This Sunday just been, June 9th, I wrecked my voice running D&D for strangers and friends at Cherry Moon in Bolton.
They set up a Dungeons and Dragons day, and I was one of the four idiots who volunteered to run a session.
I got a mixed experience group of five players, who rolled up a stealth and skirmish group with zero (nil) healers. They were all really lucky though…
The party was made up of…
A Human Rogue Criminal,
A Wood Elf Rogue Criminal,
A Fallen Aasimar Warlock Pirate,
A Half-Orc Barbarian,
A Tabaxi Monk
I gave the players a choice of using the standard point spread from the PHB, or rolling, and said that if their rolls we really shit, they could use the standard spread.
They all rolled. The two Rogues rolled really well, and the Warlock did pretty well. The Barbarian and Monk didn’t do well at all, and both defaulted to the standard spread.
Of the lot, the Aasimar could do one (1) point of healing. That’s enough to stop someone dying, and that’s it.
Annoyingly, no one came near dying…
I had three ideas for an introductory scenario:
1. Cult Extraction. Save brainwashed villagers from an evil cult and their encampment.
2. Raise the alarm. Get to the beacon and light it before the raiders do, and warn the neighbouring towns
3. Heist! That building holds a bottle of whisky that’s 200 years old and worth 20x that in gold. Steal it, and we all get paid
After knocking the ideas around with friends, I went with Raise the Alarm, as it’s the most straightforward. There was some concern about Murderhobos and capture the flag simplicity.
I might do Heist for the next one, as the arguments for that one were pretty compelling too (opens up a variety of skill uses, lots of options for players, forces them to participate, and not just kill things as they’re presented).
But anyways, I wrote a scenario based on Raise the Alarm: Beacon Hill.
We had to skip two encounters due to time considerations, but here’s the full text…
The party are travelling with a trade caravan, and are being given free passage, food, and 30gp each to protect the caravan, it’s goods, livestock, hands and other passengers.
It is travelling North to Daggerfall.
The caravan leader is a Dwarf called Ulfgar Brawnanvil
It’s the late afternoon. Caravan plans to spend the night at Stoutbarrel Farm, a Halfling owned orchard and brewery.
The passengers may have heard of Stoutbarrel Cider.
Ulfgar has a deal with the Stoutbarrel’s – Room & board when passing through in exchange for cheap transport of cider barrels. The caravan hands are looking forward to the rest stop, and are starting to sing bawdy songs about apples.
The road to the farm runs through the orchard, and rows upon rows of apple trees stretch out all round the caravan. The smell of apple blossom hangs in the air. Fat bumble bees buzz happily in the branches. A light column of smoke wafts above the trees in the distance.
Check everyone’s Passive Perception. On a 14+ they notice…
A sheep carcass lies between the trees, off to the side.
The caravan rounds a bend, and the farm comes into view.
An apple cart lays on its side on the track. The bodies of a pony and two Halflings are being fed on by a pack of Hyenas.
One Hyena for each party member.
50 XP Five Hyena
(Actual play note: this was a nice intro combat. We used ranges (they were 120′ apart, movement and disadvantage. The Monk was pretty effective, using darts at their maximum range with disadvantage).
Check everyone’s Passive Perception. On a 12+ they see….
Beyond the Hyenas, the farm buildings have been toppled and burnt. In the distance between the party and the building, a lone Hyena stops feeding on fallen prey, and starts convulsing. It explodes in a shower of gore, leaving a full grown Gnoll stood there.
Note: Gnoll does not have any weapons or a shield, and only has its Bite Attack.
100 XP One Gnoll
(I used this encounter to illustrate what a Gnoll is, and why they’re bad. They killed it from range, but were suitably grossed out by its ‘birth’.
One of the Rogues, Badger, insisted on searching its corpse, so he found an embedded apple. The Warlock used Prestidigitation to clean it up, and suddenly they’re talking about it as though it’s an actual edible apple…)
Exploration of the farm
Investigation / Survival: Multiple Gnoll tracks. Over two dozen, hard to tell. They swept through the farm, killing and eating and burning, followed by packs of Hyena. No one survived. The tracks lead off in different directions. Some tracks appear to be skeletal.
