Skip to content

Campaign Concepts: Pool of Radiance, Eberron-Style

12 years ago, the hags known as Daughters of Sora Kell declared war on the civilized world.

The land currently claimed by the Daughters – what they dare to call “Droaam” – is rightly the possession of the King of Breland. It’s always been a dangerous region, full of monsters and sparsely settled. But it was under the King’s protection, nevertheless. The cowardly Daughters waited until the King’s armies were busy with the War in the east before they attacked the western reaches with their monster horde. His Majesty’s subjects were forced to flee, and the beasts’ rampage was finally, heroically, checked at the Greywall Mountains.

But the Last War is now over. The Daughters can finally be held accountable for their crimes, and the reclamation of Breland’s territory can begin!

The King, for political and strategic reasons, cannot openly endorse nor wage an invasion against the Daughters. But he has nevertheless given the nod to… independent ventures. And as it happens, we are part of such a venture, a consortium of interested parties – prominent families, merchants, Dragonmarked Houses, what have you – that have gathered together to conduct the noble work of reconquest.

With a straight-forward invasion off the table, we have elected to capture the ruins of Karleon, a port town that was pillaged and then abandoned after the invasion. Our forces have already seized and fortified the Karleon docks, giving us a secure base that can be resupplied by sea.

Unfortunately, the taking of the docks incurred heavier than anticipated casualties, and our remaining men are needed to guard against counterattacks. As a result, the New Karleon Council is hiring additional agents to scout and help clear the other areas of the town – capable men and women such as yourselves! The terms are generous and the danger is considerable, but you will be doing your part for crown and country. What say you? Will you take your chance for wealth and glory?

Back in 1988 the first real D&D CRPG was published, Pool of Radiance. There had been one or two D&D-branded games in the 80’s, but this was the first that actually used the rules (1st edition AD&D) and had a similar play experience, at least as far as combat went. The interface was clunky, but it was fun! Anyway, the plot of the game had to do with this city in the Forgotten Realms, Phlan, that had been taken over by monsters. Your group had to clear the place out, neighborhood by neighborhood. Eventually you could fight our way out of the city and go wandering in the wilderness. Oh, and there was something about a magical pool in there, too. I’m honestly not sure that I ever finished the game, because I don’t remember the ending at all; I might have just hit the level caps and then eventually exported the characters into the sequel when that was released. It was very much a sandbox, and your PCs could just wander around having adventures until the end of time (or until the level cap) without ever addressing the main plot.

The game was popular enough that there was a novel adaptation and an adventure, as well as many CRPG sequels. The novel was also called Pool of Radiance, but the adventure was, bizarrely, named Ruins of Adventure, as if it didn’t want to be associated with the computer game.

The tabletop adaptation was not very good, in my opinion, being a rather lazy copy of the video game down to the perfectly square maps and nonsense random damage events; e.g. a random PC is attacked by a thief who escapes through a secret door that is not on the map and cannot be discovered by the PCs, and the thief gets away before any PC can react. But nevertheless it got me thinking of what a great campaign setting it was and, as I do not like the Realms, of transporting it into one of my favorite D&D worlds, Eberron.

The qualities of Pool of Radiance as a sandbox setting are, in my opinion:

  • It starts off with the PCs in a small “civilized” area where they can get services but that is surrounded by danger on all sides – very Points of Light!
  • At the start, the PCs have a couple of choices of where to go first. The options are rather dungeon-y, which is to say, good adventure areas where the PCs can be channeled into areas they can handle until they’re able to level/gear up. (in the actual CRPG, you have to learn by trial and error, i.e. TPK, that one of the areas is too strong for 1st level characters, but I wouldn’t make that mistake at the table)
  • The city itself serves as a little sandbox of dungeon-y neighborhoods. Once the PCs are past the starting areas they have options for which zones to clear first or which quests to prioritize.
  • After clearing a couple of areas, and gaining a few levels, the PCs are able to reach and explore the wilderness, which nicely matches the old BECMI D&D progression from the dungeon to the outdoors in the Basic and Expert sets. There’s lots of different groups outside of the city, some who are potential allies to the PCs and some who are potential allies to the BBEG, and others who just are.
  • Finally, there’s some built-in drama as one of the PCs’ initial quest givers turns into a power-hungry backstabber who tries to steal the BBEG’s power for himself.

The Pool of Radiance in Eberron

Conveniently, Eberron has an area that was part of a “civilized” kingdom but has been recently overrun by monsters: Droaam. Most of Droaam was once part of the kingdom of Breland, but a dozen years before the usual starting point for Eberron campaigns, a coven of powerful hags organized the monstrous races of the region together into an army and conquered the area. Since then the land has been divided up between the hags’ most powerful warlords.

I thought to place the Eberron version of Phlan – which I named Karleon for no particular reason other than not wanting to copy Pool of Radiance word-for-word –  along Droaam’s coast, relatively close to the border. Before the place was overrun, I imagined the town served as a port for sailors, as well as a gateway into the savage frontier. Those who sought their fortunes in the region would pass through Karleon, only coming back to sell their finds or to scrounge for the funds for another expedition. With its loss, and the loss of other ports along this long stretch of coast, maritime travel between Breland and the Shadow Marches has taken a huge hit.

In the wake of the sacking of Karleon, the ruins have become a haven for pirates and smugglers, as well as various tribes of “monsters.” But a new power has arisen there, one who seeks to unite the disparate groups under its rule and rise to become one of the Daughters’ favored in the process.

The Eberron Twist

Eberron is well-known for its changes to standard races, from dino-riding halflings to erudite goblins from an ancient empire, as well as for de-emphasizing alignment. To that end, the original game’s thoughtless slaughter of countless, always-evil humanoids feels a little out of place in the world.

