Seekers of the Ashen Crown Week 41: Bringing the Heat

As Jak (disguised as Tik) led the party further into the Dragon’s Forge, they found themselves coming up on a shambling mass of zombies.  The outcropping with the massive Khyber shard – and Lady Demise – loomed about sixty feet in front of them across a narrow bridge, with Ivello’s eagle eyes picking out an altar that was presumably at the heart of the ritual.  Though the party was protected by the potions Thom had given them as a parting gift, the Deathsgate mercenaries they had hired were feeling the effects of the heat coming off the roiling lava a mere fifteen feet below the ledge of the series of small islands they now found themselves on.

Moving forward, a large group of zombies shuffled forward to block the party’s way.  Not ready to blow their cover, Jak called out to Demise that he had brought her prize – if she called off her dogs, he would deliver her the Solitaire.  A few moments passed, and then she turned to look at Jak, waved a hand, and the zombies parted.  Ahead of him were even more zombies, and a pair of Emerald Claw knights guarding the natural bridge that separated the ritual site from the rest of the Forge.  Looking up from her work again, Demise took a few steps forward and gave “Tik” a piercing glare.  “You and your…prisoners” she sneered, “seem to be enchanted.  What is that about?”  Jak smirked and replied that it was merely their protection from the heat – he didn’t want them to keel over and die before his Lady got her hands on them.  Helping to sell the ruse, Aruget leaned forward and began shouting at “Tik” for killing Jak, and demanded to know what sort of other enchantment he might have put on them, while Ivello – feeling cocky – snidely remarked that Demise looked much more fashionable in undeath, but a little makeup wouldn’t hurt.

Under her mask, Demise’s eyes seemed to relax, but she waved her hand and retorted that the party’s lives were nothing to her – did “Tik” have the Solitaire?  Jak replied that he most certainly did, for did she really think he’d be stupid enough to return without it?  While Demise digested this new sass, Ivello fell back into his old habit of gathering information at every opportunity.  Taking a closer look at Demise’s robes and mask, he noted that there was something about them that felt off as a simple representation of the Undying Court – in fact, based on some reading he’d done, they suggested a connection to the infamous House Vol.

With no reply from Demise forthcoming, “Tik” summoned all his bluster and declared that before he handed over the Solitaire, he had some business to attend to: Demise had promised to make him Undying as his reward.  She curtly replied that the Crown would make it so.  He questioned how – after all it was only a thing, and a goblin thing at that.  Staring him down with renewed disgust, she sneered that his youth and ignorance were showing.  As she started to explain the history of the Crown, she caught herself, and her eyes narrowed menacingly.  Why was he stalling? 

Grabbing the front of Ivello’s shirt, Jak pulled him forward and replied that he would gladly hand over the Solitaire, but he wanted to see his prisoners join the ranks of the undying as well…as mindless zombies.  Demise snapped at him again to stop stalling; they would do that later.  From the back of the crowd, Kayde had an idea, and called out to Demise to let him serve her.  “Tik” looked over his shoulder and retorted that of course he wanted to serve Demise – he’d heard his friend Jak beg for his life, and didn’t want to share in his fate.  Growing impatient and sensing something wasn’t right, Demise took a few steps forward on the bridge and snarled that she didn’t care about Kayde; his time would come.  She again insisted that “Tik” hand over the Solitaire.  As Jak moved forward onto the bridge, continuing to drag Ivello behind him, Demise demanded to know what game he was playing.  Stopping about ten feet in front of her, Jak held out the Solitaire and replied that he didn’t play games – he could see which way the wind was blowing.  That was Ivello’s cue.

Drawing on the power of his dragonmark, Ivello called up a sharp burst of wind, sending Demise flying off the bridge.  He called out to the mercenary Malcanus to throw him Yeraa’s sword, which landed at his feet.  Grabbing his byeshk spear from the warforged monk Watcher, Kayde struck at the nearest Emerald Claw knight, finding a gap in her armour and killing her instantly.  Moving with him, Watcher laid into the second knight with their fists, splitting his jaw and skull with a massive uppercut.

Back on the bridge, as Demise flew backwards pushed by Ivello’s wind, Jak saw her catch the ledge with her fingers…and then she flew up and began moving through the air.  Pushing his way past Jak, Arguet pulled out the Rod of Negation he’d looted from Tik and ran up to the ledge beneath Demise.  At that distance, he realized that she was surrounded by magic – energy emanated from her staff, a ring on each hand, her bracers, her cloak, and he could sense more coming from her pockets and pouches.  Knowing that the rod’s uses were limited, Aruget took a gamble and targeted Demise’s staff.  Black, crackling energy flew out of the rod and wrapped around the staff, which appeared to dull and fade.  Back on the main island, Minyu the shifter mercenary called on her rage and her inner beast, charging the nearest zombie and throwing it into the lava as she found herself and her fellow mercenaries surrounded by a shambling horde.

Hovering above the fray, Demise reached out her hand as her mask split open, revealing a horrible, contorted visage that she turned towards Aruget.  The paladin was well protected by his unshakable faith in Dol Arrah, and stared back at her fearlessly.  Back on the big island, his sister Razu joined Minyu, cutting through the zombie closest to her and swinging around to drop two more.  On the bridge, thinking on his feet, Jak whipped a grappling hook off his back and sent it flying at Demise.  It was a well-calculated throw, and it wrapped completely around the necromancer, binding her arms to her sides.  Behind him, the warforged mercenary Scorn pulled out his swords and proceeded to make short work of another group of zombies while Jak found himself surrounded by two more who had run over from the altar.  While he was able to dodge their gnashing teeth and grasping hands, he was unable to fight back due to his firm grip on the grappling hook’s rope, and he was starting to be driven closer and closer to the lava.

