Every Sunday night, I run my epic 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…
The Raven Queen’s Citadel (Fate’s Palace)
Quick Review – Shadowfell: The Gloomwrought and Beyond
A while back I looked at the release schedule from Wizards and thought, Shadowfell, that could be cool. I’ve geared the campaign up for this moment, I got the new Gloomwrought and beyond boxed set. I excitedly tore into the pages, eager to find… to find… there is only one creature over level 21 in this 126 page book. Just one? Ok, maybe the encounter book will be… will… hmm, of the 15 encounters, five are in the heroic tier, nine are in paragon, and one is in epic. Just one?
Oh well… scaling isn’t really an issue, I guess.
The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond set is extremely paragon tiered, but it still has some good information for my campaign. Chapter 2 details Gloomwrought. Fifty of the 126 pages are devoted this City of Midnight. Why wouldn’t I use it in my campaign? The colorful locales beyond the city, though not nearly as well detailed, give plenty enough information for me to formulate a plan for the next few levels.
— End of Review (for now) —
Last session, the players all died and just like any other spirit would experience, their souls were yanked into the Shadowfell. Once they arrived though, they immediately saw a problem. The Shadowfell is supposed to be a passing place for spirits to find their rest, at the Raven Queens direction, yet here shadows and demons flew about devouring the fallen souls. The players did what they could, but many were lost. Of the twelve refugees only five remain, Davram, Solphi, Jennifer, Ilsa, Hubert, and Chadwink. The other seven souls consumed.
So begins our session, with the players having fought off the demons and gathering the remaining refugee spirits, all while plummeting toward a maelstrom of writhing, crackling clouds. They have a short rest worth of time before they hit it.
Encounter 1 – Hazard (The Clouds of Deaths Reach)
This should whittle down their surges a little.
Yeah, I know I’m mixing locales here, so sue me, this is my campaign. The Clouds of Death’s Reach (in my campaign) function as a sort of “holy mist” that separate the Raven Queen’s Citadel from the rest of the Shadowfell. Passing through them without the proper rites of passage yields dire results for most “mortal” souls.
- Key Skills: Arcana, Nature (Hard DC)
- Successes have a chance to avoid the dangers of the cloud.
- Force the DM to reroll one of his d6.
- Failure has a chance to steer the players into danger.
- Force a “safe” player to reroll his d6
- Secondary Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Endurance, Perception (Medium DC)
- Success allows the player to brace for impact.
- Gain a +2 bonus to their Will defense and resist 4 all.
- Failure means the player is caught off guard.
- Vulnerable 5 all.
The goal here is to traverse the maelstrom without getting shocked for six (non consecutive) rounds. For every safe round, they gain a success. Every time a player is shocked, they remove one success. Six successes equals escape, but players hoping to help their allies will need to jump back into the maelstrom to do so.
Plummeting beneath the clouds you’re startled by an awesome sight. The Raven Queens Citadel, high upon the peak of Letherna, rising above the Zvoma Mountains. The temple sits within the vortex of a cyclone of fallen souls. Vestigal hands move about the maelstrom with quick, practiced precision, plucking spirits from within and hurling them toward their final demise.
This would be a great place for a skill challenge, adventure, or even an entire campaign; getting to the Citadel. I decided to gloss over it. The Queen of Fates has her eye on these players, they find little opposition getting to their destination, though they see plenty of Angels of Shadow on guard, or even fighting against the many demons hoping to get at the cyclone of souls.
Once they land in the courtyard, the tables turn. They are immediately ambushed by sorrowsworn and more angels of shadow.
Encounter 2 – 2 Sorrowsworn Doomguards, 3 Sorrowsworn Fleshrippers, 25 Angel of Shadow Legionnaire (This is a direct rip from Death’s Reach, Adventure Book 2, pages 14&15)
Though we’re not playing Death’s Reach, it’s a great place for me to steal encounters from. These angels are here to test the mettle of the adventurers. When three or more of the sorrowsworn have been bloodied, The Raven Queen appears in her throne. At this point I basically paraphrased the conclusion text from the same encounter in Deaths Reach (page 15), for fear of repercussions I won’t put it here, but basically…
The Raven Queen is bemused by her sorrowsworns test, possibly even having instigated it herself. The sorrowsworn tell her the heroes proved themselves well, to which she replies, “Very well. You may have your audience.”
