DM Screen 22 – Grayskull Under Siege

I’ve learned that, when I sit down to plan out a campaign, I tend to default toward a plot revolving around some sort of repeatable task: collect the six pieces of the MacGuffin, or take out the four enemy strongholds, or recruit the help of the three major races. Blame it on years of playing Bioware video games, I suppose. In this case, the task I settled on as the backbone of this campaign was collecting the five gems that the Planeswalker tome indicated would help in the battle against Phyrexia.

However, I knew that I didn’t want every step of the entire story to revolve around this one single quest. I wanted to inject some variety and texture into the League’s journey, so I worked in a couple of “mini-arcs” which focused on something other than the heroes’ quest for the gems. This is the first of these mini-arcs: a story about Skeletor and Demona attacking the League’s headquarters of Castle Grayskull.

The first step was to come up with what Skeletor and Demona’s plan was. I wrote the following reminder to myself at the top of my notes—in case the PCs came up with a plan that was totally out of left field and really changed the way my planned battle went, I could reference the below plan as a way of reminding myself what Skeletor and Demona were after and how they intended to go about doing it.

The evil plan:

Skeletor and Demona want to get at the Power of Grayskull deep within the castle. Demona has set several mystical wards—basically bombs—throughout the castle. Skeletor and his forces will call out to the League from outside, and then Demona will detonate her wards, destroying many of the mystical defenses of the Castle and potentially injuring some of the Leaguers. Skeletor will lead/direct his forces to attack and the League will have to address a few specific problems, while having the opportunity to develop plans and counterattacks. Eventually, they will be contacted by the Sorceress, who will offer to lead them to the Sword of Power, which is both what Skeletor is after and what can defeat him. However, the “Sorceress” is actually Demona—once the Sword of Power is exposed, she will grab it.

You’ve returned to Castle Grayskull, along with numerous warriors from the Nexus Tournament who are eager to join the cause after witnessing the horrors of Phyrexia. The castle has been a busy place recently, with new faces coming and going, getting assigned to new cells, and going out on missions. Sterling Archer, along with his teacher Roland Deschain, have decided to search through some of the planes that used to make up Nexus City in search of any stray Phyrexians that were left behind. Luna Lovegood has also returned to one of these planes, although in her case, it’s to take her new friend Venusaur on a trip to the zoo. The rest of you have had some time since your last mission to rest and recover, or possibly to just get into trouble. What have each of you been up to?

As always, I wanted to give the PCs an opportunity to pursue any projects or relationships they were interested in, but I came up with a couple of plot hooks for some of them:

Stitch: The battle with Dracula on Westeros left Stitch unable to walk, and the only reason he was able to regain his mobility was with the symbiote. Unfortunately, now that the symbiote has been abandoned, Stitch is once more paraplegic. In addition, Lace is being kept in a medically-induced coma until it can be determined that she’s not a danger—she still registers on the League’s scanners as being infected, although the infection doesn’t appear to have spread past the wound on her side, which has never happened before.

Dante: Dante has been having some difficulties. Ever since the battle with Shang Tsung when he refused Frostmourne’s hunger, Dante’s found that his dreams are filled with darkness and cold and he wakes up to find himself even more tired than he was when he went to sleep. He’s been getting visibly paler and gaunter, and he’s been hearing the sounds of Frostmourne’s tuneless song of ice with increasing frequency.

Nico: While studying the Tome of Darkness, she finds a strange stone amulet tucked into its pages. There is mysterious, flowing writing of some kind along the edges, and the image of a dragon worked into the face.

Once each player has gotten a chance in the spotlight, invite each of them to name one of the other Leaguers who is present in Castle Grayskull at the moment, then move forward with the story.

I was anticipating the siege of the castle, and wanted the players to have some say in which NPC allies would be around.

There’s suddenly a thunderous impact from near the front of Castle Grayskull, audible from everywhere in the fortress.

This is followed by a second, then a third.

When the heroes go to investigate, they can see a small army arrayed outside of the castle gates, hundreds if not thousands strong. It is certainly a colorful and eclectic group, made up of mutants, monsters, cyborgs, robots, and other creatures too strange to describe. Various vehicles and siege weapons sit amongst these soldiers, all aimed toward the castle, and as you arrive, one of them opens fire with a large cannon, firing a laser which impacts several feet out from the walls of Castle Grayskull, crashing uselessly against an invisible magical forcefield.

Towards the middle of the crush of soldiers outside is a walker vehicle designed to look like a huge black and red spider, its central body an open platform. Standing atop it is the blue-gray skinned gargoyle known as Demona, who up until recently was herself a member of the Extraordinary League until she turned on her cell and had to be chased out of Grayskull by Mordin, Dante, Stitch, and Archer. With her on the vehicle is a blue-skinned muscular figure whose face, a bare skull, grins out from beneath a shadowy hood. It’s this figure who speaks out, his voice magically amplified to boom out over the army.

