Hearts of Stone 9: Death from Above

Posted: 30 November 2016 in Hearts of Stone
Tags: ,

10-20 April 216, Glitterhaegen

Emerging from the inn they so carelessly set on fire a few moments ago, the party is starting to make good its escape when they notice a horde of demons descending on them from the skies.

Dave shoots one with her bow, but to no effect. Ssh’ta does likewise and misses, while Caliban (who has transformed into a full-grown dire wolf) growls in intimidation. Soreth employs her fiery breath on the boss demon, who is much larger than the others, and one of his minions. The party has a healthy respect for this weapon, and is horrified to see the smaller demon merely shaken, and the larger one completely unaffected. Kowalski’s beard, however, being worn by the large demon as some kind of trophy, is completely incinerated.

A pair off demons grab Soreth and carry her off. A second pair repeats this with Dave. The Fox is incapacitated by a mighty slash from a demon claw, and falls. Seeing this, another demon turns towards Silmaria, who taunts him thus:

“Your mother was an angel, your father drank holy water and I have the proof!” Visibly shaken, the demon bursts into tears and tells her she is mean.

Kowalski’s armour turns the claws which strike him, and Caliban is hit, but so lightly it seems the demon was almost trying to pet him. Casila is not so luckily and suffers a serious wound, as does Boris; both of them have several demons attacking them. Boris then recalibrates his googly eyes and sprays mystic zombie ghost snakes out of every orifice imaginable (and unimaginable). Silmaria looks at the terrifying scene and shudders, and even the demons of hell pause, taken aback.

Kowalski is suddenly enveloped by something black, smoky and unwholesome, which makes him very difficult to hit.

X7-09’s voice goes deep and booms with rolling thunder as he speaks: “Greaav oneuk leave wiavh avhouke lat have avaken, avhe ukacrifice lat have liwo be greaav shum uklaveuk freukh gijak burnun avownuk agh avreaukure go go dijak avhe ciavausan!”

The largest demon replies: “Well make your $%^&* mind up! Right lads, three for four. Let’s ride!” The demons begin to take off, leaving the party and the town behind as they fly off. Before leaving, the one next to Ssh’ta speaks as it hands him a package.

“We’re not done here, shortie. Take this, I like a challenge.”

Sensing that X7-09 is about to “repair” the injured, Ssh’ta unfurls the package over the Fox; it turns out to be a cloak of invisibility. Unable to see the Fox, X7-09 turns his attention to Casila.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” she asks, closely followed by “That hurts!” At this point an angelic being, previously seen approaching in the distance, lands next to the pair and picks up Casila before X7-09 can do any more damage. Casila now appears wreathed in holy fire, which does nothing for her state of mind. Boris (who can actually heal people) moves up and says:

“Icanhealz. Lay on fingernailllleeerrrr hans yes hansss.” He sets to work.

“Are you sure you have to put your hand there?” asks Casila. Possibly because he is laying on hands in the wrong place, Boris fails to heal Casila and moves on to try his luck on the Fox. After this, the Fox appears to be stable, so with the last of the demons gone, the party drapes him over the dire wolf and follows his directions to an alchemist, where he is partially healed but advised he needs at least 10 days’ bed rest. The alchemist can’t help Casila, whose wounds are less severe, but says she will need no more than 5 days’ rest.

Wandering around town, they see Soreth stomping back through one of the gates, covered in gore, chewing thoughtfully on what looks like a piece of demon, and muttering under her breath. Ssh’ta returns the cloak to a dark alley and begins playing a sombre tune. It starts raining.

Valore somberly gives the ashes of Kowalski’s beard the last rites, then picks up Cali the dire wolf pup. The pup now appears to be on fire; Ssh’ta looks concerned and cries “Caliban!”, whereupon Valore is picking up a full-sized dire wolf.

Over the next ten days or so, while Valore preaches and collects alms, and Kowalski works as a healer and bouncer at a nearby inn, the party exchange information. Having lost Dave, Ssh’ta and Boris decide to take the others into their confidence and reveal that they have been charged by the Elf Queen to return Casila to her family, whose estate is between Glitterhaegen and Anvil. It transpires Casila was kidnapped by drow as a young girl, and spent some time with them before being recovered by the Elf Queen. As her family are wealthy and influential nobles, her Highness believes returning the girl is both morally correct and politically useful.

Hayes turns up a few days into their recuperation period, and the dungeon heart is duly sold, on the basis that at least Big Bad Barry will now follow someone else.

GM’S NOTES

In this episode we see that although the PCs are badasses there are things out there that can eat them for breakfast and summoning them with icon dice isn’t all cakes and ale, that Ssh’ta can shapeshift Caliban from pup to adult and back with a word of command, and that anything Valore picks up seems to be on fire.

The opposition this week were demonic soldiers from the SW Fantasy Companion with their Sizes tweaked a bit. Taking half damage from everything except their weakness turns out to be a game changer. Three or four berserk demons ganging up on someone with wild attacks can ruin their whole day, even if they’re only using their claws.

Despite using Savage Worlds, a party of 11 (9 PCs plus Casila and Caliban the dire wolf/pup) versus a group of 20 demons ran slowly. There were various reasons for this, including numerous internet dropouts for two of the players, another two not showing, a reduced but still significant amount of whisper chat, and people still learning the rules; with an experienced party around a physical table I have run skirmishes with several dozen figures and a few vehicles on each side in less time than this. Is Roll20 inherently slower? Too soon to tell, but the sessions are shorter than usual so I need to focus on fewer, tougher enemies, at least for a while.

Dave’s player isn’t enjoying Dave as much as the rest of us, so we used this combat to remove her from play and substitute a replacement character, Valore. In my view, there is no point making someone play a character they don’t enjoy, so I am pretty laid back about minor rebuilds or even, as in this case, swaps.

The usual array of DPS, healers and tanks is out in force, but Silmaria is unusual. The player has pushed everything into Charisma boosts and interpersonal skills, and is trying to be a bard without any spells, using trappings on her skills to replace the usual array of buff/debuff powers.

It was pleasing to see the party starting to pull together as a team, focusing more on how to help each other survive than revenge. The key to this, I find, is cranking up the threat level at the right pace to match the party’s knowledge of their own capabilities. It is quite noticeable how much more effective the more experienced players are, even with less capable characters.

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Comments
  1. Brass Jester says:

    Wow! I don’t really know what to say about this. It’s a great read and must be real fun to play in, but man, you’ve got some weird stuff going on there,

    • andyslack says:

      Yeah, 13th Age is D&D with the weird turned up to 11, this group is very different from my usual one, and I have embraced both rather than trying to mould them into something else. Let’s live a little.

      It helps that I view the setting as disposable; I intend to discard it in favour of something more… traditional… once the current campaign is done, which I anticipate will be around the end of 2018.

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