May 5th, 2012
|11:16 am - Exile Empire - Beware the Claw!|
April is generally the cruellest month, and by that I mean it's the time when Comedy Festival not only eats away at my spare time but completely eliminates that of some of my friends - friends and fellow roleplayers to boot.
All of which means that April isn't a month for gaming round these parts, at least not until the very end. Which, of course, is when we got the whole band back together to return to Exile Empire, kicking off a new phase of the campaign by repeating smacking all of the PCs with spiked flails and/or setting them on fire.
Details behind the cut.
After a week at sea, the House Tharashk supply ship returns to Stormreach, laden with the former residents of Zantashk, the gnoll troops of the Liondrake's Roar, some drow warriors and assorted adventurers. Kaddik has spent his time at sea training with his mentor Malik'aashta, Spark has been learning the history of the giants from Shinra, and Rufus has been seasick. But at last they are returned, and as the ship docks they head down the gangplank.
Meanwhile, Slaine and Caleb head for the docks, eager to see their compatriots and fill them in on the explosive events of the last week that have left Master Aedan near death and much of the southern rim of Stormreach in flames.
As the two groups begin to converge at the waterfront, something seems amiss - until the silence is broken by a horned, red-skinned humanoid bursting from an alleyway, warning them that it's a trap. Suddenly the various dockworkers, sailors and stall-owners on the scene throw off their coats and cloaks to reveal heavy armour, spiked flails and surcoats bearing the device of a twisted green hand. As one they scream 'FOR THE CLAW!' and attack!
Outnumbered three-to-one, the adventurers fight desperately to survive, aided only by their new teifling ally. The Emerald Claw warriors pin them down with flaming arrows, setting part of the docks alight; heavy infantrymen and troopers batter them with terrible coordinated blows while a swordsman blazes around the docks like a streak of murderous flame. The heroes fight well at the beginning, but the weight of sheer numbers takes its toll, and soon they begin to fall. Eventually only Kaddik and Spark are left standing, but when all seems lost, Caleb recovers and manages to rouse the others, turning the tide. A single archer escapes the scene, and the heroes manage to knock out and capture the leader of the fanatics before he can take his own life.
Exhausted and spent, the adventurers have no time to recover before more warriors arrive - from the Iron Watch, Stormreach's elite warforged army, come from the fighting in the south to respond to this emergency. Their leader, Steeljack, advises the adventurers to escort the refugees to the House Tharashk refinery, where they should find shelter - but to be careful, as the refinery lies close to the region where the mad Storm Hammers are terrorising the city. They make their way to the refinery, bringing the tiefling (who finally introduces himself as Ash'uk Caarn, or Ash for short), and seeing signs of continued violence in the streets.
At the refinery, they are greeted by Viceroy Kurn d'Velderan, who agrees to house the villagers, gnolls and drow until better shelter can be found. As Slaine leaves to check on her master, accompanied by Ash, Kurn takes Kaddik and Malik'aashta aside - whereupon Malik reveals himself to be a spymaster of the Tusks, House Tharashk's secret intelligence group, and that Kaddik is a spy in training. Malik knows much of the fell taint creatures that the Storm Hammers use as weapons, and perhaps how to defeat them - even if Kaddik's companions must be sacrificed in the process...
'Emerald Claw fightapalooza'.
That's what this session was called in my notes. I wanted to pull out all the stops for the transition to 4th level - a massive fight against overwhelming odds that would strain the PCs' abilities to their utmost and give the players a memorable introduction to a new set of opponents. And that's what I delivered, nearly too well - we came so damn close to a TPK that I was caught short, wondering how the hell I was going to salvage the campaign. I was on the verge of a disappointing 'the drow and gnolls rescue you' deus ex machina when the balance shifted back to the PCs and they just managed to win. And goddamnit, that's exactly how a big fight scene should go. It's one of the great elements of 4E that it often produces last-minute victories by allowing PCs just enough longevity and options that they can turn things around like that.
One of the less-great elements, of course, is how long fights can go for before that last-minute victory occurs, and this time around it was close to four hours. Four exciting hours, mind you, but four hours nonetheless, which is about 90 minutes longer than I'd hoped the fight would last. Part of that is down to sheer numbers, which is one reason I think I'll shelve minion-heavy fights for a bit and focus on combats with smaller numbers of more powerful opponents. And part of it is also due to six players all making decisions, which is one reason I'm looking forward to level 4 play - it's a consolidation level where players get more comfortable with their characters' abilities and can start learning about effective teamwork.
Plot-wise, we didn't have a lot of time to develop things before heading off to see The Avengers (verdict - good action movie that never quite linked its various super-bits together to be 100% satisfying), so I wanted to tantalise the players with dropped hints and asides that we could flesh out a little in email and then explore fully next session. The rescue of Malik has wrapped up the Liondrake's Roar plotline, which dominated the last half-dozen sessions of play, so it was time to bring back two plotlines that had been put to one side - the mad plans of the Storm Hammers and the theft of Alarich's body by the Emerald Claw - and put them front-and-centre. What I'd like to do is keep both of them in focus, swapping back and forth between or during sessions, rather than just explore one of them - hopefully this set-up will help with this.
Lastly, we got a couple of excellent character moments this session. The revelation that Kaddik is a spy came after a fight where he was cool and effective, taking out bad guys with his hand crossbow like James Bond. The introduction of Ash, fengshuiguy's new character, was very effectively - we now have a flamboyant pseudo-Spanish warlord who can hulk out in fight scenes and comes pre-loaded with a mysterious connection to the Claw. And by dropping hints about what had gone down while the others were away, Slaine and Caleb both have some plot significance clinging to them, even if we aren't sure as yet what that means.
Most of all, I sure hope the players hate the Emerald Claw now. They're going to have plenty of chances to express their feelings over the next few sessions.