21st century, 21st level

After a couple of weeks off for real life stuff, our regular game got back under way last week. The big news is, we’ve hit the heady heights of the epic tier! This is uncharted territory for all of us. Even the guys who played previous editions of D&D never got near the old cap of 20th level, so to get to this sort of level is a serious achievement.

We’re going through the H/P/E Orcus adventures, and I’m glad to see the back of Nightwyrm Fortress. It was a slog and the monsters just lined up to be killed in order. Add to that the poor mechanical implementation of the monsters back then and well, let’s just say we made the best of it.

Onwards  and upwards. Internet opinion of Deaths Reach is quite high, and I have to agree on rereading it (I bought the thing 18 months ago!). It seems to get stuck into a big story, pulling together various strands that have been touched on in the earlier parts of the series. Even so, it’s presented in the usual dry mechanical linear fashion. I knew from past experience that it would be best to put my own spin on the adventure. I don’t have a huge amount of prep time, so I wasn’t going to rewrite every encounter or move things about wholesale. I just wanted to add a bit of flavour where I could and bring the characters into the heart of the plot.

This is where my players really come into their own. I simply asked everyone to say what they’d been up to in the game months since emerging from Nightwrym Fortress. How was the epic destiny going to manifest? What had changed? Whatever really. Danurai had sent out a pre-emptive shot with this e-mail from before game night:

With the hissing crash of a wave breaking on a shingle beach the planar skiff materialized in the grounds of the ruined Keep above Winterhaven. A tall man stood on the prow of the ship clad in brown and grey snakeskin which appeared to writhe around him and an inky black cloak clasped in place with a plain silver brooch. He wore an obsidian mask carved with the visage of a handsome drow but the ivory horns curling above them and the purple glow of his eyes from within the mask identified the traveller as the Tiefling known as Raelthos the Radiant.

Carefully re-rolling the scroll in his hands he replaced it in a carved ivory case. In the blink of an eye his form collapsed into smoke that rolled off the deck of the ship and re-formed on the rocky ground beside him a magical horse formed made purely of Obsidian it ducked it’s head and pawed the earth a clicking sound of stone on stone. Quickly mounting his steed Raelthos wheeled once gesturing to the Githyanki captain before galloping off towards the tower of Valthrun the prescient. Somewhere in Valthrun’s books was the key to unlocking the secret of the scroll and the ring of Lady Janstine Helltalon.

Julio’s retort:

From the shadows of a nearby bluff Flynn slouched idly rolling a platinum piece across his knuckles. “Hmmm” he mused “Tiefling’s back then…”Flynn paused, his head cocked to one side “good to have him back I reckon….still a ponce mind”.

Heh.

Stevie went with the idea that his Shadar Kai swordmage has become a devoted acolyte of the Raven Queen. He had fasted and undergone many rituals in a far flung temple devoted to her. He’d handed over all his loot to the priests and set out into the world refreshed and renewed. Cool.

Julio plays Flynn the Rogue. What had he been doing?

Setting up a fake temple to the Raven Queen and buying some second hand robes. Made a stack of cash out of one idiot.

Priceless.

Love it. Stacks of character getting us off to a great start. I knew I had to raise my game.

If you don’t know the first encounter in Deaths Reach, it’s fairly basic as written. There’s a street scene, a Marut appears to give the party a message from the raven Queen, and then the bad guys launch a mounted ambush. To give it some extra oomph, I set the street scene in Moonstair, from the adventure King of the Trollhaunt warrens. I also set it at night during the monthly opening of the moon gate. I went for a post celebration vibe with the taverns full and couples stumbling drunkenly down alleyways as the party sat on the town fountain and caught up. Then I had time freeze completely and the statue in the fountain come to life and address the characters while water flowed from his hands. As the statue finished, the clatter of hooves announced the arrival of the Ebon Riders. Roll for initiative!

The monsters were utterly trounced in short order (epic characters are rock hard!), but the adventure  was properly underway. The party stepped through the portal to Zvomarana….

To be continued

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