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Catt’s 4E: Beneath Winterhaven… continued

July 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Previously in Winterhaven…

At Lord Padraig’s behest, the party had descended into the tunnels below Winterhaven Keep in an attempt to escape the siege and recruit help from Dar Gremath in Albridge. In the chambers below they found a heavily trapped tomb of unmistakeably ancient construction. Though it is laced with traps and undead, they explore the tomb in hopes of finding some answers to its mysteries – and, perhaps, another way out.

And now…

Surmising that it’s their only path forward, the heroes begin a thorough search for the red lantern. At the base of the sarcophagus, they notice circular scrape marks on the floor, as if it once faced a different direction. It takes a colossal effort but they manage to turn the sarcophagus to point down the passageway with the yellow lantern. On doing so, they hear a great rumbling from the end of the hall. Under the yellow lantern, the five-foot circular slab of stone that Aranthis noted earlier is descending. A gust of wind blows up through the hole causing the chamber to clamor in a chorus of whispers and howls.

Upon descending to the chambers below, the heroes find that the walls are covered in ruined bas-relief images similar to the slender figure upon the sarcophagus lid. Nearly a dozen stand in poses of deference, almost as if they are paying homage to the visitors. Many extend their hands in adoration, their faces awash in adulation. Several are broken, lacking hands, arms or heads. About 15 feet to the south, a dark passage framed by an elaborately carved arch is blocked by a large stone block. It obscures most of the passage and only a little of the hall is visible beyond. The stone block is roughly 10 feet wide by 2 feet deep by 8 feet tall, and nearly seals off the passage to the south. A large niche about the same size as the block opens in the ceiling of the arch above the slab.

Squeezing half her body between the top of the stone slab and the peak of the arch, Aranthis gains a decent view of the hallway beyond. Along each wall she is able to make out a handful of alcoves spaced at regular intervals. Though the stone slab is far too heavy to lift, the heroes decide to work together to topple it. Too late they find that it rested upon a pressure plate that triggers when the weight of the slab is removed. A noxious yellow gas fills the room from valves hidden within the mouths of the adoring bas-reliefs lining the room’s walls. As the slight breeze carries the vapors up the shaft to the chamber above, the heroes hurry down the hall, further into the chamber.

Curious carvings that seem to represent a stirring tempest cover the walls of the ten-foot-wide passage. At ten-foot intervals, small alcoves flank the passage, and each contains a humanoid figure with cupped hands, the figures stand roughly seven feet tall. A faint wind plays within the passage, but it’s difficult to tell where it’s coming from. With a detailed search the heroes find that the breeze is a result of soft currents of air emitting from the statues’ cupped hands. They find that the currents are strong enough to hold tiny objects, like a gold piece, aloft.

Continuing on toward the third and final set of alcoves, they find that the passage grows unnaturally cold as it opens into a huge chamber. Within the chamber, a huge 20 foot square dull gray stone pillar reaches from floor to ceiling with deep recessions in its west and east faces. These look to be the basins of fountains. However, the western basin and area around it is completely overgrown with mold. Two open doorways face across from these fountains to the east and west.

Electing to handle the mold on his own, Finneal rushes forward – though the air around him grows cold and his breath hangs in the air. He sees a glint of metal in the mold. Upon closer inspection he sees that half submerged in the mold of the western basin is a chainmail sleeve and a withered hand, still and outstretched toward a piece of carved metal. Unfortunately, his intent to clear the mold with fiery magic does not produce the expected results. The brown mold consumes the fiery blast, quickly growing up the gout of flame to encompass him entirely. Changing his tactics, he begins to drop icy spells that just as quickly destroy the mold.

Clear of mold, the withered corpse appears to be an unfortunate tomb robber who was overcome by the heat sapping effect of the mold while attempting to retrieve the carved metal object. The chainmail, though worse for wear, is useable. Almost everything else is deteriorated, including a leather sack so old that it tears at the touch. But among the leather remains, he finds three shattered statuettes and another three that remain in excellent condition – a grand palace, a slim spire with eight connected smaller towers of different heights, and what looks like a grand stadium (each worth 50gp). Finally, he recovers the object of the thief’s desire, an elaborate lantern of carved metal with red glass panes.

