AD&D Review – A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade

Dungeon Module A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade is the second adventure in the “Aerie of the Slavelords” series. As I mentioned in my review of the first adventure, they were originally designed as tournament adventures for GenCon XIII. This adventure consists of two parts of the first round, but (somewhat confusingly) also follows on from the other adventure which would have been taking place at the same time…

The chief task for the adventurers is to discover where the Slave Lords have their stronghold. The map from A1 takes the characters along the caravan trail the slavers use to an old fort in the hills; they must then infiltrate the stockade and find maps or other clues to take them to the main stronghold of the Slavers. Secret of the Slavers Stockade was designed by Harold Johnson with Tom Moldvay; the result is a much more coherent work than that of the rather confused Slave Pits of the Undercity.

Although this adventure was originally written for tournament play, the published adventure expands upon the base scenario so that the Dungeon Master may use it in campaign play. In particular, it provides wandering monster tables for the journey between the Slave Pits and the Stockade, and rooms not used in the tournament have been fully detailed. Guidelines are given for running the adventure in tournament mode, but I believe this adventure works far better when you actually play the entire thing (in contrast, once again, to A1).

Unfortunately, it’s still an adventure of two halves; the stockade and the dungeons below are both different scenarios with few links between them, and it looks like even those connections are blocked. I may be mistaken, but assuming the party are paying attention to their goal, it’s unlikely that they’ll enter the other half of the adventure.

However, even playing through half the adventure should provide entertainment for the players. The stockade strikes me as being less of a grab-bag of encounters and more of a realistic take on what you would encounter, although there is time for enjoyable diversions. My favourite is an abandoned section of the stockade inhabited by a madman who has the slavers convinced that he’s a ghost! 

Although it is a more naturalistic take on the adventure, a few artefacts of the tournament style still intrude. For instance, as one passage turns, a mirror is placed to convince the adventurers there’s no turn; and thus waste their fireballs against the reflected mummies rather than the mummies themselves. Why exactly have the slavers set this up? (The answer is, of course, because this is a “trick” to deceive the tournament players. It’s enjoyable to read, but it doesn’t make the greatest sense in the world).

The dungeon level contains the lair of Markessa, the commander of the stockade and a rather intelligent and evil elf, who uses her magical powers to experiment on the slaves, turning some into doubles of her, others into her dream lovers, and other into great beasts. This gives the lower level of the dungeon its own feel, distinct from what was above, and the result allows the DM and players to explore a number of deceptions and problems that are quite unusual to include in a D&D adventure.

Four monsters make their debut in this adventure: 

  • The Phantom, which is more of a trick than a monster, which is an image of a dead person often reliving their death.
  • The Boggle, a small goblinoid-like trickster with the ability to manifest a small dimension door that they can put their hands through to steal things or strike another character.
  • The Cloaker, a highly intelligent and extremely alien monster from deep under the earth. It seems quite out of place in this adventure – especially as it doesn’t use its intelligence at all, but is content to just pacify the slaves with its moaning.
  • The Haunt, which is another undead spirit, but far more dangerous than the Phantom as it will possess a character and force him to complete some task the spirit left undone.

The artwork in the adventure is generally rather poor for the era and was created by Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof and Bill Willingham. The maps are fine, although the shading of the tournament areas make them a little less clear than they could be.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about Secret of the Slavers Stockade. It does reward a group whose DM is willing to flesh out what is given, and the links between the two halves of the stockade are poor, but the adventure as a whole is a worthy one.

At time of writing, the adventure is not available in PDF form, but can be found in a reprint edition.

Posted in AD&D, D&D, RPGs | Leave a comment

Armour Class in Dungeons & Dragons 5E

One of the bigger changes to the game in the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons concerns Armour Class. Although its function in the game hasn’t changed, unlike 3E and 4E, it doesn’t just keep going up and up and up. A major factor in the new edition’s design is Bounded Accuracy, which means that target numbers can’t change too much. Within the game, this translates to most Armour Classes being in the range of 10 to 20.

