Monday, January 16, 2012

Hungover Heroes Guild, Part Twelve

A dozen sessions and running strong! This latest session was mostly roleplaying. However, the PCs managed to finish the dungeon beneath the Twisted Tower of Ashaba, freeing nearly 40 dwarven slaves from the drow and chasing the overmage off. Their raid on the drow fortress resulted in a humongous haul. They emerged from the tunnels, gave a full report to Thurbal, and were given 20% of all loot as per the agreement, amounting to nearly 3,000 gp all told. Lord Mourngrym and Thurbal (captain of the Shadowdale guard) were so impressed that their payment was tripled, to 300 gp per person.

A lot of character development took place. Vlad discussed his secret god with Lhaeo, who dug up some information from old tomes and identified Vlad's benefactor as Jergal, an ancient deity of death and endings once worshiped in Netheril thousands of years ago before Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul won most of his portfolio from him (allowing Jergal to retire to the position of seneschal of Myrkul's Bone Castle). With the death of Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul during the Time of Troubles, Cyric usurped all of their portfolios and now Jergal is a very frustrated deity due to Cyric's chaotic and vengeful nature.

Sven discussed the death of his Harper parents with Storm Silverhand, resident of Shadowdale, one of the legendary Seven Sisters, Harper, and former Knight of Myth Drannor. Later, as the party traveled south toward Mistledale through the elven forest, Sven's felt a calling in his elven blood. He keenly felt the loss the forest has experienced since the Retreat of the elves from Cormanthor. This has made him a bit moody and introspective. We'll see how he deals with the mixing of human and elven blood in his veins as the adventures continue.

The PCs paid many of their commissions, bought horses, a wagon, an alchemist's lab for Vlad, and a chest with an amazing lock for their communal treasure, then set out along the Mistle Trail beneath the eaves of Cormanthor along the River Ashaba. After many days journey, they arrived at the town of Elven Crossing, where they spent the night, then arrived the next day in the town of Ashabenford. When we next meet, perhaps their journey will continue toward Deepingdale, where the sage Rhauntides and the Leaves of Learning (the Temple of Oghma) may harbor knowledge that will lead them to the home of the wizard Finott or the location of the Sword of the Dales.

Sessions like this are why I love the Realms. Through the PCs' explorations, I get to see the Forgotten Realms come to life. Having Vlad interact with Lhaeo, Elminster's apprentice, and discover his benefactor is an ancient Netherese deity was really cool, but so was all of the development Sven has been experiencing as well. I never would have thought that I'd get to portray one of Ed Greenwood's original PCs, Storm Silverhand--legendary Harper and Knight of Myth Drannor. There are a variety of paths the PCs could take to reach Deepingdale. I'm excited to see where they go and what happens to them along the way! Let the dice fall where they may!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hungover Heroes Guild, Part Eight, Nine, Ten, and Eleven

First, a quick recap of our characters (more details can be found here).

Baravis: Played by Luke. A tiefling from Sigil, currently a 3rd-level Favored Soul (of Marthammor Duin) and 2nd-level Warlock.

Sven Lackman: Played by Shaun. A half-elf Waterdhavian Urban Ranger 2/Rogue 3 who seeks vengeance against the Cult of the Dragon for the murder of his Harper parents.

Drog Fangblade: A Rashemar 5th-level barbarian on his dajemma.

Vlad: A Zhent 4th-level Dread Necromancer who is seeking for his hidden, secret god.

Our Story Thus Far: After solving the riddle of the Dream Fever in Dagger Falls, the PCs came to Shadowdale searching for answers to several more clues--Baravis for a way home, Vlad for the secret god he seeks, and everyone for the location of the Sword of the Dales. They commissioned several weapons and armors from the local businesses and took up a reconnaissance job with the Twisted Tower in hopes that it could help them solve the puzzle as to what sort of stampeding herds were trampling the farms north of the Old Skull hill. They were offered 100 gp each and 20% of all loot acquired beneath the Twisted Tower of Ashaba as payment for mapping the tunnels and clearing out all monsters. They descended beneath the tower, fought a few quaggoths, boogins (half-orc, half-quaggoth), and a half-orc.

