Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 11 - Shriner's Convention

The Prep...

For this session I went back and reread the section about the Shrine of Savras, because I knew the characters were interested in it. I noticed that there were quite a few more openings in the walls and towers of the outer wall than I originally described to them when they made their initial recon of the area. I also noticed that that recon was probably impossible during the day, because there was no cover. They would have to make an assault at night.

I worked up the stats for the seven orcs and two ogres that were inhabiting the shrine. I gave them all characteristics that would help the players target them (Chest Scar, Drooly, Rash). I also rolled for loot on them. Now the adventure doesn't tell you where to place these creatures specifically. It gives you some guidelines, which I thought I would remember while we were playing... I didn't.

Finally I decided that in addition to the mithral shirt they got from Big Al, they should get a couple more magic items from Paellia. I figured some one time use items could help spice things up, and let them feel like they are accomplishing something. I get the feeling they think they should level up after this mission, but they actually have to complete another medium level mission before that happens. So giving them magic items is a nice way to let them feel like they are being rewarded.

I decided to give the Rogue a healing portion, and give the druid a spell scroll. I looked up the rules for spell scrolls, and decided to give her a spell that was higher level then she can currently cast. It is called Wind Wall and it creates a wall of wind that can be shaped, inflicts damage on anyone it is cast upon (or whoever tries to move through it) and messes up any missile weapons. I figured it might be useful, and the Druid could only cast it once before the scroll disintegrated.

With all that prepped we were ready for adventure.

The Story...

Unleash the wind!
In the morning Paellia talked with the characters, wishing them well and bestowing her gifts on them. She gave the Rogue the potion of healing saying, "Just in case your elf friend falls in battle, you have this." The Rogue was very please and relieved to have another potion. Now I picked up some Druid spell cards last year for my first attempt at a home game. So I pulled out the Wind Wall spell card and handed it to the Druid player saying, "Paellia hands you this scroll". I went over the spell scroll rules with her (how she has to roll a Wisdom check to attempt to cast a spell higher than her current level, and if she fails the spell doesn't work as expected). She was pleased with the scroll. But I did notice that the spell card was missing some of the secondary affects of Wind Wall, such as clearing out smoke or fog, and causing missile weapons to not find their mark. I made sure she read the full version in the Player's Handbook. They also decided to have the Druid wear the Mithral Chain Main shirt to boost her defenses.

"Petunia and I owe you some sarsaparilla." 
Paellia told them that she would keep them informed with a crow messenger with a single white feather. The characters waved Paellia away as she transformed into a crow with a single white feather  and flew off. Then they made their way over to Big Al and Petunia to say goodbye. He thanked them again and asked them to make sure to send someone back this way to help him rebuild the busted buildings. Inverna promised to come back personally, which surprised the players. He also said that if he didn't see them again soon, he would certainly see them at the upcoming feast day.

I was actually tracking time using the Forgotten Realms calendar (so I knew how many days passed to meet up with Paellia). This is on page 33 of the Dungeon Master's Guide and in more detail on page 14 and 15 of the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. I set the campaign in the month of Client "The Fading", essentially the 9th month of the 12 month calendar. The feast day of Highharvesttide was coming up. Essentially a fall harvest festival. Phandalin will be going all out and I think I can have some fun with that.

Anyway, with that seed planted, the characters started back to Phandalin along the Triboar Trail again. The group chatted a bit, with Inverna feeling like if they were going to attempt to clear out the Shrine, they needed to do it at night. She had a feeling they got real lucky last time. And as the DM I told them I screwed up a few sessions back, and that they shouldn't have been able to sneak so close to the shrine without being caught in daylight. But I said that guard was changing and that distracted the orcs as they moved past the guard tower. The players were fine with this, since I told them they got to keep all the intel they picked up.

"Oi! Do I look like a raccoon to you?"
So the crew waited for nightfall and then started not their way to the shrine. As they neared they could see firelight flickering within the walls. The moon was a crescent, but it was a clear night. They knew that the rear wall of the shrine offered the most opportunity for them to sneak in, as well as the most opportunities to escape if things went bad. After some discussion the Druid decided to use Wild Shape again to do some recon. She changed into a raccoon, they figured that the orc would ignore the critter. But a quick check in the Monster Manual and Volo's Guide to Monsters revealed no stats for a raccoon. So I took the stats for a badger, and replaced the burrow speed with a climb speed from the cat. And we went with that.

