D&D: The Eighth One – Session 6

Written by: GM           Played on: 19 Mar 2011
PREVIOUS: The Eighth One – Session 5
NEXT: The Eighth One – Translation 2

The intimidating cliffs of the plateau outside of Throal, nicknamed the Throat of the World by the people of the Southern Kingdom, stretched over a mile into the air above the party. Taking a deep breath, Bharash’s orders his men to break out ropes, harnesses and climbing equipment from their packs. Preparing to climb, Bharash’s orders Rock to the fore and for a stretch of rope to be tied between each of them in a long line. Following Rock’s surefooted lead, the party begins the assent.

The climb is long, lasting most of the afternoon. They stop several times to rest and eat, giving them the perfect vantage point to overlook Throal as it burns below them. Finally, with the end in sight, a long, drawn out squeal fills the air. A dark creature, with the twisted head and wings of an eagle but the body of a lion soars through the air nearby, clearly eyeing the party as they climb up the exposed face. It’s cry draws the attention of several other winged beasts, including several larger ones bearing riders with long spears. As they fly in toasted the party, large spiders the size of small men crawl out fools in the rock and over the edge of the cliffs above. Bharash’s voice can be heard over the howling wind, ordering his men to draw steel and prepare to defend themselves.

Part of my inspiration for this set piece combat was in the old Greek tales of heroes, where the hero didn’t just scale a mountain, he scaled a mountain for ten days. He didn’t just walk to the next city, he marched continuously for three weeks with no food and no water. Plus, fighting on a vertical grid just sounded like a lot of fun and an interesting challenge. On the whole, I’d say it was one of the more successful combat encounters of the campaign.

The winged beasts swooped down on the Divine Guard clutching onto the wall and secured together by ropes. The party did their best to fend them off, but the limited mobility afforded to them being bound to the ropes and the wall made combat difficult. Sir Henry was ripped from the wall by one of the creatures talons, he flailed helplessly at the end of his rope until he found new handholds. Above him, it was all Bharash’s could do to hold onto the wall as the guardsman’s weight swung below him on the rope.

At the bottom, Scith glared up resolutely before pulling a dagger from it’s sheath and swiping it across the rope. As she tumbled away from the party, she spread her arms wide and whispered words in the ancient tongues of the forest folk. Her outstretched limbs thinned and sprouted feathers. Her clothes and weapons melded into her body. Her face and mouth stretched out, beak-like. Her body transformed into an eagle, a few flaps carried her up and out from the cliff face. With a high pitched screech, she crashed talon first into one of the beasts. Twisting through the air with the creature, the rider was thrown down to the ground far below.

Just above where Scith had cut loose, Cael hung from the end of the rope relying on the strength of the giant, Margoloth, above to keep him stable. As the giant swung his massive maul from one hand while clutching to the wall with his other, Cael unleashed arrow after arrow into the circling creatures. Another winged beast plummeted to the ground below, it’s wing torn apart by arrows.

Sir Henry and Inara cast spells from their perch on the rocks, splitting their attention between the circling creatures and the spiders crawling down the rock face above. Aunwynne scrambled to one side while Bharash’s moved to the other, with swords drawn, they fended off the poisoned fangs biting down at them.

Rock drove his blade into the nearest spider, peeling it off the wall and sending it plummeting to the ground far below. Looking down at the soldiers below, struggling with the winged creatures, he sheathed his sword and dug into his pack. Producing a length of rope, he wrapped it around his waist and tied it off both to himself and the original guide rope they were climbing on. Looking down, gauging his timing and taking a deep breath, he threw himself sideways along the wall. As he fell, the rope reached it’s length and he began to swing, directly into the diving path of one of the winged creatures. Through the thrashing, he managed to cut loose his rope and wound the spare end around the beasts head, using it as reigns to overpower and guide the creature.

Despite their difficulties, the battle finally began to turn. As the few remaining creatures wheeled away, the party completed their climb to the top of the mountain. Rock forced his mount into an unceremonious crash landing at the plateau top, driving his sword across it’s throat as they came to rest. The plateau stretched out around them, the city of Throal lost through the clouds below them. The only feature on the otherwise flat cliffs is a marble structure.

Approaching the alter, Inara stepped out in front and placed her hands on the carved sigil of Hualpa. Like it was just the day before, memories of her past life, of her many lives, constructing the alter to Divine Hualpa, attuning the energies of the Seal of the Feathered Dragon to the alter, the first time she communes directly with Hualpa through the holy portal. While she drifted back in time, the others spread out around the alter, vigilant for further threats. Scith stepped around the back of the alter, noticing that it had another inscription similar to the one they found in Haven. Taking a moment, she took a rubbing of it and stored it in her pack along with the other.

