Out of the Abyss walkthrough: Session 2-The Darklake

My group recently completed the second session of Out of the Abyss, the great D&D 5e campaign set in the Underdark (here are writeups for session 1). At the table we had returning players Zinaella (a half-elf paladin), Navarre (a half-elf rogue), Brynn (a gnome wizard), and Barakus (a tiefling rogue). Because of scheduling conflicts, Varys (half-drow ranger) couldn’t make it, so he was replaced by Kerasa (dwarf fighter).

In the last session, the group escaped from drow captivity thank to a well-timed demon attack. They fled into the Underdark with some NPCs in tow, heading to the Kuo-Toa city of Sloobludoop. While there, they were embroiled in local politics, but this all fell apart when Demogorgon, the demon lord, rose from the depths of the Darklake and attacked. In the chaos the group stole a boat and sailed away from the destruction…

As they were sailing into the Darklake, Varys—who had been stricken with madness when Demogorgon arose—started shrieking about “tentacles in the deep” and leapt off the boat, swimming to shore. The group didn’t have time to react, and lost sight of him in the gloom. Shortly after that, they saw a dwarf floating in the lake, holding onto a barrel. They pulled her aboard, made some introductions, and she decided to stick with them [this is how I handled the player changes]

The group now had to decide where to go. Stool—a myconid sprout—wanted to return to his home, Neverlight Grove. Sarith, a dour drow, agreed, suggesting that would be a good place of refuge. Buppido, a derro, wanted to return home to the duergar city of Gracklestugh instead. Topsy didn’t speak up. The group deliberated, and decided to head for Neverlight Grove first to recover, then they’d move on to Gracklestugh.

Sarith knew the Darklake well, so he headed to the bow of the ship to navigate, while Zinaella—formerly a sailor—took the tiller. The rest of the group manned the oars or headed down to the cargo hold, where they found a recent catch of quippers—a kind of edible piranha. Barakus tried to preserve some of them as supplies for the journey.

Sarith guided the group into a tunnel in the general direction of Neverlight Grove, and they sailed for the rest of the day, dropping the anchor at night. They took turns with the watch, and during Brynn’s shift three darkmantles hiding on the cavern ceiling attack. Two managed to land on sleeping party members, while the third—heading for Brynn—missed spectacularly and landed in the water. The group woke up, dislodging the darkmantles from their friends, although Barakus fell into the river while trying to get one off of his face. Kerasa attempted to hold on to one for a snack [I was a little unsure if they’re edible, but I like to encourage creativity] but the beast broke free of her grip so she had to kill it. The group fished it out, killed the darkmantles, and they moved on.

They sailed on for another day or so till Sarith told them they’re reaching the end of this tunnel. The current picked up, and up ahead they saw whitecaps, indicating shallow rocks that could damage the ship [this is the random encounter ‘stoneteeth’]. As they were preparing to enter the rough passage, they noticed a ship capsized halfway through the stoneteeth, and a kuo-toa standing on it calling for help. Zinaella, being a good paladin, wanted to help, and the group agreed.

They managed to steer the boat through the stoneteeth and help the kuo-toa, who had fled his city after the demon attack. He was grateful for their help, and climbed aboard. The group then had to steer the boat back into the channel and out of the tunnel, while avoiding the stoneteeth. They managed the first navigation, but faulty rowing by Barakus and Brynn led them to hit some of the rocks on the way out, damaging the boat.

The group then entered a broad lake, and found a good spot to anchor for the night. The next day they crossed the lake, approaching an island near the mouth of the next tunnel they’ll need to enter. As they drew near, Zinaella heard a female voice calling out for help, and got an image of a tomb on the island. He said nothing, and the voice appeared to Kerasa as well. She told the group, and they decided to investigate.

They pulled the boat up on shore, and ran into a problem. Topsy wanted to join the group, leaving Sarith, Buppido and a kuo-toa they barely knew to watch over the boat and Stool. The group didn’t really trust them, and considered leaving someone behind to keep watch. They thought they may leave them too weak to explore the island, though, so they tried to convince Sarith and Buppido not to try anything, and set off. Sarith, who was already getting tired of the group’s lack of appreciation for his navigation skills, became a little more hostile after this.

The group climbed up a hill on the island where they saw a structure. They approached it, and no one noticed Topsy slip away. It looked like an old tomb, with a bronze door green with age. The group went inside.

Descending into the tomb, they found carvings reminiscent of Netherese design [Brynn rolled a history check], some of which had been defaced. They then found two rooms—one with four sarcaphogi and one with one large one. The group split up to investigate.

Brynn and Kerasa were investigating the room with the four sarcophagi when Brynn found one was one rollers, concealing an exist. She pushed it aside…and four specters rose out of the sarcophagi and attacked.

Kerasa struggled due to the normal weapons resistance of the undead, but managed to distract them enough to allow Brynn to cast some spells. The rest of the group rushed in after hearing the calls for help and engaged the specters. It was a struggle, thanks to the damage resistance and the specter’s ability to lower hit point maximums; Barakus fell and Brynn nearly did as well before the undead creatures were defeated. Zinaella made liberal use of his divine smites, which helped.

The group healed their wounded, and looked at the moving sarcophagus. They found it opened a passage leading further down into the structure, so they headed in. The passage ended in another room with an ornate tomb. Navarre went to investigate (and possibly pocket any treasures he found) when a female elf wraith rose out of the tomb, cried out that the party would soon join her in death, and attacked.

This seemed like it might be it for the party, as their normal attacks weren’t working and Brynn and Zinaella had used up most of their spells. But then everyone heard a female voice calling on them to look in the sarcaphogus for help. Navarre reached in, and found the hilt of a sword. When he grasped it, a beam of light shot out. He struck the wraith with it, and she recoiled in horror and pain.

With this newfound help the group defeated the wraith, although they still struggled; many were near death by the time she dissolved. They searched the room, found some useful treasures—particularly a necklace of fireballs, which Brynn gladly took—and returned to the boat.

