[Actual Play] Like Unto Gods Pt. IV (2e); Men of Iron

And thus began the Fourth venture onto the Sanctum of Azureax Silverhawk. Calling on the Dukes of Law, and the Monarchs of the Seven Winds, and offering up one of the Slaadi blades of sharpness, Vaus Agrul received the wisdom of the Heavens, and thus discerned the command word for the Mirror of Mental Prowess. Using the mirror, they asked to see the person that had last gone to it, and the mists on the surface of the mirror receded, and the Mage was revealed.

Standing on a small island in a churning, writhing maelstrom of eternal change, a great whirpool of fire, ice, land and sea, the Wizard Azureax bargained with a cadaverous Death Slaad, flanked by four of the Grey Executioners. They debated whether they should Teleport Without Error, and battle the wizard in the Realm of Limbo, or attempt to breach his sanctum while he was thus absent. The council of Brandoch held true, and they made their attack on the Sanctum instead. The Mirror revealed no further things.

The Halls of Azureax are proof against memorization. An effect like that of a spell dissapearing from memory erases them from the mind’s eye. Their contents are somewhat remembered, but their shape is lost. Only the octagonal hall is free from this effect.
Mistrusting the hall, the Six teleported to the Summit of the Cradle of Gods. Their powers nearly failed them, for the spell brought them 30 feet above the top, and only a timely spell of Feather fall saved them from a fall. The ripping winds almost pitched them off, but they survived.

Down they went once more, urged on by the slow death, ignoring the duplicate of Florimel. On the second floor, the Simulacrum of the fearsome warrior that had let them pass before stood before them now, blade drawn, bidding them leave. They wasted little time, and all fell upon him, and he did not land a single blow before he was killed, his blood turning to snow. They ventured down, disguising themselves with the Veil spell, and a protection from evil. No guardians awaited them in the octagonal hall, only countless doors. Sir Giselher was guarded by the Stoneskin spell and they ventured forward.

Calling on the power of the Dukes once more, Vaus asked for the location of the inner sanctum of Azureax, as it had been described by their Slaad captive. A glowing trail led them west, beyond the place of the Mirror, and led them further down into the mountain, into the Wizard’s inmost den.

On the fourth realm, they entered first a kitchen, which they ignored, and then the training chambers of the unknown warrior, whose dim shades they had vanquished three times over. Within, 9 suits of armor, all bearing bastard swords and wielding them with all the skills of master swordsmen of Khitai, Amarth, Volguben and the Astral Plane, awaited their coming, and with synthetic bravado, attacked them.

The Cube of Force of Brandoch Daha trapped them in the doorway, whilst Simeon trapped them in webbing. To the south, Lemmikainen and Gyges stopped the flankers, but were suprised by the tenacity and ferocious strength of the armored suits, that fought like champions, were impervious to pain, could see past invisibility and were all but impossible to destroy. Lemmikainen called on mirrored images, and evaded the blows of one, who fought with the ferocious precision of the Orient and Gyges dealt with one with the berserk ferocity of the northern raiders.

To the north, things went well, Brandoch and Giselher wading into combat, and hacking away at the suits of armor, bending mail, buckling rivets, splitting steel, but the suits fought on, dealing fearsome blows in turn. Simeon unleashed his wand of frost upon the gathered multitudes, the iron creaking and fracturing under the cold. In the south the suits were bottled in, facing two champions before the doorway, so that no others could escape. Gyges fared poorly, for they had no anatomy for him to plant his dagger, and they could see past his cunning ring. Vaus joined the south, dealing damage with kick and blow.

Simeon unleashed upon the suits trapped in the room a fireball from his staff of power. So mighty was the blast that it fed into the southern corridor, engulfing our heroes in the south, and leaving them singed. The suits that were first exposed to extreme cold were somewhat affected by the sudden flare of heat, the suits in the hallway were impervious, fighting on, dealing crushing blows like Giants, Lemmikainen dancing about them, lopping off one arm with his blade of sharpness. None had fallen so far, to the dismay of the Six. The Iron men stood where even armies had fallen.

