Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Which The Warlock Gets Back to Where He Once Belonged...

Man, oh man. First level.

For anyone who's ever played an RPG, it brings on ton of mixed emotions. It brings excitement--that first rush of adventure, as kobolds or skeletons fell beneath your sword. It brings fear--memories of being so fragile, so frail, that those very kobolds or skellies might bring you to your knees (oh, the horror!). And, for some, it brings outright frustration, particularly for anyone who played a 1st level wizard, and could be taken out (legitimately!) by a housecat.

It's been absolutely ages since I've actually played in a campaign starting at 1st level. Most of the games that I run, or have been involved in, have been starting at a low-middle level, in what this Age of 4e has been calling "late heroic tier". Mainly, this was to avoid those last two issues: no one wanted to play a game in which you could be ganked by a tiny little lizardman with a loincloth and a stick.

So, when Chris II took over the GMing reins, I was a little shocked and...well, nervous. While he mentioned wanting to start the "actual" campaign at 6th level, he wanted to run a few flashback sessions, starting us at 1st level. It had been so long...and my concept for Cyrid was one for a scarred veteran...and first level sucked, right?

I'm happy to say I was wrong.
Yes, level 1 brings its own challenges, but it's spectacular to go back to it--to the core of what D&D is: setting out on an adventure with your good friends, not knowing what might be around the next corner, finding that first +1 weapon, and having fun.

We just hit level 2 at the end of last week's session, and Cyrid actually came away with the first magic item of the game. (Sometimes it helps to be the only character wearing heavy armor, it seems!) We're marching our way off to the actual Keep on the Shadowfell, and my Valenar warrior already has a vendetta out on a betrayer-elf named Nynerin.

Can't wait to see how it turns out!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Which The Warlock Introduces His New Character...

With Chris II taking the GMing reins for a while, I actually get the chance to play some 4e for once! After much agonizing deliberation and uite a bit of back-and-forth deciding, I decided on an elf paladin for this game. As such, enjoy the background of my newest character: Cyrid Alamein, Valenar mercenary!

Name: Cyrid Alamein
Age: 52
Race: Elf (Valenar)
Homeland: Jal Paeridor, Valinor
Parents: Elladir (father) and Malaenir (mother)—both alive, in grasslands surrounding Jal Paeridor
Siblings: None.
Faith: Believes in the divinity of his ancestor spirits, particularly his grandfather, Jhordaen.
Fav. Food: “Buried” lamb, with roasted root vegetables and flatbread.
Pastimes: Drinking, darts and other games of skill,
Party Role: Primary defender, secondary damage-dealer.
Strengths: Intense melee damage, strong defenses, marking abilities, physical skill use.
Weaknesses: Mobility, ranged combat, social interactions, no arcane ability.

Cyrid Alamein is, as are all Valenar elves, a warrior. He was raised from birth to fight in the name of his country, his family, and honor. Cyrid’s father, Elladir, was a noted cavalryman, who lost an arm when his company was hired by Karrnath to fight off the Talenta Halflings. Malaenir, Cyrid’s mother, was also a member of the company, serving in amongst the infantry. She, too, was injured, during the battle, and spent several weeks recuperating with Elladir. Their time together blossomed into romance, and they were wed.

The fruit of that marriage was Cyrid, who was raised to be a soldier from birth. Few children within the Valenar encampments could best him, despite the fact that many were stronger, quicker, or more intelligent than he. Cyrid’s natural bloodthirst, coupled with an uncanny knowledge of both offensive and defensive technique, earned him many commendations. One of these commendations led Cyrid into the Krak Cormanthus—an elite guard of Valenar mercenaries, who used their devotion to their ancestors as a literal weapon. There, Cyrid’s training expanded to include the channeling of the dead members of the Alamein clan through his weapon of choice.