To address that, my thought is to populate the ruins with different factions, not all along racial lines, each with its own goals and values. Some are already in the employ of “the Boss,” but many are not – yet. As the PCs spread out into the ruins and beyond, they have the opportunity to recruit or make enemies of each group, while the BBEG is doing the same. This would make for a more dynamic setting, as the Boss and the various factions respond to the PCs’ actions rather than sitting around waiting to be killed and looted.

To that end, I would replace the homogeneous racial groups from the game/adventure – kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, lizardfolk, etc. – with tribes or warbands of various types. I haven’t devoted a huge amount of time to this, as I don’t know if my players would even be interested in this campaign, but for example my initial thoughts for the starter zone (which was called the Slums in the game, and which I’ve renamed to Dockside) include:

  • A group of kobolds with giant rat pets that live in basements/tunnels under the neighborhood. They are initially indifferent to the PCs, as they are preyed upon by the other gangs in the area. Their lair is riddled with traps.
  • A group of goblins led by a goblin boss, with kobold slaves and giant rat pets. They are initially unfriendly to the PCs. The boss is pragmatic and realizes that the arrival of the PCs heralds a seismic shift in local affairs. Some of the traps in their lair were built by kobold slaves, and the kobolds know how to bypass them.
  • A competing group of goblins led by a bugbear, with kobold slaves and wolf pets. They start off hostile to the PCs, and resent their intrusion onto their territory. Their lair is trapped as with the other goblin tribe.
  • A band of grungs (small frog-people) who have kobold and goblin slaves and giant frog pets. Everyone hates them, and they hate everyone. The grungs don’t bother with traps beyond simple alarms.

The PCs could ally with any group, aside from the grungs, though doing so closes off other opportunities. Cozying up to either of the goblin tribes turns the kobolds against the allies of their enslavers, befriending the kobolds leads to complications with the goblins, and so on. Or the PCs could kill them all, if they were so inclined. The mix of humanoids, pets, and slaves in each faction allows for a fair number of options in building encounters and keeps them from being “oh, another group of goblins.”

Not every neighborhood would be like that, but it serves as a template for how I would want to handle the antagonists.

The Political Arena

The other area I would seek to spice up is the quest-giving council, or the Council for the Restoration of New Karleon as it would be properly known. In the game/adventure, all of the councilors are nameless save for Porphyrys Cadorna, the last son of a wealthy merchant family. Cadorna initially seeks to reclaim a family fortune that was buried in town before it was overrun, and then learns of the pool of radiance and seeks out its power. Over time he comes to see the PCs as an obstacle to his ambitions, and arranges to have them killed.

That’s great, aside from his name, but I would want to flesh out the rest of the council. One of the newly invented councilors might serve as a patron for the PCs, and each could inspire quests to different areas. They would also have their own goals and red lines, and might at times be at cross purposes. My quick sketch includes:

  • The nominal leader of the council at the start, a famous general from the Last War and a member of an important noble family. The general respects accomplishments that have strategic value. He/she is a squire or young knight when the goblins rose up and seized Darguun, and as a result they do not trust goblins and will not make deals with them.
  • A young, boastful, and preening noble whose family owned significant property in the town and surrounding area. He/she wants to reclaim his family’s land but they’re a useless loudmouth surrounded by sycophants, in the grand tradition of NPCs that the players love to hate.
  • Cadorna, renamed, whose family formerly led one of the town’s important mercantile guilds. He/she is after a family treasure that was buried in town, and will later on grow to become an enemy of the PCs.
  • A wealthy merchant who is interested in getting in on the ground floor. He/she is a member of the Aurum and an openly pious person who serves as a lay representative of the mainline faith, the Sovereign Host.
  • A priest from the Silver Flame, a relatively “young” religion that is devoted to fighting evil and is widely hated by the inhabitants of Droaam. The priest is both wanting to drive out the “evil monsters,” and to establish the Flame as the dominant religion in New Karleon. That will bring them into conflict with the pious merchant, and also any PCs who advocate mercy for or alliances with the ruins’ inhabitants.
  • A representative from House Lyrandar, the Dragonmarked House that is heavily invested in maritime shipping. Their primary interest is in re-opening the port and keeping it safe.
  • A representative from House Deneith. Deneith competes with House Tharashk in the mercenary market, and Tharashk relies on Droaam for its monstrous mercs. The house is investing in this effort in order to weaken its rival.
  • If one of the PCs is connected to another House I could throw an agent of that House onto the Council as their patron, possibly replacing the Deneith representative.

One or more of the councilors could also be secretly in the service of (or a shapeshifted/possessed member of) one of Eberron’s power groups, such as the Chamber, the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, another kingdom, another Dragonmarked House, etc. Such an agent might have practical aims, such as to help or hinder the overall effort, or more esoteric goals driven by the Draconic Prophecy.

Water, Water Everywhere

The available quests would remain largely the same, with the added complication of the different councilors’ priorities. Putting one councilor’s desires on the back-burner while pursuing the goals of another councilor is bound to cause sore feelings. Also, some opportunities might disappear or become much harder if they are ignored for too long.

One of the game/adventure’s quests is to clean up the poisoned river, which is “a seething current of acid and poison,” that “can destroy a boat (or person), even if the deadly toxins don’t kill first.” There’s a 20% chance each day that the “view across the river is blocked by sickening mists and foul vapors that rise and writhe across its surface.” Cleansing the river requires going outside of the city, and and such it’s a relatively high-level mission. Which is to say it occurs after a good deal of time has passed. One oddity that struck me is that neither the game nor the adventure addresses where the inhabitants, both the “civilized” people in the reclaimed section and the monsters in the ruins, are getting fresh water from prior to the river being cleaned up. That seems like a big deal to me! So perhaps an additional early mission from the Council should be to learn how those who live in the ruins are able to find drinking water.