The group continued on into the Darklake, entering another narrow tunnel. At one point during the night a swarm of quippers swam by, and Barakus—who was on watch—caught a net-full for more food. They continued through the tunnel, out into another broad lake, and then a final tunnel that Sarith said would lead them to the shore near Neverlight grove. They ran into a little trouble here, as there were few of the spring-fed streams they’d relied on for drinking water, and the group became dehydrated [they took one level of exhaustion]

After about a day, the river broadened into a pool that was rather shallow. As the group worked the boat forward through this, the water rose into a terrifying form and a water weird attacked. It grabbed Kerasa and pulled her towards the water, but she managed to break free while the rest of the group wounded the elemental. The water weird snatched Barakus, though, dragging him under water. Thankfully it was nearly destroyed, and he swam up after it disappeared.

Barakus noticed something under the water, though, and he and Navarre swam down. They found a tomb, with a sarcaphogus inside. The two managed to open up the sarcaphogus; inside they saw numerous gems, but were more focused on the mummy that opened its eyes and reached out for them. Deciding the gems weren’t worth it, the two swam back to the surface, shouting for the group to keep going.

After another day, Sarith said they should be nearing the passage to shore. Suddenly the current picked up, and some of the group heard a roaring noise they knew could only be one thing: a waterfall. Sarith started insisting this waterfall wasn’t there the last time he came this way, but no one really cared. They tried to figure out how to survive.

A quick scan of the area showed there was no way around it; they needed to figure out a way to get the boat over the falls. The group began debating the best way to do this, and decided that emptying out their water barrels and riding them over would be the safest [I didn’t quite agree, but that ended up not mattering, as you’ll see…]. But they took too long to decide, and the boat tipped over the edge [as I did in the first session, I set a timer during time-sensitive moments when the group was dithering]

Zinaella used his expertise in sailing to instruct the crew, but his leadership qualities suffered a bit and they didn’t completely follow his directions [I had the player roll for survival—to know how to control the ship—and charisma to guide the others; he failed the second roll]. The group failed to keep the boat steady and it capsized on the way down. [the encounter in the book mentioned giving the group a chance to find another path, but I thought this was a good climax for their Darklake journeys]

Everyone managed to swim to safety except for Barakus, the kuo-toa and Buppido, who were all trapped by debris as the boat broke up. Kerasa and Zinaella swam in to save them, while Navarre tried to gather what treasure he could. After everyone was safe, they saw they were in a waterfall-fed pool by a narrow beach. The group swam ashore, gathered their wits, and headed out into the Underdark….

Tune in next week for the conclusion of our second session of Out of the Abyss.

Issues with Star Wars: Force and Destiny characters

This is a wonky post, but hopefully it illustrates a broader point about character design in games.

My former gaming group had for sometime alternated between D&D 5th edition and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Edge of the Empire focuses on the shadier side of Star Wars, with characters wo are smugglers, scoundrels and explorers. Recently, Fantasy Flight released Force and Destiny, which is focused on Jedi-esque characters using the force, which is only a minor part of Edge of the Empire.

Character creation in these games is rather different from D&D. Players start with a set amount of XP based on the race they chose. The player then chooses a career and specialization; a career is similar to a D&D class like paladin, while specialization is like the specific oaths that paladins can take. In Force and Destiny, for example, one career is Guardian; specializations include peacekeeper, protector and Soresu defender (a Jedi training).

After choosing race, career and specialization, a player must buy attributes and skills. This where the career and specialization come in. The specialization and career you choose gives you certain “career skills,” which a player can “buy” relatively cheaply with XP. Players can also buy “non-career skills”–other skills not included in their career–for more XP. And players can buy “talents”–specific upgradeable powers–that depend on their specialization.

Hopefully that’s kind of clear. Basically, the classes are very customizable, but career/specialization push you in certain directions.

Ok, now to the game. Force and Destiny (F&D) has an interesting set-up. You aren’t playing as parties of Jedi Knights, although this may be possible at higher levels. Instead, player characters are “force sensitives,” people with some affinity for force use. They have a variety of careers—pilots, scouts, warriors—and can add force powers and eventually Jedi-like lightsaber training as they gain XP.

So far so good. But as we were putting together a party we kept running into problems. None of us could find a character we were completely comfortable with. And we kept running into issues with party balance. We always tried to calibrate character creation so everyone’s PC has a unique role and nothing important is left out. But we kept struggling. No one was really specialized enough in information gathering. Those of us with combat-focused characters, like me, found ourselves with little to do outside of combat.

And this wasn’t just a rookie mistake. We’d all done this before, and we tried to work out a good party. It kind of felt like there was something with the character creation process that was causing complications.

So we looked into this, and found it. The characters were just a little off.

First, a lot of the career-specialization skills were either oddly mismatched or redundant. The Starfighter specialization had every piloting-related skill as career—piloting, of course, but also astrogation and gunnery. This makes sense if your PC is flying an X-wing, but that barely ever happens in the game. And when you’re on a freighter-type vessel—the usual way to get around space—one person has all the skills needed but can’t use all of them at once. So you either have redundancy—two astrogaters—or are missing important skills.

The Guardian specialization has career skills related to melee combat and medicine. This kind of made sense, but the attributes needed for melee and related skills (brawn, discipline) are not at all complementary with the skill for medicine, intellect. So you either have a character with weak stats in both or who isn’t making use of their character’s full potential.

One more example, the Peacekeeper. The Peacekeeper’s career skills make use of Brawn and Willpower attributes. But all the talents in the talent tree related to leadership checks, which depend on Presence. So again, characters will have trouble balancing this out.

Of course, the Star Wars RPGs’ process lets you customize your character. If you want piloting skills but that isn’t a career skill for your character, you can still take the skills, they just cost more. And you don’t necessarily need to make use of all the skills and talents for a specialization. So all these downsides could be overcome by spending XP for non-career skills or ignoring clashing elements of character design.

