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Friday, October 10, 2014

Hoard of the Dragon Queen Chapter 1 - A Ko-Bold move!

Hoard of the Dragon Queen – Chapter one: Greenest in Flames

So, we're at it again. Heading down that old, adventurous road that we've come to love so much. But this time it's different; we're off on our very first public campaign to D&D 5th. Edition, namely “The Hoard of the Dragon Queen”.

Besides being the first of its kind, the structure of this campaign is also a bit new, especially if you're used to the Paizo approach. Instead of throwing the usual six books at you, what you get is a compact narrative of eight small chapters that work intertwined to tell a larger story; sort of what you did with Shackled City back in the day. (Let's just hope the story is slightly original and interesting this time around, though).

My group picked up this book right after finishing The Lost Mine of Phandelver, even though we technically have half of Wrath of the Righteous to go. I'm really the one to blame for this, seeing that 5th edition is a ton more fun that Pathfinder in its current state.
So you know the drill; we go over the chapters one by one, GM comments in blue and all that shit. Have fun and hope to get inspired!

Some preparation...

My party consists of five players and me as the GM. We play every Wednesday from 19:00 till around midnight, meaning we're usually quite speedy at things. This time around, the party consists of Madam Ursus the human druid (who lives right outside the starting town of Greenest), the half-orc barbarian “12” (who had his tribe butchered by a dragon and now makes a living as a travelling gladiator), the halfling fighter Lee (who pretty much just woke up on the road outside of Greenest and doesn't remember a single thing about himself, excepts his name and that he's good with weapons), the half-elf bard Connor (who used to be working with the cult and has a double identity there; currently living with Madam Ursus), and Cirion the human dragon-sorcerer (a truly gifted scholar living in the Greenest keep; an expert on dragon lore).


The entire adventure is set on the Sword Coast and generally pits the heroes against the notorious Cult of the Dragon. One thing that really shines, in my opinion, is how the adventure stays true to the cardinal importance of backgrounds, and offers a small spectrum of new backgrounds and various affiliations with the cult and the NPC's that actually makes it plausible that they're there in the first place. Some of these are really interesting, even though I kind of miss a more elaborate column in which the general structure and organization of the Cult is described. This is mostly something you have to pick up as you go along.

(Mind you, even though this adventure is written for four players; even with five in my group they had a really hard time catching up with the challenges of the first chapter. As per se; the initial chapter is always hard as fuck, so I doubt there is no need for you to adjust any of it, even though your group outnumbers it.)

As the heroes progress along the sinister plot, they soon realize things are much more dire than they appear, and that it's once again time to go out and save the world. It's classy, it's stylish, it's D&D as we love it. So let's dig right in.

Also, if you've followed my blog before, you know I love changing shit. I'll make sure to mark those properly, hoping to inspire some other GM's.

Now, hold those horses!

There is one huge change I recommend right off the bat. The adventure is, like its predecessor, pretty much right on and into action from the very second it gets off its chair. The heroes arrive at Greenest, for various reasons, and see it in flames, under attack by raiders and a blue dragon. I found this to be a tad bit aggressive, especially if your group is into immersion play and want to get to know their comrades in arms before bashing cultist-skulls.

Yes, it's a rip-off. I don't care. It works.
So, what I did was taking the Neverwinter Nights 2 approach, and let the heroes arrive during the harvest festival. I know this is an aged mechanic, but it works so well; just look at the town of Sandpoint in Rise of the Runelords. While the heroes may be eager to search for cultists and the like, allow them to hear some rumors and ask around while enjoying themselves. Set up some competitions for them, in which they can try out the new rules in 5th. Here's what I used.

  • Ring the bell or lift the weights at the smith (STR, athletics)
  • Guess the name of Gobbles the Turkey at the butcher (INT, investigation)
  • Pick-a-package-from-the-box (WIS, perception – get a trinket from the trinket table in PhB)
  • Perform on the open stage at the 'Grassy Gnoll' inn (CHA, perform)
  • Dunk the “ogre”; a guy dressed as an ogre, hit the bell with five balls to dunk him into the water. (DEX, ranged attack, AC 9)
  • Rope pulling in groups (STR, group challenge)
  • Present the most impressive livestock to the judges (Here I made a simple quest, where the nearby farmer, Greenberry, had used illegal potions to augment his animals, which sadly made them intelligent and then kill him. The heroes go there to slay the animals, and can take the huge pig and win the competition. It's also great for you to try and build an encounter for yourself, just make sure to include one giant animal of some kind.)
  • If the heroes manage to win every single competition, I grant them an Inspiration point. (I prefer to use these for impressive deeds and very clever ideas, since my players don't need motivation to roleplay).
  • For more ideas for a festival, see my earlier blog post:

Let the heroes have fun and get to meet some of the characters they will interact with later. The most important ones would be:

Governor Nighthill
The governor will greet them early on and tell them to make themselves home. He is a good man with a weary look, who tends to get very chatty and perhaps a bit amorous towards female heroes, once the wine starts flowing. Don't make him obnoxious, rather let him be an appealing character, seeing how he's the main quest giver for the first couple of chapters.

Escobert the Red
The Master of the Keep; mainly keeps to himself and his drinks, but is a great chance for the heroes to socialize; perhaps try out those drinking games and a CON, athletics check? He's one of the only persons around who is genuinely worried about the recent cult activity on the Coast. He may even mention the secret tunnel to the heroes, if he's had one too many drinks.

Leosin Erlanthar
The half-elf monk is not one to indulge in such festivities, but he is occasionally seen mingling a bit with some of this friends from the church of Chauntea. He is sober, serious and very interested in talking about the rumors of cultist activities; one almost has the feeling that his interest is more than academic? Leosin won't be important till chapter 2, but it's good to let the heroes get to know him as a good guy.

When the day is done, allow the heroes to rest at the inn after much celebration, and then fire away with Chapter One as written. (There is an additional benefit to this; as written, it's actually possible for the heroes to set a world record in reaching level 2 in a public adventure. All they have to do, is sit down and watch the world burn; the raiders will leave and they will ding level 2, if you're going for milestone leveling. If they're already in town, they're much more inclined to do something.)

Our town is under attack!
The heroes were resting well in their beds, when a savage roar and a chorus of yelling voices from the outside broke the silent veil of night. Soon after, fires illuminated the night and windows were shattered while people ran in panic into the streets. Above it all, the occasional thunder dragon-wings echoed.

