Part 23: With Special Guest Stars!Ive heard it said that the rules for 3.5 D&D really break down when you hit the Epic levels, 21+. That is, they were already sketchy for levels 15-20, but game balance is just a laugh after that. Still, Id say its where my campaign really got going, partly because all the campaign before then was a learning experience for me as a DM, and partly because I started introducing the really ridiculous set pieces you can only get away with at high levels. The Epic campaign is also the one I remember the best, mostly because its the most recent part.
One definite advantage to a pen-and-paper campaign over a computer game is that pnp D&D includes a few divination spells that allow for lateral thinking and player initiative in ways that a computer DM just cant handle. In other words, I could keep the villains silent about their origins and the players could still manage to create leads to follow for what to do next. In the case of the red dragon, I dropped a few hints to the players that the spell Divination would be a good way to get more info; Divination being a Cleric spell where they literally ask one of their gods servants for help. However, something unexpected happened: the Cleric asked, Who is the master of the red dragon? and the response was, I dont know. Hang on a sec. (Pause) Right, travel to the nearest coast, and someone will be there to take you to the Seven Heavens. Good luck.
When they reach the coast, they find an elsewhale waiting for them, because elsewhales are both stupid and awesome, which is my favorite kind of awesome. This takes them to the first layer of Celestia, where their old friend Tim (now a lantern archon) takes them to the ruler of the first layer, one Barachiel. Barachiel explains, The answer to your question lies on the sixth layer of Heaven [the seventh being transcendence itself, and theres no going back from that]. We normally dont allow the uninitiated past the first layer, so you must prove yourselves by answering each of our riddles with an Artifact. He then gives the party some obscure riddle that they cant just figure out and clams up completely.
Since the gods themselves are apparently useless for this, the party makes its way to Sigil, the crossroads of the planes. They ask around for an experienced planeswalker, and this leads them to the door of one Sam, the planeswalking man. Sam decodes the riddle (mostly by thinking of the most powerful item that might match the riddles description), and go figure, the first one is right on the same planet they all come from! By this point, the PCs have enough powerful spells to manage the exact location for themselves, so they head on over and pick it up, after some minor difficulties.
When they try to leave, however, they get ambushed by a trio of illithid spelljammers! Let me back up. Illithids are mind flayers, those squid-headed things that suck your brains out; spelljammers are fantasy starships from my favorite D&D setting ever (of the same name). The illithids move to attack the players, but shock of shocks! It turns out that this entire planet is somehow immune to psionics! No one had ever played a psionic character before this point, and they had never encountered a psionic enemy, so I felt secure in making such a revelation this late into the campaign. Thing is, without their psionic powers, illithids are just fleshy punching bags, so the gnome bard of all characters proceeds to Dimension Door into all three ships and slaughter the whole fucking crew single-handed. Even the umber hulks were psionically flavored; no one was spared.
They then proceed to take the spelljammers, sell two of them in Sigil, and pimp out the third to become a plane-shifting spelljammer that can go damn well anywhere without getting harmed by planar effects.
But Ive been talking too long already. Ill finish the story later.
Were getting close to the end of this campaign, too.
True. But before you guys reach the Temple this time,
What? Were not bandits!
Really? Well, sorry about that. We get so many encounters with those damn bandits that I just assumed you were more of the same.
Encounters, eh? I suppose that makes us adventurer parties passing in the night.
Feels like that one scene from Shawn of the Dead.
We are adventurers, yes. At the moment, were headed south to a port town, where we have heard of an abandoned monastery where the idol has two gems for eyes, each as big as your head.
Hold on, that sounds familiar
That sounds awesome! Dinnae let us slow ye down, lads!
So what adventure are you fellows on?
Bah, just some old demoness o fungus and mucus and whatnot.
Sounds like you have your work cut out for you.
Yes, and I dont think we can just stand here gabbing all day, so
True, we should be getting going as well. Perhaps well meet again in a tavern somewhere. Good luck, and farewell. They walk off.
They wouldnt happen to look like these fellows, would they?
Mmm, I dont think so, no. Thats probably the intended reference, though. Now, on with the show.
Hold on, dont we still need a new Animal Companion for Meleny?
Another polar bear? Ive got just the name.
Polar bears love coke, right?
If their commercials are to be trusted, I guess.
By the way, Im just going to save Lewis the time and say that this next room is one of the two or three hardest battles in the whole module. You should cast all of your buff spells while you still can.
If you have any Resist Energy or Protection from Energy spells, make sure you set it to fire. Youre probably not the only Fireball-happy Wizard in this dungeon.
Oh yeah? Well YOU dare challenge the might of US! But before we fight, dont you have some monologuing to do?
Wow, way to make it obvious, Paul. Still, I suppose some backstory is in order, if you guys can keep it in your pants until he finishes.
