As I confessed in my last State of the Blog post, I wasn't certain how to proceed with my Shattered World D&D game, we'd nearly reached the climax of the campaign, but with the scheduling issues it began to feel less and less climactic.
To recap briefly, the players a while back had decided to go to the "Sacred" library, and having found and "borrowed" their own elven solid silver flying stealth ship, finally had arrived. They had also learned, in the interim, that a great artifact, The Heart of the World, an enormous ruby that could be used to reshape reality, was kept at the library. Once there, they discovered a magical force field encasing the central Sacred tower, generated by four smaller towers, the Pearl tower, controlled by Blunanda, the Silver tower, controlled by Brontë, a servant of the dwarven wizard Silverhands, the Oak Tower, controlled by Dunsain Joon, a lieutenant of the Elven Princess of Charm and finally the Moon Tower, controlled by followers of Moonbiter. The PCs had run errands for both Dunsain Joon and Brontë, securing the assistance of those two towers in opening the force field long enough for them to secure the Heart of the World. They'd also cleared out the Pearl Tower, vanquishing the marid, sea hags, sharks and Water Monolith (taken from the very excellent Elemental Magic of Zakhara) left by Blunanda and closing off the oceanic portal that had been filling it with water.
So, just one tower left, right? But unfortunately, part of the reason the Oak Tower had been left for last was the player whose PC has the strongest (and only, actually) connection to Moonbiter, has been unable to make it due to a hectic work travel schedule. We were also missing the player of the Cleric of Thor, who seemed to have (at least to me) the strongest vision for what the party might do with the Heart of the World, even if that vision was partly just 'listen to what Thor says' (runner up plan being the swashbuckling rogue's plan to 'steal the Heart of the World').
So, two PCs down, the climax imminent, but forestalled as the players wanted the Moonbiter affiliated monk with them. What to do? Fortunately I thought of an Adventure Time episode I'd seen recently and to the gimmick Thomas had stolen from Curse of Strahd to run my Manlorette D&D game and then I jotted down a few notes and hoped it wouldn't all come off as too much of a Dirty DM Trick.
Instead of trying to work through the Oak Tower down a crucial player or just fast forwarding past the Oak Tower to a battle into the central Sacred Tower down two players, I just skipped past an unspecified chunk of time and had the PCs whose players were attending wake in a forest, under a hazy red sky with a colossal crack in the sky above them.
Since the Players suspected all the forests had been destroyed after the shattering, they quickly deduced that they had somehow ended up inside the Heart of the World itself. They also quickly realized they were separated into two groups of three and before they could explore they heard two roars and looked up into the sky to see my twin Ruby dragons.
Now, I know there's a whole tradition of gem dragons with psionic powers and a worrying penchant for neutralness (as Zapp Brannigan would say), but I was more inspired by 'Red Starved', the Adventure Time episode I mentioned before, where Finn mistakes an emerald for a ruby due to colorblindness, so my 'ruby' dragons were a combo of Green and Red dragon, and the players quickly realized they could be deadly, as their breath weapon was a cloud of poisonous gas that then exploded into flames. Now, to cut down a little on the deadliness, I had the dragons share their Legendary Resistances and Actions, even so, I quickly knocked two PCs unconscious and that's when I pulled out my DM trick.
Now originally, when I decided to fast forward past a climactic battle to get to the Heart of the World before any of the icons, their servants and armies, I considered just going around and having the players describe it a bit or answer questions about what happened, a technique borrowed mainly from 13th Age, but I've found this technique can take players by surprise and didn't want them to feel put on the spot right away after a three month hiatus. So instead I decided to let each player get a fragment of a memory each turn they were unconscious and because I've not been great about using icon connections, I tied each memory to an icon relationship the PC had. At first I tried writing the memories before hand but then I decided to just improvise instead and see how the evening went. If PCs hit more than 1 failed death save, I also started to offer them a chance to go into debt to an Icon to be able to regain consciousness.