Quickly getting into their gear, the heroes opened the windows and saw several raiders in black and blue battered armor, pillaging and plundering left and right. People were cut down where they stood by impish little kobolds and strange dog-like reptilians stalked the streets. (As written, these are just mercenaries, but with inspiration from Hackslashmaster, I've fleshed them out to be sellswords from the Black Talon and Blue Boar http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.dk/2014/09/on-hoard-of-dragon-queen-episode-ii_10.html – His guide is really great, if you want to detail your generic cultists and raiders a bit.)

Cirion tried shouting out to the dragon in draconic, making it turn its head and blast the inn from afar. Half the party made it out in time, but the other half had to suffer through a collapsed ceiling and broken walls. Just as they got into the streets, the enemy was upon them. Two raiders and three kobolds stormed them, with sadistic glee.
Kobolds. They WILL fuck you up.
(There are a lot of fights to be had in Greenest, but stealth is rewarded. If the heroes just head out, chances are they'll be overwhelmed quickly, as you roll a lot for wandering monsters. Also; they don't get any long rests. Once they head down that road, the plot pretty much solves itself and they skip out on a lot of stuff. So the biggest challenge is beyond doubt the resource management.

Also, a lot of the challenge at low level is still the burst damage. If your heroes seem to make it a little too well, consider letting your monster dual wield weapons, which seems deadly at lower levels.)

The heroes smashed in the head of the raiders, but poor Lee was struck down by the ganging Kobolds (pack tactics is a crazy good ability now). They had time to get him back to his feet and decided to head for the keep and have a low profile. On the way they managed to encounter a few villagers, who were about to be killed, and take them along.

(I allowed my players to declare whether they wanted to stealth or search for prisoners as they went along. The more villagers they took with them, the higher the chance they would be detected by wandering monsters, and they had to defend said villagers in battle. This again allowed the heroes to have a say in how the odds were scaled. In the end, they gathered up a group of around 10 and led them off to the keep.)

What the hell is going on down there?

The heroes arrived at the keep, which had its gates shut shortly after. Nighthill was furious and demanded an explanation. The militia was holding its ground, but it was clear that the raiders just wanted for them to sit tight and wait for it to be over with. Not something the governor would accept. He instructed the heroes to take the secret way out of the keep and out into town, and find out more about this attack. Apparently, the enemy was about to put the torch to the old mill west of town; which would be catastrophic, seeing how much food would go to waste.
The heroes prepared themselves with a few supplies and set out through the old tunnel. On their way they encountered two rat swarms, who happily devoured them and once again instilled the good ol' notion of fear of swarms. (While swarms aren't as devastating as they used to be in Pathfinder, they're still extremely annoying to a low level party with little to no access to magic attacks.)

They arrived at the end of the tunnel and noticed a party of raiders scouting right outside, near the small brook. (By the way, one thing that annoyed me immensely, is the fact that the chapter comes with a great map of Greenest; only there is no legend to it. You can pretty much work out much of it by your own, and I imagine this is also why there is so very little description of the actual town; you need to find out by your own. But still, it wouldn't have hurt with a few directions.)
Using illusion magic, Cirion managed to lure off the raiders with a voice calling from the distance, allowing the heroes to slip by unnoticed and approach the mill from the stream.

Sneaking closer, they realized that there were indeed flames around it, but they weren't meant to burn it down. Rather, a couple of kobolds kept it lit and a guard drake lay in ambush on the roof, alarming the heroes well in advance. Though they didn't get the surprise round on the draconic imps, they managed to avoid the drop from the raiders that were waiting for them inside the mill, and the fight took place on the outside. 
(At this point the party is likely still going strong on resources; that's okay. It's a perfect opportunity for them to capture a raider.)

They dragged on them into the mill and started questioning him, learning that he was a hired sword by the Cult of the Dragon-something. A proud member of the Black Talon, he had no loyalty to his employer, but could only reveal that they were hired to plunder the town and bring it all back to the camp to the south. He also mentioned a dragon-lady and some nasty bitch in purple. Satisfied with this, the heroes cut his throat and threw the lot into the river (yup...)

Approved!
Dragon!
They made their way just back to the keep and reported to Nighthill, who was deeply troubled by the news. There was no rest for the wicked, however, as the alarm was raised soon after. The dragon was attacking the keep, and all hands were needed at the parapet.

Making their way up there along with a good handful of men, the heroes spread out and faced the huge, flying monstrosity. It roared with thunder, lightning crackling from its throat, and blasted a score of soldiers, sending them screaming off the wall.

While the troops stood vigilant against it, the heroes held back and attacked with ranged weapons with a feeble attempt of driving it off. Eventually, Lee scored a critical hit with his crossbow, piercing the beast's eye and sending it howling to the skies, cursing in ancient tongues.
(This encounter is kind of weird; it's mostly a dps race in which the heroes are safe. I was kind of wondering how they were supposed to even overcome its frightful presence seeing as it's so high? Still, it's not much damage the dragon needs, but it seemed kind of odd to them that it just left after one critical hit.)

Smoke rises from the temple of Chauntea...

The battle with the dragon was fierce indeed, and at this stage, the heroes were starting to feel the effect of the depleted resources. And to make matters worse, a shout from the parapets warned them that something was going on down at the temple of Chauntea - it looked like the raiders were trying to bash in the doors. Judging from the amount of people in the keep, several more were bound to have sought refugee in the sanctuary. If the the raiders broke through, it would be a carnage!

As they watched, Lee looked down and noticed a stern woman in purple gowns staring back up at him. He had a strange feeling that they'd met before... 

 With a sigh of displeasure, the heroes gathered up their gear once more, but confronted Governor Nighthill that they were in a banged up shape and needed some supplies. Though Nighthill had been saving such supplies for later, he gave up some potions of healing and a first aid kit to the cause (The heroes have the chance to win the potions later on, anyway, so that's a possibility if you want to be nice on them. The governor wants them to succeed, after all).

So off they went to the hero-cave and set out for the temple.

Once they arrived, they noticed the overwhelming amount of raiders and beasts. A group led by a Dragonclaw was battering on the front door, while a huge patrol made slow circuits around the building, trying to keep everyone away. And then, at the back, a puny group of kobolds had lit a fire and was trying to smash in the backdoor with frustrated growling. 

The heroes considered this for a short while and waited till the patrol had passed; stormed in and had the jump on the kobolds before they could raise the alarm. Connor knocked on the door and managed to persuade the guy on the other side of their sincerity, so they were let in and found the temple in chaos. The high priestess almost cried out what sight for sore eyes they were, and that they needed to get people out before the front door collapsed.

