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Sigil: City of Doors

We started a new adventure last night, Kingdom of Ghouls, part of the Orcus series of adventures. I know, I know, we’re a couple of years late. I love the fresh new feeling we get whenever we move from one adventure to the next. I lovingly stow away my last adventure, and get busy prepping for the new one. The players have a new look at their characters (I allow a complete retrain between adventures) or even start up a whole new PC. Steve took that opportunity this time, saying goodbye to Xantos the shadar kai swordmage, and bringing in Oracle the human paladin of the Raven Queen. That’s the third defender he’s tried now. I think he loves the hit points.

Dan’s character Raelthos had spent his time shopping in the 7 Pillared Hall, and come back with all new full finger jewellery (of destruction). Claire and Julio had kept it simple and just levelled up, still content with their characters. (and why wouldn’t they be? 24th level wizard and rogue respectively, full of awesome)

This adventure gave us all our first taste of Sigil, the City of Doors. The opening session is usually pretty roleplay heavy, and this was no exception. I had plenty of plots, hooks and locations ready to roll, but I wanted the players input on the whole experience. To facilitate that I opened up the narration to the guys. First up I checked in with Stevie to see how his character had been introduced to the group. He had a cool backstory about his character being an acolyte of the Raven Queen, a Raven Knight well on the way to becoming a fully fledged Sorrowsworn. His old character had taken a lot of punishment in the previous adventure (Death’s Reach) so was sitting this one out in the hospice. Ace.

We picked up where we’d left off; the Ashen Covenant, led by Elder Aranthum the lich warlord, had escaped Death’s Reach with the remains of Timesius the Blackstar, an ancient and potent primordial. Their goal was to get this fella back to their boss, Orcus, to further his scheme to usurp the Raven Queen as the God of Death. You can tell by the amount of Capital letters I’m using how much of the D&D world we’ve been exposed to recently. Raelthos had been following some leads on Vecna’s plans and they’d pretty much come up blank, so the party needed somewhere to start. The Raven Queen suggested Sigil, and the party took her up on her offer of a linked portal to that very place.

I’d prepped some images and got the flavour working straight away. I concentrated on all the senses, not just what they could see on arrival. Before too long they found themselves in the Night Markets of the Grand Bazarre. I played on the sheer number of goods for offer and the exotic nature of the market’s patrons 

A group streetwise check got us underway. The party decided to head for the local shrine to the RQ to see what they could learn, and so I improvised the Lane of 1001 Deities and Demigods for them to peruse. I then handed the narration over to Steve, saying “What does the shrine look like? You tell me?”

He was up to the challenge and told us all about how 3 was the holy number of the RQ and so the shrine had 3 entrances, capped by three skulls, and three fingerbones beneath each. Awesome. I then cracked open my deck of Friends and Foes, a set of 52 cards showing head portraits of various fantasy characters. I asked Steve to take three at random, and explain who they were as they would be in the shrine at that moment.

We got a female tiefling-like devil, a young female armoured cleric, and a smiling blonde girl. Ok. The devil and the acolyte would be in a heated discussion, and the girl would in fact be a pixie delivering a package. I didn’t yet know what was in it.

Steve’s character faced up to the devil girl and told her to get lost in no uncertain terms. One successful intimidate roll and she vanished in a puff of brimstone. Meanwhile Kallista was busy signing for the pixie’d package. The package was a long shallow box wrapped in a black ribbon, stamped with an eagle. It also had a small black envelope containing a card (yet to be revealed). Raelthos noticed the approach of a trio of Dabus, and hurried Kallista along.

Oracle consulted with the acolyte who was happy to lead him to the rear of the shrine to a curtained off area that led to what looked like a magician’s cabinet. She told the party to hurry as time was of the essence. Before the Dabus could attend to the party they leapt behind the curtain and experienced the nature of Sigil’s portals first hand.

Kallista found herself stepping out of a confessional booth in a silent and empty cathedral made of white marble. At the top of a dais she saw a golden statue, of herself. Tapestries arrayed around the walls told the story of the goddess Kallista and her adventures as a mortal. Glass cases contained relics of her life, all her wands and journals kept for posterity. As she realised she had visited her own far future an angel appeared and pledged it’s allegiance to her. Kallista’s future self had sent an ally to her past self to protect her in her darkest hour. Cool.

Meanwhile the rest of the party had arrived through the doors of an old fire damaged warehouse. I gave rough dimensions to the guys and handed over my set of city tiles. They built the battlemat for the encounter to their own improvised design. I placed Elder Aranthum, his cultists and his summoned Balor on the table and we rolled initiative. Battle commenced!

What I really like about this session was the way we all bought into the narrative. Where I could I offered the party the chance to colour in the details. When the pace slowed, I made up some stuff to give them decision points. At every step we were all engaged with our characters and our shared world. Exploring, and inventing, as we went along. That’s what we play for.


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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”.


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.


