Play report of Temple of the Sunken Moon, the response to my SAGE request.
Although the response to my SAGE request was excellent, and mr. Walsh is indeed a gentleman and a scholar, there was one thing I definitely had to change. My players are good, really good. They coordinate their attacks very well, and get as much mileage as possible out of their spells and class abilities. This means they can best a CR 9 monster pretty easily in a fair fight, even without five gnolls to use as meatshields.
I made one major change. Asung Takat now has eight bodies (the statues in the inner shrine), but only one spirit to control them. It can jump between bodies at will, and can only be destroyed by killing the one containing the spirit. This made it possible to add multiple eidolons to the complex without having to throw them at the party all at once, and as a bonus it made the final battle really weird.
I also added a lot of setting specific fluff.
Cast: Cromweld Hardtwerk, undead halfling sorcerer.
Volatile Log (usually referred to as Log), half elf rogue/wizard.
Terjon, human cleric.
Aran Beyron, blind human druid (plays blind on principle, because he feels the druid class is overpowered and he needs a handicap. Has repeatedly proven himself right, the bastard)
There is also a monk in the party, who was absent during this session.
The campaign takes place in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, in the kingdom of Cormyr. The players live in an encampment far into the Stonelands, a desperate attempt to retake the region from barbaric tribes and monsters and settle it with good taxpaying folk. The camp contains about 75 people, with military and trade caravans visiting sporadically.
The party was already between adventures, and since it is fall in my campaign and it had rained off and on for a long time, I could start off Walsh’ adventure right away.
The party is woken in the middle of the night (except for Cromweld, who needs no sleep), by the shouts of one of the guards.
"Alert, alert! Gnolls by the North gates!"
Terjon, Cromweld and Aran march up to the gates, while Log follow carefully behind them.
About half of the guards have gathered in front of the gate, standing in formation with their shields forming a protective wall. The PCs can see a group of five gnolls a few hundred feet up ahead, walking towards them at a slow pace, heads hung low, weapons sheathed. Terjon break up the phalanx, as the gnolls clearly mean no harm.
When the gnolls reach the gates, one of them steps forward and speaks in a broken dialect of the common tongue. “Chief Arakashoko greets you, hairless ones. Our people are in peril, and he asks for your help.”
About this time, father Halfar has managed to rouse himself from sleep, and emerges from the war tent. He looks sternly at the gnolls but remains passive, observing. (I’m not going to start negotiating with myself when the PCs could have something to say)
Terjon asks the gnolls about their troubles. They tell him of a great spirit that hunts their tribe, a creature they call Asung Takat. It has been ravaging their encampments for a little over a week, and the gnolls have had no success in finding a way to kill it. They claim it came from the ground itself, and is working its way south through their lands and towards Deadgoblin.
The PCs are eager to help, and even the xenophobic Halfar agrees, saying the creature should be killed while the casualties are still being taken from the gnoll tribes (saying this aloud in front of the gnolls causes Terjon to flinch visibly, and some murmur can be heard among the gnolls). However, Halfar refuses them to bring any soldiers, in case the whole scheme is a distraction to draw forces out before a gnoll attack.
The gnolls ask the PCs to follow them to their village. They refuse, proposing that they instead meet on neutral ground. They all agree to meet with chief Arakashoko by a great landmark called the Moonstone, in one day's time.
While the other packs the necessary equipment and supplies, Aran takes the shape of a bird and flies into the woods. He makes his way to the great tree where Kutyak took him to perform the ritual of oak, ash and thorn, to look for Bitriel, the leader of the forests druids. He leaves his dog Garm in the care of the other PCs.
He finds her after much wandering around and a few divinations. She has little light to shed on the subject of Asung Takat, whatever he may be, but promises the help of the druids should the creature make its way south to Deadgoblin. Aran says goodbye and curls up beneath a big oak to sleep. (while the player comments sourly on the druids lack of knowledge about eldritch abominations)
In the meantime, the rest of the group marches north along the forests edge, towards the moonstone. The party made a point out of trying to get to the meet before the gnolls, in case it all turns out to be a trick. They reach it at dawn, a perfectly round, white boulder protruding out of the ground on top of a small raise in the terrain. They examine the landscape for possible hiding places and ambush spots, and make a camp when they feel good enough about their chances should the gnolls attack.
A few hours later, they see a group march towards them through the rain, eight gnolls and a big, black bear. The group consists of the same five gnolls that spoke to them in Deadgoblin, plus an old, wretched gnoll accompanied by two more, and his animal companion. (Most of the tribal leaders in the campaign are barbarians, druids or clerics).
