Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Concluding a Campaign

In the summer of 2015 when I saw a post on the Facebook discussion group of our local hobby shop from a father looking for a DM to run a game for him and his two kids. My group got together far too infrequently for my liking and I was looking to add another game into the mix. Plus, the prospect of DMing a game with younger players seemed like a lot of fun, so I answered the call of duty.

I even managed to find the prologue to the epic adventure.

My expectations were not very high that we would continue playing much past a session or two. I decided to kick things of with the D&D Starter Set, which I had read would be a perfect introduction for newer players. I also enlisted the assistance of a friend from my regular group to act as another player and assist with the teaching of the game as we embarked on our journey.

We met and rolled characters. On that fateful day, Eddgerin the Ranger, Quivin Hood the Rogue, Thia the Fighter** and Kane the Monk (Elves all) were born. They defeated the Redbrands, smashed up the local tavern and reveled in the many magic items that they came to acquire.

**Thia the Fighter unfortunately became a teenager at some point during the adventure, and thusly recognized that playing D&D with Dad was no longer cool.

They had just reached level 5, and they demanded more adventure. I segued them from their previous exploits in Wave Echo Cave and brought them to face the evil elemental cults in Princes of the Apocalypse. The group came into their own and even developed an identity as they started being referred to as "Collateral Damage," a nod to their prevalence for bringing superhero levels of destruction to the very communities they were trying to protect.

And so, the heroes waged their way through numerous obstacles and saved the world from elemental devastation. Here they were, seasoned adventurers at this point with level 15 characters. Well, there are is an absence of  D&D published adventures for heroes of this level. So I had to begin to write and research something that would be an appropriate challenge for this group of champions. A mega-dungeon was born and several sessions of play led the players into an extra-dimensional mountain where Drow were up to no good.

Eventually my pace of writing could not keep up with the adventure desired and we moved onto other games. But there was something wanting about the way things left off...I knew eventually I owed it to them to provide a proper conclusion to their improbable first D&D experience. I certainly had never known anyone who had actually finished a D&D campaign that had a final chapter. The games I was in always just seemed to go on and on until either the DM moved away or lost interest. I couldn't let this happen to such a fine group of characters.

The Heroes

Eddgerin the Ranger: The stoic elven ranger who was adverse to staying indoors, never gave up his weapons and was the MacGyver of knowing the practical uses for every piece of a fallen foe.

Qivin Hood the Rogue: Ambitious to a fault and often the inventor of schemes that were best left unsaid. Also coined the term "body sack" to mean any cloth container that could reasonably hold a body, living or dead.

Kane the Monk: The devout follower of Illmater and the voice of reason within the group. Also the only one trustworthy enough to hold onto the money, much to Qivin Hood's chagrin.

The Story

It had been some time since the players had actually played the game, so I invented a conceit to help them roleplay this: their characters came into the session with no memories of the past and none of their possessions. It was a risky move, as I half expected a minor revolt at this revelation but they were all good sports about it and trusted that I had a plan in place.

The story began in the center of a cylindrical valley known as the Shield Crater which provided shelter to a community of dwarves. All of the denizens of the valley seemed to regard the characters with familiarity and friendliness, as if they had all been there a very long time. Each character got an individualized introduction to the session where they learned important details about the culture and the daily life of their apparent home.

Mystery and Intruige

The story seemed to hook the players right away. They were quickly invited to attend the Festival of the Stonewife, a celebration of the dwarven deity of agriculture and stonework, where they found themselves in athletic competition during an event called the Dwarven Keg Battle. The morning after the festival, a little girl named Tah went missing. The heroes led a search and rescue mission up into the high reaches of the mountain in fear that a giant spider came down and took her into its web. Their search turned up nothing.

The subsequent day was even stranger, as all of the dwarves seemed to have succumbed to apathy at an alarming rate or had forgotten about the child altogether. Something was amiss. Qivin Hood started having strange migraines that were starting to put him out of commission. Eddgerin, having never learned where his actual home was, slept under a tree the previous night and saw something suspicious. The town watchman had been seen standing outside of town near the interior wall of the valley seemingly talking to the stone. After nightfall the party returned to the same spot to investigate and discovered a secret door. The watchman took notice and urged the party inside the hidden wall so that they could talk in private. It was there that it was revealed that the community had been infiltrated by mind flayers and they had succeeded in deposing the previous ruler, the great King Dorn Burgador. He suspected the heroes were beginning to fall under their influence too, and he provided the group with a peppermint smelling tincture that he instructed them to drop into their ears. As they did so, large squishy worms started falling out of their heads and onto the floor. It was gross and upsetting. The king had successfully salvaged the party's equipment from where it had been kept using his cloak of invisibility, and returned it to them so that they might slay the Elder Brain that hid somewhere under the village.

