SPOILER! We are playing Tomb of Annihilation and this post will spoil some secrets concerning the Heart of Ubtao encounter. If that doesn’t matter to you – READ ON. If you want to play that module and don’t want to know the secrets behind it, maybe come back to this later.
My friend, John, is playing Bugwump – a frog-kin wizard.
The team’s back-story is that they were all sentenced to the Maze by the Lady of Pain; I didn’t choose that but it seemed to gel everyone together and gave them a timeless period where they were all together. Now they are deputized by the Lady of Pain as an Outlands Expedition Team.
John mentioned that before the Lady of Pain sentenced him, he had been a powerful wizard, high-level (as the D&D folks say). So, when they met an Arch-Mage on the Godroads, it occurred to me to ask John if Bugwump knew this guy and he did. It was a cool encounter – reminded me of running into an old college buddy on a day when you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. Suddenly, a strange moment – encountering an Arch-Mage on the Godroads – became very relatable.
Enter this odd encounter in the Tomb of Annihilation – The Heart of Ubtao.
The Heart is this magically floating mote of earth, about the size of 3 cottages. Valindra Shadomantle is there, an agent working for the Red Wizards. Though a powerful necromancer, she isn’t a Red Wizard herself. The big secret is that she is a lich.
As I read the encounter, I realized Bugwump might know her. The Arch-mage on the Godroads felt like running into an old buddy from school. Valindra was going to feel like…
…holy shit, Bugwump dated her, didn’t he? I asked.
John agreed. I mentioned that when they were together she’d take consulting work from anyone. She had helped liches hide their phylacteries and trapped dungeons and lairs against intruders.
Being Bugwump’s ex gave her this realness. Bugwump was much less scrupulous in his youth. We have seen that change from when we first began the campaign.
Hasn’t everyone dated someone in college who, if they turned out to be undead, you’d say, “Yeah, that scans.”
Through stealth checks the a Gem of True-Seeing the players figured out Valindra’s lichness. Bugwump told her that they’d meet her cohort of Red Wizards and come back to figure out what to do next with whatever Acererak was up to in the Lost City of Omu. He was lying and she knew it but suddenly, it wasn’t about adventurers stealing. It was an ex saying he’d come back when he never was going to come back.
I know that adventurers (particularly, bards) dating monsters is a kind of RPG-twitter cliche. Tonight it made a dangerous and interesting totally unbalanced encounter even more interesting.
Thank you, John, for making interesting choices.
One more interesting moment from that game. The guides were frantically saddling the pterodactyls to get off the earth mote.
Drew’s knight, Jusko, knocked on Valindra’s door. He had a game board that we called Outlands Chess – it is round and the center of the board represents Sigil. You can win by taking the other’s Wizard or by taking Sigil. Valindra won by taking both but Drew’s roll had been higher (he rolled GREAT and she rolled poorly).
He learned about her through play and I let him ask questions about her to see what the game taught him about her character. Love it.
When characters play strategy games I almost never make the die roll about winning; I make it about seeing what you can learn about the person playing.
Sometimes, though, winning is cool.