While many of the Cormanthine Guard chose typical elven weaponry to wield, Cyrid instead picked a flail—a weapon rarely seen in the hands of an elf. While Cyrid rarely speaks of it, he chose the flail out of respect for his grandfather, a powerful elf marshal known as Vadykar. Vadykar’s legend has only grown since his death, as the Last War made him into something of a figure of legend. Cyrid always appreciated the stories of Vadykar’s death, as he fought off an entire legion of Thranish shock-troops with only one arm and one eye, his flail brutally smashing into the Silver Flame cultists.

As part of the Cormanthine Guard, Cyrid was dispatched to Cyre, to fight against the Brelish forces. There, he rose to the rank of Second Field Sergeant, beneath Field Commandant Raviar Tslan. While on reconnaissance, dissension began to grow between Tslan and Cyrid, over the path being taken. The men were swiftly becoming split between Cyrid and his commander, and he was pressured into a coup. However, when the time came to confront Tslan, none of the men stood with him. Rather, they aided Tslan in flogging him, and hanging him in a tree by his own flail, leaving him behind to die.

Shortly thereafter, Cyrid was found by a Brelish reconnaissance force and was rescued. Unconscious, he was taken to a House Jorasco healing house for treatment of his wounds. Upon awakening, Cyrid found himself without focus and without company, and deep in Brelish territory. Deciding to make his fortune before visiting bloody vengeance upon his former squad-mates, Cyrid left with a Brelish caravan for Sharn.

Cyrid is a fairly insecure character who lurks behind a mask of bravado and brash action. He has been raised since birth to be a warrior, and is quite good at it, but he finds battle for battle’s sake unfulfilling. He desperately wants vengeance on his former squadmates, particularly Raviar Tslan, but knows the near-impossibility of this task.
Cyrid has never known romance, and often wonders if his path will lead him to find love, as his parents did. However, he doubts that he will ever be able to reconcile his path of vengeance with a woman to love. Further, Cyrid desperately wants to live up to the model of his grandfather, Vadykar, who seems to be larger-than-life.

Cyrid’s only real friend in Sharn has been Gharthen, a tiefling barkeep at a watering hole in the depths of Sharn. Cyrid regularly goes there to drink, and to play darts against the sardonic tiefling. He has not had much luck finding mercenary work, as he refuses to register with House Deneith or House Tharashk.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Which The Warlock Tells Luke His Father Was Named Rosebud...

To round out our last bit of "Pirates of the Underdark," I wanted to give just a little bit of face time for our lovely villains, who didn't manage to make it to the game table. They had big plans, for sure, but no recompense was to be had.

Jaegren Lern--"The One Living Man"--Level 22 Elite Controller

After ambushing The One Living Man on his ship, at the behest of the lich-loremaster Tsaron Mindweaver, the party found themselves being pursued halfway to hell and back by the necromancer-turned-pirate.

But who is Jaegren Lern, really? Believe it or not, he's one of my old characters, when I was playing at Wittenberg. Lern was a wizard, with the Pale Master prestige class and a heavy necromantic flavor. He used Create Undead and Animate Dead spells numerous times to create a zombie crew, which even included an Undead Dire Octopus. The kicker for Lern, though, was his arm--a skeletal graft that comes with the Pale Master class. Very flavorful stuff.

I designed Lern to be a sniveling, arrogant bugger, who had allied with the enigmatic Dread Pirate Tim, only to be hired by the rest of the party, as they traveled to IceRazor City. As it turned out, Lern betrayed the party (a week before finals week, no less!), resulting in a TPK. Lern, however, escaped (yes, really!), taking Lauryn's sorceress-turned-vampire with him.

While I really like The One Living Man as a plot device, he doesn't really have any far-reaching machinations, so he was fairly one dimensional as a villain. However, his prescence was enough of a threat to keep the party on their toes and make them really strategize when he came calling.

Lascer, Lord of the Shadow Shoal--Level 19 Solo Skirmisher

I first came across Lascer in an issue of Dragon magazine, where he was tossed in amongst the "Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Apocrypha". The image for Lascer is what stood out most, though: a roughly stitched together albino body, with jagged teeth and shards of broken glass jammed into the joints, hands, and feet. I knew I had to use this guy.

