Friday, August 30, 2013

The Epic Conclusion of a Campaign

About three and a half years ago, I started a campaign using the excellent Castle of the Mad Archmage.  It was a drop in/drop out game which I ran pretty much every other week for that time.

If you were available to play, you showed up and played.  If you couldn't, you didn't.  I didn't worry about continuity or plotlines or timelines -- not really.  I just wanted everyone to have fun.

I think everyone did.

Last night we wrapped it all up with a bow and I believe the ending was excellent.  I couldn't have planned a better ending.  I'm serious.  It was fantastic.

Many, many years ago, I used to spend inordinate amounts of time prepping and planning intricate plotlines.  I don't think I'll ever do that again.  This campaign was a testament to how this is a game not a story.  It may be a game that creates a story along the way, but you definitely don't need a story (I'd claim that you don't even want a story) at the beginning.

Here's how it ended --

Months ago, almost a year ago, the characters accidentally released Orcus into the Castle of the Mad Archmage.  If you don't remember that little episode, check out the link.

The characters had a year and a day to rid the dungeon of Orcus before he was able to escape into the larger world.  They knew that he was on level 10 and they had managed to scry on him to determine his location and his forces.  Besides wanting to "save the world," they also wanted to save their loyal dungeon burro, Roberto, who had been taken hostage by Orcus months ago to taunt them.  Orcus had also captured an efreeti noble, named Saladin, who had been an ally to them for some time.

He had set up shop at the top of a knobby stone pinnacle.  The nest of harpies that used to dwell there were killed (and turned into undead harpies) and Orcus had gated in reinforcements (mostly Vrock, a few Hezrou, a couple of Nalfsheenee and one Balor).  He had also created a horde of ghouls from all the humanoids nearby and the rat-men of the rat-cult on level 7.  He called in loyal servants in the form of Tombstone (an archmage/cleric) and Kregov (a vampire lord).  Orcus summoned some buddies for Kregov.

In preparation for the big day, I built a scale model of the cavern out of styrofoam.  I painted it with black latex paint, dry brushed it, and set it aside.  I also assembled a bunch of flying bases for all the Vrock, Harpies and Vampires.

There were a few entrances to the cavern, but in an effort to control the battle, Orcus collapsed the side tunnels, leaving only one entrance.

Orcus also imported some artifacts from the Abyss to bolster his side in battle.
  • His Throne of Bone -- prevents undead and demons from taking ANY damage as long as it exists in the cavern.  Must use holy or light or healing to destroy it.  It has 100 HPs and is AC -4.
  • His three Dark Cauldrons -- the first three offensive spells (in this case, fireball, sunburst and lightning bolt) were absorbed one by one into a cauldron activating it.  Each succeeding activation reduced the saving throws for the "good guys" and improved the potency of the spells for the "bad guys"
  • Chaos Crystals -- five crystals in five colors, each one disrupting spells cast nearby 50% of the time.
The party gathered outside the chamber.  Kalen cast stoneskin and haste on everyone.  Morgrim cast prayer.  Kalen cast globe of invulnerability on himself.  Biata cast invisible stalker and told it to "kill all the demons!"

The battle was at hand!

In order to expedite and somehow control a battle of this size, I told everyone in advance that I would be putting each character name and each monster name/group on a separate index card.  I would shuffle and each would act in turn.  This system worked well, but I must say that a battle of this size is kinda slow.  Nobody seemed to mind much...

I revealed the cavern map!  Ooohing and Aahhing occurred and folks took a lot of pictures.  I will possibly share those in the future once they share them with me!  :)

We used FaceTime on my iPhone to bring in a virtual player who was away on business in Colorado.  It had its limitations, but I'm glad he was able to join us!

I invited another friend to join us to help me run the villains.  He was given the task of playing Tombstone and his Nalfsheenee bodyguard and Kregov and the other vampires.  He did a great job and I was glad to not have to worry about a 22nd/20th level wizard/cleric.  :)

The battle began with Sir Owyn de Lapins, the paladin!  He called out a challenge to Orcus in the name of Sinakad and Orcus replied with disdain.  

"Come over here boy and prepare to die!"

