This past Saturday, as I hope you know, was Worldwide D&D Game Day, the great big celebration of the 30th anniversary of this game. It's received lots of national news coverage:
An AP story (on cnn.com)
Chicago Sun-Times story
Nashua Telegraph story
Of all places, the National Review
So what did I do to celebrate Worldwide D&D Game Day? I played D&D!
It was the second Saturday of the month, so that made it D&D day anyway. But we got to talking, and decided to head down to Tacoma to visit a couple of the game stores that were participating in the festivities. We stopped in first at Table Top Games, where they had regularly-scheduled D&D Minis and RPGA (Living Greyhawk) events planned in addition to the special activities. We hung out there for about an hour, talking with folks, signing books, and browsing the merchandise. Then we went up the road to The Game Matrix, which had just one table of the introductory D&D adventure going on. Many thanks to these two stores for welcoming us (on pretty short notice) and showing us a good time!
Then we came back to my house for the gaming.
It's October. As I was cleaning the house on Friday, putting away some of the Halloween stuff my son has been accumulating these last few weeks, I realized that Halloween was coming up and I should make the most of it. So I put together a dungeon crawl with some pretty creepy elements. I didn't go overboard with it, and I didn't even tell the players that I had a creepy game in mind. Not like sitting down with the lights dimmed to play through the original Ravenloft module or anything.
So back in Stormreach, the PCs met back up with Tala Karrna after their weird little expedition to the village of the catfolk (in Mellorn Hospitality, from DUNGEON, which we played at our last session—in July!). The kindly Professor informed them that agents of the Emerald Claw had made one more attempt to steal the mysterious rod from her while they were gone, but that she was rescued by an Exorcist of the Silver Flame. This Exorcist then went on to tell her that he was seeking a powerful artifact of good in a lost temple, and that it was imperative that it be found before the Emerald Claw could grasp it. He hired Tala, and the PCs through her, to find this artifact and keep it from the clutches of the Claw.
So off into the jungle the PCs traipsed once more. I fast-forwarded through weeks of jungle travels, ending when the party arrived at the Marsh of Desolation. This swamp was dismal and desolate indeed: Gwen's character (Phenn) caught mindfire and lost some Intelligence. None of the PCs could get a restful night's sleep because of nightmares arising from the great evil of the place. They fought off a will-o-wisp (no easy task in such a dense fog), and then arrived at the temple fatigued and worn.
Inside the temple, they launched into a fight against two yuan-ti purebloods. Even as another pureblood and a half-blood appeared to aid the first pair, some ghostly apparitions started manifesting in the area. They were basically phantasms, manifesting first as the sound of distant chanting, then as ghostly glowing green lights floating toward the great ebon doors, then as ghostly figures wearing robes remarkably like the tattered vestments worn by the yuan-ti. In front of the doors, a fifth yuan-ti blocked their path—this one an undead monstrosity (basically an akutsukai from Oriental Adventures), that slammed Andy's character (Kalar) with a point of Taint. Turning that bad boy enabled the PCs to fight off the rest of the yuan-ti, including one last abomination, before dealing with him—and finally the PCs stood alone in front of the night-black doors.
Phenn decided to try to channel positive energy into these black doors. Her first attempt (pretty lame) turned the black stone momentarily granite-gray. Her second attempt (even more lame) I described as like a breath of warm air on a cold glass, sending a merest blush of gray through the black. Cameron's warforged character (Stratos) at that point decided to just beat the thing down. He took some damage from the negative energy-charged door, and failed despite a pretty good Strength check. Then Steve's artificer (Jeb) produced a knock scroll and opened the door.
Inside, the ghostly apparitions were gathered in front of a terrible statue of some unknown charnel god. The glowing green lights danced like serpents of flame over their heads for a moment, then plunged into them, sending them writhing to the floor (the apparitions, not the PCs). At the same time, a wraith (with the evolved template from Libris Mortis) was manifesting near the statue. Stratos (or maybe it was Jeb with his undead bane crossbow) did it a lot of damage right off the bat, and it was reluctant to hide in the walls too long because it had already used its 1/day haste spell-like ability on itself. It hit Kalar hard, took his Con way down—and smacked him with another point of Taint. But then it died.
As it died, the statue crumbled, leaving a gaping hole in the floor through which a wholesome golden light shone. The PCs found a room below, very much like the one where they had found the evil scepter some time ago (the same Shrine of Justice tile). The statue wore the mithral crown they sought. Fearful that the statue might turn into an erinyes the way the last one had, they camped for the night before touching the crown, tallying up the other treasure in the room in the meantime. Morning came, and they snagged the crown without incident. Jeb put it in his pack and the party emerged from the lower room.
To find agents of the Emerald Claw camped out at the entrance to the temple, apparently awaiting their emergence. As battle erupted, Tala Karrna urged Jeb to give her the crown, saying that she knew how to use it to fight these guys off. Steve didn't quite trust her, but rolled a 1 on his Sense Motive and dutifully handed the crown over. As the gravehounds, Emerald Claw agents, clerics of Vol, and ogre zombie advanced, Tala bravely rushed forward—and got up on the back of the fiendish warhorse behind the nasty blackguard leader of this band... who had the evil scepter in his hand.
Brave Phenn chased them into the swamp, even after the blackguard socked her with a fireball from the scepter. Her little weasel familiar latched on to the horse and dealt a point of damage each round. Finally, fearing another fireball, Phenn gave up. At about that time, the ogre zombie got a crit on Stratos and smashed him to pieces.
It was simultaneously glorious and really depressing. Never have I handed a group of PCs such a defeat. Utterly betrayed by an NPC they had come to trust, at the cost of Stratos's life, they were pretty disheartened. But they were also really angry at the Professor, and I think that's really good. Next time, they're going to start making plans to track her down, which should drive the campaign for a while. Oh, I have great plans for Tala Karrna, yes indeed.
Here's the really funny thing. Tala Karrna appears in the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook that Keith Baker and I wrote, coming out in November. She's a professor at Morgrave University who's an agent of the Emerald Claw. I knew that almost all of my players would have that book dropped on their desks at work in a couple of weeks, and somebody was sure to run across her and uncover her treachery that way. So I figured that I had to do the betrayal thing in this session, before everyone got their copies of the book. But I discovered just this past week that her name got changed in development or editing of the book, so the players might not have caught it. Well, they still might have, so it's just as well. Besides, it was a great session.
I have been really, really busy lately. That's mostly due to a trip to Australia for Spring Revel Downunder, which I still intend to write about soon. I am starting to get caught up on things after that trip, and life should get a little more back to normal. We'll see. :)