Today’s session picked up where the previous one had left off, with the players negotiating with the former Crimson Legion crew member who had turned to cannibalism to survive. Convincing him that they were going to save him – even though he had practically no chance of surviving the swim back, they were able to find some notes from a former monk at the temple (which had been preserved in this small pocket) as well as some lore books. Here I basically used this to give some background information to the PCs and ensure they gained more of an idea as to what was going on. Quickly summarised I informed them about:
Some of the capabilities of demons
Where creatures from the Far Realm (Called Xoriat) are from in Eberron
History of the world, with the fall of the age of demons.
Most important to the lore/worldbuilding of this campaign was the stuff from the monk about what happened at the temple. While much of the writing was faded and destroyed, some of the passages survived and they gained some important information. They learned a disaster befell the temple more than 100 years ago and that it started when the head of the Disciples of Light picked up a mysterious pearl from a merchant, which when touched began to turn a dark shade of black. Soon the head of the order, called Ezrakiel, started to become obsessed with the artifact and became ever more reclusive. Plus he started to take a turn for the worse, reading tomes and forbidden lore he shouldn’t be delving into from their library. Unfortunately for the monk, they didn’t realize what this curiosity meant until it was too late and by the time they made an assault on the inner sanctum of the temple, the cult had firmly taken hold. Whatever terrible things happened in that battle are yet to be fully revealed by the players just yet…
What made me very happy is that I put in a passage about “Spiral like” tattoos on the priest and after a while one of my players immediately recognized that it must be the same symbol as the Crimson Legion – exactly right! The same cult that took hold in the Disciples of Light is the same one that has reemerged over a hundred years later once again! This was an excellent and completely correct leap of logic, which made me feel pretty happy with how this turned out.
In any event, the PCs continued on and struck at the hated Sahuagin, which occupied the lower parts of the temple. Here is where I actually remembered that these Sahuagin had been twisted horribly by the powers of Xoriat, with strange mutations and powers. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be 5E without some kind of random table nonsense, so here it is, the Sahuagin Taint table:
Sahuagin here are tainted, warped and corrupted by exposure to Demogorgons magics and the far realm, so may display unusual or interesting traits. Any of the following abilities may be found among the tainted Sahuagin of the Sunken temple – but usually only one. Roll once on the table below, adding whatever trait to the creature is rolled.
1 Long tentacles: The Sahuagin has reach 10 and has advantage on grappling checks and does not need melee weapons. The tentacle has a +3 attack bonus and inflicts 1d6+2 bludgeoning damage on a hit and the target is grappled (escape DC 13). The Sahuagin can only grapple two creatures in total and can only direct further tentacle attacks against those targets. Large Sahuagin with this trait have a +6 attack bonus and double the damage on a successful hit to 2d6+4.
2 Poisonous bite: Targets bitten by a Sahugain’s bite must make a DC 10 constitution save or take an additional 1d8 poison damage.
3 Bloodthirsty Insanity: The Sahuagin gurgles manically (akin to laughter) and acts erratically at the best of times. It is immune to charm and fear effects, and must take a bonus action at the start of each of its turn to attack any creature within melee reach (if possible). If there are multiple choices, the Sahuagin attacks a target at random.
4 Thick mucous: +1 AC and enemies that miss may have their weapon lodge in the creatures mucus. DC 11 strength check to pull out weapons that have become lodged in this manner.
5 Blindsight: The Sahuagin has no eyes, but instead has blindsight up to 30 feet. If underwater, this radius increases to 60 feet.
6 Elemental Resistance: When hit by a spell with an elemental keyword (Acid, lighting, thunder, cold, fire) roll a d20. On a roll of 12+ the Sahuagin absorbs some of the magic taking ½ damage from the attack and adding +1d6 damage of the same energy type to its next melee attack.
7 Physically Unstable: When dropped to 0 HP, roll a d20: On a roll of 15+ the Sahuagin does not die but instead splits into two and creates another identical creature. Both the original creature and the newly created clone have half the normal HP (rounding down). This trait cannot be triggered more than once per day.
8 Constant Gibber: The Sahuagin has been afflicted with hundreds of mouths, which go into overdrive upon seeing an enemy and constantly create disruptive noise (even underwater). Enemies which start their turn within 20 feet of the Sahuagin must succeed at a DC 8 wisdom saving throw or lose their reactions until the beginning of their next turn.
9 Horrifying: Warped and mutilated beyond belief, this Sahuagin is simply terrifying to behold and enemies that begin their turn able to see the Sahuagin must succeed at a DC 8 wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on a success. If a creatures save is successful or the effect ends for it, they are immune to the tainted Sahuagin’s fear effects for the next 24 hours.
10 Double Mutations: Re-roll on this table twice. This result can only be obtained once.”
I deliberately chose not to pre-roll these and instead did them dynamically as the PCs entered the two encounters with the Sahuagin. This had precisely the desired effect in creating confusion and worry in the players, while not really bothering the challenge of any encounters particularly much (the one horrifying Sahuagin rolled died horribly pretty early on). Additionally, this combat saw the first use of my 5e version of the wonderful 13th Age escalation mechanic:
Escalation is basically the idea that as a fight goes on, the heroes (I use that term loosely in some ways ;)) gain momentum and desperation, striking at the monsters with ever more accuracy and damage. Beginning on round 2, a D6 die is put onto the battlemap (or somewhere you can see). This die is the escalation die and it starts at 1. Every round afterwards, it increases by 1 so on the 3rd round of combat, it becomes +2 etc, up to a maximum of +6.