When a monster or character goes outside those ranges, you generally can assume there are magical items or spells involved, or the monster is special in some way. In the Basic Rules
(DM version 0.1), the best Armour Class is 19, held by an adult dragon. The Hoard of the Dragon Queen Online Supplement has two monsters with an Armour Class of 20 – a helmed horror and a roper. Nothing in those documents gets better. I’m not sure if anything in the Monster Manual exceeds 20; I still have to wait a couple of weeks before it gets released here.

This is, in many ways, similar to the original Dungeons & Dragons design, where monster Armour Classes were all in a very limited range: basically from 2 to 9. In those days, instead of providing a target number, they provided a chart reference; you’d cross-reference the Armour Class with the level or Hit Dice of the attacker to see what the target number was. Making Armour Class into the target number was one of the things the 3E designers got absolutely right. Historically, using a look-up chart for Armour Classes allowed non-linear progression of the target numbers, but that concept was largely abandoned by the time original D&D was printed.

With Bounded Accuracy in place, this has several implications to how Armour Class is calculated. Drawing on the terminology of previous editions, you have a Base Armour Class which then has several Armour Class Modifiers applied to it before you get the final result.

In 3E, your Base Armour Class was 10, and then everything else modified it: Armour, Shields, Dexterity, Spells, Amulets, Rings, and so on.

This is not how it works in 5E. Instead, Armour, Spells or Special Abilities provide you with a Base Armour Class, which is then modified by a very limited number of sources.

If your character has several ways of calculating their base armour class, you only use one method.

Here are a few examples of Base AC calculations:

  • No Armour: Base AC = 10 + Dexterity modifier
  • Leather Armour: Base AC = 11 + Dexterity modifier
  • Chain Shirt: Base AC = 13 + Dexterity modifier (max +2)
  • Plate Mail: Base AC = 18
  • Mage Armour spell: Base AC = 13 + Dexterity modifier
  • Barbarian Unarmoured Defense
    ability: Base AC = 10 + Dexterity modifier + Constitution modifier
  • Monk Unarmoured Defense ability: Base AC = 10 + Dexterity modifier + Wisdom modifier
  • Sorcerer Draconic Resilience ability: Base AC = 13 + Dexterity modifier

Meanwhile, there are several ways of further modifying your Armour Class. A few examples of these

  • Shield: +2 bonus to AC*
  • Shield of Faith spell: +2 bonus to AC
  • Shield spell: +5 bonus to AC
  • Half Cover: +2 bonus to AC
  • Three-Quarters Cover: +5 bonus to AC
  • +1 Armour: +1 bonus to AC
  • Ring of Protection: +1 bonus to AC; requires attunement
  • Bracers of Defense: +3 bonus to AC when not wearing armour or using a shield; requires attunement
  • Arrow Catching Shield: +1 bonus to AC against ranged attacks; requires attunement

There is at least one unusual exception to how AC is calculated:

  • Barkskin spell: Your minimum AC is 16.

*: The description of shields is unusual as it says it modifiers your base AC, but for most intents and purposes you can just treat it as a regular modifier.

As you can see, a multiclass Barbarian/Monk does not get to add all of their Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom modifiers to the Armour Class! They have three ways of calculating their base AC, but can only choose one. However, they can benefit from as many other bonuses to AC as they like. All the other modifiers stack; they aren’t split into several types of modifier like in 3E. (The one exception is that you can’t benefit from the same modifier twice; if two clerics cast Shield of Faith on you, you only get a +2 AC. Multiple copies of the same spell do not stack!)

So, why can’t you just apply modifier after modifier and end up with a fantastic Armour Class that requires a natural 20 to hit? Well, you can in limited circumstances. However, there are three major problems with having a lot of AC modifiers.

The first is that there aren’t all that many ways of modifying AC. Although I’m sure a few more will appear once the magic items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are released, it’s something that the designers will be keeping an eye on. +1 magic armour will likely not be that uncommon, but +3 armour looks like it will be rare and precious, and +5 armour? It probably doesn’t exist.

The second is attunement. Magic items that provide powerful effects (and most permanent items that affect major numbers on your character probably fit into that category) normally have the limitation of “requires attunement”. The rules state that a character may have a maximum of three items attuned to them, so you are limited in that sense as well.

