Friday, June 26, 2009

Praktas - The Rat Lord's Lair

Game Date: 6/27/09

Drew Baker (Bryan) - Human Fighter (Tempest style)
Damakos Redhorn (Rick) - Tiefling Rogue (Brutal style)

Surprise session:
Matt2 wasn't available to DM this weekend, so I ran them through a Praktas game. Parts of this session were taken from "The Rat Lord's Lair" (a short adventure detailed in "Dungeon Master for Dummies" 3.5 version).

We only have about 10 Tantris sessions left before Matt2 moves away, so I've been fleshing out the setting for the games I DM. Who knows how long it will be before we find another group, so in the meantime I want to make sure I'm prepared to DM as often as needed.

So, I've designed a city where most of the action will take place, and some of the nearby areas. Most of it is taken from my NeverWinter Nights module, Itropa. The main city is Trasa (I'm already sometimes saying "Tantris" when I mean "Trasa"). It's a coastal town who gets a lot of its income from sea trade. A river flows through the center of town, emptying into the sea to the south. There are slums on the west side of town, and posh neighborhoods on the east side. Trasa's law enforcement relies partially on their Bounty Hunter Guild, which the PCs will eventually be able to join.

North of town is the Koramil forest, so-called because it lies between the Elven city of Kora (Northwest) and a small Halfling community called Mil (Northeast). Far to the north are the towns of Alta (a rich, snooty town) and Valos (a town ruled by criminals). To the East of Trasa there is a mountain range, in which lies the Orc town of Fist.

House Rules:
Since this will end up being a permanent alternate campaign setting, I've set up a few house rules for the group as well. This is a difficult campaign because we've only got two players, and they only like to play melee characters. It's mostly going to be fighters and thieves, so I've got to plan sessions around the fact that they can't heal or do high-damage spells. So most of the house rules are set to make things a little easier for them, but I might be overdoing it, so I'm sure some tweaking will be needed further down the line. Also, some rules have nothing to do with difficulty, and are just for fun. The rules so far:

1. Buyable Potions: Some magic items will be sold in stores, including healing potions. Of course, the players could take advantage of this by stocking up and using canned magic to get through a dungeon, but I doubt it. With 4e, even if you buy 1000 healing potions, you're still restricted by your max number of healing surges. And they probably won't want to spend too much money when they're trying to save up for more important things, like joining the Bounty Hunter Guild.

2. Magic Items: Official 4e rules have you unable to wear more than one magic item per level. In my game you can wear as many magic items as you want. However, there will still be limits to what items they can find or buy, so I'll still keep them from getting decked out like gods at first level.

3. Pets and Henchmen: The town has pets for sale, and henchmen for hire. I'm going to allow each player one pet at a time. The more powerful the pet, the more it costs. The player will control the pet, giving that player two turns per round. However, when controlling the pet, the player must treat the animal as a dumb animal. No battle strategies, coordinating with the owner, etc. The animal will run towards the nearest or most threatening enemy and attack it. So far they've handled this pretty well, but if they start taking advantage of it, I'll declare the DM as universal animal handler.

The party may have one hired henchman at a time (not including plot-related companions), and they are always DM-controlled. XP will be divided among all party members, including pets, and pets/henchmen do not gain levels. So it is in the party's best interest to keep a smaller group if they want to level faster. Hired henchmen will also demand a share of the loot.

4. Micromanagement: I am not going to worry about things like eating and rent, unless specific situations demand it. It is assumed that between adventures, the characters do other odd jobs that make them enough money to break even on the costs of living. Of course there may be the occasional adventure where they run low on food and have to keep track of it, or hunt and forage to survive. I'm also not going to worry about basic ammunition, since that's so cheap it barely matters. Of course, I will still have them keep track of magic ammunition.

5. Death: If the characters die, depending on circumstances, I will sometimes allow them to choose whether they remain dead, or have me come up with an explanation for their survival (with XP/GP loss). Once they make the decision for the characters to be dead, it’s final. Sometimes their next characters will find the bodies of their old characters, allowing the transfer of loot, but not always.

Whenever the two current characters die, or Bryan and Rick just get tired of them, I'd like to try running an evil campaign with a more balanced pair of characters. They would probably enjoy the upcoming Assassin class, so I hope to keep the current characters alive until Assassin is available in September. Given how rarely we play the Praktas sessions, it shouldn't be a problem.