(If you want to put more pressure on this situation and play with a battle grid, let the group at the front door hammer away and roll a dice for the HP of the door, while slowly moving the group of raiders outside; watching the miniatures move closer to the backdoor and the now lost group of kobolds will surely stress the urgency of forming a quick plan!)

People were panicked in there; the very notion of running out of the temple was just as terrifying as staying, so the heroes had to do some persuasion (really, of course people would usually try and make a run for it, but at least try and make the heroes work for it, I say). They insured the townsfolk that no harm would come to them, if only they would get off their ass and move NOW! There were some lucky rolls, and in a small huddle, the group left the church. On their way out, however, the high priestess asked the heroes if they'd seen Leosin, the half-elf monk? The last time she saw him, he left the church during the raid, in order to get help. But from the window, she noticed he was captured and put up surprisingly little resistance, which wondered her?

(This is more of a red herring or interesting thought for the heroes, which bodes of what is to come in the next chapter!)

This is one of those passages that can turn out really well or really bad. If the heroes are dim they may even try and go Lancelot on the church, which will end badly. It doesn't take many failed stealth checks either, and just one of the kobolds needs to survive the drop and run and call for help. In that case, the best the heroes can hope for is to flee and watch the massacre of the church. Then again, it's also one of those situations that leave a lot of room for improvement, and a smooth talking player may have some clever way of making it inside.


Cyaaaaaanwrath is ready!

They returned to the keep with the villagers, and the heroes settled down a well deserved hour to rest. They were well on to dream land from exhaustion, when a roar flew through the night. A hoarse voice called out the surviving villagers of Greenest, proclaiming the raid had come to an end, and that they could finish this off without any problems, if only the town would send out its best fighter!

Joining the assembly on the parapet, the heroes noticed a towering half-dragon in the midst of a huge group of raiders. Next to him were a battered woman with two children, who one of the guards immediately recognized as his sister and nieces. About to burst through the gates in a daring rescue, the heroes restrained him and decided to talk to the half-dragon. The blue giant introduced himself as Cyanwrath, and that he would only face their best fighter. After some thinking, they decided to send out Twelve the barbarian.

Cyanwrath was pleased to see this, and the battle immediately broke out. In the first round of combat, the half-dragon attacked twice and had some...good luck. In fact, he rolled two natural twenties.


With a small whimper, Twelve went down for the count, almost died, but Cyanwrath dealt nonlethal damage and instead knocked out the barbarian with the pommel of his sword, laughing fiendishly as he cut off the half-orcs ear as trophy. Hailed by a chorus of cheer and laughter, the raiders departed and left the heroes who quickly attended the hostages and brought their comrade inside for rest.
They barely had the time to sit down and breathe, before the outside world and its commotion evaporated as they drifted slowly into sleep...and their second level!

Conclusion:

I've spent some time reading up on the general opinions of this adventure, and I'm kind of surprised how much hate it has received from the fans. Some of it is more or less warranted, so I'll try and keep it to the point.
I like it how they've remained true to the fact that the first couple of levels are about earning your wings. This chapter is brutal and challenging, truly putting a strain on the heroes' resources. There are plenty of encounters, they seem relevant and the adventure doesn't really waste much time getting people involved; likely because this is supposed to be easily picked off and fired away at the gaming club. I can understand that.

I'm very annoyed by the fact, however, that there is so very little introduction to Greenest; neither is any information conveyed to you as the GM. Improvising is always fun, but there is almost nothing to go on here. In addition, the random encounters aren't that creative at all; most of them are simply a handful of monsters thrown at the heroes without any context. Wouldn't it be fun to include some interesting scenarios for the heroes to encounter them in? Say, watching a gang of kobolds robbing an alchemist and some of them were high on some kind of drug, making for some very interesting combats? How about an old safe in the middle of the road, with four dead raiders mysteriously around it? There are several opportunities here and they seem missed most of the time.

The missions are okay, especially the mill and the temple rescue. The dragon attack is an interesting thing, but it just seems odd it takes one critical hit for it to flee – still, I can live with that.
What truly grinds my gears, is the introduction of Cyanwrath around the end; he's a CR 4 as far as I remember, put up against a single level 1 character, which is basically an invitation for carnage. It's very likely he will outright kill someone, which pretty much smells like “Oh, look at this awesome evil protagonist we've made!”. Speaking as a former player, in which such a villain was introduced (Yes, looking at you, Xanesha, Rise of the Runelords...) isn't that much fun, unless your players have built for that kind of shit. Just like the level 90 who challenges your new level 11 rogue in Goldshire to a duel – what's the point? Is it for the small egos? Why the fuck would it be fun for anyone to have their character killed off by something they have next to no chance of defeating? And just to add insult to injury; the adventure even states that if the heroes, despite all odds, down the monstrosity, he' simply replaced by another of his kin later.
But no. No he fucking isn't. That's pure bad writing, Wizards. Sorry.

I suggest including him, because he has potential to become an important villain (ironically, he's killed off rather early in the adventure...) but let him knock out the player instead and allow them to hold a grudge.

Chapter one is pretty generic across the board and mainly a way for you to get into the story, which isn't that special overall. I wasn't impressed by it, but we had fun; so let's move ahead in the next chapter and see how it goes, once the heroes set out to infiltrate the raider's camp.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 6 - The Final Battle (and review)


Well, it's certainly been a while. And what a while!

I usually hate falling behind on schedules; this time being no exception, but I'd like to start out by excusing myself and pointing out two great news. How's that for starters?
First and foremost, we completed The Lost Mine of Phandelver, so consider this the final post in this short mini-series (well, I suppose that's kind of sad, but completing it felt really good) – Second; we've started out on the logical next part in the 5th edition wave: The Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which will be the inevitable follow up! So stay tuned; we're certainly up for more adventures!

Last time we left the heroes just as they'd conquered the sinister castle of Cragmaw. With dead owlbears, gricks and hobgoblins in their wake, the band of adventurers returned to Phandalin with their battered friend, and prepared for the final expedition. The party still consisted of Delvin the dwarven warrior, Fireforge the dwarven cleric of Oghma, Barian the elven wizard, Professor Grim the human rogue and Oxyzeron the dragonborn warlock. All of them were level 4.
(I feel I need to add some thoughts here; at this time it was quite evident that even with massive monster grinding they likely wouldn't hit fifth level till around the very end. In fact, they never passed that milestone. I'm not sure whether this is because they didn't roll up that many random encounters, or due to the fact they skipped the fight with the dragon? Either way, I have the feeling that even though the adventure proclaims it's for level 1-5, the players will spend very little time at high level, unless you continue directly from its end with your own material.)

Hi-Level Ho! To the mine!