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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When skill challenges fail

Sample dialogue from my weekly game:

Sebastian: I notice you’ve got a lot of blue gems.
Dragon: Yes, do you have anything blue?
Raelthos: We’ve got some Jade.
Kallista: Idiot, they’re green.
Sebastian: Nah. We’ve got f@ck-all blue stuff.


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It’s been said of 4e that it’s difficult to really scare the players, that some of the risk of the original game has been eroded. I have some sympathy for that view what with surges, death saves etc. Encounters will very rarely result in a TPK and there’s good reasons for that. 

Last night’s session showed that there is still a part of the D&D experience that frightens players to their very core, the gaze attack. We are playing through Pyramid of Shadows, about as old school an adventure as you could get for 4e. One of the encounters on the second level is against an ogre and a medusa. When I read through this part of the adventure I don’t recall thinking there was anything particularly special about it, but D&D 4e continues to show that it’s a game to be played rather than read.

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Previously in Pyramid of Shadows…

This just in from Steve, who plays Sebastian in our weekly game. A conversation overheard from Vyrellis:

The wizard was becoming more and more interesting, especially now that Illvelios has been taken by this strange affliction. Perhaps I could persuade him to part with me for a small amount of time so that I can get a real idea of the human’s power…..

     The fight in the bizarre oasis of the arboreans was very enlightening. The way she dealt with the Hag was very much to my liking, I wonder……

     Having convinced Illvelios to part with me I now have the wizard in my grasp, with not much convincing she made light work of the annoying satyr and its minions. I am satisfied with her power, though not so much as to aid her any more. She is, after all, only human.

     Not long after this battle I was impressed once more. The arborean priestess, who at first seemed formidable was made light work of and her bodyguard tree-thing was swiftly dispatched by a basic spell. Hmmmm, she continues to impress……

     They think I do not watch at all times, though my scrying can penetrate more than the thin leather strappings that she wears. I observed the demise of the fast moving creatures with much pleasure. 

     As they rest I sense in her a great power, it is building up inside and it may not be long before she can impress me with new spells learned from her experiences, one more confrontation, perhaps two. I cannot wait……..

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How my players get their RP in

I don’t often trouble the readers of this ‘blog with play details from my weekly game, but I thought this merited inclusion.

Like many groups we tend to concentrate on the combats at the table. Sometimes I have  a nagging concern that the story suffers as a result. However, in the days between sessions, my group e-mails each other with actual play reports. This latest from Steve shows how the RP is still there, in people’s heads, which is where it really counts after all.

  • Excerpt from “My life with Moonchild” – Sebastian Sigismund
         “…our time in the Pyramid of Shadows had been arduous at best. Vicious fights with Humans and Abhumans alike had taken their toll on both our bodies and minds. Seeds of mistrust were being planted from both Vyrellis and the Pyramid itself.
         “Ilvellios was becoming more involved with the woman in the crystal ball; Flynn had been tricked by a Succubus into planting his blade into Raelthos’s back; Raelthos himself is becoming more mysterious with his new psychic attacks; and Callista seems to be letting her hightened powers go to her head.
         “Our recent fights had given us more to worry about however. Ilvellios, Flynn and I had been injured in a vicious struggle with a creature neither man nor beast and elements of its affliction had begun to surface in us.
         “After banishing the Succubus and her Demons we continued south and came across an interesting device. A set of levers protruded from a wall, flanked by two mirrors. Neither of these mirrors showed a reflection, but later were realised to be some form of scrying devices. We had in fact found another group of  Garash’s bandits. A hard fight ensued but we were victorious, the only casualty was Callistas ego as she found a new meaning of the phrase ‘Burning Hands’. At this point we decided to rest up.
         “Cries of agony woke me in the night, finding Raelthos and Callista tending to Ilvellios. It was then i realised i was drenched in sweat, as it appeared so was Flynn. Burning from some unknown fever i fell back to sleep. Of the three of us who suffered, Flynn seemed to have come off best. I was still a little feverish but generally ok. Ilvellios did not look good, his eyes had lost their glow and were beginning to turn a little jaundice. His hair looked scraggy and he would not accept any food, claiming that only meat would sate him…..”
         “Our next move will be to go west once more, where Flynn had scouted ahead and informed us that we would return to the Ettins chamber. The Ettin still lay there, burned, bruised and still very dead. Regardless, we still trod carefully in fear of disturbing corpses that resided below. Moving north we were halted by words of warning from Vyrellis. It seemed we were approaching ‘The Library.’ What this entailed we would not have guessed or imagined……….”

     The rest of this page is soaked in blood, if there had been anything written there it is now unreadable. 

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Falling off the learning curve

steves-notesSteve forgot his character sheet for last night’s game. Usually this would be an issue to say the least, but, rather wonderfully, technology saved the day. Steve had previously e-mailed his character out to all of us, so 2 mins on my netbook got him his original mail. Then he cracked open the character builder online and ported everything over to there. He already had his power cards in his dice bag, so we were ready to rock n roll.

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