With the mold cleared, the fountains slowly begin to flow with fresh clean water. In a flash of inspiration, the heroes place one of the statuettes in the cupped hands of the statues in the alcove. It floats and pirouettes slowly on a cushion of air.

Beyond the mold and through the open doorway to the west, the heroes find a wide chamber with no other exits. It must have been the crypt of an important figure. A large stone sarcophagus rests in the south east corner, its top slid aside. Beyond the sarcophagus is a bas-relief of a robust, long-nosed bald humanoid figure with outstretched hands. The figure wears a lovingly sculpted wind-tossed robe that gives it the appearance of a triumphant god. The sarcophagus has been plundered and lies empty.

Through the open doorway to the east, the heroes find a large chamber with no other exits, its ceiling aglow with what looks like natural sunlight. The light illuminates a series of worktables, vises, spinning wheels, and blocks of unfinished marble that identify the room as a sculptor’s workshop. Lying in the middle of the room is a huge unfinished statue of an imposing bare-chested warrior wielding a staff-like rod in its left hand. The bald figure looks similar to the bas-relief on the sarcophagus upstairs, but is clearly meant to be a different person. Otherwise, the workshop is empty and all that remains are bits of furniture and parts of more elaborate sculpting tools. The daylight coming from the ceiling is a permanent magical effect.

The heroes gingerly remove the wooden staff. Though obviously crafted by a skilled artisan, it is of a very simple style and does not appear to match the ornate style of the statue itself. Finneal and Aranthis notice only six grooves cut at regular intervals around the cylindrical shaft. With some use and magic, they are able to identify it as a Staff of Frost.

Retracing their steps, the heroes climb back to the tomb and push the sarcophagus to face the green lantern. As they do, they hear a great rumbling from the end of the hall below the lantern. A loud groaning noise is followed by very unsettling vibrations in the ground. The tremors grow. The sound of stone scraping and metal bending is apparent as cracks begin to form on the floor at the end of the hallway. Soon after, the rumbling increases in intensity until they hear the crushing fall of heavy stone and the snapping of something metal. There is a loud crash and then silence. A large irregular opening can be seen at the end of the green hallway and dust billows up from the collapsed section of the floor. Shortly thereafter the heroes hear another rumbling cave-in from behind them, from the direction of the keep.

Quietly at first, and then growing in intensity, the heroes hear skittering from below. They ready actions to attack as the cacophony of noise reaches a crescendo – and a veritable geyser of living bugs, mostly spiders, shoots up into the air from below the green lantern. The swarms are quickly thinned by the heroes’ attacks, Finneal’s bursts of magic doing much to thin the swarms. Two swarms ultimately encompass Cedric and Belhorn, scurrying around, in and through their armor. Two large arachnids climb from the ragged hold and leap beyond the fighters to take on the mage and druid. With a bit of collateral damage, the bugs are ultimately squashed.

With time for a short breather, the heroes face at least two clear choices. Continue on past the blue lantern to the carved face above – or descend into the ragged chittering opening below the green lantern.

The Heroes end this session at Level 2 / 1442 XP (442 XP from this session)

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Catt’s 4E: Beneath Winterhaven

July 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Previously in Winterhaven…

The heroes had defended Winterhaven Keep against the onslaught of wave after wave of monsters. The turning point came when they slayed a young red dragon that had unceremoniously breached a main wall of the keep. With the hordes now entrenched for a drawn out siege, Lord Padraig has escorted the heroes to the crypts below the keep – a portion of which has also fallen away. He hopes that through the new-found tunnels below, the party can escape the siege and recruit help from an adventuring buddy, Dar Gremath, in the nearby town of Albridge.

The heroes start this session at Level 2 / 1000 XP!

And now…

Deep below Winterhaven Keep, the collapse of a stone floor and wall revealed a ragged hole in the earth that dropped into a lower open area. Dust still hung in the air from the recent cave-in. The heroes dimly heard the sound of quiet sighs coming from the darkness. Finneal lit up a stone and dropped it into the darkness, dimly illuminating a 30 foot drop into a worked stone hallway that extended northward into darkness. The hall below was quite large – four could easily walk abreast in it. It must have been a trick of the wind, but a faint breeze brought with it whispers – a hollow sighing that was almost life-like.

