Friday, August 16, 2013

D&D Next: Chapter 1 - A Ko-Bold Move

Picking up the yellow exclamation marks
 “In recent times, you’ve all been down on your luck, earning nothing but petty coins cleaning tables in slummy taverns of Sembia. Nothing near what you’d imagined when you left home a year ago and travelled north, across the Sea of Shooting Stars to seek out your fortune in the lands to the north. You still remember how you back then were full of ambitions and high hopes for fortune and glory to be found in the adventuring life.

The opportunities have been rather slim, and always you have seen yourself beaten to it by more seasoned parties of adventures, or the leads have been nothing but false information. And as your pouch of coins ran slim, so did your hopes of ever making a name for yourself in these distant lands.

Your fortune, however, has significantly increased the other day, when an envoy of a baron of the neighbor-country “Cormyr” paid a visit to your tavern. He informed you that the recently installed baron; Pendleton Longshore of the small town Thunderstone, sought help from able adventurers. For once you were in the right space at the right time, and the next day you booked passage on a caravan that would take you west towards this unfamiliar kingdom.

 The journey has been uneventful, despite the rumors of vile greenskins launching fierce attacks from the nearby forests and the Thunderpeaks. None of your companions have provided you with much information, ultimately leaving you behind the moment you reached the small town of Thunderstone. It’s a small settlement of houses resting in the shade of the peaks with a grand view of the lush Hullack Forest to the north. Indeed this is a green kingdom that despite its recent troubles maintain an impressive sight for the newcomers.  If only the small town of Thunderstone could impress the same; it’s a humble gathering of buildings mostly consisting of peasant families and some outlying farms. In particular, three newly constructed mansions are placed in various edges of the town; one of them significantly bigger than the rest with the Cormyr-banner resting from its top.

While there is a certain amount of peace here, you can’t help but notice the also moody atmosphere and feeling of despair in the eyes of the population. They glare at you with some hesitation as they pass, but don’t speak a word: around here, strangers are not to be trusted. And yet, they’re encouraged by a nearby sign. It looks new and reads -

“Able heroes wanted: For solving mysterious kidnapping. Big reward promised! Inquire at baron!”
And here you are, in the middle of nowhere, prepared to take your first step into this huge adventure!”

(This first part of the campaign was designed around the prewritten adventure included with the test package, called “Caverns of Chaos” - it’s an easy to use module that allows for a lot of flexibility; pretty much just some small dungeons of greenskins and you have total control over why the heroes are there. This first chapter is how I used it. Hope I can inspire someone.
I mainly used music from Temple of Elemental Evil here. Hommlet theme is great for the town. The combat theme good all in all, for all combat.)

The heroes decided to set out immediately and went through the main street of the town. On their way they met the drunk gnome, Fenthek, who recently lost his business in the old apothecary in town because his biggest shipment was robbed by pirates (this was a nudge to actions taken by the players in their other campaign; Skull and Shackles). He told them that things were bad around here; besides from him losing his business, Baron Longshore had his lovely wife Clarissa gone missing a week ago under mysterious circumstances. Fenthek told them he’d often seen small, dog-like creatures in town at night, yet nobody believed him. People were too busy being afraid of the goblins who were apparently being lead by the old goblin “Bellokk”, killing off cows on a weekly basis.

They decided to check the bounty board for Aramill and saw there was a bounty of 50g for two highwaymen out in the forest. Also, there was a notice from Mara who’d apparently lost her two sons one night.

Upon visiting the baron, the heroes learned the story was true. Clarissa had been kidnapped along with her chambermaids, Milla and Dana, one night as they’d been spending time out in the rose garden. The baron was deep in despair, and told them that neither he nor his two brothers, Perenolde and Terminus, knew what to do. He’d lost all enthusiasm for Thunderstone, and whenever the heroes brought up the various problems, he reacted with indifference at best. All he could ask them, was to set out, find Clarissa and he’d reward them handsomely.

(I love having some sidequests for my players, really. You could easily just keep the main quest around, but I had: Find Clarissa and her chambermaids, stop the goblins attacking the cows at night with their king, stop the two bandits in the forest and find Mara’s sons.)

Getting waylaid on the road to adventure
The heroes decided to take matters into their own hands, being a bunch of do gooders as they were, and searched the rose garden for tracks. Jason, the rogue, quickly found a bunch of tracks leading close to the hedge in the edge of the garden, apparently like small reptile like creatures. After some investigation and consideration of knowledge rolls, they concluded that this was the work of Kobolds. A good bunch of them too, who’d apparently dragged something heavy out of the garden and northwards towards Hullack forest. Recalling some lore, Baltazar knew that Hullack forest was one of the densely populated areas of greenskins in Cormyr and they would likely have to approach with caution.