The mid-game of the battle is a bit of a blur.  I know they destroyed the hezrou.  Killed several vrock.  Killed some ghouls.  Summoned some angels.  Killed the balor.  I'll outline the accomplishments of each PC below (in no particular order)

  • Hildigrim, the hobbit fighter, was polymorphed by Kalen into a gold dragon.  He attacked a hezrou and hit 4 times for 71 pts of damage.  He also grabbed Collen and flew him over to the stone pinnacle before flying to the far part of the cavern and releasing Gloomstorm an angry shadow dragon.
  • Morgrim, the dwarf cleric of Bachontoi, cast dispel evil which he used to banish a vampire and a vrock.  He healed Kesk of 54 points of damage and he summoned Gabrielus, an angel, and his host to aid in the battle.
  • Rolf, stalwart fighter, dealt 17 points of damage to Tombstone using his bow.  He then focused on vampires, killing one and badly damaging another.
  • Collen, barbarian of the cold wastes, attacked a hezrou, killing it in the second round.  He later caught a ride on the "dragon" Hildigrim toward the stone pinnacle in an effort to attack Orcus.  A nalfsheenee used telekinesis to push him off the stone some 50' to the ground, slowing his ascent.  Eventually he climbed back up, cast deadly strike from the gloves of spell storing and did 99 points of damage to the second balor.
  • Sir Owyn, the paladin of Sinakad, closed in on Orcus after the challenge, getting assistance from a spectral monster dragon that Biata summoned.  He leapt and fell the 50' and had to slay several ghouls and climb up the stone pinnacle.  At the top he attacked the balor doing 46 damage and then concentrated on Kregov (hitting him for 43 points) because he was threatening Roberto, the loyal dungeon burro!
  • Biata, the female human shadowmage, summoned three spectral monster shadow dragons.  Her invisible stalker did 8 pts of damage to a vrock.  One dragon flew Sir Owyn over to Orcus (but he fell.)  The dragons did some damage to other vrocks and kept them busy.  She cast grasping shadows across the ridge of the cavern in an effort to keep the ghoul horde at bay.  It worked.  The shadows killed half a dozen ghouls and grabbed a half dozen more.
  • Grunbar, dwarven handsman, drew first blood on the balor.  Earlier blows were for naught because of the Bone Throne.  Later he killed two hezrou, seriously wounded a third and slew a vampire in one round.  
  • Kesk, human fighter in Altirian Battle Armor, started the battle with a fireball launched from the weapon systems in his armor.  The explosion was not absorbed by the Dark Cauldrons because its origin was technological, but the damage didn't hurt the ghouls because of the Bone Throne.  Once the throne was destroyed, he delivered a terrible onslaught to the balor destroying it in two rounds with Grunbar's help.  He took a hit of 12 magic missiles from Tombstone.  He later contributed to the demise of two hezrou, one vampire and one vrock.
  • Oryx, dwarven dungeon raider, used his haste to maneuver, run and jump.  He dodged past the mist of a waiting vampire, leapt a small chasm and hurled an acid trap container like a satchel charge into the ghouls, killing six.  He had removed the acid cannister from a trap months ago and had kept it in his pack.  He then discharged a spark shower from his ring of shooting stars badly damaging five ghouls.  A vrock flew over to him and he was locked in battle with it, dealing 61 points of damage in one round.
  • Kalen, human wizard, cast fireball at the start.  It was sucked into Dark Cauldron #1, activating it.  He then polymorphed Hildigrim into a gold dragon, taking a little time to put his amulet of spell reflection back on.  He then cast lightning bolt, which was sucked into Dark Cauldron #2, activating it.  He then used Bigby's Rod to cast crushing hand on Tombstone.  He shrugged it off because of his ring of free action.  Later he dropped two diamond barriers on top of Orcus and the nalfsheenee.  The nalfsheenee failed their magic resistance and took damage.
  • Henri, the human crossbowman/fighter, bounced a few quarrels of the balor (due to the Bone Throne) attacked a harpy and managed to knock out a vrock in melee combat!
  • Hanuman, human monk, used his superior speed, monkish leaping ability and haste to close on Orcus during the first round.  Once there, he used his Radiant Fist of Purifying Fire on Orcus in a suicide move.  The power allows him to roll "as many dice as he wants."  The victim is subject to the total; he takes half with NO SAVE.  Orcus, being a demon, takes half if he fails his save and none if he makes it.  Hanuman chose to roll 1000d6 for a total of 3436 points of damage.  Orcus needed a 3+ to save and I rolled an 11.  Hanuman went up in a purifying fireball.  The explosion may not have hurt Orcus directly, but it did take out a nearby vrock.  It also had a chance to affect Dark Cauldron #2 and the Bone Throne.  I rolled saves for them.  I rolled a 20 for the Cauldron.  It didn't take a scratch.  I rolled a 1 for the Bone Throne and it burst into shards!  Hanuman didn't know it at the time, but this was the turning point in the battle.  With the Bone Throne gone, all the later attacks by the adventurers weren't wasted!  
In what turned out to be the last round of Collen was able to use his combat tactics to move the adventurers to the front of the card deck.  They and their angel allies got to go first.  

