( Important note: If you haven't read the "between sessions" post above this one, I suggest you do. It explains a few important things between sessions.)

So we played last night, a shorter session- 8 hours. It was a good session, some roleplay to start, and then a lot of tense battles and tense atmosphere. Without further ado...

Session 13, Part 1- Matters of trust, entering Drezen

Last we finished, the party just conquered Drezen, though at a heavy price- the Queen's Knights were butchered at the gate, and the remnants of the Silver Banner veterans were mostly killed by dretches, and stray demons. The Knights of Sarenrae were the last to enter, brignign the siege engine with them. As they entered Senatef drew his sword "For brother John!" The knights seemed uncertain, but then drew their swords and joined the call, followed closely by the mongrelfolk. Andera, tending to his heavily wounded army, looked angrily at Sena. Rooting for the traitor? he thought, but said no word.

(A small discussion comes between the players about what happened, and if brother John has been traitorous or not. Sena's player is convinced of his innocence, and that he has been a pawn. So does Julian's player, though he is quite worried about how easy it is to possess him. Andera's player however thinks that this may have just been the catalyst, but that he has "turned to the dark side", and is with us no more. Interesting...

Make yourself at home

Heart of courage extended
(I thought it was a good victory music)

The armies were quite battered, but on the whole felt a feeling of great elation! But it was dampened by the eerie image of the citadel- it was covered by a sort of a sickening reddish web. Sena commanded the Knights to surround the place, and the mongrel folk to go on the walls, and post a look out. With that settled, the party and armies went to deal with some of the after math:
- The crystal constructions which Staunton Vhane used to command the troops were crushed, the crystal might be quite valuable, but they did not know how much.
- The magical contraption that summoned the spirit turned out to be a sort of a small maze built upon bodies of templars dug from the grave yard. As Sena and Julian though of how to subvert the magic, Mad dog went by the straight way and just rampaged and destroyed all of the maze..
- The armies find improved weapons and armor, enough supply to last for some time, and their moral rises.
- Lann also found Excorius temporary house, which held the ranseur of the gargoyle that he lost (under a different player, in Keeper's canyon)
- They found Soltengrabbe's loot! Unlike in the module, I moved the loot to the tower inside the courtyard, which I have made her home (I wanted to connect between her defeat and her loot more closely). other than money loot they found:
The undistributed items from Soltengrabbe's horde:
Bag of holding type 3
Rod of Empower, minor (Went to Julian)
Boots of striding and springing (Went to Sena)
Helm of the fortunate soldier AA change of name from this one (Went to Mad dog)
Long arm braces (Also mad dog)
ring of protection +1 (Andera)

You might note that the party doesn't have a tendency to distribute loot equally, but rather by whomever it fits or whomever wants it if there is no taker. Andera's player keeps being not interested in anything very tailored to him... Oh well...

Out of the command staff, fewer remain- Arabeth is bloodied but has survived. Anevia hugs her as she sees her. Qulin and Bartlet are tending to their people, while Aravash examines the strange web. Julian joins him, and tries to dispel it, using the mythic version. The web disperse slightly, and resumes. They decide to leave it for later. It's time to discuss the situation.

In the command tent, tension rising

Which is when I sent Julian's player an SMS, about something we've discussed, we'll get back to that later.

The party and the other commanders find a building, and Arabeth spreads the map they have of the citadel. I hand over to the party the grid less and marker less map from the module's file, one copy to each. I did this for two reasons:
- The party in game had a map of the citadel, though without the wreckage and debris (I "fixed" that by providing info fro ma few prisoners. Yep, not ideal, but works)
- Mapping takes a long time, and it is tedious. The Drezen exploration is supposed to be fast paced, tense, and on the run (sort to speak), I didn't consider mapping it as the main challenge, only a hindrance.