The heroes said goodbye to their friend Gundren and assured him they would take the fight to the notorious villain known as The Spider, who'd been working against them all the time. By now, the Spider was likely deep inside the mine, doing battles with some of its unholy inhabitants. Besides ordinary preparation, the heroes were lucky enough to find a magnificent set of gauntlets in the former king's quarter, that turned out to be a shiny set of Gauntlets of Ogre Power. (Yes, originally these are found inside the mines, but I felt the adventure is a tad too caster-rewarding in its early stages, so hey! Making people happy!)

Wave Echo Cave was, as previously mentioned, once a glorious place in which humans, elves and dwarves lived in harmony with their riches and spell forges. Sadly, the attacks from the orcs and following battles left the place more like a tomb than a mine.

I see what you did there!
The journey to the mines wasn't long and they arrived in high daylight with the happy chirping of birds, staring inside the black world of the open rock. Not really knowing what to expect, the heroes set in and found an abandoned campsite right away. It seemed like it had been some time ago since anyone used it. (And this was the point in which I realized that Gundren did in fact have brothers who set out to the mine earlier – I actually noticed this when I read through the adventure, but whatever. It could just as well serve as an abandoned camp by the spider). Browsing through the stuff, the heroes found a pair of Boots of Striding and Springing.

They journeyed on, down into a small chasm from which a couple of narrow caverns went. Heading north, they soon after arrived at a minor maze of long abandoned corridors, in which old carvings and images had almost faded away. Small scraps of cloth and metal were strewn around, with the occasional bones and crumbled skeletons witnessing of the life and battle that once took place here.

Making their way further north, they soon found a large cave with an underground sea. Along the way, the heroes noticed from where the cave had likely received its name; a strange roaring sound, almost like an ocean, occasionally echoed through the corridors?

Slime none, waste none!

They were just about to make their way into the cave when a gooey sound burst out from the ceiling, and an ochre jelly splattered on top of the heroes. Its sizzling attacks tore away at them, and Delvin delivered a savage blow at it, only to see it cut out in two smaller pods. As the Professor did the same, suddenly there were a lot of ooze going around.
(These things are just as fun as you remember them; not much has changed about oozes as it is. Crappy AC, a good load of HP and they can strike moderately hard, especially if your players are stupid enough to make them split into more oozes! Still, this is by far one of the easier encounters in Wave Echo, unless your entire party has brought long swords and nothing else : ) )

Oozes. Still fun.
 Smashing the ooze to pieces went well and they searched the cave. In the dark pool they discovered more skeletons, one of them clutching a wand of magic missiles which would come in handy. A set of stairs went east and north, behind the door was the sound of gambling and some grumpy noises. Doing what heroes did best, they kicked in the door in a surprise attack and went for the four bug bears enjoying a nice time in the ad hoc barracs. Doing the encounter, they had reinforcements from the room to the north, two additional buggies, who were more or less restrained throughout the entire encounter by a well-placed web spell.
(There is a shapechanger as well in the room to the north, and frankly; this is one of those dungeons in which it makes sense for just about anyone intelligent, to send at least one runner to warn the boss that heroes are coming, so this is what happened here. Six bug bears are no joke indeed, and I think my players got really lucky with my sucky dice rolls for that night, seeing how two of them were pretty much sitting the entire encounter out in a web.)

Descending further into the caves, the heroes found a collapsed cavern further up the path, yet decided to head for an interesting set of double doors down the hall to the west. They were grand-looking and both Delvin and Fireforge recognised the carvings on them; a description of a holy site dedicated to Dumathoin, the dwarven god of mining. Deciding to investigate, they slowly opened the door...

I've been waiting for you. Waiting for you to come to me. Now come. Come, and let us finish this game...

They discovered a dimly lit room with several pillars and old remains that witnessed of the holy past. A grand statue of the dwarven deity stood against the far wall, underneath it a sinister figure wrapped in black, wielding an arachnid staff in his hand. His skin was ebony and eyes full of hate. He whispered in a loud voice as he measured his enemies, with two bug bears on each side. “So it seems like the intruders were indeed more capable than I thought,” he said. “But I'm afraid these caves are mine. Such a pity it will have to end this way...”
Your evil will not be tolerated much longer, Spider!” Fireforge retorted, “Remove yourself from these sacred grounds and you may have mercy!”
The drow laughed and his only reply was an incantation. The final battle had started!
(Artwork from the adventure)

(Now, being so horrible at staying at the chosen path, I have to confess something here. As written, the Spider is a very underwhelming foe. His staff can do some tricks, but it's not really as great as Glass Staff's. Also, the only thing he has going for him spell-wise is his suggestion and invisibility. So, if your party is going really strong and optimized, or maybe has one more player than the adventure is written for, consider the following. There is one foe in the mines that is one hell of a dangerous spell caster; namely the flame skull in the smelter cavern (area 12). His spell list is far more dangerous, featuring nasty level 3 spells. That, along with the two bug bears and the large spiders summoned during the fight makes for a truly epic and challenging fight that has more than enough potential to wipe out the party if they act with a proper plan. Bear in mind, however, that this makes up for a lot of possible burst damage. I went for this option.)

The Spider rolled first for initiative (the first real good roll I had that night) and hurled a ball of burning fire at the puny heroes. It scorched them heavily and nearly brought Oxyzeron to his knees. Then the bug bears moved in to strike, and the heroes managed to spot the hiding giant spiders behind the pillars. Moving in with determination, Delvin struck down one of the bug bears where it stood, and Barian returned the favor by expending his own scroll of fireball to toast two of the spiders and deal a savage blow to the drow who failed his reflex save (fuck you, dice...)

The professor rogue used his smooth moves to disengage inside the room and unleashed the full brunt of the wand of magic missiles on the drow, who countered it by casting shield. Fireforge summoned a spiritual weapon that hovered and struck the Spider, who was suddenly dangerously low on hit points. The spiders started tearing at Delvin, actually managing to poison the dwarf, and Oxyzeron made short work of another arachnid horror.

Realizing the power of the invasion, the Spider blurred himself and retreated. It didn't however, manage to save him two rounds later, when the professor and Delvin moved up to bash at him. Yet again, shield saved him, but when the dragonborn warlock unleashed his Witch Bolt, the force lightning crippled the drow and sent him to his swift, electrifying death.

And then everything went silent...

All that remains...

So, the heroes concluded the mines...really quickly. It's kind of amazing they skipped out so much of it and just went straight for the boss, but hey; it happens. They seemed just as puzzled about it as I did, and yet we decided to spend the rest of the session by them exploring some random rooms along the way out. They had an encounter with a wraith and the new beholder-kin; the spectator. A notoriously new take on the beholders as we know them, and I'm sure he would've been really awesome, if only I knew how to roll my dice properly.

