Blessed Empire

Session 10: Meet the Emperor

6 January 2012

(This begins Chapter III)

(We are missing Kriv’s player tonight)

We arrive in Vostir, the Imperial capital, in a coaster merchant boat, having hitched a ride for us and our troops once we reached the southern sea. The city and surroundings is crawling with activity. We have it from the boatmen that the Emperor is putting together a huge army that he intends to lead.

Kleft, Bonkk, Kriv, and Listar go to the Port Admiral’s office to report the party’s arrival and the urgent need to pass on news, our report, and certain artifacts to the high command. The rest find a space big enough to hold them, keep mouths controlled enough to suppress what we saw at the Fall of Brsic and certain other demoralizing bits of information.

Admiral Straton sees us almost at once, once we get to his office and encounter his guards. We hand over the first copy of our report, and show the Hand to the admiral and his arcane experts; the latter blanch visibly. We report reversing the enemy siege train, and running into the talkative Turathoi. The admiral is visibly discomfited at being told the enemy are summoning demons. He directs us to find lodgings and that we will go to the Palace the next day, ordering us to appear at the admiral’s office at dawn.

The troops near the docks are plied hard for news, and while we suppress some uncomfortable bits, there is some boasting about the victories we did win: Mik spins a great yarn. There is some open revulsion at the nonhumans (Lann the githzerai, Cruhorn the razorclaw shifter, and Mik the half-orc). We get news ourselves: the invasion is massive, and from many directions: south, southwest, north, and over the south sea.

The next morning we get everyone up, march to the Port Admiral’s, and report our presence to the admiral. En route and while waiting outside there is again clear displays of racial bigotry from the locals, though dragonborn are notably omitted from the sneers. Cruhorn and Lann return the contempt with their own impressive demonstration.

The admiral comes out promptly and we march to the Imperial Palace. We go to the Purple Gate. We are admitted to a lobby space, and given food & drink while we wait.

Listar is asked for a personal interview by a richly dressed dragonborn. This is Lord Zatik, the Chief Emissary from Arkhosia, the de facto ambassador! Listar is offered the rank of Huntsman under the Master of the Hunt (who is in effect both the head of spies and the minister of state in the dragonborn state), and is offered a retainer fee; he would in effect be an agent for Arkhosia, is given a badge, and 800 gp worth of gems. He is given a sealed scroll and asked to present it personally to the Emperor. The Emissary is clearly very pleased that his offer was accepted.

The whole party then are subjected to a cleaning-up and protocol-coaching frenzy. The functionaries try to persuade the four racial undesireables to skip the audience, which is adamantly refused, and then urged to stay silent and presumably unobtrusive. In the end, it is made clear that they will be presented in the same way as the rest.

The beginning of the audience is a fatiguing quasi-religious ritual, which we survive with boredom. But there is a lot of magical energy around, and to our surprise, some of it is malign. Cruhorn the Seeker crits on sniffing it and recognizing it: there are minions of Dagon, from the Abyss in the Underdark, somewhere on the Palace grounds! We gesture over an aide, who admits that yes, this is known, and is apologetic about it.

The ritual part concludes and we move on to the actual audience. We are asked for a display of prowess, and we put together an interactive demonstration of a battle against the siege train. We just totally rock, and all our rolls for social interactions end up totalling no less than 30. We have seriously impressed lots of important folk.

THe formal part of the audience is over. We are allowed to sit, and refreshments are brought. Emperor Ignatius is quite pleased; he is young, in his mid-20s, and has been Emperor for a couple of years. He is eager to ride to war at the head of an army, but his advisors are holding him back. He is impressed by deeds in battle, and has chosen as his own surname “the Bold”, though no one outside of Court uses it. He presents us with jewelry, 1200 gp worth each of loot. We are to be given magical items also, and in the next day or so we will be escorted to the Vault for selection.

The Emperor singles out the half-Orcs for inclusive praise, recalling how the half-orcs of the Peterotychos Brigade about 250 years ago stood against the usurpers until slain to the last main. Listar takes the opporunity to present the Emissary’s scroll to the Emperor, who
reads it and comments on the unusual nature of its contents (Zatik wants to be installed in the Ambassadors Palace, though technically he is not an ambassador), but he accepts the petition and will deal with it later.