A free image of a very similar map
(It is not exact, some rooms, doors and such have been changed, but it'll do if you don't have one and wish to follow things. If you have the module's file better follow that.
Two important changes to the map: No stairs down F19, and F6 is instead joined to the room south of it, and has no known secret doors)

Julian is all serious. "So, what is our goal?"
Senatef answers simply: "Find the banner, kill the dwarf!".
"And how do you suppose to do so? What is our strategy?"
"I don't yet know! We need to find a way through the walls first..."
Julian pressed on. "We'll need power. What sort of power do you have Senatef? What power dos your goddess vest in you? And you Andera? Mad dog? What sort of magic do you have? What abilities?" (No one found this questions strange...)
Mad dog looked at her. "I kill demons. Hit them hard."
"So, just straight physical prowess..."
Andera got annoyed. "What do you mean? I sneak on them and hits them where it hurts! But now I can store some power in this sword! Sena, can you put some useful spell in it?" Julian also looked to hear what sort of spells Sena has.
Sena however responded rather tersely "The power given to me comes from my goddess, as does the responsibility for it. I will not just give it to someone whom I barely know and shares nearly nothing with me, and who consorts with demonic folk! I do not trust you!"
(Oh no you didn't! )
Andera became furious "You don't trust me?! I'm not the one possessed with demons like Mad Dog and Julian! And I did not try to protect a traitor despite all proofs otherwise!"
Sena responded coldly "We know that brother John was not at fault, but you are right about Julian!" He turned to her "I don't know you either, woman with strange powers, speaks to demons! You said you came from the Queen, but we saw Nurah! How did you come to be at her side!"
Julian hesitated a bit, and answered "I... did some assignments for her, became trusted enough." (When the party didn't even flinch, I was ready to face palm. This never happened, but they never before did ask) Julian tries to deflect "But anyway, I'm not the one who nearly killed us! You don't trust me, but you trust Mad dog?"
"He fought with me at Kenabres! He's shown his worth? How long do I know you?!"
"About a week less than you know him! I haven't shown my worth?!"
Mad dog at this time threw his hands in the air, and left to throw rocks at the red web barrier... Arabeth tries to stop the flaring of spirits. "What's the matter with all of you? We've conquered Drezen, and now this? What happened?"
But they ignore her. Sena continued with Andera "He who belongs to some secret organizations, converse with spies and scouts, skulking around."
Andera burst again "And you? You who time and time protect your... mentor... even though it's OBVIOUS that he was up to something, either possessed or of his own accord! You walk in blindly! What you say is just your theory, and nothing more!"
Julian tries to come things just a bit. "Ok, so we don't know about each other, let us talk, reveal all, out in the open, right?"
Mad dog returns, "regular rock don't work. I need magical rocks. Can yu make me some magical rocks?"
Julian ceases on this possibility of conversation. "i will try, but what is your motivation here Mad dog?"
Mad dog shrugs. "Kill demons. Save Kenabres. Kill more demons." And goes looking for some magical rocks.
The conversation goes on like this for a few minutes, with the other commanders trying to intervene, as accusations and distrust flares up, until Julian suddenly seems to have a slight shock, and shakes... "What just happened?"

They ask her what happened. "I was in a dark place, a pit, a prison, but not physical, but rather mind. So filled with utter despair, but with accepting it. A darkness so vast, so profound, so nihilistic... it was horrible, it was Staunton Vhane. How long was I gone?"
Sena seemed to think nothing of it "Oh, it was just a second ago..." Julian shook her head. "No, it was when we entered the command tent."
Now... THIS shocked them. Sena's player especially it seemed. Sena spoke in a bewildered voice "I never even realized it wasn't you! The could have been amongst us all the time, and we would never know! How did it feel?"
Julian seemed troubled. "It felt as if my mind was sort of leaking, spreading, merging with demonic minds... Staunton's was the strongest one here..."

Spoiler: DM's design- what's up with Julian?
I sought to advance the affliction to Julian has through her "exposed to awefulness" trait. So far the player treated it positively! A sort of free telepathy? Why not? He easily made most of the concentration checks.

The player sought to bring more roleplay into the group, possibly more conflict, but something else for the group to deal with. I decided it with him before the session that Staunton will "semi- merge" with him- both aa glimpse on Staunton's mind, and a chance for a bit of a different roleplay. We discussed the basic limits of the play (Knows mostly of Senatef, (Through the imprisoned John) doesn't know the rest, doesn't much know of Julian's past other than the basics, seeks to learn of the party's strategy, motives and capabilities. Knows how to bluff basically, but not above making mistakes here and there.)