6. Critical Miss: Just for fun, I have drawn up a Fumble Chart. If they roll a 1 on an attack roll, they will then roll a d100 on the fumble chart. Some outcomes are good, but most are bad, and the higher the better. I'm not going to let my players see the chart, nor will I detail it here. There are no loss-of-limb or instant death outcomes on the chart, though some of the bottom 10 can leave a permanent scar. Overall, it's not nearly as harsh as most fumble charts I've seen.

Even so, during this session, they managed to harm themselves a few times with the chart, so I don't know how well it went over. The funniest bit: Rick rolled a 1 on an attack roll. He rolled very high on the fumble chart, so high that his character recovered from his miss and managed to get in a second attack. On the second attack he rolled a one again, this time rolling low on the chart and hitting himself with the weapon.

7. Divine Intervention: Starting at second level, once per level, and only if you are in good standing with your deity, you may make a prayer which will be answered. It might not be answered the way you were hoping, and it should probably be reserved for life-or-death emergencies. These wishes can not be saved up; it resets at 1 each level. I got this idea from someone on the WOTC forums.

The Session:
When we last left Drew and Damakos, they had looted the bodies of Daalan and Ghargoff, then went for drinks to celebrate. While at the bar they were attacked by assassins, and the tavern burned to the ground.

While the town didn't specifically blame Drew and Damakos for the bar burning down, it was enough to get them labeled as troublemakers. They also recognized Drew's Lifedrinker Longsword as the one that had previously been wielded by the hero Daalan. So the pair was banished from Fallcrest.

They walked down the road for a few hours, just seeing where the trail led. Eventually a merchant wagon pulled up beside them and offered them a ride. The merchant's pet cougar was resting inside. The merchant was travelling to Trasa, and the three took turns driving for the next few days. On the last day of the trip, the wagon was attacked by bandits, and the merchant was killed. The players had to deal with an out-of-control, flaming cart filled with explosive firebombs. Then Drew, Damakos, and the cougar had to fight the bandits themselves (a human ranger with a pet wolf, and a female Dragonborn). The PCs quickly defeated the would-be thieves.

After a charisma check, the cougar decided Drew was her new best friend, and the three continued to Trasa on foot. Upon arrival, they spent overnight in at The Blue Acorn Inn. The next morning they found a job opportunity posted on the Inn's bulletin board. They players gambled a little while waiting for the bartender's attention.

This is the part that was taken from Dungeon Master for Dummies. The bartender, a gruff dwarf named Bjorn Wallbanger, took them through the back room, down some stairs, and to a locked door. Bjorn was very proud of the door, believing it to be impenetrable. This was his vault, where people paid him to keep their valuables. And yet, for the past few nights, some things had been disappearing.

Bjorn proposed that the PCs hide in some crates overnight, to see if they could catch the thief in the act. At about 2 AM, the PCs heard someone wandering around the room. The trespasser could smell them, and tried to trick the PCs into surrendering. The PCs jumped out of their crates and attacked. It was a halfling, who yelled, "You'll never catch Needletooth, Lord of the Rats!" as he dove behind some crates and ordered a couple of large rat minions to attack the PCs.

It was a short battle, but it still gave the Rat Lord time to escape. The PCs found a freshly-burrowed hole in the wall (it looked as if the hole had been opened and resealed several times). The bartender Bjorn then entered the room and offered the PCs more money if they would go through the tunnel. He promised them an even greater reward if they managed to retrieve the stolen items, and he was particularly worried about a certain missing dagger. He handed them a checklist of the stolen items:

1 bag of gems
3 bags of gold
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of boots
1 pair of bracers
1 pair of gloves
2 vials of liquid
1 exquisite dagger

The PCs widened the tunnel entrance and followed it down, until they reached a wide open chamber. It was full of goblin miners, to whom the Rat Lord shouted, "100 gold pieces to the goblin who brings me the heads of those intruders!" before darting out the far exit.

