April 30: The PCs went down into the Heart of the Land again to heal the Great Dragon Agondre with Weeping Wounds, the dagger of disease whose stabbing Agondre caused this whole mess. Agondre interrupted the healing ritual, and the image of the Dragon's Heart ruby in his eyes communicated that recovering the Dragon's Heart was more important to him than the healing ritual.
May 18: The PCs teleported to the flying city of Aulos as a stepping stone towards the Dragon Empire. They liberated Aulos from the D'Gorim, the elite troops of the Dragon Empire--who turned out to be level 6 fighters against the level 13 PCs. The PCs went through the D'Gorim like a flaming sword through warm butter, particularly since Liandra opened up with a fire storm that did at least 47 points of damage to each of the 55-hit point fighters. Liandra was then able to persuade a roc to give them a ride, and the flying-enhancement drugs that the citizens had been forced to extract were sufficient to enable the roc to fly them to the Dragon Empire.
June 6: The PCs landed near the compound of the wizard Kepta-Mor. They fought more of the D'Gorim, and discovered that spellcasting was so severely impeded in the Dragon Empire that they couldn't rely on casting even 1st-level spells successfully.
On June 18, then, the PCs entered Kepta-Mor's keep, where they fought a stone golem and a cat-man monk that they had fought before. Both went down fairly quickly, though the golem dished out some heavy hits. The monk would have had a mobility advantage normally--but not against the flying members of the party.
And then Kepta-Mor stepped out onto a balcony. He was escorted by a runic guardian (from Monster Manual II; an enhanced version of the shield guardian). And floating near him in the air was the Dragon's Heart, an immense round ruby larger than a man's head, burning with an inner flame.
Kepta-Mor's spells have been much more reliable than those of the PCs; all of his spells have been successful. He got good results with an Evard's Black Tentacles that caught three members of the party for a few turns, and he managed to enclose the balcony he's been standing on in a lesser globe of invulnerability.
I'd been fearing that this fight might be anticlimactic, that the wizard might prove too fragile and have too few actions to fend off the PCs. But it's turned out that I really did have some good strategy for him, and he's had several advantages:
- Because he had some warning when they entered his castle, he was able to get all of his prep spells off before engaging the PCs. So he's got mage armor, shield, polymorph (into a medium-size version of a troll), and stoneskin (due to a contingency spell) up, all of which gives him AC 28 and DR 10/adamantine.
- The balcony has been a great tactical advantage, particularly combined with the globe of invulnerability. There's not enough room for the PCs to stand, and the globe of invulnerability prevents those with fly spells from hovering nearby. That, combined with the runic guardian, has prevented them from engaging him effectively in melee.
- And the runic guardian has had a huge effect. Every wizard should want one. Here are some of the many advantages:
Its reach has allowed it to make attacks of opportunity against incoming melee attacks--and the stunning strike has made those attacks of opportunity completely neutralize incoming melee attackers.
Its spellcasting abilities allowed Kepta-Mor to activate his defensive spells and get into melee much more quickly.
And of course its ability to soak 3/4 of the damage that Kepta-Mor takes and soak it with fast healing has been hugely helpful to Kepta-Mor.
It's safe to say that the PCs are feeling extremely challenged by this fight.
But the PCs have done a lot of cool stuff. For example, Kepta-Mor used a suggestion to persuade Turok that he should help the archer engaged by Evard's Black Tentacles--and instead of going through the tentacles, Turok has been using his immense attacking ability to go through the keep's wall. (I'm happy with the use of suggestion from an OOC perspective; Kepta-Mor ought to be smart enough to prey on Turok's weak Will saves, but using suggestion gives him a fair bit of free will and choice, instead of just rolling a die to see what he does as with confusion or twiddling his thumbs with hold person.)
And we've had a bunch of great banter, with megalomaniac taunting from Kepta-Mor and responses from Larissa and other PCs. We've also had the surprise revelation that it was actually Kepta-Mor who let Turok escape and fly to Agondre. I hope the PCs find out more about the prophecy to which Kepta-Mor alluded.
And the PCs are getting some help from another quarter: as Kepta-Mor cast the suggestion on Turok, he got stabbed in the back by a woman wearing an outfit like that of Princess Leia in Jabba the Hutt's palace. This turned out to be Dorla, the woman Turok had believed had betrayed him to Kepta-Mor. Obviously, there are still lots of things for everyone to talk about.
We finish up the fight in tomorrow's game. I'm looking forward to a fifth great session.