An Essentials Perspective

Cody—resident player, tactician, and sometimes-MVP—took over the reigns for Seth on Sunday and DM’ed Session 4 of our Essentials campaign. He decided to run us through “The Broken Tower,” a series of three encounters suitable for five 2nd-level characters, from Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon Delve.

One of the exciting things about this venture was it was Cody’s first time at the helm. He not only did an awesome job as a first-time DM, he did an awesome job when compared to many long-time DM’s I’ve played with.

Some of the things I appreciated about Cody was that he wasn’t afraid to make a quick, fair decision on rules questions. He also wasn’t timid about fluffing monster names and powers, or improvising stuff when we went off the beaten path. Lastly, he sent out a recap of the session for when Seth takes the campaign back in a few weeks; up until now, I was the only guy who bombed his group with walls of text!

His recap is reprinted below. Welcome to the fold, Cody!

The group stood in Maloreth’s lab, still heavy from battle. The heroes had defeated the necromancer, acquired his notebook, and retrieved the evil skull that he was using as a focus for his ritual.

As the companions decided what to do next, Rand began acting strangely; he complained of hunger and acted faint. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, he attacked the other party members. After he was brought down, the heroes discovered that his hand had bonded with the Lifedrinker Greataxe he had obtained from Kurrash the Bugbear, only hours before. The axe seemed to have poisoned his blood with necromantic magic, and while he was not dead, the group had no way to revive him.

As the heroes climbed the ladder out of Maloreth’s lair, they noticed a chill breeze in the air; a snowflake fell past their faces. It became clear that the weather was entirely out of the ordinary—it had been a warm day near the end of spring only the day before! They also took note that the ruined tower that had marked the entrance to the lair was now entirely built with little sign of decay. The building stood three stories high, and at its top, a thin cord of dark smoke rose toward the sky.

As the group questioned their surroundings, they spotted a small animal in the woods. The creature looked like a fat, one-foot-high human, with bluish-pink skin and translucent appendages, as if they were made of ice. His wings were as snowflakes that had been knitted together. It quickly became clear that he had been sent by his people to investigate the black smoke that rose into the sky.

He cured Drew’s filth-fever and added that he could probably help Rand. Unfortunately, there was a magic in the poison that prevented him from giving Rand a complete recovery—a magic somehow linked to necromantic energies in the area. Somehow, the black smoke seemed connected; the group needed to extinguish the magic in order to sever the magical tie to the poison—hopefully this would revive their friend.

Upon entering the tower, they discovered the scene of a gruesome battle. Ten goblins and a hobgoblin lay murdered on the floor. One goblin’s head had been removed and another had a missing leg. Stout broken quills impaled their corpses, like those of a giant porcupine, and trails of blood led in various directions throughout in the room. After examining the scene, the group noticed that the skull they had recovered had begun to smoke within its box—a box now warm to the touch. Within seconds, the corpses began to rise and converge on the heroes. With the help of their new faerie companion, they killed the zombies and continued higher into the tower.

On the second floor, a similar scene was laid out: more dead bodies, apparently stabbed and bludgeoned to death. The center of the room looked dangerously weak, and the edges had boxes and clutter piled high. The heroes were relived that these bodies did not animate and they dismembered them to assure they would not be ambushed.

On the roof, the companions discovered two important things: the source of the smoke, a throne with a wicked face carved into the backplate, and the one responsible for killing the inhabitants of the tower. The creature was a muscled beast called the Cool Quilled Cat Bear Beast, or at least that’s what their knowledge of nature led them to suspect. The heroes battled with the beast efficiently and effectively, using their abilities to slide the beast into a week section of roof. The creature fell through the ceiling, but to their chagrin, the beast landed one story lower on a wooden beam. The group finally defeated the beast while hiding in an area of shadows and mist created by Popliteus. Drew eventually struck the killing blow, and slid the creature off the edge where it fell to the ground, four stories below.

They disabled the throne by smashing a series of seven gems set into the throne’s surface. Finally, the smoke stopped and the dead bodies remained dead. With the magic effect gone, the faerie was able to help Rand, as he promised he would. When the heroes questioned the faerie about the odd weather, they were shocked to learn that the weather wasn’t odd at all—it was the middle of winter. Drew’s face took on an unusual expression as he asked what year it was. The faerie replied by telling him it was 233, in the Year of the Rain—a full fifty years before they entered Maloreth’s lair.

The creature also revealed that there was a monastery in the Cairngorm Mountains to the west, where the monks were exceptionally attuned with the divine. The heroes could possibly find some insight into the skull they had found and maybe even discover a way home.

TL;DR: The heroes inadvertently travel back in time to destroy an evil smoking chair that is poisoning their friend. Everything ends well. After defeating zombie goblins and a quilled beast, they realize Maloreth’s skull is more powerful and unpredictable than they previously knew. A faerie tells them that they will find answers in the Cairngorm mountains to the west.

Last, but not least, here are the pictures from our session.