It didn't take long to kill the goblins, and the PCs continued on toward the final chamber. The Rat Lord's chamber was swarming with rats, covering the entire floor (counting as rough terrain). The encounter consisted of Needletooth, who now morphed into his were-rat form, accompanied by a younger were-rat companion and two rat minions. There was also one specific swarm of rats that moved randomly around the room, the only normal rats who could actually cause damage.

The enemies managed to spot them before they entered the room, and they got the highest initiative, so most of this battle was spent in the entrance hallway. This actually worked out well for the PCs, because it meant melee was one-on-one, and the cougar was in front. None of the enemies had ranged attacks (in retrospect I probably should have at least given the Rat Lord a crossbow).

After the Rat Lord was killed, the rest of the room's rats fled the room through various grates. This is the end of the part that was covered in Dungeon Master for Dummies.

The PCs found everything on the list except for the dagger. A few of the items looked very well-crafted, so the PCs decided to get them appraised before returning them. After all, they could always claim they only found some of the items. They also found a small egg-shaped device, and another vial of liquid with it.

Before leaving Needletooth's lair, they found a crumpled-up note:

Meet me at my grave at Midnight. Bring the dagger.
- Mistress Rubin

On the back of the note was a badly drawn map of the local cemetary, with an X drawn over one of the crypts.

The next stop was Shifty's, a 24-hour pawn shop primarily frequented by thieves. "Hmmm, that's interesting," remarked Shifty, "a bartender was just in here earlier asking about a very similar list of items." The three bags of gold from the list contained a total of 120 coins, which was exactly the amount it cost to appraise the rest of the magic items. The PCs decided to keep some of them, and give a really good lie when returning the rest. The items:

1 bag of gems - Was worth 435 gp. Shifty offered 200, PCs decided to return them to Bjorn.
3 bags of gold - Totalled 120 gp. PCs used to pay Shifty to identify the magic items.
1 pair of sandals - Feyleaf Sandals. Damakos kept.
1 pair of boots - Catstep Boots. Drew kept.
1 pair of bracers - Bracers of Respite. PCs returned to Bjorn.
1 pair of gloves - Gloves of Kitten Summoning, a gag item of my own design. PCs returned.
2 vials of liquid - Potions of Regeneration. PCs returned.
egg-shaped device - Holy Hand Grenade. Another gag item, but a very powerful one that the PCs should probably save for a true emergency. PCs kept; it wasn't on the list anyway. The grenade was accompanied by another vial of liquid, which turned out to be a Potion of Protection from Radiant, which is meant to be taken before using the grenade, in case the thrower is caught in the blast radius. I have drawn up a very complicated set of instructions for use of the HHG, and if the thrower rolls badly, he could very easily kill himself.

So, the PCs returned to the Blue Acorn, and gave some of the items back to Bjorn. Damakos explained that they had only found a few of the items, but he didn't roll very high on his bluff check. Fortunately, the bartender really didn't seem to care much about the missing items, as he was mostly concerned about the dagger. The PCs managed to get him to elaborate on the dagger's importance. It turned out that the dagger was designed to kill a vampire that had been terrorizing the town. The PCs mentioned Needletooth's note, and Bjorn offered them even more money if they would go to the crypt and retrieve the dagger. He also mentioned that the town itself was offering a reward for the vampire's death.

The PCs spent the night at the Inn, and set out the next day for the graveyard. They made a conscious effort to reach the crypt early, so that it would still be daytime when they encountered the vampire's lair. Damakos had to pick the lock to enter the mausoleum, where they found a trapdoor with a ladder leading down into the darkness.

Eventually they found themselves in a long, skinny room:

The PCs started on the far left side, at the first red L. Five feet in, the room started to slope downwards. I wasn't quite sure what this would do to movement, so I ruled that they could add 1 to their move when going downhill, and subtract 1 if moving uphill. At the bottom of the slope was a pit, and the ground on the other side of the pit was level again. The far right wall had a lever on it (the purple L), and another ladder going down yet again (the bottom right L).

In front of the pit there were four skeletons (the blues S's). Once Drew, Damakos, and the cougar had reached the room's halfway point, they heard a sickening gloopy sound, like that of jellied cranberries being shaken out of a can. A gelatanous cube slowly slid down from a hole in the ceiling, landing where the green C's are on the map. It went from wall to wall, blocking any possible retreat. Each round it went downhill (to the right on the map) one square. So the battle now had a time limit.