Game Over

That’s all I’ve got. I have to say, I really like this idea and I think it has some real legs. I wasn’t planning on having anything to do with D&D for a while after the Kingmaker campaign is over, but I am very tempted to propose this to my group!

Kingmaker: Sound of a Thousand Screams, Session 11, Part 1

Aakif the arcanist had decided to tangle mano a pico with the Nightmare Rook, and got feebleminded for his troubles. The other party members, seeing their wizard suddenly stop and curl into a fetal position in the middle of an aerial battle with the humongous raven, flew up to grab him before the Rook could snatch him up. With the arcanist in hand, Kwin the dwarven cleric hastily spoke a word of recall to bring them all back home.

Safe in the capital of Stagfell, the group filled in the ruling council on the fey realm of Thousandbreaths suddenly appearing inside the Thousand Voices forest. After the meetings came happy hour, the time of day when Kwin could regain his spells from Cayden Cailean. Once the dwarf was done praying/drinking, he stumbled over and used heal to restore the dumbstruck Aakif, and with the wizard’s input the group finalized their plans for the next day. Their main concern was the inhabitants of the Thousandbreaths glades, which were now free to rampage around their kingdom! You don’t want multiple groups of CR 10-15ish monsters running around smashing your towns!

That night, the PCs were visited by terrible nightmares, courtesy of the Rook, but they succeeded on their saving throws. When morning came, the bleary-eyed adventurers replenished their spells and teleported back to deal with the faerie squatters, one glade at a time.

Up in the Air! It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s a High-Level D&D Character!

Their first stop was the Knurly Witch’s house (location H). The Witch wasn’t home; I had decided that all the major casters (Nyrissa, the Wriggling Man, the Witch) were in the house trying to repair the damage of Thousandbreaths being uprooted and/or trying to restart the bloom ritual. But several of the athach gardeners were present, and the PCs quickly dealt with them.

Next their attention was drawn to the town of Feywatch, which had been built to stand guard over the ruined Castle of Knives. It now sat across the moat surrounding Nyrissa’s house! (situated between locations K and J, basically) It was being used by the Nightmare Rook as its new roost, and additionally the ice giants from the graveyard (location C) had wandered over to tear the place apart. The soldiers and support staff that had been stationed there had either fled or been killed.

My thought in joining the frost giants and the Nightmare Rook together here was that the Rook is not a great solo opponent, as it relies on mainly on fear and illusions. I figured that the giants would be the most likely of the new arrivals to go looking for trouble, and would also make good meat shields for the big bird.

Being out in the open at these levels is never a good idea, and once the PCs were in range, the Nightmare Rook ate a Maximized fireball from maximum distance. It saved against the attack, but seeing the writing on the wall, it quickly disappeared from sight. The ice giants, buffed by their shaman (I reused the Giant Icy ijiraq sorcerer [elemental/water bloodline] 9 that I had built for the frost bloom), took to the skies with a warcry and sped at the party! As an aside, the ubiquitous need for a fly speed at this point in the campaign strikes me as being rather silly. Everyone of consequence is floating just off the ground, nearly all of the time, or bombarded from afar.

I should note that the adventure states that if/when Thousandbreaths is uprooted, most of the inhabitants outside of Nyrissa’s house become staggered. I decided to ignore this, as the PCs already outclassed the opposition and I wasn’t interested in spending time on cakewalk fights.

The PCs spread out, a line of adventurers hovering in the winter air. A matching line of ice giants zoomed up towards them, also spread out to avoid area-of-effect spells. At the head of the giants was Kargstaad, a 4-armed specimen wielding cold iron axes! Kargstaad won initiative – a good sign, I thought – and crashed into Satampra the swashbuckler, starting the battle with some leader to leader action.

Satampra retaliated with a full attack, which was 4 attacks for him, and every attack was a confirmed critical hit! He had chosen to double his Precise Strike damage on the 1st attack, which costs a panache point, a limited class resource that is replenished upon getting a crit or kill. So he got the point back for the 1st attack when he confirmed the crit, and then spent it again to double his Precise Strike damage on the 2nd attack. And got the point back again when that attack was a crit, and then spent it again on the 3rd attack. And so on. He ended up dealing 437 points of damage to poor old Kargstaad, a new 1-round record in this campaign! Each of the giant’s four limbs was hacked off, and then his head followed as a final coup de grace. Frozen chunks of his body rained down on the buildings below.

Aakif followed that by targeting the shaman with a Quickened enervation and then a Maximized enervation. Both hit, and the Quickened one did the maximum number of negative levels, inflicting a total of 8 on the shaman, which rendered the giant caster near-useless.

The remaining ice giants turned around and attempted to use the remains of Feywatch’s keep for their last stand. The arcanist casually disintegrated a section of wall to gain entry, and the PCs waltzed in and slaughtered the lot.

The Nightmare Rook declined to reappear at this time.

Next: clean up in glade #9!

Kingmaker: Sound of a Thousand Screams, Session 10, Part 2

The PCs had finally ventured into Thousandbreaths at the head of a Colossal army armed with cold iron weapons! While the party was scouting ahead, they had triggered and then defeated the lightning treants in the glade that contained the lake of black swans. The treants’ deaths resulted in the first percentile roll to see if the whole realm would be “uprooted” and drop into Golarion; with only the one glade cleared, there was a 15% chance… and the players rolled an 05.