The third is concentration. Ongoing spells that provide bonuses typically require the caster to concentrate on them. That means that the caster can’t have any other spells requiring concentration at the same time. One character could get the benefit from a few spellcasters all providing them with armour class bonuses from different spells, but that will be the exception and not the rule, and the rest of the party wouldn’t be benefitting. It should be noted that there are very few spells that provide a bonus to AC in any case.

Honestly, the best way of increasing your Armour Class? Get behind an arrow slit! They provide three-quarters cover. Unfortunately, dungeon designers typically don’t design their dungeons with arrow slits the characters can take advantage of…

The flip side of this is to consider the range of attack bonuses. Just taking a quick flip through the Basic DM Rules, I see attack bonuses in the range of +0 to +14 (crab to adult dragon), with most being in the range of +3 to +7. A player character can probably expect at high levels to get a regular attack bonus of +12, assuming a 20 in the appropriate ability score, the full +6 proficiency bonus and a +1 weapon. Spells, items and abilities may push it a few points higher.

So, that’s a brief tour of how Armour Class works in the new edition. If you’d like to compare how AC worked in previous editions, I have articles on Armour Class in Original D&D and AD&D, AD&D 2E and D&D 3E. This is unlikely to be my last word on the topic, as my analyses are anywhere but complete!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Design | 3 Comments

AD&D Review – A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity

Slave Pits of the Undercity is the first adventure in the Aerie of the Slave Lords series. This series of adventures was originally designed for the official AD&D Tournament at GenCon XIII in 1980. It was a very unusual undertaking: the first round was actually five separate adventures, each undertaken by different groups. The semi-final was a sixth adventure, and the final round was a seventh adventure. The whole was published in the four “A” (Aerie of the Slave Lords) modules, with the first six adventures being each taking up half a module, and with the finale being published in A4.

The concept behind the adventures was that the coastal towns of the world of Greyhawk were being burned and looted by the forces of the Slave Lords. In retaliation, the lords of these lands have hired several bands of adventurers to infiltrate the base and destroy the threat. Thus, each of the first five adventures finds a group of adventurers infiltrating a slaver base and trying to discover their headquarters – the Aerie of the Slave Lords.

Now, if you attempt to run the adventures as they were originally designed, this obviously will give you a few problems; you could actually play the entire story purely with A3 and A4! Later on, TSR drastically remodelled the series in their A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords super-adventure. (I promise I’ll review that adventure in due course). The actual published version of the adventures links each adventure together so you can play through A1, A2, A3 and A4 in that order, but it is worth noting that this isn’t the original way they were played.

The published adventures provide more information than the original tournament scenarios, providing extra areas to explore and a few links between the tournament adventures. One of these extra links is room 19 in the sewer area of A1, which provides a map leading to the Slaver Stockade of A2.

So, what are the adventures like? Sadly, the answer derives from their tournament origin: they’re very linear. Indeed, they’re the most linear modules we’d seen so far from TSR; we’d see more of this in the future. Here’s a brief description of the two adventures in this module.

Ruined Temple of the Slave Lords

In the city of Highport, which has been overrun by goblins and other humanoids, stands a ruined temple. The party has come to it due to rumours of slaver activity. A secret passage leads inside the walls and to the treacherous ruined area, which has collapsing floors, undead and strange plants.

Eventually, the slavers can be found – with a few deceptive encounters – and the leader of this outpost, a 6th level evil cleric, can be faced. The most interesting encounter in this section is a group of “slaves” that are actually half-orcs pretending to be slaves (and thus will ambush the PCs if they’re unwary).

Slave Pits of the Undercity

The other adventure presumes the group has infiltrated Highport and learnt that the slavers take their slaves to the sewers… where they disappear. Following on that lead takes them through chambers of Aspis (an new ant-man monster), to an orc and ogre guardpost, a few traps, and finally to the slave pits themselves, where the slaves are held in cages, and the slave lord’s den where they face a 7th level thief. The most memorable encounter is the fight on the slave pits, where you’re balancing on beams above the open cages.

Ahem.