Desperate, Simeon called up a spell of reversed gravity, trapping six of the suits on the high ceiling. With a warrior’s leap Brandoch daha leapt across the room, facing down the last of the suits in the room, and dealing him many giant-felling blows. The suit in turn smote him with such force as to make his teeth and mail ring, and Brandoch knew doubt, for few had faced such fury. Sir Giselher sped to the south, and leant his blade to the desperate efforts, and not a moment too soon, for they were in dire straits. Lemmikainen quaffed the potion of hill giant strength, that he may make greater progress against these monsters of iron.

Gyges was bleeding from many wounds. Vaus had tumbled past the heroes and attempted to cure him with a spell, but the Suit interrupted him also, dealing yet another blow. Buckled visor, beaten joints and split mail, the suits were all but invincible, and the greater, with another giant-slaying blow, felled Vaus Arghul. In the chamber, Simeon turned the ceiling’s rock to mud, and the Six suits trapped there sank into it, heavy as they were. Sir Giselher then rushed past the two suits, taking two felling blows on his Stoneskin, which protected him, and laid hands on Vaus, saving him from bleeding out. Gyges invoked his levitating boots, and carried him to the ceiling, beyond the reach of the armors blades. Lemmikainen tore and whirled and rent the Iron man, so that plates and rivets were loosened from their moorings and that it could barely stand.

Brandoch and the statue traded more blows, so that the room rang with their fury. Bleeding now from many wounds, facing a creaking sentinel of battered iron, he would not relent in his terrible onslaught. Simeon called up a Wall of Iron in the doorway, thinking to crush the statue beneath it, but with preternatural alacrity it rolled aside and with a mocking salute, locked blades once more with Brandoch Daha. Many blows were turned against the Iron man of the south corridor, until at last, with dervish swordsmanship, the Lemmikainen felled the iron man. Sir Giselher had since hewed off the other’s leg, so that it could now only crouch, and hack at their legs with unmitigated ferocity. At some point, and here it grows blurry, for the fight was indeed long, Simeon had raised his Unseen Servant, and directed it against a suit of iron, and the acid made its metal skin bubble and dissolve, but still it fought on.

With Brandoch all but slain, Simeon cast on his assailant the Magic missile spell, which it shrugged off, and almost killed the Hero of the Age, had Brandoch not landed the blow sooner, and smote it utterly. The rest of the companions turned against the crippled suit, and under combined force of arms, laid the last to rest. A dispel magic on the transmuted rock entombed six of the suits in the ceiling.

Before they left, they inspected two more rooms, Giselher still protected by the stoneskin, and took from these odd barracks two magic lamps, which burned slow and could be made to give either dim light or highly bright light, two jade cats, and most interestingly a treatise on a potion against petrification, and 3 books of spells. With the anti-magic shell in place, they destroyed one more portrait of Azureax, and then teleported out, for Vaus could no longer fight, and required much convalescence.

They debated whether to continue their onslaught against the mage, or to search for greener pastures, fearful of his wrath. In the end it was decided one more assault would be made. Simeon identified the lamps. The spellbooks would serve them well in this case, and they rifled through them while Vaus was resting and recuperating. The sanctum of Azureax would require at least one more assault before its fate could be decided.