But that kind of defeats the purpose of the class system. If we can just have infinitely customizable classes, let’s use a system like Shadowrun’s or the Firefly/Serenity RPG’s. If there are classes, they should be playable. Star Wars character creation system is kind of halfway between D&Ds—with little customizability outside class options or multi-classing—and the games I just mentioned that are very customizable. Maybe in the end it’s an uneasy balance.

Origin Stories: Dorn, part 2: mechanics

Last week I discussed the backstory of Dorn, a Neutral Good Oath of the Ancients Paladin for D&D. This week I’ll go over how I created the character.

Dorn was a lot of fun for me. My group was rebooting with new characters, and I wanted to play a paladin. But I was excited to try out some of the new paladin options in the 5e PHB, and settled on the Oath of the Ancients paladin. This is kind of a Green Knight paladin, a mix of the regular paladin and druid, and seemed interesting.

Dorn is an example of the stats driving character backstory, rather than the other way around, so may be an interesting model for players who are struggling to come up with a good character concept.

For this character, I tried rolling the stats instead of using the fixed numbers—you roll six sets of four six-sided dice, drop the lowest for each, add each remaining set of three up and and then assign them. This can give you great stats if you roll three sixes, but also pretty mediocre ones. I ended up with some good stats, but also a pretty low one (a 6).

As he’s a front-line fighter, I prioritized Strength, and also had a high Charisma (as this is the most important stat for a Paladin). My lowest stat was intelligence, as I didn’t think I would be using it much.

I then thought about the kind of character with these stats. He’d be a powerful personality and strong, but not incredibly smart. The default background choice for paladin—noble—didn’t really fit here, so I went with folk hero. This is a villager who does some great deed, like saving his village or overthrowing a tyrant, before going out adventuring. I thought a well-meaning but simple villager sounded right for Dorn.

For race, I chose variant human—which gets two bonus points for stats, an extra skill, and a feat. I knew I wanted him to be a human, and it’s hard to turn down that feat. For the feat, I chose charger; this cool-sounding feat gives you an attack bonus when you charge an enemy. Since I envisioned him as an attack-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy, charging into battle seemed appropriate. For skills, I mixed regular paladin ones—medicine, athletics, perception—with some outdoorsy one from his folk hero background, specifically survival and animal handling.

Finally, I had to choose spells. I picked a few of the standard paladin ones—cure wound, sheild of faith, protection from evil, and aid. But I wanted to make use of the extra nature-themed spells that come with the Oath of the Ancients build, so I used things like speak with animals (which sounds cool, but I never used it), misty step (which lets you basically teleport through mist), and moonbeam, a kind of laserbeam that shoots down from the sky.

So you can kind of see how I put Dorn’s backstory together. I knew I wanted an Oath of the Ancients Paladin as a front-line fighter, and when I rolled the stats I had a powerful but dumb fighter. So I came up with the idea of a simple folk hero. One of the options for his defining moment is defeating  a monster, which inspired me to think of the goddess granting him her favor when he stood against the destroyer of nature.

Even though I didn’t go in with a fully-fleshed out character, I made sure to come up with a three-dimensional background for Dorn as I created him, which made him a lot of fun to play.

Origin Story: Dorn

In this Origin Stories series, I’ll be discussing Dorn. Dorn was my second character I created for 5e D&D. As the first was for a short-lived campaign, I consider him the beginning of my 5e adventures in a way. He was a Lawful Neutral Oath of the Ancients Paladin; nothing at all like I usually play, which was great.

As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 (next week) is the character creation mechanics.

Dorn grew up in a small village near Neverwinter, deep in the Mere of Dead Men. He worked his uncle’s tavern, helped keep the drunks in line, and always dreamed of something bigger. Dorn was not very intelligent, but was strong and gregarious. Most people liked him, although some grew irritable with his lack of attention and shallow thinking. Dorn’s chance for greatness came when a fiend was reported to be rampaging through the forest nearby, heading to the village. Dorn joined the militia, and headed out to stop it.

Unsurprisingly, a spawn of hell proved more powerful than a village militia. Everyone fell except Dorn, who still stood against the fiend, clutching his dead father’s longsword. At this moment, Mielikki—the goddess of forests—noticed his stand in defense of her realm, and granted Dorn her favor. Suddenly infused with holy fey power, Dorn defeated the fiend.

He returned to his village a hero, and used his new powers to defend his village, all the while continuing to brew his famous ale. Eventually, Mielikki wanted to collect on her investment in Dorn, and sent one of her Shadoweirs—paladins sworn to serve her—to Dorn’s village to recruit him to her cause. Dorn jumped at the chance to leave his village on an adventure, and followed the Shadoweir. He was soon sent to join the Order of the Gauntlet, to help defend good in the world in line with Mielikki’s teaching…

Out of the Abyss Walkthrough session 1, part 2

Last week I presented the first part of my walkthrough on our first session of D&D’s “Out of the Abyss.” The group escaped their drow prison in the midst of a demon attack and headed into the Underdark…

[I chose to narrate their travels through the Underdark with just a few random encounters to keep it moving along; the alternate was to roll twice a day. But I did have the group roll daily for foraging and navigation. I’ll roll for more random encounters in future travels].

The group stumbled through the tunnels under Shuushar’s lead. At one point they climbed down a cliff face thanks to a well-placed ladder—which they had Derendil tear down—and heard screams of terror in the distance down a side passage. They generally managed to find enough food and water thanks to occasional groves of fungus.

After a few days, they came to a narrow passage with two gas spores (fungal reanimations of Beholders) blocking their way. Brynn approached and cast burning hands on one. It promptly exploded, but the burst of spores it sent out knocked her unconscious and close to death. The rest of the group opened fire with their ranged weapons and killed the second spore. As they did, they all got a burst of memory; they saw a Beholder chasing some deep gnomes into a ruined elvish temple that had sunlight streaming in (gas spores sometimes release memories of their Beholder lives). Zenaella healed Brynn, including the disease she picked up from the spores, and they moved out.