There are two new monsters in this adventure – the Aspis and the Giant Sundew (which sees action in the first part) – neither of which inspires all that much; certainly they didn’t see much use in subsequent adventures.

What really works in Slave Pits of the Undercity is the concept. There are a few good encounters, but the overall result isn’t that favourable. The attempts to expand upon the tournament adventures don’t add that much of interest. In the sewer levels, we get more chambers with ants and aspis, as well as a bit more of the slave pits. On the ground level, we get a couple of garden areas, some ruined areas, and the stables and gatehouse. It makes it works slightly better as an adventure setting (although the map doesn’t make all that much sense), but some of the extra encounters just look to be randomly deadly and don’t fit the adventure that much. (Two basilisks in the ruined section? Really?)

If you examine the David LaForce artwork above, you’re probably looking at a bearded female dwarf. At least, I hope you are. The artwork in this adventure is some of the weakest of TSR during this period; there’s not really that much to recommend it.

As you can probably tell, I’m not very fond of Slave Pits of the Undercity. I’ve both played it and run it, and though it served its purpose of a diversion for a few hours, the material here is very slight. There are a few challenging encounters, a couple that will make you think, a dearth of role-playing opportunities, and a lot of boring, mundane material. The series would get better before the end, but it didn’t begin well.

At time of writing, the adventure is not available in PDF form, but can be found in a reprint edition.

Posted in AD&D, D&D, Review | 1 Comment

Review of DL1: Dragons of Despair

With Dragons of Despair, TSR launched the Dragonlance property, and we moved into a new era of D&D.

It’s really hard to understate how important Dragonlance is to the history of D&D. The story was told through both adventures and novels, and for the first time TSR were concentrating on telling a really big story through their products.

We’d seen hints of this approach to storytelling through adventures through the work of TSR UK and Tracy Hickman’s previous adventures, but this was on another scale altogether. Paizo’s Adventure Paths and Wizards’ Tyranny of Dragons have their beginnings here. Dragonlance got a lot of things wrong, as is to be expected of any ground-breaking product, but it got a lot of things right as well.

One of the things it got absolutely right was the trilogy of accompanying novels. Stylistically, they have their flaws, but the story they tell is compelling. (They worked especially well for the teenage me, back almost thirty years ago). However, the release of those books cast a long shadow over the adventure modules. If you’ve read the novels, what can the adventures offer that the novels can’t? And, perhaps more pertinently, does reading the novels spoil the experience of playing the adventures?

And then there’s the biggest of all problems about presenting a story through both adventures and novels: Are you telling the same story in both? For Dragonlance, the answer was yes (for the most part). The correspondence between the plot of the adventures and the plot of the novels would be the biggest issue in how these adventures were received. When the adventure starts to tell you how a player must act for the story to proceed, then problems can arise. The term we use for this is railroading, and there’s more than a little of this in the series.

However, it’s quite odd to discover that isn’t actually the problem with Dragons of Despair. Yes, the players have to perform certain actions, but Dragons of Despair tries other tactics rather than just telling the players where to go.

The basic plot of the adventure is that the player characters have returned to their hometown being apart for five years. They have been seeking proof of the existence of the gods; the gods having abandoned the world hundreds of years ago after an event known as the Cataclysm. Back home, they discover that numerous groups – including a strange group of reptile men – are seeking the Blue Crystal Staff. They meet up with the bearer of the staff and eventually make their way with her to Xak Tsaroth, where they learn that the gods are indeed real and they are returning to the world, with one of the characters becoming the first true cleric since the Cataclysm.

Oh, and dragons have also returned to the world, and a great army is now conquering their land!

Yes, it’s a lot to get through. Tracy Hickman is the designer of this adventure and the entire Dragonlance series was his idea (although aided by many other TSR staff along the way). As TSR’s best adventure designer, it’s a good thing he was starting off the series, but it is a bumpy start.

Dragons of Despair drops the characters into an unfamiliar world and then expects them to work out what to do, with a few hints that there is a lot of interest in a Blue Crystal Staff. Hickman designed a large section of the local countryside for the initial section of the adventure. There are a number of clues pointing the characters towards Xak Tsaroth, from which the Blue Crystal Staff came, but my experience running it is that the players are quite lost at the beginning. The initial encounter doesn’t really drive in the point – there’s a throw-away reference to the staff and then the party is attacked by goblins. The reaction of the characters in the book actually drives this home – they’re concerned by goblins being around their home rather than any mention of a Blue Crystal Staff!