I wanted to do a different take on The Raven Queen, one that would hopefully bewilder the players. I found a great article that gave me some great insight into the parallels between the Raven Queen and her possible mythical counterparts. Since there are plenty of posts about the Raven Queen out there already, I won’t add to them too much, but I will tell you my end result.
The Raven Queen presides over three domains; Death, Fate, and Winter. I decided to do my own take on the trinity, my Raven Queen will have multiple personality disorder.
Chloe represents the child, she should be role played as a bitchy-teen valley girl.
Khala is the embodiment of the cold stare, as perfect as only a woman could achieve.
Morrigan is the loud and confident aged woman, wise, but stubborn in her ways.
At the beginning of each of her turns, roll a d6/2 to determine her persona.
Since the Raven Queen isn’t a detailed creature yet, I figured she was pretty much equal to The Prince of Frost (Dragon Magazine 374, page 57) as far as creature stats go.
This is the part that’s hardest to prep for. The conversation. The bard/warlord, Akmenos, is the only player left to attain level 21. He has known for months that in order to gain his epic destiny, he must converse with the Raven Queen and barter for his souls release from deaths embrace.
Every other character has hit 21, so Akmenos has to assume victory over this conversation. Furthermore is the matter of the refugees, specifically young Solphi, the child be smitten by the minotaur fighter, Asterion. Matt/Asterion has pretty much told me that he will end his character if Solphi dies. So here I have two characters totally vested in the outcome of this encounter. I’m not going to give it to them.
The Raven Queen, the god Death, Fate, and Winter is cold and merciless. She is currently also under a lot of stress. Demons plague the fallen dead, consuming them before the Queen can grant them death. Shadows and darkness work in tandem, a constant assault against her fortress. Lost souls constantly seek her audience, an audience she rarely denies. She is spread too thin and cares little for the plight of the mortal realm, only that her realm seems under attack as well.
The Raven Queen will make sure the players make it to their final resting place, or they can wander the Shadowfell as the lost do. She knows they will return for peace eventually.
Chloe seems the only one willing to help at all, though her lines are cryptic. Choose the most appropriate response for the question, or make up a rhyme of your own.
- You were walking down the road, when you stepped on a toad. It just looked at you and said, “You’ve got a Dead Man’s head.”
- That you’ve fallen I can see… of your quest, what concern me? So, you once were capable, but can’t you see my hands are full?
- The answers sought aren’t mine to tell, yet young Vorkhesis should know them well.
- The House of Black Lanterns could give you more answers, they treat their guests quite well… but the getting is tricky, for the Inn is quite slippery, yet the Dead Man could send you through… tee hee.
Here’s where I have to stop. There is no amount of planning for how the conversation could go. I’m just going to have to trust I know The Queen well, and role play her accordingly. I’ll tell you what I hope to achieve. I want them to kill The Raven Queen and place Suri on the throne in her stead, at which point she will become one with the trinity of the Raven Queen, and the trinity will become four, adding Judgement to her domains. Suri will grant Akmenos his request and accept the refugees on as her retinue, safe within Fates Palace. This palace will become a safe haven for the players, a place of constant return (and fairly easy to get to, hehe).
I’ll tell you how it goes tomorrow… after this line.
All in all, I think it went well. In the end, the players all had that look on their face; the same look all people have after seeing Memento, Eternal Sunshine, or Lost in Translation for the first time.
The hazard I created, the Maelstrom, would have been great except I forgot much of my own creation. Worst of all, I forgot to roll initiative and put the players through the cloud one round at a time. Instead, I rolled, they rolled, and those unhindered all advanced one square, those hit backwards one square. This ended up making the hazard really quick, but it didn’t absorb as many surges as I wanted it to. Secondly, I remembered the penalty for skill failures about halfway through the encounter… too late to add them in. I made up for it by rolling a third d6 for each player passing through the center of the storm.
