The Bloodstone Disaster, Part 3: What’s my motivation?

I’d like to digress for a moment,to touch upon the plot of Bloodstone, and hopefully make clear where many of the issues lied.

From what I recall, the first part, “Bloodstone Pass,” begins with the party arriving in the titular area in the wake of a war that has left many homeless and penniless. Soon, the town is under attack by an army consisting of humans, orcs, giants and other nasty doings, and it’s up to the heroes to save the town. Eventually, they discover where the enemy is camped, and crush them, ending the threat, only to discover that Bloodstone’s real woes began when their mine had been overrun some time before…

In “The Mines of Bloodstone,” the group must enter the mines beneath the town, in order to restore them to production. What starts as a pretty standard cleaning operation quickly turns ugly, when it’s discovered that the Duergar- the dark dwarves were using a passage from the Underdark to overrun the mine. This leads the party deeper, into the massive underground world, including a giant temple, carved in the shape of the head of Orcus, the demon lord of the undead. Eventually, enough threats are stamped out, leading to the mines being restored, and Bloodstone becoming a regional power once more.

Enter “The Bloodstone Wars.” Here’s where my details get fuzzy. I know it involves the group coming under constant attack, for they have become the leaders of Bloodstone in a previous entry, The Grandfather of Assassins, whom they’ve thwarted before, has returned to put an end to their threat, and powerful enemies gather at their borders. Eventually, the heroes discover that the force behind all of the attacks was none other than Orcus himself.

Finally, in “The Throne of Bloodstone,” you must venture through enemy strongholds, fight for access to the Abyss, find Orcus’ home plane, steal the symbol of his power, the deadly Wand of Orcus, and, finally, defeat the dark god Tiamat, using her blood to destroy the Wand. WHY you’re doing any of this is beyond my understanding.

Along the way, there are all sorts of outlandish things: An entire fortress of assassins, massive dragons, cities filled with zombies, a treacherous cruise down the River Styx, mercury pools that summon demons… It’s all the lovely shit that makes me such a fan of RPGs in general, and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Seriously, the Bloodstone Series has potential.

Which leads into my big problem with how Yoni ran things: All we ever got was a glimpse of this potential. We were being lead on what was effectively a room-by-room tour, with us craning our necks, desperate get a better view of what must surely be a fantastic place.

Instead, as I described previously, “We want to do this!” was met with denial, time and time again. Leading me into the final phases of Bloodstone. After a year of being railroaded, and trying to get Yoni to do a better job, only to find him pretty much unresponsive to criticism time and again, most of us were done, and just wanted to see where it all came tumbling down.

That wound up being “The Throne of Bloodstone.”

This adventure was designed to end campaigns: Deadly encounters, fiendish traps, an inability to heal once you reach the Abyss, and the Abyss itself being a maze of corridors, tunnels and dimensional portals, where the wrong turn meant an almost certain death… And there were almost nothing but wrong turns. Seriously, almost every major demon lord and dark god who was active at the time Bloodstone was printed could show up in this chapter.

It would take a Dungeon Master of great prowess to hammer this thing down into a workable adventure. We didn’t have a DM of great prowess. We had Yoni. He continued his strategy of trying to run the adventures as printed, just with minor changes for 4e stats, and while that worked to some extent in previous entries, it fell completely apart here. The adventure was just not designed to be run this way.

The most egregious event would have to be the fight at the Abyss portal. You were meant to fight an ancient Lich, an undead spellcaster of terrifying power. The problem is, there weren’t any 4e stats for a lich of that power level. Anyone who’s prepared a game for any edition of D&D knows that you can build almost anything, it just takes time and effort. Effort Yoni consistently refused to put in. Instead of building a Lich for us to fight, he attempted to use the highest level lich in print for 4th Edition.

This would be Vecna. Vecna is a god.

Yes, most gods in 4th Edition were statted at Level 35- of a maximum 30 levels- and their stats are usually quite bad. I don’t know how any party is supposed to defeat them. Hell, I don’t even know how most parties were meant to HIT them; Their defenses are too damn high. Vecna was nine levels above us at the time. He would have wiped us out. Yoni eventually lowered its stats by a bit, giving us a fighting chance. Well, it turned into what I termed “dice-rolling exercises,” where we’d spend an hour trying to whittle down the Solo monsters he kept throwing at us.

Oh right, forgot to explain this. See, 4th Edition is a game I generally liked. It was simple to run, fun, had some nice flavor, it just suffered from ludicrsly poor management from Wizards of the Coast. It also suffered from a tier system for monsters, where they were given ranks, such as Minion, Elite, Leader and Solo.

You know. Like in online games.

Solo monsters were meant to challenge an entire party by themselves, they were designed to be huge “boss monster” encounters that were a legitimate threat, the equal to four heroes of the same level as it.

Problem being, they didn’t work.

Most Solos, as designed, had no way of mitigating the absurd number of debuffs and status ailments a 4th Edition party could dish out. Over the last seven years, numerous people online have tried to rework the Solo rank into something that actually, you know, functions. While many of their experiments were interesting, I fear none were terribly successful, and it’s not their fault. The Solo is just that goddamned bad. I eventually stopped using them AS Solo encounters, instead using weaker Solos with some muscle for backup. It was effective, and my group didn’t at all mind. Besides, I’d already seen what would happen: The party would pop all of its stuns, holds, slows, and so on, and debuff the enemy into oblivion. Then, the Solo was often nothing more than a meat shield, and the party just had to chip away at it, like a giant Jawbreaker made out of hit points. That last line sums up most of Yoni’s combats for much of the campaign, not-Vecna fight included.

Eventually, we reached the end. Oh and what an ending it was.

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