With thirty more years’ knowledge of adventure-design techniques, we can see the problems with the initial part of Dragons of Despair. It needs the techniques of event-driven play, but those techniques are in their infancy; most adventures of the time were site-based (certainly most D&D ones!) Dragons of Despair takes steps towards this approach by having several Events that take place dependent on time, not location, but their use is still fairly clumsy and limited, the most notable use being the invasion of the Dragonarmies, which cause the countryside and towns to fall to their forces (and probably force the players towards Xak Tsaroth if they’re still unsure of where to go).

The actual clues to get the characters moving towards Xak Tsaroth can be rather blunt. An old storyteller in the Inn of the Last Home just straight-out tells the group they need to go there. The first time I ran the adventure, with players who had read the books, they listened to his advice and went straight there, completely bypassing the initial stages of the adventure. It was probably a mercy for all concerned, as I was a very inexperienced DM in those days!

These days, I can see what Tracy Hickman was aiming for – my comprehension aided a lot by reading how the initial stages proceed in the novel – but the first section of the adventure definitely has its problems.

Once the adventure gets to Xak Tsaroth, however, things get much better. Tracy Hickman had already made a name for himself as a designer of interesting dungeons, and Xak Tsaroth is no exception: it is a ruined city, cast down the side of a cliff so that the buildings are now on many levels, and the players must crawl over treacherous pathways (or use a primitive elevator controlled by the enemy) to negotiate it. The city’s map, drawn in isomorphic fashion by David “Diesel” LaForce, is a masterpiece.

Part of what makes Dragons of Despair and the entire Dragonlance series so memorable is the sheer amount of invention here. There was a very clear desire to distance the adventure from the influences of Tolkien. Orcs are absent from Krynn and the halflings have been entirely recast as kender, inquisitive kleptomaniacs with no fear – about as far as the hobbits of the Shire as you can imagine! The chief soldiers of the Dragonarmies, Draconians – reptile men of mysterious origins – are introduced in a manner to increase the mystery of their origins. Tracy Hickman’s ability to write inspiring prose and descriptions is also in full view here, as the adventure is filled with evocative descriptions of the things the players find.

Although I’ve criticised how the adventure doesn’t really give the players enough of an idea of their home lands, it does at least attempt to ground them in the mythic underpinnings of the world: the story of the first great fight against the dragons, which led to their banishing from the realm, and the Cataclysm that occurred when the gods turned their faces from the world. This is done through a magnificent eight-stanza poem, the Canticle of the Dragon, most likely written by Michael Williams (who was working as an editor at TSR at the time, and, indeed, edited this adventure). The module also includes – of all things – a song! Unfortunately, the printing of the song in the book ran into a few technical hitches, so that the notes aren’t properly placed on the staves. (My teenage self was still able to work out where they should have been, and rather enjoyed playing it and the other music that would come in later modules).

The artwork, by Jeff Easley and Clyde Caldwell, is superb. One thing Dragonlance did was really display what a talented team of artists could do. If I have one complaint with the production values of the adventure, it is in the DM’s wilderness map, which is a blurry black & white reproduction of the players’ map; it is very hard to distinguish features on it. However, Hickman made one great innovation with the map: he divided it up to regions where the encounters would occur whenever the region was entered rather than just a specific hex; this greatly enhanced the play of the adventure.

This then is Dragons of Despair, the first of the Dragonlance adventures. It’s an ambitious adventure, and one that has a lot of great design in it, along with some parts that don’t quite work as intended. Despite its flaws, it’s one of my favourite adventures ever written for D&D. The real problems with the Dragonlance adventures would appear in later adventures, with the next adventure, Dragons of Flame showing exactly what the perils were with the novels and adventure story going hand-in-hand…

(Dragons of Despair is available in pdf-format from dndclassics.com. It’s a pretty good scan, although the map of Xak Tsaroth has been split into two pieces that are separated: at the beginning and end of the book.)