The earth beneath the invaders’ feet started to rumble, and the swans began to raise an angry racket. “The sound of a thousand screams [tore] through the air, a horrific noise as the realm [expelled] its thousand breaths at once in a traumatic death,” as the adventure states. Everyone covered their ears against the noise, and then was thrown to the ground as the world moved with great violence in all directions. The quake stopped! The ground was still. There was only silence.

As the PCs and their soldiers picked themselves off the ground, they noticed that the air tasted differently. The temperature was much cooler, and the trees and earth were covered in snow. The sky was no longer twilit, but a sunny winter afternoon. The whirlpool in the swans’ lake had disappeared, and the dazed-looking swans were honking weakly. It felt like they were back in their own world again. But how could that be possible?

Orseen the gnoll warpriest activated his ebony fly figurine and tried to fly up above the treeline; previously, that had been impossible, as the trees had risen to match a flier’s altitude. But now the trees remained where they were, and the armored champion could see all around. And what he saw was a clash of worlds!

There’s No Place Like Home

They were definitely in the Stolen Lands once more, in the Thousand Voices forest to be exact, but the landscape had changed dramatically! The ruins known as the Castle of Knives had been replaced by a chaotic-looking ivy-covered manor house that sat on a hill, surrounded by a wide moat. The town of Feywatch, having been built right outside of the ruins, was now situated on the other side of the water. Scattered around the woods were a number of large clearings that had not been there before, and in those clearings the warpriest saw: a large black dragon hovering near a tall white tower; a massive raven alighting clumsily atop a rocky spire; a giant-sized graveyard; a waterfall that flowed through two large stone hands, above which flapped a humongous winged owlbear, and more. Thousandbreaths had indeed been transported to the Stolen Lands, and its glades flung out across the land.

The black dragon, Ilthuliak, spotted Orseen and launched towards him with a beat of her mighty wings. “WHAT HAVE YOU FOOLS DONE?!” she roared as she sped towards the warpriest.

“Uh, hey everyone,” the gnoll called down to his fellows. “Maybe now would be a good time to call that silver dragon?!”

I had, off the cuff, had Salanth (sister to the dead silver dragon from Varnhold Vanishing, who had arisen from a random encounter) promise the party that she would aid them against Ilthuliak if they fought the black dragon in this world, i.e. Golarion. At the time I thought that that almost certainly wouldn’t happen, as Ilthuliak stays put in the First World in the adventure, and so the group would not have been able to hold Salanth to her vow. But through pure happenstance, Ilthuliak was now in their world, and the players had the opportunity to give that particular subplot a happy conclusion.

Satampra the swashbuckler fished out the magic sapphire that Salanth had given him, and thought at it really hard, while the rest of the group prepared to fight a dragon. “Preparing” in this case meant the usual combat buffs and fly spells for everyone, and not, as I keep expecting, some obvious energy resistance. Dragons are color-coded for your convenience, people! As it happened, I had diversified Ilthuliak’s spell selection a bit so it wasn’t all acid, all the time, and thus she wouldn’t be hampered by acid resistance alone, but even so – one probably wants to be warded against a dragon’s breath weapon, if given the opportunity to do so.

The rest of the party took to the air and finished buffing while Ilthuliak hurtled towards them. Aakif the arcanist readied a wave of exhaustion for when she got near enough. She surprised them by using a Quickened darkness (which has an impressive radius) as she approached, though that didn’t foil Aakif’s readied action as it was an AoE and he has blindsense thanks to his circlet of mindsight. But his spell failed to penetrate the dragon’s spell resistance, and undeterred, she chomped on the now-Large-sized Orseen with a Vital Strike, dealing 92 points of damage.

Satampra, unable to see, flew out of the darkness, while Aakif delayed until after Orseen’s turn. The warpriest of Iomedae prayed for sunlight to banish the darkness, and shone with an almost blinding radiance! Aakif then shot a Maximized enervation at the now-visible beast, which got past her SR but had no effect thanks to a death ward. The swashbuckler moved to flank with the warpriest, and rolled a 47 to hit, which… did not hit. This is one of those areas where a little preparation can really pay off, and where the CR system really breaks down; two 1st-level spells – mage armor and shield – can add +8 to an already-impressive AC.

Ilthuliak opened up on Orseen with her teeth and claws and Satampra with her tail, leaving the warpriest in bad shape. Kwin the dwarven cleric rushed up to cast cure critical wounds on the gnoll, having used up his prayers of heal in the fight with the lightning treants. A slightly reinvigorated Orseen used Fervor to heal himself and then attacked, rolling a natural 20! Which was not a crit, as he needed something like a roll of 17+ to beat the dragon’s AC. But he had hit it! On his turn, Satampra managed to get in a single hit as well. Against a target with hundreds of hit points, a couple of hits per round wasn’t going to cut it.

Aakif summoned 4 ball lightnings and sent them at Ilthuliak, who ignored them. In addition to her SR and saves, she was warded against fire and electricity, because she knows the importance of energy resistance! A full round of attacks by the dragon left Orseen with only 1 hit point remaining, and the cleric continued to pump cure criticals into him.

Black and Silver

At that moment, I decided it was time for Salanth, a Mature or Old silver dragon (I forget which I used), to arrive. The buffed dragon teleported near Satampra, the holder of her magic sapphire, and immediately started to bite and claw at Ilthuliak in a righteous rage.

While the two dragons tussled mid-air, the PCs swarmed around them in attempts to penetrate the black’s defenses. Orseen used Fervor to swift-action a prayer of heal on himself, bringing him from the brink of death to near full health, and attacked, his flaming lightning lawful greatsword sliding off Ilthuliak’s enchanted scales. Satampra’s attacks suffered a similar fate. Aakif bravely used Arcane Step to appear next to the trashing beasts and then cast Otto’s irresistible dance on the black wyrm, which failed to get through her SR. The dwarven cleric belted out a divine curse of destruction, which did get past Ilthuliak’s SR but only did half damage because she saved.

