So here was last night’s D&D setup:
Our band of intrepid adventurers, while adventuring deep in the Ivory Spire mountains seeking out the lost cities of the Dwarven nations in search of the Forge of Moradin and the tools needed to craft the weapons that could slay Tiamat, came upon a particular cave passage that was host to an encampment where Tiamat’s forces were enslaving Shifters from the surface and “converting” them to slave work. In my setting, I was using a plot device where the Chromatic Dragons had a ritual procedure to embed their scales into lesser beings to corrupt them. It’s kind of like Ghouling in Vampire: The Masquerade/Requiem, but a bit scarier. In essence, it’s been my narrative excuse to take fun races like Orcs, Dwarfs and others and slap some nasty themes and templates from DMG2 on them.
Anyways, the gnome Wizard/Invoker of the group had taken on a personal quest from Sehanine to free the “Moon Children” in their journey. So, the group had decided to lay ambush on the encampment and free the would be slaves. The session before last ended with some dead Dragonborn servants of Tiamat and corrupted shifters, and others being freed and the Wizard figuring out the surgical process (combined with her Symbol of Hope) to stop that corrupting “scale seeds” embedded in the victims and liberating those they can capture.
This session began with the end of that battle; a light narrative and skirmish that didn’t last long as they lead their band of troops into the rest of the encampment and handled any remaining guards and freed the remaining Shifters. But then, the voice boomed out of a nearby cave opening overlooking the encampment, and the red dragon emerged rather….displeased.
Here’s where crap got interesting.
The Dragon addressed the heroes, angered that his little “project” had been disrupted. Behind the scenes, he wasn’t doing any major work for the armies of Tiamat. Instead, he had slipped away with a few hands and began enslaving the tribal races near the surface from this location in an effort to mine Residuum (for the non-4E speaky, Residuum is the prime ingredient in 4E to making magical items, and is an alternative to Gold as currency.) Now, this band of adventurers (not even an army!) has marched into his encampment, freed the slaves and ruined the operation. To make matters worst, the Warlord leading the party ordered the Dwarfen alchemist NPC to fire a crossbow bolt of Greek Fire on the Dragon directly.
Dice were rolled, and the Dragon got pissed. His eyes locked on the Dwarf, and the Dragon’s fearful presence was a crit. Granted, the fear effect is just a -2 to defenses, but I had that poor ol’ Dwarf fleeing with the others at this point. The Dragon then returned his approach on the Players, and he made some pompous remarks like a Dragon would. And then, the Warlord decides to yell back. “You are an unnatural creature! Your kind is an abomination to nature!”
My jaw kind of dropped at this point. Let’s see, Thirteen levels in, campaign in a world all about Dragons, and how Dragons used to rule until Bahamut took humanity under his wing blah blah blah. Where the hell did THAT speech come from? Oh, from a player who wanted to yell something intimidating at an Adult Red Dragon. I told him to go for it, Intimidation roll.
SON OF A BITCH HE MADE IT.
What did the Tiefling just tell me?
However, I’m still a dick of a DM sometimes. No, the Dragon isn’t intimidated. He’s impressed. He’s impressed this Tiefling Warlord, who is traveling with a Scion of Arkhosia and a couple half pints, has the nerve to be the one to step forward and say something so fucking naieve. “Wait,” the Dragon begins, “I was just told by a bastard child of infernal blood that I AM unnatural to this world? Nevermind, there was an age when Humans ran around our kingdoms no different than how Deer or Rabbits run around yours? All until a Dragon, your empire’s God, decided to take humans under their wing and…..domesticate them. Right.” The Dragon laughs, he was amused. Really, this was good stuff. “I don’t want to fight you. Take your freed slaves, run off from whence you came. I’ll have no business with you.” And then the Dragon turned around to return to his layer. The players are left with confusion, horror and anger in their eyes. They just got dissed.
The Gnome runs up, and she flicks one of the scales she removed back at the Dragon. He stops, takes notice, makes a comment that Gnomes are too small to even bother eating, and proceeds back to his layer. The players still remain standing around, unsure of what exactly to do next. He’s being cocky; he’s setting them up. Has to be. The moment they turn their backs, he’ll chase after and blast them from behind.
Descent into the Lair
So, being that the players have to live up to their reputation as Dragon Slayers (having slain a White and a Black so far), they decided to pursue. Luckily they kept their heads on straight and managed to take the Stealthy approach into the cave, checking for traps (which there were plenty). Unfortunately, the last of the stealth checks diving into the lair resulted in the Gnome tripping over some rocks, the Dragonborn’s armor clanking and the Tiefling…being himself. Up ahead they heard the snarls and howls of other, converted yet pinned up Shifters, and the Dragon yells back to them “Oh, dear, do I have company this evening?”
The Gnome, knowing their cover was blown anyway, decided to use her Ghost Sound spell to blast the sounds of fanfare. ((Yes, we all gave off the Final Fantasy music. I then added 20th century Fox, and said the words “Lucasarts LTD” appeared out of nowhere.)) The Warlord yelled down the halls of the lair “We have come to slay your for your skin as a trophy!” Immediately, they were all ducking out of the way avoiding the high-speed toss of some junk trophy that the Dragon kept in his hoard. “There you go, I don’t need it” came echoing down the halls. “My stash is just fine without a little trophy.”
“He’s bluffing, probably broke” muttered the Halfling.
“Let’s continue sneaking in, and we get him.”