The group continued on for a few more days without incident, although they struggled to find food and became exhausted [they gained one level of exhaustion]. Suddenly, a steam vent broke open and Navarre was hit with the steam, severely wounding him. He was still walking though, and they continued on.

As the group approached Slubbladoop, Shuushar became excited, but the group wanted him to go first and make sure they could enter peacefully. He told them he was not very welcome there—thanks to his pacifist teaching—and he’d prefer the group as backup. The group was a little uneasy–and irked, as Shuushar hadn’t mentioned this yet–but they continued.

After another hour they were surrounded by a kuo-toa raiding party. The group was wounded and exhausted, and found themselves overwhelmed as the kuo-toa attacked. Several of the group went down, and it looked like they were about to be captured, when a rain of spears came out of nowhere. Another group of kuo-toa killed the landing party and ran up to the group.

This group was led by the archpriest of the Deep Mother, the kuo-toa god. He said his daughter recently had a vision of the Deep Father. She denounced their ancient traditions, gathering followers of the Deep Father and conducting blood sacrifices. He asked the group for help. He would present them as fake offerings, and when his daughter was distracted, he would attack her with his followers.

The adventurers were skeptical, and pressed him for some assurance they would be safe (and actually receive a reward). He wasn’t very comforting, but they did get a sense he wasn’t lying. [this was a difficult encounter, because as far as I could tell there wasn’t much for the players to do but follow along, unless they really screwed up and attacked].

The kuo-toa led the group through their chaotic and filthy city. They passed the docks, where numerous sturdy ships were moored, and came to the priest’s quarters near the Deep Mother shrine. There they waited for a bit, managing to get a short rest, before they were summoned to appear before the Deep Father.

They were escorted out, and came to the shrine, a grotesque creation made up several dead aquatic features tied together, on a platform over the Darklake, with a blood-stained grate below it. The sacrifices occurred there, and their blood flowed into the Darklake below.

The priestess began the ritual when, suddenly, her father attacked. The entire area broke out in a chaotic melee. As the kuo-toa fought, the group saw the water foaming with blood, and realized a swarm of ixitxachitl (a kind of evil manta-ray piranha) were attacking some of the worshippers. In the chaos, one of the Deep Father worshippers grapped Turvy, stabbing her and throwing her into the water. Topsy rushed to help, but the group—realizing it was too late—grabbed him and ran off.

This horrible situation soon became worse, though. The group heard a deep rumbling that gradually grew in severity. Suddenly, the water near the city exploded in foam and out of it emerged a being seemingly spawned from their darkest nightmares; two-headed, tentacled, and roaring, Demogorgon was here!

The group recoiled in horror, and Brynn, Varys and Navarre became stricken with madness [bad roll on the madness check]. Brynn became enraged, trying to attack Barakus, although her lack of combat skills led to him not realizing he was under attack for a few rounds [a few natural 1s]. Varys and Navarre collapsed, weeping and laughing. Meanwhile, Derendil went crazy, attacking kuo-toa randomly.

The group ran towards the boat when they heard Ront scream from behind them and disappear into the crowd. They ignored this—as they weren’t very fond of him—and kept running, dragging Varys and Navarre along, while Barakus was held up behind them trying to fight Brynn and grapple her.

As they got to the boat they noticed Buppido run out of the crowd, wiping blood off his knife. They ignored this as well. They got aboard, with Varys and Navarre’s madness wearing off, and Barakus finally grappling the angry gnome wizard.

Once aboard they shoved off, rowing frantically to escape the city, which Demogorgon had begun to destroy. A near-miss of one of his tentacles threw Stool and Turvy overboard. The group got Stool back but had to row out into the depths with Turvy holding on by a rope when an ixitxachitl suddenly attacked Turvy, grabbing him in its mouth. Barakus and Zenaella both grabbed the rope, pulling Turvey and the evil fish aboard. They freed the deep gnome, and pushed the fish back into the water.

The group tried not to look back as they rowed away, trying not to be overwhelmed with terror by the realization that not only were they trapped in the Underdark, but they were trapped here with the prince of Demons…

And that was our first session of Out of the Abyss. It was a little chaotic (there’s a lot for the DM to remember}, but a lot of fun. It worked pretty well to have someone run the NPCs, although I should have given him a chance to read the campaign book first, as he was catching up as we went.

I was a little surprised and gratified the group moved so quickly to escape from the drow prison. When I ran as a player, the DM indicated we couldn’t break out of the chains, and we struggled for awhile to figure out what to do. This group also benefited from some lucky rolls to escape. But this is a definite sign of the importance of following your players’ lead, instead of trying to get them to use the cool encounters the DM came up with for their time in jail (the ones I had were pretty good).

I think it made sense to skip over a lot of random encounters between the drow outpost and the kuo-toa village, as I wanted to get into the heart of the story. But for our next sessions I’ll rely more on the random encounters to provide flavor and a sense of dread. I may follow the lead of some other blogs on this campaign and roll for the encounters first, so I can be prepared ahead of time.

So that’s that. We’ll be running our next session in early June, so I’ll be back with part 2 of Out of the Abyss then.

Out of the Abyss walkthrough: Session 1, part 1

My D&D group recently started the excellent fifth edition campaign, “Out of the Abyss,” which came out in 2015. I ran through part of it as a player with an old group, so I was very excited to get started. As I did with previous walkthroughs, I will be summarizing what happened in narrative form, with points about game mechanics [in brackets]. I’ll break up the first session into two posts for easier readability.