Looting: If someone loots, roll lowest most basic table. Ulgar objects strongly to anyone looting “These were good people. My friends! You’ll afford them some dignity!”
(Yes, they wanted to loot the Halflings. No, Ulfgar didn’t let them. He doesn’t abide Murderhobos)
Ulfgar declares that the farm is not safe “There’s no shelter, no provisions, no defence. We move on to Smithy Barn. We can be there by nightfall, Gond willing.”
Smithy Barn is a nearby village, down the valley and across the river.
[Short Rest opportunity, if anyone needs minor healing or partial recharges]
(They didn’t at this stage, having ganked the hyenas and Gnoll at range)
It is surrounded by a low wooden wall, maybe 6’ high, with North and a South gate. Fields surround it.
The central structure is a large wooden barn, its doors open revealing a smith’s furnace and workshop. The villagers sit around it, drinking weak ale.
Alongside the barn is a wooden tower, 20’ high, with a large torch atop it.
Another 10 smaller buildings are scattered around the barn.
Blacksmith – Randall Hammerson
Blacksmith’s wife – Lureene Hammerson
Crofter – Glar Marsk
Farmer – Darvin Dundragon
Hunter – Shandri Buckman
The caravan files into the village, carts, horses, cattle and all, and the hands start closing the gates.
The activity disturbs the villagers
“Hoi! You can’t bring all of that in ‘ear! There’s no room, tether ‘em up outside!”
“There’s Gnolls out there, boy! We’ll tether the horses in here, or you’re waiting outside with them instead, you hear me”
The villagers mobilise in short order, bringing in livestock from outside, setting watches, locking the gates, and then lighting the beacon atop the tower. The beacon invokes The Lord’s Alliance, and summons help from nearby allied towns and Alliance Agents.
A bright yellow flame flares up as the tinder catches, and the beacon burns brightly within a minute, casting light across the small village.
The villagers look expectantly towards the nearby hill. After a few minutes they grow restless and disturbed.
“What’s keeping them?”
“Can’t they see it?”
A howl rises from the woods, followed by other howls, which then descend into yaps and barks. The sound seems to surround the village.
“No one’s coming.”
“We need someone to go light the beacon, top of Beacon Hill..”
Eyes turn to the party.
Ulfgar immediately offers up their services – “They work for me, and I want to get out of here alive. Lads and lasses, you’re going up that hill and lighting that fire, or you don’t get paid, and we all die.”
Arguments – The party may not want to do it, in which case Ulfgar will steadfastly refuse to pay them, as they’re in breach of contract.
They may argue that they’d be better served defending the caravan and the village here, and maybe some of the locals would be best going – they know the land better, they know the way. If they try this, they need to persuade both Ulfgar and the villagers.
Ulfgar that they’d be able to protect him better than the villagers and to persuade two or more of the villagers that they should go instead. Obvious candidates are the Hunter and the Crofter. They will need convincing separately.
(The party tried to argue that this was above and beyond their contract, but Ulfgar argued them down. They then asserted that protecting the village was outside their remit. The villagers quickly had a whip round and rustled up 50gp, 5 goats and a bottle of alleged fine wine. The blacksmith offered to fix up some weapons and armour for them as well, if they wanted. This was enough for the party, who agreed to do the right thing)
Main path – assume that party will travel to Beacon Hill.
The Hunter will lay out the route they need to take
Take the North gate, follow the road to the bridge and cross the river (if you can’t get across the bridge, the only other crossing for two miles is the old rope bridge)
Once over the river, leave the road and cut through the woods to the hill. The road will be too open
The hill is steep and littered with rocks. You can follow main path up, but again it’s open and exposed. The rocks on the west side are an easy climb, and will offer you some cover
At the top, the beacon can be easily lit with a tinder kit or similar. You’ll have to climb the tower though…
The river runs fast along a narrow channel carved out of the bedrock. A slim stone bridge, wide enough to take a single cart, provides the sole crossing within sight.