The PCs killed three of the skeletons (Drew using the "Bull Rush" move to push one into the pit), and the cougar died during the battle. Once he had a clear path, Drew jumped over the pit and pulled the lever. This caused the pit to close so Damakos could run across. Just in time, too, as the cube was almost to the "S" squares by this time.

They then pushed the lever back so the pit would re-open, keeping the final skeleton and the cube from reaching them. Deciding not to push their luck (the surviving skeleton had a crossbow Damakos was bleeding profusely) they went down the ladder.

Damakos was out of healing surges, and retreat was no longer possible. So I decided to be nice to them. They managed to find an out-of-the-way alcove where Damakos could take an extended rest while Drew stood guard.

They finally found the vampire's lair. It was a 6x8 room (that's 30 feet by 40 feet), with a coffin in the center and an altar at the far end. The dagger was resting on the altar, and there were two levers on the wall, one on each side of the altar. Drew went to the coffin and thrust his sword through the top (it was empty), while Damakos retrieved the dagger. Then they decided to pull the levers, simultaneously. The noise alerted the vampire, who burst through the door, accompanied by a large vampire bat.

Okay, this trap didn't work out very well. How this was supposed to work: If the PCs hadn't pulled the levers themselves, once the vampire finally entered the room, she would have pulled the right-hand lever. Each round for the duration of the battle, there would be a mechanical sound in the walls, and a spike would shoot up from one square on the floor. I would roll a d6 and a d8 to decide which square (I had numbered the sides of the map to correspond to the die rolls), and if the square happened to be the altar or the coffin, nothing would happen. Well... only once during the battle did the square turn out not to be the coffin or the altar. The odds have got to be astronomical (though admittedly I did forget to do the spike on a couple of rounds).

The other lever filled the room with sunlight. Light reached all the squares except for the outer edges. Both the vampire and the bat hated sunlight, and at first stayed at the edges of the map. However, neither enemy had a ranged attack, so they had to risk the sunlight in order to damage the PCs.

Okay, originally I had intended to give the vampire natural regeneration, and the only effect of sunlight was to halt her regen. The bat wasn't going to be harmed by sunlight at all. However, it became clear early on that the PCs were outmatched, so I did a little nerfing on-the-fly. No regen, and both baddies could be damaged by sunlight. So anyway, the battle was tough at first, but the PCs eventually figured out ways to draw the enemies into the light. Both PCs got bitten by Mistress Rubin at least once during the course of the fight, bites which healed her a little.

Damakos used the exquisite dagger on her a lot during the fight, and it was the most damaging weapon they could have used. In reality it was just a +1 dagger, but against that specific vampire it was +5. I didn't tell them that I was adding extra damage, but they did realize it was the best weapon they had against her.

Once she died, they took her head, the dagger, and the only loot in the room (an Amulet of Health), and returned to the Blue Acorn. Bjorn sent a runner to the town council, who sent a representative to present the reward for the vampire. Bjorn let them keep the dagger, since it was no longer of any use to him.

That's when Bjorn noticed their vampire bites. He suggested they visit a friend of his, a High Priest of Moradin named Darrow Lightbeard. The High Priest examined the wounds, and told the players they were going to die if they couldn't get some sort of counter-curse within a tenday. It turned out that Mistress Rubin was not a true vampire, but rather the victim of a vampiric curse placed upon her by the Predek the Necromancer.

Darrow could not remove the curse without knowing how Predek did it, so he sent the PCs to find Predek's tower. He sent a cleric with them, a dwarf named Hector Goldheart. Hector had burns all over half of his face, which prevented him from growing a full beard. So he would shave the other half of the beard to match, leaving him with a long, curly goatee.

While in town, the PCs decided to buy a couple of more pets. Drew bought a bear, and Damakos bought a wolf. So the party now had five members. The church let them borrow a couple of horses, and it was two day's journey to Predek's tower. On the way they passed through the town of Mil, a halfling town that was once a graveyard. For some reason, the founders of the town had converted ancient mausoleums into houses. Well, the people of Mil now complained that the dead had been rising lately, and they felt it might be Predek's fault. So they offered an additional reward for Predek's capture.