The group consisted of:

  • Navarre, a half-elf rogue
  • Zenaella, a half-elf paladin
  • Varys, a half-drow ranger
  • Barakus, a tiefling monk
  • Brynn, a gnome wizard

As this adventure includes a group of NPCs who accompany the party throughout the adventure, we had an extra player (from the event’s wait-list) manage the NPCs, with direction from me. The NPCs were:

  • Prince Derendil, a quaggoth who thinks he’s an elf
  • Ront, an orc
  • Eldeth, a noble dwarf scout
  • Stool, a myconid sprout (a kind of walking fungus)
  • Shuushar the awakened, a pacific kua toa (a normally violent fish-person species)
  • Buppido, a derro (a kind of mad, evil dwarf)
  • Sarith, a renegade drow
  • Topsy and Turvy, deep gnome twins
  • Jimjar, another deep gnome

There are interesting backstories and twists for all these characters, but I’ll reveal them as the players discover them.

The session started with the group captured by the drow, locked in a cell and restrained with manacles and collars. They had been there a varying number of days, and some had managed to acquire useful objects, like an iron bar or a shard of flint. While they hadn’t met before the adventure, the surfacers in the group got to know each other (with the exception of Ront). They’d been put to work on menial but difficult tasks by the Drow priestess in charge of the outpost. They’d also managed to get a sense for the basic layout of the outpost, which was a series of caves connected by platforms 100 feet above pool on the floor of the cavern. [I thought I’d start them out with some familiarity, to move things along]

It was evening, and the group was recovering from their day of work. Suddenly, there was a commotion outside, and the Drow threw in Shuushar and Stool. Stool landed on Ront, who was about to beat him up when Barakus intervened. Ront backed down, and glowered in the corner [Barakus rolled well on intimidation]

The group discussed what to do. Navarre was able to use the shard of flint he found to free Varys and Barakus, but it broke when he tried to free himself. The two freed prisoners arranged their manacles so the drow wouldn’t notice, and they waited till morning.

In the morning, the drow woke them up with buckets of foul, cold water, and threw in some bowls of mushroom gruel. Ront tried to steal Topsy’s, but Barakus intimidated him again, and he gave it back [we started a running joke about how bad Ront was at being an orc after this]. The drow announced they’d be back in 20 minutes to divide the group up for the day’s labor.

The group sprung into action. The freed prisoners situated themselves so they could surprise the guards, and the others were told of the plan. When the four guards returned, Barakus hit one over the head with his iron bar, and combat began. The NPCs were not very helpful, and Zenaella and Brynn wasted several rounds until they discovered they were in an anti-magic field and their spells were useless. But Barakus killed one guard, and Navarre took his keys to free everyone else. It was a tough fight, and Barakus was knocked unconscious after the drow teamed up on him. But the group managed to overwhelm them. [I had a couple days of encounters planned for the group as they prepared to escape, but this was pretty fun too]

The group snuck out into the compound, and saw they had two paths—into a stalactite hollowed out to serve as a guard tower (not very desirable) or a platform to the north. They headed north, ducked into a cave…and ended up face to face with two quaggoth. The fight began, and was going badly for the players, when a horrible buzzing and howling broke out, and alarms sounded.

The quaggoth ran, and the group followed. The outpost was in chaos as a group of chasme and vrock demons battled in the air—occasionally swooping down on a drow—and the drow tried to defend themselves. The group took advantage of the chaos and ran into the guard post. One surprised drow was inside, and they quickly defeated him.

They found stores of arms and supplies, and stocked up when two drow ran in from outside [I set a timer, and every few minutes something would happen, to kind of approximate the chaotic feel]. The group had a tough fight, as they were still weak from the first battle, but won.

The group stopped to look around, and saw that below them was a layer of webs over a deep pool. They thought they could jump onto the webs, then into the pool, but Brynn wanted to find her spellbook first. So they headed south to explore the rest of the outpost.

They saw a large platform where most of the drow were gathered to fight the demons, and another stalactite off to the side. The group snuck in there, and found a shrine to Lolth, the drow’s demon goddess. They searched the room, and found a few valuables, including gems in a spider idol’s eyes, which Navarre stole without thinking through potential consequences…

The group continued down into the stalactite and found what looked like the priestess’s room, where they discovered more valuables, some potions of healing, and all their gear. They suited up, and Navarre hollowed out some pillows to serve as rucksacks. While they were doing this two drow guards stopped by to investigate.

Barakus heard the drow arrive in the level above them, so the group prepared to ambush them as they investigated. But the drow saw the group, and began firing their crossbows down into the lower chamber. This led to a few rounds of inconclusive exchanges of fire until Barakus leapt up the ladder, grabbed one of the drow and—in an impressive display of his monk skills [and great acrobatics rolls]—pulled the drow down to the floor. This shifted the balance in the group’s favor, and they won, albeit even more injured.

They decided to run. The group headed back to the platform above the pool and leapt into the webs. Navarre, Barakus, Varys and few of the NPCs managed to free themselves on landing, and they noticed three giant spiders approaching. Navarre, not the noblest of heroes, jumped down into the pool, and Barakus and Varys followed.

Eldeth remained to help her friends, freeing Brynn and Zenaella before the spiders arrived. Zenaella tried to stop the fighters while Eldeth and Brynn freed the other NPCs. They managed to get all but Jimjar, Ront and Shuushar out when Zenaella fell before the spider’s venomn. Eldeth, in a burst of heroism, told Brynn to try and stabilize Zenaella then run; she handed Brynn her warhammer and asked her to return it to her family in Gauntlgrym.

Eldeth threw herself at the spiders. Brynn managed to stabilize Zenaella with a lucky medicine roll and the two of them jumped as the spiders killed Eldeth. Ront and Shuushar managed to break out, but Jimjar remained stuck in the webs, and the spiders soon killed him.

The group was now  free, on the cavern floor while the drow battled the demons. They were rather guilty about leaving some friends to die, and Ront was pretty unhappy in return.

Shuushar urged them to go to his home city, Slubbladoop, as it was relatively close and they could find passage through the Darklake there. The group agreed and headed out, although they heard a cry of “the prisoners are escaping” from above.