The player loved it, though he is worried of the implications. It had an unexpected effect of making the players realize how much they don't know of the other characters, which led to the following.

Everyone is alarmed. After a quick conversation they decide they had better know each other a bit better in case of various imposters. The 4PCs go to another tent, Sena casts protection from evil on all, and they begin. Sena goes first, telling of his birth to a noble family, which first supported the Kenabres government but later on decided to form a small knighthood organization- The Sovereign order of the Knights of Sarenrae. He told of his long connection to John. He mentions but briefly the devastation of his family's estate, and the death of his family in the attack on Kenbres. (Julian softly speaks. "I'm so sorry... I now understand your anger and determination more. And your connection to John" Sena thanks her, a bit embarrassed)

"What I believe in? Don't do what your god tells us to do ,but what your heart does." (Andera- You sure she heard that?)
"Why am I here? To PROTECT. The city, my teacher (Here I failed, miserably), and those who came with us, you amongst them." ("Well thank you very much!")

Mad dog wasn't much into this, but repeated a bit about his village coming under attack from cultists, most killed, some experimented upon, and then him leaving to live in the wild. "My motive? Said it already! Kill demons. Save Kenabres. Kill more demons!"

Andera tells of his chance encounter with the Desnan archer woman in his childhood, and how he seeks to return the favor. He tells a bit about the secret organization for which he works, enough to make the others understands that it's goal is to hunt down demons and imposters, by stealth, cunning, and playing unfairly. Julian and Sena makes aa very interesting suggestion- "So you might train the mongrelfolk in this? Or even your tielfings? Deskari's bane?" Which I though might be an awesome idea, but... Andera doesn't fully trust them. "It would be hard to persuade the order to enable such beings into it's ranks!". Julian "But the tieflings could be the perfect spies!". But Andera was unsure... "Perhaps a select few... it takes time. Not time that we have now. Let us focus!"

Julian finished. "Unlike you Sena, I was not born to a wealthy, I was an orphan in Kenabres." She speaks of her seeking to see the Wardstone, getting hit be a demon, the wardstone saving her somehow. Being give to the care of Father Cristopher of the Iomedae church, and later Brian, and then a complicated life on the streets of Xer till she came back to Kenabres, only to find it destroyed, finding another fragment of the Wardstone which has awakened more sorcerous power in her than she ever knew (Mythic ascension). She was escorted to the Queen, who tied her power to the other PCs.

"I don't know why I'm here, but it all ties to these horrid dreams I have. I don't intend to run no more, I ntend to face my demons, and the road seems to be with you!" Senatef responded. "I do not belive in coincidences. You were first struck by a demon, saved by the wardstone to which you have returned, and now we will fight these demons together!"

The party seemed satisfied with this. A few brief experimentation made it clear that the web responds to mythic power, as Mad dog came near it, the web receded. "So... it's just us?". "Yes, but first we rest. On the morrow."

Spoiler: Group roleplay- how did it went?
In one of our previous games ("It began with a crash" in my sig) the group dynamics were a HUGE thing, which made things a lot better, mostly due to an interesting triangle between three characters. Sena and Julian's players (Mostly Sena's) have been trying to create something similar in this campaign.

We don't much expect Mad dog's player to join. He adds his bits, but he doesn't like the acting part much. He is very concise about what he wants, of which I tend to deliver in enough amounts. Andera's player is part here, part there- at times he give fabulous acting, at times he seems very guarded, uncooperative and suspicious. And so far in this AP he was resistant to most hooks me or the players tried to throw at him.

Sure, this wasn't the best of play, but I hope it will help ease up into something more later. Anyway, I try to clear off pushing to play, just providing enough hooks and responses to make things interesting, if you bite.

Springing of the trap

Julian released her eagle familiar, and made the ritual to bind a greensting familiar before sleep. Worried that Staunton Vhane might come into their minds (They forgot it's due to Julian's condition, or they just didn't take any chance) They sleep with some guards on each, just in case!

At morning they give a few last orders: Arabeth takes the Lucky bastards to clear the cemetery (Just a flavor thing), Anevie takes a few mongrelfolk and horses, and heads towards Kenbres ("We need mroe troops, supplies, engineers, and various professionals and craftspeople if we wish to keep this place!". Lastly, Aravash and Qulin Longshadow start to research into the strange crystals structures, and Bartlet commands the fort's battered troops while they are gone.