The Emperor shares news and views on the war. “The war in general is going badly.” Evik and Gard Proset are being attacked. The Hand of Vecna is taken out of our care and it goes off to being guarded and studied at the Temple of Ioun. There is an anomaly in the Emperor’s description: he omits any mention of goblins in the forces attacking Evik, yet we saw (and avoided) an army of those en route. We report that, and it causes a stir.

We brief the Emperor and his court on what we saw through our experience. We make the point of mentioning the 18th Legion commander by name, who was the person who tossed us the Hand of Vecna before he was trampled by war mammoths on the Bridge at Brsic. This triggers a comment: the 18th Legion is destroyed, and its eagle lost in the capture of the city. Legally it is not a legion any more, which means our own affiliation is up in the air as far as tradition is concerned. Kleft suggests making us a “special ops” unit, and that seems to be quite acceptable to the Emperor, and we are given the designation the Emperor’s Hand.

Our first mission will be to participate in winning back the teleportation circle here in the Palace Grounds. All the ’port circles in the Empire have been diabolically corrupted. We mention our detection of the influence of Dagon — there is a collective gasp in the chamber — and those two things are one and the same here: minions of Dagon are in place, occupying the circle and its building. They seem content so far simply to occupy the building and not attack out of it.

The Emperor says he has champions who will attack the entity corrupting the circle directly, but our part is to open the way, and then ensure that the champions are not interfered with by other forces. This is to happen in three days.

Cruhorn subsequently visits with other shifters in the town and in that community it is clear that there is something disquieting going on in the marshes outside of Evik. There is a significant population of Fey creatures there, who have long had good relations with the Empire; that is taken as perhaps the single most important reason why Evik has never in its history been taken by an enemy army. The unsettling news out of Evik and surroundings is ominous.

That wrapped up action. We each have 1200gp from this session plus 170gp each of combined loot accumulated during our earlier adventures, plus a few have other chunks of treasure on individual bases. We have a couple of days to shop, and we have the free item from the Vault to come also.

And then we fight demons.

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Basilica of the Portal (I)

13 January 2012

We spend a couple of days in Vostir, celebrities. We buy stuff. Kleft learns rituals.

Cruhorn learns that his homeland has been overrun, and the Shifter community seems to have some sponsorship from a noble. Kriv makes contact with the Arkhosian diplomatic teams. Bonkk draws a greatspear from the Imperial Vault that belonged to the Petroteichos Brigade. Other characters draw impressive items of their own from the Vault.

We are to be the spearhead into the demon-occupied Basilica of the Portal. A tactical map is provided to us at the table. Nothing came through this portal (unlike what happened at Brsic), but the demons have interdicted the circle here, and it is corrupting the grounds around. It will take something special to evict the Aspect of Dagon that is half-manifested here and half-manifested in the Abyss.

We meet Lord Hyperstrategos Mikhail Gudyoni, designated commander of all Imperial forces. He is deeply experienced, old (on the high side of 60 years old), and the foremost tactical expert in the Empire. Our insight is that he is under severe stress: there are too many fronts, too much strength of enemy invading ….

Our assignment is to secure the entrance area of the Basilica. We are to take and hold that space. Other teams will nail down the space around the building. Then we are to force into the Chamber of the Portal itself, and cleanse the Portal Stones. We expect there will be opposition to all of our activities, but we don’t expect “fifth column” forces to emerge from the city and fight against us outside the Basilica.

The Circle is in a sunken floor, under a dome; there are four Portal Stones around the circle. The dome could be opened (e.g. to admit a very tall object), but not under present circumstances. The windows are largely broken. The external doors are secured from the inside.

After we have secured the space inside the Basilica, the Champions will go through the corrupted portal and attack the thing in the circle on the far side. This gives us real misgivings, but we are being given orders, not being consulted on tactics.

Cleansing a portal stone takes a ritual which is short and simple enough for us to do it during combat. We can do it (our Seeker, with his high Nature skill, is probably best at it) once we have elbowed open a space free of the enemy. The opposition is demonic and undead with an aquatic theme. The tempo of our action is to be as fast as possible. The Champions will go through on our signal.

