Friday, October 24, 2008

Adventure 4: Decisions, Decisions

A little boy is dead because of me. A mother, already without her husband, is now without a son, and it’s my fault. I have killed my fair share of people in my time, but all of them deserved it. All had killed in their turn and deserved the justice that can only be meted out by steel. This…this was different. I suppose I should begin at the beginning.

We sat in the evil paladin’s mansion for about 2 more seconds before we decided that we were not quite up to the task. We high-tailed it out of there and got back to our wandering ways. Eventually we came to a fork in the road. The eastern route led to a town called Dantalleen, the northwestern route led to a sea-town called Undamar. I was fairly familiar with the area, having wandered these parts in search of marauding orcs (orcs being a fairly common sight in this part of the world, unfortunately). I pushed for Dantalleen, remembering from some years ago the fine mead served at the tavern. None of us were all that comfortable with the prospect of the ocean, so we headed east.

As we approached the outskirts of town, we were greeted by the wonderful sound of a hysterical woman. Sobbing and screaming, she ran up to us, babbling incoherently. Malak, out of the kindness of his heart, yelled at the woman and threw a kick in her direction. That didn’t sit too kindly with the rest of us, so Lotheryn sent Anca to keep Malak at bay while she bent down and comforted the woman. After a few minutes we finally got her to calm down enough to speak.

Apparently, this woman’s son had been chosen by the townsfolk to be sacrificed to the local dragon. What’s more, this woman had lost her husband several years ago while he was with the town militia defending against an orc raiding party. She felt that whatever service her family owed the town had been paid. In light of the orc incident, I happened to agree with her. It is very possible that I fought alongside her husband against those very orcs. I beseeched my fellow travelers.

“This is outrageous. The woman has obviously suffered enough. Let’s go get her son back and take care of this dragon.”

The womenfolk, still sniffling from the sad story they had heard, agreed. Malak was unimpressed. “What’s in it for Malak?” he asked, again showing the depth of his emotion and empathy.

“This dragon is still rather young,” the woman explained, “but it is rumored that he has inherited some of his father’s plunder, which was a great store indeed. His father struck fear into the hearts of men in these lands for many years before bequeathing his reign of terror to one of his children – the dragon that now requires sacrifices of us. The rest of the old dragon’s whelps have gone to harass other nearby villages.”

“That’s good enough for Malak! Let’s kill.”

Bolt seemed unmoved, but shrugged in reluctant agreement. We sent Lotheryn and Ieuan into town to find out where this dragon was, while the rest of us sat and sharpened our blades. Not long after, we heard the thunder of hooves coming up the road we had just traversed.

As the men approached, Bolt, in that lordly way he has, stepped in front of them and commanded a halt. “Hold up, my brays. What’s got you all in such a hurry?”

The men dismounted and breathlessly gave their story. Apparently there was more trouble. A local youth had insulted the troll conglomerate that had been extorting money and materials from Undamar, the village by the sea. The town was fairly broke from having been paying off these trolls for so long. The three trolls had sworn to return this very night and take their pay with destruction and murder, promising to rape and pillage. It sounded grim. My first thought was that housing in this area ought to be pretty affordable, what with the problems in the neighborhood. My second thought was to wonder why these men didn’t just leave the town with their families. When asked, the men said that evacuation was not an option; too many had lived their whole lives in Undamar and refused to abandon it to plunder.

I had an idea. “What if you promised the trolls some dragon loot? When they show up tonight, you let them know that on the morrow, they will be richer than they ever dreamt. That will give us time to save the boy and we can deliver the “goods” to these trolls.” I gave Bolt and Malak a glance, letting them know exactly what “goods” we meant to deliver.

Malak, ever perceptive, stepped in, “Whoa whoa whoa. Malak is not planning on sharing any of his dragon loot with no good trolls. I say we just kill…oooooh. Now Malak knows why you make funny quotation-like gestures with your fingers. HA! Funny ranger. Let’s kill.”