When they landed in the courtyard, I realized I’d have to do away with their mounts. I didn’t spring the ambush right away. Instead the players arrived to a vacant courtyard, with the solitary feature of the Raven Queen’s Throne, formed out of the still living bones of Nerull, sitting centrally on a dias. The four corners of the courtyard each had a rampart, 15 feet high and surrounded by magical glyphs. The throne was surrounded by glyphs as well. The first person to touch the throne (Akmenos) tripped the trap, teleporting each player to a separate tower and causing the Sorrowsworn and Angels of Shadow, waiting beneath the balconies, to attack.
- The throne restrained (save ends) and dealt 4d10 + 15 radiant & necrotic damage to any males who sat within it. First failed save; Stunned (save ends). Second failed save; Petrified, becoming one with the chair (no save).
The social encounter with the Raven Queen went about as well as I could expect. The dice really wanted Chloe to do a lot of talking, so I had to make up lots of rhymes on the spot. The first appearance of Morrigan scared my players and my dogs into silence as I slapped the table hard enough to knock some miniatures over. Followed by the whispered words of Khala, they then realized they weren’t dealing with a “sane” person.
- Some fun highlights:
- A lost soul appeared, bowed on one knee, but got no words out as the Queen slapped it back into the Maelstrom, shouting “Not now!”
- The warlord beseeched the Queen about the plight of the mortal land and their need to save it, to which she replied, “And what concern has the mortal world over you now, spirit?”
- The warlord demanded his life back, to which the Queen just got really angry. When he finally showed respect, bowing on a knee, another spirit appeared right next to him, same as before, bowing just the same. “You see, you are no different than they. Each begs and pleads, listing the multitude of reasons they should live. Yet all forget, I am not the god of the living, I am the god of the dead.”
- The Raven Queen finally, peacefully, began to call the refugees forward. As they obeyed, the minotaur fought to hold them back, picking up Solphi and throwing her away from the Queen, yet still they were drawn closer to the Dark Lady. The minotaur placed himself between the Queen and the refugees as she sought to grant them peace, and we all rolled initiative.
When we rolled initiative, I realized it was going to be a lame encounter. To buy me some time, I left the Queen with the defenses of a level 31 and described her getting weaker as the remaining angels and sorrowsworn fell. By the time the players were ready to alpha strike her, I had my answer.
- Chloe, god of fate, forces a reroll on all hits.
- Morrigan, god of war and death can only be hit by melee attacks.
- Khala, god of winter can only be hit by arcane attacks.
I paired her attitudes with combat effects and it worked out really well both in mechanics and for role playing. After she was bloodied, she got more powerful (wasn’t planning on it, but a player verbalized his suspicions and I rolled with it), all her damage (including aura) went up by five and her defenses up by two. She started screaming at the players as she continued her attacks, “Who will take my place?”, “You think yourself worthy?”, “If you kill me, what then, what of the lost souls, what of the dead?”
When she died I described the mist around the citadel receding and the cyclone above the courtyard breaking apart, scattering souls in all directions. Immediately the demons and shadows moved in for the kill, devouring souls in a feeding frenzy. Like blood in the water, the sky darkened as hordes of sinister beings rushed in for a quick meal. The Angels of Shadow did what they could, but were vastly outnumbered.
The players bickered for a while over what to do, I dropped as many clues as I could as could, before finally resorting to the giant arrow in the sky… Upon inspecting the throne they find it is magically attuned to females.
Suri speaks with the players about their choices, Ilsa and Jennifer chime in, but they aren’t really an option and everyone knows it. Suri once again makes the sacrifice. They place the Queen’s body on the chair and as Nerull rips the soul from her weakened flesh, Suri briefly displaces time, sits within the chair, and their spirits combine. The Raven Queen is whole again.
Suri still, denies everyone their life back. The minotaur refuses the Queens right over the girl, Solphi. Jennifer begs for and is granted peace; Dangar vows to find Jennifer’s resting place. Chadwink asks if his family will be together in the afterlife, the Queen replies no, but that they wouldn’t even notice. Chadwink decides his family will stay in the palace, as the Queens retinue.
The Raven Queen, Suri, explains that she is now the god of Death and Justice. Souls will go where they deserve from now on, rather than just at the whim of the Dark Lady. She cannot bring the heroes back to the land of the living, but she realizes now that Fate has many paths, and a new journey begins here, in the Shadowfell.