Wanting no part of a descent into an obviously unstable ruin, Mad Martigen and Akhan decided to trust their fates to scrabbling through the enemy line under the open skies. With luck, they’d meet up with the team on the other side. The rest of the party, reinforced with the recently knighted Cedric of Winterhaven, secured ropes and began their descent.

The hall before them extended northward into darkness. The walls bore mosaics of horizontal bands of simple geometric patterns at waist level. In places the bands revealed startling detail, but in others were eroded by the rigors of time. Flakes of ancient paint, hues of brilliant purple and dull mustard, clung to the walls, hinting at what must once have been a riot of color. Beyond the rubble from the collapsed wall above, a thin coat of dust coated the floor.

Just inside the darkened corridor, the hallway branched into two shallow unremarkable alcoves in the eastern and western walls. Continuing on, the hallway north intersected with another that ran east and west. The walls bore significant damage either from ancient quakes, storms or the age-old construction of the very Keep above. From behind the heroes the wind picked up, and a chorus of almost human whispers rose from the darkness.

Fifteen feet down the east passage, a huge pile of collapsed rubble blocked the passage from top to bottom. From the mass of stone and earth, it would have taken weeks to tunnel through the densely packed debris. The passage to the west ended in an alcove, empty except for an ancient and strange magical device resembling a standing mirror – now shattered.

Continuing north, the central hallway opened into a large chamber with grand wings that led to the east and west. The whispers from the intersecting passages became a chorus in this massive chamber, eerily echoing off the walls. To the west, three short stairs led to a wide marble dais, but the far end of the wing was obscured by darkness. Across the chamber to the north yawned a twenty-foot-wide open arch draped from top to bottom in translucent cobwebs. Columns framing the arch disappear upward into darkness. An eerie green light dimly flickered beyond the webs to the north, casting strange shadows about the chamber. To the east, huge slabs of cracked masonry and irregular piles of scattered debris choked the wing, giving the appearance of complete collapse. Burial alcoves, filled with bones were still visible among the rubble.

As Belhorn began to knock the cobwebs aside, two gargoyles dropped from the darkness above and ambushed the heroes. Amid the sudden rush of wings, a host of skeletons clawed their way out of the loose rubble and dirt. Two of these began to radiate heat and suddenly burst into flames! They launched fiery orbs at the party. After a pitched battle, the heroes were victorious but confounded by a single gargoyle, now reverted to statue form and resistant to damage. At the inventive prompting of Aranthis, the party hoisted a massive boulder above the creature. Upon taking damage, it emerged from its stone form and was quickly overcome.

The heroes found only rusty equipment on their foes. Soklo and Finneal thoroughly investigated the area within and beyond the rubble, finding hundreds of bones and bone fragments – and a decaying backpack. It contained an elaborate lantern of carved metal with indigo glass panes. They also found an intricately carved armband of unmistakable elven craftsmanship, bearing a repeating leaf motif (100gp) and what appears to be a marble index finger broken off a statue.

With time to investigate the west wing, Finneal discovered that the wide dais spanning the end of the passage was framed by a faded fresco that wraps around the south, west, and north walls. From the center of the dais, the wall painting made it appear that he’s stand within a massive room with seven short hallways radiating outward from him. A gleaming brightly colored lantern was painted as hanging from a chain at the end of each hallway. The lanterns spanned all the colors of the rainbow. Aranthis recalled a legend about seven warriors, each with a standard represented by a different color, fighting together to overcome the ancient forces of hell and chaos.

With a flash of magical fire, Finneal cleared the central arched passageway of cobwebs and the heroes made their way north toward the green flickering glow. A short way down the arched passage, a wide stairway descended into an immense domed chamber. The dome reached its apex about thirty feet over the center of the room. At the bottom of the stairs, a green-paned lantern containing what looked like a torch cast a weird, murky light about the room. Countless chips of glass and shiny bits of metal inset into the chamber’s domed ceiling reflected this light, giving the impression of green pale starlight. Motes of dust reflected the pale green light and looked almost like fireflies dancing in the air. Unlike the rest of the cairn, the room was completely silent.

