Miracle of miracles, I have managed to play some D&D. This has been a long time coming, with a good three or four still-born attempts to organise a session since the last game, but we finally made it. It looks as though the next game might be fair way off for a completely different reason: the PCs will probably move on to new pastures, which necessitates me designing a whole new adventuring space. That's a different post, though.
The game went a lot more smoothly this time, as is to be expected when the time between games shrinks from three years to four months. I didn't burn out this time, as I had made sure to get plenty of sleep the night before, and there were no non-gamers wandering about to dissuade me from general DM acting silliness. I felt a lot more comfortable running things, and that's an encouraging sign.
The game resumed with the PCs still in a castle under siege by an army of orcs. They had recently resurrected some serious heavy-hitting NPCs, the sort of guys that I could not justify taking a back seat, and I was sure that this was going to be a problem. The PCs had been in charge in all but name before this, and I was concerned about leading them by the nose and having NPCs giving them orders and suggestions. On the other hand, it was their own choice to bring these guys into the game. If you resurrect a legendary hero, you have to expect that you're going to take a back seat. Resurrect three, and you're lucky to have a walk-on role.
I opened the game with a warm-up battle against nearly forty elite orc warriors, dropped on the fortress roof by dragons. This was a little more time-consuming than I would have liked. That's what happens when you generate the numbers with a random roll, then roll high. It was a good hour of grinding through orcs, but I have always found that a battle eases me into the game very nicely. We got through a decent amount of other stuff this time around, so I wasn't too bothered.
At this point, after the characters had rested and healed up, they actually got to the business of figuring out which of their powerful items could break the siege. They have an arcane warsuit, a sort of mech loaded with magic wands, but that wasn't powerful enough to tackle a whole army; a sphere of annihilation, also impractical against so many foes; the Skull of Vecna, which could be used to create and control vast numbers of undead (and with the Eternal Battlefield, where skeletal armies of the past fight endlessly, just miles away); a barrel of distilled dwarven fire oil, the closest thing to a WMD this society can muster; the Hand and Body of the Light, actual fragments of this world's dead sun god; and lots of other goodies. In the end they opted for the use of the Ram's Horn Staff, which had the power to animate the trees of the forest to do the wielder's bidding. It was a good choice; even though the trees were eventually beaten back by a barrage of giant-thrown boulders and dragon breath, they destroyed a third of the army, and netted the PCs a lot of Victory Points. (I was operating on a Victory Point system here, whereby various actions taken by the PCs or NPCs would gain or lose points. The target for reaching the endgame was 100 points, and this single action got them to 50 all by itself. It was perhaps too many points awarded for the risk to the PCs, but I felt justified in it given how deadly the adventure where they gained that staff was. Blink dogs with levels of rogue and evil elves who can use true strike once per day are serious business.)
Following that, the leader of the army showed up, an orc called the Reaver who was thousands of years old and wielded two axes of sharpness. He wasn't in my original plans for the siege, but I had noted him down as the most powerful figure around in my campaign world some time ago. So when his ancient enemy King Peramis I comes back from the dead and shouting his name from the top of the battlements while waving severed orc heads around, I figure that I'm justified in having him appear. He challenged the king to a one-on-one duel, which was accepted. As a way to get the PCs involved, I had another NPC suggest to them that they try to find a way to break the rules and kill the Reaver before the duel can be finished. This worked pretty well. They had a vial of poison, made up of a few drop's of heart's blood from the god of evil, and given that the Reaver wore no armour they had a good shot at killing him outright. If only the elf had not stopped to cast true strike, King Peramis may have survived instead of losing an arm and then a head.
(As a side note, it was only during the game that I noticed there is no equivalent to the sword of sharpness in 3rd edition. Yes, there are vorpal weapons, but I didn't quite want to go that far. I fudged it by having the axes of sharpness sever an appendage on a successful critical, which worked well enough.)
(As a second side note, the PCs are seriously lucky that they killed the Reaver here. I had no qualms about throwing a divinely powered 20th level fighter at them at this stage of the campaign, and had he made it inside the fortress there would most probably have been a bloodbath. I was looking forward to it, but alas.)
The killing of the Reaver pushed the PCs over 100 Victory Points, at which point the orc army went bananas, the Reaver's lieutenant lead a flight of dragons to attack the fortress, and a smaller dragon force tried to retrieve the Reaver's body. There was fighting on two fronts, with some PCs defending the fortress while others tried to retrieve the body of King Peramis (not for altruistic reasons, but to loot his corpse). At this point I would like to point out (to the surprise of nobody) that dragons are tough. These weren't even true dragons; they were big and they had breath weapons, but they had little more intelligence than animals. That two claw/two wing/bite attack routine is murder, though. There were 4th level NPCs that were getting chewed up at the rate of two a round. The Dwarf barbarian went from 80-odd hit points to under zero almost instantly. Again, the PCs were saved because I have been super-gonzo with the magic items recently.
During all of this, the main NPC antagonist (named Elmyr) tried to make his escape. He was an ally of the people who lived in the fortress, but he had been needling the PCs for a long, long time. I was working up to a final confrontation, but it got lost in the siege and the arrival of the super high-level NPCs. It couldn't have worked out much better though. He summoned his erinyes ally, and together they tried to fly away. One PC tried to capture them with Otiluke's resilient sphere, and here I had to make a few judgment calls. Can this spell enclose a creature in mid-air? I ruled that it can, which I usually do when presented with something that isn't in the rules. Then the question arose: does the sphere stay suspended in mid-air? And if it falls, are those inside hurt by the impact? I ruled that the sphere stays in the air, as I didn't want to create a precedent that could cripple airborne foes in the future. So the PCs had five minutes to figure out how to deal with those trapped within, which they did by preparing another poisoned arrow. One shot and the erinyes was dead, while Elmyr fell 200 feet to the ground.
At which point everyone declared him dead, but just out of curiosity I rolled damage by the book. He survived with three hit points left, which gave him a chance to surrender, and me a chance to have him explain his motivations a bit. Best of all, the PC that he landed next to was the one that he'd had the most friction with, and he got to deliver the killing stroke. I couldn't have planned it more perfectly.
It was a fun game, with I feel just enough chaos to offset the NPC railroad that had come about through no planning of my own. I have problems for the future, though. Besides having to design a whole load of new adventuring material, I have a party averaging about 7th level with an absolute shit-ton of powerful magic items. It was a great thing to have when running an epic finale for the first stage of the campaign, but I know it's going to cause me headaches in the future. I'm thinking I'll just leave it as is for a while and see how things go. I would have frowned on this kind of magic-heavy party a few years ago, but my attitudes are a lot looser about this sort of thing now. As long as all parties are enjoying themselves, and the game is still a challenge, things will progress apace.