Saturday, October 19, 2013

Table Talk: That Time When My Paladin One-Shotted the Campaign's Final Big-Bad

We've all got a few of those stories. That one time where the dice were in our favor and we couldn't be stopped, that great exchange that left the room silent, or that session when the most ridiculous course of action worked for no reason other than you popped up a natural 20. Table Talk is the newest addition to Improved Initiative, and it's where we brag, boast, and perhaps share an embarrassing fumble or two. To lead us off I'm going to tell you a tale of how I accomplished the unthinkable; I one-shot killed the final enemy of a huge, published campaign.

I was pretty goddamn surprised, myself.
You Did What?

Okay, so this story's going to take a wee bit of background before we get to the good part. Several years ago a friend of mine by the name of Justin Duncan got his hands on the Carrion Crown adventure path. For those of you not familiar with it, it's essentially an entire campaign where you're facing nothing but undead horrors, eldritch abominations, and every blasphemous, squamous thing the Pathfinder bestiary can fling at you. I figured it would be a good time to stretch beyond my usual fighters and barbarians to try out a paladin. But not just any paladin; I wanted an Undead Scourge. Essentially a paladin so dedicated to fighting the undead that many of his abilities were ineffective on living, but undoubtedly evil, creatures, while at the same time wreaking pure havoc on the living dead.

Valgard Grimwald

Valgard was once a peasant farmer, living with his wife and working the cold, unforgiving ground of Ustalav. She died of a sickness one winter, and despite the frigid temperatures Valgard dug her grave and saw her safely beneath the snow. When spring came he found her grave had been defiled, and her body stolen. He roamed the mountains, following the signs and stink of the living dead until he found the necromancer who had been using his Ilyena for his own, twisted pleasures. That man was a long time dying, and once his wife had been placed back in her bower Valgard dedicated himself to wiping out the living dead by taking up arms in the service of Pharasma, goddess of death.

But Paladins Have to Have a Lawful Good Goddess, Don't They?

Yes, don't interrupt me. I asked Justin whether he would allow me to play a paladin who served a neutral goddess, provided I kept his alignment lawful good. I was willing to follow Iomede, or even Erastil, but I felt that for story reasons Pharasma made more sense. He agreed, and acquiesced to my request.

Back to the story. So we begin in the Town of Harrowstone fighting ghosts, move onto another town where a sentient flesh golem is being put on trial for murder, and the party eventually goes beneath the waves to fight a horde of horrors that would have been right at home outside Lovecraft's Innsmouth. In addition to Valgard we had a bard detective, a rage prophet, and a titan mauler who had picked up a lycanthrope template somewhere along the line. Not a party to be messed with lightly. In that place beneath the waves though, the DM decided to pull some shenanigans on my behalf.

I had made it known from the beginning that one of the goals I had for Valgard was to find him a holy avenger. It's possibly the most stereotypical paladin thing you could ask for, but I wanted to do it. Rather than just taking something straight out of the book (Justin's flare for the dramatic simply would not allow something so plebian), he decided to craft a relic that fit Valgard, as well as his goddess. What I got was a holy bastard sword that increased my lay on hands, dealt extra damage to anything undead, and which had disruption on it. I pointed out that disruption was sort of a blunt-weapon-only ability, to which he told me it's a relic, it has the properties on that sheet. I nodded, having done my duty as a conscientious player, and took the sword with something approaching unbecoming glee.

Then What?

Right. So the party hacked, slashed, diplomacized and intimidated its way through half a dozen books (the vampire chapter was particularly short, as we took on a CR 18 challenge at level 12 and came out the victors. That's a separate story all by itself), and we wound up at the final encounter of the whole campaign. A wizard on a mountaintop preparing to steal the power of the Whispering Tyrant, and to become the most powerful lich the ages have ever seen. As we advanced on him to stop the ritual (Spoiler Alert, in case you haven't guessed what the final boss in an undead-centric campaign is), a dracolich crawls around from the mountain peak and throws itself between us and the soon-to-be-lich king. Justin places a colossal size red dragon mini on the map, an excited grin plastered across his face. Roll initiative!

By sheer, stupid luck Valgard goes first. Since the dragon is flat-footed and its reach rendered moot, the paladin declares his smite, then charges with sword raised high and calling out to Pharasma to guide his hand. He swings, and hits only because of the +2 from the charge. First blood! I start gathering my dice, preparing to list out the way I'm using channel smite, and calculating how many dice I have to roll. Then I remember it's a disruption weapon, and off-handedly say, "Hey Justin, roll its fort save. Yeah I know it has to roll a 1 for it to matter but there's a 1 on every die."

Justin rolls, and the smile fades from his face. He's staring at a natural 1, an automatic failure. He takes the dragon off the table, and gestures to me. We sit there, stunned, staring at what just happened. In the game world the dracolich bursts into smoking bone shards and ancient dust, and when the cloud clears Valgard stands with nothing more than forty feet between him and the wizard who would enslave the world.

Don't go anywhere, this gets better.

The newly made lich, who is realizing that the odds have suddenly and drastically shifted out of his favor, goes next. He casts mage's dysjunction on Valgard's sword, which as an artifact gets all kinds of chances to save. It fails those saves, and is destroyed. The lich manages to keep his magic, but destroying an artifact of a deity has a chance to draw said deity's attention. Not much of a chance, something like 5%. So Justin rolls percentiles, high is good for us. 98%. Pharasma is now paying very, very close attention to what's happening in this pitched battle.

The rest of the party advances on the newly made lich, and things go very poorly very quickly for him. Holy energy is thrown through Valgard's fists, lightning brought down from scrolls by the bard, and sheer, brutal blows from the barbarian are cutting him to pieces. After the third round the lich falls apart, but we know he'll reconstitute soon. We also know that, for story reasons, destroying his phylactery could kill the person who does it. Valgard, who has sought nothing more than to be granted an afterlife with his wife, destroys the phylactery without hesitation. He sacrificed himself to save the country he loved, and Pharasma made him one of her eternal guardians.

This remains, without question, the most epic thing I have ever done with a set of dice.

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  1. You'd be surprised at how many encounters can and will be ended by a single (un)lucky dice roll. I remember one time during a first-edition game where my cat companion rolled a natural 20 and instakilled the level 7 cleric end boss.

  2. I love this blog. My only great stories are second hand sadly and most of my stories are failures.

  3. Dracolich explodes after one swing. Wow. The silence at that table. Whish I'd been there.

  4. I, sadly, have never taken part in something this epic. Neal, I tilt my hat to you, amazing character and an amazing story!