Like the fresco above, seven short tunnels branched from the chamber in all directions, extending some thirty feet before ending in rounded walls. At the end of each passage, a thick chain dangled from a ceiling lost in darkness. The chains bore colorful but unlit lanterns, but two held nothing at all. Judging by the fresco, the red and indigo lanterns were missing. The heroes placed the indigo lantern in its proper place, leaving only one.

Directly below the peak of the dome, atop a circular platform sat a marble tomb. Carved into the lid was a milky white bas-relief figure. It was tall, bald, and carved to be cloaked in a simple garment of flowing cloth. Though the figure looked human, it struck the heroes as ancient. It’s left hand was curled into fist and the right was palm up, with the thumb turned in and all but the index finger (which was missing) extended toward the foot of the tomb. The figure was carved with an amulet at its neck, inscribed with an unusual rune. The marble finger was a perfect match for the broken digit, and showed that the index finger curls to the thumb, leaving three straight digits.

The heroes thoroughly investigated the end of the hallways and around each lantern.

Securing the green lantern and finding a flickering everburning torch inside, Belhorn returned it to its proper place at the end of the green hall. It casts a green pall into the domed chamber.

Aranthis found that two of the halls, the yellow and green ones, had a circular seam in the stone floor, about 5′ in diameter, under the lanterns . The ceiling of each was barely visible, 40 feet above.

Down the blue hall Soklo discovered the crumpled skeletal remains of a humanoid. The bones were quite old and networked with small fractures and breaks. The fractures were consistent with a hard fall. The ceiling seemed to be higher than the other passages (50 feet high). Upon close inspection, the heroes found a passage near the top that appeared to open to the northeast.

Belhorn and Aranthis climbed the chain to the top of the shaft and found a passage extending into the shadows to the northeast. Perhaps seventy feet away it abruptly ended in what looked like a stone carving of an enormous human face. As Aranthis approached the face, she found several long scratch marks on the floor, as if something had been dragged toward the dead fall behind. Suspecting a trap, she continued her approach. With a grinding noise, the eyes opened and a blast of colors assaulted her and Belhorn. Likewise, the mouth opened and a powerful wind began to blow from it. Despite the dazzling effect, Belhorn avoided being stunned and noticed that one color, green, was missing from the light show. He yelled to the group below to light all the lanterns. As they did, the dazzling lights focused down to a single color, red – the color of the one missing lantern.

Hoping to find the red lantern, Cedric ran to the sarcophagus and threw his shoulder to the lid. Upon lifting it an orange noxious gas escaped. The amulet on the lid flared with an orange light and, touching the gas, ignited. A quick rush of air followed by a hot burst of flame enveloped the dais and Cedric. After withstanding the fire burst, Cedric scoured the inside of the sarcophagus – but found it empty.

Dazed, Belhorn and Aranthis withstood the diminished lights and hurricane force wind to carefully retreat to the dead fall. Belhorn was able to set a grappling hook and begin his awkward descent with a stunned Aranthis under one arm. After a momentary slip, he caught the rope and avoided a deadly fall. The two descended to the waiting arms of the group below.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Catt’s 4E: The Siege of Winterhaven

July 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Deep in the peacefulness of the night hours, Akhan the Ranger became alert. The wooden chair in this small gatehouse in Winterhaven didn’t make as comfortable a resting place as he had first hoped. Muffled, from just outside the gatehouse, he had heard shuffling and low, urgent, guttural whispers. Something was not right. Climbing to the tower top, he looked out beyond the castle wall and was stunned by the sheer number of goblins, kobolds and orcs before him. With little hint and no warning, these normally unorganized and undisciplined rabble had not only gained a foot hold at the base of the wall, but were quietly positioning a crude battering ram to assault the gate! Looking around, he saw that the sentries on the western wall were all slain.

Across the keep, Soklo the Druid, awoke from an unsettling dream – a dream of whispers and thumps in the night. The stone wall at his back was cold to the touch. Reaching for a blanket, he felt only the dew-covered, short-cropped grass. Muffled, from just beyond the wall behind him, he also heard unfamiliar tramping and grunting. Upon cresting the wall and seeing the horde, he wasted no time calling an alarm to rouse the keep.

Aranthis the Bard awakened to the yells from the wall. The gentleman who owned the well-appointed rooms she had rested in for the night was already up and obviously shaken. At his urging, she too arose to the defense of the castle.

