Hopefully will finish quickly.
Yeah, right!
With some computer problems, and very few opportunities to actually sit and write, I haven't quite managed to get this written yet. Here we go!

Session 25, Part 2- Ambush on the shadow path, Coplhyr and Melazmera

The party started their way towrads the island of Colphyr, the Nyhandrian mines. The path was about 25 ft wide, but outside of it there was... nothing... Other than a few paths that crossed their own path, there seemed to be mostly void. The colors as well were... diminished. Julian concluded "This must be Nocticula's version of a shadow plane for her own. I get my sight back, and all we see is black and white, great!"

A few hours have passed, yet suddenly they heard a shout in their mind, a sort of telepathic shout. "Incoming assassins! Now!"

I demanded the players tell me immediately what their characters do. Julian cast mirror image, Andera vanished, Sena activated some spell (Eagle soul I think?) and Mad Dog stood alert and ready to strike. And on the path ahead, Minhago appeared, only... changed, deformed somewhat, from the multitude of nyhadrian crystals embedded in her flesh!

The Lilitu demon yelled a challenge "You shamed me again!" Her skin seemed to crack at places, an eerie glow coming from within. "This sends here! My final sacrifice for Baphomet!" she seemed unstable, both physically and mentally. She flew towards the party, coming close, when suddenly Andera reappeared! (Andera: "What the hell?!". It's an active invisibility purge, from her ring), and she activated mirror image, which made Mad Dog groan, with about 8 more illusory Minhagos floating round.

At their back though, the mystery ally appeared, as shadows conformed into a semi ethereal shadowy figure, loading a crossbow. "Nezzerius?" asked Sena in surprise. But more shadowy creatures approached from further behind, quite a few dreaded wraiths! "Aye! I'll hold these off! You deal with the rest!"

Next was Julian, who wished to see past Minhago's illusions. She quickly cast true sight, and discovered "the rest"- two Sisters of The Final Embrace, personal guardians to Nocticula, like both Lilith they encountered, invisible and lunging at them. "Crap!" muttered the party. (Unfortunately they rolled really crappy on init).

Sena focused on Minhago first, Using his quicken rod and his own actions to cast 2 successive dispel magic on her, taking down her unholy aura, true sight and flight. She came down on the path, angrier then before!

It was then that the sisters attacked, and when the party learned a bit more about their training and nature... Sena was struck, and felt as if his life almost ended, but he managed to live through the Death attack just barely. Julian who saw the invisible assassins didn't have to deal with that, yet both casters had to deal with 2 negative levels, as the vampires drew out their life force. (Party: "Vampire succubus assassins?!" ) The invisibility though didn't wear off- improved invisibility. The party cursed, as only Julian saw them. She breathed in, knowing this battle could easily prove fatal!

Andera and Mad Dog flank Minhago, and they try to take out her images. Mad Dog takes down 3, but she then strikes back with ferocity, yet her instability makes her less focused... Still she manages to hit a few times, once a crit, but Mad Dog's lucky helm diverts the crit into a normal attack (he got the helm from Soltengrabbe's treasure, in Drezen!).

Yet then the party is caught by surprise by the nature of the crystals- Minhago... erupts, in a nova of cold and fire (each dealing 60 damage), and only part f the party manages to evade the damage. Even Minhago is hurt. In fact, it seems like the energies are degrading her, yet she seems bolstered by it! "The Storm King's gift! To end you all!" She yells. Andera notices alarmingly that the energy with in her starts building up again, quickly...

Sena after having felt the energy drain, Unleashes Channel energy to hit them, but barely affects the Sisters. Nezzeirus in the back summon his doubles, who get entangled with the dread wraiths. Andera gets his other sword from his new gloves, and strikes 5 times, or 5 misses... The Nyhadrian crystals provide Minhago with increased deflection, raising her AC to 50+!

Julian casts selective empowered mythic fireball (She and her shenanigans! ), but the sisters easily evade, and uses Brilliance to quicken a mythic disintegrate on a sister, but they save against that as well. Julian is astounded by their high saves. "Um... Vampire succubus assassin... anti-paladins..." (The party: ) The duo focus on her (As she alone can see them), and without many protections (They go straight through the images, with ointments of true sight themselves), Julian loses more levels, and is in a bad shape!

The party gets stressed "This doesn't look good!"

Mad Dog grows big and rages, trying to take down more images, and even manages to hit Minhago twice! and both are crits! (Party: "Yay! Go Mad Dog! She's going down! ) But she wears fortification armor, and both crits are negated. (Party: Andera: "There go my sneak attacks... )

Nezzerius yells from the back. "Ama gonna earn my pearl!" yet even he it is hit hard, and though some wraiths go down, so do some clones. Sena Sena grumbles. "The Ambush! They are too well prepared!" and goes back to his support role, casting heal on Julian.

This gets an attention of a sister, who uses her round to cast true strike(This is how they managed to hit Sena in the first place), but the other keeps hitting Julian. She goes white, weak, with only a few levels left... gasping, She casts selective prismatic spray, and but though some wraiths are affected, the sisters easily save against all effects. The player gets really frustrated by this! "I can't even affect them with my strongest spell!"

Mad Dog keeps on taking down images, and hits Minhago again, only this seems to unleash her nova again (This time twice fire, 60 each), Julian fails both saves, taking 120 hit points (She has a lot due to her improved campaign trait) she nearly falls down... And the rest are badly wounded as well... Minhago yells in triumph. "Baphomet! I will do your bidding! I will prove glorious to you!" Sena, through the pain and chaos perceives something quite alarming- the shadow bridge is affected by the energies as well, and part of it seems to unwind... Still stable enough, but not sure how much it would take...

Yet Andera seems even more determined. "Chandi! Help me hit her!" and the eager sword casts true strike, (It's spell casting ability, along with dimension door) and manages to hit her, even through the fortification! The sneak attacks hits her hard. With a sudden attack he hits again, and Minhago is utterly surprised by the scoundrel, who manages to hit her even harder than Mad Dog!

Minhago, enraged, shouts as she tries to attack both Mad Dog and Andera, yet both manage to evade her strikes ( Mad Dog mostly due to Mythic Dodge), and Nezzerius comes down to the last Two Wraiths, though it is not looking that well either.

Sena, seeing how badly hurt Minhago is, but also how badly hurt Julian is, uses his quicken rod, and spread his arms, one to each. From one comes white energy, which heals Julian, from the other hand drak energy, which harms Minhago and... kills her!

The party goes "YEAH!" but Minhago's death, holds one last surprise and sacrifice- The Storm King embedded in her the force on final thores, which with the nyhadrian crystals coalesce into a nova od dark energy! Andera saves, so does Julian (Though she would have died if Sena didn't heal her), and Mad Dog uses his "eater of magic" ability to survive.

Yet Sena doesn't manages to save, and his victory smirk turns into a surprised agonized expression, as the nova snuffs out his life. Sena collapses on the bridge, and dies... The player took this very hard, along with his previous frustration, gotten angry and moody. () The party took this as shock as well! ()

And the rest are doing poorly as well. They barely scratched the sisters so far! Andera grits his teeth, and goes invisible again (With Minhago dead, the invisibility purge ends as well). Julian goes to Sena's body, evades AoO using mythic, and uses a scroll of limited wish to raise Sena form the dead . (Forgot which specific spell it made- raise dead? breath of life? Unsure) Sena' player is no less pissed...

Mad Dog tries to pinpoint but fails. "First images! now invisibility! Can't hit them!" Yet Andera, with mythic improved blind fight does locate a sister and hits her hard! Sena heals himself, and uses the last charge of the quicken rod to cast true sight on Mad Dog. He doesn't get up from the floor, just mumbles. "We should have done it at first place... Now, lets sit and watch..."

Mad Dog grins at the sister. "Ok bitch! Do your worst!" She hits him a bit, but then, he hits her back... he damages her heavily, but before she can act Andera Sneak attacks her and crits! Now, Andera has precise SA now, which means that on a crits he also multiplies his Sneak attacks damage! He pierces the sister through the heart, and she crumbles to dust... The other, understanding the battle is lost, teleports away...

The battle is won, but just barely, and the atmosphere around the table is glum, frustrated, and bummed...

Design of Show down with Minhago, and the Shadow Ambush
This was a very tough and nearly TPK. I designed it as really difficult, for several reasons:
1. In my planning, if the party to this far, it meant they succeeded in the negotiations, which, as I assumed, meant that they just scored a major victory against the demons, but I needed to show the demons are a serious threat still.
2. I wanted to show that the demons learn as well, and have learned the party's abilities and tactics. lot of the encounter was geared specifically against the characters abilities. I rarely do this, but this felt like the right time, with all that happened before.
3. I wanted to bring Minhago's arc to an end, with her actually cracking, yet with some twists. I also wanted to show how she became a tool for the others (Who basically sacrificed her), but also the length the demons will go to take the party down now.
4. I wanted the party to deal with an ambush. Till now, for the most part, the initiative was theirs. I wanted to show the other side takes actions as well.

As to the design of enemies:
- Minhago was changed by the crystals- more to AC (deflection), but less to hit (Due to her being unstable). I increased her hp to 420, but she lost some each round. And she also got partially hit by the Unstable Aura. This effect meant that once every 1d4 rounds, she unleashes a nova in 60 ft, from two random energies, each causing 60 damage, but the party can save for each. When Minhago was hit, there was a 1 in 4 chance to unleash a nova again. When she died she basically mimicked the Balor's death thores, only with negative energy.

- Sisters of the Last Embrace: They are succubus vampires anti paladin 2, assassin 4, with a few added spell like abilities, usable 3/ day (Improved invisibility, true strike and 1-2 others) They also had a few magic items, which upped their death attack, and enabled them to counter some of the party's abilities. How did the demons get their help? Vorlesh had sufficient magic (Which... the party didn't even think to find and counter...)

- Dread Wraiths: In my original design these were supposed to be part of Vorlesh spells as well, sort of semi shadow images of the party, but when thinking of how to incorporate Nezzerius, I had him "Earn his keep" by battling them, and just wrote their battle progression to myself on the side. This turned out important, because if the party had to battle them as well, it might very well have been a TPK!

-The last bit was the bridge itself, though that didn't come into light. Any energy damage the bridge got inflicted with, reduced it's hit points. Had it vanished, the party would have been taken out of the shadow paths, into Nocticula's realm (About half way there, middle of the seas). This was to add a complications with Minhago's energy bursts (And limit area energy spells), but I didn't' assess the bridge hit points, and it never came to actual danger).

Dealing with hard feelings

The battle was very fierce, and the emotions which rose from it needed to be dealt with. We decided to take a humus break and talk things out.

The two players of Sena and Julian were really frustrated, and somewhat pissed off by the battle. Julian's player felt that almost all enemies have saves or SR too difficult to beat, despite investing heavily in being able to penetrate these, and Sena's player felt ineffective, and that they need to rely on Mad Dog to kill things, and that his character was mostly support. This impression joined to his general feel that a lot of his attempts to affect stuff didn't succeed very well (His vision, with Arulashee, and more). Also, the player really hates being resurrected, it feels like he has lost, and now he is cheating.

Both players thought about changing characters. Julian's player felt his character isn't effective, and that it "doesn't quite feel like a rising goddess", and Sena's player felt frustrated about dying, being ineffective and not being able to promote mostly roleplay themed initiatives.

I could relate to some of what they said, but was utterly surprised by their feelings of inadequacy, when their characters solved quite a lot of the challenges in the campaign. I tried to give many examples in the past, yet for some reason, the impression both players got was that their characters were mostly for support. When mentioned they could have worked better as a team Julian's player got annoyed "She's a mage, with great magical power, and I want to feel that she is overcoming her enemies on her own, not just resorting to buffing others, or countering the enemies abilities". Sena's player kind of echoed this. "Yeah, Sena can buff, debuff, but basically, we take down enemies defenses, and boost up Mad Dog or Andera, and they do the killing..."

This quite surprised Mad Dog and Andera's players, who felt that they were sort of second fiddle to the casters! Andera player spoke "We can't teleport, incapacitate enemies, go through walls, fly and more, we hit stuff, but about half of the enemies die before we even get to them! I can vanish, and I can hit stuff, and it takes a lot of planning an effort, while you use some of your magic and just get it done."

Mad Dog's player just summarized "Look, it was tough, and we didn't fight well. We didn't coordinate and forgot a lot of stuff. Can happen when we play once a month." Andera's player was mostly silent and talked mostly in emails after the session, but he got pissed by Julian and Sena's reactions. He thought they were acting a bit like cry babies, when once they are faced with challenges they couldn't just easily magic away, and can't just waltz through, when he and Mad Dog have to face considerable difficulties and many times play sort of second fiddles to their magic, but didn't complain as much.

When hearing them, I go the impression the battle was perhaps too tough to my group's tastes. This is especially true when we meet only about once every 4-5 weeks, so they come to feel good, feel successful, feel competent, a bit of a fun power trip and escapism. The battle was supposed to feel party f the ongoing campaign, and it's context within the long struggle, with ups and downs, but here it felt dominating the session, setting the tone for it.

Tactically, In truth, I think the party handled the battle really bad. They didn't act as a team, left Julian to face both sisters alone, and didn't really counter or think creatively against an enemy so well prepared. (Undoing the sisters invisibility, hampering movements, maybe undoing Vorlesh enchantment on the sister, helping Nezzerius so it could join the fight or more). But perhaps, as Mad Dog's player said, with sessions happening so far off, with the players forgetting some of their characters abilities, and with each one wanting to shine and feel bad ass in this once a month or so escapist hobby, the experience here felt quite bad...

I myself was quite tired by it. I worked quite a lot on this encounter, and seeing it fell quit badly, when I thought it would be a high light, felt bad. There were quite a lot of unresolved feelings there, and it felt they didn't all stem from the battle itself. We understood this, but decided to move on, and talk about this after the session. We wanted to move things on, get to new experiences, and hopefully they would prove better.

Aftermath of the battle

Mad Dog helped Sena get up. He looked pale, worse for the experience, yet he greeted Nezzerius when the shadowy demon approached. "Glad to see you! How did you come here?"
Nez: "Ama know of the shadow paths. Use them as well. And I know some in the palace. They told me Minhago, which you hired me to find, came out, so ama followed her. This other, the witch Vorlesh brought her others- the sisters, which was... quite odd. And the shadows. There were two others, and the Balor invested a lot of power, chaotic power, into crystals the horned on put inside Minhago's flesh. Ama was worried, but followed. And then you all come, so ama shout a warning!" (I decided that the benefit of hiring Nezzerius will be his warning, that gave them one action before the battle started, and fighting the dread wraiths."

In the loot of the dusted sister and the scorched remains of Minhago, they charge her spell storing ring and give it to Mad Dog (He keeps it in his pocked, since he allready has2 rings. Might need to exchange), and spread some ointments of true sight and a few other tools between them. The sister has a few note worthy items. First, a glamoured +3 improved shadow mithral shirt, which Andera takes, and her glove is a "glove of final embrace" (+2 to death attack, +5 to final embrace ability, causes bleeding 5. Homebrewed for the sisters, made from descriptions of a few other magic items). They decide to exchange this with the pearl they gave Nezzerius (pearl of power level 6, more than a fair exchange). Nezzerius bows, and bid them farewell.

The party is beat. Sena heals the party, and they rest an hour there for him to regain his spells (Surprisingly the rest don't want to use their recuperate abilities. Mythic points are just too damn precious! And they feel they need to hurry, since by the ambush, it's obvious the enemy knows they are coming). After Sena is rested, they restore Julian and his negative levels, and move on, quite grimly...

Island of Colphyr

A few hours later, by the speed of the shadow paths, the party reached the end of the trails. They reached, and pulled away a shadow like curtain, and stepped into the island of Colphyr. It felt a bit like when they first entered The Midnight Isles, on the island of Vazgral- here too there were vast jungles, and the feel, the taint of evil, and the Starless skies above... Strange archaic chaotic charges appeared ahead, and the party heard the scream and screeches of flocks of wild vrocks, in their frenzy, in their dancing, in their madness...

Wait? A jungle? Shouldn't the party be near a waterfall? A beach? the shore?
I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I decided to skip through the entire "river road" mentioned in the module, where they have about 3-4 battle encounters as they trudge their way up the river from the shore if the island to it's center. Why? 3 reasons:
1- The battles are a laugh, most are boring, and they add very little to plot or game. They are just "filler XP".
2- I prefer fewer encounters, but more difficult, and with some meaning. So a before, I crunched some encounters and added the XP for other stuff.
3- The party is assumed to avoid taking flight, due to the masses of vrocks flying in the skies. But, at these levels, the party would most probably find an easy way with a spell or two to bypass that (Wind walk again? Maybe with some invisibility or such? I'd trust they would find some idea...) So planning all of that just to have them sidestep it quite easily seemed foolish, and very time consuming.

I did keep some of the ideas, which I found appealing. See soon...

As they arrived, I was quite surprised by their first action, which showed some responsibility. Sena cast Sending to the Queen." Arulashee saved us. Through her, Nocticula won’t ally with demons. She is completely redeemed in our side. Please inform Drezen. She will come. How goes the campaign?"
Shortly aftera reply came. "Contact failure for 9 days! Army lays siege on Raliscard. Taking losses, inflicting more. Demon resistance heavy, moral high, making good progress, though with cost. Nocticuila's matter? Your situation?"
They used a scroll to contact her again: "Notcticula is out from the game for now. Continuing to second objective. Tell archon Adrial, I have her trumpet." (The one they saved from under the Battle Bliss)
The Queen replied. "Will do. Great aid to our forces! Her and companions. Powerful cleric! You continue to amaze me! great news! Shall inform Drezen!"

Spoiler: COntact with the Queen
I must say I was quite pleased at them initiating the contact! It shows they do care about the war effort, and have not lost sight of it. Also, they seem to have a good relationship with the queen, which is important for the next part. This was a success.

Not knowing where to go, they listened, and quickly heard the river, they came close to it and started trudging up. They knew they would be teleported close, and indeed, after about 15- 20 minutes, they could hear a waterfall, and see a sharp rise in the mountain, the top of Coplhyr Island.

Yet in their way, they could feel a strange repelling force, and as they approached, they felt it stronger. Yet it did not manage to affect them. Upon coming closer, they saw large, weirdly shaped and alien looking rock jutting from the jungle high, covered in odd, shifting runes. Julian realized this is the source of the sensation they kept feeling, and this close could identify it- A permanent Antipathy effect, only spread out over a very large area...

I'll need to explain the scene a bit, as this changes from the module. The party has basically come upon the waterfall and cave entrance to the mines. But the initial encounter in the module on Colphyr incorporates a special feature- The Qlippoth stone, which emanates the Antipathy spell, and also has... a nasty surprise. I incorporated the 2 encounters here together. The Stone stands near a small lake just outside the cave entrance. Also, I got rid of the Omox filth queen. The inhabitant of the cave still resides... )

Tentacles, angels, and Melazmera!

The party expected the place to be guarded, so they tried to look ahead. Mad Dog managed to see a figure just inside the shadow of the cave entrance, a large figure, a humanoid of a sor, with wings? "Must be some guardian demon." Said Andera. They decided he would sneak ahead to get a batter look.

He then snuck right next ot the Qlippoth stone (Wait? You don't even examine it? ) His stealth was high enough that the creature observing through the stone didn't notice him. (Which the party mistook for it being safe! ) Andera got a much better look, and spotted that it was no demon, in fact it looked like an angel, with no head... (The party: "What the hell?") He got back, informed the team, before sneaking up ahead of them again abotu 30 feet ahead, as hey followed.

Andera is sneaky... the rest? Less so... As they got about 15- 20 feet from the Qlippoth rock, The Abyssal Harvester who watched through it, sent out it's gargantuan tentacles and hit the 3 nicely, even grappling both Sena and Julian (This... did not add to their mood). This in turn alerted the headless angel, (The Flayed one in the module) and the resident within...

Sena uses Freedom call (Domain power, I think from liberation?), and both him and Julian fall. The grappling is basically ineffective from now on... Which renders the harvestr mainly as a beat stick... (Ineffective cleric, eh?) Julian quickly dimension doors back, out of reach.

Mad Dog gets mad, and starts hacking off tentacles... The headless angel flies towards Sena, trying to hit him, but fails again and again. Yet, his profane Aura encompasses both Andera and Mad Dog, which lowers their AC (I'm using Scorpion's stats, As mentioned before. And Sena is beyond morality). Inside the cave, Melzamera casts two buffs, one regular, the other quickened...

The Abyssal Harvester proves as a surprisingly effective beat stick! It starts pummeling Mad Dog with tentacles, and luckily for him a crit is averted by Sena's Divine Intervention. The barbarian in turn keeps hacking at the tentacles with fury! (Why does he keep in range? )

Julian tries a disintegrate but fails due to miserable dice, and the the other three keep hacking with the angel and the tentacles. Sena uses Dimensional blade to pass most defenses of t he angel, and charges his attack with channel energy. Together with Andera, they damage it nicely! Mad Dog, despite having cut some tentacles, get pommeled hard, till he decides to back away... Meanwhile, Melazmera in the cave keeps casting some more buffs, till she is ready, and teleports to the battle field.

The party gasps as the Guargantuan ancient umbral dragon appears on the battle field! "Intruders to my realm! Die!" before she cast a quickened fireball (Which the party saves against). Most of the party groans. "Oh crap!" But one player beams. Mad Dog grins "Well, that's more like it!" Andera however, fails the save against her frightful presence, and runs away! ("Man! I have to upgrade this save!")

What? Wait... No! Not again!

The Abyssal Harvester recoils his remaining tentacles into his realm, not wishing to be hitby Melazmera's breath or spells. And it seems she has many, with various protections around her, including mirror image, haste, displacement and more.

But not for long- Julian casts Greater dispel and takes out all off her spells other than shield. Sena casts heal on Mad Dog, and uses hi divine intervention to block the dragoness AoO on him. "you go dog!" Mad Dog charges, grows, hit her once, hit her again, one crit, cutting about half of her hit points away.

Alarmed, She casts quickened mirror image again, and uses her shadow breath (hoping to reduce all of their strength), but both Sena and Mad Dog save, and Julian is JUST out of reach. She rolls her eyes. "Another spell? Please!" And uses another greater dispel, taking out the images, and the shield. Mad Dod then crits again... and gut the ancient umbral dragon, in 2 rounds, without her dishing out ANY damage!

Julian then turns to the Flayed angel, who is still crossing swords with Sena. "I've had enough of this!" and with a disintegrate ends the battle. The party pulled back to regroup, and the abyssal harvester quickly sent some of it's remaining tentacles, grabbed the dragoness' body, and pulled it into it's realm.

Mines' entrance battle
For this encounter I used 3 elements: The dragon, the flayed angel and the harvester. All used Scorpion's stats. I hoped incorporating the 3 would solve action economy.

I also moved the Qlippoth stone here. In the module the harvester can't for some reason draw the grappled victims into it's lair. I think this is mostly due to it being introduced at the end of the river, so a grappled victim gets transported a long way away, and gets severely cut off the party. If the PC dies, it will take the party a long way to get to resurrect it. If it lives, it brakes up the party so it's very difficult to negotiate between the two sub parties. I think the designers wished to avoid that). Unlike the module, I intended that the harvester COULD draw the grappled opponents inside it's lair. (It's lair is A bit after Melazmera's cave, after the entrance. It could cause a short term separation, and even might cause a very daring rescue, mid battle. (The harvester is a beast if faced alone).

But... Sena's freedom call and the subject is mute...

The entrance seemed clear, next come the mines. Hephazimerah is waiting, deep in the heart of a demon lord' grave and essence...

Each PC's XP: 755,288.


We ended the session here. As mentioned before, due to this session, and a following discussion in the two weeks after (I'll detail this in the next post), this will be the last session, at least for a long while. We are putting the campaign on hiatus, though I can't promise that we'll resume playing it. I apologize for the somewhat abrupt ending, but this was for the health of the party and myself.

I have debated with myself of whether to write this session at all, or just end "with a bang!" after the negotiations, which seemed a more... fitting stopping point. (Or even upon embarking unto the shadow path, at the end of the first path). But... this is not just a story log, but a gaming log, and as such, it deals with problems nd difficulties, as well as successes. And what happened here helped illuminate the discussion we had later on, and the reasons we stopped the campaign currently.

Despite the difficulties, the party did have great fun playing the campaign, and I had great fun running it so far. Yet the difficulties proved too much for now.

What's up next? In the next post or two I will discuss several things: The discussion we had and why did we decided to stop, my thoughts on the campaign as a whole so far and the challenges it presented for my particular group, a brief summary of the plans I had for running the rest of the campaign, and our groups' gaming plans for the future! No, we haven't broken up, but we decided to make some big changes!

I hope you enjoyed this so far. I'd like to thank all who commented, encouraged, and helped with advice on this thread, or many other "side threads". Thanks for reading!