Inara turned to Bharash,”We must begin the ritual immediately, commander. I can instruct the others on the basics of the ritual, any devout follower of Hualpa can perform the necessary steps. Be warned, however, the forces of chaos will know what we are doing. They will be able to sense the powers we draw here today. They will come to stop us. It will take some time to complete the ritual and, when it is done, the alter will take time to syphon energy from the seal. We must ensure it is not disturbed. This is our only chance to resurrect the avatar.”

This challenge was built around the ritual. At the center of the map was the ritual site. Any player standing on the ritual site could make a religion, arcana or history roll against a moderate difficulty check to assist with the ritual. The party had to get a certain number of hits to complete the ritual. During that process, they would be involved in open combat against a never ending stream of monsters, so they had to balance the needs of the ritual against the needs of the combat.

I had three phases stated out, one group of monsters for the beginning of combat, a second larger and tougher group to switch to at the half way point and then a final Boss group that only appeared after they completed the ritual. For the first two phases, any time one of the monsters died in combat, they would a replacement would arrive on the edge of the map at the beginning of the next combat turn. Though the monster groups weren’t particularly tough, they had the extra strength in numbers. Still, I probably could have afforded to make the monster groups a little more robust as the players didn’t have much difficulty with them.

“Very well. Inara, take Scith and Henry. Instruct them on what to do. We will hold the perimeter.” Bharash turned to the others, pointing them to positions around the field as Inara instructed them on the key points of the ritual. As the Deva began the ritual, a great cry rose up from the clouds around the plateau, Bharash and the others turned resolutely to face them.

More of the winged creatures, bearing dark riders rose over the edge of the plateau. Some swooped overhead menacingly while others landed and their riders leaped to the ground. With a war cry, Margoloth began the charge. The battle whirled and waged around the plateau, arrows, spells and steel casting distinct arcs through the air. For every creature that fell to their weapons, two more cropped up to replace them. When the winged beasts and their riders fell, dark portals began to open and from them the armies of chaos streamed forth.

“Scith, to the north!” Bharash’s command broke through the ritual and Scith pulled away, leaving Inara and Sir Henry to continue. As she turned, the Den Mother unleashed a wave of thundering energy that washed over the creatures threatening Cael and Aunwynne. The tide of creatures continued to swell, lizard like creatures with taloned claws began to join the other creatures arrayed against them.

“Longthorne! We need your fire!” Sir Henry broke away from the alter, casting a glance to Inara, as fire consumed his hands. The Deva paid him no heed, continuing to focus the power of the seal, weaving it’s energies into the alter’s finely crafted structure. As she guided and weaves it’s arcane energies, she could feel the alter’s power begin to grow. Soon it began to feed on it’s own power, becoming self sustaining. She stepped back, a coy smile creeping to her lips for the first time in days.

As Bharash struck down a pair of the creatures, a large portal opened before him. As it receded, a small army of skeletons stood before them. At there center stood a familiar, cloaked figure; the necromancer from Haven. Behind him, Aunwyunne’s rage filled cry could be heard. Her short sword carved through the chest of the lizard man she was fighting and she charged across the battlefield towards the necromancers. Bharash’s voice raised above the din, rallying his soldiers to the new threat.

The necromancer hissed from beneath his dark hood and the skeletons shambled forward. Bharash, Margoloth and Rock shot to the fore, crashing into the first line of skeletons. Cael, Sir Henry, Inara and Scith cast arcs of fire, energy and lightning, incinerating their bones where they stood. Aunwynne slithered through the skeletons, her weapons snaking out to strike at the necromancer.

As the battle raged, the alter continued to brim with increasing power. So concentrated was it that it began to distort the very air around the alter and manifest on the physical plane. One by one, the nectomancer’s skeletons fell as Aunwynne circled and danced with the creature that had murdered and desecrated the body of her beloved Pop-Pop in Haven. Finally, she saw her opening and lunged forward. Her dagger buried in the creatures chest to the hilt. As it doubled forward and let out a pain filled hiss, her second strike from her short sword severed the necromancers head off at the shoulders.

Behind them, the energies at the alter reached a crescendo. Suddenly a massive explosion filled the plateau, knocking many of the warriors to the ground. As the dust settled, a mighty roar tore through the afternoon air. A massive, clawed foot smashed to the ground before a second bellow. Turning to look, the party gazed upon the shimmering green scales and feathers of the feathered serpent. They gazed upon the Avatar of Divine Hualpa.

Woo hoo! The first session to really end on an upbeat note.

PREVIOUS: The Eighth One – Session 5
NEXT: The Eighth One – Translation 2

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