It’s Mike here, coming to write a post on some of the most recent happenings in our 4e campaign. I play Antillia (Tillia) the albino minotaur warden. I wanted to start off by summarizing some of the recent events that will have a bit of a role in some of the events that happen here.
If you’ve been keeping up to date you’ve probably read this post here, which details how Tillia is currently in a dream state with a bunch of liches. They are all asleep in a long-sealed circular catacomb, each lich in its own niche’. There are 6 liches and 7 places along the walls, dominating the center of the chamber is a giant pearl-like black sphere. This sphere I will refer to as the Dream Sphere. Each of the liches has projected themselves, via dream, into the artifact in order to become deities in the world. You will also realize that Tillia managed to wake up one of these liches in the last session, who happened to be the God of Lightning and Thunder. He wasn’t very happy to be awoken. He was confused and to make things worse he discovered that the priests that had built their temple around the sleeping chamber were harnessing the liches for their magical energy. This was causing damage and corrupting their original setup and being as I was the only other thing in the chamber, he turned his wrath upon me. Tillia still being hopped up on all kinds of psychotropic drugs to increase her arcane skill managed to relay that it wasn’t her, she just opened the door and stepped in. The lich immediately realized that Tillia didn’t have the skill to form such a complex network, and let her go. After dealing a wicked amount of lightning damage by grasping her throat and holding her aloft. I felt pretty good about opening the door until he dismissed me so easily! He then released Tillia and began trying to undo some of what had been done. Tillia offered to help and this sealed the deal that she wasn’t an enemy, but an ally of circumstance. This came about when the lich tried to do an arcane check to get a better view of all the shadow circuitry that had been used to drain energy from the liches. He wasn’t doing so hot Carl rolled a 1 and groaned from behind his screen. and so Tillia jumped in using her song hekura which allows her to perform rituals via song, and make them take less time by increasing the DC and allowed him to make another arcane check, with a +20 bonus from the ritual. Needless to say, he didn’t fail this one, and was grateful, if still not pleased. He at least stopped trying to kill her.
At this point Tillia also realized that the Nightmare Beast we had found behind a different iron door much newer than the one to this chamber was sealed in by energy from this room. To top it off, its nightmare powers were being used to cause the dreaming liches massive problems inside the dream and as the temple was closing, it was being unleashed into their dream to the point of causing them to release more power from the increased suffering. This was being siphoned off to power the sealing temple, the reanimation of the skeletons, and the opening/domination of the bati-batis. The lich, obviously, wanted to jump right in and sever all the ties to the liches, thus unleashing this VERY powerful and VERY angry Nightmare Beast. Tillia managed to talk him into letting her release it and she ran to the dark crystal chamber that allows projecting rituals and used it to put her drugs to good use, sealing the beast in a circle of protection and then sending it back from whence it came. The lich then jumped back into the dream world to set things right, and managed to fail miserably Carl rolled another 1 at releasing any of the shadow ties to the liches.
You may ask, why is any of this important? Well, because this drove Tillia to want to help the liches. It also made the dream landscape a little less…painful by removing the Nightmare Beast from the equation. However, this still wasn’t a light decision for Tillia. Nor was it a light decision for me, the player, because Carl made it a point to let Tillia know that entering the dream wasn’t easy and IF I returned, it would change me. This put a lot of pressure and stress on me, because failure could be catastrophic and not acting could be just as bad.
One other thing I should point out that makes an impact later on, is that after defeating the intestine/boar heart beast in the ritual projection chamber Bob sacrificed it to link Gootie and Tillia, so that Tillia could see through Gootie’s eyes without Gootie knowing. After having forced him to go into deep shadow during their last encounter, having an early warning system would be helpful.
