Last week I presented the first part of my home-brew D&D 5e adventure, “A Shadow in the Woods.” The adventurers got wrapped up in a complicated plot of murder and real estate when they were attacked by a Banderhob, a monster summoned from the Shadowfell to kill a particular target. After securing its target, the group prepared to seek out its origin and return it to its proper plane of existence…
The group decided to send Lorana to Fonken, the town sage, to keep her safe. They would then into the swamp to find the witch, carrying the locket in the hopes the Banderhob would follow them. They’d figure out the rest later.
After resting, the group headed into the swamp. [at this point, we were running out of time in our gaming session, so I moved quickly through several encounters meant to establish the tone]. They found signs of corruption that didn’t match the townsfolk’s pleasant descriptions of the swamp, like a dug-up tomb, an abandoned hut, and a strange batlike creature that didn’t belong in this world (a darkmantle, from Shadowfell). The group’s mood sagged, and Jon and Rogar both became apathetic, which Adrian realized was a sign of exposure to Shadowfell.
The group came out into a clearing full of petrified soldiers [a random encounter from the DMG]. At the far end, they saw a weird triangular stone hut, in front of which stood an old woman.
Assuming she was the witch, the group accused her of summoning the Banderhob (they’d gotten tired of negotiation). She denied it, and started to go back in the hut when Rogar fired an arrow at her. It missed, but enraged her, and she turned into her true form; a night hag.
Combat broke out, and the group pretty easily defeated her [either I got the CR wrong or I didn’t use all of her abilities]. Before they could kill her, she cast plane shift and disappeared into the ether. Inside, the group found some treasure, filthy and disgusting cooking supplies and bedding, and a weird trapdoor in the wall. At this point, Rogar realized they were in the top level of a castle that had sunk diagonally into the swamp. After taking a short rest, the group headed “down” into the castle.
While investigating the hut, Jon looked into one of the witch’s notebooks; something he saw in there terrified him, and he ran screaming into the swamp. A few minutes later, a dragonborn fighter, Balazar, walked out of the swamp to see what the cleric was running from. He decided to join the group as they ventured into the castle [we had a player switch-out]. Adrian looked at other notebooks, and found indications the hag had opened a portal to Shadowfell housed in the ruins of the castle, and used Riben’s request as an opportunity to test it.
Because of the weird angles, they had a little trouble keeping oriented, but Lenore was able to guide them. At the bottom, the corridor twisted as it went on in a confusing manner, and here and there mud had broken through. The group came to a dead-end blocked by mud; Lenore hit it with her sword, and a mud flow knocked her off her feet, causing minimal damage but covering her in mud. The group decided to be more careful.
They headed further in, and walking through an open door, stumbled on a man in splint armor (a veteran), wielding two longswords. He threatened them, telling them to give him their gold or he’d kill them. The group scoffed, and charged. They didn’t see the weretiger hiding in the shadows, who began firing his bow.
Bark took some serious hits from the weretiger, but the group managed to surround the veteran and take him down. The weretiger then fled, dodging the group’s blows as he ran by them into the corridor. Rogar caught up with him and tackled the weretiger to the ground, but the weretiger threw him off and ran around a corner. When the group caught up, they saw he had climbed up a mudslide that blocked the corridor and clawed his way into the mud.
Lenore decided she’d try to follow him. She climbed up easily enough, but grabbed onto a load-bearing chunk of mud that caused the entire mudflow to collapse on her, so she was mud-covered again [I ruled it would require strength and intelligence checks to climb and figure out how not to bring down the mudflow; she succeeded in the strength and failed on intelligence]. The group gave up on the weretiger, and pushed on.
They arrived at a pristine library; a quick search revealed a few spell scrolls. Moving on, they came on a room that looked like a workshop, but one wall had collapsed and a lava flow covered half the room, with a chunk of floor serving as a bridge to a door at the other end.