Each of us is issued a healing potion and a Resist Cold potion (we know the enemy use cold-based attacks). We are warned that this will be a compound action.

We stealth up to the outside door, pick the lock, and press in. We see two Vine Horrors, several trident-wielding fish-man things of two different types … these are sahuagin. The Vine Horrors are militant plants, deep-sea versions of nasties Bonkk has seen before in swamps. The far doors of the antechamber are closed.

We open up and find the lesser fish-man things are minions. The Vine Horrors have a huge restraining blast attack but die relatively easily. After a short sharp fight (Lann is put down, but we destroy all opposition) we take a breather.

The door to the circle is being hammered on from within. We ready to attack, but it’s late and time to break until next session.

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Basilica of the Portal (II)

27 January 2012

We find 480 gold pieces worth of cash loot and a few magic items in the antechamber that we do not have time to investigate.

We set up outside the door to the Circle Chamber, and lift the bar on the door, but cannot push it open. There is a large creature in the doorway, and the space beyond it is like peering into deep water. Bonkk pushes the creature back, but it absorbs a lot of punishment in our opening flurry and is unbloodied. As we concentrate our efforts on it, a translucent image of a throne appears near it but not on the floor.

There is an Elemental Evil Mudborn (which Kleft recognizes), more Vine Horrors, some puffy zombie things, more fish-men, and a hovering dmonic manta-shaped thing. There are auras affecting us, and the manta thing uses Thunderwave. At least some of the zombies are minions.

The space near the circle’s center is obscured, and the things in there are not quite in our location; they will, however, get activated if we attack anything in the intersticial space or move into that area. We concentrate our efforts into the surrounding forces, carefully avoiding activating the occupants hodling the circle itself. It’s a fight, but we succeed without too much difficulty. We find that the apparition of the throne is the manifestation out of a card from the Deck of Many Things that must be nearby; it has a power where when one is in it, one can cause a couple of enemies to be marked by some ally of yours.

The Champions enter briefly to confer with us, and we have another breather as we size up the things occupying the circle and its Portal Stones. This is a milestone, but zones and stances expire in the short rest.

We find the magic items include three Surprise Bullets (which Mik gets), and Opal Carp (a swimming mount, but it isn’t strong enough to carry Kriv), and a Jar of Steam which is handed to Bonkk because he doesn’t use minor actions (and the Jar takes them).

Cleansing one portal stone takes three successes at the ritual, and failures will boost the enemies. Random events will happen when we enter the zone in & around the Circle. The Vine Horrors are camped on the portal stones themselves and will not willingly move off them. Things with a swim speed can fly in this space that is corrupted by the Abyss; there are also reefs of sharp coral and clumps of grabbing kelp.

We set up to attack, and the session time expires.

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Basilica of the Portal (III)

3 February 2012

Opening in the Chamber of the Circle are the bad guys:

  • four Vine Horrors, one on each portal stone
  • four zombie minions
  • two flying demonic manta rays of the 1st kind
  • two flying demonic manta rays of the 2nd kind
  • several each patches of grabby seaweed and razor-edged coral, which does damage to anyone forced into it

We are told:

  • All creatures in the chamber can use swimming as if it was flight. This effect ends when we cleanse two portal stones.
  • The ceiling is 30 feet high over the circle itself.
  • Each creature at the start of each turn will gain a number of temporary hit points equal twice the number of uncleansed portal stones.
  • Cleansing a stone takes three successes (they need not be in the same turn) at a target number of 17 on nature, arcana, or religion.
  • Each failure at cleansing will cause the nearest enemy creature to gain 10 hit points, which can take it above its starting maximum number
  • There are two manifestations of things from the Deck of Many Things: the throne we saw last time (which marks at will), and a gem, which for a minor action gives the character another standard action, useable once per encounter by each character.

We unload on the apparently unaware Vine Horror on one of the stones in a surprise round. Sasha opens with a crit, and Bonkk kills it outright from there. The rest of the group gang up on one of the manta demons and take it down before it can act. A Crushing Depth random even happens to start the next turn, but all the PCs save against it immediately so it has no effect.

During the carnage of the next round, Cruhorn gets two successes while cleansing the first stone, but Kleft fails once. Another Vine Horror hits Kriv and Lann with its huge ongoing damage restraining burst, but Kriv uses his signature weapon power to cause a crit against another manta thing and kills it. The first circle is cleansed, and more minions and other baddies are destroyed.