Part Nine
After defeating a group of boogins, led by a half-orc, they discovered an emaciated dwarf who called himself Simon Stonebreaker. Simon had apparently escaped from a dark-elven slave pit deeper in the tunnels. He led the PCs to a large room with an exit. They gave him a weapon and sent him to the surface.

The pool of water in the room contained an aballin--aka a "living water," a magical ooze that tried to absorb and suffocate both Drog and Sven before Vlad, thinking quickly, threw an open vial of Drow poison into the creature. The diluted poison knocked Sven out, but also did the same to the aballin.

The PCs then began to crawl down a long, low, thin tunnel that extended for hundreds of feet. Baravis blasted a swarm of rats, but was forced to hide behind his shield when the cave badger that was chasing the rats attacked him. Sven managed to kill the badger and they continued.

Part Ten
They made their way to a huge cavern with many exits and determined to explore as much as they could after resting many hours. They were almost taken in by a huge illusory treasure hoard (Drog kept feeling uneasy and I let him make a second Will save to disbelieve, which he did). Excellent roleplaying ensued in which Drog convinced the other PCs to disbelieve the illusion as well. Continued scouting led the PCs into an ambush by Mongrelmen and a drow patrol, which they dispatched. They crossed a chasm, encountered a gelatinous cube, then fled back across and pelted the cube until it collapsed into a gooey mass. (This was quite funny, as only Luke knew what the cube was. When I revealed the cube to the PCs on MapTool, Luke freaked out, screaming "run!") But that wasn't all the running they did. They stumbled upon the lair of a drider, and spent several rounds fleeing that as well. Luke's spider walk enabled him to cross the chasm, but Sven and Drog managed to successfully jump across it like something from an action movie. They continued fleeing until they were certain the drider had given up pursuit. At the end of the session, they encountered Tirrendale Talltales, a dwarven cleric whose voicebox had been severely damaged by a drow slaver. He told the PCs that the dwarves had been sold to the drow by the Zhentarim and the drow overmage was turning them into a horde of gibberlings that he released into the tunnels. The gibberlings would then pour out of a cave in the northern face of the Old Skull, descend and rampage through the fields in dead of night to pour into the forests and hopefully begin to destabilize the area during planting season.

Part Eleven
Armed with new information, the PCs found the secret tunnel that led to the drow fortress. They fought their way past another guardpost of ambushing Mongrelmen and plundered their corpses. They equipped themselves with the most excellent drowcraft adamantine mesh armor, drowcraft enchanted short swords, drow poisons, and prepared to turn the drow's own weapons against them (this really upped the chances they'd survive the upcoming encounters--without doing this, I doubt they'd have been able to succeed so well). But first, they finished mapping the regular tunnels, slew a carrion crawler in a drow graveyard, dispatched four monstrous spiders in a vast lair, burned the webs, and amassed as much treasure as possible from the enormous room (which they knew wasn't everything, but time was pressing in).

They rested and returned to the secret passage. Baravis used his spider walk to cross the lake beyond the Mongrelmen outpost by sticking to the cavern walls. He commandeered a boat and soon the entire party was across. Baravis and Tirrendale (the dwarven cleric) found a set of secret doors, Sven discovered how to bypass the trap set there. Beyond lay a chasm full of lava and a raised stone drawbridge on the other side. Vlad blew the code they had found (on a scrap of paper in a Mongrelman's pocket) on the horn dangling on their side of the chasm. The drawbridge lowered and the PCs (with NPC Tirrendale) charged and overwhelmed the Mongrelmen beyond.

