Do you like apples?

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…

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Beacon Hill

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.
(combat)
50 XP Five Hyena

A pack of 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.
(combat)
100 XP One Gnoll

The Gnoll Ronseal Promise – Is what it says in the caption

(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.

Villagers:
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’re dead…”

“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 Bridge
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
200 XP

A Gnoll Witherling, or a wet horse

(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)

Woods
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
100 XP

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.
150 XP

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.
Stealth
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.
100 XP

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
Run off

Gnoll Waves
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

A Gnoll Flesh Gnawer – not appearing in this film

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Dungeons and Dragons: The Opposite of Fire two session catch up bonanza

It’s been [counts] many much time since I wrote about D&D. March. This year. So not a year yet. Some many much weeks. Multiple months. 5 months. Not even half a year. No time at all. Virtually yesterday, or so it seems.
What’s the rush?
Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Since I last wrote about The Opposite of Fire, we’ve had two whole sessions. They were great fun. You should have been there. Brilliant. Wondrous.

I think we left the last session with two separate groups of Cormyrian War Wizards teleporting into the ruins of Sember, as hordes of Kobolds poured out to surround our ‘heroes’.

I set up a fairly exciting* battle map using my trusty old Pathfinder dry wipe grid, some wooden building blocks, dry erase pens, a cut out grid map of a boat and some miscellaneous bits of scenery, hopefully depicting the lake shore, and the remains of a pathway leading into a ruined temple, with scattered remains of monuments and statues, shallow pools formed in the foundations of toppled monoliths, and a jetty built from the remains of a toppled monolith.

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Plenty of cover, plenty of height advantages, mixed terrain, lines of sight, and goals.
You may note two groups of three figures on the map. These are the War Wizards teleported in towards the end of the previous session. The group closest to the center, in the path of pillars leading to the temple, are the Wizards summoned when Jov (the Rogue) interfered with a magic ring he found in a pot of water suspended above a shrine. The second group, off to the side, are the group summoned when he activated Marlowe’s ring (which he stole in the previous session).
Whilst they are both Cormyrian War Wizards, the two groups have conflicting orders – The first group are responding to a standard distress call from Colonel Karlsson, and may also want to drag him in for being AWOL; the second group are Black Ops and are responding to a summon from Marlowe’s ring. They are fully aware of Marlowe’s mission to gank Karlsson.

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With all the Kobolds attacking, the players had a reasonable expectation that the heavily armed NPC wizards would make everything better again with some fireball driven deus ex machina.
Instead the Wizards spotted each other, and quickly secured a small section of the battlefield before debriefing each other and then debating union rules.
Who has authority? What are your orders? I am not at liberty to discuss my orders. What is your security clearance? Who is your CO? etc etc etc
Leaving the rest of the juicy battle to the players.

Because I’d had so much fun with the Kobold Inventor the previous session, I threw another one in, as well as a selection of Kobold Dragonshields, Kobold Sorcerers, Winged Kobolds, and regular Kobolds. The regular Kobolds died fairly quickly, as did the Winged Kobolds. The Sorcerers lasted a little longer, but were kind of boring. The Dragonshield put up a good fight against our Fighter, Regina of Fairfield, before falling.
But the real star of the show was the Kobold Inventor, who used cover to his advantage, and threw a sack of wasps at the party (they jokingly guessed ‘bees’, then howled in delight and horror when it was revealed to be wasps instead). When he finally died, a lone skunk escaped from the wreckage and ran off into the woods to great rejoicing from the party.
We also noted how fucking hard Tomgrir the Dwarven Cleric of the Forge is. Ant, his player, rolled really really well at character creation, so he’s rocking Str 19, Wis 20, Stm 18, stuff like that. With his warhammer and his +1 enchantment from the Forge, he’s dishing out more damage in hand to hand melee than the Fighter, is much harder to hit, has significantly more HP, and is more likely to hit as well. He’s a literal tank, with healing.
I will be upping the CR of any encounters he takes part in.

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After the battle, the players interacted with the War Wizards, who were primarily interested in:

  • Where is Colonel Karlsson?
  • Where is Captain Marlowe?
  • What happened to the crew of the Cerberus?
  • Who are you people and what are you doing in a war zone?

The War Wizards then spent some time trying to comprehend the answers they were being given…
“You’re transporting a corpse, through a war zone, down a river that stops about halfway to your destination, at a nearly impassable mountain range, and you just happened to hitch a ride with one of Cormyr’s best assassins, and you think this is plausible?”