As the Druid/racoon did recon, her companions hid in the grasses outside the rear wall and tried to keep quiet. So I was had both groups rolling stealth checks every once in a while. The Druid got some great rolls in and was able to explore the entire inner courtyard of the shrine. She didn't like what she saw. Two ogres and six orcs, with a seventh in the tower. As she tried to get past "Drooly" the ogre, she rolled poorly and he saw her. But since I described him as drooling on himself and staring at the moon, the Rogue asked, "Is he high?" I decided on the spur of the moment, that yes he was high. Seeing the raccoon, he just assumed it was part of his trip, so we went back to staring at the moon. But later the The Druid was spotted by a couple of guard orcs who thought it would be funny to throw rocks at her. One hit, but just as she was escaping through a hole in the wall. Meanwhile Inverna knocked over a rock as they were hiding. One of the orcs came out to investigate, but they rolled really well on stealth. The orc assumed it was some kind of critter and went back to the campfire.

The web spell can give any D&D monster a bad day.
No matter what the edition.
The Druid returned and described what she saw. They came up with a plan to take out the guards in groups. There was one orc by the tents. He became their first target. The Rogue managed to get the jump on him, even after Inverna failed her stealth check. A single shot with her Assassin abilities triggered killed the guard instantly. They discussed what to do next. Continue heading east and they would face three orcs. Go south and there was the high ogre. They discussed for a long long time. So I just had the pair of orcs (that threw rocks at the raccoon) start toward them. The Druid cast Web which stretched between the gatehouse and the shrine and blocked their path. The orcs saw it, and after jabbing at it with a javelin, they got into an argument on what to do next. The group move quietly south, hoping to avoid the drugged out ogre.

They rolled really well on stealth, and he didn't notice them. The moon was just too damn fascinating. As they passed I told the Druid that she noticed some mushrooms lying next to the ogre, and she knew they had hallucinogenic qualities. They felt pretty good about leaving him behind. They moved toward the campfire, where there were three orcs playing dice and the ogre with the rash hanging out. Unfortunately this failed their stealth check, and all four enemies spotted them. The Druid managed to roll very high for initiative and so she cast Wind Wall. She stretched it from one all of the shrine to the outer wall, catching all four enemies (I had described them as being in a rough line before - my bad). The Druid passed her wisdom check and Wind Wall hit like a mini hurricane. I'm not exaggerating. She rolled some amazing damage with he spell. The three orcs were swept up and blown around and all died! The ogre took some serious damage, but he came surging forward and at them.

"I hear elf taste good... taste elf NOW!"
Battle was joined and the group realized how deadly ogres really were. They have a bunch of hit points and are very strong. The heroes valiantly whittled away at the ogre. But when he landed a hit with his great club on the Druid, he rolled a natural 20. With double damage he basically one shot the druid, knocking her out with a single blow. The players started to panic. But I told the Druid's player that if she wanted to use her inspiration token, she could cause the ogre to roll at disadvantage. She got Inspiration way back at the start of the game because of she came up with giving the Manticore the white glove. She gave me the token, and I rerolled for the ogre. He still ended up hitting her, but she wasn't immediately knocked out.

Eventually the ogre fell to their blows. But before they could do anything else, they saw the two orc guards who were messing with the Web earlier come running over and seeing with Wind Wall. One went running off to get the boss (the guy in the tower) the other stood there dumbfounded... and that is where we ended for the night. One drugged out Ogre and three orcs left.

The Post...

You know you're playing well when even the other party
members are a little scared of you.
First off Wind Wall was a crazy powerful spell at this level of play, and the Druid used it at the perfect moment. By taking out those three orcs immediately, she really allowed them to focus on the Ogre and take him out. That said, I think I screwed up, because according to rules as written, her Web spell should have ceased the minute she cast Wind Wall.

Also I ended up placing the enemies oddly. I essentially did this, as the Druid was scouting things out as a raccoon. I probably shouldn't have clustered so many together, and even put the ogres in opposite sides of the shrine. But I was winging it, and couldn't remember exactly where campsites were supposed to be located. I didn't want to slow down the game by looking it up. In the end, I'm the only one who was frustrated by this. The players had a good time, and felt like they did a good job sneaking into the shrine. The especially liked the drugged out ogre. They don't want to kill the guy, which I find very funny.

