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!”

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