The players were growing frustrated, and as a result I made the situation more plain: Ilthuliak was fully buffed, and they were going to have a hard time beating her while the buff spells remained in effect. I had been clear, or so I thought, that their attacks were missing because of magical shields and whatnot, but as with the lack of energy resistance I suppose my players just don’t think of actions like de-buffing their opponents. In the past I wouldn’t exactly encourage that sort of behavior, as re-calculating stats in the middle of an encounter is a real pain. But I’ve come to start using Hero Lab at the table, and as a result I can easily handle turning buffs on/off.

Orseen confidentially went first with a dispel magic (with which he once ended a planar incursion, as he often boasts about), but he rolled poorly and there was no effect. The arcanist used a much more impressive greater dispel, which got rid of: stoneskin, haste, heroism, and death ward. Does the dispeller know which spells were cancelled? Either way, I told the players the effects of Aakif’s action, and he followed up the dispel with a Quickened enervation, as the death ward was no longer there to block the spell’s effects. He beat the SR and drained 2 negative levels from the dragon. Kwin also tried a greater dispel, but like Orseen had no luck.

The swashbuckler managed a critical hit, and even performed a parry and riposte of one of Ilthuliak’s attacks, but otherwise the melee types were still having a hard go of it. A regular dispel from Kwin stripped away their foe’s electricity resistance. Salanth, having little luck with her own attacks, breathed a cone of frost on the focus of her anger, which left Ilthuliak with only 4 hit points! And Aakif quickly drained those away with an enervation that managed to get past the wyrm’s impressive SR.

Ithuliak’s bloody body fell, and splashed down into the swans’ lake, crushing many of the birds. Salanth swept down in a streak of silver to drag the black dragon’s body out of the water. She then proceeded to rip Ithuliak’s heart out, ensuring the wyrm’s demise.

Flowers for Aakif

The PCs healed as best they were able. After Salanth had finished getting her revenge on her brother’s killer, she came over and curtly thanked the group for their aid. With a beat of her muscular wings, she then took to the sky and flew off.

I figured the group was basically done by that point. They had blown some of their most powerful resources on the treants, then threw most everything they had at the dragon, and I didn’t think they had much left in the tank. But Aakif looked at his available spell slots and thought that perhaps he could solo some fey beasties!

Taking to the air, he found that the Nightmare Rook had moved from its stone perch to rest atop Feywatch’s garrison. Its mere presence had sent the soldiers there running in terror! Aakif started to test it, seeing if he could kite it after hitting it with waves of exhaustion, but he ended up getting feebleminded by the Rook (to whom I had given the proper Nightmare Lord template) instead. Oops.

Next: revenge on the Rook!

Kingmaker: Sound of a Thousand Screams, Session 10, Part 1

With time apparently on their side, the rulers of Caerelia gradually made plans for an assault upon the Green Lady’s faerie domain of Thousandbreaths. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the blooms would start again in less than 7 months, which probably did give them enough time to slow-roll their revenge. But you never really know when it comes to players; they will often follow flights of fancy to obsessive ends, in my experience.

Their design was to take an army wielding cold iron weapons through the Castle of Knives portal and use it to lay waste to the place. The kingdom did have such an army, currently garrisoned at Feywatch, a fortified settlement built just outside of said portal. But they were wary of leaving the Caerelian side of the passage unguarded. And so they decided to wait until the next kingdom turn at the start of Neth (November) to recruit an identical invasion army.

That kingdom turn produced a Squatters event in the town of Last Hope, which was located next to much of the devastation wrought by the blooms. Obviously enough folks from the affected hexes had managed to escape the deadly transformation of the land, and were now living as refugees. The rulers kindly built some housing to accommodate the new residents.

A couple of weeks later, the army was ready and in position for the assault! The PCs stood before the archway with their First World trophies in hand and 2,000 soldiers at their back. Orseen the gnoll warpriest went through first to ensure that the other side was clear. Then the Emperor personally led the army into the First World. When the last of the army had finally passed through the gateway, the rest of the group brought up the rear.

The adventure doesn’t really say what to do if the players want to march an army into Thousandbreaths. Just by the numbers, a few thousand low-level NPCs would probably get slaughtered in there, cold iron weapons or no. I feel like any one glade encounter would have even odds of defeating the army, if it was operating without PC support, and some – like the mandragora swarm or Iltthuliak – would easily wipe it out. But I had to admit, it was an impressive image!

The map of Thousandbreaths is noncommittal with regards to distance, so rather than have the soldiers spilling into the glades, I decided that there was room for the entire army in the space between the gate and swan lake (location B). At this point, I honestly wasn’t sure what they were going to do with the army or how to manage it, but luckily the players came to my rescue by screwing stuff up.

Tree Stride

Rather than blindly marching the soldiers to their doom, the PCs decided to scout ahead a bit. They soon came to a large lake with a whirlpool at its center and black swans lazily drifting on the water’s surface. The trees around the lake were blackened and scarred, as if there had been a fire or lightning storm that had swept through the area. As the party got closer to the lake’s edge, 4 of the trees started to crackle with electricity! They then uprooted themselves and started to advance upon the group!

These were the lightning treants from the adventure; I didn’t want to mess with the glade encounters too much as I wanted the PCs to be able to breeze through, so I played them straight. Satampra the swashbuckler activated his boots of haste, tumbled up to the closest walking tree, and hit it with a Vital Strike. Aakif the arcanist hit one tree with a Maximized enervation. And then it was the trees’ turn. I misread the stat block and had them all unload their 1/day chain lightning on the party, thinking they could use it more than once. Despite not meaning to do that, the effect was substantial – Kwin the dwarven cleric failed most or all of the saves and fell over dying, while other the non-Evasion-having types ate a good amount of lightning damage. Satampra, naturally, took no damage.