To Dream a Little Dream…
So began the dream session. Carl started the session off by asking me some questions about Tillia’s background. I hadn’t discussed her back-story much from the time I had first made the character, and I was honestly surprised that Carl even remembered most of it. It was just a concept I had come up with when creating the character and giving them life. I always like to have something to draw on when making my characters, to flesh them out, even if I do enjoy pouring over feats/abilities for hours finding cool and interesting ones to use. To fill the rest of you in, Tillia came from a tribal culture. Her father was Chief of the tribe and her mother was a Shaman of the tribe. Tillia is one half of a pair of identical twin albino minotaurs. She was named after her father Antilles who was a previous minotaur character of mine a LONG time ago in another campaign and followed in his footsteps. Both Tillia and her sister were highly spiritual, but upon growing older Tillia spent more time training with her father, while her sister trained with her mother. As she aged the weight of responsibility came down upon her shoulders and she realized that only one of the siblings would be chosen to lead the tribe, and that their husband would be Chief after their father. So with the blessing of her family she handed leadership over to her sister to avoid fracturing the tribe loyalties and causing a bitter rivalry. Her father had two great axes he fought with and when he stepped down as a warrior he handed one to each sibling. Upon declaring her faith in her sister, she gave up her family axe to her sister. By giving up her rights, she also gave up her place in the tribe, so this left Tillia in a very awkward situation. Her family would have gladly had her stay, but there was little left for her in the tribe. With that in mind Tillia set off on her own, prepared to travel and find her place in the greater world around her. A lot like her father before her. Her mother cried, her father put on a proud face, and her sister hugged her. Those are the last memories Tillia has of her tribe and family.
Carl then asked me various questions about Tillia’s fears. Would I fear losing my health or sanity, strength of body or strength of personality, my intellect or my reflexes. This of course did nothing for the anxiety that this could have been a very, very, very bad idea for Tillia. After that quick fleshing out, we sat down to the most amazing D&D session I’ve ever been a part of.
Unable to lucid dream right out of the gates, Carl narrated what I perceived and then allowed me to make a check to do things in the dream that I wanted to do. This did a few things: For the first it made me really think about what I wanted to do before I asked to do it and for the second thing, it took away all my normal skill bonuses. This is a lot more stressful than it sounds, when you’re used to skills you’ve come to rely on and worked to master. I have also grown used to the luxury of being able to roll twice on some of my major rolls due to a feat and my nature hekura. The only bonuses I had on any rolls in the dream were my Wisdom modifier (+6), a focus if I had one (which I did with the artifact black orb +6), and half my level (+8). I also got a sliding bonus depending on how much I stayed with the dream (up to +4), or fought against it (-4). Carl also informed me that besides trying to do things, I was also in a large multi-tiered skill challenge. He then showed me a wicked awesome drawing I hope he posts some version of, and pointed out where I was on the path. On my right I had the “Sea of Dreams” no matter where I went, it was always directly to my right. I could jump into it and try to navigate my way and skip ahead at a very high failure rate or return to the shore I left if I got washed into it a relatively lower DC, failure meant being lost in the endless “Sea of Dreams”. On my left was Deep Shadow, of which, I knew a little… but seeing the effects it had on Old Man Gootie, I was not exactly too thrilled to try out. I also felt a current pulling me in the direction of a castle I could see in the distance. I felt the liches were in this castle and following the stream was the lowest DC, and also where the skill-challenge came into play. In the beginning I had the leeway to fail twice a third fail meaning I’m done, but must make three successes to move forward. As I progressed along the “path” towards the castle, the leeway got smaller with one failure and two successes to move on. Anything I did outside of moving forward, didn’t count as a success or failure for the skill challenge itself, but might help me succeed overall.
In the first stage of the dream I was standing in a swamp as a young girl, the only visible structure being a hut on some very tall stilts. It was surrounded by mist otherwise and all beyond it was shrouded in mist as well. As I approached the hut I made a “dream check” for my perception and noticed that the stilts were moving and squirming like snakes. I continued my approach and some abomination emerged from the inside of the hut like a hermit crab emerging from its shell. Four snake heads moved towards me and opened their mouths wide, their throats and the inside of their mouths inflating out to make four identical faces. The faces looked like the pale, waterlogged faces of an old woman. She had milky white eyes and spoke with a watery voice. “Umsala, is that you? Come closer so I can feel your face.” Needless to say, Antillia has been around and in Carl’s universe that is saying something. To her this was more every day, frightening as it may be, than a rarity. As a player this was some chilling imagery, but I had to decide how Tillia would see it. She has stared a gods in the face, studied giant sentient plants, and come toe-to-toe with the end of the world.
