Session Recap 1/8/10, Part Two: Insight vs. Dragon? Yeahbuhwhaaa?

Thanks to Mike from Symptoms of Madness Radness for inspiring the title of this piece. See Part One here.

As mentioned last post, I needed something to throw my players into with minimal prep time. I had made a combat encounter for the evening, but I also was craving something else to throw at the players  Last few sessions were Combat heavy, and I wanted to keep the feeling of action and dire circumstances going without rolling for initiative. You guessed it, sport’s fans, it’s Skill Challenge time! Except, tonight’s Skill Challenge was not going to be handled using a standard stat block and list of Primary and Secondary Skills. Instead, I wanted players to use their own noggins to come up with how to survive the scenario. For peeps who have had the pleasure of playing the God of War series on Playstation, that is a definite source of my inspiration for this scene. However, it’s not on rails with players must hit X button sequence (or roll X skills) but instead, they just need to figure out how to use their abilities to win successes. (Although I must confess it did have a scripted ending; but the players loved it and it gave the plot hook for the second half of the session.)

The Setup:
The Players had back tracked to the city of Monolith, under siege by the armies of Tiamat and barely holding her forces at bay. If the city falls, it would literally open the floodgates for Tiamat’s armies to lay a direct assault

Promo still from "Reign of Fire"

on the Empire. On this particular morning, they had re-stocked, re-armed, and rested up their henchmen to continue their voyage deep into the surrounding mountains, The Ivory Spires, in hopes of finding pockets of Dwarven resistance in an effort to push into the befallen Dwarven cities and take back Moradin’s Forge, where certain artifacts to craft the weapons capable of killing Tiamat and her kin reside.

An old ally (and lover to one of the characters) arrives in the City to notify the commanding generals that one of the other cities had been attacked a few nights ago, and there are reports of a “Great Wyrm”  flying in the direction of Monolith. After stumbling upon the PC’s, and catching up and notifying them of the situation, the players had agreed to welcome him back into their group and had decided time was very, very against them at this point. They decided to spend the morning doing final preparations to embark back into the Mountains. At this point, before everyone was just about ready to head out, the warning horns began to blow. Shadows from the skies darted across the streets of the city, and tremendous blasts of force and flames engulfed the PC’s at their different locations as they were rattled by the debris and blasts.

The City was now under attack by a Flight of Dragons.

The Scenario:
As the Player’s regrouped and tried to assess the situation, five Chromatic dragons of various colors laid assault on the Plaza where they stayed. Buildings were being smashed, men were being burned and eaten, and many citizens were fleeing or being killed in the rampage. The Players did have a choice to take on the five dragons directly, but it was made clear this was not going to be an easy task, even at their levels. However, across the Plaza from them laid a defense tower with a heavily-armed mechanized Ballista designed for Draconic defense, one of many throughout the city. At this time, it was un-manned, so the players knew someone needed to get across the plaza to arm, aim and fire the thing if they wanted to stand a chance.

For the record, I did set this to roughly 10 Successes, 3 Failures for difficulty.
Success was measured if the majority of the participants in a Skill Check succeeded, coutning towards a single success. Failures still resulted in actions such as provoking attacks or backfiring in their personal actions.
Group Failures (where the majority of the group failed in their checks) resulted in catastrophic outcomes for the fight. Coming to 3 failures would result in the Dragons devastating the Plaza, and moving on their next assault.

I didn’t inform the players of this being a Skill Challenge, or what skills were needed, I simply described the scenario to them. They had all huddled up in an alley way, scouting the situation and discussing a plan of action. The first skill check came up: “As you all stand around debating, you can hear the large steps and huffing breath of an approaching dragon….” Immediately the players freaked and began declaring Stealth checks to attempt to hide. All but the Dragonborn Fighter succeeded. “A large, towering Red Dragon emerges and whips his head down the alleyway, gazing directly at you…..”

“Sup?”  Yes, the fucking Dragonborn nodded his head and said “Sup?”.

I didn’t count this as a Failure, since the majority of the group succeeded in their tests. But I DID blast some Dragon’s Breath down the alleyway, properly scorching the Fighter and singing the others. The Wyrm moved on, causing destruction in the city and giving the players a moment to act. The Gnome Wizard had gone invisible, running out into the Plaza and attempting to find a safe location to watch and assist as needed. The Warlord and the Halfling Rogue took out to the statue in the middle of the Plaza, yelling and attempting to distract the Dragons. I called for Bluff and Intimidate checks, which succeeded in getting their attention. While the Dragons turned and focused on those two, the Dragonborn and their ally attempted to make full sprints across the Plaza to the Ballista tower. For that, I called for an Athletics rolls to make it fast enough.