By this time people had started asking about Marlowe, and where he was. The party last saw him trapped in a bamboo cage hung from the ruins’ ceiling, and were quite happy to leave him there.
Marlowe is no longer in the cage.
After a search, he is found, emerging from Karlsson’s quarters, machete in hand, in a state of visible shock.

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Marlowe, being iconic and batshit insane

The assembled War Wizards, primarily of the second contingent, surround Marlowe and take him into custody.
The party rush into Karlsson’s quarters to survey the damage, and find him dead on the floor. Their reaction: investigate (loot) Karlsson’s quarters.

The Horror

Karlsson, being dead, yet still maddeningly inspirational

I roll on the loot table, and roll well. They get 4 Art Objects, each worth 50gp, and some magic snacky items: A Dagger or Warning, an Amulet of Proof Against Detection, and a Cloak of Protection.
Somehow the party democratically decide that Jov is the most appropriate person to have the Dagger and Amulet, and Dio gets the Cloak (because he’s basically topless, and it stacks with his Dragon Scale AC).

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I am always gladdened by the fact that Giant Goat’s exist in D&D

We ended the session with the Party, Greynora, Matrice and the late Devon Harding catching a lift back to Cormyr with the first group of War Wizards.

For the next session, I took a different planning approach – I plotted out the session in a Google Doc, printed it out, and ran it from that.

Here’s the intended session. I’ve added notes in bold italics on how it actually played out.
It is worth noting that Jov’s player, Ken, couldn’t make it this session, so Jov snuck off into the city at the earliest possible opportunity. I intend to run Ken through the Downtime activities section in Xanathar’s Guide, specifically the Crime ones, next session.

Structure: Roleplay / Backstory / Plot foreshadowing > Funeral > Roleplay > Undead > Roleplay This bit makes no sense, yet seems like it should…

Party are assigned a member of the War Wizards, an overly enthusiastic 13yo apprentice wizard called Edgar Tenser (I didn’t want to be a Wizard, I wanted to be a Bard, but it’s the family business, and after Great Grandpapa invented the Disc…), to supervise and guide them whilst enjoying military hospitality. Edgar will be a doomed love interest for a recurring NPC**

I also need to introduce the current Queen, Raedra Obarskyr, and the possibility of plots against her. I did this somehow, yet cannot quite remember how…

Debrief: There’s some confusion as to who the party are and who they work for. Some assume that they were with Marlowe, others that they were with Karlsson, others that they are agents of the opposing faction of War Wizards. The explanation that they were trying to transport a body to Suzail is met with blank incomprehension.

There is also confusion as to what Dio and Tomgrir are doing. Are they deserters? Are they permanently assigned to the Harding party? Are the Hardings part of the Purple Dragon Knights?

Party are given basic quarters in a keep on the East wall of Suzail, although they are expected to find their own lodgings in short order. This presents a challenge, as the Hardings are effectively broke.

They are assigned a Liason – Edgar Tenser, an apprentice Wizard. Edgar is training to be a War Wizard, but at the moment is running errands and escorting possibly dangerous dissidents. Gosh. Edgar’s portrayal went from ‘Angus McDonald‘ to ‘frustrated adult surrogate’ within the first interaction. 

Shopping opportunity! Sell the art objects they looted from Karlsson’s quarters, and buy some cool shit…

Matrice has three objectives now that they’re in Suzail

  1. Inter Devon Harding in the Obarskyr Mausoleum (situated within the Grand Necropolis, outside Suzail), with some pomp and circumstance
  2. Arrange a suitable suitor for Greynora
  3. Arrange a suitable suitor for herself

Matrice employs Dio and Tomgrir to assist in Goal 1, and Regina and Vash to assist in Goals 2 and 3.

Dio & Tomgrir are asked to speak to the High Priest of the Necropolis and arrange the funeral: The High Priest, Talling Lowspire, is sympathetic, but it cannot be done. The Necropolis is still being rebuilt after suffering extensive damage during the war, and his schedule is absolutely chock full. His deputy, Franklin, is busy overseeing the restoration of the catacombs. After some persuasion, he acquisces to releasing a trainee Acolyte, Gallows, to conduct the ceremony. “After all, Lord Harding was hardly Royalty…”

Regina and Vash are asked to deliver letters to noble households across Suzail: They need to register as Adventurers to carry weapons and armour through Cormyr. They will be challenged by guard patrols and must produce documentation or face fine and/or arrest. Adventurers must apply for registration at the Royal bureaucracy.
The letters being delivered are letters of introduction, announcing Greynora and Matrice’s presence, eligibility and availability within Suzail.

So what actually went down? Reggie and Vash, both being blue-blooded nobles, instantly assumed that they had the right to carry weapons in Suzail, irregardless of the Adventurers Licence requirements. Guards tried to stop them. They blinked in incomprehension at these outlandish requirements. “But we’re Nobility – surely these ‘rules’ do not apply to us?” Edgar had to guarantee their passage and take responsibility for them before they were arrested, and thrown out of the city. No one challenged Dio and Tomgrir, because they’re obviously members of the Purple Dragon Knights, therefore legit. This aggrieved Reggie and Vash even more. 

The Funeral: a simple ceremony. No eulogies are read. Matrice lays a simple red rose on Devon’s coffin as it is sealed in the tomb. Greynora cries.

Reggie did deliver a eulogy, because she felt that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t very good (Gemma rolled poorly on the Performance check), which was in fact perfect. 

As they walk out of the mausoleum, Matrice tells Greynora “Good news. Salor Bleth has invited us to dine with him and his son, Jasper, at the end week. They are both highly eligible, so this is a wonderful opportunity for us both. I would like you to practice to oration and dancing before then…”

Greynora pauses for a moment, and runs off into the Necropolis.

The Catacombs: Greynora runs into the ruins; a section of the Necropolis partially burnt and demolished by the recent war. Scaffolding and canvas sheets cover buildings and monuments as they undergo repairs.

Greynora’s tracks lead into a collapsed and down to the catacombs beneath.

The catacombs here are much older than the Mausoleum the party were just in.

The party moved through the catacombs, following Greynora’s tracks in the dust. They found murdered workers and craftsmen, and evidence of more people entering the deeper depths. They fought a Ghoul, a Shadow, and a couple of Crawling Claws, then found a room with Skeletons, Zombies, Cultists, and a Cult Fanatic. Greynora was hiding in the room, watching them. As the Cult Fanatic became aware of the party’s presence, he ordered his minions to attack whilst he fled in to a further room. Greynora followed him, with Vash in tow.
We ended the session there.

  • Shadow. MM 269. CR 0.5 (100xp)
  • Skeletons. MM 272. CR 0.25 (50xp)
  • Crawling Claw(s). MM 44. CR 0 (10xp)
  • Ghoul. MM 148. CR 1 (200xp)
  • Zombies. MM 316. CR 0.25 (50xp)
  • Cultists. MM 345. CR 0.125 (25xp)
  • Cult Fanatic. MM 345. CR 2 (450xp)
  • [REDACTED]. CR 5 (1,800xp)
  1. Encounter 1: Ghoul, Shadow, 2 Crawling Claws (320xp)
  2. Encounter 2: 5 Cultists, 2 Skeletons, 2 Zombies (325xp)
  3. Encounter 3: Cult Fanatic, Crawling Claw (460xp)
  4. Encounter 4: [REDACTED] (1,800xp)

2,905xp total
726xp each
Plus roleplay awards

The combat encounters within the catacombs went well, from my perspective. Vash rolled badly, and was reduced to 1 HP (again). Everyone else took some hits and handed out some damage. My only gripe would be that the combat was not that dynamic – the party formed a line and held it, the undead dutifully attacked the line. No one used movement or special abilities. It was OK.

The next session will pick up with the rest of the party following Greynora and Vash into the final chamber, and confronting the Cult Fanatic and [REDACTED].
We’ll then (hopefully) cut to Jov and establish what he’s been doing for the last week or so. Hijinks will no doubt ensue, as well as some uncomfortable anti-halfling racism.

That… that’s not a very good strapline to end on…

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*I think
**Ssssshhh the players do not know this yet…

The Opposite of Fire: D&D Session 4 Report

Starting position

The players are transporting the body of their dead lord, Lord Devon Harding, and his grieving widow and daughter, from the Dalelands to Suzail in Cormyr.

They opted to travel by riverboat along the Sember, and became embroiled in a military operation between Cormyrian Purple Dragon Knights and insurgent tribes of Goblins and Orcs.

The riverboat has fallen under the command of Marlow, an officer in the Cormyrian Army with secret orders.

Marlow has piloted the riverboat through the remains of an ancient Elven mythal, the ‘mists of madness’, to Semberholme, a ruined, abandoned Elven stronghold.

The session starts as the riverboat drifts into dock, dozens of tribal Kobolds passively watching them.

The scale of this thing is enormous. Great enigmatic Elven faces carved out of stone from thousands of years ago. The fortress reaches out across the river where part of its ruins still stand on the opposite side on a small island. It’s as though the river flowed into the great rams of the sphinx-like temple. Aligning the fortifications are fences, ballista emplacements. There are even the wreckage of riverboats hoisted up into the trees and onto ledges, used as archers nests. It is a strange combination of the very modern and the very primitive. Amongst the ruins we see Kobold hatchlings, families, fires, nomadic dwellings, several hundred of the most primitive Kobolds that ever existed.

Some carry spears, occasionally other emerge from the jungle, scurrying around with the activity that the arrival of a stranger brings. The air is heavy with the weight of hundreds of weapons. A thick greasy smoke hangs from fires that burn and around the camp. Fresh craters indicate a recent battle. Near the dock, and everywhere else, there are tangled piles of corpses, half-submerged in the water, piles of bodies of the dead: Kobolds, Goblins, Humans, Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, Kobolds, Halflings, Kobolds.

Key events

The party are met by a Gnome, dressed as a jester, and a Kobold guard. The Gnome extols the virtues of Colonel Karlsson, their leader, the man the party know Marlow has come to kill.

The Gnome negotiates their safety for now. Marlow leaves an object with the boat’s Cook, instructs him in its use, and disappears into the throng of Kobolds.

Jov, the Rogue, overhears the conversation between Marlow and the Cook, and steals the item from the Cook almost immediately. It’s a ring, engraved with arcane marks.

The party concern themselves with their journey, and their mission: getting Lord Harding and his family to Suzail. A forest, a mountain range, and dozens, maybe hundreds, of miles separate them from Suzail. They try to negotiate passage to the mountains with the Gnome.

The Gnome and the Kobold speak of Karlsson’s guarded items: a large travel trunk held under armed guard in the Kobold tunnels – not even Karlsson is allowed to approach; and a ring, suspended in a pot of water above a water shrine in the old Elven ruins.

The party negotiate escorted safe passage to the mountains with the Gnome and Kobold. The price is to sell Marlow out, and inform the Kobolds of his murderous plot.

The party decide that this is more than fair, as they have no love for Marlow and no hatred for Karlsson.

Meanwhile, Vash, the Bard, casts Invisibility on Jov, and he ventures into the ruins.

Jov bypasses numerous traps – Bear traps, tripwires triggering falling ceilings, a pit trap – and finds the Water Shrine within the ruins.

Above the shrine are numerous holes dug into the ceiling, and occasional shadows.

Jov quietly removes the ring from the water in the suspended pot. It looks similar to the ring he lifted from the Cook. A few seconds after it is removed from the water, it starts to pulse with a dull red glow. The light and disturbance negates the Invisibility spell, and Jov is suddenly visible again.

A Kobold guard in the tunnels above raises the alarm and starts throwing bags down on Jov – first a Crab, then a bag of Rot Grubs, then a Flying Snake, then a Scorpion, a Weasel, a bag of rats, a cat. Jov escapes the tunnel with only minor cuts and scrapes.

The ring is still pulsating, so he throws it into a nearby 20’ deep trench. As it lands, a portal opens and three armed War Wizards appear…

Back at the riverboat, and the party have just concluded their negotiations – they will assist in the capture of Marlow, hand him over to Karlsson, and then begin their journey towards the mountains.

Vash casts Invisibility on himself and wanders off in search of Jov.

The Kobold guard confirms that Marlow is already in custody, contained within a wooden Tiger cage, suspended 30’ about the ground from a wooden beam.

The agreement is brought to a sudden end, though, when Jov and his three new War Wizard friends erupt from the ruins, spraying fire and lightning at the surrounding Kobolds.

About a third of the Kobolds turn to face the Wizards, a third surround the riverboat, and a third flee in terror.

End position

In the ensuing melee the riverboat is successfully defended, Vash and Jov take considerable amounts of damage, and the Kobold guard is fireballed to death by one of the War Wizards.

The Gnome Jester takes a solid slice of damage, but ultimately escapes, swearing revenge.

Jov, fearing for his life, with only 2HP left and having nothing left to lose, activates the ring Marlow left with Cook. It pulsates red, like the last one, and another portal opens and three more War Wizards step through, wands drawn…

In numbers

7 players: 5 regular (1 virtual), and 2 NPC’s

Total XP earned: 1,161

Distinct Kobolds killed:

  • 3x base Kobolds
  • Kobold Sorcerer
  • Kobold Inventor
  • Kobold Dragon Shield
  • Kobold level 2 Ranger.

Traps detected

  • Multiple Bear Traps
  • Tripwire triggering collapsing ceiling and wall
  • Low weight bridge over 20’ drop
  • Ceiling Holes, allowing small objects to be dropped onto intruders (see below).

Tiny animals thrown at the Rogue

  • Crab
  • Flying Snake
  • Poisonous Snake
  • Bag of Rats
  • Scorpion (hit)
  • Spider
  • Weasel
  • Swarm of Rot Grubs (hit).


Portals opened: 3
War Wizards summoned: 6

Twice a year is regular, isn’t it?

I started a monthly Dungeons and Dragons game in March 2017. The plan was that we’d all be able to really commit to a game if it was regular but spaced out, that we’d be able to get everyone together for one day every month and really play.
It’s January 2018 now, and we’ve played twice.

Our next game is scheduled for this Sunday, presuming I post this before then. If not, Sunday 28th January, Date fans.

We missed May due to ‘slapped face fever’ going round my kids school, and the partner of one of the players being pregnant, so he had to skip. That, plus the inordinate number of people who selfishly get married in May (for the Bank Holidays, I guess) stealing weekends from the other players.
Now we’re in June, and our expectant father has dropped out “until after the baby’s born” and the rest of us continue to have conflicting weekend plans.
So I’m not sure what to do with it. I like the campaign and I like the player dynamic and the characters they’ve created. It’s definitely on the back burner, but I don’t know for how long.
At the moment, as of the end of session 2, they’re on a boat sailing down the Sember Flow to Lake Sember, in the midst of a war between goblins, orcs, and Purple Dragon Knights from Cormyr, transporting the body of their late Lord and his surviving widow and daughter to Suzail. There will be an element of mountaineering once they get to the Lake. Basically, it’s the most fucking stupid route they could take, but as soon as the possibility of traveling up river in a small boat was discussed, and I said “you realise I’d have to run it as Apocalypse Now” the dye was cast.

If you look at the map below, you’ll see that Lake Sember has a large mountain range between it and Cormyr.

The party have secured passage on a Cormyrian Army riverboat, heading back up the Sember Flow with supplies for the Purple Dragon Knights and Battle Mages stationed there. They’re already very suspicious of Marlowe, the other passenger.

So far they’ve arrived at a vanguard post, where bards entertain weary soldiers, and barely survived an attack by Orc and Goblin raiders. The Rogue nearly died, as is tradition, and many engagingly bad rolls are made. Mostly by Ken, the Rogue’s player.

Bards play on a stage (left) play for the assembled troops whilst the PCs (middle and far right) watch

On Sunday they’ll be taking on more passengers (more players joining the group) and heading further up into the war zone.

Lost Mines of Phandelver with a 10yr old

My son, who’s just turned 10, has been showing more and more interest in Dungeons and Dragons (much to his mother’s despair). He’s been paying through some basic scenarios with me for a couple of years, starting with a lite homebrew system, then graduating onto full D&D 5e last year. He’s statted up a White Dragonborn Paladin called ‘Kriv’, and progressed him to level 3 so far.

None of his mates are into this kind of game at the moment (football and video games are still 100% of their diet), so he’s been playing solo adventures so far.

He wanted to try a ‘proper’ adventure, though, so tonight I started him on the Lost Mines of Phandelver from the Starter Set.

Seeing as he’s playing by himself, I let him use his L3 Paladin, and gave him two L1 companions that he statted himself: a Hill Dwarf Rogue and a Dragonborn Fighter. I named them Karlsson and Goldencrest respectively. I figured that his increased Hit Points, AC and skill levels (along with spell casting and L3 Lay on Hands) would make the encounters survivable, and the two NPCs would be decent back up.

Otherwise, I’m running it as written.

He took 17 damage in the first encounter, which would have killed a L1 character, but instead reduced him to 15 HP instead.

Things were muddied slightly though by me misreading the stat blocks and giving the Goblins 15 HP instead of 7. I didn’t realise until the end of the second encounter that these Goblins were hard as fucking nails!

By which point, Goldencrest the fighter had rolled a ‘1’ and a ‘2’ on his Death Save rolls and croaked it. I ret-conned this later to ‘revivable with a healing potion’.
So Lost Mines is very ‘meat and potatoes’… There’s nothing overly inspired about it, more a by the numbers exploration of a system, which I guess was the brief. I started listening to The Adventure Zone podcast recently, and I whilst I don’t think my son’s game will play out like that, I’m hoping to focus on the excitement rather than the plodding skill test examples.

We’ve just reached the entrance to Cragmaw cave, so next session will be the exploration of that.

The session that never was

This is a story about killing your darlings.

I have an idea for the second session of my D&D game. This isn’t that idea.

The characters have to transport the body of their Lord to Cormyr to honour his dying wish: “Bury me in Cormyr”. He was distantly related to the Cormyrian Royal Bloodline, the Obarskyr’s, and about the only right still accorded to him was the right to burial on Royal Cormyrian ground. It’s a great honour, and one he’s been looking forward to all his life.

So the characters, his loyal retainers, have been tasked with escorting him and his grieving wife and daughter to Cormyr from The Dalelands. They’ve opted to travel by riverboat for at least half the way, which cuts out Sembia and several days of trudging.

It does, however, open up the possibility of a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now riverboat session. The players are aware of this, and are onboard.
As part of my preparation, i started thinking about The Bartender and the Thief by The Stereophonics – a rocky guitar riff pop song from the late 90s. The music video is a reference to Apocalypse Now, and I thought it’d be fun to include nods to the song and video in the session:

  • A Bartender
  • A Thief
  • Them being lovers
  • The tavern having a sign up that says Performance and Cocktails above the bar (the album is called Performance and Cocktails)
  • Etc

When you think about it
he’s watchin’
every word you say…
hey, dazed…

And when
he’s sussed you out
he calls her up
and out she comes
and hustles us…

Long diggin’
gone fishin’
love drinkin’…

The bartender and
the thief are lovers
steal what they need
like sisters and brothers

Met in a church
a night to remember
robbin’ the graves
of bodies dismembered

He watched the lesbian talk
she kissed and groped
but mostly talked in lust…
crushed

He couldn’t make the call
his eyes were gripped
on licking tongues
enough’s enough
failed for once

Long diggin’
gone fishin’
love drinkin’…

The bartender and
the thief are lovers
steal what they need
like sisters and brothers

Met in a church
a night to remember
robbin’ the graves
of bodies dismembered

Long diggin’
gone fishin’
love drinkin’…

The bartender and
the thief are lovers
steal what they need
like sisters and brothers

Met in a church
a night to remember
robbin’ the graves
of bodies dismembered

Saved what they stole
to meet at the altar
place where they first
set eyes on each other

Flew to the sun
to start life all over
set up a bar and
robbed all the locals
The plan was:

The party arrive at Ashara Bridge in the Dalelands, with the grieving Lady Matrice Harding, Greynora Harding and the corpse of the late Lord Devon Harding in tow.

They’d book travel down the Ashara River, with the boat departing the following morning. They would then need to find lodgings for the night.

The lodgings would be a local tavern with live entertainment – A sign proclaiming Performance and Cocktails above the bar. The bartender books their lodgings and notes their unusual cargo, and keeps them in drinks and banter. Once they retire to their room, his partner (and lover), the Thief, enters the room and robs them.

They would then have the choice, the following morning, of writing the loss off, or pursuing the Thief and their money.

If they pursued the Thief, a search of their room would reveal a hidden door and a passage to the adjacent, previously unmentioned chapel. Following the passage leads to the catacombs beneath the chapel, and the Bartender and the Thief counting their gains from the night.

Fight, then close.
I flirted with this idea for a couple of weeks, statting up the principle players and mapping the tavern, but ultimately abandoned it.

It was a trifling diversion. It didn’t further anything, wasn’t entertaining to anyone but me, and it delayed the story I want to tell.

The party need to get to Cormyr. They need to meet some named individuals on the way, and they need to meet, but not exceed a level range at a certain point, which i need to control. The Bartender and the Thief session would not have contributed to these goals at all.

Session one postmortem

I ran Dungeons and Dragons yesterday. It was very exciting.
I had three players for the first session:

  • Gemma, playing Regina of Fairfield (Reggie), a Human Fighter Noble
  • Ken, playing Jovashed Jatiral (Jov),  a Human Rogue Charlatan
  • Matt, playing Vash Langdon, a Human Bard Noble

Here’s a picture of Jov that Ken drew

Jovashed Jatiral (Jov), by Ken Worsley

I gave him an Inspiration point for that. It’s pretty awesome.

We should be having a fourth player join us next session: Simon, playing a Cleric, Reverend Elijah Crane.

Which is good. The the only access to healing they currently have is Vash the Bard, who hasn’t really gone in for healing spells…

Pre-game Prep

It’s been awhile since I’ve run D&D, and a long time since I’ve run a game face to face for anyone that isn’t my 9yo son – I normally play over Google Hangouts and Roll20. I’ve been running games regularly, but the skillset for online games is a little different.

To account for this, and to give me the additional confidence that preparedness lends, I prepped up:

  • NPCs, as discussed in the last post
  • Setting and back story, again featured in my last post
  • Dry erase pens and grid map. I finally settled on a Pathfinder basic fold out grid with wilderness, town, dungeon and sea backgrounds. It was more expensive than I liked for what it is – two laminated light card sheets with folds – but it was the most versatile and available. If I find something better, I’ll invest in that.
  • Proto-miniatures. Actual D&D mini’s, or Pathfinder pawns, or other dedicated RPG mini’s are prohibitively expensive now. I used to have a utility collection of 3rd edition era mini’s and grids, which I stupidly left at a friend’s house with the words ‘yeah, I’m not using them, so do what you like with them’, which he took literally and passed onto a random passing nerd. Dammit. So, I can’t afford ‘real’ miniatures. Instead I’ve invested in a pack of 25 coloured pawns – 5 red, blue, white, black and green pawns, and in some spare chess pieces. I remain convinced that chess pieces are excellent mini substitutes, as they can be used to clearly show hostile and friendly intent (black and white) and have distinct roles. They’re also roughly the right size as well. 
  • Maps. I found a detailed map of the Dalelands, from DR 1472, that could be hung on the wall of manor’s great hall. I like inaccurate maps. You don’t need to put ‘here be dragons’, you just have to say “it’s out of date, that bridge may not be there anymore and who knows what’s there now…” and you create the same level of trepidation.
  • Books, rules and starter sets. The fact that Wizards of the Coast have decided to support 5e with the free Basic Rules and the Systems Reference Document is a boon. Depending on which character class and race you want to play, these two resources provide between ~70-90% of the rules needed. They’re missing some of the options and detail, but they’re a fantastic aid. Another surprising aid was the Starter Set. I didn’t use any of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, and no one used one of the pregenerated characters, but the Starter Set rules booklet is a really handy reference resource. I find myself referring to that as much as the Players Handbook for combat rules and skill uses.
  • Playlist. In a moment of excitement, I used my Google Play Music subscription to create a DnD playlist to provide background music during the session. I used Game of Thrones, Vikings, Dragon Age, Minecraft and Skyrim OSTs. They were ok. We didn’t have the sound up high, so the music didn’t intrude, but it was audible. 


    Actual Play

    So, what happened in the session?

    I started off by re-introducing Lord Devon Harding. The players had read the description of him, his family history, and were aware of the high level political situation of Featherdale and the Harding family. Having read a summary and seeing the character interact with their environment are two very different things, though.

    We opened in the great hall at Harding Manor, where Lord Devon was hearing disputes and complaints from the local populace.

    First up was a dispute between a diary farmer and innkeeper. The innkeeper had bought milk from the farmer and used it to start a lucrative cheese business (Featherdale Blue). The diary farmer felt he was entitled to a cut of the profits due to exclusivity of their milk supply. Lord Devon ruled in favour of the innkeeper, finding that the price paid for milk was fair, and the purchaser​ could do what he damn well pleased with the milk afterwards.

    Next up was a complaint from a local merchant, Bjornaer, who was accusing his wife of infidelity. She had confessed, he said, to a dalliance with a Sembian cloth merchant. The wife, Brianna, had a black eye and her arm was in a sling. When questioned by Lord Devon, she stated that she’d only confessed after her husband beat her, that a merchant had given her a good deal on some cloth, but that was it. Devon found in favour of Brianna, and ruled that Bjornaer was to sign over the house and farm to his wife, and live elsewhere for at least a year. After that year, Brianna was free to decide if she would take him back. He then charged his bannermen (the PCs) with enforcing this rule. 

    Finally, a group of shepherds requested the Lord’s aid in hunting and slaying a pack of wolves that had been taking sheep the last few weeks. One wolf, they claimed, had the power to breath cold fire (or ‘the opposite of fire’, as they put it). Devon agreed​ to hunt down these wolves, and was excited by the thought of a cold fire breathing wolf. He ordered Vash to capture the wolf alive, for study.

    The following day, the party and Lord Devon set out to find, kill and/or tame these wolves.

    After a few hours travel, at a bend in the road by a some ancient ruins, the party were ambushed by five enraged commoners: the diary farmer, Bjornaer the merchant, and three unnamed flunkies. Being skilled and experienced military tacticians, the commoners announced their presence by throwing a half brick at Lord Devon and shouting “that was a warning shot” when it missed.

    The commoners charged the party, first attacking Lord Devon, and failing due to his Plate Armour. 

    Vash the Bard cast Dissonant Whispers on the diary farmer, expecting him to run in terror. Instead, the diary farmer failed his will save, took 12 points of psychic damage and died instantly.

    Jov the Rogue shot at a commoner with his hand crossbow, rolled a 1, and did Lord Devon a respectable 5 points of piercing damage to the buttocks.

    Reggie killed one with her Glaive, before embedding the Glaive in a think branch above her head. She successfully intimidated the commoner, making him flee, before the branch fell on her head, doing 4 points of damage.

