Last week I presented the first part of my experience with “A Great Upheaval,” the introductory adventure from last year’s Storm King’s Thunder campaign for fifth edition D&D. We ran this at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comics in Williston, VT. At the table were (character names): Adrian, a half-elf warlock; Jon, a human cleric of Lathander; Bark, a forest Gnome druid; and Rogar, a Dragonborn Ranger. Below is the rest of the walkthrough; I included notes in [brackets] to indicate the gameplay mechanics behind a few of the more notable events.
…The group decides to go to sleep then head to the caves in the morning. Adrian steps outside for some fresh evening air, and notices seven humans on horseback riding to the village across the river. He calls for the others, and Jon yells out a greeting to the riders. The riders react with surprise, but tell the party to meet them in the center of the town; the leader of the riders adds a threatening demand to keep their hands where they can see them.
The party thinks better of this, and waits at their end of the broken bridge, ready. Eventually the riders approach from the town, with the woman they met in the inn riding behind their leader. The woman reveals they are members of the Zhentarim. Because the group didn’t harm her, she tells them that they can leave the village safely and allow the Zhentarim to occupy it. The group doesn’t even need to debate; they refuse. Jon tries to launch a surprise spell attack, but fails, and combat began.
The two exchange a few rounds of ranged attacks. One of the bandits falls and Rogar is wounded. The leader of the Zhentarim decides to jump across the bridge and attack at melee range. He slips as he jumps and falls prone right in front of the group [he is a tough foe, so I thought this would make for a good battle. But he failed his acrobatics check]. The group proceeds to beat him up—Jon smacks him with a mace, Rogar burns him with his dragon breath, and Adrian hits him with an eldritch blast. Finally the woman asks them to stop, and tries to negotiate. The party agrees to keep the leader safe, and the Zhenatrim and the party would leave together in the morning so they can all keep an eye on the others.
The next morning, Adrian steps outside again for some fresh air, and sees a group of 20 orcs rush out of the forest, heading towards the village. He calls the party out just as the Zhentarim woman calls to them from the other side of the bridge. She suggests they join forces to stop the orcs, but asks for her leader back. The group agrees. Rogar tosses him, misjudges the distance [failed athletics check] and the still-bound Zhentarim leader plunges into the river and drowns. The woman is stunned, but retreats back into the town to prepare defenses.
The Zhentarim had raised the drawbridge so the orcs try and swim across the river and climb the town’s walls, but fail, losing several in the process thanks to the Zhentarim firing from the town. The group and the orcs exchange fire, killing several more of the orcs until the orc’s war chief gets angry and swims across the moat. He manages to climb up to the group and seriously wound Rogar before the rest of the group gang up on him and kill him. The orcs across the bank try to help, with the orc shaman casting spiritual weapon to summon an spear and attack, but they fail. After a few more orcs are killed by the Zhentarim, they flee back into the woods.
Suddenly a hail of arrows hits the group from the other side of the bridge; the Zhentarim—angered at the death of their leader or maybe even planning this all along—are attacking. Rogar is further wounded before Jon casts guiding bolt on the woman (now in charge of the Zhentarim). The damage is so intense she is disintegrated, and the rest of the Zhentarim flee.
After taking another long rest, the group heads to the Dripping Caves to try and save the remaining villagers. They find the cave mouth in a hill, and explore around its perimeter. The group finds a stream flowing into the hill from the west and follow this inside to try and avoid detection.
They enter a low-ceilinged room with a pool into which the stream was emptying. All members of the party had nightvision except Jon, so he cast light on a stone and kept it hidden, revealing it only momentarily to look at his surroundings. They follow a passage north, passing a room sealed with a boulder (and making note to return to that room later) and come out into a large chamber.
Bark sneaks forward to explore. He sees a large goblin (assumedly Boss Hark) and two other goblins watching some giant rats eat something. The rest of the group sneaks up on the goblins and they all launch a surprise attack on Boss Hark. They manage to kill him before he can respond. The other goblins run away screaming, while the rats attack and were quickly defeated [this encounter felt way too easy, but I think it’s because all four rolled well on their surprise attacks].
The group hears screaming from the north. They find Lady Nandar’s maid tied up. She tells them about their capture; the goblins held the villagers in a room to the east and were gradually bringing them out to eat.
The party tells her to stay out of sight, while they follow the path of the fleeing goblins to the east. They come into a large chamber to see two groups of goblins. One group of five was shouting at another group of two that was joined by two ogres. [this was some improvisation on my part-I figured that the fleeing goblins would rouse the rest of the caves. In the adventure, one goblin would have been willing to betray Boss Hark to the party so I decided to have him rally half of the survivors to his side]
Adrian decides to try and trick the goblins into freeing the prisoners. He casts disguise self to make him look like the dead goblin boss; he then planned to walk into the room and order the goblins to free the prisoners. Jon taught him a few goblin phrases to use. Unfortunately, he became a little stressed and messed up, shouting at the goblins in elvish. The sight of their dead leader shouting at them in elvish enraged the goblins, and they attacked [Adrian rolled a 1 on his performance check].
The ogres rushed forward and pummeled Rogar, nearly killing him. Meanwhile, the goblins swarmed Adrian over his slights to their leader and nearly took him down as well. Bark turned into a giant spider [using his druid power] and attacked the ogres, managing to wound them. The group concentrated on the ogres, eventually killing both of them, even though everyone was seriously injured.
The surviving goblins, meanwhile, pulled away from the battle. Their leader said they just wanted Boss Hark overthrown, and didn’t want to keep harming the prisoners. The group, weary of fighting, agreed to let them go.
They then rescued the surviving villagers, gathered Boss Hark’s treasure (in the room behind the boulder) and returned to Nightstone. While there was no reward left to give them, they were cheered with a great feast. At the end of it, Morak pulls them aside and asks if they will travel to the village of Triboar to pass on the news of the death of his friend Luthag—who ran the Lionshield Coster—to his family. The group agrees and, after resting and recovering from their wounds, sets out into the wilderness.
[the printed adventure ends with a cloud giant taking the adventurers aboard his castle. We ran out of time so I thought it best to just end with rescuing the villagers.]
Thoughts: this was a great adventure, and I wish I had been running sessions when the Storm King’s Thunder campaign was active. It included all different aspects of gameplay—exploration, social interaction, combat—to introduce new players to the game. It also gave players a lot of freedom to choose how to proceed and had some great foreshadowing of the rest of the campaign. One issue I had is that it leveled up the characters too quickly. I know this was the point—to get them ready for the main adventure—but characters who finished the whole adventure would end up with 5th level characters they barely knew. Maybe future campaigns should be set to begin the main adventure at level 3.