“I’m glad to see I have your attention. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Skeletor, Overlord of Evil and rightful ruler of Eternia. There is a power that lies within that castle, and I intend to have it. I have no quarrel with you and your… ‘League’… and if you value your lives, you will leave the castle now. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to destroy you. This is your only warning!”

Once it’s clear to him that the League aren’t going to give up Grayskull, Skeletor will turn to Demona and nod. She brings up both of her hands above her head, magical energy surging to the space between her palms. We see several close-up shots of various rooms inside Grayskull as runes she secretly left there months ago suddenly flare with power and blinding light. Suddenly, there are a series of thunderclaps as explosions rip through several areas in the castle. The overall structure of Grayskull is largely undamaged, but apparently those magical detonations were quite precisely placed, and a dome of light flickers around the castle before dying as the magical forcefield protecting Grayskull fades away. Skeletor’s army lets loose a battlecry and surges forward.

There are a number of issues to address right off the bat:

  1. Several of the monsters in the army have a large, heavy-duty vehicle, looking like a tank with a large shark head-like design on the front. There are chains trailing from the back of this vehicle which the monsters using to grapple onto Castle Grayskull’s retracted drawbridge. The obvious intent is to use the vehicle to pull down the drawbridge to allow the army entrance.
  2. Other monstrous soldiers begin to reach across the chasm around Castle Grayskull with long ladders, looking to prop up the ends of the ladders on the outer walls of the castle to allow themselves to get in that way.
  3. Demona’s initial magical attack has triggered an internal collapse in the castle, and anyone in this room is caught in the aftermath. There is a fire quickly spreading and they are pinned beneath rubble.

Because Miles had indicated that Nico was in her room studying, I decided that she made the ideal target for this particular issue.

The players can split up the duties of tackling these in whatever way they want, each of which will require a couple of appropriate ability rolls to address. They’ll take damage (10-40, depending on the severity of the situation) when they fail.

The above represents a common sort of note I leave myself in my notes: a shorthand way of saying, “set up a situation and allow the players to tackle it however they will, with a cursory sort of threat or penalty if they should fail.” This allows them to express their characters and their own creativity using the given conflict as a framework.

Eventually, several of Skeletor’s lieutenants will use flying Sky-Sleds to soar above the walls of Castle Grayskull, landing in the courtyard in the center of the castle. The enemy forces will consist of:

Beast Man
F: Rm
A: Rm
S: Rm
E: In
R: Pr
I: Ex
P: Pr

Health: 130         Karma: 26

Animal Control: In

F: Ex
A: Rm
S: In
E: Rm
R: Ty
I: Gd
P: Ty

Health: 120         Karma: 18

Aquatic Creature Control: In

F: Rm
A: Ex
S: Rm
E: In
R: Gd
I: Gd
P: Ty

Health: 120         Karma: 25

Energy Blast: Rm

F: Gd
A: Ex
S: Ty
E: Ex
R: In
I: In
P: In

Health: 55            Karma: 120

Magic: In

Once things are coming to a head, the heroes will be approached by a large bird with brilliant orange and blue plumage. They will hear a female voice in their heads say,

“Heroes! I am the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull. I’m afraid there isn’t much time. Skeletor’s attack has greatly weakened the protective wards on Castle Grayskull. If we don’t act now, all could be lost.

“Held within this fortress is an ancient power, sealed away in ages past to prevent it from falling into the hands of evil. Only a true hero can open the secret passage which leads to the Sword of Power. One of you must wield the sword, beat back Skeletor’s forces, and defend the secrets of Castle Grayskull!”

The Sorceress will take the hero(es) to an otherwise unremarkable corridor in Castle Grayskull. Once they draw near, however, a door seems to form itself from the stone wall. The door leads to a long, winding stone staircase which drops beneath Castle Grayskull, eventually emerging into a cavernous space lined with colossal stone statues. The stairs lead down to a platform surrounded by a seemingly bottomless abyss, and upon the platform is a large metal sword embedded point-down in the center.

The birdlike Sorceress glides down to the sword and perches on the upward-pointed handle. Magical light surrounds her as she begins to shift and change, transforming into a winged humanoid figure… although, with a jolt, you realize that this figure is Demona. Demona stands in the center of the platform with her fingers wrapped around the handle of the Power Sword. She draws it forcefully from the platform, raises it above her head, and cries out, “BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!” A cacophonous explosion of lightning bolts crashes down on the upraised sword and seems to consume her momentarily. When the light clears, she has been transformed. Her muscles are visibly larger and better-defined, but more than a physical change is the aura coming off of her—even though you are distant, the power radiating off of her is like being near a bonfire. She looks down appreciatively at her new sword and says triumphantly, “I have the Power!”

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