Qulin adds a Vampiric touch spell (3d6) to his master's sword (Andera) and bids him success.

Though there are potentially several approaches to the fort (through ballista bolts holes or the summoning beacon tower) The Party decides not to risk climbing (cough*Sena in fullplate*cough) And heads through the main doors. Mad dog's player- "Now we get to kill stuff?". "Yes, now you kills stuff..." The party reaches the main doors, and the reddish web recedes back, they enter to the dusty, forsaken outer gatehouse (F1) of Citadel Drezen...

(I suggest that if you haven't read the major conceptual changes I've made to the citadel in the "in between sessions" post, that you will read it now. It helps clarify things.)

When the doors swing and slam shut behind them. In front of them, behind the bars, appears Areelu Vorlesh, or an illusion of her. She still hasn't healed since the last time the party met her at the Wardstone Chamber, but she seems to not notice the pain, and carry herself regally. The programmed illusion speaks in a powerful, beautiful, menacing voice "Heroes of Kenabres. Though you have won once, This time I am prepared. Though not all demons would agree, I have forseen the Queen's plan, and with the sacrifice of dear Staunton, in whose halls you now stand, the trap has been triggered. You have sought the Sword of Valor, and now it will seal your fate! Enjoy watching your army die of the red ache, as you sink the depth of despair that is Drezen!" (With a bit more intonation it sounds quite ok!" )

Andera cursed "This changes nothing!" But they suddenly heard cries from outside. They rushed towards the balista ports and noticed two things- First, the web had considerably thickened into redidsh ghost chains, writhing and sliding around the citadel. Secondly- their army was in trouble- varius red lesions and sores were appearing o nthe alarmingly fast.

Julian exclaimed "We have not time! We need to finish this quickly!" Andera rejected "It is just an illusion! So we will make mistakes!" Senatef gave him an angry glare "I'm not taking that chance!" Mad dog just rushed to the partly rotten bars, and pushed them aside...

As the progressed they heard an echo, from the walls, from the ceiling, the floors. A somber, dispassionate voice, dejected, emotionless, cold. "Many boasts, many words. It matters not. You are now here with me. In my Prison. My tomb. You tomb. Our grave, our end."

Spoiler: Areelu VOrlesh involvement
The WotR AP has a recurring problem- it has some interesting villains, but absolutely no build up. As I guess Areelu is either THE greatest or the second greatest villain of this entire campaign path, but other than a short and disappointing appearance in the first module, I haven't seen mention of her in the 2nd or 3rd module. I believe it is vitally important to keep her as a main nemesis of the party in some way. So she has set this trap (Her relationship with Aponavicius complicate matters). She has a major role in the fate of Staunton , on which I wish to build to show her as well. Lastly, she is one of the only powers capable of such a feat as the rapidly advancing disease outside and the red barrier.

The party wasn't impressed though. Players rarely are. Haven't mastered that feat entirely yet!

Battle at the inner gate house

The party rushes past the long walkway, seeing figures of dwarves in ascending age, and ascending "Bad assery" depicted in the statues. As the reach the doors before the main inner gate house of the citadel (Separating F2 and F3) Sena begins casting his defensive spells: Magic vestments, circle against evil, resist energy fire and Aura of Doom (Which became quite a big factor in the game! He becomes an utter buffer/ debuffer tank.

Julian listens and hears something behind the door, but this helps not, and Mad dog opens the door to... two fireballs coming their way!

(The battle takes place at the top of F2, before the doors, in F3, and the bottom of F4(
The two fireballs came from two brimorak demons near the doors to the main hall (F4). Andera shoots at one with an evil outside bane arrow (He has been hoarding those since the first module). Mad dogs rushes to the bars, trying to lift them, when he comes under a hail of arrows from the east ramp in F3C, laced with acid.
Sena's Holy smite kills the brimorak, and wounds severely the other, blinding it.
Julian is enthusiastic and tries a black tentacles spell on the half orc archers, but rolls a 1 for it's grapple. She and Andera are then surprised when 4 gargoyels emerge from the top statue in F2 (In my game Gargoyles don't look like statues, but can meld into any worked stone)and rush at them.