The PCs arrived at Predek's tower. It was a circular tower, three stories high. There were no windows on the first two floors, but the front door was unlocked. Damakos peeked into the front door. The ground floor was one large, square room. It appeared to be larger on the inside than the tower was on the outside. There was a door on the opposite wall, with four locks. Four skeletons stood around the door, as unmoving as statues. Each skeleton held a sword in its right hand, and a key in its left. They didn't attack even as the party entered the room.

The PCs figured that the skeletons would probably come to life once the keys were taken, so Damakos, Drew, and Hector each stood in front of a skeleton and prepared to grab a key. When the first key was taken, the entrance door slammed shut and an illusion of Predek appeared and spoke a pre-recorded message:

“Hello, you have reached the Tower of Predek the Necromancer. I do not wish to be disturbed right now, which means you are not welcome here. Please enjoy your death, followed by your eternal servitude as one of my undead minions.”

Then the skeletons came to life. Also, the side walls started to move inward, making this battle another one with a time limit. Each skeleton was a regenerating minion - it took one hit to kill, but would come back to life on the next turn. But each would drop its key the first time it was killed.

With five PCs it didn't take long to get all the keys and leave the room. They found stairs to the second floor, which turned out to be Predek's living quarters, occupied by non-threatening skeletal servants. The party proceeded to the third level, Predek's office. Predek was bald and dark-skinned, and wore black robes. He enjoyed hurling insults at the party almost as much as throwing spells.

Even with 5 PCs, it was a long battle. Predek had a lot of spells, a lot of hit points, a lot of snarky comments, and the ability to summon undead minions. When he was finally defeated, the party chose to let him live, and forced him to work with Hector to compose a counter-curse. Finally the pair produced a couple of potions for the PCs. They had two options - drink the white potion, which would completely cure the vampire bites; or the black potion, which would prevent their deaths but leave them with the mark of the vampire.

The mechanics - I knew they would have enough XP at this point to reach level 2, so what the black potion was basically offering was the "Vampiric Heritage" feat. From Dragon Magazine #371, this feat gives you a +2 bonus to Perception and Insight checks to sense and recognize dhampyrs and undead. More importantly, it grants the "Blood Drain" encounter power. Blood Drain is a touch attack whereby you can damage a grabbed enemy while spending a healing surge. It's not very powerful, but it's still pretty cool to know your character is part vampire.

But they didn't go for it. They both drank the white potion. Hector took Predek into custody, and the party left the power. This is where we ended it for the night. I forgot about the reward waiting for them in Mil, so we'll have to remember that next time.

XP Rewards:
Encounter 1: Bandits x2 + Wolf = 400 xp/3 PCs = 133 xp each.
Encounter 2: Rat Minons x2 = 50 xp/3 PCs = 16 xp each.
Encounter 3: Goblins x4 = 400 xp/3 PCs = 133 xp each.
Encounter 4: Rat Lord + Wererat + Minions x2 = 350 xp/4 PCs = 87 xp each.
Encounter 5: Skeletons x4 = 600 xp/3 PCs = 200 xp each.
Encounter 6: Vampire & Bat = 450 xp/2 PCs = 225 xp each.
Encounter 7: Skeletal Minions x4 = 100 xp/5 PCs = 20 xp each.
Encounter 8: Predek = 500 xp/5 PCs = 100 xp each.
Quest Reward for The Rat Lord's Lair: 200 Each
Quest Reward for Mistress Rubin's Crypt: 300 Each
Total Each: 1414

This brings Drew and Damakos up to 1664 total xp each, and took them both to level 2.

To some it might seem that I'm being a little free with the XP, treasure, and gold. However, I wasn't sure how many of these encounters we'd actually get through in one night, and I really thought this was going to be two sessions worth of battles.

I'm still working on the balance and making a lot of mistakes. Remember that this campaign is for practice, both for them as players and for me as a DM. I'm experimenting with a lot of fun types of encounters and weird little traps, and some of the stuff I'm planning will require them to be a higher level. I could just have them roll up a couple of level 5 characters, but I'd rather play them through the levels it at a higher-than-normal pace. They may well end up leveling once per session, at least for the first few levels.

Reminder to Self:
Start next Praktas session with trip to Mil, to turn in Predek for more possible rewards (and more possible plot twists).

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