They proceeded down the halls; the lair was in the remains of what probably used to be a Dwarfen Noble’s court. They saw up ahead all of the remaining shifters – corrupted, but pinned up – and the stash of Gold, gems, and massive piles of Residuum that laid ahead. What they didn’t see…was the Dragon. So ahead they slowly walked in, looking around but no signs. Until the Gnome looked up, and gulped. The others glanced with her….the Warlord being oblivious noticed last:
As they entered, there appeared to be a massive balcony/auditorium overlooking the Noble’s throne room. This was possibly for a grand audience with the lord at the time. Now, it’s the perfect perch for the Dragon to gaze down on as unsuspecting victims enter into his lair. He leaned down, snarled, then roared as he fired off his frightful presence, leaving all players shaking in their boots.
The Battle Ensues
Immediately the heroes were engaged with the Wurm up close and personally. Fire breath would reign down on them, claws would tear into them and the Dragon would fly within his ability (still kinda tight quarters for him) to out maneuver them. The heroes were not without their best efforts, however, as many criticals were landed throughout the battle. However, overall, the player’s dice absolutely hated them and most spent a large portion of the fight under the effects of the frightful presence. The Dragon would land some devastating blows himself, including one almost fatal critical on the Gnome. The players had already some of their dailies from the previous fights, and many encounter abilities were expended. The height of the battle though came as the Dragonborn performed a Crack-the-Shell maneuver, crippling into the back of the Dragon as he was restrained by the Wizard’s Icy Grasp. The Dragon held up its claws, panted and pleaded.
“Wait, Wait!” He yelled. “I did not live this many centuries to die tonight at the hands of the likes of you. You are not just nosy adventurers, I can tell you were sent here for a greater task. What is it?”
Reluctantly, the Warlord responded. “We are seeking entry to the Forges of Moradin, to retrieve the Forge Hammer.”
The Dragon smiled, and slowly staggered over to his pile. He knew who these people were now: Champions. Favored by their Gods, free of the threads of Fate yet marching towards their Destiny. These were the ones who could undo Tiamat’s invasion.
“I have an offer for the exchange of my life….I can get you to the city. I can get you to The Forge. But in order to do so, you must do it on my terms.”
The players get concerned at this point. The Halfling already knew where this was going, and would have nothing to do with it.
“I will take you into the City as my prized pets. I will claim you all as my favored prizes from our battles. You will be kept in Slave Quarters, but will be treated with more respect than the others. I can get you deep into the City safely that way.”
“And if we refuse?”
“Then good luck getting in. The place is crawling with our followers, the gates are heavily guarded. You think this fight with me was hard? I can see it’s been taxing on your performance. Imagine having to deal with the others of my kind, the ones that I have to abide under. They are far worst than me….”
“We will slay them, Dragon! We are slayers! We will fight each one of you, one at a time, until everyone is gone!” ((Again, the “Did he just fucking say that?”))
The Dragon laughed out, and snarled back at the Warlord (yeah I did yell this part, it was awesome):
“ONE AT A TIME!? You fools, our race has lasted for hundreds of years and you think that we will just watch you kill us one at a time? The City you seek to enter is filled with us! Our children! Our Elders! I alone have taxed you, what do you think a CITY of my kind will do to you? YOU ARE FOOLS if you think you can do this alone!” A moment’s pause, and the Warlord responds: “Can we trust you?”
“No, but I’m all you have.” “But why help us?” “Because I care only for myself, and to be honest I’m not impressed with the current ways our armies handle things.”
The players fell back, to discuss the plan. They realized the Dragon was honest about not being trusted, but the Gnome picked up that he was sincere with his desire to overthrow the status quo of his nation. However, in the end, the decision was influenced by the Halfling who refused to even fake being a slave or a pet, and wanted nothing more but to kill the Dragon and refused to trust anyone except the party. They turned around, and approached, and declared their decision to continue the fight. Behind the scenes, the Dragon was healed significantly as he blew his last action point for a healing surge.
He stretched his wings, gazed upon the players, and simply said “Please, really? I’ve given you so many damn chances to walk away. This is my last offer: Take my stash, and walk away.”
Amazingly, the players took it. They let this one go. I think it finally dawned on them how unnecessary it was to kill this one.
Realizing they had just acquired a massive sum of Gold and an extreme stockpile of Residuum (thank god for that Bag of Holding, eh guys?) and that they are now left without a plan, again, they had decided to travel back to their newly liberated Temple and then open a portal back to the City of Monolith in hopes of restocking, recruiting and maybe picking up some better arms. This time, though, the reality of the situation had hit them. They had returned to the City under siege. The armies of Tiamat are still marching to the predicted schedule, and now the Empire’s armies are all that is keeping the City from being over ran. The generals and mystics who appointed them the task to seek out the Forge tools in order to craft the weapons to drive Tiamat back were instantly disappointed to see them return without the artifact.
The session ended here. The players are behind schedule, overpowered and lacking the numbers needed to proceed. The available forces the Empire could lend are now stretched thin as the dark armies lay siege to the city that stands as the gateway to the Empire. Within the realms of the land, the order is breaking down as the cosmology remains in limbo, for the Goddess Erathis has suddenly gone silent to her followers and it is feared that her reign on the throne of Gods has ended. It is up a chosen warrior of Bahamut, a disciple of Sehanine and a Veteran Warlord haunted by the shadow of Asmodeous to turn the tides against the return of Tiamat.
((Insert the music from the end of Empire Strikes Back here.))