Nobody cared much as the heroes set off along the trail and noticed more families of farmers moving in towards the safe reaches of town, mostly mumbling to themselves and complaining that enough was enough and how they’d lost more than enough cows and sheep to the goblins already.

Nothing that deterred our mighty heroes, however, who only made it slightly down along the path into the woods before a couple of hooded gentlemen jumped out of the bushes. They pointed their bows at them, demanding a toll for travelling the roads. The players at this time gently tried the delicate art of diplomacy and cunning, insinuating that perhaps they were the two missing sons old Mara had been looking for? Through some good Sense Motives they saw from the flicker in their eyes that this was so, and Morgan stepped up with his mighty barbarian voice; “If the two of you bastards don’t come home RIGHT NOW; I will cut you into tiny pieces and send you home to your ma’, you hear me?”

With an Intimidate roll with advantage, the would-be bandits surrendered peacefully and were dragged home in chains to the baron, who didn’t really care that much as long as the news didn’t involve his beloved. Old Mara, on the other hand, angrily stomped onwards, up to the Baron’s dungeons. The heroes later heard some very angry yelling up there, and had their due reward.

(This encounter could either end as a very basic introduction to fighting or testing out talky-skills; it served great for either. You can also expand upon it with some search checks to let the heroes find their stash, and spot checks to let them detect the hiding robbers in the first place).

To the forest!
Deciding not to waste any time, the heroes journeyed back into the forest, on the way quickly hearing the first rumors blossoming about the fate of the two young brothers, how it didn’t really surprise anyone with such a poor upbringing.

Their tracking took them half an hour into the forest, before they decided to approach with stealth. Not an easy task, seeing how two of the party members were at a disadvantage on their stealth rolls. They yet decided to give it a go, and were, needless to say, detected by the Kobold patrol not far away. On the other hand, the heroes all made their listening check to detect the approaching patrol and thus set up for combat. (This is pretty much where Caverns of Chaos begins; it states that groups of Kobolds will often be out patrolling the woods during the day. Originally, I was a bit nervous about using as high numbers as described in the setting, so I opted for a patrol of just four Kobolds to start with).

The two groups clashed and we drew up the battlemap in the forest. I decided the ground was easy enough to pose no trouble for the heroes, and the kobolds approached from the north, clashing with the heroes at a 40 feet distance. Deciding to try out the rules for moving entire squads of similar monsters at once, the kobolds won initiative and all made a barrage of ranged attacks against the heroes, with two of them inflicting a meager 2 damage to the paladin and the barbarian. On the heroes’ turn, Aramill turned into a bear and rushed at them (this was during the former rules update), mangling the first to shreds. Baltazar hurled a ray of frost, taking off the head of the other, and Jason, Bjørn and Morgan all missed against the remaining two kobolds. (At this time I realized four kobolds were a gross undertuning, so I had another patrol be alerted and rush in from the flank).

They delivered some scratches on the bear, while the barbarian got his acts together and finished the remaining two of the original group. The cowardly last two decided to make a move for it, but were felled by an arrow to the knee, a ray of frost to the head and a bear claw to the face. And thus victory was achieved!

Down to dungeon, Level 1
Without alerting the kobolds, the heroes evaded the remaining patrols and shortly after found their lair, to which they decided to utilize their element of surprise. Also known as:

They barely got to light their torch and venture into the cave, before the floor beneath them collapsed in a devious trapdoor. Morgan managed to hurl himself backwards just in time, but Bjørn fell with a shriek, ensuring a paladin-in-a-box, some damage to said paladin and a large noise alerting people in the next rooms.

(From one extreme to the other: Let’s try and see how the heroes deal with overwhelming numbers! I decided to unleash two rooms of kobolds, while the others began fortifying with some ad hoc traps. This meant both the rats in the trash rooms and another six kobolds from the guard room!)

Splitting up in the corridor, the heroes yelled for Bjørn to get his act together and come out of there! (It’s a DC 12 or so STR check to pry open the lock, something the paladin didn’t manage till after a couple of rounds). On one side, Jason the rogue and the bear druid would hold the rats, while the wizard and barbarian went up against the kobolds. Morgan unleashed his rage and splattered an unfortunate, scaly soldier across the wall, while roaring a warning throughout the complex. (Barbarian rage has become really, really good in 5th edition. Some have argued it’s too powerful, but as the following example will show, it has its limits too. When it’s up running for its passive damage bonus, advantage on all STR attacks and resistance to pretty much all physical damage; make no mistake. This is a powerhouse!)