As they made their way into the drow fortress, they heard a female voice chanting eerily. (I played Kanno Yokko's "A Sai En" for the drow chanting.) Baravis lept to the ceiling and together with Drog, bellowed out a roaring challenge. Silence fell deeper in the fortress and the party charged around the corner (Baravis, with his satanic features was quite intimidating crawling on the ceiling and yelling curses in Infernal).

The following encounter could have killed the PCs. As it were, three things saved them. 1) The dice were on their side. They rolled well, their opponents failed most poison saves, while they passed almost all of theirs (save one). Only one critical hit struck them, nearly incapacitating Vlad. 2) They had Tirrendale to throw a couple of cure light wounds at them. 3) They had the drow adamantine armor and drow-poisoned weapons.

Four quaggoths and three drow fighters (2nd-level) charged them, while the drow priestess tried to hit Drog with hold person and the drow sorcerer slung Melf's acid arrow at them (missing every time). Drog muscled through the hold person. Sven's two-weapon fighting with drow-poisoned blades put many a quaggoth unconscious and swayed the battle in the party's favor decisively. Drog finally fell unconscious beneath a poisoned drow-blade but the tide had already turned. The unconscious quaggoths were dispatched, the drow fighters were slain, and the priestess cast meld into stone and the sorcerer simply vanished. The PCs and Tirrendale now stand in a vast cathedral-like cavern with an altar to Lolth on a dais. We'll find out what happens next on Friday.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I'm not going to review the film, that's already been done by Mr. Plinkett at Red Letter Media. He did a fantastic job discussing why the film fails to deliver, from its refusal to depict violence to the hair-brained script choices Lucas peer-pressured Spielberg into accepting. What I want to talk about is what I like about the movie.

See, there's actually a lot to like. I know this is hard to explain or understand, but somewhere in there is a really good movie that wanted to be made. However, what came out was a sort of fetal-alchohol-syndrome-cum-crack-baby-film, to use a really politically incorrect metaphor. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had all the potential in the world but upon delivery what came out was horribly disfigured due to prenatal abuse by its parents. Nevertheless, you can still see the elements of a fantastic Indiana Jones movie in there somewhere.

This movie isn't like the Star Wars prequels, which just sucked. No, in some ways, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is worse because it actually had potential to be as good as its predecessors. By explaining what was actually good about the movie will illustrate what I mean.

1) 1950s: It seems Mr. Plinkett agrees with me about this--setting the film in the 50s was a great idea. Indiana is older and wiser, not as physically up-to-snuff. In my opinion, he should have made up for his age by being a bit more cunning. Although Plinkett disagrees, I think that having served as a spy for the Allies during World War II makes sense--it isn't too far-fetched that this adventuring World War I veteran would have found a way to be useful to the war effort. Indeed, this could have given him interesting and useful contacts and connections that he hadn't had before.

I have always liked the idea of seeing an older Indy since I first watched Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues where the framing story involves Harrison Ford as Indy recounting how he learned to play the blues in Chicago in 1920. It indicated that the character still had fight in him, despite being middle-aged. However, that Indy was a far cry from the henpecked Indy in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I wanted to see more of that Indy.

2) McCarthyism: This some people thought was a heavy-handed politically driven soapbox vehicle for anti-right-wing sophistry to be injected into the film. I disagree. Check out Red Scare or Red Menace?, an interesting look into the era of McCarthyism. The existence of KGB-funded communist movements and subversive groups has become a very real part of historical study from that era, especially since a lot of stuff was declassified in Russia within the past twenty years. Yeah, the anti-communism rally was a bit over-the-top, but having Indy get sacked from his school and tailed by the FBI is great for plot development.

3) Mutt: Indy having a son isn't a bad idea. Maybe having Shia LeBouf play his son was, but I still like how he handled Mutt. Having Mutt be something of a hellraiser is also appropriate--he takes after his father. A rough-and-tumble greaser with a switchblade fits the 1950s well. Having him duel with a Soviet fencing champion, though, is ridiculous. Having him swing from vines is worse. Mutt started out great but ended up lame.