Long story short, we wrapped up the adventure by the heroes returning to town to greet their old friend Gundren, who was thrilled to hear of their success. Not long after, they set out with Sildar to claim the lost riches. It turned out to be a huge profit for all of them, enough for the heroes to retire and live happily ever after; making Phandalin a prosperous town – stronger than it had ever been!

A general review...

So ends our playthrough of the Lost Mine of Phandelver and even though I've kind of tried to make this into a running review, I still think it's in order to sit down and make share some of my impressions of the adventure. As usual, I'll do the Good, the Bad and What you should prepare as a GM.

On the positive side, which is by far the heaviest side, I love this adventure. It's great for starters; seeing as the plot is relatively simple and it starts out with a rather high pace and keeps it there for quite some time. Also, it involves several opportunities for people to get to learn more about the Realms and the various factions in it. While neither the factions nor the background of the players don't seem to play that huge of a role, it's still great to feel part of the bigger world around you.

The encounters are many and plentiful; most of them have meaning and will certainly challenge your players a great deal. One can argue that some of them may be pushing it a bit, especially during the first two levels, but still; if you're up for the challenge, this is cleverly put together. Also, a lot of them offers different approaches. In fact, you're almost encouraged to think out of the box. My players took the direct way several times and were punished for it – had I more luck with my rolls, they would have been TPK'ed at least twice. I love how the variety comes into place; as long as you're transparent to your players about it.

The little amount of artwork is good and the maps nice. In general, none of the scenes and parts of the adventure seemed too long to me. The dungeons are mostly short, compared to what you may be used to if you come from the Paizo official campaigns, and the handful of side quests in chapter two and three are short enough to be handled quickly and still be memorable. This is another great way to introduce your players to the system, as most of them feature different usage of skills.

My favorite part has to be the arrival at Phandalin and dealing with the Red Brands. Finding out about the group, going around town and finally storming their hideout was not only fun, but also a break from the action that dominates most of the beginning.

On a bad note I didn't always understand decisions, such as why the final boss is so poorly designed. Also, it's a shame we're still dealing with the old wandering monster/random encounter table, now that there is so little reason to use it anymore. I touched upon this in a previous post, but it seemed kind of contrived.

The ruins of Thundertree was a bit of a low for me. Perhaps because my players were afraid of the dragon and avoided it, or that I really hate pointless encounters that pretty much say “But you need these XP's”. While most of the encounters in the adventure seem relevant and challenging, the walking flowers and zombies were more or less just speed bumps at this time, and the inclusion of the cult of the dragon seemed kind of off.

(Artwork from the adventure)
As a player, I'd likely whine about the challenge of some of the encounters. King Clarg, the Hobgoblins of Cragmaw, the Flame Skull and the Spectator and dragon are all quite lethal in their own rights, and often they're encountered in places where they can easily have backup if the players don't play it smart. You may need to try and get a good impression of the general level of your players and compare it to some of these, if you find party deaths and wipes annoying.

This is also worth noticing, if you're going to GM this adventure. There really aren't any ways to bring back dead characters in this adventure. I shoehorned in a couple of them, because I hate it when people start bringing in new characters all the time and it takes up time. But with things being so hard at times, you may want people to roll up, say two or three characters from the start and bring in.

I recommend you read through the story and then just go along with it. Experienced GM's should have very little difficulty running this module; perhaps even feeling a bit too coddled seeing as it's so politely written. As a newcomer (which is awesome!) simply lean back and follow the instructions. Decide how nice or cruel you want to be to your players in advance; there are plenty of opportunities for either. The adventure offers a lot of flexibility, so if you see anything you don't like you can usually change it or leave it out. The most important thing is they go from ambush-goblin caves-phandalin-manor dungeon-cragmaw castle-wave echo cave. Everything in between is up to you.

As for music, I mainly used the soundtrack from Divinity: Original Sin, but the one from Temple of Elemental Evil works great too. The Hommlet theme is great for Phandalin.

The verdict

Lost Mine of Phandelver is beyond doubt one of my favorite low-level-intro-adventures. It's smooth, interesting and offers clever opportunities a lot of the times. While the atmosphere may at times be lacking (which is why the first chapter of Carrion Crown is still my all time favorite) you get so much stuff for a rather limited price.

It's no secret that I absolutely LOVE D&D 5th edition so far, and if you're curious to get into it, rush out right now and buy this adventure with some friends. You won't regret it. Unless a bug bear one-shots you, but hey!

With this great result in mind, we're definitely looking forward to kick the dragon cultists' collective ass very soon!



Thanks for reading along.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 5 – "Storming the Castle"

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 5 – "Storming the Castle"



We return once more to the wonderland that is the Forgotten Realms and the fantastic journey that is the Lost Mine of Phandelver. When we left the heroes, they were heading for the ruined town of Thundertree along with their newest ally, the dragonborn Oxyzeron. Hoping to seek counsel from the wise old druid, Reidoth, the heroes were eager to get on with their quest and rescue Gundren from Castle Cragmaw. Once they found it, that is.

As usual, the party consisted of Delvin the dwarven fighter, Father Fireforge the dwarven cleric, Oxyzeron the dragonborn warlock, Barian the elven wizard and Professor Grim, the human rogue. The heroes were all 4th level by the time. As usual, GM-comments are in blue.

Thunderstruck!

The heroes arrived in the old ruins of Thundertree after a long journey through the forest, luckily no interruptions from wandering monsters (as I mentioned in the previous post, I'm not a huge fan of those wandering monsters, so I may have forgot to roll from time to time...)
There was very little to see here, except for some crumbled old houses that witnessed of a town that once stood here. But by now, vines and the sign of times weighed heavily upon them. The heroes set off down the path to look closer, but were quickly ambushed by moans and the sounds of moving plants (don't ask me how...) as Ash-Zombies (yes, there were still people giggling the fourth time I spoke out this name) and animated plants crawled out to get them.

None of them were of much resistance to the heroes, and they soon after found Reidoth's house. The old druid bid them welcome and told them of recent trouble in the ruins; he'd not only witnessed the undead rising of late, but also cultists that were skulking around in the south-east and a green dragon that had settled down in the tower to the north. Asking the heroes to look into this, he promised he would reveal the location of the lost Wave Echo Cave to them. So they set out.