As she stepped beyond the house she began drifting into the mist. She felt herself becoming light, but the first step still gave her a bit of a shock as she stepped out into nothingness. This gave me the first chance to become more lucid, but I rolled terribly and did not succeed Feeling so light and weightless like she was flying, she started to zoom down the path excitedly. I felt that this was probably one of the times she felt safest in a long time and carefree. I’ve also felt quite happy and carefree while flying in my own dreams This was until I rolled a 1 on my second check to move along the dream path. Suddenly something swooped out of the mist and took a bite out of Tillia, draining her sanity and willpower and leaving her hurting. Carl rolled a nat 20 on the dice and the creature drained 4 Wisdom from me, one of my greatest fears and also the stat that helped me navigate the dream. Now, minotaurs in 4e are constantly waging a battle against their bestial side and their more humane side. This loss of willpower, this sudden fear that the pristine and careless mist is full of predators, and the shock of it all cause Tillia to give in to her bestial side. She stomped her hoof, her horns twisted and grew in wickedness, and she bellowed out a challenging cry to the Dream Hunter. Charging forward she felt the mist coalesce and tore through an image of Old Man Gootie that seemed made of paper, and burst forth from the mist. I had succeeded on my third check and passed on
I would also like to point out that at no time did Carl ever tell me what form Antillia was in unless she looked around or took notice, and even then she had the greatest influence on herself by expecting to see herself as something in specific when she looked. As Tillia plummeted through the edge of the mist she found herself falling over the edge of a cliff. Having been in a few dreams over the years where I’m falling, I had a pretty good idea how this would go down, but Tillia isn’t me. This also gave me my second chance at lucidity… I failed. She started to panic at first, but long ago Tillia had learned how to shapeshift into a Gadoro. A Gadoro is a four-armed white ape, highly spiritual and hanging out on the sacred island at the confluence of all the rivers. The major benefit being that the form is immune to falling damage. She had done this before on an occasion when falling from the air ship, so it came naturally to her. This also took her mind off of falling and allowed her to calm down, making the fall go much slower. During the fall she was passing backwards through her life, seeing the most recent things she had done, then middle years, then childhood. This coincided with making the 3 checks to pass through this area. Because Tillia had managed to calm down, she had the option to influence an event in each stage of her life. This may not have a direct affect on her current reality outside of dream, but it would increase/decrease the multiple realities that follow in a similar choice. Basically, she could choose one terrible thing to reverse, or one good thing to enforce upon the multiple realities that exist. This was amusing because thinking back, I had a hard time thinking of anything GOOD Tillia had done. She always TRIED to do good things, but they often seemed to backfire in some way. I mentioned this and all had a good laugh about it. I did eventually think of a few things. Needless to say there were a few things that weighed heavily on Antillia’s conscience. The first was when she unleashed Kariki-Kalos the jellyfish god and it sank the continent she and her party came from, presumably killing millions of people. The second was when she trapped Old Man Gootie in the shadow realm for the first time, sucking the energy out of the whirlpool he had created in the confluence of the rivers.
In the grand scheme of things, she had mostly come to terms with having trapped Old Man Gootie. She felt terrible about his insanity derived from his stay in deep shadow, but she had corrected a large disturbance in nature that he had originally created there. She also went on to help Akili and keep Slotek, the abomination of a river god, from being born out of the corrupted union. Given the chance she would have saved Old Man Gootie from being trapped, but she wouldn’t have reversed removing the unnatural whirlpool. She chose to do her best in the dream world to reverse releasing Kariki-Kalos. This hit her harder because it meant the deaths of her family, tribe, Beautiful Bob’s past, and millions of others for no reason. Simple destruction. This pained her the most of the two. She then slowly drifted downward into her adolescence and began seeing flashes of the time before she left her tribe. She latched on to a particular point in her life when her father first bestowed his axes upon Antillia and her sister. She reached into the dream, drawing out the axe, remembering happier times. Remembering her family and what she had left behind. Feeling happiness and sadness at the same time, but she did not regret her actions. At this point Carl said that by drawing out the axe I had a sort of dream “wild card” that I could use at any point. At this point Hammer and Bob piped up about how it was kind of like a game show. Presumably the wild card would grant me a boon in the dream at a later time. With visions of her life flying by, Tillia slowly drifted down into her childhood. Here she spent a lot more time with her sister and chose to strengthen that feeling of the bond between twins. Both children spent a lot of time with their mother at this point in life and so it was filled with time spent outside, playing, exploring, and generally enjoying exploration of the world.