4) Aliens: Roswell. War of the Worlds. Area 51. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Day the Earth Stood Still. Forbidden Planet. This Island Earth. The 1950s and 1960s saw the height of science-fiction writing and film pushed further than ever before. Whereas the 1930s saw lots of pulp fiction featuring heroes modeled on Haggard's Alan Quartermain, with adventurers like Robert E. Howard's El Borak, the 1950s pulp was often about little green men from Mars. Having the Soviets chasing the secret of Roswell and Area 51 is actually a perfect idea for an Indy movie. It replaces the supernatural of the Grail, the Ark, and the Thuggi with the mysteries of conspiracy and alien artifacts. Handled well, it could have been awesome. Handled well... . It wasn't. That's the sad thing. I think aliens was a fantastic idea. But the aliens were revealed too soon and there was little or no mystery behind the entire thing. Consider--having the Soviets after some sort of alien technology isn't much different from having the Nazis chasing the Spear of Destiny, the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy Grail. Having a set of ruins in the middle of nowhere turn into a flying saucer and disappear is over-the-top. Suspension of disbelief dissolves and the audience ends up feeling cheated.

5) Soviets: Yes, they're more morally ambiguous than the Nazis. At least, they were under Khruschev. Not under Stalin. Stalin was evil. Having a hardline Stalinist secret faction trying to get at alien tech to overthrow Khruschev and start World War III isn't so deeply complex for audiences to sit around going "huh?" especially after all the stuff they had to sit through about the Thuggi in Temple of Doom. Soviets and the KGB are great badguys. However, Spielberg (and Lucas) didn't establish these Soviets as villainous by having all of their killing take place off camera. If we watched the U.S. soldiers get graphically massacred at Area 51 in the opening sequence, our sense of violation and outrage would have provided enough dislike for there to be a good payoff when the badguys finally get their comeuppance.

All five of these elements are a recipe for a great (and slightly different, like Temple of Doom) kind of Indy film. It is risky, yes, but done right, it could have been awesome. That's why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is such a disappointment. There's a good movie in there somewhere. It's just buried beneath bad decisions, poor plotting, and weak characterization.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hungover Heroes Guild, Part Eight

A summary and cast of PCs can be found here, at the beginning of Session 6's AAR.

The PCs decided to take a reconnaissance job for the Twisted Tower. After negotiating the agreement with Thurbal, captain of the guard for the Tower of Ashaba, the PCs commissioned a few new sets of armor and weapons with some of their spoils from Daggerdale.

At midday, they arrived at the Twisted Tower the following day and were escorted through the tower dungeons (where they made offerings at the shrine for Sylune, the Lady of Shadowdale and fallen hero). They were escorted through a few doors and given a key and a parchment with the password to the next door.

They crossed an underground stream via a stone bridge. Baravis used his new spider walk invocation to guide PCs across the bridge. At the next door, they spoke the magic word to unbar the door and the parchment fizzled to ash. They opened the door, avoided a descending ceiling trap, and were attacked by two shaggy humanoid creatures with bastard swords. They dispatched them with ease, then plunged deeper into the dark tunnels.

They unraveled an illusory dead-end, found a secret door, and eventually made their way into a twisted series of water-carved tunnels when they heard the sound of voices approaching. When they heard in orcish "We'll find the dwarven wretch, then it's mealtime for everyone!" Baravis cried in dwarven "Over here you coward!"

Around a bend, a half-orc and five shaggy creatures (that looked like a cross between orcs and those things they had fought earlier) came round the bend and a tremendous fight ensued. The PCs made short work of three of the shaggy beasts when the rest retreated. A running fight ensued during which Sven was cut down, but Baravis healed him. (Sven always gets put below 0 hp in battle, the poor guy!) The session ended after the fight and will resume next time in the twisted tunnels.