The heroes parleyed quickly with the green dragon, who was mildly amused by their presence. It promised them it would leave their pathetic hides alive, if they'd go and take care of the cultists in the south. So they headed down to the small building, kicked in the door, dragged out the cultists and slew them all. (This was surprisingly quick, they barely had time to realize they were cultists from the Cult of the Dragon. )

Reporting back to Reidoth, they learned of the location of the cave, even though the druid was somewhat saddened that they dared not take care of the dragon. But hey, they made him the glorious promise that they would return if he ever needed help with it. (Which would be, right about now...)

"Dear heroes! A dragon is in our town!!"
 And thus they headed out to rescue Gundren from Castle Cragmaw!

(They stay in Thundertree was really short and it's probably my least favorite part of the adventure. The encounters here a mainly very easy and well below the expected powers of the players. Mind you, I ran this with five people so that's likely the core of it. There are a few places to see in the ruins, but most of them are ruins and not that exciting unless you're into that sort of thing. The cult seems strangely shoehorned in; perhaps it's a prelude to the Hoard of the Dragon Queen? Either way, my heroes didn't get the jump on the dragon, which was kind of sad, because it seems like a huge challenge. As written, the heroes only have to shave half of its hit points before it flees, but before that they're looking down for some serious pain. We're looking at 6D6+12+2d10 points of damage if all of its +7 attacks hit in a round, and add a snap of breath attacks to that for 12D6? Ouch.)

Castle Crashing

The journey to Castle Cragmaw wasn't long, and the heroes knew very little of it. They knew that King Grol kept their friend as a prisoner, and that he had a fondness for strange beasts.
Coming up on the castle, it was around midday and even in its fallen state, it was a grand sight to behold in the midst of the forest, with all its spires and surrounding, empty moat. A small set of stairs led up to the main entrance, along with several arrow slits keeping watch along the edges.

Taking their time to inspect it, the heroes noticed that from time to time, a goblin would peer out from the slit and then return to his duty. The front entrance seemed like a bad idea, so they took the long route around to scout. Remaining in the safety of the undergrowth, they noticed a small staircase at the side of the castle, leading up to a small door. So they decided to take the opportunity, sent Delvin jumping over the moat with a rope, followed by the rest. The mighty Oxyzeron, however, tried to brachiate his way across, but the weight of the proud beast sent him falling.

Which pretty much describes the main battle shout whenever my heroes try anything involving climbing...


At that time they heard the sound of arguing goblins coming from one of the slits; it sounded as if quite a gathering of them were inside and they were busy cleaning up, cooking and arguing among themselves. Holding their breath, the heroes saw them drop some old dish washing water from the edge, splashing the dragonborn, who managed to hold a wrathful roar inside. Eventually, they made their way up to the door and prepared themselves.

They're coming outta goddamned walls!

They snug inside and entered an almost collapsed corridor with a couple of doors and fallen walls. They heard the sound of arguing goblins to the south and some grumpy voices behind the door to the north. Deciding they might as well get into trouble sooner or later, the heroes bashed in the door to the south and took the goblins by surprise. (They'd worked so hard for this so they kind of deserved it). The small green men screamed but didn't have a chance to take up arms, before the savage adventurers stormed in and started slaughtering left and right. They barely noticed that this seemed like the official dining hall, and a large goblin cook was about to give orders.

Adventurers always have a great time with goblins
 Two of the goblins ran away, screaming for help, and soon, yells of “Forward march!” ecchoed from the south and north. Hobgoblins were advancing from both sides, and the party had split their attention, with Delvin and the Professor keeping watch in one end of the room, while Oxyzeron, Fireforge and Barian were advancing to the south. As five hobgoblins advanced on them, the goblins rallied behind them and took up bows to fire volleys on the unfortunate adventurers. Delvin and the Professor managed to slay the two hobgoblins to the north without much hazzle. The remaining three to the south went on a rampage, however, and sliced through Oxyzeron, continued to main Father Fireforge and were barely halted as Delvin and the Professor moved inside the room. Delvin did his best to taunt them off, but seeing how the squishy rogue was a better target, the hob's went for him and inflicted a death save on him.
And sadly, on the following turn, he rolled a 1 to stabilize.

  
(The hobgoblins are likely some of the most lethal non-boss minions in the adventure. With an AC of 18 and their +2D8 damage bonus on a successful strike, these guys can make short work of most adventurers. I imagine that a party needs to be very stealthy during this approach, if they don't want to do the mass pull my players did. The adventure itself suggests infiltration as mercenaries, which was an option I was surprised my players didn't consider. Either way, they made their way pass and took the combaty solution. I was surprised there weren't anymore casualties.)

The heroes made a tactical retreat out of the castle to take a short rest in the forest. They dragged along the Professor and discussed what to do, seeing as the road back was long. So they decided to press the advantage and return to the castle.

(The adventure comes up with some good suggestions if the heroes retreat. I made sure that the patrol and the captain of the guard would return; a hobgoblin with his wolves and soldiers, and they found the carnage, released the owlbear and hit in the old storeroom so they could ambush the heroes. They removed the bodies of the fallen goblins and made a false trail of blood to a trapped door, waiting for the heroes to release it.)

And so they did...

The heroes immediately found the trail of blood and were puzzled by who could've moved the bodies (they also realized they'd forgot to loot them in the first place trololol). They noticed a trail of blood leading up to one of the main doors of the keep and decided to follow it. Which resulted in a collapsing ceiling the moment they pulled open the door...

 (I love this trap. It's so annoying.)

By then they heard the all too familiar sound of an approaching owlbear, and it was pissed. It charged the crushed heroes and whacked Father Fireforge unconscious. Perhaps the heroes' dice were furious, but they smashed the owlbear quickly.

Grumbling and mumbling, the heroes took the long way around from the smashed ceiling, still broken and battered, and returned to the main hallway. They noticed a small corridor, that someone had attempted to block with an old linen-sheet and naturally decided to enter. An old store room was on the other side, containing several crates and casks with vine, along with a wide crack to the exterior of the castle. This too was camouflaged by an old grey blanket, so the heroes decided to take their time and investigate. Unfortunately, none of their passive perceptions were good enough to notice the hiding hobgoblins and their wolves. Surprise round!

The heroes were down one man for this fight, but the use of Crowd Control was impressive. Opening with an Arms of Hadar (which I always name Arms of Hodor, just because) the beasts were fiercely battered by dark tentacles from below, and even though they'd gotten the drop on the heroes, they rolled really poorly on their attacks. With a fairy fire on top to tip the scales, the heroes began slaughtering and followed through with the warlock's fairy presence, two of the hobgoblins were sent running in terror. In the third round, the goblin cleric and his Grick entered the fight. At this time, however, things were very well under control, and the goblin soon fell to a Sleep spell and after some battering, the Grick was slain by a Witch Bolt. Final Fantasy victory fanfare.