Thus Tillia touched down and entered stage four of the dream sequence down the path to the castle. When she looked around she realized she was standing in a clearing that looked like home, but things were unsettled. Her father and tribesmen faded into view and a battlefield unfolded before her. It wasn’t a battlefield she had ever really fought on, but it was one she had encountered in her dreams before her first real battle ever took place. Her nerves were on edge and fear gripped at her heart. She looked down making sure she was equipped in her traditional war gear and paint. At this point I made a check, Carl pointed out that had I not, it probably would have been brought to my attention that I was naked in the middle of battle at some point. I think everyone has had a version of this dream at some point in his or her life. She wielded a large two-handed warhammer in a fashion mimicking her father’s preference for large weapons, having trained under him up until this point. She fell into line with her comrades and prepared to face the enemy tribe. With a battle shout they all charged into the oncoming enemies, Tillia swung her hammer and was failing. She seemed weak, scared, and her courage dwindled. She was forced back into a corner and surrounded. They disarmed her, and she let out a scream of rage and fear. Suddenly a wall of water from the “Sea of Dreams” rose up over the battlefield and Antillia gazed on in horror, as it was full of the waterlogged dead of her tribe. They screamed out her name and moaned in anguish, their bloated bodies and pale, lifeless eyes gazing into her soul. The washed over the field and consumed all of those in the dream, her father looking to her with fear in his eyes as he was washed away, his axes falling to the ground. Antillia broke free of her paralysis as the wave was closing in on her, arms of her dead loved ones stretching out to pull her down. She charged forward and picked up one of her father’s axes, using both hands to slam it into the ground and anchor herself from being washed away. As she swung the axe downwards it split the wave and it passed on either side of her and faded.I used my nightly d30 roll here to give me the best shot at success, rolling a 27! She turned to the oncoming army, alone. She reached down and picked up a shield and one-handed warhammer from the field, strapping them on. She gazed into the eyes of her enemies on the field and let out a roar, “YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY FAMILY!” and charged… the seemingly solid forms evaporating before her onslaught and the scene fading. Antillia was left panting heavily as she moved on into stage five of this landscape. Just some notes. This was changed to a 2 success 1 failure skill challenge and the DC had increased. I rolled a 5 on the first roll resulting in a failure, and then proceeded to roll a 1, so I was about to be washed away into the Sea of Dreams. I used the axe wild card I had been given earlier to buy myself a chance to re-roll with a +4 bonus. I succeeded and finished up the skill challenge to move on to the next phase. At the point where Tillia stood up to the army by herself I, as a player, was tearing up a bit. I’ll admit I get emotional at the sappy scenes in movies, but this was a lot more personal. We’re only level 18 now, but we’ve been at it for 3 or so years and I’ve grown attached to the character as a whole. Hammer’s player even admitted to feeling a little teary eyed at parts. It just goes to show you how emotionally invested we all were at the table, that’s how much this whole event gripped us. Not to mention the fact my heart was racing and my nerves were on edge with every roll of the dice to make a check.
Antillia emerged from the fading battlefield to find herself in a more recently familiar clearing. This clearing was full of trees and plants that had their roots weaved into the shadow realm by Old Man Gootie. All of the trees had large burls that made up the majority of the tree. These burls were hollow and full of Old Man Gootie’s shadow gardens, where he grew crazy herbs and plants to use in his magic and to feed Akili. This was our first meeting with Old Man Gootie and I believe is somewhat outlined here. She was afraid at first that he was there to come back into the world, but soon realized something wasn’t right because the link Bob had created to Old Man Gootie’s vision wasn’t showing him as being there. This just goes to show you that even when we’re split, the party is still there backing each other up. Bob’s earlier sacrifice of the boar intestine creature gave Antillia the chance to make a lucidity check with a high bonus, which she made with flying colors. Thanks Bob! At this point Antillia fought off some of the dream state and was better able to get her mind around things. She pictured herself in adult form and looked down. She gasped out loud as she realized she was pregnant! At this point everyone around the table groaned, I believe there was some cursing, and throwing up of arms in disgust. The reason being that Gootie often revives himself by impregnating someone and birthing himself through them, with some of their powerful traits, in turn making him more powerful each time. As a player I was wracking my mind as to how Antillia would handle this, having previously stopped Gootie from impregnating her and even trapping one of his “children” in a field. Antillia at this point could hear Gootie approaching, but she used her lucid will to ensure that a young Gootie came forward. He turned out to be even younger than she had ever met, and she smiled at him. Rubbing her belly as she also used her influence to make the child in her womb a normal baby, half minotaur and half human. She embraced Gootie and stepped back, her waters breaking as she went into labor. Thinking to herself, “This isn’t so bad… it’s kind of nice.” Then realizing, “Oh ya, it’s a dream.” She pushed out out of some fanciful shinning light came a clean and healthy satyr looking child. She held him in her arms and kissed him, handing him over to his father, Gootie, who smiled and took the child as that section of the dream began to fade. More notes! This is one of the points where your character manages to surprise even the player. I mean, at the risk of sounding crazy, Antillia did something that even I had a bit of trouble realizing before I had said it and it was done. Everyone at the table was shocked, and I think I even surprised Carl. Carl let me know that I would be seeing my child in my dreams and that I had given Gootie a hook point to return, without so much of the hatred and craziness if he chose it. He said by no means would this alleviate everything, but it was certainly a good start. This whole event and how it unfolded actually left me feeling pretty great for Antillia, and very happy. Hopeful for Gootie even.