Baltazar jumped in, and if the caverns were already teeming with booms and noise, it was nothing against the thunderwave he unleashed upon the kobolds. With rolling cracks and an echoing roars it hurled the entire group of kobolds backwards, smashing every single one against the wall. As this sadly meant Morgan couldn’t get into contact with another enemy before the end of his turn, his rage ended and instead he helped Bjørn escape from the trap.

The rats weren’t big on the whole fighting fair thing (as a Skaven player, I felt right at home) and used their new toys of ganging up for bonuses on the enemy. They tore flesh off Jason who retreated, and as Bjørn stepped in to take his place, he noticed the huge dire rat slinking out of the trash room to strip the meat off his bone. Thus we was surrounded by five ordinary rats with a +5 to their attacks rolls and the dire version stepping in. In a single round, he was reduced to well below half hit points (the small minion rats only do a single point of damage, but throw in enough of them and it really starts adding up). Seeing as how everyone else had started to burn their limited resources for the day, Bjørn popped a Smite and tore apart the dire rat in a round. At that point, Morgan arrived and together they cleaned up the rest.

Storming the throne room
(At this point I pretty much knew the rest of the dungeon would be by the book, so seeing as I want to try out as many of the new creatures as possible, I decided to try out two of the kobold types in the beastiary. The kobold dragonshield guard and the alchemist.)

The heroes took a short rest outside to regain some hit points, spend some hit dice and prepare for the next haul. It was quite by the book for a couple of rooms (basic encounters all with four to eight kobolds that were really quick) and some hastily made traps of crossbow bolts and the like. All of them were found by Jason, and eventually they reached the grand hall before the throne room. It was guarded by four Dragonshield Kobols, which are basically royal kobold guards. They had fortified behind a lot of old furniture and fired arrows at the enemy, while the hour had allowed them to place some simple tripwires for the heroes to stumble in. One of their really good things is how they can impose disadvantage on any creature attacks one of their comrades within reach, making this a good and challenging encounter for the heroes.

On the other side, the heroes found a strange little room with a throne. Upon it sat a fat kobold, clutching his prized possessions in his hands and two human women linked to the wall. He shrieked in terror as Morgan kicked in the door.

Besides from four ordinary kobold guards, the heroes faced off against two strangely cloaked kobolds who carried bottles and smelled strangely of exotic herbs. They squeaked in obedience and the first boss fight began.

With a high initiative, Jason and Morgan both went into the room and attacked the nearest guard. Jacon downed one with an arrow but Morgan missed. The Kobold King hurled out threats and shook his fist, as he attacked the first of the two girls, bringing her down to 0 HP and dying, bellowing they would die if they did not retreat.

The alchemists came up and the first one hurled a glass of nasty glue that detonated on impact, managing to snare both Aramill and Jason to the floor. Then the second one followed up with a firebomb that hit for a nasty four damage to most of the party. Bjørn was furious and charged the Kobold King to protect the innocent, bashing his head up against the wall.

Morgan, who was already raging, moved down and chopped up one of the alchemists, while Aramill released himself from the glue. The kobold guards spread their fire between Bjørn and Jason, downing the rogue to 0 hit point. Unleashing a barrage of magic missiles, Baltazar took out a good deal of them and proceeded into the room.

With Bjørn still fencing with the Kobold King, both Jason and the unconscious girl began taking death saves.

The remaining alchemist used his potion to infuse the guards with a frenzy, granting them advantage on all attacks, and they hurled themselves at Morgan for a devastating beating. But it was nothing against the barbarian muscle at this time. As the round proceeded, Bjørn slew the king and the remaining alchemist was killed by a charging bear. And Jason had failed his Con save versus death twice. With the paladin busy attending the wounded girl and the bear too far away, it was up to the remaining members of the party to administer first aid to the rogue, which sadly didn’t happen.

Luckily, he stabilized on his final check and they decided to quickly loot the room for whatever pieces of gold it held, along with some hastily scribbled notes and get the hell out of there.

Coming up next...
Back out in the forest, the heroes recuperated and fed the two girls. Struck with terror and dread they revealed themselves to be the chambermaids of Clarissa, who were kidnapped along with her as the kobolds struck. They’d been at the mercy of those foul beings for days, but quickly they’d seen green small men coming for Clarissa herself to take her away shortly after arriving.

The documents the heroes found on the king revealed this to be true. In draconic it spoke of another cave to the north-east where “Bellokk the Goblin King” resided, and recently some form of “transaction by the command of the master had taken place”. Realizing there was much more to it, the heroes packed up their equipment and decided to head back for town with the girls.

On the way, however, Dana couldn’t help but share some information about the kidnapping. While she had to be pressed a bit through some diplomacy rolls, she eventually revealed some degree of wonder about the attack. For example that Clarissa had been strangely compliant all the time, and not really seemed that surprised.

Almost as if she’d been expecting it…

(To be continued)

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