Yes, I know this is horrendously late. I have a ton of excuses, but my Bluff skill isn’t high enough to get by with them. Just read on and hopefully the feelings of resentment and disappointment will melt away . . .
Azai sat perfectly balanced on the ship’s railing as he meditated on the previous day’s events.
Yesterday morning, Alycstair had recovered enough from his wounds to explain his unique form to the group. “Explain” is an exaggeration: Alycstair didn’t know what he was, but the half-serpentine body was his true and preferred form. Azai and Rapha continued to trust their companion, but Lo-Kag grew more suspicious. Regardless, the party had to continue their mission to find the Tablets of Fate.
After asking around the tavern that day – and being offered an illegal substance known as “Sparkle Serum” – the party found a pirate crew under one Captain Fuzzybritches who was heading east. The man refused to be called by any other name. He demanded a hundred-gold fee to take them East toward Emmech, a city near Mount Thay where the next Tablet of Fate was located.
The party sought alternate travel options and found another man willing to take them as long as they worked as crewmen during the voyage. The man was hooded and shifty. He claimed that he had to leave right then and there to get back home. Azai could tell he was lying by the way he watched for everyone’s reactions. After a thorough shakedown and interrogation under Alycstair’s intimidating gaze, the man admitted that he was attempting to smuggle Sparkle Serum into Emmech. At this, the party decided to let him go and return to the pirates.
So far, the voyage had been relatively quiet. Nothing but the winds and the waves had spoken to Azai since they had cast off, which was why the ringing bell was so jarring. Azai’s eyelids flickered open in an instant. He turned away from the ship’s bow as the entirety of the pirate crew – along with his companions – filled the ship’s deck and gathered near their captain.
“As ye all know, we’ve extended our hospitality to four guests for this voyage,” Captain Fuzzybritches said. “As a matter o’ fact,” a toothy grin grew across his face, “I think we deserve a little more shine for our generosity.”
One of the payoffs of improv in D&D is that you can instantly reward players for heading off the beaten path. The bartender’s attempted sale of Sparkle Serum was created on the spot as an interesting reward for the discovery-inclined. The smuggler was also an instant creation since the players tried to find other methods of transportation.
Rewarding players for looking around gives them a sense of living in a whole and complete world. And when I say reward, I don’t really mean you have to give them something good. I mean that you should give them something.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name “Fuzzybritches,” the goofiness level wasn’t my idea.
“Cap’n? Ye don’t sound so good,” said first-mate Woolypants.
“It be naught but a cough. I be just fine.” a rough voice replied. Odd, wheezing noises followed the statement. They reminded Woolypants of a squeaking rodent…if it were dying.
“Yer not fine, Cap’n. I’m comin’ in.” Woolypants pushed open the door to the captain’s quarters and stepped inside. It was dark, but moonlight seeped through the back windows, silhouetting the captain’s figure sitting on his chair.
“Cap’n?” Woolypants called out once more. He approached the captain’s desk slowly. The captain’s hat was pulled low and it covered his eyes. Woolypants leaned over the desk and lifted the hat from Captain Fuzzybritches’ face. Cold, blank eyes stared back at him.
First-mate Woolypants froze. Not because he was shocked, but because there was a sword through his throat. Hidden under the desk, Rapha smoothly withdrew his sabre from the first-mate’s neck.
“Well, that’s one less to worry about,” thought Rapha. But now he had to deal with two bodies, and the chest he spied earlier would only fit one. After thinking for a moment, Rapha formulated a plan. He removed the clothes within the chest and stuffed the captain’s body inside. Then he tied the clothes together like a rope. He fastened one end around the chest, and the other end to the first-mate’s corpse.
Rapha had entered the captain’s quarters using his glass cutters. Now, he cut the rest of the glass away and then shoved the chest overboard. The first-mate’s body fell with it, and together, they sank to the ocean’s depths.
After that, the pirates grew suspicious of the party and was about to capture them. Alycstair’s transformation scared them enough that they backpedaled up to the ship’s railing, and Azai pushed them over using one of his new area powers.
This ending to the situation worked well enough, but it was still a cop-out to avoid yet another combat scenario against pirates. It also reduced – or perhaps even nullified – the significance of Rapha’s actions. Thanks to that old SOB we know as hindsight I now think I could’ve handled the results better.
With their captain and first-mate gone, I think it would’ve been better for the pirates to panic and perhaps even listen to any story the players came up with. It would’ve been a nice reward for being sneaky.
After arriving at Emmech, the party found it to be deserted. They spoke to the only person they could find, the mayor, who had lost hope and control over alcohol. The drunken man told the party that Asmodeus’ forces had taken Mount Thay, and that the townspeople had all fled the town seeking safety. There weren’t any boats left to make the trip up-river to Mount Thay, so the mayor directed the party to an old tunnel that led through the Dragonback mountains.
He called it “The Maw” and it deserved its name. Sheer cliffs encircled a low basin. Sharp rocks dotted the cliff edges like teeth, jutting up into the sky. A dark cave entrance sat at the back of the basin as if leading to the belly of the beast.
“Scenic,” said Rapha. He peered at his surroundings with practiced eyes.