So Antillia moved on to stage six of the dream walk. At this point my hands were shaking, I had come so far and come SO close to failure before this. Things were only going to get harder. Luckily I was now lucid, so that gave me a leg up, but it only allowed me to be more creative with my choices. It wasn’t a guarantee of anything. This portion of the dream was just before the “Gate House” to the castle. Immediately after entering this phase, Kariki-Kalos loomed before me, maw agape, heading right at me! He was enraged and ready to swallow me whole, I could see little more than his maw and the shadow eyes surrounding it. At this point I made a check to bring a dream version of Bob and Hammer on either side of me. I also summoned up the liches that had imprisoned Kariki-Kalos to begin with. I think put a Horn of Kariki-Kalos in Bob’s, Hammer’s, and my own hands. We all blew them at once and the deep bellowing sound reverberated throughout the dream. Kariki-Kalos represented all the doubt, regret, and pain that Antillia had been feeling over the years and she called upon her friends for help in that moment of need to overcome all of it. The horn mesmerized Kariki-Kalos and Tillia took advantage. Rather than proceed on she chose to mount Kariki-Kalos with her friends, now family, and the liches to ride him through the “Sea of Dreams” to the base of the castle. She envisioned him being re-imprisoned below the castle, much like he was below the original temple we found him in. She then dismounted as the dream faded and the session ended with Antillia inside the Castle of Dreams, which was crowned with the golden sphere where all the liches were. I think the move of riding Kariki-Kalos caught people at the table by surprise as well. I know Hammer said something along the lines of, “I wasn’t thinking that, but once you said it, it was like… Yeah, that’s totally the way it should be.” I made a strong success to navigate Kariki-Kalos and thus next session will bring the hardest challenges to date!
Words from the player…
I didn’t expect this recap to be so long, but once I got going… it was hard to stop. My notes throughout pretty much cover everything, but this entire night was a supremely fun night. I don’t think I’ve had a better session. Emotions were high and everyone was locked into every detail of the events unfolding before us. I think one thing that made this night a smashing success was that we kept swapping back from what I was doing with Antillia, and what Hammer and Bob were doing. It gave us all time to think in the interim without detracting from the ongoing stories. I was as much enthralled with what they were doing, as they were with what was going on with me. Plus it gave me a chance to wipe off the sweat from my palms and take a breath.
I am also amazed at how well the whole dream walk unfolded. Carl took the little he knew of my background, with my input as we went along, and made a very intriguing dreamscape. I felt that we both worked together to flesh out my character beyond anything I had previously done with her. It was like a brainstorming session that was enacting our ideas, as we had them. Roleplay at its best! I think basing Antillia’s father on my previous minotaur character from back in the day, also helped me quickly think of what Antillia might see in her past.
Bob and Hammer’s players did an amazing job keeping quiet when I was in the dream, not shouting out advice and giving me tips. Usually we are very discussion heavy when we are doing things as a group and I’m sure it was hard on both of them to keep their lips sealed and just listen. I know I probably would have done a much less fabulous job of keeping my trap shut.
I knew I was stepping into a dreamscape at the beginning of this session, but I had no idea it would turn out so crazy, and so defining for my albino minotaur. I’m probably just gushing now, but this goes to show what a creative DM can accomplish. It’s not an easy role to fill and even harder to fill well.