Posted in AD&D, D&D, Review | 1 Comment

Review of DL1: Dragons of Despair

I accidentally published an incomplete version of this review – the full version is here:

Full Review of DL1: Dragons of Despair

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

D&D Encounters: Hoard of the Dragon Queen, session 3

Our numbers were slightly down this week from our all-time high of last week, but – at 36 players – it was still the second highest turnout in our store! It wasn’t as simple as six people couldn’t make it, though, as a couple of players who missed last week were here for this session. The fluctuating player base is one of the reasons that turning up on-time is so important for Encounters: it makes organising the tables much easier!

My own table had seven players: Josh, Jesse, Danielle, Floyd, Lewis, Tim and Michael. The other tables were mostly at 4 or 5 players, but all of my players could make this session. (Liliana and Ricky were able to make the session as well, but I no longer had room at my table, so they moved to other tables). I think that, from now on, my table will be pretty set in its make-up.

My original plan going into this session was to complete Episode 1 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen by first running the church encounter and then closing things out. It didn’t quite work that way, as my players indicated they wanted to take a rest. I decided to pre-empt them by running the challenge encounter, forgetting that it was meant to close things off. Once I realised what I’d done, I thought “Why not end episode 1 here? They’ve got the XP, they’ve fought the good fight, and they’re exhausted!” So, instead of running a couple more of the Episode 1 missions, we ended Episode 1 at the beginning of this session.

The end of the episode ran like this: A blue half-dragon challenged the townsfolk to send a champion to fight him, or he’d slay a family the cultists had captured. One of the guards was all ready to challenge the half-dragon, but Michael’s Barbarian stepped in himself. The party considered treachery, but the cultists had foreseen that and kept the guard’s wife behind so that she’d be killed if the townsfolk tried anything. Lewis’s ranger, whose favoured enemy is dragonkind, asked me for information on half-dragons, so I told him that Blue dragons are traditionally Lawful Evil and honourable (if cruel). I was thinking of Kitiara’s dragon Skie as my exemplar of blue dragonhood! So, the group knew that this half-dragon, Cyanwrath, would probably keep his word.

The fight was very short indeed. Michael won the initiative, but missed (by a point). Cyanwrath attacked once and hit, dropping the barbarian. He then attacked again, inflicting another wound on Michael, which counted as a failed death saving throw. With that, the order for the raiders to leave was given, and the humans and kobolds left the town, leaving Michael’s body behind. Lewis rappelled down the walls and ran to his companion and used a goodberries spell to heal him. The townsfolk were left counting the cost of the raid, and the party settled down to finally rest.

The next day, Episode 2 began with the party finding the Protector of the town walking around the ruins of the town. He was very worried about where the raiders had come from. Who were they? Would they return? He offered them a substantial fee to discover that information. The group accepted, and prepared to leave, taking advantage of an offer by the Protector to resupply them. (I did make sure that no really great items, like platemail, were given away for free, though – the Protector’s offer as written is a bit of a blank slate!) While they were preparing, they were contacted by an injured young man who told them that his master, a monk from Berdusk, had been captured by the raiders… and that his master knew a lot about them, having been investigating them for months. Would the party please rescue him?

The group agreed to keep an eye out, and set out on the trail of the watchers. Jesse and Lewis scouted on ahead, discovering a group of raiders (kobolds and humans) who had paused to have a meal. The kobolds and humans weren’t getting along, and Jesse helped that along by using the message cantrip to make one group think the other was poisoning the food! Soon enough, the kobolds – disgusted by the bullying they were receiving from the humans (and Jesse) left the campsite. Soon after, they spotted Jesse and Lewis, and began to pursue them. Those worthy adventurers fled as quickly as they could back to the rest of the party. Lewis was able to hide on the way back and start sniping the kobolds, but Jesse kept running until he could hide behind everyone else!