At the end of one turn, the Champions barrel in and dive through the circle into the Abyss, while another fish-man teleports in as evil reinforcements.

Cruhorn finishes cleansing the portal stone, and there is more mayhem. Though there are a couple of more failures in the process, Cruhorn succeeds in cleansing a second portal stone. By this time there is not much left of the enemies but two Vine Horrors on the remaining uncleaned stones, and we fall on them and start and start shredding.

We are ruled to cleanse the circle …

There is a vast burst of energy from the circle. One of the Champions re-emerges, bleeding from too many wounds to count, and slams a ring into Kriv’s hand, conferring upon him the status of Imperial Champion of Kord, and with his dying words commands us to avenge him and the other Champions, all of whom are now dead. He dies, and sinks into the Abyssal water covering the floor of the portal.

We complete the cleansing and are given a choice: to lock the portal, or destroy it outright. Damaging energy is coursing through, and we are in a fast-action skill challenge to do something before we are destroyed ourselves by the leakage from the Abyss. Locking the portal takes 6 successes with difficulty 17; destroying it takes five successes at difficulty 19. If we choose to lock it, nothing will come through the portal. If we destroy it, nothing will come through either, and we will have to draw a Despair card.

We take three rounds to accumulate six successes and two failures, absorbing a surge or two’s worth of damage in the process, and lock the portal. We clear out, finding goodies (a +2 Quickcurse Rod; a +2 Cloak of Survival; 1200 gold pieces in cash; some Dragonfire Tar (a L8 consumable); some Vision Sand (a ritual-boosting consumable); and a St??glass Shard (my notes are illegible for a space, but this is a Reagent of some kind). A Ruby Scabbard; a Potion of Elven Fleetness; and two cards from the Deck of Many Things, the Throne and the Gem.

The Vision Sand goes to Kleft.
The Cloak goes to Listar.
The Tar goes to Mik.
The Ruby Scabbard goes to Sasha.
The Rod goes to party treasure.

Fallout from the action:

This is deemed to be very bad for the Empire. The Champions were all destroyed, and there is nothing like them (they were mid-Paragon level) now left to us. The portal is unusable for the foreseeable future, cutting out some strategic mobility which the Empire had included in its war plans. Kriv is now the designated Champion of Kord for the Empire (the old one was Level 18 when he died). We get a commendation for our part in the action, but no one is feeling good about what happened. The Hyperstrategos will lead an army to relieve Evik, with us in the van.

The Aspect of Dagon that was camped in the circle was destroyed, but its supporters killed the Champions. The circle now is shut down and closed, but it can be rebuilt.

We are still 5th Level for another session or two.

There is a flurry of re-equipping by people at the end of the session in the intersession time, but the action here is over, and we will march to Evik soon. We have time to swap items on the markets in Vostir before we go. We cash in unwanted things (the Rod, a pair of Goblin Stompers that Sasha was holding, and an unused +1 Brooch of No Regrets).

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Saving Refugees

17 February 2012

We have about 2 weeks in the capital before the army marches north. For the march, we get warhorses (but not the Mounted Combat feat, so we cannot access the warhorse powers with the Mount keyword). We re-equip. Kleft buys a lot of rituals. There is some consternation among the clergy of Kord at Kriv’s new status.

Kriv goes and talks with the Arkhosians, especially about the Turathoi. The Arkhosians are very interested, and take the information under advisement. Bonkk writes a letter to his “family” on the Star of the Leeb and takes it to the Rivermens’ Guild for transport; Kleft tags along with him. Cruhorn has more contact with the local Shifters. Lann finds another Githzerai in town, who was initially spooked, fearing Lann was an assassin sent after him.

We have the equivalent of an APO Box assigned to us for routine mail.

The Hyperstrategos is leading the army, about 25,000 strong. It will be a straight, mundane march: the magic highways cannot handle that large a group in a single host, and breaking the army up into smaller packets in the face of the invaders is hazardous. We are in the van, and do our turns riding as scouts.