A pack of Gnolls (at least 10, mixed types) have cornered a herd of cattle by the bridge, and are slaughtering and feasting on them.
Party could try to sneak past (difficult, especially if any are in metal armour)
Party could try to fight them (Deadly+ encounter. These Gnolls are fully equipped and in full health)
Take a different route
The Rope Bridge
Two miles upstream, an old rope bridge sways in the wind. The crossing is some 50’ wide here, with rapid waters 20’ below. Wet wooden boards
Moving at half speed across the bridge, one at a time, the passage is safe.
Moving any faster, or if two or more people are one the bridge at a time, and it will sway alarmingly, and everyone on the bridge must make an Acrobatics test, DC 10. On a fail, they fall prone must make a Dexterity save DC 10 to not fall off into the river below. Combat on the bridge has the same requirement.
Falling into the river inflicts 1d6+1 damage, and the character must swim to safety (DC 12 Athletics or take 1d6 damage from rocks and swallowing water).
20 XP each for crossing the bridge
Whilst the party are crossing, they are attacked by a Gnoll Hunter and two Gnoll Witherlings. Hard/Deadly encounter.
Gnoll Hunter 100xp
Gnoll Witherlings 50xp each
(Kevin the Half Orc Barbarian took a beating in this encounter, taking an arrow, and falling off the bridge. Bran the Rogue and The Iron Paw (Tabaxi Monk) also took damage from the more traditional route of a Gnoll Witherling skeleton hitting them with a club)
As described, the road to Beacon Hill is an easy walk, but in the open and exposed. Anyone at the top of the hill will spot them coming, as would anyone in the bordering fields and woods.
The woods stretch from the road to the base of the hill, and offer some cover.
As they travel through the woods, the party pass rabbit snares, both full and empty.
Net Trap: Xanathar’s Guide pg 114
Gnoll + pack of Hyenas. One Gnoll leading by default a pack of Hyena. Hyena do not follow its orders, instead will harry anything it engages. This is fine by the Gnoll.
Climbing Beacon Hill
Ascending the steep rocky incline requires an Athletics DC 14 check. If anyone is struggling, a party member can climb ahead, and lower a rope to help pull up other characters.
As the characters near the top of the hill, their route takes them within earshot of more Gnolls: A Gnoll Hunter patrols the area. They must stealth past it, or stealth kill it.
Lighting the Beacon
At the top of the film, the party find the partially eaten bodies of the beacon watchers – guards charged with lighting the beacon should any others flare up.
Should anyone search the bodies and nearby packs, they will find 7gp and a Potion of Healing
The village of Smithy’s Barn and its lit beacon are clearly visible from the top.
When the characters get to the top, one must climb the beacon and light it. This is easy enough, and can be accomplished with a DC10 Athletics / Acrobatics roll, or a firebolt, or a flaming arrow.
The beacon catches quickly, and within two minutes is blazing brightly, shedding light across the hilltop.
(Bran, Kevin and The Iron Paw all argued the toss as to who needed the healing potion more. The Iron Paw had only 3hp, and kept insisting that someone else drank it. In the end I enforced the last encounter, and she finally drank it)
(The final encounter was a CR2 Gnoll Pack Leader, who rolled really badly, and was taken down by the party whaling on him. He finally fell when Badger the Rogue stabbed him through the heart)
(So we ended it with the beacon burning and the horns of the Lord’s Alliance sounding in the distance)
Once the beacon is lit
Once the beacon is lit, a few things happen.
The party can see the beacon in Smithy’s Barn, which is still blazing. A villager stands aside it, waving a lit torch, signalling you back.
A beacon on a neighboring hill lights, and another in the distance. Help should follow.
All Gnolls within sight of the beacon are aware it’s lit
The party must make a decision:
Defend the beacon against successive waves of Gnoll attacks
Return to Smithy’s Barn and assist their defence
Do something clever, like drive the Gnolls into the river
200xp Two Gnolls
200 xp One Gnoll, One Gnoll Hunter
300xp One Gnoll, One Gnoll Flesh Gnawer
200 xp One Gnoll Hunter, Two Gnoll Witherlings
200 xp Four Gnoll Witherlings