They headed into the Underdark….tune in next week for the conclusion of our first session.

Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: Restoring Charlemagne’s Empire, part 1

I ran my first session for the D&D 5e campaign “Out of the Abyss” this weekend. I’m working on a write-up, so while that’s in progress I thought I’d try something new. This is a walkthrough of a long computer game campaign I’m playing. If this isn’t your thing, bear with me, and I’ll be back with RPG discussions next week.

When I’m not playing D&D (or working, or spending time with my family) I play Crusader Kings 2, an excellent historical strategy computer game. In this game, you take control of a dynasty in 1066 (this is the default setting, it can change) and play them through 1453. For a certain type of person (like me) this is an incredibly engaging and exciting game.

After awhile, just trying to conquer land becomes boring, so players come up with harder challenges. One popular one is starting as the Count of Vermandois in 1066, who is the last descendant of Charlemagne, and attempting to restore the family’s empire. Here’s my attempt. I’ll be discussing the gameplay in narrative form, although I will include some interesting (or frustrating) mechanics that came up [in brackets].

Clotaire was a completely average man in every respect. No discernible skills, a steady church-goer…who also had a series of affairs. Ruler of a respectable but small piece of land, the County of Vermandois, in France. Married to the daughter of another weak count. But he had two things going for him—his great ambition, and his name- Karling, the last descendant of Charlemagne.

As soon as he gained his father’s lands in 1066, Clotaire got to work restoring his family to greatness. He attracted skilled councilors from around Christendom to begin developing the country. Under the direction of his steward, he established a trade route to bring the riches of the east to his territory. And thanks to the work of his chancellor he developed close ties with the young King Philippe.

Clotaire tried to increase his power and prestige through two means. First, he tried to get close to those who already had power and prestige. Using his good relations with the King, he married his eldest son to one of the King’s sisters and managed to become the King’s Marshal (despite having no discernible military skills). He also developed a close friendship with the Duke of Berry while serving on the council. And when the King found himself with extra territory thanks to his holy wars (more on that below), he granted Clotaire the county of Orleans.

Clotaire also tried to expand his power more directly, primarily through his wife’s family lands. He first attempted to convince his wife and father-in-law to have the lands pass to her (instead of her elder brother), to no avail. Clotaire then dispatched his chancellor to fabricate a claim to the land. It was rather convoluted, and no one really believed it, but it was enough. Clotaire declared war, and—in an early sign of the continued power of his name—soldiers rallied to his side to support Charlemagne’s heir. Clotaire seized the land, dispossessed his wife’s family (ending any lingering good feelings between the two) and now ruled a significant portion of the Duchy of Valois.

Things became more complicated, however. This partly had to do with succession. Clotaire’s eldest son was a brilliant administrator, who soon became his steward. And his eldest grandson was a brilliant diplomat, who became his chancellor when the old chancellor died. Clotaire was reassured his line would continue strongly for several generations. But his son was killed by an angry mob of peasants while collecting taxes, and his grandson died mysteriously shortly after being sent on his first mission as chancellor (likely an assassination plot).

His second son became the heir. Raymond was a capable diplomat, and likely would be a good ruler, but he had married the daughter of the Holy Roman Empire (who inherited the Duchy of Franconia on his death), and had thus been absent for some time. Additionally, both France and the Empire had complicated inheritance rules, portending some troubles when Raymond’s son inherited Franconia from his mother.

The troubles also had to do with France itself. As mentioned, King Philippe launched a series of holy wars against the Muslims in Spain, seizing a good portion of Aragon. The acclaim he received for this went to his head and he soon turned against the Pope, adopting the Fratricelli heresy. This divided France, and a series of Catholic lords launched rebellions against the King as Muslim states to the south attempted to retake Aragon. The King succeeded in defeating the rebellious lords, although he lost some of his Spanish territory and, most disastrously, lost Flanders after the Holy Roman Empire invaded. By the end of these conflicts, Philippe was so weakened he was easily overthrown by the Duke of Berry, the son of Clotaire’s old friend, who started the Bourges dynasty.

Clotaire stayed out of these fights. While he remained a Roman Catholic he did not join any of the rebels, and tried to remain on good relations with the Fratricelli rulers. After the new King came to the throne, he granted Clotaire the Duchy of Valois and county of Paris—seized from Philippe—possibly out of respect for his father’s good friend.

Clotaire died at 72, after living a long and successful life. He managed to put the Karling family on the path towards regaining some of its glory, and his son, Raymond, ascended to his titles expectantly…

“A shadow in the woods” walkthrough, part 3

Over the last two weeks I presented a walkthrough of “A shadow in the woods,” my D&D 5e home-brew adventure. And in an earlier post I discussed some takeaways from DM-ing my first home-brew. So this week I thought I’d write about the creative and technical process behind this adventure.

It was inspired by reading through Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a D&D sourcebook that came out last year. It includes background on monster cultures and playable races, as well as several new and interesting monsters. One of these was the Banderhob; as soon as I read its description I knew this would make for a great adventure. This adventure was basically a linear story—defeat the monster—but organized around a series of dungeon settings and set encounters.

The Banderhob is summoned by a hag to kill a target. I thought it’d be fun if the group bumped into one, and then got sucked into its mission. Simply going and warning its target wouldn’t make for much of an adventure, so I had to come up with some way for the target to be missing or hidden. Then I had to think about the motivations behind this.

For the setting, I decided to go with a Twin Peaks-esque surreal horror (with hints of humor). The adventurers went to a small provincial town full of difficult personalities and devious intrigue. It may or may not be based on my hometown.

A political fight within the town seemed a good motivation, although I went with a bumbling villain—the local guy who wanted to stop his cousin’s land sale—for some comedic effect. I fleshed this out with locations that may or may not have been near my own hometown, including a swampy area, barren hills, and some rich farmland. I added random encounter tables for the day and night to flesh out the creepiness of the town.

