Session 22: Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Episode 8 - Castle in the Clouds (***)
Our heroes followed Red Wizard Rath Modar back to Skyreach Castle. Our tenth-level heroes include, dwarven cleric of life Tobias Ironaxe (my character), halfling ranger beastmaster/druid Lektra Alderleaf (my five-year-old daughter's character), and gnome arcane trickster Elec Alderleaf (my eight-year-old son's character). Riding one wyvern (Elec and Lektra are both small-sized, with Tobias they all fit snugly on the mount's back) they fly beneath the castle to arrive right above the main tower of the cloud giantess in charge.

I changed the owner of Skyreach Castle from Blagothkus to Esclarotta because the only cloud giant miniature I have is female from Reaper's Bones Kickstarter. This changes a few things -- Esclarotta is good aligned whereas Blagothkus is evil -- but it also means she's much more inclined to work with allies for the greater good. In my version Esclarotta is actually a spy, planning to find out where the cultists are taking the treasure while she gathers her giant army to stop them.

After dispatching the three ogre guards atop Esclarotta's roof (and Tobias casts a 4th-level spirit guardians), our heroes make their way to her chamber. They make a few threats, which Esclarotta finds hilarious. Tobias manages to convince his two tiny colleagues that it might not be such a good idea to provoke a cloud giantess, along with her two ogre servants. Fortunately, Esclarotta also thinks that the gnome and halfling are adorable and so decides to give them a chance to redeem themselves: if the heroes can dispatch the white dragon Glazhael, she will pilot the castle to giant-friendly territory. Esclarotta's arrogance proves to be her undoing, however, as there's a spy in their midst!

Listening in gaseous form was the vampire Sandesyl Morgia, who never trusted Esclarotta. Before they can react, Morgia charms Esclarotta (I let her use 3 legendary actions to affect giants) as her first action as her two vampire consorts climb out from their hiding place beneath the giantess' bed. Tobias turns the vampire minions but not Morgia. Using her newfound druid powers, Lektra casts entangle. Vines entwine Morgia, temporarily restraining her. Elec stabs Esclarotta with little effect. That still leaves the charmed Esclarotta and her ogre servants, who concentrate their attacks on Tobias. By the end of the onslaught Tobias is at just 2 hit points.

The next round, Morgia breaks free of the vines in a rage and grabs Lektra by the throat. Before she can bite the halfling, Tobias turns her and she disappears into mist. Lektra draws the ogres' attention while Elec tells her a joke: "Why did Billy take a ruler to bed?"

Esclarotta, her huge morningstar raised overhead, pauses and asks, "Why?"

"Because he wanted to see how long he slept!"

Eslcarotta broke out into laughter thanks to failing her save against Elec's hideous laughter spell. This gave Tobias the opportunity to use his dispel evil to break Morgia's enchantment. The battle lines have been drawn: the cult will soon know that Esclarotta is a traitor. Esclarotta directs the PCs to Glazhael's lair, calls her ogre guards to sound the alarm and meet her at the Steering Tower, then sets off.

A lot can happen in one minute, the time it takes before Morgia can recover from being turned. Esclarotta casts fly on herself and makes a beeline for the Steering Tower. It takes Esclarotta seven rounds to fly to the Steering Tower and a round to enter it and then an additional round to lock herself in. Esclarotta's ogre guards are considerably slower, but her pet griffon makes up the difference, warning the two stone giants. If you count the round it took formulate her plan and share it while climbing steps to exit the tower, the one minute is up.

Morgia immediately reforms to tell Rezmir (she doesn't trust Rath Modar, who doesn't like her much either) of Esclarotta's betrayal. Rezmir contacts Modar and together they formulate a plan: Rezmir, two guard drakes, and six dragonwings go after the PCs while Modar, Morgia, her vampire consorts, and the remaining dragonwings take on Esclarotta's ogre guards, stone giants, and griffon.

MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE THE STEERING TOWER. Esclarotta's plan is simple: she needs to get the castle in sunlight. The PCs arrived shortly before dawn, so she sends the castle eastward. Morgia uses her mist form to get through the door to the Steering Tower while Modar, astride his wyvern mount, casts confusion on one of the stone giants (round 1). While Wiglof attacks Hulda, Modar directs his wyvern to attack the griffon (round 2 through 4). Eventually, the wyvern's poisonous tail brings the griffon low, killing it. The ogres make short work of the dragonwings and vampire spawn, but they buy Modar enough time to unleash three fireballs in rapid succession, eliminating the ogre contingent (rounds 5 through 7). He then turns his attention on Wiglof and Hulda, who are not so easily dispatched after the confusion spell wears off. Modar lands the wyvern and dismounts, casts greater invisibility and then reads his fireball scroll (rounds 8 through 10). Wiglof is near death, so with no visible targets Hulda decides to retreat. Modar casts mirror image and then dimension door, making his way inside the Steering Tower (rounds 11 through 12).