Puzzles and Traps

King Dorn Burgador pointed the party towards the schoolhouse, where he saw the mind flayers take the child, Tah. Once inside the party found a quaint classroom with several rows of desks and a larger piece of stone furniture clearly used by the instructor. An abacus sat upon the desk. While searching the desks, Eddgerin found a piece of paper taped underneath one that read "Today's password is BRAIN." Quivin Hood meanwhile found a hollow piece of floor, but no discernible way to open a trapdoor to get to the otherside. The abacus must be the key. Using it they moved its beads to represent the numerical equivalent to the letters in the password, and the door opened.

The first boss fight of the evening.

Once below, they fought their way into the hive of the Elder Brain. A massive cerebral cortex sitting in a pool of ooze with lashing tentacles, it put up a shield to defend itself and cast a dominate person spell on Qivin Hood, forcing him to engage his friend Eddgerin in combat. Kane was left to deal with the Ulitharid and the brain himself, taking an incredible amount of psychic damage for his efforts. The battle took the party to its limits, but at the end of the day they succeeded in defeating the elder brain and discovered the existence of a portal. Kane had read about this portal in a book earlier, which he knew was going to lead to a prison dimension which held an entity known as the Elder Elemental Eye**.

**The Elder Elemental Eye is a sort of confusing moniker used by a number of deities in D&D lore. Both Tharizdun and Ghaunadaur have used this name, and in my research on both I couldn't exactly nail down the lore. So, for my purposes I simply created my own agnostic "Elder Elemental Eye" that acted as a supreme god of chaos that existed before even the creator gods. My players didn't need a history lesson dropped into their conclusive game session.

Fighting their way into this strange dimension, they soon came upon a chamber where a plaque proclaimed that the heroes must follow the hues of the rainbow. Each pillar corresponded to that fond acronym for remembering the color spectrum: ROYGBIV. The pillars as they appeared seemed to correlate with many paths that would be true, and each seemed to lead to three separate ledges over a pool of acid. Kane was the first to cross. He passed over a red pillar and then an orange pillar with no problems. Once he touched down upon a yellow pillar, he noticed that it was actually covered in green slime over a red pillar as acid started to eat through his footwear. He yelled to the party to quickly navigate their ways over. It quickly became evident that stepping on the wrong pillars out of sequence caused them to begin to descend down into the pool of acidic liquid. Using a combination of spells and abilities, the party began revealing that many of the pillars were masking their true colors with slimes and oozes. They narrowly made it across the way to one of the doors, which they promptly entered, not wanting to stick around to find out if anything more terrible would happen in the prism chamber.

The Final Boss

After fighting their way through a chapel where Drow were sacrificing themselves to a red stone they proclaimed was energizing the Elder Elemental Eye so that it could break free from its chains, the party soon came upon a magical field called the "Veil of Purity." This phenomenon had been placed within the prison by Tyr, Illmater and Torm to ensure that only the worthy could come to this place to check on the security of its prisoner. Qivin Hood, the rogue, was the first to step through. I took the young player out of the room, so that he could not be influenced by the meta-game forces of the other players. All he ever wanted was to be the ruler of a thieves' guild, and he lusted after a number of powerful (and evil) weapons. After crossing into the veil, he found himself in exactly the guild hall he'd always dreamed of and a man who said he was his lieutenant showed him that they'd procured the weapons he desired. It was too much for a young man to resist, and he took them despite a reoccurring theme during the entire campaign that the weapons were pure evil and would corrupt their wielders.

When Kane stepped through the veil, he found himself on a snowy mountain pass. As he climbed up he came upon a cottage. Once he entered, he found himself speaking to a scarred and broken old man who sat tending a small fire. He told Kane that to defeat the embodiment of chaos and anti-creation he'd need allies, but he would only be as strong as their hearts were pure. He revealed that Qivin Hood's eyes lusted after power, and he was not strong enough to resist evil on his own. The old man asked Kane if he was willing to sacrifice his eyes so that Qivin Hood would have the strength to resist in the future. Kane agreed. As the world turned dark, he heard the voice of the old man tell him that Qivin Hood's tongue often spread lies and deceit, and he would need help keeping it under control. He asked Kane if he was willing to sacrifice his voice so that Qivin Hood could speak with honor. He agreed. He then suggested that Qivin Hood's hands could not help themselves but take what was not his and cause pain to those who did not deserve it (I could see the look of worry grow in the player's eyes at this point. A monk give up his hands?!?!?). He at first refused. The man sighed and admitted it was a lot to ask, and he only hoped that the Elder Elemental Eye could be defeated by those who only walk half in the light. As Kane turned to leave the cottage, he stopped. He agreed to the man's proposal. The man revealed himself to be Illmater, and he blessed Kane for his act of selflessness and bestowed confidence that the light would win in the final altercation.