Taking up positions at the top of the walls, the trio began to defend the castle in earnest – felling goblins one after another.

Finneal the Wizard awoke to the sounds of the battle and children sobbing. The children of his good friend were huddled in a corner of the room and were looking fearfully at the door. With a quick word of comfort, he also took a position on the wall.

Dau’um the Cleric and Belhorn the Fighter awoke to a commotion. An authoritarian voice was urgently rousing men in the barracks. Through a groggy haze they made out the words “Attack” and “To Arms!” as the commander at arms threw helmets at sleeping men and dragged them from their bunks. They too took up defensive positions on the western wall.

A skittish horse almost trampled Martigen the mad Dwarf as it danced around the stable and through the hay where he made his bed the previous night. At a thundering boom that shakes the main gate, it rears up. Martigen, still reeling from the prior night’s revelry, ran to the gate to meet the force.

The party’s attacks and able leadership of the keep’s defenders quickly dealt with the immediate threat of the battering ram. They then turned to thinning the goblin troops scaling the wall. The goblin archers below release volley after volley at the top of the wall but were dealt harsh blows by the keep’s ballistae. As the dust settled, a sole minion fled toward the tree line – and was unceremoniously beheaded by an orc warlord as he tried to escape.

Having thwarted the initial onslaught, the defenders had time for a short rest. Surveying the damage below, almost 30 goblins lay at the base of the keep wall. Amongst them, Mad Martigen sat sharpening his axe. Two scattered piles of corpses, goblin archers, flanked the field of battle, having been decimated by the ballistae.

Surveying the troops amassed at the tree line, Akhan noticed that intermixed with the goblin rabble were kobolds and some more disciplined troops. Here and there small groups of hobgoblins, bugbears, orcs and even a few gnolls could be seen, segregated from the main force. He could pick out an orc warlord or two by the whips and blows they leveled on the goblin rabble. Forcing their troops to choose between the whips and the keep, the warlords inspired another charge at the walls.

Once again the party handily thinned out the attackers. Using the scaling ropes against the foes, Belhorn and Dau’um joined Martigen at the base of the castle walls to take the fight to the goblins. With this second charge turned aside, the warlords – one sorely wounded from a ballista bolt – slowly withdrew. The number of goblin dead now exceeded 70, with but a few more keep defenders slain. Having turned aside the charge, the defenders settled in for a second short rest.

Then the leaves beyond the tree line shook as something massive pushed its way through the forest. The trees at the edge of the dense forest toppled, and a huge serpentine form emerged from the brush. It spread a mighty pair of wings and with a tremendous leap, lumbered into the air – the force of the gusts sending nearby kobolds tumbling.

Aranthis noticed a handful of defenders break ranks and run for cover, disheartened at the sight of the red dragon. She saw this would leave the massive ballistae atop the turrets unmanned. With her encouraging words, she stemmed the tide of retreat and restored hope to the defenders – who for the most part returned to their posts.

The young red dragon dove toward the castle attempting to grab, bite, burn or otherwise dislodge defenders from the walls. With a fiery breath, one of the western towers erupted in flame. Embolden by their god gone to war, the kobold troop rushed to the attack.

Just then a youth in robes with a gnarled staff joined Finneal atop the western tower. Furiously casting his one spell, magic missile, at the dragon, he quickly succumbed to arrows. Finneal administered aid to the youth, saving him from a quick  death.

With various spells and attacks the party brought the dragon down from the skies. On more equal footing, they engaged the beast directly with axes, hammers and arrows.

In a last desperate attempt to flee, the dragon jumped aloft. At that moment Akhan fired a well-timed ballista bolt, followed by an arrow, at the dragon. The dragon now 40′ above the defenders took an ungainly lurch as the bolt lodged in its side, just below the wing. With the following arrow, that wing completely crumpled. Unable to control its flight, the dragon careened into the keep wall. With the tremendous impact, the western wall shuddered and collapsed. The dragon, stunned, tried to regain its feet in an awkward dance of fury and pain. The few remaining kobold troops, seeing that their god fallen, broke ranks and fled. The dragon’s vicious death throes were ended by attacks from Soklo, his bear and Dau’um.

