Last night, Camstone and jamesbarrett finished off Vormorax -- although it was close to being the other way around. Camstone's poor rogue got dead again, taken down by the vampire rose bushes surrounding Vormorax's tower, and most of the other characters had half of their hit points or less by the end. But man oh man did they get experience points. Most of them got enough to bump them two levels, although the house rule is that you can only level up one session at a time. So they'll spend the next session leveled up one, and then level up again for the next session after.
The high point of the evening, IMO, was when they found the beholder gate guardian and had to play his riddle-game to get past. For those of you not up on D&D lore, here is a beholder:
Each eye has a devastating magical power, ranging from mind control to disintegrating beams. As tough as the heroes are, the chances are that a beholder would have wiped them out -- especially since the only way to flee involved a rickety bridge over a bottemless chasm.
The riddle contest was lifted partially from Neverwinter Nights and consisted of nine words; for each word, they had a choice of four other words, and they had to pick the word that "defeated" the beholder's word without being its opposite. For example, if the word was DARK and they picked LIGHT, that would be wrong, because light is the opposite of dark. But if the word was DARK and they picked CANDLE, that would be right because a candle can defeat the darkness.
Of course, the trick was, that the beholder was the judge of what was right, and what was wrong -- and he kept throwing ringers in there.
The stakes were high; if they got five right, the beholder would open the gate to let them pass. If they got five wrong, he would be released from his magical prison and allowed to have his particular brand of fun all over the party. On top of it all -- the beholder wouldn't TELL them if they got an answer right or wrong, only if they won or not at the end.
They just made it. After 8 words, they had 4 right and 4 wrong -- but they got number 9 right! (I don't mind telling you, I was worried for those guys!) The beholder yelled at them in frustration and opened the portal -- and the players gave each other a high-five. :)
The climactic battle at the end of the adventure, with them wading through the vampire roses, scaling the wall of the dragonpriest's tower, and fighting off driders and Vormorax's white dragon familiar, was the stuff of epic tales. I was a bit surprised when, confronted with a seemingly-endless sea of vampire roses, they tried to hack their way through one rose at a time. It would probably have been more effective to simply run through to the tower, soaking up attacks of opportunity as they came, and start climbing right off.
Camstone's rogue in particular was best suited to get through the roses unhindered ... all he had to do was tumble past. Unfortunately, his ranger's wolf familiar and Frisk's fighter were caught in the vampire rose quagmire, so the rogue came back to help out -- and got hit by 18 points of Con drain as the roses sucked him dry.
(As part of their attempt to approach the tower, Camstone's rogue had used an alter self spell to look like a minotaur shamaness they had encountered earlier. I had great visions of him scaling the tower and rescuing Frisk's wizardess -- who he's been hitting on since the beginning of the campaign -- while shapeshifted as a female minotaur. That would have been a great moment! But alas, the vampire roses had other plans.)
Fortunately, a raise dead scroll brought the rogue back to the land of the living (again), and the heroes got some pretty darn nifty loot; now they're camping out in the dragonpriest's newly-abandoned tower as they recuperate -- and the wizardess is going to do a bit of weed-removal -- fireball style. I suspect those vampire roses won't be sucking anybody else dry.
The second highlight of the evening was when Camstone's ranger, who has become a pincushion-creating vortex of death with his longbow, took out Vormorax's familiar -- causing Vormorax to lose a level on the spot. That was a good strategy!
This was probably the most punishing adventure I've ever run -- and with the exception of the rogue's untimely demise, the players succeeded with flying colors. Rest well heroes, you've earned it.
And besides, you still have that drow encampment in the mountains to deal with next time! Mwuuhuhuhuhahahaa!