We started with a retcon back to Oakhame to give gifts to the PCs, Lothlorien-style. I did manage to add little speeches to individualize each gift, which seemed to work well. I chose a fish-in-a-barrel approach that led me to give Kyle something unicorn-related. I was pleased that he was very impressed by the gift.
(Since the unicorn has had such an emotional impact, I'm planning to make it more significant than 'just a CR3 critter'. This isn't such a big problem, because this party is unlikely to fight unicorns, so their power level doesn't matter quite as much.)
After that, did a quick search-and-loot of the upper keep. The most interesting thing they found there was the ogre mage's journal; I had already sent them that in e-mail, so that was handled pretty quickly.
Then down into the dungeons below the keep, with encounters:
- six clockwork warriors in a small room, perished almost immediately in one fireball. Regeneration except against fire spells doesn't work well with such a fire-oriented party. (And six CR 1 monsters do not make a CR 6 encounter.)
- An awkward maze encounter with two animated walls, a gelatinous cube, and a tunnel-excavating construct that I put in to rationalize the existence of these perfectly square tunnels. I had decided for a moment to skip the maze, since navigating the maze would be a hassle, but then I decided that the encounter itself might be interesting and skipped right to that.
It was an interesting combat, even if their use of defensive magic meant that they didn't take much damage. Being engulfed by a mobile trash compactor is semi-bad news. Some particular questions we have to deal with:
- Can Turok transfer his sword to his shield-carrying hand to free a hand for a spell?
- When characters are fighting in a narrow passage, can they take turns swinging at an opponent? What happens if one PC is next to an opponent, and another PC wants to step in? (If I didn't allow that sort of stepping in, the combat would have been much more difficult.)
- Then a fight with Bellek (Theodocious's apprentice, now turned into a clockwork) and some more clockwork warriors. Again, it was basically a one-spell fight; Larissa's web spell shut them down pretty effectively. (And Turok's dragon breath cemented things.
- The final encounter for the night started too late, but I pressured the players to go on to that revelation: Theodocious, and his shield guardian guard/keeper. The PCs managed to dish out a lot of damage very quickly to the shield guardian, but the guardian did a fair amount of damage back to Turok.
They defeated the shield guardian in a few rounds, then talked to Theodocious. I would have liked this to be more poignant--there wasn't much questioning from the PCs about whether Theodocious wanted to die, or why he wanted to die. But I think it was still a little touching, which is a good thing.
I was surprised that the PCs missed one puzzle: when Theodocious said 'secret compartment in chest', he didn't mean the wooden chest in the room; he meant his own chest. (It's possible that my accidentally saying 'secret compartment in the chest' led them astray.) Fortunately, they had a detect secret doors for a brute-force solution, so I didn't have to figure out how to give them hints.
So I handed over the player aid. I had taken a printout of this document and stained it with tea to try to make it look antiqued. It worked semi-well, I think--the staining was conspicuously uneven in some places, but a great many flaws and stains can be rationalized away with "well, it was found in the chest cavity of a wizard turned into a clockwork."
The text had a somewhat oblique reference to one of the big secrets of the campaign: the arcane geography of Agondre. I'd been angsting about that part of the document quite a bit--I wanted it to be a riddle they'd feel challenged by, but one that they would figure out. And there was really no way to test and calibrate that puzzle--or even to adjust it if it was too easy.
Based on the conversation and the e-mail that's been circulating today, it looks like my players zoomed right in on that secret. I might have liked them to have a bit more dificulty, but I think that I aimed the document appropriately--particularly since 'too easy' is better than 'too hard'. (And my players are really smart--I think that if they were going to figure out the riddle at all, they'd do so quickly. So I shouldn't feel disappointed that they did figure it out quickly.)
I do hope that my players had a good "Ohhh..." moment when they figured it out--the campaign's been leading up to this discovery for a very long time.
The document also had some "Eww..." bits, such as the bit about Theodocious cutting out his own tongue. This was hard to write--I wanted to make sure the players appreciated the gruesome qualities, but when I was trying to write as Theodocious, I found him trying to distance himself from the experience. I left it somewhat distant, and relied on Lori to go "Eww..." at the appropriate times--and she did not disappoint me.
Throughout the whole session, I tried hard to be more descriptive of actions and scenery, and I think I did succeed at this--I think I was much more evocative than usual. Go me.
So, I feel happy about this session. I hope it was as good for the players too.