AND INSIDE THE STEERING TOWER. Esclarotta is biding her time. She has up to three uses of gust of wind to keep Morgia from entering the room, blowing her gaseous form back out through the Steering Tower's door with each attempt. After three rounds of this, Morgia realizes her tactic isn't working. She attempts to charm Wiglof using her legendary action and he fails his save (round 4), but Modar's confusion effect hasn't worn off yet. Wiglof takes damage from Modar's first fireball and he has to make a save (round 5) and fails. Morgia orders Wiglof to open the door. Wiglof throws open the door as another fireball hits (round 6) and he makes his save, released from Morgia's charm. That's all the opening Morgia needs and she strides triumphantly into the room. On round 7 Wiglof grapples Morgia. Morgia transforms into mist again and gets blown out through the doorway thanks to Esclarotta's gust of wind. With the sky lightening, Morgia realizes she's out of time and decides to flee for her crypt in bat form with the three rounds she has remaining. Esclarotta orders Wiglof to close the door and he and Hulda take up a guard position in front of it.

The vampire is now out of the picture, so Esclarotta changes tactics and activates the storm rune on round 8. She casts fog cloud to obscure herself while she waits for the rune to activate..she's still waiting by round 13 when Modar arrives. Unfortunately for her, she's out of allies. Modar appears in the fog and unleashes a fireball from his staff of fire. Esclarotta retaliates with a lightning bolt (round 14). That's too close for Modar's comfort; he casts globe of invulnerability and easily deflects Esclarotta's shatter spell (round 15). Modar casts another fireball from his staff and this time Esclarotta reaches for her morningstar, wiping out two of Modar's duplicates (round 16). Modar casts his last fireball from his staff, inflicting a total of 76 points of damage (round 17). Esclarotta wipes out Modar's last remaining duplicate and strikes a blow. Modar casts another mirror image in response (round 18). Esclarotta roars a charge and takes two more swings, wiping out Modar's last mirror image and forcing him to use his illusory self to avoid what would surely be a fatal blow. Modar retaliates with another higher level fireball (round 19). Esclarotta has just 7 hit points left. Spitting blood through cracked lips, she snarls a curse at Modar and sketches a new rune in the air only she knows. Skyreach Castle goes into a tumble on round 20!

Modar realizes it's time to go. He reads from his feather fall scroll and, whistling for his mount, claws his way over to his loyal wyvern. Mounting up, Modar flies away to fight again another day.

INSIDE THE VAULT. The PCs arrive at vault one minute later. Tobias casts guardian of faith, spirit guardians and spiritual weapon (rounds 1 through 3) before entering the lair. He encourages Elec to fast talk Glahzael while he looks for weakness in the structure above. This doesn't go as well as Tobias hoped: Lektra openly threatens Glahzael with death, which puts the white dragon into fits of laughter (upside-down, on the ceiling). Then Lektra offers to give the arctic dragon an orange, which begins a fascinating debate as Glahzael considers an orange more precious than gems -- he's never seen one before (rounds 4 through 10).

The conversation gives Tobias the time he needs to find a weakness. Once he spots it, Tobias casts stone shape and the heroes attack with surprise. Elec and Lektra launch their ranged attacks as the ceiling collapses on the white dragon (round 11)!

Glahzael burrows easily out of the rubble and breathes on our heroes, rearing up with his wings and unleashing his full fury. Lektra and Elec flee in terror. Tobias casts calm emotions on Elec to get him to resist the fear effect; close to melee combat as Glahzael rears up and unleashes his full fury with a tail attack and wing buffet (round 12). Elec stabs Glahzael with Hunger and the dragon, who isn't very smart and used his legendary saves to resist all of Tobias' spell attacks, fails his save. The last soul is absorbed into the nine lives stealer and Glahzael collapses, dead (round 13).

Newly arrived Rezmir howls in grief as the death of such a noble beast and calls her two guard drakes to attack as six dragonwings fan out. She unleashes her acid breath and uses her legendary actions to create darkness around herself. She then proceeds to use caustic bolt until her breath weapon recharges while the dragonwings and drakes soften up the opposition. Lektra pummels the drakes with dragonthumper while Tobias' spirit guardians wipe out the dragonwings (rounds 14 through 17). Then Rezmir wades into battle, using her legendary actions to attack three times in a round and reserving her dark advantage for whomever hits her hardest (rounds 18 and 19).

The PCs can't keep up: Tobias can't heal fast enough to counter Rezmir's damage and Elec can't get in a sneak attack with disadvantage in darkness. Fortunately fate intervenes in round 20 when Skyreach Castle lists dangerously to one side, sending Glahzael's corpse flying. The white dragon's dead body slides across the vault -- Elec and Lektra dive to the side, but Tobias trips. Lektra uses thorn whip to yank him to safety, but Rezmir is not fast enough and the white dragon's corpse crushes her to death. She then explodes, setting off a chain reaction of cracks in the ice. Elec uses this to grab some treasure (a chest, bracer, and a bow) before they flee to the surface. Lektra calls for her wyvern using her druidic powers and then the circle the Steering Tower to take in the carnage.

Esclarotta sees them and shouts that she's staying with the castle in an attempt to steer it into giant territory so that the cultists will never find it. The PCs flee, only to be treated to a spectacular plume of ice and rock as the castle crash lands into a mountain range. They vow to retrieve the treasure later.

But ahead is their most fearsome foe yet: the politics of The Rise of Tiamat!

Overall this was a fun adventure that was absurdly messy. There's no explanation of the politics between the various factions, the relationship with several powerful characters, or what happens when things break down other than that they try to kill each other. I created most of the action and timing, but it was still a lot of fun to play out.


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