With the party able to shoot at the kobolds from long range – and Tim’s character has a very, very long range on his Eldritch Blasts – the kobolds were soon defeated. The group then went to confront the human raiders, who were, by now, wondering where the kobolds had gone and wondering if it were safe to eat their meal. The group rolled incredibly well on their stealth checks and completely surprised the raiders, and soon forced them to surrender – Josh just walked into the middle of camp and demanded their surrender. Once they realised they were surrounded, they did so. Interrogating them, they discovered where the main camp was. They then discussed what to do with the raiders: Kill them? Let them go? Take them with the party? Eventually they decided just to tie them up and return for them, after I pointed out a few flaws with the other plans.

So, they closed in on the raider’s camp. By now, Lewis was scouting ahead about 80-100 feet in front of everyone else. However, his Perception, while good, wasn’t enough to spot the ambush the raiders had made on the way, and the Perception of the ambushers wasn’t good enough to see his stealthy ranger! The net result was that he walked right through the ambush and only realised something was wrong when the rest of the group reached the ambush site and were ambushed by the raiders! At that point, Lewis turned around and hurried back to the group.

He found them crawling out from under boulders that the raiders had pushed down on them. At least, most of the party were: Jesse was quite still, having been knocked unconscious. The warriors in the group charged up the slope towards the raiders, engaging them in melee before they could cause more trouble, whilst the rest of the party got out their ranged attacks and spells. The fact that the raiders had a lot of cover didn’t really bother Tim that much, because he had the spell sniper feat and could ignore cover. Meanwhile, Floyd tried to stabilise Jesse. He was completely unsuccessful, but after a couple of rounds, Jesse managed to roll a natural 20 on his death saving throw and recover by himself!

Eventually the raiders were defeated. Noting that they had formal uniforms, the party took the uniforms with a view to disguising themselves once they reached the camp. Interrogating the survivor, during his declaration of allegiance to the Dragon Queen and his description of her magnificence, the group hit on a novel strategy: they pretended to be persuaded by his words, releasing him and asking him to take them to his leader as new initiates of the Dragon Cult. Given how well their Deception checks were, I saw no problem with this plan…

And that’s where we left it for this session. Next session, they infiltrate the camp. Surely nothing can go wrong with their plan?

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, D&D Encounters, Session Report, Tyranny of Dragons | Leave a comment

Goblins of the Lost Mine (Friday session 4)

Our latest session of the Friday campaign saw us continuing through Lost Mine of Phandelver. We’d ended the previous session with the group starting their explorations of Cragmaw Castle; this session saw them conclude their explorations.

Harbek, Martin’s dwarf fighter, could hear movement to the south through a small passage the goblins had made through the rubble. He set up guard near the doorway to the southern chamber and, soon enough, the head of a goblin poked out and looked straight at him. He looked back. The goblin disappeared. Soon enough there was an exchange in the goblin tongue from within the passageway, which Harbek couldn’t understand. He shouted at them, and there was more goblin yipping. The group conferred. “What did he say?” “I don’t know, I don’t speak goblin!”

Semicolon, Adam’s wizard, did speak goblin, and so moved up beside Harbek. Harbek roared at the goblins again, and there was more discussion. Semicolon’s translation: “What did he say?” “I don’t know, I don’t speak dwarf!”

After this frivolity, a louder voice from within the tunnel ordered the goblins to attack. They did so, using advantage of their bonus Disengage action to perform strike-and-disengage tactics on Harbek. Harbek had readied an actions to strike as they ran in, but the goblins were whittling down his hit points faster than he was able to strike them back. Meanwhile, the rest of the party were using ranged attack from back in the passageway. I was assessing a +2 or +5 cover bonus to the goblins’ ACs depending on where the characters were and how tall they were. Rich’s halfling rogue, Endworkin, was generally getting a +5 penalty just because he had to shoot through Harbek’s very broad back! He was using his lightfoot’s ability to hide behind his allies, but because he wasn’t moving, I followed one of Mike Mearls’ suggestions and gave him disadvantage on those stealth checks.

Semicolon tried to use another doorway to enter the goblin lair, only to discover a trap the goblins had constructed: the ceiling fell on him! He was able to make the Dexterity saving throw, so only took five damage. With the door now blocked by the rubble, he was forced to return to slinging spells past Harbek. Rilwen, Greg’s cleric moved up to heal Harbek, and Harbek finally entered the room and slew most of the remaining goblins as they retreated. One got away, the other fainted as a result of an intimidation check. The goblin never regained consciousness during the session. (In actual fact, he often did, but finding himself being carted around by the characters who were hoping to interrogate him, he kept fainting again!)