I had a setting—the hometown—and some basic plot ideas: the characters stumble on a Banderhob hunting a woman, and need to help her and figure out who summoned it. I filled in the details with fantasy/sci-fi writing conveniences. The Banderhob dropped a locket belonging to the woman, which confused it about her location. And the Banderhob was summoned in a specific ritual that required the group to close the summoning portal.

I also added a well-known character (at least to me): the town sage, Fonken. Fonken was a character I ran for Curse of Strahd, a Dale Cooper-esque gnome wizard (from Twin Peaks); one of my friends also compared him to Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters. We never finished that adventure, so I thought it might be fun to have him retire to a small town and help out adventurers that pass through.

So I had my plot: the group had to protect the woman and return the Banderhob through the portal. I first needed triggers to get through each stage of the adventure. I ended up kind of simplifying this. The townsfolk quickly tell the group the Banderhob’s target was captured by bandits, to give them some direction early on. And after the group was in town for a bit the Banderhob attacked and Fonken saved them; this gave him a chance to  give them the information about the monster. When the group rescued the monster’s target, the people responsible for these events show up to explain and kind of apologize. I guess I could have had my group do more investigation, but I didn’t want to get too bogged down.

Now I needed the set pieces for the two main events: finding and protecting the Banderhob’s target, and defeating the Banderhob. For the former, it was the lair of a bandit group that had “kidnapped” the woman (she was just visiting the bandits, in my lame attempt at humor). For the latter, it was the dungeon of a hag that had summoned the Banderhob.

For both of these, I basically used the random dungeon tables in the DMs guide (although I re-rolled results that didn’t make sense). One thing that came up for the bandit lair was a dungeon buried in a series of hills; this sounded appropriate to the setting so I went with that. And I populated it using the tables, although I figured out the basic “flow” of the dungeon first; all corridors converged on the circular “throne room” of the bandit leader. I re-rolled till I got dangerous but light-hearted obstacles in the dungeon, like a reverse gravity pantry or a talking tapestry.

For the hag’s lair, I rolled a castle submerged in a swamp. This sounded nice too, and I adapted it to make it submerged sideways and twisted. I went with more sinister sounding rolls for the dungeon itself, as that fit the atmosphere better. And for both dungeons I used appropriate wilderness encounters (forest or swamp) to populate the group’s trip there.

Then there was the boss battle. I decided to make it a multi-stage battle (although that didn’t completely work out, as I discussed in my earlier post). The first stage was relatively easy—a straight-up battle with the Banderhob and some ghouls. That ended quickly, and I was kind of going for the end of Ghostbusters—when they defeated the villain but a sense of dread was still there, growing. The second stage had the Banderhob reappear through the portal with some darkmantles attacking as well. This is where the group defeated the Banderhob, but the third stage would have had everyone take on an effect of Shadowfell (its home plane) and fight the Banderhob as well as the hag.

Finally, there was the ending. I loved the old video games where defeating the boss wasn’t enough; you also had to escape. So I went for that, with the sinking castle. In the end, I made it a little too easy. It may have made for a good dramatic ending if one character fell, just as they thought they’d won.  To be honest, I was kind of worried about upsetting the players (as we are a relatively new group).

And then I wanted an anti-climactic ending back at the town. I love old Westerns where the hero saves the day, but the villagers don’t want him around anymore. And that was kind of what happened to my group; the town was appreciative, but just wanted them to leave.

So that was how I put this adventure together. As I’ve said, it wasn’t perfect, but I had a lot of fun (and my players did too). I hope this can be of some help to others thinking through their own home-brew adventures.

“A shadow in the woods” walkthrough, part 2

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.

Act III

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.

“A shadow in the woods” walkthrough, part 1

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I recently completed a home-brew D&D adventure, entitled “A Shadow in the Woods.” It wasn’t perfect, but I had a great time writing and running it, and I think my players enjoyed it too. As I did with my posts on my home-brew Star Wars:EOTE adventure, I’ll walkthrough what happened in a few posts before writing a concluding post with my thoughts on the process. And I’m all about transparency, so I’ll highlight a few of the parts I didn’t think worked out. Hope you enjoy.

This involved the same group as my A Great Upheaval sessions (see these posts for a walkthrough). We had Jon, a human cleric of Lathander; Rogar, a dragonborn ranger; Bark, a forest gnome rogue; and Adrian, a human warlock. They were joined by Lenore, a half-elven fighter (a new player to the group). We met at the great Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in Williston, VT.

Act I

After saving the day and uncovering hints of the giants unrest, the group set off into the wilderness. They ran into Lenore, who gladly joined them, partly for a taste of the excellent ale they received as a reward for their last adventure. The group got to a half-days’ march from the town of Red Hill when they decided to camp for the night [this is loosely set in the Forgotten Realms, but I really just wanted some connection to the previous adventure].

As the group was finishing off the last of the ale, shadows at the edge of their camp formed into a horrific giant humanoid toad-like being; what they would later learn is a Banderhob. It strode into camp, stepping on Bark, injuring him. The group rushed to attack. The Banderhob was too quick for them, biting Lenore and half-swallowing her and nearly killing Adrian with its claws. The group managed to free Lenore and inflict some damage, at which point the monster dropped something by their fire and strode off into the night.

The shaken and injured group decided to rest before following the monster, but they investigated the object that fell. It was a locket with a carving inside and an inscription, “to Lorana, the ‘princess’ of Red Hill, from Dad.”

The next morning they headed into town. On the outskirts, they came across the ruins of a farmhouse that looks like it had been smashed in; Rogar determined it was a recent attack. They moved on and arrived in the town, a small settlement that grew around a crossroads. The group first talked to Riben, a farmer who is the cousin of Lorana—he told them she had recently inherited a large farm just outside of town, but had disappeared (likely captured by a nearby bandit group). They interacted with other members of the town, including a tiefling inn owner (who told them of a witch in a nearby swamp), the priest, a snooty tavern owner, the mayor and the sheriff. They learned in their conversations that Lorana had planned to sell the farmland—which the townsfolk were upset about—and the sheriff had been tracking the bandits; he provided them some intel on their possible location. The group was urged to wait until the town’s sage, Fonken, returned from a trip.