Satampra and Orseen hacked away at the lightning-charged tree monsters while Aakif hit them with waves of exhaustion, enervations, and a Dazing fireball that didn’t daze anyone but still hurt the treants. Soon they were reduced to kindling.

Root Canal

While Orseen got the dwarf back on his feet, I consulted the “Uprooting Thousandbreaths” section in the adventure. For those who don’t know, every time the PCs kill the monsters in one of the 10 glades/rooms, there’s a cumulative percentage chance that all of Thousandbreaths will be “uprooted” and “fall” into the real world. If they clear out all 10 glades, the chance is 100%. And the effects of uprooting are fairly significant: everyone not in Nyrissa’s house becomes permanently staggered (only 1 action/round) and the house loses a lot of its magical properties.

So the players get a freebie 10% for the one glade that doesn’t have one of Nyrissa’s friends living there, then a variable amount more for each glade. Clearing out swan lake was worth +5%, for a 15% total chance that Thousandbreaths would be uprooted at this early stage.

Drew, Satampra’s player, rolled an 05 on the percentile. Finally, his propensity for rolling low had paid off for the party!

Next: Thousandbreaths uprooted!

Kingmaker: Sound of a Thousand Screams, Session 9, Part 2

Having already cut down Imeckus Stroon the wizard and his dwarf slayer companion, and with uncle Petar the sorcerer nowhere to be seen, the PCs paused to take stock of the situation. They were on the 2nd floor of the keep in Fort Drelev Heptamus (room M25). The town had recently been seized by an alliance of enemies that they had accrued over the years. As far as the party knew, their remaining opponents consisted of Petar and an armored priest, not to mention the tower guards.

Speaking of which, shouts and the pounding of boots were heard coming from above and below them, so Satampra the swashbuckler headed to the stairwell to intercept any interlopers. Orseen the gnoll warpriest, shrinking down to human size as his cavalcade of buffs wore off, got out the bag of holding and started to stuff the dwarf’s body into it. Aakif the arcanist cast see invisibility – his uncle Petar had escaped while invisible – and Kwin the dwarven cleric started to heal everyone that needed it.

The clang of steel came from the direction of the stairway, and Orseen advanced to aid the swashbuckler – not that Satampra needed the help. Low-level warriors trying to get through a narrow doorway that was guarded by a master Aldori duelist (who was additionally loaded with magic items) had absolutely no chance. Soon the circular stairs were littered with bodies and cast-off and disarmed swords.

By this time the group had figured that Petar had headed upstairs, presumably to where they had previously spied the armored priest of Abadar (M33). Aakif re-invisible‘d the group and they crept up the stairwell.

After ascertaining that the rest of the floor was empty, the PCs split up to attack from two directions, as the target room had two entrances. However, there was some confusion about the strategy, and the casters both ended up at the door in M31 and the warriors at the double doors in M32. Orseen buffed himself again, and they stormed into the room.

Caster Supremacy

Aakif won initiative and opened with a Quickened glitterdust (both opponents saved) and waves of exhaustion, a rather annoying no-save spell. The now-glittery Petar responded to his nephew’s opening volley with a Quickened scorching ray (which triggered Aakif’s contingency, creating a mob of mirror images) and spellcrash, which would eat away at the arcanist’s 5th level and lower spellslots. Kwin dropped a holy smite to minimal effect, and Orseen and Satampra charged. The enemy warpriest, who was more or less a mirror of Orseen, had a readied action and swung at the gnoll as he closed… and I rolled a 1. Then Orseen got his attack… and rolled a 20 (and confirmed the crit).

In round 2, Aakif aimed his favorite, a Quickened enervation, at his uncle, but Petar had spell reflection up and it rebounded on the arcanist. Aakif then wrapped himself in a cloak of dreams and moved to stand next to the enemy warpriest (she saved, barely), counting on his mirror images to protect him from opportunity attacks. Petar unleashed a Dazing chain lightning (using a metamagic rod), which stunned both Orseen and Kwin! The enemy warpriest went to town on the arcanist, but only managed to take out a few images before Satampra cut her down.

Round 3! Aakif had saved against the spellcrash but was still getting low on spell slots. He summoned 4 ball lightnings on top of his uncle, who was warded against electricity damage and ignored them. “That tickles, nephew!” he taunted. Aakif then moved next to Petar, hoping to catch him with the cloak of dreams. But the sorcerer saved, stepped away, blasted the room with a Dazing dragon’s breath that unfortunately dazed no one, and fired off another volley of Quickened scorching rays, 2 of which managed to get past the mirror images. Satampra advanced on Petar, and got in a few hits.

As round 4 started, Aakif was not only running out of spell slots, but also hit points! He cast a Maximized false life and… that was it; he didn’t have a ton of options left. Petar laughed and created a Persistent stinking cloud that filled the room. The already-dazed Orseen was the only one to become nauseous, however. Satampra, realizing that eventually he would fail a save against the cloud (it’s what he does), bull rushed the sorcerer towards a window, and the two crashed through the wood and glass and out into the open air! Luckily, they both had fly spells on them!

Green vapors from the cloud started to spill out of the broken window. Aakif dragged the dazed Kwin out of the cloud and then flew out through a window himself. Petar wheeled away from the swashbuckler and aimed a series of Dazing scorching rays at him; some hit but there was no dazing. Satampra closed and full attacked, but Petar’s displacement turned every hit into a miss. Aakif threw a Dazing fireball at the pair, counting on Satampra to make his save, but as it happened both combatants saved against the attack. Then the arcanist flew to be close to his uncle, and… with a sleepy curse, Petar failed the save against the cloak of dreams and fell asleep while flying high in the air. The swashbuckler caught his body as the evil uncle drifted down towards the keep below.

