The level 16 Vale Heroes for this session
Seck, rogue/Scout, wielding Maelsauga and Red Whisper;
Ulric, paladin/Vengeance, wielding Kinslayer;
Cat, warlock/Titania, supported by Dis his familiar
randomly supported by Phoenix, barbarian/Sea Eagle Totem, wielding Mocair, and Leucis of Asmodeus, wielding spells
The vale heroes begin 24,375xp below level 17 and end on 7,235
Treachery thy name is Tiefling!
While the others examine the great council chamber’s clean, crisp reliefs, Cat endures a few moments of deja vu. He shakes it off and has time to take in the body language of the five surviving tieflings. The others finish commenting on the warlord’s propagandistic triumphalism of the walls.
Negotiations go not so well…
The tieflings each have their own agenda and almost immediately fall out, Bane’s tiefling dying in the disagreement, the other, Larisa, dropping her knives in surrender. Two slip away in the confusion. Cat chases that pair down and kills one, bringing the other, Nephmos of Bhaal, back. That leaves three: Nephmos, Leucis of Asmodeus, and Larisa of unknown allegiance. Leucis seems a willing – not to say cloying – turncoat, underlining his Patron’s wish to become part of the One True Faith. Nephmos and Larisa attempt to ensure that “working with” the heroes doesn’t just mean “then killed when done” and agreement is struck.
With that agreed, the allies tell the heroes what they know of what’s going on.
- They are the third of three shifts.
- Each shift has been praying power into an altar to send power to the warlord
- The warlord (Azarr Kul) conducts the summoning ritual somewhere else remote from that altar
- To get to the ritual area, there is a secret passage out of the temple nearby
- But they don’t possess any pass phrases, they were transported
- And by transported they mean airlifted by winged dragon-fiends, blue or green
- Possibly across dimensions!
Cat and Seck exchange glances and Cat weighs up how convincing a Seeming of Phoenix and Ulric as tiefling war-priests could be. He’s pretty confident. So far, the dragon-fiends have been built for combat not brains. And with the three living tieflings their company numbers seven, the same as that of a shift of priests.
“As long as no-one gives the game away, Phoenix.”
Time for a Short Rest – level gains are taken. Packs are dumped and potions are shared among the heroes. Phoenix ditches his half-plate and rolls 6 HD, Cat (now on CHR20) encourages everyone again using Inspiring Leader. Ulric assures everyone his aura is even shinier now!
As a summary this seems a short segment but after the Council scenes and rest, nearly an hour of game-time has elapsed. I realize that all we will get through is the temple, unless I make the temple guards small fry. I’m still mentally tossing this coin well into the next scene…
Phoenix does what he do
The seven “priests,” now unburdened by packs, make their way the short distance from the Council chamber, down relatively shallow steps, and to the bottom of rising tiers of temple. Pews in this area, steps up right, an elaborate altar and twin Tiamat-statues up ahead on the next tier. Above the whole, strips of leather, each bearing totems, dangle quite low. Well back in the strange multicolored candlelight, five high bays or alcoves….
“Raaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!! By my totem! Mooocaaaiirrr!!!!” – Phoenix
Phoenix charges off the steps, runs along the tops of the pews and jump-flies off the altar, up off a Tiamat-head, and into the half-right alcove wherein he has spotted a green dragonfiend!
The battle in the temple
Inits: Seck, Phoenix/Ulric, Cat, abishai, tieflings
Round 1: Seck moves to where he can snipe through the dangling strips and hurls Maelsauga: the blade wiggles like a fish through the strands and slices home, giving everyone else advantage on the green fiend. Phoenix finishes his leaping and begins chopping madly. Ulric advances, signaling the others to keep close, and Blesses he Seck and Cat, a blessing that will pay great dividends soon! Cat follows on, and also Dominates an abishai half left, causing it to attack the farthest-left target! In reply the fiends attempt mind control: everyone is deluged by both Dominate and Confusion: Cat bounces the Dominate back as a Reaction, without success. He is jumped from behind by Nephros who has not succeeded against the Dominate – but Dis warns Cat and he escapes without harm. Larisa Misty Steps back up the stair and lights out running for the exit!
Round 2 (+1 to hit): Seck wisely decides to stay near Ulric, despite AoE risk. He sends Maelsauga slithering through the strands and into the abishai hard left, then uses his Skulker ability to sneak behind a hefty pew. Phoenix crits, but struggles to drive home real damage. Ulric gleefully clobbers Nephmos! Cat uses his Spell Sniper to target Phoenix’ foe, slamming three Eldritch Blasts home! The abishai are beginning to feel that spells are not a good go-to, and while two of them slice into each other off to the left, the farthest-right one goes to assist the one being attacked by a maddened barbarian (Phoenix uses a Shield charge and Luck), and the fifth, central one attempts Confusion again, with no better success than the first time. The Nephmos: adventurer standoff continues, with Leucis running to fend Nephmos away with Thunderwave and seeks some guidance on target. Nephmos avoids being knocked away thanks to his tail, and snarls back “Traitor! You have gone against Tiamat the Great! You shall Pay!!” and hurls Flame Strike on the group! They mostly dodge, but necrotic damage does get through. Some effect of the temple is preventing him using a Spiritual Weapon.