The party has no reservation against helping the gnolls, and so negotiations go fairly quickly. Apparently the PCs want to build good relations with the gnolls, or something. Arakashoko tells them that Asung Takat came from a huge chasm in the earth, a long way to the north. He explains that he has brought a survivor of one of Asung Takats attacks, and pushed a maimed gnoll towards the PCs. He has been patched up with the most primitive of medical techniques, but refuses healing magic when Terjon offers.
He describes the attack as quick and sudden. A giant of purple stone with black hands pounced his hunting party and slew one of them before the others could react. It then sprayed black blood from the rune on its face, drenching another gnoll and making him attack his comrades. The beast tore through the group while it turned on itself. The surviving gnoll was hit by a massive fist, and awoke hours later in between the corpses of his friends.
By now, Terjon has heard enough to identify the creature as one of the Rogue Eidolons, divinely constructed guardians of temples and holy sites, turned mad by time and the perversion of their beliefs. The party takes a time-out and exchange wild speculation about its origins and affiliations.
They agree to take a stab at Asung Takat, making the gnolls visibly less tense. Forced pleasantries are exchanged, and Arakashoko takes off, leaving the five original gnolls standing uneasy beside the PCs.
Log sends his familiar, a great tit, to scout the plains looking for the Asung Takat, and the party gets comfortable and waits for her to return. Hours later, she returns from the northeast. She has seen a giant purple creature wandering south from the wreckage of a gnoll camp. The party immediately break camp and set off.
After trudging long and hard through the mud, they reach a large patch of boulders, and the gnolls tell them the ruined camp is getting close. They decide this will be a good place to fight Asung Takat. Log goes off alone to look for the beast, to try and draw it back to the group. He searches the rocky terrain with the help of his bird, and suddenly Asung Takat is upon him. It looks like a statue more than twice his height, long and gaunt, with purple skin and black hands, as described. Its surface is rough from erosion, and where its face should be is a rune that bleeds black.
He runs back between the boulders, just in time to avoid being torn in half. It follows right on his heels, until he manages to maneuver into hiding and flee to a greater distance. He proceeds to shoot a few arrows at it now and then to draw its attention, and draws it slowly towards the groups ambush position.
Log comes running towards the group with the beast hot on his tail. Cromweld throws a fireball from hiding, and it leaps behind a boulder. The gnolls move forward alongside Garm, and Aran start summoning bears, but Asung Takat is nowhere to be seen. Terjon moves to higher ground and sees it lurking out of view from the rest of the group, ready to jump the gnolls. He yells for Cromweld to toss more fireballs in its general direction.Asung Takat rises into view and spews a torrent of black liquid at the gnolls. They start fighting among themselves, but Terjon remedies the situation with a magic circle against evil. Log then enlarges one of the gnolls, doubling its size and forever assuring its role as the leader of the group.
The gnolls keep poking at Asung Takat with their spears, while it tears them down one at a time. Log shoots arrows, Tejron keeps buffing people, Aran produces and buffs a few more animals and Cromweld creeps closer to attack with his more precise spells. He floods its face with a burning hands spell, and for the first time Asung Takat catches a glimpse of the little creep. It screeches and lounges backwards, taking droves of opportunity attacks while it runs panicked between the boulders. The party pursues, and after being hit by arrows and fireballs and rabid wolves, Asung Takat crumbles to the ground. (its spirit fled in the nick of time to inhabit a new body, but the party didn’t know that)
Terjon uses what magic he has left to heal the surviving gnolls, gathering puzzled looks from gnolls and PCs alike. The gnolls bow before the party, and scuttles off home, their mission accomplished.
With Garms help, Aran finds a dry spot under an overhang. The rest of the party wants to press on to check out the hole Asung Takat came from, but Aran refuses. He says they are in no shape to handle whatever may be lurking inside, and when they try convincing him to at least have a look, he scowls and lays down to sleep.
End of session. Also level up for everyone but Cromweld
Note: It may seem like the party simply decided to ambush Asung Takat and then did so shortly after. The fact of the matter is that they spent several hours and many die rolls looking for it, and then discussed both in and out of character how to proceed for half an hour more. Log drawing it out was resolved as a combat situation, with the rounds drawn out to represent several minutes each.
This particular group simply enjoy planning a battle as much as actual combat, and I prefer to let them use their time accordingly instead of on even more fighting.