The players came across the cult of Lascer early in their adventuring, but only began to put together the pieces of his true agenda once they managed to meet up with the Cult of Dagon at Tsaron Mindweaver's tower. Lascer, having been Dagon's personal assassin for milennia, had broken free of Dagon's control and had escaped to the Prime Material. Set on vengeance, Lascer began founding a cult of his own amidst the kuo-toa and sauhagin of the Underdark.

Had the game continued, the players would have had to hunt down the Iron Flask of Tuerny--a 2e relic!--which was capable of holding the essence of a being as powerful as a demon lord. However, upon finding it, disaster strikes--the Flask is inhabited by a powerful demilich...the one, the only, Acererak.

And the rest?

The Gith--As mentioned in my last post, a rogue faction of Githyanki sought to use the Midnight Romance plant in a bid to dominate Sigil. This would have culminated in a cross-planar chase, as the PCs try to track down the Gith to their home-base and eliminate them, all without rousing the ire of the Lich-Queen, Vlaakith. Mind you, all of this would have only been compounded by the party's "acquisition" of a Gith Silver Sword...

The Weavers--Ah, yes. The powerful, enigmatic merchants guild, located on Skull and Stars. The Weavers were, of course, much more than they seemed. In fact, they were spider-people, known as "chitines". The Weavers had cornered the market on silk in the region, and weren't about to be undercut by some no-good scallywags. Unfortunately, their vengeance never took shape.

The Drow Houses--of course, in true back-stabbing style, both Mathir's and Zara's houses were going to come back to bite them in the behind. Mathir's mother was intent on letting her foolish daughter upgrade the Red Mourning as much as she wanted...then calling in the debt on it, taking the powerful ship as her flagship. Zara's sister intended on dragging her back into the Menzoberranzen political situation, intent on a second coup.

Ah, but all that's in the past now. Now, it's time for some Eberron! And let me tell you, Cyrid Alamein--elf paladin--is ready to bring some righteous pain!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

In Which The Warlock Posts a Spoiler Alert...

As I mentioned earlier, our weekly "Pirates of the Underdark" game went out with a whimper, rather than a bang. We didn't really reach any sort of climax before the game collapsed, and many of the side plots went unrevealed.

That is, until now! Below are the assorted "tier 2" NPCs that the players helped to create, along with their "dark secrets" which the players were on the verge of finding out...

Durgrek--Dwarf Wizard (Tome) 18

What They Knew:
Throughout the game, the players came upon quite a few mysterious slabs of slate, covered in archaic dwarven runes. The stones radiated a mysterious form of magic, indecipherable by the party's arcanists. And, the more of these that they found, the weirder Durgrek seemed to get, as he lusted over the items. He, in fact, made a deal with Captain Zane to provide the ship with both navigation and alchemical/ritual services, with his only payment being...those enigmatic runestones.

What They Didn't Know:
Durgrek was the last of his clan. After being shipped off to a wizard academy, his clan was defeated in battle by duergar, and sold into slavery. Durgrek returned home on a sabbatical, only to find his home delve totally empty. Enraged, Durgrek turned to his arcane talents to view the past, finding the duergar that enslaved his clan. He rained fiery vengeance upon the offenders, but did not stop there. Durgrek sought annihilation.

Using his arcane contacts, Durgrek began to research the lore of "truename magic". Rumor had always been that the duergar, when they forged their eternal pact with Asmodeus, turned over a set of runestones with their ancient clan's truename emblazoned in it. Asmodeus, seeking to keep the clan subjugated, split the stones apart and spread them across the Underdark.

The Next Step?
Durgrek would have procured the final runestone as the players approached the endgame, enacting a ritual at the Hulks of Zoretha--a series of ancient monoliths imbued with arcane energy. There, the players would have been forced into a terrible choice--trust the seemingly insane dwarf, or stop him. Had Durgrek succeeded in his ritual, the truename linking all duergar would have been erased, instantly slaying all duergar on the Prime Material (including Zendax's comrade-in-arms, Ettik!).