The group headed towards the bridge when they were suddenly attacked by the bat-like creatures they encountered outside. These darkmantles cast darkness as they fall on their targets, trying to wrap around their head and smother them. Lenore and Bark were both hit, while the other darkmantles fell to the ground. Rogar and Balazar stomped a few, then helped Bark free himself as Lenore tore hers off. Lenore tried to grab one of the darkmantles as it flew away but she missed and nearly fell off the bridge; she grabbed a piece of rock, but slipped on that as well and would have plunged into the lava if Rogar hadn’t grabbed her [a few failed dexterity checks]. The group killed the rest of the darkmantles and moved on.
They descended further into the castle, the corridor confusingly twisting and rising and falling in an unnatural manner. At one point, the wall looked weak and brittle, but they left that alone. The group came to a room in which several ghouls and a ghast were lurking and easily killed them. They found a closed-up planar portal, and thought they may be close to a portal to Shadowfell.
The group found another room that looked like an armory, but was submerged in ankle-deep water. While exploring, Adrian stepped into an obscured chasm and sunk; Rogar pulled him out, but not before he gulped in some of the dirty water and became sickened. The group explored a bit more, wisely deciding to map the increasingly twisted and confusing corridors, before coming into a large, circular room.
In the center of the room was another planar portal, this one pulsing with liquid shadow; the portal to Shadowfell. The room had signs of ancient work; an alchemical apparatus in one side, and a guard table and arms rack in another. The adventurers prepared themselves for the Banderhob to arrive, taking a short rest.
It eventually appeared out of the shadows of the doorway, strode into the room, and attacked. It bit Bark, half-swallowing him as the rest of the group surrounded it. Bark turned into a bear to try and break out, but remained stuck. Eventually, Balazar helped him get out. The group then surrounded the Banderhob and struck it until it disappeared into shadow, although not before several of them took serious hits.
Before they could recover, the portal pulsed and shot out tendrils of shadow, which formed into the Banderhob. As it moved to attack, a swarm of darkmantles flew out. The group fought off both when Lenore decided to try and push the Banderhob into the portal. Her effort succeeded and it fell in; after they threw in Lorana’s locket the portal closed [this unexpectedly cut short my boss battle, see my last post].
Suddenly, the tower started shifting and rumbling; the group heard a noise Bark identified as similar to quicksand. They realized it was sinking into the mud, and ran. Using their map, they retracted their steps even though the castle was repeatedly twisting and bucking around them. At one point while climbing a set of stairs the castle bucked up and Rogar flew back down the hallway as the rest of the group held on; he told them to keep going, and they ran, with Rogar trying to catch up behind them. At another point a spray of mud hit Balazar and nearly knocked him out, but the rest of the group helped him along.
Finally, they made it to the passage back into the witch’s hut. As they were climbing out the castle pitched forwards, and Adrian flew into the wall, nearly knocking himself out. The other grabbed him and dragged him into the hut. [I used a table with random directions the castle pitched, and had the players roll dexterity or strength checks to hold on]
Things got worse when they made it to the witch’s hut. The whole castle starting spinning dizzyingly and sinking. One window opened up to the outside but it was obscured by mud when the castle rotated. The group decided to start jumping out. Bark went first, and let a rope back into the hut. Lenore managed to climb out before the rope got tangled in the spinning. Balazar then jumped out, and Adrian used misty step to teleport out when the ground was in view. This left Rogar. As the castle was about to sink into the mud he leapt…and missed, slamming into the wall. He then leapt again as the last of the daylight appeared through the window…and missed again [two bad acrobatics checks]. The castle was now completely submerged, still spinning.
Rogar waited till the window was close to what he thought was the surface and jumped again, clawing his way out of the mud [I didn’t want to let the character die]
The group was now out, and safe. The castle sunk, the ground shuddered, and all the mud displaced by the castle’s movement sprayed over the group, covering them completely. They returned to Red Hill, where—after a natural 1 on a negotiation role—they were driven out of town as troublemakers.
A little richer from the treasure they found, but covered in mud, the group continued on their way.
Next week I’ll have thoughts on creating and running this adventure.