But the men disagreed. “The trolls have been offended too deeply. I fear they are in an awful rage and will not be reasoned with. Undamar will not survive the night…”

Just then the Lotheryn and Ieuan returned with the woman, having found out how to get to the dragon’s lair. We filled them in on Undamar’s plight. The woman did NOT look pleased. Clearly we had a choice to make. We realized that we could not both save the townspeople AND save the boy. You could have cut the tension with a +2 short sword.

“Awkward silence…” offered Amaryllis, trying unsuccessfully to lighten the mood. We needed to do something. I called a huddle.

Bolt quickly spoke up, “Look, we have the chance to save an entire town. There are a whole lot of people who are going to suffer if we do not help them. I’m going with the men.”

Ieuan disagreed. “These men could flee and save their lives. They also have a chance to defend themselves. This poor boy is absolutely defenseless. He has no choice in the matter. We have to help him”

Lotheryn backed her up, “Besides, we already promised this woman we would help her. If we back out now, she’s going to die of grief. Or because Malak kicks her again,” she added, giving Malak a vicious glare.

Malak grunted and shrugged as if in agreement. “I say we take dragon loot.”

Amaryllis was on the fence, unsure of who to help. The poor rogue seemed on the verge of tears. “I just want to help SOMEone,” she said.

I turned to Bolt. “I, too, am in favor of helping the woman. I do not wish to leave Undamar to destruction, but I have given my word to this woman and I intend to keep it. We need you with us Bolt. Your sword would be sorely missed against this dragon. What say you?”

Bolt was clearly frustrated, but finally relented. “Fine. We’ll buck the dragon. But I don’t like it.”

We informed the men of Undamar of our decision. Let’s just say that they didn’t take it well. I don’t know what it means to have a “pox” upon my “house,” but apparently I now have one. I’ll have to get an exterminator to take care of that when I get home.

We left the men still frothing with rage at our decision and went to see what we could do about this dragon. We had fought a dragon once before, but this one didn’t sound like quite as big a pushover as the last one was. We approached the lair with caution and entered a giant cave filled with noxious fumes and running lava. We looked through the haze and saw him – a large red dragon looking very hungry as he towered over a frightened boy. We stayed in the shadows and planned our approach.

Amaryllis snuck in, silently padding from stalagmite to stalagmite. We looked nervously at the dragon, but he gave no indication that he knew she was there. Finally she got within range of the dragon.

“Well,” I said. “She’s within range.”

“Uhhhh, range for what?” Bolt asked.

“Good question. I’m not sure we got that far in the plan. If we had planned this better, you, me, and Malak would be jumping out of a wooden horse, but I’m afraid we forgot the wooden horse. Now what?”

“I can speak Draconic. Maybe that will put the dragon at ease. Dragons are supposed to be highly intelligent, maybe we can reason with him,” offered Ieuan. It was worth a shot.

“I’ll go with you, just in case.” I said. I wanted there to be something in between a giant dragon and an unarmored sorcerer, in the likely event that trouble went down. We snuck up, quiet as can be, until right before we reached cover. Ieuan picked a bad time to lose her fitting, and came down with a thud.

The dragon looked over slowly. “Alright sorcerer. You can come out. I know you’re there. You too ranger. And the ever-so-stealthy rogue. Come no closer, but bring your friends with you.”

The three of us stepped out cautiously. Ieuan tried imploring him in draconic. “We have come for the boy, dragon. We mean you no harm. Please release him to us and we will be on our way.”

The dragon laughed evilly. “I am impressed with your mastery of my language, sorcerer, but your negotiating skills leave much to be desired. I will not entreat further until your friends join you. Especially the paladin who is lurking in the shadows. I could smell his stench halfway up the mountain.”

The rest of our group joined us. You remember back in school when you would be in the middle of passing a note and you’d feel a stern tap on your shoulder and you knew you’d been caught? Well, that’s how we felt except instead of the teacher, it was dragon and instead of being sent to the principal, we were going to be flamebroiled and eaten. Otherwise it was the exact same. I decided to try the direct approach.