This adds a straight bonus to all attack and damage rolls performed by player characters. Summoned monsters, or your allies do *not* gain this bonus – only player characters. Escalation only increases when you are meaningfully engaging enemies in a round – so if nobody attacks (for whatever reason) escalation decreases by 1 (or potentially more). Escalation only stays as long as there is a battle – as soon as a fight ends the die goes away.
Monsters in general do not benefit from escalation except in certain circumstances where they may interact with it. Some can gain only the bonus to damage, others may gain both the hit and damage bonus (making them *exceptional* threats) and others still may decrease the escalation die, prevent it from increasing or any number of other effects”
So as a very quick summary: Worked absolutely 100% as intended. I managed to make both encounters of the night tense, dramatic and fun, but the “Clean up” parts went much faster and better with the PCs more easily able to hit and deal additional damage. It’s a particularly fantastic idea and I couldn’t have been happier with the way it interfaced with the rules.
In any event, the first encounter saw the PCs battling Sahuagin, a terribly large hunter shark and a Sahuagin priestess in a water covered prison. Naturally, like the vile Kuo-Toa the Sahuagin take humanoid prisoners that survive shipwrecks and contain them for later consumption and general torture.
This encounter was built around the idea that the Sahuagin could swim on the bottom of the prison, 30′ underwater to evade attacks and to give them a mobility advantage from their swim speed – while the PCs could retreat to the upper parts of the prison to fight from there. Overall this worked and the Sahuagin, who ended up horrifying, mucusy, mad (the priestess, most amusingly) or resistant to elemental attacks took their initial opportunities and blocked the players easily getting into the room from the corridor (Noting I have made opportunity attacks trigger on moving through enemies threatened spaces – no more dancing around someone in combat!).
Things went well for a bit, but then the Sahuagins ability to consistently gain advantage attacking PCs allowed them to score some big crits at key moments, tearing the rogue to pieces, dragging the cleric under the water and even putting a good dent in the Barbarians health. The rogue losing his magic rapier in the mucus of one of the tainted Sahuagin didn’t help either! However, the Wizard after recovering from a quick nap (by being knocked unconscious) by desperation casting sleep and rolling absurdly good: 38 HP or so – which was just enough to put even the 35 HP hunter shark down! The resulting massive critical hits from the players on the asleep Sahuagin, Priestess and Hunter Shark rapidly put the encounter to a close – but at a pretty high cost!
It was good that this encounter felt like a good tactical challenge, but the escalation mechanic combined with the number of players (they had things fairly under control even when the cleric got dragged into the water) meant they were never in any threat of being overwhelmed into a TPK. As mentioned, the use of sleep at that moment was a very good decision and easily ensured the monsters did no further major damage. The second encounter of the night was fought entirely underwater against a vile Malenti Sahuagin Baron, who had been violently tainted by Xoriat: He ended up with 3 mutations! Resistance to elements, a long pair of sinuous tentacle arms and was completely bloodthirsty! The Barbarian got his first taste of being unconscious (multiple times in fact) as the Baron smacked him with tentacles, bit deeply and then whacked the half-orc with his massive trident.
Things soon became messy, but the Baron’s blood thirsty madness soon saw him begin to strike down his own servants at whim! Dispatching his own reef sharks and one of his minions! This wasn’t because he lacked player characters to choose from either, it was the Barbarians oddly canny luck in rolling low enough that the Baron consistently targeted his own men (I had the player in question roll the d6 to see who the bloodthirst would attack to build tension and drama). Inevitably the Baron and his servants took some major chunks out of the PCs, but they prevailed and took the Barons half of the key to the delight Ezrakiel (who they now know is definitely not the original leader of the cult).
One thing that I have been pondering since these two encounters, even though they ultimately worked fine, is how many monsters have a general power or ability to generate advantage easily. Sahuagin and Reef Sharks in particular generate advantage trivially when attacking enemies who are damaged or just whenever another enemy is near the ally. In many ways, a lot of the worst damage inflicted on PCs by these monsters was actually entirely through crit fishing (ironically bites in particular). This was because if you’ve taken damage, congrats, that Sahuagin is rolling 2 attacks with advantage against you and has a more than decent chance to crit (especially if it gets a couple of rounds). I am thinking that many of these abilities will be modified to only work when a target is flanked – which will add to the tactical complexity but ensure they can’t just mob players trivially to gain advantage (and also gives players tactical ways to avoid these benefits).
This modification would also do a lot to nerf wolves and other problematic summons that generate advantage trivially.
In any event, my players boldly went to the vault, after debating if there is some kind of demon or similar trapped in there (nobody knows… yet). When they reached the chamber, there was evidence of a major battle and numerous dessicated bones and broken weapons scattered all over the entrance. Upon approaching, a ethereal ghost of an old monk rose from one of the bodies and pointed a spectral finger at them “Go back! This place is cursed and none who come here will survive!” in a threatening/warning manner. Naturally one player asked the ghostly monk – who is one of the disciples of light – if the “Black Pearl” was inside and the ghost confirmed intoning “What is your intent for this evil item? Who are you?” so one of the players responds with “Oh we’re cultists!”.
It’s moments like these as a DM that you just think “He didn’t, did he?” so I decided to stop things and ask “Are you actually going to say that you’re cultists to the ghost?”. There is a moment of silence for a while before he goes “Yep, I’m saying that we’re cultists”. Naturally the ghost, having fought against and tried to stop the cult over 100 years ago, was aghast at this and immediately raised his undead allies to attack the party. What I was hoping would be a short roleplaying encounter to give some more background, did indeed turn into a fight! That’s what happens in roleplaying games though and next week they will have to face another encounter before the dramatic finale… all as time begins to slowly run out on their window for escape…