Planescape Next

To Baator and Back, part 2

In which the characters must "negotiate" with the Pillar of Skulls

After recapping what Halitsu told them about Avernus (which is apparently where the party has found itself), they followed the devil’s map to talk to “the old witch.” This involved fording the aptly-named River of Blood.

After very nearly descending into violence after the witch webbed half the party and applied holy water to them to make sure they weren’t fiends, they settled down for some interesting tea and to find out how to get off the plane. The witch didn’t know herself how to escape (or wasn’t lucid enough to explain it) but she advised they speak with the Pillar of Skulls, supposedly built of the souls of sages who lied to their customers.

They found it easily enough, though it turned out to be more the Pillar of Contradictory and Untrustworthy Con Men Heads. Trekking through hell having drained much of their patience, the party decided to get rough: they pried out one head as a warning to the others Turga Killdrak began liberally applying holy water to the most talkative head, causing it to howl in pain.

The screams of the Pillar summoned the attention of two wandering spinagons that the party was able to defeat, but only barely. They decided to sacrifice the one fiend they captured alive, “feeding” it to the Pillar (and being more than a little disturbed as the heads moved to swallow the creature and digest it). That got them answers to 5 questions, and though they didn’t quite get the answers they wanted they did get enough to figure out how to leave the plane: collect a black brick from the Great Avernus Road and use it as the key to a portal to the south.

Playtest Notes

There weren’t a lot of rules in this session – it was mainly roleplaying with the witch and the Pillar of Skulls, which was quite a bit of fun. The witch in particular made the party suspicious and they were suitable paranoid as they tried to figure out exactly how to phrase their questions to the Pillar.

There was also a great moment when Elric, the war-weary fighter, wasn’t entirely comfortable with Turga Killdrak the paladin torturing one of the heads in the Pillar. “Is it OK because they are evil?” “Is that who we are, even if it is OK?” Always great to see questions like that pop up, and perfectly suited for a Planescape campaign.

The only rules comment that most players agreed with was both good & bad: combat turns go really fast.

It’s great to get through a fight quickly and keep things moving, but many of the players are used to 4th edition fights where there are more tactical choices and you can still contribute on your turn even if you miss with your sword.

That’s a problem I have long had with old D&D editions (I summarize it as “I swing my sword. Done.”) and I’ll have to think about how to deal with that if/when combat becomes a little more central to the game. Not sure how much I want to tinker with the rules as part of the playtest, so I’ll likely have to review the plaaytest packet and see what tools are there to help spice up fights that are supposed to feel important.

It was also very interesting that while we were waiting to start a lady came up and asked if we were playing D&D. Her husband apparently had a regular game and their (rather shy) young son wanted to play, but didn’t have anyone his age to play with. We gave her the usual advice on how to find or start up a group but they had already tried a lot of that. She and her son ended up sitting in and listening to our game and were pretty engaged – she actually tossed out some good ideas and tips to the party. They should be joining us i the future. Her son is only 9 and very quiet and shy, so I’ll likely have to reach out and help him along through many sections, but she said that he was very excited and engaged, and the whole thing was just too adorable.

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