The Avengers

Satampra delivered the killing blow, and Petar’s and the warpriest’s bodies went into the sack. Kwin and Orseen recovered, and heals were passed around, much to Aakif’s relief – the day had stressed his abilities like never before, and he was down to single-digit hit points and just a couple of low-level spell slots.

With the deaths of all of Surtova’s Revengers, loyalist Brevoy’s attack upon Caerelia came to an end. The remaining troops surrendered and were marched back to the border naked, aside from the insults directed at King Surtova that had been painted on their bodies. A later followup from Caerelia’s spy network confirmed that Surtova had put all of his eggs into this particular basket, and did not have the resources to launch another assault of that nature. There was some talk of revenge and ending Surtova’s reign once and for all, either via war or scry-and-fry, or of marrying Surtova’s daughter (that the PCs had kidnapped ages ago, and who had been raised as a ward since then) to one of Satampra’s sons and using that as a pretext to claim Surtova’s throne. Fortunately, the ruling council was there to remind the Emperor that he had a bigger, more immediate, issue on his plate in the form of the Green Lady, Queen Nyrissa.

Next: into Thousandbreaths!

Torg Eternity: Character Generator, Aysle Update

The TOCG character generator for the Torg Eternity RPG has been updated with content from the recent Aysle Kickstarter! Also there have been bug fixes, upgrades, you name it. The latest version is v2.0.3.1 and can be downloaded for free here. For some reason my installer software doesn’t like this program, so it’s just a zip file. While the program has rudimentary summaries of the game elements, you’ll need the Aysle sourcebook (and the Torg Eternity core rulebook) to make the most of this character generator.

I would also like to once again highlight that the data contained within the generator can be customized to suit your home game, or even just to fill in the descriptions for perks, items, etc. with the book text. There’s some Word docs in the install directory that give some starting tips, but I am discussing the topic in much more depth in a series of posts that starts here.

While I realize that it’s been a long time since I posted an update about this particular program here, as it happens I’ve been making changes on a fairly continuous basis since that last post. If you want to keep up-to-date with this program, I encourage you to head over to the Torg Eternity forums at the Piazza, specifically this thread. When I make minor changes I generally post them there, and often field requests for new features there as well.

I haven’t been keeping a definite list of fixes and features for this application as I do for the Kingdom Manager, but here’s a partial list of new features since the previously posted update:

  • Weapon attachments (silencers and the like) and special ammo (hollow point, etc.) are now tied to a particular weapon (or vehicle, or whatever) instead of just showing up in the general gear tab. Such item modifications will appear under that item in the tables, like enhancements do with perks. The new Aysle enchantments also function in the same way – basically they’ve all been put together into a grouping of “things that modify items.” Some can be turned on or off (ammo, tech attachments) and some can’t (built-in bits or magic enchantments). You can only have one kind of ammo loaded at a time. You can buy these enhancements by right-clicking on an item and selecting the “add an enhancement” menu option.
  • Vehicle weapons, for those vehicles that have them, and upgrades/enchants are also now (finally) displayed in the vehicles tab, in a manner similar to item enhancements.
  • You can now create custom on-the-spot spells, similar to how you can create custom items or abilities. Though it’s mainly reserved for GM characters. PCs can get to the spell creation window with the Spell Researcher perk.
  • Potions, scrolls, etc. have been placed in a new category of gear, Consumables, which can be filtered out when buying/acquiring items.
  • There’s also another new category of gear, Implements, for staves and orbs and the like. A couple of Nile items have been re-classified into this group.
  • Perk, item, spell, etc. prerequisites are now evaluated continuously. Before they were only checked when being added to the character and when loading a saved character. So now if you make some change that causes the character to be no longer capable of using a perk or item or whatever, its name will turn red in the tables and its effects (if any) will be removed from the character. Or if your axioms change and an item becomes contradictory (or not contradictory) that will also be shown.
  • The Companions tab has been revamped so that each companion has a separate sub-tab. Also, if you learn spells that summon or create creatures, the creatures will appear in the Companions tab so that the stats are at hand. But they can’t be edited or improved like normal companions.
  • If you tab into an attribute input field, all the text will be selected, making it easier to type in new values.
  • When exporting a character to text, the character’s equipment is now broken up into categories (weapons, armor, etc.) instead of being in one big block.
  • The “find a random magic item” window has been updated to use the new tables in the Aysle sourcebook.
  • Support for Mythic abilities and abilities triggered by the current Approved Action has been added.
  • Support for Eternity Shards has been added. Completed characters can add Eternity Shards to their inventory though the Character menu.
  • (For Advanced Users) Gone is the one massive XML file that held all of the data, it was getting too big for me to manage. The XML is now split into separate files for each source book. If you have custom data, you don’t need to change anything, your current CustomGameData.xml file will still work. But if you want to, you can break your stuff up into separate files. The pattern is XXX_CustomGameData.xml where XXX uniquely IDs a sourcebook. The sources and their IDs are defined in DataSources.xml in the Data folder. You can also make a MY_CustomGameData.xml file for your personal additions that are not related to any source material. If you want to.
  • Some of the element names in the XML have changed to keep things consistent, but the old names are still recognized. For example, BoostAttribute is now ModifyAttribute, but BoostAttribute will still work.
  • Regardless of whether or not you have added any customizations to your data, you shouldn’t need to change anything.
  • The game data continues to be updated to include errata.