Seeing Jak’s plight, Drakan – the mercenary originally hired by the real Tik – ran up and ineffectually swung his axe at the zombie in front of Jak as Aruget pulled out his Tiger’s Blade and casually finished the job for him.  However, there were still more zombies crowding them, and one of them shoved into Jak, nearly knocking him over the edge.  Running up to the altar, Ivello quickly scooped up the pieces of the Crown and tried to throw Ashtura’s Blade to Aruget, but it bounced off a rock and fell at Drakan’s feet.  Picking it up, the mercenary swung the blade at the zombies who just kept coming, but couldn’t slow them down.  Dashing forward from the main island, Malcanus threw his boomerang at Demise, but it curved around her before returning to his hand.  As Kayde skewered another one of the zombies surrounding Jak and Aruget, Jak took a defensive stance and began moving away from the ledge to a safer position, pulling Demise along with him.  Seeing an opportunity, Scorn ran forward and traded his swords for the bow on his back, grazing Demise with an arrow as Aruget continued to dance with the zombies surrounding him, dodging one’s attack and taking its head clean off.

Still floating above the lava, wrapped up in the rope of Jak’s grappling hook, Demise began to chant and a swirl of spectral figures emerged from the ground surrounding Jak, Scorn, and Malcanus.  With a burst of dark energy, they sent Malcanus flying backwards, almost taking him off the opposite ledge, but Jak held firm.  Scorn was not so lucky.  Caught off-balance, the warforged fighter was shot out far over the lava, where he fell to his death in the molten pool.  Encouraged by her success, Demise sent forth a stream of black energy that enveloped Jak, and he felt himself losing his strength.  Seeing Jak start to struggle with the rope tethering Demise, Razu moved forward to help him, and then they heard a shout from the back of the cavern.  It was Minyu, alerting them to a fresh horde of zombies that had appeared and were bearing down on her. Though the party and the mercenaries had managed to hold their own thus far, it seemed the battle was far from over.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week:  Did you follow your family profession or did you strike out in a different direction?  What drove that decision?
  • Oh boy. There is a lot to unpack here. Let’s break it down from the top:

– At the end of the previous session, Aruget used Gladiator’s Call to temporarily grant each party member the combat edge of his choice. He got a great roll and chose Improved Level Headed, which gives each of us three cards when drawing initiative, allowing us to choose the one we want. That’s twelve cards drawn per round by the party alone. While the chaos was somewhat mitigated by having the Extras we controlled move on our turns, as well as grouped initiative for the zombies, that’s still (if my count is accurate; I can’t recall if the zombies were in two groups or not) at least fourteen cards drawn per round once you factor in Demise. Although we only played through two rounds of initiative last night, three jokers were drawn (two for us, one for the zombies). On round two, Aruget’s highest card was a Queen, and he decided to go joker fishing anyways and got one on his first try.

– For those of you keeping score, the field at the start of the session consisted of four PCs, six Extras, one boss, and to be honest I lost count of the zombies after the first ten or so. See: we only made it through two rounds of initiative.

– A large part of the reason our Extras managed to clear out so many zombies so quickly was because they had The Drop (+4 to attack and damage) on the shambling ones on the big island. Which was a huge help, since we’re not allowed to reroll for our Extras, and they haven’t always had the best luck.

– There was some post-game discussion over how to play out Jak wrapping Demise up in a grappling hook, and what the consequences should be. For a narratively simple-but-cool action, it wasn’t all that simple from a rules and reason perspective. With two raises on the opposed roll to grapple her in the first place, the GM initially ruled that she was Bound and Entangled, but RAW, she shouldn’t have been able to cast at all after that as part of the Bound condition – something neither of us realized at the time. But there was also a conversation after the fact about how certain parts of Bound – such as the victim being unable to move at all – don’t make sense in the case of someone who is magically flying, and I agree that it also doesn’t make a heap of sense in this particular scenario for it to affect verbal spellcasting. So moving forward, she’s dropping down to just being Entangled, and we’re calling the results of this session even. While I’m pretty bummed about losing Scorn (he was a beast), I think the ruling is fair, and having done some GMing myself (though never for Savage Worlds) I can 100% sympathize with the complications of adjudicating creative actions. You gotta just run with it in the moment and sort out the details later. And as much as I would personally enjoy solving a boss fight with the power of a bright idea and a good roll, that’s not usually a reasonable outcome. 🙂

  • As usual, Adventure Cards sowed chaos and good times. We normally limit the amount of Adventure Cards in play and only get two at the start of each session, going to the players who roll highest on a d100. So of course, Kayde got a card that gives everyone a the cost of a powerful enemy showing up later (this is where the twelve bonus zombies at the end of the session came from). From playing that card, Kayde got a card that gave the entire party a bonus to all trait rolls for one round, and I got a card that gives me an extra d6 for all attacks made against Demise for the remainder of the scene, which will be great if we can ever get her to stop flying. 😀 Aruget got his trusty Angry Mob card – one he has received and played a surprising amount over the course of this campaign – but decided to hold off this time. It’s probably for the best.
  • When Scorn got sent into the lava, so did Yeraa’s sword. Malcanus had been carrying it for Ivello, and in the chaos it was left on the ground in exactly the wrong spot, so it’s gone. Which isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of the narrative, but is something I am personally sad about.

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