Curse of the Black Pearls
Returning to DnD this week I dealt with the aftermath of the previous adventure in the first few moments and then moved the game along to their return to the privateers court. This did feel a bit accelerated, but I wanted to keep the story moving along and move towards the adventures I had redesigned with the new plot constraints in mind. Of course things weren’t entirely this simple because a lot of the party had actually altered their characters to some degree.
Generally speaking, one of the difficult things about DnD type games is that players sometimes find themselves unhappy or disappointed, which is usually the result of their characters not performing the way they would like them to. In this game the cleric Narvarie and the thief Calliara were feeling particularly left out by the effectiveness of their characters. This prompted a little upheaval in the parties classes, with Narvarie moving towards a Ranger/Cleric build and Calliara becoming a Paladin/Warlock build. Even Kasswok joined in and changed some elements around to become more focused around using two handed attacks.
This meant that there was quite a different prospect for me to deal with when I moved around and redesigned this encounter for tonight. The objective here was originally a response from Talitha and the Crimson Legion to acquire pearls that the PCs had taken, but the fight felt thematically appropriate to move forwards and showed that Talitha was still paying close attention to what they were doing. I did need to redesign some elements, because the PCs would be much lower level but the overall theme was the same: A thief grabs one of the pearls and then runs through the rainy streets of Regalport to hand it off to a contact attempting to teleport back to Talitha’s ship.
And the PCs goal was to stop them before it was too late.
This encounter has multiple elements to it and I’ll try to describe it as well as I can. The first and most important is that it uses a map from a wonderful 4th Edition Supplement called Gloomwrought of a large section of city streets. This is the map below:
This is a very large map with a lot going on, especially considering this is mid-combat and so I’ll start with the general set up. Initially the legion have a guy steal the pearl off whoever happens to have it and then run through the rain soaked streets as quickly as he can. An initial short chase ensues, where the characters get an athletics check and an action to reduce the starting lead of 12 down to as little as possible. This determines how many squares away the thief starts when the encounter begins away from the rest of the PCs (with any damage additionally carrying over into the encounter itself). In this case after chasing successfully and pelting him with some spells, the guy ended up being only 6 squares ahead at the start of the encounter, which in this case is the upper left corner of the photograph.
For the thief his objective is to get to his contact in the inn on the second floor of the building in the lower right corner. He does nothing else except attempt to move there as quickly as possible and without being damaged or interfered with. A ring of magic resistance (gives advantage on all saving throws against magical effects for an encounter, but then becomes inactive until it is charged appropriately) helps him avoid immediate chase ending spells (like hold person) and continually taking the dodge action meant that PCs could keep up with him, but had a lot of difficulty actually landing blows on him. Possibly the best fortune of the entire encounter was him rolling 19 for initiative and therefore securing going first before any of the PCs, so the chase was certainly on!
Once the thief gets to the second floor of the inn, he hands it to Archon – one of Talitha’s warforged soldiers – who immediately becomes a target of a teleportation spell attempting to draw him out of the city. At this point the PCs have a mere 3 turns before he is pulled away and the pearl is gone for good, adding a second desperate layer to the chase and effectively breaking the encounter into two parts: The chase and a final desperate show down at the inn. In reality the actual “scene” here, to borrow from Night’s Black Agents/Trail of Cthulhu parlance is actually that showdown at the inn and not so much the chase.
Of course I also complicated matters for the PCs by having the legion waiting for them in alleyways, rooftops and in the inn itself. 5 legionnaires (ordinarily they are veterans, but they have some extra powers like the ability to attempt to trip an enemy as a bonus action) were lurking down these streets. In reality they are not terribly threatening to 7th level PCs at all but what they do in this *specific* context is make it so the PCs have to do something other than chase as fast as they possibly can. In the shot above you can see that the pirates were able to outflank and then trap the PCs into the narrow alley, meaning they needed to risk opportunity attacks or could not easily run past them.
This meant combined with the dodging and magic resistance, that the thief got through most of the alley section without too much damage. This worked extremely well and again, not a lot of damage to the PCs but it did keep them from just focusing every effort on the dodging thief. Narvarie and a Crimson Legionnaire exchanged arrows and bolts on the streets during this time, which showed off the impressive damage potential of the new ranger/cleric combination. Additionally Reebu climbed up a roof at one point to get a better view and then failed to hold his footing, sliding down onto the cobblestone path below and nearly breaking his gnomish coccyx! OUCH! It also meant that their mage could not bomb the alley with a fireball or similar (even with the rain giving a dousing effect to fire magic). Meanwhile because the legionnaires bogged the PCs down the real threat emerged: A mage!
Here I used the map to wonderful effect, with the mage (lower left corner, which represents the second floor of the inn) hiding out in the upper window. He turned the thief invisible for a start (which meant no more needing the dodge action) and then dumped an ice storm right into that alley where everything was above. The massive chunk of ice and the difficult terrain made life very difficult for the PCs trying to pursue! Eventually the fight moved into the inn, with a pirate doggedly attempting to halt Kasswok and then the thief got up to the second floor! Desperate, Rowan decided to climb up to the second floor window of the inn and barge in straight past the mage, successfully knocking him out of the way to try to interrupt whatever was happening.
But it was already too late.
The timer started with me promptly putting the d6 down with “3” face up on it and the thief handed off the pearl. Archon would be gone within only a matter of turns (Rowan identified the magic as a teleportation spell). Noting at this point the spell could easily be recognized as similar to the one the PCs had used on them to get them off the sunken temple many sessions ago! Here facing down the barrel of losing the second pearl Reebu decided to come up with a fantastic plan: Using his new dimension door (after some discussion where it would legally let him go) he burst from the closet in the inn and used a heroic action (gives a player another action) to cast a fear spell.
Both Archon and the thief failed their saves, prompting Archon to drop the pearl and then madly scramble (with Calliara and Rowan) to grab it, with Calliara succeeding by miles. With the fear effect in place, Archon and the thief charged out the window and disappeared into the night, with Archon being teleported away back to Talitha’s ship. You basically wouldn’t want to be him in other words….
With their leaders gone the rest of the legion fled, even as a strange headache overtook the PCs and they wound up on a strange greyscale ship. Men were running all around them and in the background, a massive wall of rapidly moving fog absorbed different ships – living spells cascading from it like sparks slamming down onto the overburdened military ships (with civilians) to slaughter the occupants indiscriminately. After a while the PCs knew where they were: Talitha’s ship during the day of mourning and sure enough, there she was.
This shared memory, caused by their contact with the pearls corruption allowed them to have a chat to Talitha. Essentially this was a narrative means for me to have my players interact with Talitha, get to know her better and provide context plus motivation behind her actions (remembering I’ve had several players leave, so a couple of the newer players have not got any real context with Talitha). Establishing this as a general mechanic or “thing that happens when you get pearls” allows me to give roleplaying interactions and context to Talitha over time – helping to make her seem less of a distant unknown force, but rather a woman with actual motivations and goals behind what she is doing.
Although I had to shorten this session for other reasons, this interaction seemed to work extremely well and brought the plot back in line again. Overall it seems the party traded some defense for an overall increase in offense, except the warlock who seems to have gained both elements (especially with the impressive AC of 20). I am going to be most curious what the council thinks of the PCs when they get to meet them again next session… with the pearl. I was most pleased though with the comments from players afterwards about how this encounter went, where giving a different objective and contextualizing the encounter beyond “Line up here, they line up there, kill one another” added an interesting dimension.
Look for a more full description of this encounter (including suggestions) in an upcoming Training Day!