Alycstair slithered forward. He had almost forgotten how the ground felt beneath his scales. Although he still wished the others had not learned of it, he had to admit that their knowledge of his serpentine form felt freeing. It was as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
A low grunting noise stopped Alycstair in his tracks. The sound itself was not what frightened him. Alycstair was afraid because he understood it.
“Who dares!?” the voice demanded. A voice with such thunderous quality could belong only to one creature. A large, black-scaled dragon burst from the cave mouth. It roared its disapproval.
Alycstair, who spoke Draconic, tried to reason with the black dragon, saying that Asmodeus would destroy everything if he didn’t help. The dragon wouldn’t listen to reason and cared only for greed and his territory.
Yes, the only reason I wrote this paragraph was to skip dialogue.
Poisonous gasses burst from the dragon’s mouth and covered the party. Even exposed skin burned and inflamed when it touched the gas. Azai fell back towards the entrance of The Maw while Rapha and Alycstair rushed to the sides of the basin. Lo-Kag charged straight at the dragon. His stony skin blocked most of the toxins.
The dragon swiped at Lo-Kag with his claws, battering the Giant from both sides. Flakes of hardened skin and flesh fell from Lo-Kag with each strike, but the Giant stood his ground. The other party members did not waste the opportunity.
Arrows, bolts of magical energy, and kinetic blows rained on the dragon from all sides. The dragon roared in pain and frustration. He stretched his wings and flapped them downwards, lifting himself into the air. He flew straight towards his most direct target, Azai.
The dragon pinned Azai against the cliff wall, cutting off his escape. The dragon cocked his arm back, preparing to strike at Azai with his claws. Azai was did not have the benefit of rocky skin. One look at those claws and he knew they would easily shear him in half.
Adrenaline coursed through his veins, lending him the reflexes to duck under the swipe. The dragon, undeterred, clawed at Azai once more with his other arm. Still recovering, Azai knew he could not dodge it. Instead, he extended his hands toward the attack and used his psionic powers to push the dragon’s arm over his head.
Lo-Kag, who had now caught up with the dragon, swung at him with his longsword. Thorny vines burst from the end, attempting to ensnare the dragon, but he reacted too quickly. The dragon dropped his body low to the ground and spun, whipping his tail around at Lo-Kag.
Lo-Kag brought both hands up to guard his upper body while roots grew from the ground around his feet, covering him head-to-toe in thick tree limbs. The dragon’s tail smashed into Lo-Kag’s tree form, but he did not yield. His roots held the ground tightly.
The dragon turned his attention back to Azai and attempted to bite at him awkwardly. Azai seized his chance and lashed out with a quick, but forceful punch enhanced with psionic energy. The punch connected with the dragon’s jaw. He reeled backward and fell on top of Lo-Kag’s tree form…that was now covered in thorns. The spiny projections stabbed into the dragon like needles into a pincushion.
Panicking, the dragon breathed out a dark, obscuring fog that covered the area around him.
“Keep up the pressure,” Lo-Kag called to the others. He retracted his roots and rushed into the fog. The sounds of battle could be heard a few seconds later. Rapha could still make out a vague silhouette of the dragon and launched arrow after arrow at it. Azai and Alycstair regrouped near one of the cliff walls.
“When we can see him again…” Alycstair said. He took a moment to catch his breath. “I’ll hold him,” he finished. His hands began crackling with energy.
“And I’ll destroy him,” said Azai. He scanned his environment for tools to aid him. He found a lot of large, sharp rocks. Perfect.
As the fog dissipated – and the dragon came into view – Alycstair unleashed his charged powers. Strands of lightning arced from his fingertips, but unlike ordinary lightning, these strands wrapped around the dragon’s limbs, encumbering the dragon like chains.
Azai’s eyes glowed as he broke off one of the stones that formed the “teeth” of The Maw. With his target restrained, Azai could direct the attack wherever he chose.
He chose the dragon’s wings. Azai launched the “tooth” as if throwing a javelin. It shot toward the dragon at blinding speed, severing both of the dragon’s wings at their joints.
“NOOO!” the dragon roared in pain. He collapsed in despair and shock. For a few moments there was silence. Alycstair’s constraints of lightning faded, but still the dragon could only stare at his severed limbs.
“Go,” said the dragon. Still on their guard, the party did not move. “LEAVE!” the dragon commanded. At that, Lo-Kag, Rapha, Azai, and Alycstair finally backed away from the dragon and into the cave.
The actual fight was not as interesting to play as it was to imagine. There’s been a lot of talk about 4E solo monsters (i.e. the black dragon) being underwhelming. The party simply gangs up on it and bashes it to bits. I tried to break up the fight progression by purposefully using abilities when it hit 66% and 33% of its HP instead of randomly. The first ability was the flight and the second was the fog.
In the end, after the dragon had lost its wings and exhausted all its abilities, I had it give up. Partly because I thought it would be good to have an NPC with a grudge against the players. Mostly because the session was running late and I wanted to sleep.
What dangers will the party encounter next? Will they be able to reach the Tablet of Fate in time? Is that dragon going to screw them over at some point in the future? Find out next time
on Dragonball Z!