“Oh mighty dragon, you are ever so wise. Is there nothing we can give you in exchange for the boy? Why do you require a sacrifice?”

If it’s possible for dragons to look amused, this one did. “It’s not so much a sacrifice, ranger, as it is lunch. I require food as you do. Why hunt for it when I can stay here with my gold and have it delivered? But since you are the first adventurers to be so bold as to confront me, I will give you an opportunity to convince me that this is not the particular lunch I am looking for. Please proceed, beginning with you, barbarian. Or are you too scared to play?”

This did not sit well with Malak. His eyes flashed as he let out the fiercest war cry I had ever heard. Even I was tempted to hide, and the dragon flinched, ever so slightly. His demeanor did not appear as confident as before. “You will not speak that way to me, dragon!” Malak yelled.

Well, that was a good start. Bolt took his turn next. “You know dragon, the boy you have there is the son of a woman who has suffered extensively. Is there any way we can replace him? You know, bring you a different boy, maybe a couple of boys?”

The dragon squinted at Bolt, “That’s quite a statement for a paladin – bringing me additional INNOCENT sacrifices. I do not think you are telling me the truth. And even if I did believe you, what is it to me, this woman’s suffering? All boys taste similar, once you’ve covered them in barbecue sauce. One woman’s tears will not get in the way of lunch.” Oops. That wasn’t good.

After Ieuan made a successful plea, it was my turn. As I mentioned, I had traveled this area several times before and I remembered what the woman had said about the dragon’s brothers and sisters. So I decided to draw upon that knowledge to make this dragon nervous. “You know dragon, I know exactly where each of your brothers and sisters resides. If you return the boy to us, no harm will come to them.” I proceeded to tell him where each of them had taken residence, hoping to worry him somewhat.

It didn’t. It made the dragon angry. “I know well of my brothers and sisters. In time, I hope to show them that I am the only one who is as mighty as our father. If you killed them, it would only quicken my ascension to that role, but it would not please me, as I desire to show them myself how powerful I am. You know little about the way of dragons, ranger.”

Lotheryn used her sharp elven eyes and quick wits to quell the dragon’s wrath. “Oh fantastic dragon. You are truly magnificent. I have never seen such luminous scales. The sheen of your hide is breathtaking.” Dragons, as I quickly found out, are very susceptible to flattery. The dragon took this well and calmed down a bit.

Amaryllis wowed the dragon with her display of disabling magic devices. Malak, still seething over the dragon’s slight, once again gave his warcry, but this time, the dragon was ready for it, and laughed in his face. Bolt reasoned with the dragon by explaining how the sacrifice of this boy might cause him more trouble down the road, if the townspeople were ever to rise in revolt. Ieuan then told the dragon that we knew of a very wealthy evil paladin who was ripe for the plundering, if the dragon was willing to relocate. The dragon seemed interested in this idea. Finally he turned to me.

“Well, ranger. Your party’s pleas have been illuminating. I very well might let this boy go. But first I must hear from you one more time. What have you to say to me?”

I, as you know, am no diplomat. Business is conducted with sharp steel, not with words. I did not have the nimbleness of fingers of Amaryllis, nor the skill with flattery of Lotheryn, nor the ability to exposit like Ieuan or Bolt. I have keen eyes, a quick bow, and a large flail. I decided to use the first of those to show the dragon that we were not scared of him.

“Dragon, you claim this desire to be mighty. But how can you be so mighty when there is clearly a chink in your armor. I see it plain as day – there, under your left breast.”

The dragon seemed to grow twice as large as he raised himself up. “Ranger, your eyes have failed you for the last time. This is no chink, but a special scale that is the marking of all dragons of my line. That you think me in any way weak shows how foolish you are. This is the payment for your foolishness.” Without another word he snapped his jaws and devoured the boy.

