For the night of the finale to season 4 at The Gaming Goat we had a total of nine players in attendance. With this number of players it was decided to break into two groups so regular DM Jack ran with David, Dustin, Don and myself, and our occasional DM Steve ran with Kyle, Danny, Zach, and Daniel. Since tonight was to be the finale the groups were eager to get started so the maps were quickly placed and the evening's fun began.
The party stood poised at the top of the stairs. As they gazed down into the darkness they knew the great dragon Actherimos likely lay caught in the time stasis effects of the Arrow of Time. The effect was diminishing though. Perhaps this might be enough of an advantage for the party if perhaps maybe they could gain an advantage on the "sleeping" dragon. The party members were also sure he would not be alone. With a determined grimace the party headed down the stairs into the darkness below.
As the party moved down the stairs the atmosphere of the cave below the dwarven monastery was considerably colder than the area above. The first room the party entered was filled with the chill of winter and occasional patches of ice that made footing treacherous. The first room was empty though, so once everyone was down the steps the paladin offered to take the lead and moved into the next room.
In the second room ... well, it was just odd. Pebbles, rocks, debris and dust all lay in the air, as if it was a cave-in that had been caught in the same time stasis that had affected the rest of the area. If Actherimos really was an earthquake dragon ... well, what kind of power did he really possess? If the affects of the time stasis were going to continue to diminish then there was no need to dawdle so the party made an effort to move quickly though the floating debris.
And that was then the affect of the time stasis on this room evaporated and the rocks and debris began to rain down on the party. The party avoided any serious damage from falling boulders, but the cloud of choking dust enveloped three of the four party members. The dusty and coughing members of the party emerged from the cave-in room into a much larger room, a room where the time stasis was still in effect.
The affect of the stasis was obvious. Eight duergar warriors stood frozen as statues, similar to what the party had seen upstairs in the monastery. Also frozen in time was a large (large!) grayish colored dragon a the back of the room. Figuring the time stasis would wear off shortly, the party quickly arrayed themselves around the room. The paladin approached the dragon, only to find the body of Salazar Vladistone at the feet of the dragon. Long dead, but caught in the affect of the time stasis, Vladistone's body lay in repose on the floor of the dungeon, a mysterious arrow clutched to its chest.
The party quickly weighted their options. They could likely just take the arrow and run, give the arrow to the ghost of Salazar Vladistone, and bring the relief to the vale from Vladistone's ghostly army. Of course this would also likely allow Actherimos to resume his own personal reign of terror on the Vale.
The party also knew they could use the Arrow of Time to effectively "go back in time" and kill the dragon at some point in history, ensuring the Vladistone was never killed in the first place. Valdyra had told the party the dragon would have to be "double bloodied" for the power of the arrow to be effective, and even if the dragon was killed in this fashion it didn't necessarily mean that Vladistone's ghostly army would be disbanded.
So it was decided - kill the dragon. After the dragon was dead the party could then return the arrow to Salazar and end the march of the phantom brigade ... although if the party really did get in trouble we could still use the arrow to kill the dragon. With the decision made and with the effects of the time stasis continuing to dissipate the party members quickly rearranged themselves around the room. The paladin stood directly in front of the dragon, while the rogue could then backstab from behind. Our ranger would provide artillery fire from the wings, and our magic user would hang back and deal with the duergar.
As the party members scurried into place the affects of the time stasis evaporated and Actherimos and the eight duergar warriors stirred to life. The party's plan worked well - the paladin, rogue and ranger all got in some quick but serious blows against the dragon, and the magic user was able to use his shock sphere to take out five (five!) of the duergar with one shot. Actherimos had an aura that caused the ground around him to rumble and shake, but as long as the party remained focused on him its effect was negligible.
For whatever damage was done to Actherimos, reality soon set in - he was a dragon, a big dragon, and he still wasn't even bloodied. Actherimos flew up to land on a rock formation to get a better vantage point for his attacks but the party kept up their attacks. The magic user had found himself pinned in a corner by two of the duergar minions but was able to extract himself with an arc lightning, while the last remaining duergar moved up behind the paladin. The other party members kept dealing damage to the huge dragon and he was finally bloodied.
Unfortunately for the party their dice grew cold at this point, and if there is something we all have learned over the years is that you don't want to give a dragon a few extra turns to perform his mischief. An attack from the remaining duergar and a critical hit from Actherimos knocked the paladin unconscious, so the ranger used a shot to knock the dragon prone, which in turn allowed the dragon to knock everyone else prone. Regardless the rogue was able to crawl over and stuff a potion of healing down the throat of the paladin to put him back in the game,
And then from the entrance to the room the ghost of Salazar Vladistone appeared. As the ghost appeared to shake in fear at the sight of his ancient nemesis he spoke, saying, "I remember now. I know what to do with that arrow. Do not send me back without Oldivya." Confident that actually killing the dragon was the right thing to do, another arc lightning from the magic user took out the last duergar minion and helped to finally "double bloody" the dragon.
The dragon responded by knocking the rogue unconscious and continuing to flail at his enemies. Still prone, the paladin weighed his options. He really needed to take a second wind and further restore himself, but even if he did he wasn't sure it would make a difference against the mighty blows of the dragon, plus he wasn't sure if the others would be able to finish Actherimos off before the dragon acted again.
So from his kneeling position the paladin lunged forward with his mighty long sword and struck directly into the heart of the beast. Actherimos was dead. The magic user revived the rogue, and the party members sat in the quiet of the post-battle cave to collect their thoughts, their wits, and their breaths.
Note: The other group did things a little differently from our group. They nickled and dimed Actherimos at first, but once he was bloodied then they turned on the big guns and quickly slew him.
With nothing more to do here, the Arrow of Time was collected and brought outside the monastery. There it was presented the ghost of Salazar Vladistone, where he graciously thanked the party for doing what he could not do. He stated that he would return the arrow to the Ghost Tower and as promised he would put an end the ghostly army he had commanded.
With the Nentir Vale now safe again the adventure was over - or was it really? Who wants to bet more danger lies ahead? Visit The Gaming Goat (or your local game store) this Wednesday and every Wednesday to participate in upcoming Encounters sessions.
Note: I will post a post-mortem in a separate blog post in a few days.