bits of its head off my armour!”

The group returns to Feathergale Spire, and (despite not having the manticore head) Folax is gifted the golden ring prize from Lord Thurl. Then, the young knight who was rescued by Mummy whispers to Lord Thurl, who looks at Mummy in surprise. “I have been told that you have been hiding a wonderful secret from us! Is it true that you have wings?”

Seeing no point to hide them now, Mummy reveals her wings, and the Feathergale knights gasp as one. Lord Thurl himself gets down on one knee and tells her, “My lady, we are honoured to have a champion of the air amongst us!”

Adventure Notes:
Yeah, it was good to have the manticore hunt to end this session. It's important to give my kids some motivation, and I had a hunch that showing Evan that vulture would do the trick!

The random encounter roll was a band of water cultists - but there was no water around, I was initially stumped on how and why these guys were there in the first place. But I’ll probably be able to use them later. I did ask Mummy and the kids why didn’t they warn the Feathergale knights about the water cultists so close to their spire, and they replied that they simply forgot!

It'll be interesting to see what they now come up with given that Mummy seems to have the Feathergale knights enthralled...