 (This was another huge pull, one I didn't expect the heroes to survive, yet, they managed to surprise me. Most of these people are veteran players who know their way around D&D ever since the AD&D 2nd ed times, and making the most of crowd control is imperative. As mentioned; both Fairy Fire and Sleep are very powerful controller and debuffers early on and can really make or break the difference against those AC 18 mobs.)

Usurpers!

Searching the corpses this time, the heroes found some spoils of war, and among them a scroll to bring back life to the poor Professor. The heroes had it with this motherfucking dungeon, so they went to the nearest biggest door and kept at it till they finally crashed into the throne room of King Grol. He was, needless to say, happy to see them and kept his growling dire wolf close as he spoke. He taunted the heroes for their lack of disrespect and butchering his forces. However, he was a kind king and he would grant them mercy, if only they would trade for the life of their comrade, Gundren. The king pointed to the unconscious dwarf in the corner, who seemed to have lost a lot of blood. There was a bit of haggling between the two parties, but in the end the stubborn adventurers insisted they would take Gundren and leave this place, perhaps being merciful and sparing the foul-smelling king. Grol met this with a roar and hurled himself at them, unleashing his direwolf to join in on the fight.
Steel clashed against steel, and in the midst, suddenly the injured Gundren jumped up and with amazing speed ran towards the nearest adventurer, stabbing him in the chest for immense damage. The dwarf giggled like a maniac and the heroes realized this wasn't Gundren. His face warped and changed, and the tide of battled shifted for quite some rounds, before Delvin split the wolf's head in two, and the fairy fired Grol met his doom to a spiritual weapon.

(Grol doesn't seem like such a hard fight, all in all. He's pretty much an ordinary bugbear. If you want to make him a tad bit more dangerous, however, I had an idea later. If the heroes make the hit-and-run too much in the castle, only to retreat back into the forest, allow the roaming patrol the adventure mentions to return back to the castle and let Grol and his captain go on a hunting trip. They aren't specialists at stealth, yet it's entirely possible that Grol, the wolves and perhaps some goblins can sneak up on the characters and get in a very nasty surprise round. Buggies strike very hard on their surprise, and Grol would really seem like the kind of guy who'd take pleasure in doing that!
Besides from that, Cragmaw is not an easy place to. It's on the borderlands where the heroes are not as squishy as right off the bat, yet there are some menacing creatures that can and will likely challenge them a whole lot. If you run this with only four people, I imagine it will be a somewhat hard time, seeing as my five players struggled a bit along the way.)

The heroes recuperated and searched the throne room. They found some treasure and a hidden door, that lead to an old prison in which the battered and tortured Gundren was kept. He was missing several fingers and toes, struck with disease and couldn't tell reality from fantasy. So they decided to get the hell out of there and head back towards Phandalin.

And they knew that now waited only one thing. The journey towards the Wave Echo Cave, and the final confrontation with The Spider...

To be continued in the final chapter: “The spider!”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 4 – Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 4 – Dovahkiins and Owlbears



Greetings and salutations; welcome to another round of heroic deeds and misfortune as we proceed to the fourth chapter of "Lost Mine of Phandelver" along with the introduction of the newest addition to the group. It's a sad fact, that all good things must come to an end, an recently we had to say goodbye to one of our veteran players, whose time had come to move on in Life (namely to Greenland, which leaves surprisingly little room for gaming). But it's a great fact that all things come to an end, just to leave room for what is new, which in this case turned out to be Jakob, our newest player and prospect, who entered the group on a trial and rolled up Oxyzeron; the dragonborn warlock of the Fey. So the adventure went on along with Delvin, the dwarven fighter, Professor Grim, the human rogue, Barian the elven wizard and Father Fireforge, the dwarven cleric.

The heroes were level 3. As always, GM-comments are in blue.

Tipping the scales...

When we left the heroes, they had mercilessly slaughtered the orcs, some miles east of the small mining town of Phandalin. Making sure no greenskin would survive, they set out to explore the cave and exterminate whatever stragglers. They were surprised to find a lone goblin, busy torturing and keeping a strange, scaly beast busy, hanging in a wicker cage from the ceiling. The professor and Barian immediately recognized this as a dragonborn; a mighty being born from a love-mixture between a human and a green dragon, who was now watching the small goblin with loathe. Quickly establishing their common hate for the green menace, the heroes broke the creature out from the cage and established a warm and fluffy bond by butchering the green, little critter.

The beast introduced itself as Oxyzeron, apprentice of Reidoth – the druid of Thundertree. The heroes had heard of this noble person in Phandalin (they actually remembered this by their own; I suppose miracles do happen) and Oxyzeron explained that he'd been sent out to slay the greenskins by his master, about a month ago. Sadly, he failed in this task and had been kept prisoner ever since, now owing his life to the heroes. They decided to join forces on this task, and the dragonborn swore to escort them on their remaining tasks, provided they would later return to Thundertree with news to his master.

(I know, I know, I could've come up with something more creative, but this seemed to work, and besides; we wanted to play this adventure and not deviate too much from the central plot. I know I already made a few modifications as it was, and this time I just wanted him to join the party as quickly as possible. I've watched a couple of streams and sessions of other GM's, who have waited more than an hour to introduce a new player into the group, even though he's right there at the table, just because they had a very specific plan for his or her entry. I believe that's about the absolute drudge.)

Ululululu....?

The heroes took a long rest throughout the afternoon and set out towards their next destination; the resting place of the spirit Agatha, hoping to flatter her and acquire her magical tome for the priestess Garaele in Phandalin.

As they were marching through the forest, along a wide river, they were watching the stars and listening to the gentle stream. The professor and Barian had been asking questions to their newest companions about his origin and the powers of the fey. They quickly deduced from his information that he possessed the powers of warlock, but before their inquiry continued, they heard the strange, high-pitched sound of “Ulululu” from somewhere nearby...

The professor recognized this sound. It was the sound of two owlbears going through rut.
The party quickly made formation to investigate, and it didn't take them long to notice that the beasts were trying to sneak up on them through the bushes. (Owlbears and stealth, I'm not sure why I even tried...) So it made for little surprise, as the beasts savagely tore through the briars and hurled themselves at the party.

As the battle broke out, the heroes went well on the initiative, and bloodied one of the owlbears. It hooted loudly and started bashing skulls around it, inflicting severe pain with a follow-up from its companion, sending Father Fireforge down for the count. The remaining dwarf, Delvin roared at the monstrosities and taunted their attention. Deflecting their blows with his shield, Barian faerie fired them and soon after a couple of sneak attacks and eldritch blasts, the beasts went down without a fuss. 

