I like small encounters as a DM - short combats, one shot traps, the odd riddle, brief explorations - they keep the game going and moving forward.
However, every so often, it's nice to pull out a "set piece" and let the complexities and d20's fly. I never had it planned that the party would go toe to toe with the Lizardmen guarding the front gate - a main assault would result in a TPK unless the d20's were in the group's favor. But my assumption was always from the outside coming in - allowing the Lizardmen to be prepared and ready for the group. Tactics worked out, covering missile fire, spell use - the works.
The situation was turned on its head for this meeting as the party was able to sneak up on the Lizardmen and do the likewise back to them - they had at one point 7 preparatory spells in place (not counting just about everyone invisible), covering fire, and a really good plan of action. So what was expected to be a brick wall that the group would bash head against and then retreat was almost a rout for the Lizardmen as the party took them to task.
Which sets up VERY nicely my plan for the 100th meeting - not exactly where I expected it to be but easy enough for me to adjust the plans - and it works out better for everyone.
Write up follows:
We left the room filled with gore, blood, and dead slavers, and followed Kazak Goretusk – the half-orcish ex-slaver who was now working with us, out into the hall, down a hall with some old symbols and motifs to Sif, and to the quietest and most ruined portion of the complex – the former dormitory.
According to Kazak, this room, although is poor repair and suffering from weak walls and ceiling along the northern wall, was where the Goretusk clan had rested and slept when not on duty or needed by the Greenscales. It was in poor condition but dry. Brother Beren called on Tyr to help establish a camp and a horde of strange winds and powers swept the area, set up blankets, started a fire, set our own packs down and readied bedrolls, and even prepared a simple stew from some food stuff that Norris had with him.
We then had Kazak draw us out the complex and learned of what was around. South of the slaver room was the cloister which then led to the cloister garden – open to the sky and home to somewhere between 2 and 8 harpies. They were foul and cruel, and their singing enchanted many who wandered in there who awoke 3 days later scratched, sore, and suffering from various crab lices and painful groinal aches and diseases. Past the harpies was a longer hall that joined the cloister to the main courtyard and temple proper – occasionally a single lizardman guard would roam those halls.
As for the courtyard, we could count on besides the open air, 4-12 lizardmen, two smaller guard rooms often manned by one or two or the scaled humanoids, and to the south a set of doors leading to the temples and the north open if sometimes barred by portcullises and eventually the swamp. To date we had not tackled anything more than 6 lizardmen at a single time, and that was not a foregone conclusion for our successes. This would be a pitched fight and we would need to be prepared beforehand.
During the dinner and night we discussed many plans and the entire group was lively in the working of the options. It was decided on a few objectives.
1) Remove the harpies from the area.
2) Split the party into two units – with distance fighters situated up top and firing into the courtyard.
3) Attack the courtyard hard and fast.
Brother Beren hit Coruth’tae with a Nap spell, giving the grey elf an hour of sleep but making it feel like 8. After that our illusionist spent the rest of the night on watch and studying multiple Invisibility spells, hitting the party members one at a time until everyone was invisible. At some point he heard some noises through the south wall, scrabbling and bodies moving, but he stayed silent and the noises (from the room with the dead slavers) fell quiet after half an hour.
We awoke disoriented but well rested (and invisible!) and we broke our fast, studied our spells, readied our weapons and clad our armor. We went over the plan again, tweaking it in a few places until everyone knew their place. And then we set off.
Soren led us back into the hall, past the slaver chamber, and to the cloister. Narrow windows showed through to the garden, many flowers and plants and some half dozen stout trees reaching upward. Norris readied a silence spell on a single arrow which Soren kept in his belt and then the ranger opened the door and took careful aim at a single harpy. He shot – she fell from the tree and dropped to the ground and arrow sticking from her. The other harpies took flight, calling to their sister but we could not hear them! Their charms were not working. One of them tried hurling her own feces at us and Soren concentrated his next three shots on her, plugging her in the breast, thigh, and ass.
As for the other party members, they began walking across the garden, checking out the other door and the hall beyond, Gwyn taking the chance and happy to note that no lizardman was there waiting. Soren finished off the dying harpy and Coruth’tae, using Norris’ boots, levitated to the top of the wall 30’ up on the west side, trailing a grapple and rope, and set it there. He removed the boots and dropped them down, Norris putting them back on, while Nelia and Soren went to the top of the wall and looked around.
The space between the courtyard and the cloister garden was 15’ wide and they crawled n their belly over and looked down. The courtyard was sizeable, 40’ square, two guard posts along the north wall. The inner portcullis was up, the outer one was down. A few tables were here as well as a large cart but no draft animals. The group counted about 10 lizardmen visible. The doors to the temple were closed.