But if hes
Even if you catch Hedrack off guard, all his minions are just waiting for someone to start something. You wont get a surprise round.
So how did this Temple get built?
That is a good question. For reasons only they know, Zuggtmoy the Queen of Fungus and Iuz, demigod of evil and oppression, built this place to recruit great forces of evil. But before it got off the ground, Iuz mysteriously disappeared.
What happened to him?
He had been captured and imprisoned by the Mad Archmage Zagig. He later escaped, but in his absence, the combined forces of Veluna and Furyondy rose to destroy us. They may have won the battle, but as you can see, we survived.
Why didnt they finish the job?
They knew that if they killed Zuggtmoy she would merely be banished to her Abyssal plane. Still, they were able to imprison her somewhere. For the rest of us, they figured that with Iuz gone and Zuggtmoy imprisoned, we were no longer a threat.
But you said Iuz returned.
A great warrior named Lord Robilar freed him. Iuz returned to us soon after the defeat and aided in our rebuilding efforts. He has also been searching for the location of Zuggtmoy.
So no one knows where she is hidden?
None in the Temple. But our best people are searching for her even now, and we know we are getting close. Very close.
Oh, does he mean that one guy with the golden skull?
Guess yell need some moare top men, assumin ye survive tha night! What is a villain? A miserable pile of exposition! But enough talk; have at you!
Throughout this LP, Ive progressively been speeding up through the various combats as I explain the rules and spells of the system. However, considering the climactic nature of this encounter, I hope you wont mind if we slow things back down a bit and savor the combat some.
The gargoyle goes first, so he moves over to Big and attacks and misses. Paul, Josephus is next.
Excellent. I cast Haste on everyone.
Meleny is next, and she attacks one of the other gargoyles for 7 damage. Two of the bugbears go miss, miss. Garretts turn.
The villain hasnt gone yet, right? So hes still flatfooted?
Ouch, that was two thirds of his health right there. Lets see, Coca Cola Kid is next, he attacks Melenys gargoyle for 15 damage, pretty good. Another gargoyle hits Josephus for 4 damage, some more misses Hedracks turn now.
What, seriously? Does this guy think Iuz has time for his problems?
You do remember the part where Iuz helped build this Temple personally? Hedrack fidgets noticeably in the presence of his god, but soon points to you and shouts, THIS is the source of the problems Ive explained in my recent reports! I humbly beg your mercy in helping me dispose of these irritants.
Hmm, very well. I will deal with this matter personally, but afterwards, Hedrack, you and I will have a long chat about your role in this Temple!
Hedrack gulps audibly.
Do any of you have any last words before I erase your names from the Scroll of Life?
Um, Only that youd better do it quickly, because weve got a host of Paladins riding to our rescue!
Dont even bother rolling bluff. Iuz gets a distant look in his eyes for a moment, then turns back to you. No one is coming to save you, mortal. You forget I am a god. I can see for many miles in all directions. You are alone here, and you shall die alone! Now, considering the interruption, Id like you to reroll initiative.
Dude, are we seriously fighting a GOD now?! While awesome, I have to admit, I think hes a bit out of our range at the moment.
Assuming this module hasnt thrown out game balance even farther than I had remembered, I expect something will come up to counter Iuz. Until then, we should do our best to tie up Iuz, eliminate the chaff, and, if possible, survive. Id also suggest we all start praying for further divine intervention.
I guess Ill kill the gargoyle next to me, then. And pray for divine intervention.
A bugbear moves in on Garrett youre flatfooted, so thatll be 15 damage. William?
I attack the bugbear next to me. 34, miss, 28, and another miss.
The Kid goes next, so he destroys the gargoyle from earlier. Another bugbear fires his arrow, and the other gargoyle deals 10 damage to Garrett.
I dont suppose Iuz likes Fireballs?
Spell Resistance. It doesnt affect him. You took down one of the lesser bugbears, at least. Garrett?
Ill finish off Hedrack before he does any more harm. I also kill the bugbear and the gargoyle next to me.
Exactly how tough is Iuzs Spell Resistance?
Meleny tries and fails to hit him with Call Lightning Storm. Oh, right. Iuz has a Spell Resistance of 35.
Is that really bad?
Let me put it this way: My cleric is level 11, and my feats give him a +4 to countering Spell Resistance. I could affect Iuz if I rolled a 20, and nothing less. The rest of you have no chance at all.
Iuz goes, and retaliates against Meleny for the lightning. She is now down to oh, 1 hit point exactly. Next, a hill giant charges and hits Garrett for 25 damage. The head wizard goes, and casts a Globe an ettin and a bugbear move to Garrett, and miss the damaged bugbear goes for a potion, everyone roll AoOs .ouch, well, hes dead now. Next, one of the lesser Wizards goes.