What’s Next

The Cyberpapacy crowdfunding has already ended and I’ve actually got a good chunk of it already implemented! As soon as the books are available for sale I will publish that particular update, along with some new features.

Kingmaker: Sound of a Thousand Screams, Session 9, Part 1

As we approached the end of the campaign, I was wanting to tie up a few loose ends that were unrelated to the main First World plot. The first was the once-Regent and now-King Noleski Surtova, who undoubtedly hated Caerelia and its rulers with the heat of a thousand fire elementals. Why had he not struck back against them in all this time? What could he hope to accomplish against a group as mighty as the PCs? The second was the Stroons. Baroness Pavetta Stroon-Drelev had had her husband (the Baron Hannis Drelev) murdered and her lands stolen from her. She had also been kidnapped! Her brother, the wizard Imeckus Stroon, was none too happy about the hardships that the PCs had subjected his sister to and had some ability to act against them. The third loose end was Aakif the arcanist’s evil uncle Petar Raganus. When last we saw Petar, Aakif had ousted him from House Raganus and Petar had sworn revenge against his bastard nephew.

Time was running out, so I conspired to throw all of those plots together and resolve everything at once. I presumed that these various enemies of Caerelia had over the years found one another, and had been planning some strike against their hated neighbor to the south. When the “Month of Destruction” started, they realized that the fey incursions have provided them the perfect opportunity to finally attack! It took them a few weeks to get all the pieces into place, but as the blooms drew to a close they were ready to strike! Their target was Fort Drelev Heptamus, which not only “rightfully” belongs to Imeckus’ sister but also is a lynchpin that connects the western and eastern halves of the kingdom. Take it and you’ve cut Caerelia in half.

For this mission, Imeckus (evoker wizard 14) and Petar (arcane sorcerer 14) would be aided by loyalist Brevoy’s greatest remaining champions – a warpriest of Abadar and a dwarven slayer (both 14th level) – and outfitted with the best that King Surtova could supply, which is to say they had PC-budget gear. The group – Surtova’s Revengers, as I named them in my notes – could execute a quick decapitation strike against the city’s leadership, and a contingent of troops would be force marched from just off the map and down to the city so that they could hold it.

And now, having done all that while the PCs were busy talking to dragons and fighting faeries, the Revengers sat in the keep and waited for the Caerelians to respond.

Ring the Alarm

Aakif held the ring that had belonged to his uncle and attempted to scry on him. But even with the personal item bonus, the spell failed! The arcanist then tried to spy upon Imeckus, whom he had only previously glimpsed via a prying eyes spell. That also failed. The group shrugged and made ready to teleport into the titular fort at Fort Drelev Heptamus, but the Revengers had anticipated that, and the attempt was repelled – painfully – by a forbiddance effect!

After Kwin the dwarven cleric had healed the group, Aakif wove an invisibility sphere around the party and tried teleporting again, this time with everyone sitting on the flying carpet. He aimed for several hundred feet up above the keep, which worked! The rulers surveyed their city, took note of the occupying soldiers, and then turned their attention to the castle.

The most obvious point of entry for fliers was the balcony on the main tower (M32). Once upon a time, the PCs had fought hill giants on that very same balcony, and had hung Baron Drelev’s corpse from the banister. In the present, the area was occupied by 2 guards bearing Surtovan heraldry. Before moving in, Aakif cast detect magic and concentrated on the guards – he was curious if they were elite enough to have magic weapons, or if they were just mundane mooks. He was surprised to find that there was a magic aura present, but it wasn’t the soldiers – an abjuration covered the entire balcony!

It was probably an alarm spell, thought the arcanist (he was correct), but he didn’t want to chance it. They flew the carpet above the tower’s stairwell instead, and Aakif disintegrated a hole in the roof so that they could drop in unobserved. But first Aakif checked the stairs for magic, and once again found an abjuration aura.

The players really didn’t want to attack without surprise! Aakif next tried an arcane eye, which was both invisible and not large enough to trigger the alarm spells that Petar had placed throughout the tower. With that they were able to determine that Petar and Imeckus were in the study on the 2nd floor (M27), the armored priest was praying at a makeshift shrine on the third floor (in M33), the dwarf was wandering around, and there were plenty of guards about.

After studying the map a bit, the party formed a plan and directed the carpet to be level with the 2nd floor study. Spells of flying were passed around, Orseen the gnoll warpriest powered up, and finally Aakif removed the section of outer wall – the part containing the window – with a disintegrate spell.

Into the Breach

The giant, flaming warpriest and Satampra the swashbuckler charged in to deliver Vital Strikes on Imeckus, while Kwin the dwarven cleric hit the surprised Petar with a dimensional anchor. When the first full round started, Satampra unleashed a full attack on Imeckus, dropping him before the wizard had even had a chance to act. Petar ran south and out of the room, erected a wall of force across the doorway, and cast a Quickened invisibility. By the time the PCs had gotten through the magical wall, he was gone, heading up the stairs towards the warpriest in room M33.

The party didn’t know which way he had gone, however, and after finishing off Imeckus and stuffing his body into their bag of holding, they raced into M25. There they ran into the dwarf slayer, who was responding to all the noise.

Aakif hit the slayer with a Quickened enervation, saddling him right off the bat with a -3 to everything. The swashbuckler leapt into the fray, and the dwarf retaliated with a full attack – only 1 of which hit; I was rolling very poorly. The group continued to gang up on the poor slayer, who only got one good trick off – Aakif’s next Quickened enervation was sent right back at him by the dwarf’s shield of spell reflection! Unfortunately the arcanist then broke out Otto’s irresistible dance, which incapacitates the target for at least 1 round, regardless of saves. Satampra maneuvered into flanking position, and the Caerelians cut the slayer down.

Next: the Revengers’ final stand!