(I sort of think this was a logical continuation of the bad dice luck all my baddies had during this entire adventure. For some reason, the minions would roll really well, and often crits, but whenever something big came around, I was kind of lucky to roll a 12 or above on the dice. On another note; it's not possible to meet two owlbears in this setup, as per written in the adventure. Which brings me to another strange point in D&D 5th edition – why did it even include random encounters? It seems like something that was absolutely just shoehorned in for no apparent reason rather than XP-grinding. Back in the days it was a powerful tool of sorts to slowly tear at the group's resources, but seeing that so many features recharge in 5th – I kind of fail to see the point. The heroes regain all hit points, spells and even some magical charges for every day. If I could suggest anything, it would instead be a table with some minor, interesting encounters. Someone at a D&D site I read made a similar suggestion. For example; the party finds an abandoned child near the road. They encounter a merchant whose wagon is busted, who is in secret escorting illegal goods. A random piece of equipment is stolen during the night and the thief rests nearby or is discovered in the act. They meet a mad preacher of a dark / strange religion on the road, can he help them or will they challenge him? - These are just ideas from the top of my head, along with the horny owlbears. It could be kind of interesting to expand upon this notion.)

Wanting little to do with the till-now-enarmorous beasts, the heroes continued their trek and a couple of hours later found the old trail, leading further into the darker part of the forest.

That banshee is a real screamer...

The heroes encountered a small clearing in the forest, containing ruins that witnessed of a grand structure that once stood here. There, in the clearing, they noticed a ghostly spirit hovering above the ground, with long, white hair gently wavering in an ethereal breeze. Father Fireforge recognized this creature as a banshee.
(I love how 5th edition entirely breaks with one of the oldest conventions, and remakes the usually terrifying banshee into a lowly CR 4 monster. The reaction on people's faces, when they are confronted with such a creature at a low level is priceless and certainly something that will put some humility on the table. Notice, however, that Lost Mine doesn't include any stats for banshees, so unless you have the expanded notes from Wizards, the heroes aren't really supposed to fight her.)

Players ruling that undead-diplomacy-shit!
 The heroes bowed and introduced themselves to the spirit. Agatha greeted them and asked for their purpose with a sneer, so they quickly presented her the gift and made their case. They showed her great politeness and flattery, and with an advantage persuasion, the banshee saw their point of view and agreed to answer them one question. (I really hoped someone would reply 'What, any question?' just to let her say 'Yes' and disappear, but ah well... The heroes can actually ask for a lot of things and learn about various locations, if they don't give a damn about the old tome).

Asking for the tome, the banshee thought for some while, but then remembered and told them that a red wizard had taken it from her and journeyed south. With that in mind, the heroes immediately set out to deal with him. 
 
(This is likely where I deviated the most from the original adventure. As written, the heroes simply get an answer from Agatha, stating that the tome is long gone and the priestess will be all happy about that. But it seems like such a...stupid dead end. So I decided to let the wizard have it, to tie endings a bit more together).

Red wizard needs food

They arrived late at night at the old ruins, in which stood only a half tower that had long ago nearly collapsed to the ground. There, in the midst, was a small tent with a lantern apparently lit. Not knowing how to approach, Delvin drank a potion of invisibility and set out with a sneak, nearing the tent and saw a red wizard with a tattooed face, concentrating on his books. One of them was an old leathery tome, very similar to the one they were hunting. On his way back, Delvin couldn't help but notice an old, mummified hand sticking out from the ground – it certainly didn't bode well.

They decided to make short work of it, and all sneak up to the tent and knock him out through the linen. (One of my players came up with the interesting question; if a wizard is all covered up in a fallen tent, do you have line of sight to him?) Sadly, the stealth rolls weren't all that great at the time, and both Oxyzeron and Father Fireforge accidentally kicked loose some rubble that made a lot of noise. Before they knew, a commanding shout echoed through the night, and moans and grasping hands rose from the ground. The zombies were upon them.


(I LOVE ZOMBIES IN 5th! They are so much fun, especially to low level adventurers who don't have the required damage bursts or radiant artillery to deal with their resilience.)

12 zombies surrounded them and the heroes gathered up in defensive formation. At the same time, the red wizard emerged from his tent and screamed at them for interrupting his sanctum.
The heroes started slashing some rotten flesh, but the time to shine was from Father Fireforge, who boldly raised his holy symbol and invoked the power of Oghma; commanding the restless dead to flee. Nine out of 12 zombies turned tail and ran. (Again, turn undead is no feature to be trifled with!)

Clerics - Good as ever.
Being no further use to the wizard, he decided to lighten things up a bit and hurled a fireball at the group (Yes, another deviation, originally this mage is much weaker in the written adventure. I decided to test out the true potential of a level 5 spell caster, and what an effect!) - blowing up rotting flesh and adventurers alike, the wizard taunted them and laughed with manic glee, before Delvin made a direct charge at him, followed closely by the professor. The wizard sneered and unleashed a lightning bolt at Delvin, Fireforge and Oxyzeron, who'd foolishly lined themselves up for a perfect zap. The cleric and the dragonborn went down for the count, and just as the wizard was about to turn his attention to the remaining dwarf, a critical hit planted the fighter's axe right between his eyes. With a sigh, he dropped dead.

The heroes searched the wizard's tent and found the old tome along with a magical ring of protection +1. Inspecting the tome even closer, they realized that reading it would grant whoever did so a permanent stat-increase! (Again, this was my initiative. As said, the tome isn't even there in the original story. I may have overdone it a bit, however, with the power of the tome, but that's that. I'm not even sure tomes will exist in 5th, seeing how the stats all have a hard cap).

They decided to head back to Phandalin, and after some days they arrived back at the small town. People were once again greeting their heroes, and they made way for the shrine to bargain with sister Garaele; thinking that they had earned their just reward more than enough. Not knowing whether to read the tome or to hold up their end of the bargain, the heroes attempted to haggle with the harper priestess, who admitted the tome was indeed worth a lot. She couldn't, however, pay them much gold besides whatever she had in the coffins along with a necklace. She even offered them a membership of the Harpers, which the heroes refused. In the end, the priestess scowled them and said they could do whatever they wanted, but it would put them in a bad standing with the shrine. Giving in to such a threat, the heroes handed over the tome and went on their way towards the ruined city of Thundertree, hoping to find Reidoth and whatever information he could divulge.

To be continued in “Storming the castle!”