Every Sunday night, I run my 20th level D&D 4e home campaign. Most of the time, I prepare my own adventures. For those other times, I modify heavily. What follows is the session we ran last night, complete with DM commentary…
Through the Desert (The Defiled Lands)
Last week the minotaur/fighter hit level 21 in an epic encounter designed just for him. This week, I hoped to do the same with another player, the goblin/warlock…
You can’t win them all.
To figure out how to gear an encounter specifically meant for individual players to attain level 21, I asked each player to give me their Epic Destiny choice at level 19. Not all Epic Destiny’s are created equal when it comes to story development. Some give me absolutely nothing to go on (Druid), while others just hint of their epic nature.
The goblin/warlock chose Feyliege as his Epic Destiny, and as far as story goes, it just hints of his future self. You command legions of powerful eladrin, tapping into the magical potential of the Feywild. His level 24 ability stood out; once per day his future self comes back in time to fight on if he should die. Time travel.
How do you incorporate time travel into an encounter? I mulled over this one for days, but first…
The players began the session in the Sunken Tomb with Jandal freaking out over the death of Smith. Through diplomacy, they calmed her down by having a burial ceremony for the charred corpse, using one of the handy sarcophagi. Ilsa sang a gut-wrenching lament at the behest of Chadwink. A little more talk and they decided to stick out the heat of the day in the tomb, then venture forth at around 7 pm to travel through the night. They marked off a survival day (they have two left) and plotted a course to the oasis in the heart of the defiled land.
Side note: Having a sheet full of NPC biography’s really helps when storytelling.
Now, because they took an extended rest I wanted to whittle down their surges a little, so I planned two easier encounters to preclude the “main event”. Two is better than if you want them to be able to use action points for the main event.
The players were pretty sure they could expect an encounter at the oasis. They often mentioned that the oasis would most likely have creatures there, so I wanted to tweak that perception.
As they crested the final dune and looked down onto the oasis, they immediately noticed the bodies of many animals dotting the sands around the oasis. The water itself was acrid, bubbling sulfurous vapors, and making gurgling noises. Farmer Jay’s sheep started bleating wildly and pulling against the reins.
Upon inspecting the animal bodies, they saw that two-thirds of them were still alive. Animals of all sorts, lying on their sides, wide-eyed and panting irregularly. Insight could tell all the animals were all terrified stiff. Nature could tell the dead ones died of a heart attack.
The thri-kreen touched the water.
Encounter 1 – 1 x Primeval Ooze (Plane Below, pg. 128), 3 x Slime Devils/Driplings (MM3, pg. 61)
Sort of an inside joke, since their beginning, I’ve been throwing the players up against a lot of iconic D&D creatures. Tonight, the highest level ooze in the game.
The first three melee attacks each spawned a dripling. This was meant to deter them from opening up a can of whoop-ass in the first round. When the first one spawned, they thought “interesting”, the second and they gasped “oh no”. With the third they were attacking with reservation and exclaiming, “How many of them are there?” Just three 🙂
At one point in the encounter, the sheep broke free of Farmer Jay and started running off. The players had to choose to either fight or save the sheep. They saved the sheep. Quick, minor fun.
With the ooze dead, they realized the water was tainted. A ritual they didn’t have could cleanse it. The animals didn’t seem to be getting better, so they slaughtered them and turned them into food and water (two successes toward Survival Days).
Leaving the oasis behind, they climbed a ridge to see a scorched wasteland before them.
The Scorched Land
The grey sands of the defiled lands gave way to blackened soot. They had to either go around and risk the defiled lands at night, or go through the lava flow. They decided, with the refugees in tow, they had to go around. But, bad things happen at night in the defiled land.
Encounter 2 – 1 x Shrouded Sage, 3 x Fading Dream Fearmonger (both in Eberron pg. 144), 3 x Nightmare Beast Spawn (DSCC pg. 79)
They could see something coming toward them, glowing in the night as it teleported from one hilltop to another. Each saw their own nightmare approach (except the minotaur), the refugees started screaming and crying, sheep started bleating, and the players braced for impact.
The level 16 creatures were hit nearly every time, their defenses couldn’t compete. But start to finish, this fight only took 18 minutes and used up a few of the groups surges.
Having nightmares attack was supposed to be a clue for next week, if any caught it.
The (cough, cough) “Main Event”
Encounter 3 – 1 x Absalom (DSCC pg. 34), 3 x Dragonborn Scorned Champion (DSCC pg. 32), 2 x Dragonborn Atavist (DSCC pg. 33), 1 x Fire Drake (DSCC pg. 35), 2 x Entropic Collapse (DMG pg. 92)
Time travel, in an encounter. I could only think how a console game would do it.
The river of lava was six feet deep dealing 3d8 + 15 fire damage per round. The red backgammon chips were strange-looking obsidian obelisks sticking out of the lava. The portals were each an entropic collapse, a rift in the space-time continuum. Absalom came to destroy those that slaughtered his clansmen. He says, “It sent me this to help sniff you out.” That’s when the Fire Drake splashed out of the lava and roared and they all rolled initiative.
Future Gashix went back in time, thousands of years before the players were there, and brought with him a unit of eladrin made obsidian golems. Able to stand the test of time, these golems have stood all these years as a curiosity to those that have seen them. They exist just to help the players cross the lava. By looking through the entropic collapse, Gashix could see the players during their fight, and could move the golems as he willed on his turn, thus effecting their placement in the current world.
In play, Gashix got two turns, one as himself and one as Future Gashix. I ruled that if either used an action point, they both got to take an action. Future Gashix had to maneuver himself to see through the portals and move the golems accordingly. In his time though, Smoke Hounds (Plane Below pg. 147) surrounded the portals. These were there to give him something to curse and kill, so he could teleport. They attacked only if he ended his turn within 2 squares of a portal. Future Gashix could also shoot through a portal, into the current time.
So, what went wrong? The golems shouldn’t have started the encounter in the lava. If the players had spent a couple of rounds clueless as to how to get across, while wondering why the portal was shooting eldritch bolts, Gashix would have been a hero upon arrival with his fleet of stepping-stones. As it played out, the minotaur cleared the river in the first round, with the thri-kreen hot on his heals, arriving at the beginning of the second round. This kept Gashix from the spotlight, as both minotaur and thri-kreen scored critical hits and used their action points against Absalom.
It’s always annoying when an encounter doesn’t work out. I feel like I cheated the goblin, sure he hit 21, but did he shine? Not so much. So I store that away as both a lesson learned and a future session idea. Gashix needs retribution.
Maybe he’ll get it from that large beast that’s charging toward them in rage. He’ll get something… They all will. Mwa hahaha ha.