The angels succeeded in taking out Tombstone and Orcus teleported to Kalen and threatened him with his wand.  Orcus demanded that he turn over a scroll that he had in his possession, or else...

Gloomstorm, the shadow dragon, was released by Hildigrim and started attacking EVERYTHING in his path.  He promised to let Hildigrim live for the favor of releasing him...

Prior to his departure to threaten Kalen, Orcus released Roberto and Saladin from the forcecage they were trapped in.  Saladin told Kregov to leave the burro alone or he would kill him.  Kregov didn't listen...

Kalen read the scroll rather than hand it over, summoning Sennet, his lover and type V marilith demon.  She is in league with another demon lord and attempted to cast a spell of binding on Orcus.  Failing that attempt raised the interest of her demon patron who began to materialize...

Orcus swung his wand at Kalen hitting him squarely.  His blow was fended off by the stoneskin spell he had cast.  He wouldn't be that lucky a second time...

In short, the whole situation was quickly going sideways --

Saladin looked over at Sir Owyn and said, "Ask for a wish..."  

"May I have a wish," he asked?

"Yes," Saladin said, "Make a wish..."

"I wish we had never entered the Castle of the Mad Archmage."

"Your wish is granted."

Epilog One:

In the dark, back corner of the Red Dragon Inn, Kalen looks up from his spellbook.  It's a weighty tome, but its size belies its power.  It only contains a few spells.

'Not for long,' he thinks to himself.

He looks across the table toward the ragtag adventuring band.  Oryx the Dwarf is a solid fighter.  So is Collen and Rolf.  I think I may be able to trust Rolf best.

'Bah!' he thinks, 'Trust is for suckers.  I can use Rolf the best.'

Then there's that damned Paladin.

'Here comes that other wizard.  I wonder what she wants?  What's her damn name again?'

The young wizardess approaches the group and makes an announcement --

"Hey everyone, I've heard that there's a dungeon nearby.  A few hours ride.  Castle of the Mad Archmage it's called..."

Epilog Two:

Orcus sits upon his bone throne.  His clawed fingers tapping on the arms of the ancient relic.  A grimace of pain and anger crosses his face.

'Another gambit lost,' he thinks to himself.  'That monk is a new wrinkle this time.  One of these days I'll kill that damned paladin and someone else will make the wish...'

'Here we go again...'


Justin / Morgrim said...

In one word; Epic! I really had a great time! Jim, you did an amazing job as DM. I had only played this type of game casually before joining the group. Having a talented, committed DM makes such a difference. Really appreciate the time and effort you put into each session and the campaign as a whole. As for the rest of the group I had a great time hanging out, alot of laughs, and learned alot from more experienced players. It was a good end to the campaign and I can't wait for the next.

jim spiker said...

Wonderful job my friend. Kalen is going to be a fond memory of time well spent with friends every other wednesday.

Marcus Swims said...

BOOM! love the ending!

Desert Scribe said...

Great wrapup! I enjoyed reading it. You definitely need to post photos once you get them.

JJ / Grunbar said...

Hey Jim,

Awesome game Jim, and I love the 2nd epilog. Good to know that our buddy Orcus knows we beat him even if we won't remember it!

Lord Thanatos said...

It took me a while to find a dice rolling app that would handle 1000d6.....I think that was the first and last time Hanuman had ever used his microwave fist power. I was always afraid of taking the half damage..

Sir Owyn, as noble as he tries to be, really considered the mess the party was in and thought a reset would be the simplest solution. Plus, going back to the start would give him back all of the years he had lost to Kalen's HASTE spells.

In all, its been a great adventure. Plenty of "story" that wrote itself.