    Jov looted the bodies, and thanks to a good roll on the random treasure table, improbably found 3 platinum pieces on the diary farmer. 

    I didn’t take any pictures of the first combat, which I regret.

    Once the commoners were dealt with, the party took a short rest to regain hit points – Jov had also taken a crude club to the back – before forging ahead.
    They journeyed North again, and found an abandoned semi-henge in the foothills. Matt studied pre-history for his Archeology degree, and was adamant that the layout I’d built was not a true henge. 

    Thanks Matt, for that valuable contribution.

    Lord Devon decided that this was the perfect spot to wait for the wolves, and laid a slaughtered sheep carcass on the central stone.

    Devon and Reggie waited by the rock, Vash climbed onto entrance structure, and Jov hid (incredibly successfully) behind a tree.

    Then they waited.
    After some hours, a pack of wolves – three wolves and a dire wolf – started circling the henge (yes Matt, I said ‘henge’). They didn’t perform well enough on their stealth rolls, so were picked up by the party’s passive perception.

    Importantly, the Winter Wolf rolled well, and kept to the shadows.

    The first wave of wolves attacks​. Jov hides behind the tree, Vash is atop the gateway and Reggie and Devon are by the central rock. The white pawn is a sheep carcass, the black pawns are wolves, and the black knight is the dire wolf. Lord Devon is the white king

    The three wolves were taken down quickly. Vash cast Faerie Fire on them and the dire wolf, and threw lamp oil on the ground between them and the sheep carcass. Reggie and Devon hacked the wolves down easily, and Jov buried crossbow bolts in them.

    Vash overlooks the battle

    The dire wolf put up slightly more of a fight, but didn’t last much longer.

    Reggie and Lord Devon wait for the dire wolf to make its move

    Then the Winter Wolf entered the fray.

    It used its cold breath attack on Jov, and knocked him down to 0 hit points and moved to attack Devon and Reggie.

    Vash used Dissonant Whispers on it, forcing it to flee for a turn. Unwisely, Reggie ran in pursuit. Once the fear effect wore off, the Winter Wolf used its breath weapon on Reggie, and knocked her down to 0 hp as well.

    As this was a CR3 creature facing off against a party of 3 level 1 characters, I was lenient with the death and 0hp rules.

    Vash cast his last Dissonant Whispers on the Winter Wolf again and helped Jov onto the relative safety of the henge.

    The Winter Wolf then returned and killed Devon before running off with the sheep carcass

    Vash and a wounded Jov hide on top of the henge as the Winter Wolf (black king) makes off with the sheep carcass

    By this time, Gemma remembered that Reggie could use her Second Wind ability to regain hit points, and regained a massive 3hp. She crawled over to the dying Lord Devon and cradled his head in her arms as he gasped

    “Honour the Harding name. I hate Gnomes. Bury me in Cormyr!”

    Regina of Fairfield comforts the dying Lord Devon Harding

    I can’t quite remember why he said “I hate Gnomes”, but there was a reason.
    Once everyone had regrouped, and taken a long rest, they returned to Harding Manor with four wolf hides and the body of Lord Devon.

    Lady Matrice went into mourning, as the family Cleric administered the final rites and prepared the body for burial (this should be Simon’s character, Reverend Elijah Crane).

    Devon’s daughter, Greynora, took a more pragmatic approach. 

    She was the heir of Harding Manor, and at 11 years old, without a title or support, she had little choice other than be married off to a local noble. 

    This, she decided, would not do.

    She also had a duty to honour her father’s dying wish, racist remarks about Gnomes aside. He had served Cormyr as a Purple Dragon Knight, and had earned the right to a state burial within Suzail’s grand cenotaph. 

    Travel to Cormyr also removed her from the choice she was faced with in Featherdale. Greynora would lose her father’s manor and lands, but retain control of her own destiny.

    It was no choice, really.
    Greynora instructed her bannermen to accompany her and her mother to Suzail, and assist with the fulfillment of Devon’s dying wishes.

    She also asked Reggie to write to her family, the Fairfields​, and request that her brother in law, Daivyth Harding, oversee the lands in Greynora’s absence.
    Plans then turned to travel. 

    The party felt that they should avoid sea travel, the city of Ordulin in Sembia (and Sembia as a whole) and that they should avoid lengthy travel by road where possible.

    Which means that they opted to travel by riverboat to Highmoon, and from there over the Thunderpeak Mountains into Cormyr.
    I have advised the players that any attempt to travel by riverboat will result in an Apocalypse Now segment.

    They’re cool with this

    I’m not sure if that d20 is big, or very close