“NOOOOOOOO!!!” I shouted in anger and despair, as I charged recklessly towards the dragon, striking him with Rage. The rest of the group joined the battle, knowing that we now had no choice but to avenge the boy’s death. The dragon breathed his flame breath on me and Bolt, but I barely felt it as I continued to hack away at his scaly sides. The dragon, obviously taken aback by our collective fury, rose to the air and took a cheap shot at Ieuan, damaging her significantly.

“You coward! Get your red ass back on the ground!” I yelled, as I withdrew my bow, took sight, and loosed an arrow which struck inside his gaping jaws, causing him to go into a rage. Ieuan moved away, casting her magic missiles as she went, but the dragon continued to attack, this time felling her as he landed back on the ground. As Lotheryn hurried over to apply healing, Bolt, Malak and I rushed back into battle, continuing to strike with deadly accuracy. Malak in particular slashed viciously with his sword, partially severing one of the dragon’s forelimbs. As the dragon screamed in pain, it once again unleashed its flame, this time consuming Bolt, and causing him to fall to the ground as well.

“Bolt, no!” I shouted as I moved over.

Bolt looked up at me with pain in his eyes. “Tell…my brother…not…to…give in…to the white man…”

“Bolt, you’re not dying on my watch,” I told him as I shoved a healing potion down his throat. It was enough. He staggered to his feet. But just as he did that, the dragon landed one more blow, this time knocking him unconscious.

Malak had had enough. As the dragon roared in victory, Malak drove his sword with inhuman force through the armored hide and into the monster’s heart. It shuddered and collapsed, dead at last.

As Lotheryn got Bolt back on his feet, we collected the dragon’s loot somberly. Malak and Bolt both found armor to fit them. I found a flail in the pile of gold and jewels. This flail glowed red, as if it was infused with flame. It was the only flame that burned, as I felt nothing but despair inside. I looked at Rage and knew that it had served its final purpose. I am now a ranger of my own accord, and Dark Star’s legacy would be in the strength of my arm and the tortured determination in my heart. I threw Rage into the lava and picked up this new weapon. Narqualme is what I named it, Flame of Agony in the tongue of my dead mother. Agony is what it had brought to me, and it is what I would reap against my enemies after this day.

6 comments:

Taran said...

Yeah, that was definitely really long...Stephen King just called me about ghostwriting for him.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the adventure this week, even though a boy died. I liked having to use some of my skills. That was interesting. Thanks for DMing it, Brian.

Lotheryn said...

Taran, I do think you seriously should take up writing. Set aside the ork hunting for a while. I would read you any time. ;)

Brian, thanks for DMing! I really liked all the opportunity for creativity. This was an exciting dragon. It was cool that it had a coversation with us and a personality.

Taran said...

I will say this, I think you did as good a job with the difficulty as you could have done. But I think I see the problem: we're unbalanced.

Obviously, that dragon was meant to hit at will, seeing as how he had a 19 modifier to his attack rolls. But I think we do too much damage relative to our hit points. I think we did the right amount of damage to take down that dragon, but we were too weak to withstand its attacks. As it is, John should have died and you probably could have killed me if you wanted.

I think in total we had enough hit points to withstand that thing, but individually we didn't. That's the main problem with having 6 or 7 people. We do too much damage as a group to weaken the enemies, but a big enemy like that does a ton of damage to individuals, which can be hard to absorb.

Anyway, I'm just throwing that out there for discussion. Like I said, I thought the encounter was about as well balanced as it could have been, given our party. We probably would have been better off handling the trolls where the damage was split between multiple people.

Taran said...

Clarification:

"We do too much damage as a group to make it APPROPRIATE FOR THE DM to weaken the enemies." That's what I meant to say.

Taran said...

Thanks for the kind words, Lotheryn, but I will never set aside my quest to avenge my parents. Maybe once that is over, I will find time to write more often. I do enjoy it.

Moonglum said...

With big groups, it is most difficult to balance an attack against a single enemy. It is much easier to balance out a big group against multiple enemies. If you would have gone to town, there would have been three trolls and that might have worked out a little bit better. And we could always plan an encounter with 12 enemies or something. I still have hope for our group.