Monday, August 8, 2005

Arcana Unearthed: Plague of Dreams, Part II

[Warning! There are a few spoilers for the module ahead. A little more than last time. It probably won't damage the experience if you ultimately end up playing the module; but you've been warned.]

After picking up the bandits Merill Yanis and Den Rudiger, the party heads back to Gahanis to collect on the first installment of the reward. The Jaren reluctantly pay up, but remind the characters that what they're really after is the book, the Inmagus Libellum, so get out there and retrieve it! The items in the bandit lair point towards a base at the Lake of Lost Voices.

Some basic information gathering in Gahanis regarding the Lake reveals that a) it's haunted, and b) you're nuts if you want to go there. With that, the party heads out.

It turns out that the lake really is haunted, it's not just a rumor set up by the bandits to protect their lair. On the other hand, it's not that haunted, so there might be some of that too. Charn, the Litorian Totem Warrior (Wolverine) of little willpower, is almost convinced by the voices speaking to him in his head to take a permanent swim in the lake, but resists.

The party scopes out the place... Lake? Check. Beckoning yet foreboding opening on the far side? Check. Raft? Check. Taking some minor preparations to avoid the siren call of the lake, they head out.

It turns out that the opening on the other side is the entrance to an ancient temple used by the former residents of the city in this location, which came to be suddenly and sadly located at the bottom of the lake, much to the inconvenience of its residents at the time. They seem to be a bit bitter about this situation but, being dead, have little they can do about it other than being annoying. The party wanders through an ancient temple in the lower floors, dealing with a few assorted dungeon staples (giant spiders, dire rats), before coming to the stairs up to the main area used by the bandits. This is where the real adventure begins.

The party comes up with a clever plan to draw out and ambush the single guard watching the back door, which works to perfection (despite a botched sneak roll by the Verrik Magister Sfiri, which is matched by an equally incompetent Listen roll by the guard). Sfiri then makes amends by immolating a bunch of guards playing cards in a giant hall (for reference: Bandits have about 7 hit points. 1st level D&D Wizard: Magic Missile, 1d4+1 vs. one target. 1st level AU Magister: Fireburst + Fire template + 20gp Gem component give you a 3d6 blast in a 5' radius. One of the features of AU that I like is that it's "smoothed the power curve"; in D&D, 1st-4th level Wizards are almost completely worthless, but 10th+ level Wizards are overwhelmingly powerful. In AU, 1st level Magisters, while still not as powerful as fighter types, are at least respectable, and their power doesn't get as ridiculous later either).

There then followed a cool chase scene in which the party ran headlong after the fleeing bandits, rolling up their upper defenses one outpost at a time as the bandits retreated in confusion. Lito the Champion of Freedom used his Burst of Speed feat at absolutely the perfect moment to trip the fleeing bandit lieutenant before the upper defenses could get organized. The final showdown with the Litorian Warmain leader is not without some pain (Lito, always on the pointy edge at this point, gets knocked out), but the party is victorious.

It turns out, of course, that the ending is not quite as the Jaren made it out to be. There is the book, yes, but there is also another artifact related to it ... whose nature is unclear. Should the party keep it? Destroy it? Return it to the Jaren? And why is the Blue Knight after it? To find out more, you'll have to play the adventure yourself.

This half of the adventure went more smoothly than the first, as I picked up a bit of steam with my DMing. As mentioned last time, I did away with most of the drawing of maps, and played a more descriptive and abstract style, with only a few critical combats being played out on a battle mat. I ran the combats in a much more rapid-fire style, which certainly befitted the chase scene at the end (this was unplanned, but worked out quite well).

The module itself is pretty nice, but I ended up cutting out large swathes of the second part. There is a lot of exploring the temple that the party could have done, but they didn't seem to be getting into that stuff, so I deleted almost two-thirds of the very dungeon-crawly lower level of the temple on-the-fly. I'm happy with this decision, as it takes a lot of time to play and none of it was that relevant to the adventure in my opinion, it's just some weird stuff for the party to play with (unlike some of the cool ambiance in the Giant fortress in part one, which helped to set the background of the world). I'd also suggest that the Blue Knight probably needs to be souped up just a bit unless she's taking the party on under very favorable circumstances (for her, anyway). I don't consider my party to be heavily mini-maxed for combat, and still they just didn't have much trouble with her. I'd suggest making her a level or two higher. I had intended to have her escape using an item she had, but a critical hit at an awkward time meant she couldn't. She's an interesting enough villain that keeping her alive would be good for the health of the campaign. If she were two levels higher, I think the party would still have been able to take her on, but she would almost certainly have been able to escape barring appalling luck.

All in all, it worked out well, and now we'll be moving on to Siege on Ebonring Keep, by Mystic Eye Games. It's designed to be run back-to-back with Plague of Dreams. Plague was cool, but a bit combat heavy, so I hope to mix things up a bit more in the next module. Siege is much more customizable, and now that I'm getting more comfortable with the DMing thing, I hope to put more of my own stamp on it.

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