Several days out, on the steppes, while we are on patrol duty we top a rise and see four or five circled wagons, and people ringed around those. The wagons belong to a party of refugees. The attackers are mostly humans (not Orcs) … there are eight or ten on foot, eight or ten on horseback, and another four on dire wolves.

We attack, and the guys on the wolves are Tieflings, so we opt to charge at them. The other mounted group rides to intercept us. Cruhorn’s opening rifle shot crits its target. We drop that one, and slow from headlong rush as it is apparent we cannot avoid the horseback group. The guys on horseback include some elves with longbows, and we concentrate fire and drop most of them: they are minions.

Bonkk impetuously rides forward as the enemy’s entire first wave of mercenaries is cut down, but the group that had been on foot has mounted and is coming. Outrunning his fire and healing support, he gets put down by the Tieflings, though Kriv and Sasha come up fast in support and get him back up. THey summon a bunch of devil minions, but Kleft pops three of those like firecrackers on a string with a jumping bolt, and the others are similarly snuffed without hitting any of us.

THe enemy’s third wave, the former foot fighters, come up and start getting chewed up, though Lann gets beat up much as Bonkk did earlier.

The Tieflings start doing break-off tactical moves, targeting mounts rather than riders, and start into flight.

The four remaining mercenaries are cowed into surrendering by Kriv. Kleft immobilizes one retreating Tiefling mage’s horse; Bonkk does the same to a second. We use more manuvers and powers to halt their flight. Listar crits and kills one of their mages, and is in turn critted (but not killed) by the dying mage’s counterblast. We beat up and capture one remaining mage, and the last Tiefling is in headlong flight. We decide to run him down rather than let him escape, and are ruled to capture that one, too.

The Tieflings were spies and agents provocateurs; the rest were local opportunistic rabble. All of the captives will be taken back to the main army for questioning.

We have some dire wolves and steppe ponies (both of these are superior mounts to horses), and some loot:

  • a potion of Life Shield
  • a +2 Resounding Staff (which becomes party swag)
  • a Stonewall Belt (which goes to Bonkk, who passes his Belt of Vigor to Lann)
  • a Cat’s Eye Headband (which goes to Lann)
  • a Scroll of Protection Against Demons

We rescued a group of about 20 refugees, of whom 6 could use a weapon. They give us news: the army investing Evik is Orcs (about 3/4 of it) and Tieflings (about 1/4 of it), and seems to number about 50,000 in all. They have invested Evik, ringing it with trenches.

We’ll be Level 6 after next session, and in the vicinity of Evik.

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Defense of the Tower
4 and 11 January 2013

Two sessions are condensed here into one brief report.

Still in the highway tower between the capital and Evik, the party is assaulted by a mounted party of Orcs (two on hippogriffs, the rest on horses). We open up on them at range (Cruhorn scores three critical hits in the session, and in general the party has hot dice), blow away an Eye of Grummsh before he can get a shot off, and shred them in general. They bash open the fort’s wobbly main gate, but that merely releases Lann to wipe out one mounted Orc as the most of the party hails down fire from above. A couple of our party are bloodied, but the issue is never in any doubt. One of their archers escapes, but the rest are dropped on the field. We scavenge their mounts, which are Imperial mounts which these Orcs had taken as booty. They expected the fort to be held still by their confederates, and were surprised to encounter us. We collect their mounts and make use of them for our own mobility, with Cruhorn and Mik being put on the flyers.

We learn that our main army, led by the Hyperstrategos, was encountered by another enemy invading army and was shattered. From the top of the tower we can see two groups that make up the enemy force: the nearer group has a bunch of prisoners in it and some swag, while the further group is larger. Both are only a few scant miles away.

We elect to set up an ambush in the nearer group’s path, and in a minor skill challenge succeed in setting up a viable ambush.

In the second session we play out that ambush. Again we win, though our erstwhile leader Kleft (Kriv is not present and is presumably riding messages in hopes of getting further orders) gets put down by getting caught between archers and a Dire Wolf mount, and having fire concentrated on him. A few more surges of ours are expended, though not many more dailies, and again we try setting up an ambush for the third body. This one is expected to be much larger, so our goal presumably is to hit hard, demoralize, and escape. We are too few to hold the tower (especially with its broken main gate) and we are under orders to get to Evik and do what we can to effect a relief of the besieged great city.

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