Also – on the far end of the complex, 180’ or so to the north west, also on the top wall like the 3 part members, was a lone lizardman sentry with a crossbow, and on the southwest corner was another one situated the same. They were looking out at the swamp and not paying attention to the party or anywhere else. Soren checked the silence arrow and knew it was only going to last 10 minutes tops.
We got ourselves into position: Haydin, Arnog, Gwyn, Norris, Brother Beren, and then Kazak. Blesses were cast, Strength was enchanted, Prayer to Tyr was enacted. Norris whispered a Message spell telling Soren above that it was time. The ranger took aim, noting which lizardmen had crossbows, which lizardmen had crests (and were presumably stronger) and called his shot at one of the three crossbow wielding humanoid – right in the weapon! Great shot – he split the firing trough and ruined the weapon! Nelia hurled her poisoned javelins and Coruth’tae scorched the courtyard with a bolt of lightning, dropping two of the lizardmen.
Haydin burst out the door and at the range of 7’ hurled a poisoned throwing axe at one of the lizardmen’s chest and knocked the foe back. Arnog tore across the still electrified ground and hacked wildly at one of the enemy, cleaving it almost in half and causing them to scream in terror. Gwyn stepped around the corner and fired his heavy crossbow at another of the missile wielding foes, knocking the lizardman down from the impact of the 250lb pull gnomish made weapon. Norris’ sword led the way as the bard took to the fight, calling on his own magic and summoning a zombie to help attack the panicking throng. Brother Beren drew closer, making sure his own conduit to Tyr was still close enough to encompass everyone, Kazak standing at the priest’s side.
Arrows fell like rain into the fight and 4 of the lizardmen were down, two more badly wounded. The inner portcullises dropped and we laughed because now the foes were trapped in the courtyard with us! Swords rose and fell and more poison was plied. The crackle of spells filled the air and the screams of the lizardmen spurred the party on to even greater efforts. Norris skewered an enemy on his long blade. Haydin wrestled bodily with one of the scaled beasts. Even Kazak plied blade at those reeling from the efforts of Gwyn, Arnog, and Haydin; the half orc acting as “cleanup” for those hurt but not dead.
One of the lizardmen saw what was coming and ran for the temple, ripping the door open amidst clattering arrows, and got inside yelling in his own sibilant language. Fuck – company would be coming. From the guardhouse other lizardmen emerged and tried to turn the tide of the fight but it was already too far gone against them. Gwyn’s scimitar cut deep and often, Haydin and Norris tore their swords against any foe foolish enough to remain standing. Arnog was shot not once, but twice from a closed guard booth, making the already terrifying fighter truly angry.
He lowered his shoulder and charged the guard post, trampling the last lizardman in front of him, his ensorcelled blade tearing the howling monster from thigh to chest. His shield upraised he slammed into the heavy door and the timber lock broke free and then the furious Arnog was in the small chamber with his anger, his weapon, and the foolish lizardman that had shot him twice.
The silence spell had ended at this point and the other enchantments around the party were beginning to wear out as well. A few lizardmen still stood and we massed upon them in an effort to end the struggle immediately. Up top, the three party members drew the attention of one of the lizardmen sentries who took up his crossbow and loaded a deliberate bolt into it. Soren tried to shoot the lizardman but it was a long shot and the enemy fired. And just before the streaking quarrel hit the party it sparked to fire, runes peeled down its shaft, and it hit Soren, Nelia, and Coruth’tae as a concussive ball of fire.
We watched in horror from below as fire and screams tore across the roof above, our friends up there yelling in pain. Coruth’tae and Nelia dragged the rope up from the cloister side of the wall, reset the grapple on the courtyard side of the wall, and started climbing down. When the lizardman sentry took aim and shot a second time. Soren had nowhere to go so he braced for another fireball but it didn’t materialize – instead he was struck by the speeding quarrel. It knocked him down and he fell over and backwards – and into space – dropping 30’ down to the cloister garden below where he felt something in his chest snap and his leg and hip jar terribly and then he knew no more – reduced to -4 hit points.
Coruth’tae and Nelia made it to the ground while Norris pumped his legs and arms, his own personal safety not mattering, racing across the corridors as fast as he could until he slid to a stop at Soren’s unconscious body. He called upon his flagging spells and was able to whistle up enough of a healing to stop Soren’s progress towards death and stabilize him at a mere 5 hit points. He awoke with a start but was in terrible pain (-4 on everything for the next almost 2 days), draping his arm across Norris’ shoulder and allowing the bard to drag him back to the courtyard and the rest of the party.
As for us, we knew that the lizardman guard that had made it to the temple was getting reinforcements – priestly lizardman ones. We gathered together and Gwyn, Arnog, Kazak, and Haydin were piling the tables in front of the door and then dragging the cart closer to hopefully slow down whoever and whatever would be coming out. There was no time to cut tails or loot bodies – we had to prepare steel and spell for the racing foes we heard through the portal – foes that were hissing for our blood.