Velenthi of House Nehlet, Drow Dark Pact Warlock 13

What They Knew:
Velenthi ambushed her big sister, Zara, in an alley in Freeport. Zara, in turn, bullied her into joining the crew of the Red Mourning. Zara and the crew were shocked to see Velenthi's strnge abilities, but even moreso when she was spotted speaking to hobgoblin and (*gasp*) surfacer mercenaries. The group believed that she had fled the fall of House Nehlet in Menzoberranzen, but there was little proof to go on.

What The Didn't Know:
Velenthi did, in fact, flee the fall of House Nehlet, but only after she actually caused the house's fall! She led the male slaves in a coup on the Matron Mother, only to be backstabbed by them, and being subjected to the same punishments she inflicted on them! Velenthi escaped, turning first to the Acolytes of Moil, a nihilistic cult that worships the ancient demilich Acererak! With them, she learned the warlock arts, then abandoned them, in favor of finding her errant sister and some hired goons, to help her re-take House Nehlet.

The Next Step?
Had the players spent any time in Menzoberranzen, Velenthi would have come clean about the fall of House Nehlet, appealling to the crew to assist her in the ultimate "battle of the sexes"--men vs. women with the leadership of House Nehlet on the line. However, their support of her would have drawn the attention of the Acolytes of Moil...leading to a climactic encounter in Skull City, right outside of the Tomb of Horrors!

Nalen the Quicker, Shadar-Kai Rogue 16

What They Knew:
Artemis--Fred's second character, following Captain Zane--grew close to Nalen, finding out much of her backstory while the crew was docked in Gracklestugh. Nalen became incredibly nervous while in port there, and confided in Artemis over a bottle of brandy in the crow's nest. This nervousness grew even further after the group was ambushed by Githyanki, in the midst of a harrowing encounter with the necromancer-pirate, The One Living Man.

What They Didn't Know:
Nalen was actually native to the city of Sigil, and grew up to be a private investigator. Nalen had taken on a case from the Sons of Mercy to look into the appearance of a mysterious viney plant in the city called Midnight Romance, which was incredibly toxic. Nalen trailed the plant to githyanki smugglers, who captured her. Before she escaped, Nalen deduced the giths' true plan--to use the Midnight Romance plants from Gracklestugh to poison and zombify the citizenry of Sigil, then use it as a launching point for further planar incursions.

The Next Step?
After the climax of the game, the players would have had the option to traverse the planar waterways, ending up in Sigil in the midst of the githyanki invasion. Working alongside Doomguard Marauders and the Sons of Mercy, the PCs would have helped to fight back against the gith and restore Sigil to its prior state.

And the rest?

Ettik--Duergar Fighter 13
Ettik revolved primarily as a foil to Durgrek, as he would have been slain in Durgrek's mad quest for revenge. Had the PCs returned to Gracklestugh, they would have found themselves trapped in the midst of a duergar love triangle, as Ettik had accidentally impregnated a clan mistress, who was about to marry a clanthane.

Elkantar--Drow Bard 11
Elkantar was, pretty much, what the players thought he was--Mathir's slave. However, he would serve as the cause of a major difficulty as Mathir's Matron Mother would have come calling, after a time, wanting both her ship and her slave back. Needless to say, this would have earned the party one more enemy...

Khalar--Goliath Swordmage/Artificer 15
Khalar, the gigantic pistoleer/swordsman, was about as mercenary as it came. He was willing to support any cause, any person, as long as he was well supplied with gold, rum, and fine weaponry. He had a growing crush on both Mathir and Nalen, both of which hid from the group at large.

James "The Goddamned Jim Bob" Robertson--Human Ranger/Horizon Walker 19
The Goddamned Jim Bob had no plot. He showed up as an homage to a past game, and just was happy to go along with the flow. Jim Bob loved travel, and the Red Mourning was as good a method of travel than any.

Stay tuned for the villains of "Pirates of the Underdark", including Jaegren Lern, the enigmatic One Living Man!