Though stunned by the dragon’s death, the warlords spy the collapsed wall and send in an elite troop to take advantage of the new breach – two bugbears and a team of goblins.

On the field of battle before the castle of Winterhaven, the heroes stood alone and turned aside this final assault.

Their initial battle plan spoiled by the heroes, the larger force finally broke off and withdrew to the tree line to regain their strength. Akhan saw that they were erecting pickets and appeared to be settling in for the long haul. The garrison of the keep manned the breach in the wall while the folk of Winterhaven began hasty repairs.

At the heroes return, the defenders sent up a cheer and reveled in the successful defense of the keep. Amid their grimy and bloody faces were white-toothed smiles and even laughter as they jested about the dragon’s fateful dive.

“Ho, ho! It never saw that bolt a comin’! Hit ‘im like a hill giant’s stone, it did!”
“If ever the very stone of the wall could be dented, that woulda done it for sure.”
“Did ya see that muddled dance, he did!”

With the immediate danger turned aside, Lord Padraig approached. His obvious relief conflicted by the weight of rebuilding the keep’s defenses against the next inevitable assault.

“My friends, we couldn’t a held this castle without your heroic actions. You’ve bought us some time and for that, I’m sorely grateful. My men and I are in your debt.”

“However, I fear our victory may be short lived. Even now the vermin lurk just beyond the tree line, marshalling their strength – even though the loss o’ that flyin’ beastie is sure to have dealt them a serious blow!”

“We should be able to hold the breach, but now our need is to break this siege – and we won’t be doin’ that holed up like rats. I need ye to break through their ranks and rally the militia at Albridge. Find me old adventuring mate, Dar Gremath, and bring him to our aid.”

Just then a hand maiden ran up to Lord Padraig and whispered to him. With a grim look to the party, he bid them to follow. On the way, he yelled to one of the men at arms “Throw open the keep’s armory and bring me the best o’ what we got!”

As they wound their way to the lowest floor of the keep, Lord Padraig shared.

“A wall and portion of the floor deep below the keep has given way. I fear it’s been undermined by tha horde.”

However, upon arrival it was sure that the expanse below was not a newly dug tunnel.

Just then from behind Lord Padraig, a kindly quiet ancient man approached, intoning to himself in a quiet whisper.

“The hopes of men torn with woe.
longed for freedom from their foe.
The seven best, bold and bright,
tasked to end the hated blight.”

Arnathis recognized it as an ancient verse, sometimes still quoted as part of a child’s rhyme.

Padraig, with deference, introduced the old man as Father Zachary, the spiritual leader of Winterhaven.

Father Zachary stepped to Finneal with a gnarled staff in his hands. His eyes wet and his robes blood stained.

“Twas my son whom you saved. He asked I give this to thee. Though he has lost heart for battle perhaps it may still be of some service.”

With that he presented a staff to Finneal.

The ragged hole before them dropped away into darkness, providing access down into some lower open area. Dust still hung in the air from the recent collapse of the wall.

Examining the hole below, Lord Padraig turned to the heroes with a glint in his eye and laid out his newly formed plan.

“Tho’ curious this may be, it may be tha break we’re lookin’ for. With some luck the chambers below will lead beyond the line and give ye clear passage to Albridge. If ye’ll but agree to rally them to our aid, you can take these arms and my blessing. We’ll defend the walls ’til your return!”

The Heroes end this session at Level 2 / 1000 XP!

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Catt’s 4E: House Rules

July 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Following is a running list of house rules for the campaign. I’ll expand it as the need arises.

  1. The Rules Compendium is the guidebook for rules debates.
  2. Try anything. It may take some exceptional rolls to pull it off, but go ahead and swing from that chandelier or topple that statue!
  3. You can interact with most surroundings with a minor action. Use this to provide combat advantage or a bonus to attack or defense. Flip over furniture or toss a mug!
  4. Magic is rarely in common use with the masses. It is both respected and feared.
  5. Teleport requires Line of Effect. You have to physical get to a location to “teleport” there.
  6. In 4E, suffocation or drowning requires 30 rounds without air before your first Endurance check. This house rule reduces this time by 1 round for each round that you take a standard action. Therefore, if you take only move, minor and free actions you can go the full 30, but if you always take a full complement of actions (double moves, attacks, etc) you can go only 15.
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