The group made their way further into the ruined castle, discovering that parts of the complex were screened off by curtains hung across the passageways. Harbek took much pleasure in throwing javelins at them to rip them down. Continuing in this manner through the ruined passageways and rooms, the group discovered an old chapel to four gods of good. More curtains screened off the northern part of the chapel. Rilwen, a cleric of Tymora and Semicolon, an acolyte of Oghma, began bickering about which god to reconsecrate the shrine to. It was when they weren’t paying attention, the Grick attacked Semicolon, dropping down from the roof and knocking him unconscious with one powerful attack!

The rivalry between the devotees forgotten, Rilwen healed Semicolon as the other characters slew the Grick. Feeling that they weren’t alone, the group moved aside the curtains to discover three goblins hiding behind the altar, which was now covered with a bloodstained cloth. The goblins actually managed to survive three rounds of combat before they were defeated.

With the goblins defeated, the group removed the bloodstained cloth to reveal the glorious altar beneath it, carved with representations of the four gods – Lathander, Mystra, Oghma and Tymora. And the bickering started up again between Rilwen and Semicolon, and basically continued for the rest of the session, much amusing the rest of us!

Eventually, the group discovered the leader of this band of goblins: a massive bugbear. He was in negotiations with a female drow; it appeared the drow wanted to buy the map of the Lost Mine! The group swiftly moved to confront them!

I was expecting a massive fight. I was definitely not expecting the bugbear to go down in one round without even getting an attack thanks to Harbek striking it with a critical hit! However, the drow was a more dangerous combatant… and in her first turn, she turned aside and slew a dwarf lying bound behind a bed… Gundren!

This enraged Harbek, seeing his cousin slain in such a cowardly manner, and despite the drow’s efforts to escape, it wasn’t long before the drow was slain. Two hobgoblin guards, hearing the noise, came from the south and attacked Rilwen and Semicolon from the rear, but soon they were slain as well. The group found the treasure of the bugbear, and the map, but Harbek was distraught at the fate of his cousin. Rilwen performed a ceremony over the body to preserve it for the journey back, and the group resumed their investigation of the castle.

One further danger awaited: an owlbear, locked in a room by the goblins. It wasn’t much of a threat to the party… well, it could have been, but it was slain after landing only one hit on Harbek. The group discovered a chest in its room that held some useful treasure, including a scroll of revivify, but – alas – the scroll’s magic could not work on Gundren, he was too long dead.

The group now returned to Phandalin, bearing the corpse of Harbek’s cousin and defeating a night attack by orcs along the way.

Once back in Phandalin, Rilwen and Semicolon kept a very low profile to avoid being seen by the local cleric of Tymora. Meanwhile, Harbek sought her out, asking if there was anyone who could cast raise dead on his cousin in the area. He was told that there was, a priest of Helm in nearby Neverwinter. However, the magic would be costly (about 1,250 gp – using the guidelines from the Adventurers League documents) and would have to be performed within a tenday of the death. As time was getting short, the group left right away.

I didn’t give the group any hassles about gaining the magic – they were basically giving up all their gold to have Gundren raised – and afterwards the dwarf was very grateful, offering the group a percentage in the profits his mine would bring… if they ever managed to find it and reopen it!

The last stage of the session was the group travelling to the mine, using Gundren’s map. They were attacked by an ogre and three orcs along the way; the monsters were defeated within four rounds.

At this stage, the party are all level 3, with some of the characters being on the verge of reaching level 4. They’ve missed a number of side-quests available in Phandalin, but that’s fine. It’s quite possible we’ll conclude the adventure next session; failing that, we’ll finish the week after.

Glen was absent from this session due to a mishap he’d had earlier in the week. Paul should return from holiday in a few more weeks, and will be present for the first of the new campaign sessions: a campaign set in Onnwal, a country of the World of Greyhawk.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment