As promised, I'll recap the high and low points of my last campaign session. This game was pretty normal, save for the temporary (I hope) loss of our Eladrin / Dhampir swordmage. Our stalwart adventurers last left off at the entrance to a cairn that had been identified (tenatively) as the resting place of several brave warriors of the Dwaran alliance, dating back nearly 700 years ago.
This alliance marked the regions first cooperative alliance between men-folk, and the half-men from under the mountains. While there was little love between the races, both saw the opportunities that far outweighed the drawbacks of such a pairing. The Dwarves brought knowledge of Iron and stonemasonry to the primitive bronze-age tribes of men. The humans, in turn, taught the dwarves how to work the surface soils, and work leather. While seemingly inequitable, the truth is, there were scores of smaller ways their alliance benefited both.
With the cairn identified, and it's link to the past established, the party went back to speak with the surviving two members of the archaeological expedition. Jonny and Daniel were uneducated laborers that, as it turns out, have a valuable piece of information to sell. It seems that the cairn was not the true destination of the expedition! It was a layover, in which their leader, a Professor Markham, was stopping at to collect one more set of charcoal rubbings. The true prize, was an unopened tomb of chieftains "a league or two" away. For the bargain price of 350 gold pieces, the two bumpkins were willing to lead the party there.
After some heated negotiation (one of the high points of the session) the party settles for 275 gold, and pays 100 up front. A brisk country hike later, and the party arrives at the tomb entrance - to find it's stone slab "doors" shattered! Daniel leaves the cover of the woods, and is struck down with an arrow in the throat by a gnoll hiding near the entrance. The gnoll breaks cover and scurries into the tomb, while jonny takes his 100 gold and runs away.
So. I pulled most of this session out of my ass. Deciding early to stand upon the shoulders of giants, I lifted the three encounter delve from the DUNGEON DELVE hardcover released a few months ago. The name escapes me, but IIRC, it was a lvl.5 delve consisting of gnolls and traps.
The first encounter went well. The gnoll claw fighters (and their wicked nasty mobility) in conjunction with the stagnant, mucky water trap, kept the party separated and off-balance. Upon completion, they moved on, and were torn up pretty badly by the gnoll archers shooting from the darkness at their back-lit asses :)
One thing they paused to consider, was a rune-scribe circle on the floor between the 1st and 2nd rooms. The map showed a serpent symbol, but I described it as a stylized silhouette of an elk's head and antlers. The party warlock - sensing magic - left combat to examine it closer. Here, I found myself reaching deeper (in my ass, that is) to reward his inquisitiveness. Discovering it to be a teleportation circle of "natural" origin, he tried re-activating it - no dice. Then he remembered in the cairn, they had found some strange crystals that glowed slightly and radiated magic. He touched them to the circle, and was rewarded by seeing some of the "essence" of the crystal flow out and momentarily illuminate the runes. The smell of fresh flowers wafted from the circle, before it went dead again.
By this point, the party had "accidentally" barged into the apex encounter for this delve. They had no idea what was going on, except that an 8' tall, emaciated gnoll with glowing red eyes and a giant demonic rack of horns was now aware of their presence. The cowardly warlock smashes the crystal on the circle, and vanishes!
There was much party consternation about this. They realized that with him gone (as much as they hated him) they stood little chance of being able to take this hell-spawned beast out. The wizard (himself a portal expert) jumped through immediately after - consuming the leftover energies of the portal. This left the warlord and fighter all alone and very pissed off.
The two arcane masters found themselves standing on a rune-carved dais, overgrown with vines and plants of all types. Around them, a seemingly endless valley of verdant green forest. They quickly discovered that neither had any more of the crystals on their person...making their little field trip a one-way ride. Unconcerned, and glad to be rid of the troublesome dragonborn, they decided to climb a tree, and look for signs of civilization. Several circus-worthy attempt later, they scale a smallish tree, and are now wishing they had another crystal.
Apparently, they are in the dead center of a lush, bowl-shaped valley with high curtain wall cliffs barely visible in the distance. Much closer, a thin plume of smoke is just starting to drift up from the valley floor. Much farther away is what appears to be a castle of some kind - with a huge churning thunderstorm centered above it. There is not another cloud in the sky...
After some conversation, they decide to investigate the smoke, and a short hike later, are rewarded with the smell of cooking meat. Hungry now, they nearly barge into the scene of a slaughter in progress! 10' tall cycloptic giants are systematically tearing down the artfully woven huts, killing the inhabitants, then torching the ruins! Knowing they are outclassed, they watch and wait - hoping the beasts will move on soon...
Meanwhile, back in the tomb, the two warriors are slowly backing away from the slavering monster that will soon be their doom. Running out of options quickly, the warlord recalls the warlock using one of the crystals they had found earlier - that he still had in a belt pouch! Grabbing the Dragonborn, he shatters the crystal on the circle and jumps in, just as the first flight of arrows sails through - and find themselves alone on an overgrown stone dais. Seeing the smoke quite clearly, the dragon KNOWS the warlock likely has something to do with it :)
While the two warriors make haste toward the ruined village, the two spell casters are rewarded for their patience, when the giants - heeding a faint horn call - disperse and retreat from the village. The warlock proceeds to dig through the rubble, looking for loot. The wizard, feeling torn, decides to look for survivors first THEN loot. In short order, they discover the only survivor is an unconscious eladrin woman, and her squalling infant. The warriors arrive with perfect timing :) The Warlock is threatening her in his search for valuables, while the wizard is covering her mouth to stifle her terrified screams! (A shadar-kai warlock and Kenku wizard - both natives of the shadowfell) They defuse the situation, when suddenly, in a blast of sweet-smelling wind and autumn leaves, a dozen eladrin warriors are all around them with lances lowered!
A tense standoff ensues (made much more fun by only the wizard speaking the language!) and finally, a bearded(!) eladrin orders them to surrender their arms, as the Queen of autumn would speak with them immediately. The party agrees, and the bearded Eladrin, now known as Bryant Silverblade sketches a runed circle and transports them to Goldenleaf, home of the autumn court.
Queen Lilliandra meets them, and they aquit themselves well enough that their lives are granted back to them, and they are declared friends of the fallen leaves. It turns out that Irina, the woman they "saved" from the village is a distant cousin of the queen herself. Complicating things further, the wizard has invoked a life-debt on the young irina - that has been upheld by the queen herself!
In short order, the party is told the tale (by the royal company of bards, no less) of the first queen of the fey, and her four lovers. She loved each as an equal, though they were as different as night and day.
"The lord of spring was a flighty thing, who loved to hear her sing,
Always yearning for new days and green growing things.
The lord of summer was a foppish one, who never looked ahead,
he lived each day like it was the only one, a force of nature in red.
The lord of autumn was a dour sort, who counted every grain and loaf,
She loved him for his mind, for in heart he was an oaf.
The lord of winter was cold as ice, and hated all not fey,
Of all the lords his sword was sharpest, so by her side did he stay."
And on the evening went, as the bard regaled them with the tale of how they fey were shattered as a people, by their queen refusing to wed ANY of them. Eventually, they decided that she would only marry them if there were no other options. So began the "war of cousins" in which the houses turned on each other. For a thousand moons, they battled and schemed, until Magrim, king of the fomorians had had enough. He invaded the fey realms from his home deep within the earth.
With a new front in the war opening up on their depleted forces, an alliance was formed. The queen bore a child to each lord, making them equal in stature - before disappearing into the mists of legend. The united houses soon beat back the giantish armies, but at terrible cost. The war has been grinding on for hundreds of years, with neither side taking advantage until now.
At this point, the queen stops the celebration, and asks if their new allies would be willing to help the autumn court, and all of fey-kind. The party (stupidly FTW!) agrees, and she tells them of a growing strangeness within the feywild. Magrim has obtained a new source of power that he is using to create twisted abominations to fight for him. These creatures are as powerful as they are foul, and will turn the tide of the war if they are left unchecked.
Directing the party's attention through a window near her throne, they see again - much closer - the castle and it's attendant thunderstorm. "That was the original castle of our court, lost some 2oo moons ago (time works weird here) when it was lost, my father cast a powerful curse upon it, that has prevented the giants from using it against us. Unfortunately, he never made it out of the castle to tell us how to break it. My augurs have told me that there is something important to your futures in there, how this can be is beyond my ken - but it is, just the same."
The party needs little more persuasion before choosing to accept this mission. The session ended shortly thereafter, when the party tried to cross a bridge that had been shattered by a fallen tree - before finding out it was a GIANT FREAKING CROCODILE! We left off with it chewing contentedly on the warlock.
SO. Some post game thoughts. After the "disappointment" I felt over the lack of role-playing in the party, I was blown away by how much they went looking for it this time around. This is where I think folks are having problems. In 4E, combat is combat, and it is a tight and well oiled machine. Also in 4E, NOT combat is....a fuzzy and somewhat grey area. Every single cool new power and bling in the book is centered around killing shit and blowing stuff up - which makes for some pretty cool combat sequences, but leaves the out-of-combat stuff completely divorced from the main thrust of all those rules and mechanics. It feels oddly - disassociated sometimes.
Luckily, that's just one way to look at it. My players seem to see it as a void, that when desired, they can pour out anything they feel like doing - with less dice rolls than our 3E game to boot. The other observation is that they feel a little more "in their element" now among all of these fantastical people,places, and things. In fact, I was told last Sunday that they don't want to go back to Hogger's Vale - it was BORING!
So there you have it. Apologies to those who dislike long posts, I felt that breaking it up would be a disservice to the story itself, and with no scribe chronicling the adventure - I'm stuck doing it here :)
Bring it on :)