The brimorak teleports away (Behind the western most door of the west ramp), while the archers hit him again, and get away from the tentacles. With those gone, the battle seem to shift to the gargoyles but also a Vrock with 6 mirror image which suddenly appears! Mad dog rushes back past Julian and gargoyles, (using the "burst through" ability of his path), and manages to land a solid hit on the demon, which lands some nice gashes and wounds in return!

Sena rushes to heal, when suddenly some of the ceiling falls upon him! "I am Drezen, and I will use it as a weapon if need be!" Staunton just ripped and flung part of the ceiling at him, but it can't penetrate his armor. (I ruled it as a violent thrust of telekinesis, which Staunton has). regardless, Sena's healing and Aura of doom helps quite a lot! He hers the Brimorak behind the western door (In the real map the wall to there is ruined, and there is debris), and climbs the debris, only to find that it is an illusion, and he falls into a 10 ft tip, with poison laced daggers, which again, don't penetrate the armor (Though he uses Mythic power for a surge)

The battle with Gargoyles and Vrock isn't going so well, Mad dog is hit a lot, and so do Julian and Andera, without inflicting a lot of damage (Julian has the worst luck with dice! ) .Sena can't get of the hall, but tries casting area spells (Another Holy smite), While Staunton tries again to land rocks on him.

The Brimorak, now with a summoned brimorak opens the west door, and approach the pit (The summoned one can't get close due to the circle), They try dispelling Sena's spells but fail. The 4 archers arrive at the north door, opens it and come close to the bars, and unleash arrows.

Julian manages to dispel the Vrock's magic mirrors, and Mad dog manages to kill it with fury, and cleaves+ finish cleaves two gargoyles, the party (Except Sena), hide behind a wall, Mad Dog desperately drinks potions. The Vrock left nice gashes in his hide. Senatef, unable to climb out of the pit on his own, decides to use the "generous" help from Staunton Vhane, and climbs on those rocks part way through, and kills the Brimorak, and the summoned one goes away as well.

Julian has had enough! She rushes about half way to the bars, and unleashes an empowered diamond spray (Thanks to her rod), and makes minced meat of the half orcs.

The party takes a breather- it was a tough fight, and demanded quite more of them than I anticipated. (Mad dog was down 91 hit points, the rest about 15-30, and they used quite a few spells, even a few mythic power points).

Spoiler: Battle at the gate
This battle basically took the enemies of 4 encounters- F1, F2, F3 and F4 (Plus a little helping hand from Staunton) and used them in a somewhat dynamic battle. The demons' teleportation makes of a very interesting power. The ramp, the pit and the bars added a lot to the battlefield to my opinion. It was quite fun!

I was surprised though of how taxing it was on the party. For some reason I expected them to waltz through this, other than the Vrock.

The battle also gave me an estimate of how challenging the battles felt for the players. It challenged them nicely, and seemed to be quite on par with what I have planned. So as a Lithmus test for challenge, this went quite ok!

Staunton's voice returned. "It matters not. They are expendable. As I am, as you are, as is everyone... They have served their purpose- battle after battle, spell after spell, power after power, wound after wound, Drezen will grind you."

Senatef was defiant "What will you do? Throw another rock at me?". "No, I will do what I must, what needs to be done, and watch your armies die outside." ("Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me..." ) Julian tried a different tactic. "Staunton, I have been in your mind! Embrace hope! Seek the light! It needs not be so dark!". Staunton would have laughed, if he was one to laugh. "You seek to feel me with hope? I understand hope, I was once mortal. I know what it can drive people to do. Demons, Aponavicius, do not fully reaalize it's power, it's drive in you. But I do, and so does Areelue Vorlesh as well, for she was once mortal as well. But I now understand there is no hope. Just acceptance of futility. You too will learn... Drezen... I... will show you..."

The walls were made clear for a few instants- panicked, suffering soldeirs were outside, the red welts growing bigger, starting to bleed.
I'll stop here for now. I hope to finish with the second part soon, when the PCs delve into the depths of Drezen and it's difficult challenges, understand part of their predicament, and learn more about the people involved.

Hope you're enjoying!