A day or so after arriving in town [I waited till they seemed ready to move], in the evening, the group heard screaming. They joined the townsfolk rushing in its direction to find the Banderhob attacking a house with the family trapped inside. The group attacked; Lenore got half-swallowed again, and the group looked close to losing when a blue light shot out and hit the monster. The monster faded into shadow, and a gnome wizard (Fonken) walked out of the darkness. He urged the group to follow him to his tower to try and understand where the monster came from.

The group told him what they knew and showed him the locket. He determined it was a Banderhob, which is a monster summoned from the Shadowfell by a hag to go after a particular target. Fonken guessed that when it lost the locket it became confused on its targeting, and focused on the town. He sensed a greater tie to Shadowfell in this Banderhob than in others he’d encountered, and thought that even if it was killed it may keep respawning. The group had to either give it Lorana or get it to return to Shadowfell. He guessed there must be a portal somewhere nearby.

After comparing notes with Fonken, the group decided to pursue the bandits who kidnapped Lorana, then investigate the swamp to see if the witch may be involved with the Banderhob summoning. They took a long rest, and set out in the morning.

Act II

The group set out early in the morning for the half-days’ march to the bandit’s likely location. The town sheriff told them he suspected their hideout was at the end of a ravine off the main road, just before they would reach out an outlying settlement [I had prepared encounters in this settlement, including a bandit spy, but the group never went there]. The group found the ravine, and headed into the forest.

They first came on a giant elk blocking their path. After Bark respectfully communicated it via his speak with animals spell, it moved on [this was a random encounter, but the group thought it had some greater meaning]. The group then found a half-elf ranger eating lunch by a campsite. After talking with him they realized he was with the Harpers; he liked the rugged nature of this area, and wanted to make sure the bandit activity didn’t threaten the townsfolk; he also worried about it necessitating greater government involvement. The ranger asked the group to collect some intelligence on the bandits, and he would meet them back in Red Hill to pay them.

The group continued on, encountering various crude signs warning of great danger ahead. They came to a clearing with three hills in it, and climbed to the highest, where they found a tunnel into the hill [I designed the bandit camp as a dungeon crossing three hills, with an entrance in each hill]. Adrian turned invisible and went in to investigate. He found two goblins sleeping in the entryway, and started to go further when he made a noise and woke them up, although he managed to escape before they found him.

Jon then decided to call down to the goblins and ask if they had the woman [as I noted last week, I did not expect this]. The group heard a commotion, then an orcish voice called up and asked them to surrender. The group tried to negotiate with the bandits, but eventually the orcs and goblins charged.

Out of the tunnel came conventional orcs and goblins, but also two Nurtured Ones of Yurtus, a diseased orc that explodes when killed, sickening all those around. The group quickly dispatched with the attackers, although Bark and Jon were covered in orc goo. They then entered into the tunnel.

The main entryway had doors in each corner, and the group went to the left. They came first to what looked like a gaming room—a type of billiards table and boxing gear were in there—that was empty. The next room was a banquet room that was also empty, although as they started to leave the shepherd in the tapestry started talking to them. It gave no useful information, but they had a pleasant conversation. They then came on a pantry that was suffering from reverse gravity; Lenore flew to the ceiling, and had to struggle to get back out.

After these odd encounters, the group found some of the bandits. A room full of alchemical supplies and acrid dust housed several kobolds and a human mage. The group attacked. They handled themselves well, although Rogar became seriously hurt when the mage and kobolds ganged up on him. Several of the group also started hallucinating; Lenore thought she was giant, and Jon thought he was in a different room. The realized the bandits were creating hallucinogens in the room, which affected them in the combat [I adapted some of the DMG’s random dungeon effects to create the drug’s effects].

The group then climbed a set of stairs, with a tapestry on the wall. Bark was intrigued, so he stopped to look and see if it would talk. Unfortunately, looking at the tapestry triggered a trap [from a roll on the DMG’s dungeon trap table] and the stairs opened up; Bark and Rogar fell into a pit of spikes. Bark managed to grab the wall, but Rogar tumbled down, taking serious damage.

The group pressed on, and came into what looked at one point to be a large throne room. In there was a human man, a hobgoblin, and several assorted human and goblinoid thugs. Sitting by the man, drinking wine, was a woman. They realized this was Lorana, and after talking with the group (the bandit leader was friendly) realized she wasn’t kidnapped. The bandits tried to mug her while she was in the woods, but she proved a powerful fighter and they invited her back to their hideout for a feast.

With Jon taking the lead—despite his low charisma—the group convinced Lorana to come back with them to stop the attacks on the town. The bandits tried to get the group to put a magical listening device in the sherriff’s office, but they refused, so he let them go if they promised not to tell where they were hiding [this was a kind of social interaction deadlock, and I didn’t want to drag it out].

The group returned to town late at night, when a group of men surrounded them. They found out this was a group from the Lord’s Alliance. The men told the adventurers that Lorana’s potential buyers were the Zhentarim; the Lord’s Alliance wanted to stop this group from gaining a base in this area so they asked Riben (a new recruit) to deal with her. He decided to have the witch in the swamp summon the Banderhob so he didn’t have to kill her himself.

The Lord’s Alliance hadn’t intended for so much carnage (even if they did want Lorana) dead, and were willing to negotiate with the group. Bark suggested the Alliance buy Lorana’s farm, so she was able to still profit but the Zhentarim were kept out. They agreed, and slunk back into the shadows [this was another kind of failed encounter, as I didn’t do enough work on it]

Tune in next week for the adventure’s conclusion…