And, because I'm a nice DM, here is a list of the memories imparted, partly because no players seemed to take note, which I noticed when I encouraged the players to share again after the battle was over.
- Saw herself fighting alongside Glar, wading through a horde of undead in the main tower of the sacred library, putting an arrow into the red, burning eye of a mummy who once been a priest of the library.
- Hidden Sun
- Saw the Thalemegos, broadside turned towards a vast army of undead, unleashing torrents of flame onto their ranks.
- Saw a tidal wave rushing towards the main library, with a kraken at its center and Electra knew instinctively, even if she couldn’t see, that Blunanda the Kelp Queen was riding that kraken.
- Remembered the water mephit Moist, who had secretly served Blunanda and spied on Electrca, finding herin the midst of the battle and begging her to stop Glar from shattering the ruby.
- Saw Jomma, the the one-armed cloud giant general of Stormbringer’s army, swinging her massive axe above Electra’s head and bringing it down to smash a skeletal cyclops
- Had a vision of Stormbringer ripping the top off the library chamber as Glar prepared to shatter the World Ruby, the Thalemegos visible above Stormbringer as it began to nosedive towards the library.
- Remembered seeing a 200ft tall silver colossus in the shape of a dwarf wading through Stormbringer’s army.
- Princess of Charm
- Saw L'Oie, half-elven sorceress and servant of the Princess of Charm, in a stairwell, dying, begging Grayson not to let Glar shatter the Heart of the World.
- Princess of Charm
- A flash of L'Oie and the eyeless elven Seer, spiritual leader of the followers of the Hidden Sun, in a fierce battle of powerful spells.
- Hidden Sun
- Had a vision of the battle raging around the tower, with the Thalemegos making a nosedive down to crash into the tower.
- Hidden Sun
- Remembered that as the Seer, died, she whispered something into Glar’s ear, L'Oie is nowhere in sight.
Shamelessly stealing the Moby Dick dragon shtick @thomas_schluter used for my Manlorette game (& stole from Cursed of Strahd himself) #DnD— Mr. Zack (@thatwordyguy) June 9, 2016
To give you an idea of how it played out in the Manlorette game when we fought a man who had been turned into a dragon by his Necropants (a fact that we sadly did not discover in the game) here are some (admittedly fairly drunken) updates from my facebook that day.
5/7 12:15pm - Well, that could have gone better... we fought a dragon but had one of our barbarians and our cleric go down after a blast of poisonous breath before it escaped under the water...5/7 2:09pm - And the rematch fight against the dragon is... not going so well... with only one of us above half hit points and the dragon avoiding our exploding rune trap by entering his lair from the front.5/7 2:17pm - The pain of potential total party kill by dragon is somewhat lessened by my fourth Gin and Tonic...5/7 2:24pm - Big Mustache Poo is disappointed in my rolling.(I was giving out 'frosting' stickers when players roll natural 1's on d20s)
5/7 2:29pm - The dragon fled again before we could kill it, so we're taking its hoard and then each leaving a shit where the hoard had been....5/7 2:42pm - Now our "plan" is to wander a quarter mile out onto the frozen lake the dragon retreated under to send dancing lights down into the murky depths in the hopes of luring it up to the surface... because nothing can go wrong with that...5/7 3:13pm - John got another double natural 20 to kill the dragon to send it and Nick (who had jumped on as it attempted to fly off) crashing back down onto the ice...
So we fought the dragon twice in it's lair, where it had lair actions to help defend it, and then once out on the middle of a frozen lake. It was both extremely frustrating and incredibly satisfying.
While the players don't realize it yet, the twin Ruby dragons they fought separately will be key to their resolving the Heart of the World in the Shattered Lands game, and I plan to have them need to face them several more times. Now I just need to scheme up some good combo powers to give them when both dragons are together instead of the quarter mile apart that last sessions combat was.