Round 3 (+2 to hit): Seck aims and flings Maelsauga at Phoenix’ foe, doing some telling damage. Phoenix uses Luck and puts the abishai away! But his follow-through on the second one smashes into solid stone! Ulric yelling “why won’t you die!?” hammers away at Nephmos, and resists a nat1 curse off Kinslayer! while enduring some minor damage from the AoE spells the tiefling throws down. Ulric’s aura no longer protects Seck. Cat continues to hurl Eldritch Blasts but this time into the hard-left abishai – it is now bloodied. He edges back to stay close to Ulric. A final Confusion hits them and they all resist. Cat’s abishai is getting the better of the fight, but throws the Dominate off! Leucis holds off, uncertain, double-checks that the target is Nephmos: who hurls a second Flame Strike. Ulric avoids the flame damage again.
Round 4 (+3 to hit): Seck hears Phoenix yelling that he is bailing, and also notices Cat’s abishai glaring back at Cat! and sends Maelsauga at that one. The two at that left flank are now both bloodied. He drops back close to Ulric to support the paladin. Ulric slams his shield at Nephmos – who again resists – then wallops him with Kinslayer twice. Nephmos looks a mite groggy. Leucis has readied an attack for that moment, and hurls a nasty Acid bolt onto Nephmos, singing “why don’t you just die, and leave our masters aloonnne?” (Even the heroes look uncomfortable at such fulsome sycophancy.) Phoenix escapes the abishai on the wall and runs clockwise round the temple, ends poised to take out Nephmos, and finishes him. He seems inclined to turn his attention to Leucis but swings the other way, to the abishai. Cat too is looking that way, trying to judge which of the two is worse off. He judiciously chooses his original target, striking with all three Blasts. All four living abishai leap down, flapping through the remains of the leather strands and making two attacks each. Cat Misty Escapes away at the first blow and – as Ulric is then struck a number of times – realizes his Invisible property is not working. Seck is cut but reduces damage. “Who are we targeting now?!” Leucis shrieks, repositioning and dropping a big Ice Storm down on two, pushing the most-battered one close to death.
Round 5 (+4 to hit): Seck slams Red Whisper into his attacker, forcing its speed to drop to zero as he has the Sentinel feat, then using Mobile to zip away next to Ulric and await an opportunity attack. Phoenix slays the most wounded abishai (with more difficulty than expected) and slashes on into the next. But the ‘next’ is barely wounded: this will be a long fight. With Nephmos down, Ulric turns his attention to the abishai, with Seck cutting in. And he directs Leucis to attack the weaker. He shoves the abishai Seck halted down: Seck stabs it and Ulric hammers it. It is bloodied! But there are still two upright, one fully able one very battered: Cat uses Synaptic Static to nerf them and Leucis drops a Fireball on them to help matters along. The prone one stands and does some serious damage to Phoenix, as it is now able to attack four times. Phoenix shrugs off the poison in its stinger, the third time he has done so. The other two (frosted, nerfed and singed) abishai flail uselessly at Ulric’s armor.
Round 6 (+5 to hit): Seck nips through Ulric’s zone and stabs with Red Whisper. He impatiently longs for a crit, but he has put the abishai down. Phoenix hews into the weakest abishai, uses his last Luck and crits! The abishai is tottering. Ulric shoves the other back against the stage, and hammers it again and again. It is bloodied. Cat spams Eldritch Blasts into the tottering one and drops it. The remaining abishai springs back at Ulric, doing no damage at all but getting close enough to need parrying. Seck reacts with a knife-stab, rolls a nat19, but gets great Sneak damage to seriously hurt the creature. Leucis uses his Arcane Advantage to add some nasty extra damage to Ray of Frost, and the last abishai is down!
Leucis points to the high alcove, hard right: “The secret door is at the rear of that bay,” and with that the session ends.
For those interested in warlock clerics you can’t do better than @Zarathustran’s explanation in ENworld. In the world of Dimgaard, tieflings are a bit like old-fashioned drow, hard-coded into a fiendish patron. (I’ve been OK with that, we all enjoyed young Will Tiefling’s cheeking Cat for a season.) In this, my own twist on the endgame for Azarr Kul, Tieflings converted to Tiamat with the promise of a real place in society are being sacrificed to power Tiamat’s breach.
The temple altar
Despite or because of the coverage in two different volumes (the original and the conversion) the altar’s SFX description was not all it could have been. It is not at all clear (to me) that 5e even has an official unhallow, and the conversion guide simply states “The altar has a hallow (unhallowed) spell which prevents anything from magically turning invisible,” ie the basic ‘one spell effect is fixed to the altar’. I thought that was weak given the supposed permanent fixture and dire consequences of meddling, so gave the abishai advantage to SV. Looking at the original hallow (3.x), now I think I should have made them immune to Dominate Monster. Oh well, 20-20 hindsight. Now I have to decide whether the effect forces Ulric out, or if he doesn’t notice it until he decides to rest. (No rest for the holy!)
The temple guardians
There are a number of treatises by distinguished authors on how to best handle the fane as a whole. I found these really helpful, at least to get the creative juices flowing, and recommend any future DM do their reading. @SlyFlourish is probably the go to. The big decision this session was to make the guardians not just abishai, but full-scale green abishai, CR15 each. My reasoning is that unless something weird occurs, once the temple is cleared, a Long Rest could potentially be taken. We shall see if that works.
Next game in this campaign will not be until early January 2022, so have a great break everyone!