The rest of the scene played out with the Warlord directly attacking the Dragons, which I allowed. He ended up getting chomped on pretty bad in the process (nothing like Critting on a bite attack and turning it into a grapple!) The Rogue was also engaging the Dragons, but sliding out of their way and doing hit-and-run tactics using Acrobatics, Bluff and other skills. The Fighter would end up doing Athletics checks to manually load each Ballista shot himself, while the Ally was doing similar checks to position and aim the Ballista (I had it on a revolving, wooden disk with huge handles sticking out for positioning.)

When the Ballista’s were successfully loaded, the Wizard would pipe up “Can I use an Insight roll to determine the best times for the weapon to be fired?” I sure as hell couldn’t see why not! So the Wizard would watch, analyze, and yell out to the Dragonborn when to fire. I’d then roll the shots behind the scenes, and determined the effects. I wasn’t keeping track of Hitpoints on the Wryms, but instead gauging progression of the battle based on the group success rate.

Once 10 Successes were hit, I’d finally end the scene with the emergence of the “Great Wyrm” that was heading towards the City. In this case, it was actually a Metallic Dragon (Silver to be exact) that had been long slumbering in hiding in the city that was assaulted. My wizard player knew of this Dragon’s existence, as part of a blessing for undergoing a task of her Goddess Sehanine.  This Dragon had emerged to “clean up” the fight, demolishing a few more buildings in the process (and thus causing more injuries to my players,) before taking off into the Mountain sides. Yeah, it was a little Deus Ex Machina for a plot device, but it wrapped up my challenge, and the players fucking loved it.

The Conclusion of the Session:
The players then decided to embark up the Mountain (before resuming their quest IN the mountain) to ensure the intentions of the Silver Dragon were not posing a threat to the armies in the cities below. This is where I inserted my combat encounter for the night, as they had discovered tracks of Dragonborn and Duergar heading in the same direction, and they knew it was probably soldiers of Tiamat attempting to engage the Dragon. I issued a Skill Challenge at this point to determine if the characters could catch up, and they succeeded with an ambush on the war party.

The shocker came when they stumbled into the make-shift lair the Dragon had made for herself, unaware at first of her very presence! As they stumbled in, she revealed herself, and snarled at the players for bothering her. That came as a surprise to them. Weren’t Metallics supposed to be good? Ah, but this is where they got a tongue lashing, as they were reminded by the Dragon that in ages past, Bahamut had ordered the Metallics in this setting to never interfere with the Empires of Men. She had only come to their aid in order to defeat those children of Tiamat who disrupted her sleep and her haven. They began to plead with her to watch over the City, but made the mistake of threatening her (the Rogue dangled her dragon slayer weapons in front of the beast, the Warlord popped off that they had killed many. Oh dear.)

At that point, she informed them she had no interest in helping them, and ordered them to leave unless they wanted to become food. This was upsetting to the Wizard, who had no intentions of intimidating the Dragon, and had always wanted to meet the creature she knew slumbered in the city of Lakemists. I decided, in a story telling sense, I didn’t want to leave it at such a bum ending. So, I had the Wizard’s familiar (a baby Silver Dragon) emerge and leap up to the elder:

“You be nice to my keeper! That little wizard has taken care of me, comforted me, fed me and nurtured me all this time! Her allies, while cocky, have done more for the Platinum Wyrm in my lifetime than you or any of the other metallics have done in yours! They are a wonderful people! And…and….they know how to cook!” *It’s been a recurring theme in the game that her Familiar studies cookbooks more than spellbooks. He also has a tendency of stealing bread rolls and sweet cakes when nobody’s looking.

The players cringed, worried the young one had popped off and got them in trouble (remember technically only the Wizard understands its familiar.) The Silver Dragon looked at the Wizard, and thanked her for taking care of her child. To return the favor, she agreed (coldly) to watch and protect the City of Monolith during any attacks in an effort to buy them some time in their quest.

The session ended with the Halfling giving the little Dragon one of her pies, “…he earned it.”