Normally, we play this game for two hours per session, because it’s a week night and that mostly eliminates pressure from my family since I can still give them plenty of attention. This time, we ran about half an hour over, but I really dislike pausing in the middle of combat. And I think even the players found it worthwhile, given the cliffhanger at the end!
Side note: The Paladin’s new hireling, Rudolpho, evolved from something of a creep (how I played him based on a random table) to a happy-go-lucky wannabe adventurer. I really didn’t enjoy the feeling of RPing the creep, especially when he’s intended to be an allied NPC.
Strolling along a rocky shore with the waves crashing, large crawdad-like monsters (chuul) crawled out to assail the Fighter, thinking him prey. The Paladin used her divine voice of authority and forced them back into the sea. Normally, I wouldn’t have had them be quite so pliable, but I didn’t intend them to be the focus of the session and knew we had bigger things to get to. Instead, they served a purpose of foreshadowing and putting the group on notice that the dangers had already begun to manifest themselves.
The unquiet dead shambled towards them – eyeless bodies of drowned sailors animated by foul necromancy into water wastrels. The Paladin found these strangely terrifying, even though the only real danger was the Bard’s dabbling in the arcane and thus an imprecisely cast fireball… This sort of magic scared the hired help, who thought it might be connected to infernal powers. The presence of the Paladin helped calm him down a bit.
When they got to the rickety old wooden bridge that provided the walkway over to Bleak Point itself, they had some trouble. Between the rain, wind, and poor construction, three of them took a dip in the ocean at various points, but they finally scrambled up.
Upon reaching the door into the lighthouse proper, they found a magic trap, whereupon the door became a wall of water! And not just standing water, but water that forced anyone trying to pass through to be pushed up into the top of the door frame. This ended up providing far more challenge than I expected, and that made it a lot of fun.
Once inside the lighthouse, they found that the floors were all missing and no staircase existed, but about 40 feet up was a platform with the lighthouse’s beacon… and a trio of women. These women comprised the Daughters of the Eel, a coven of witches intent on using the blood of lycanthropes, fey, and vampires to summon Iuz’elthiss, the Dark Water God, The Destroying Maw – an elder evil imprisoned deep beneath the ocean. They turned the floor beneath the adventurers to water, but they found themselves still able to stand upon it.
Under fire from the witches’s spellcasting, and leaving their compatriots to deal with a summoned crawdad-type monster, the Fighter and Paladin began scaling the sheer interior walls of the lighthouse! The Thief found himself mired in the arcane waters for a bit, and the chuul did its work of keeping the folks on the ground floor occupied while the witches fought with the heavy hitters. At one point, the Fighter kicked a witch off the platform, Sparta-style, but she conjured a pillar of water to catch her and lower her down to the ground. Still, at this point he’d separated the group of enemies and they began to make short work of the witches.
She looked back up, locked eyes with the Paladin, and summoned… something within the holy warrior, A voice echoed from the Paladin’s throat, but not of her: a deeper, evil voice, “I WILL BE FREED!”
Surprising everyone, most of all me, the Paladin stabbed herself in the abdomen. I chose to have her Defy Danger with Constitution rather than just deal damage to herself, and so when she failed, she fell unconscious. The Fighter slung her over his shoulder, planted his sword cane in the wall, and slid down expertly.
As the session ended, the Daughters of the Eel have been defeated, but the group hasn’t yet figured out the cost…
Honestly, this was perhaps the most surprising session ending I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. I had no idea the Paladin would go to those lengths to deal with an aspect of her character that the player had decided at creation time. I have some ideas about the presence within her… but I have no idea what the group will do, and that excites me tremendously! Should this become the focus of a new adventure front?
The group also commented on how cinematic and dynamic the combat felt. Even using a purely narrative style (no maps, just the lighthouse art above), we had dynamic environmental features that created zones and shifting tactics. I used the Five Room Dungeon technique during prep, which lends itself incredibly well to this sort of situation. My notes for the battle looked like this:
- Guardian: Water wastrels (focus on Thief) outside
- RP Challenge: Rudolpho turns? Gregory is there? Or puzzle [this became the water wall in the door]
- Setback: No staircase or ladder to upper floor
- Climax: Eel witches!
- Revelation: Daughters’ plans
I can’t recommend this technique enough in every game. Sometimes I change up what counts as an RP challenge or setback, or sometimes the climax isn’t combat (perhaps a tense negotiation with a powerful figure), but the pacing always works well and players usually have good things to say after those sessions.