I guess all those Resist Fire spells were a good idea. Alistor, go.
Well, it wouldve been an easy way out. Ah well. Ill move over to the hill giant next.
The other lesser Wizard throws a Fireball, and it looks like it also did nothing helpful. A bugbear fires his bow, and misses Josephus.
Cure Moderate on Meleny.
Next is Big McLargeHuge.
Im going for it.
Youre seriously going to attack Iuz himself? I was just going to use Meleny and her summons to keep him busy.
I have a chance to stab a god in the chest. I dont even care if I lose; I just wanna get a hit in. Itll be great, especially since I dont have a magic bullshit always hits sword.
Well, if you say so. The Kid also moves to attack, the bugbear misses Hardboot goes next.
Even more Fireballs!
I back out of the crush and drink a healing potion.
Good plan. Next, Meleny summons another polar bear. Iuz kills it in two hits, which gives him Cleave, which he uses on Big.
Damn. That was, like, half my hit points.
Well, that wouldve been all of Melenys, so dont feel too bad. Next is the hill giant, the ettins, the head wizard Alistor.
That blinds the giant and the ettin, but it still doesnt touch Iuz, sorry. Not much else Paul, youre up.
I move to defend Garrett from the ettin!
William. Full attack?
Ha! Got him! 23 damage!
Oh, hes probably going to kill you for that Hal?
Even more Fireballs!
I guess thats one ettin dealt with. Suzie?
Garrett kills the other ettin.
And Meleny summons another bear.
Not that it matters.
I did what I came to do. Urk, dead.
Head wizard summons another air elemental Lewis?
I kill the bugbear and the hill giant this round.
Ill attack the bugbear archer next!
Hardboot goes next.
Ice Storm is enough to get past a Lesser Globe, right?
Yes it does.
I think maybe Ill put some distance between me and the big guy, while Im at it.
Ill go help with the bugbear.
In that case, Meleny summons another bear. However, just before Iuz can take another turn
What the hell are you doing, Iuz?
These mortals are ruining my Temple! Im just trying to fix things!
Youre a god now, Iuz. How many times have I told you not to meddle in mortal affairs?
But its MY TEMPLE! They even cut me, look at this!
Oh dear, the mortals have given a scratch on the arm of the great Iuz. Look, it doesnt matter how much of the Flanaess you own, you have to leave mortal business to mortals because you have better things to worry about. LIKE ME. Now leave this place!
Oh, very well. But before I go Iuz waves his hand and Hedrack gasps back to life. He looks no worse for the wear, considering he was dead just a few seconds ago.
Is that all? St. Cuthbert makes a similar gesture and the whole party feels reinvigorated, your wounds disappearing. Even Big climbs up from the floor, as fit as ever.
Cool. So do I still lose a level, or
True Resurrection. Its like you never died at all.
Roll initiative one more time, guys.
I finish off the archer and attack the air elemental!
Any bets on how long Headstone lasts this time?
With me and William starting right next to him? No bet.
Meleny Calls some Lightning on Hedracks head. On his turn, Hedrack casts Spell Resistance. Alistor goes next.
Ill finish off the air elemental and put the other two attacks into Hedracks back.
Ill deal with the minor wizard.
Sorry, you hit a Mirror Image. William, do I even need to ask?
Well, that didnt take long. The three Wizards go Hal, youre up.
Fireballs for all. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!
Too bad they picked acid resistance instead. I suppose its just a matter of wearing down that last wizard now.
And were done.
The air elemental will stick around for a bit longer, you know. But yeah, thats pretty much it.
Goddamn, what a fight. I hope we get some sweet gear out of this.
As a matter of fact, basically everything Hedrack was wearing was custom tailored and enchanted.
The head Wizard had some very nice robes, as well.
Sweet! I am become even more fabulous than ever!
Seems like thats everything important.
I know, right? I mean, the other fights just past Hedrack are going to be incredibly anticlimactic after that.
Ah. A ton of fungus. Nothing to worry about, then, lets just break out the Fireballs and get it over with.
Did someone say the magic word?
They dont even have many hit points! This is easy!
Just be careful you dont use slashing weapons on the black pudding or the ochre jelly.
Right, only the Rod of Thunder and Lightning on the ochre jelly.
What?! But its blunt!
Perhaps theres something else causing it to split?
Look, let me just have Meleny use another Call Lightning, and now theres six of them. So do any of you notice whats happening?
NOTHINGS WORKING! IT KEEPS GETTING WORSE!
Just calm down and let us fire Wizards handle the problem!
*Several fire-based spells later*
So what have we learned today?
Ochre jellies will split when exposed to sharp weapons and also lightning-based attacks.
Very good. You may now level up.
Anything else to kill here?
Just one more encounter.
Oh, what the fuck.