Eddgerin, meanwhile, stepped through the veil and found himself in a hallway flanked by an alcove. Above it, a plaque read "Leave your worldly possessions here, lest they own you." Beyond the hallway, a beholder could be seen hovering menacingly with its eyes glaring at him. Eddgerin had a couple of beholder eyestalks on his person from a previous victim, and he made sure that they were seen being deposited into the alcove as he forfeited his weapons for the first time in the campaign. He walked down the hallway bravely and met face to face with the beholder, who had a riddle for him. "When we meet, you see nothing, but apart you will see it all." It blinked rapidly as they traded insults for a time. It did not take long before Eddgerin guessed the answer: eyelids.

The heroes successfully crossed the Veil of Purity and found themselves back in the stone halls of the extradimensional prison. Before them were a pair of huge adamantine doors with carvings upon the faces that showed grave elemental destruction sweeping the lands. The doors opened automatically and beckoned them inside. Upon crossing the threshold, they set their eyes upon a huge eyeball wrapped in chain. The suspension was caused by taught iron chain that held it up to three pillars of marble stone with empty depressions that looked to have once contained images of angels. Across the chamber, a former ally of the party, a dragonborn paladin named Fatalon beheaded an angel that was lying prone on the ground. As insanity filled their mind from proximity to this aberrant eye, the party attempted to stop Fatalon before he could successfully sever all of the chains binding the Elder Elemental Eye. The Eye's influence enlisted the help of Qivin Hood in severing its chains, and it seemed all was lost as four of the six chains became sundered. Kane dealt a deft blow to Fatalon and he fell to the ground, seemingly regaining control of himself for a brief moment. As he declared his regrets and apologies to the party, a surge of energy channeled itself from the eye into Fatalon's near lifeless corpse. Slime and ooze began to spill from his pores and cover his flesh, as large tentacle reared themselves out of the backplate of his armor. It seemed the Elder Elemental Eye was using him as its avatar.

The chamber which housed the eye ripped itself up from the foundations of the lair and the walls gave way. Soon the entire slab of stone the party was standing on was whirling through a cosmic vortex of purple and blue color like Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz. As the party dodged infernos created by the Elemental Eye, they dealt blows to this new adversary before them. It soon took flight and directed itself off of the platform, and conjured a whip which it relentlessly tried to use to pull Eddgerin off and drop him into the abyss. The epic battle that ensued nearly brought the party to their end, but a well placed shot from Eddgerin who was holding onto one of the pillars to keep from falling off into nothingness felled the avatar and brought the stone platform back to stillness.

A herald from the divine Triad soon appeared, and informed the party that the custodians of the Elder Elemental Eye had been killed. An evil this great would need new wardens, and the heroes had proven that they were more than capable of ensuring that the chains of the Elder God would not be undone. As the heroes agreed, halos began to appear over each of their heads. It seemed that fate had brought them to this place to sacrifice their freedom so that all of mortal life could live free from the shadow of the Eater of Worlds.

The End?

The Final Final Boss

I would probably be labeled a cruel DM if I denied a group that actually managed to make it to level 20 the opportunity to fight a common tarrasque. The unholy beast of monstrous desolation is notoriously challenging and something that my younger player has often fantasized about facing and defeating. So naturally, the Elder Elemental Eye used its last threads of energy he harnessed from his sacrificed followers to call it forth into the world. The angel bestowed upon the party the charge of stopping it from wrecking havoc on the world before retiring to their responsibilities as the custodians of the Elder Elemental Eye. I allowed them to bring in their level 12 characters from a since concluded campaign of Storm King's Thunder to aid them in this colossal task. The party returned back to the Dessarin Valley which was the site of the majority of their previous adventures and defended the realms before the ruins of Dragonscale Spire (formerly Feathergale Spire before the player's wrested control of it, and subsequently saw its destruction in a battle with Imix).

I won't go through the blow-by-blow, but the heroes were eventually triumphant after witnessing the deaths of their lower level characters. Looks like I got to wrap up two campaigns with one!








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