The Heroes
Brandoch Daha (Ftr 17, hp 83)
Sir Gisselher (Pal 15, hp 78)
Lemmikainen Half-elven (Bard 20, hp 54)
Gyges (Thf 20, hp 69)
Simeon the Magician (Mu 15, hp 30)
Vaus Arghul (Monk 12/Cleric (Fighting Monk kit) 14 hp 55)

The Vanquished
2 Azureax Simulacrums (one slain)
3 Fighter simulacrums
2 Grey Slaad
11 Green Slaad
9 suits of Armor

DM commentary:

Whew. This was a very long and extremely sloggy combat that went over 10 rounds in what was otherwise a pretty cool session, and I should have remarked on the INSANE hit point totals of the Armored suits in my review of Threshold of Evil. For my players this was a learning experience as their previously considered invincible characters were actually being battered down by giant blobs of mostly magic immune hit points, 18/00 strength and higher, and great hit chances, to the point where some of them could have actually died. The stone to mud Reverse Gravity combo turned the tide, and some timely use of magic items did enable them to survive. My only remark afterwards was that Brandoch or the other characters never tried to pitch other giant suits into the Reverse gravity zone via Wrestling or the overbearing rules. In this case I ruled that, while the suits are immune to fire, the flash heating after being subjected to the cold would mean they took half fire damage.

We keep running into differences between 1e and 2e and it is interesting to see how relatively minor changes alter the entire playstyle. 2e wizard damage output is lower, protection/utility spells are often stronger (mirror image is already very strong, but STONESKIN is nuts. automatic immunity against 1d4 + .5 Caster level attacks). Anti-magic shell and Stoneskin thus far are the belles of the ball. It was a beast of a combat to run, especially because of the attack routines. I will likely start using Huso’s proposed system of turn tracking to help keep track. Routines like 3/2 or 5/2 mean different rounds have different numbers of attack, and if characters don’t attack each turn the timer resets. Knowing whether it is an even or an odd numbered round would help too.

The gang is getting better about casting divination spells or augury before they hop right into danger. They did mention the 1 hp damage/turn effect is a great way of pushing characters to move, supporting my earlier notions (which are hardly new) about the importance of pressure in dungeoncrawling. If they got too caught up in discussing complicated tactics and going down all the alternatives, I would occasionally hurry them along, and I tried to keep combat, which is already quite complex and sloggy because of all the different combatants and abilities and the giant hit point totals (in this particular adventure), fast-paced.

As a training exercise I think this thing has been invaluable, especially in figuring out how to adjudicate complex situations or reading spell descriptions on the fly. If B/X was so easy to run that I barely had to look anything up, here the PCs always spring some new situation, combination or question on me that I am constantly engaged, even while I am also trying to run multiple enemy combatants. Stressfully reading through the Manual of the Planes so the game can keep going in case the players teleport to another fucking reality while they are discussing their next move is also pretty good.

My players are learning very quickly and I am figuring out how mean I can be to them without them getting obliterated. I am starting to hate Zeb Cook’s ambiguous writing-style with almost Teutonic passion.


8 thoughts on “[Actual Play] Like Unto Gods Pt. IV (2e); Men of Iron

  1. Zeb Cook is a pretty decent DM, though without a roll he told me a Rakshasha looked totally still after I cast hold monster, then had it fireball me and escape, also without a roll. That felt kind of lame.


    1. Rakshasa are immune to all spells below 8th level, so he didn’t need to roll anything. You probably should’ve taken that ad a hint.


      1. He rolled a save, the “no roll” complaint is in regard to having no chance to see that the Rakshasa (who we didn’t know was a Rakshasa) wasn’t held, and thus running away rather than waiting to get hit by it’s fireball.


      2. Aha, I see what you mean now. That you didn’t have any chance to tell it was faking and not really affected. I can see both sides of that. If I were running that encounter I think I’d go by the actions of the players at the table – if they are acting suspicious or specify they’re keeping an eye on the held monster I’d definitely allow some kind of perception roll (probably 2-in-6) to notice it was faking, but if it was clear that the players all assumed the spell worked normally and weren’t paying any particular attention to the monster as they went about other business (looking for hidden treasure, etc) I doubt I’d give that roll automatically (or if I did it would be at a much lower chance – like 1-2% or so).


      3. I cast the hold, then the next round we won initiative and I asked if it looked held, or if I could notice any movement, and he said it looked totally still without any rolling. It’s not a big deal – it was just a frustrating moment in otherwise solid DMing.


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