I've got some interesting ideas for the next session - the orcs are going to try talking to the party. The Rogue player made the comment to the Druid, "You're pretty damn scary, you know that. Casting these Web spells, and then that Wind spell, I'd be terrified of you if I was an orc." It got me thinking...

Up Next...

Session 12: Tempestuous Negotiations

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 10 - Bearly Surviving

The prep...

Not a lot to prep for this session. I had all my orc stats left over from the previous session, including the much tougher leader orc (with the max hit points). I also gave him a villain action (taken from Matt Coleville's very interesting video on making your boss battles more engaging). Essentially I gave the leader orc the ability to attempt to knock an enemy prone using a bonus action.

I remembered to roll for loot this time. I rolled for each orc, and the put the lowest amounts on the orcs downstairs. I gave the richer loot (including two different types of gems - since once again the orcs rolled platinum. And I don't think these guys would be carting around platinum) to the orcs upstairs. They are gambling after all.

Other than that, I just prepped the magic item card for the Mithril armor and pulled out the Monster Manual in case the Druid wanted to try to wild shape into something new. I asked them before the game if they had thought about how to deal with the orcs upstairs... and nope, they hadn't. Well, let's see what happens next.

The story...

I started off reminding them that it sounded like the orcs were holding position upstairs. What followed was a lot of discussion on the best way to take the orcs out. I was a kind DM and let them really talk this out. Since these are newer players and this is a casual game, I didn't want to pressure them too much. If I was playing with more advanced players, I would have had the orcs make some kind of additional moves, maybe taking positions at the top of the stairs, or in one of the rooms. Instead I had another, simpler plan in mind.

The druid was very specific
about what the cat looked like.
Eventually the decided to have the Druid use her Wild Shape ability to transform into a cat and climb up the side of the farmhouse and see if any of the windows were open. We spent a few minutes figuring out what kind of cat she would transform into (because players love that kind of thing). I described a kind of porch outside, and they asked if it was covered. I decided it was, so it was actually very easy for the cat to climb up to the overhang. The plan was to have the Rogue and Druid go upstairs, give Big Al a signal to come up, and then move from there. Except what they didn't really talk about, or make clear to Al, was what he was supposed to do. So I had assume he would come charging up the stairs and into battle.

She noticed that one window was open, the one overlooking Big Al's office. The room was trashed, but no orcs could be seen. The Rogue rolled well on her climbing check, and soon the two players were in the office. The Rogue did some quick ransacking of the room, but there was nothing to be found. (She actually missed a stash of Al's coin hidden behind stacks of boring paperwork which even the orcs ignored).

At this point they heard some sounds. A gentle orc command, and then the sound of wood gently touching another wooden surface. It wasn't coming from close to the heroes, but somewhere to their right. They decided the orcs were up to something, but not sure what. So they signaled, Big Al by tapping a pattern on the floor. Sure enough the rancher walked up the stairs.

Orcs do love their javelins.
As the stairway opened into the upper hall, Al saw that the orcs had taken his gaming table and set it up as a barricade at the end of his hall. I rolled a wisdom check, he failed, and so he went charging down the hall right at them instead of ducking into a doorway. These guys had javelins prepared and were ready for combat.

The Rogue and Druid cried out in dismay as it seemed that once again an NPC had gone off roading. But we rolled initiative. As I stated the turn order I added that near the end a "mystery guest" got to act. This caused both players to panic a little. Who else was here? Who else was participating in battle?

Well I had my back-up plan in place. If things started to go south I was going to have the local druid Paellia show up, heal Inverna and then join into the fray herself if things got dire. Remember, that my Druid player had left a message at Conyberry for the local druid to meet them at Butterskull Ranch. Well Paellia got the message and would show up this session in one way or another.

And pretty soon it was obvious that the player characters needed the help. Big Al got one good swipe in with a great axe he lifted from the downed orcs in the floor below, but two javelins brought him down. Remember he only had 9 hit points to begin with because he had been beaten up when the characters found him. The rogue used her bow to fire down the hall, but the barricade was making it tougher for her to hit the orcs. The Druid, still in cat form, raced down the hall, transformed back into an elf in front of them, and then dragged Big Al into a nearby bedroom. She was going to try to stabilize him the next round. But that was her last use of Wild Shape for the day (she had already turned into Petunia the cow earlier).

I allowed that the orcs by the barricade were stunned by the cat transforming into an elf, and so didn't act that round. This gave the Rogue another free shot, rolled a natural 20 critically hitting the orc and taking him out of the fight. Only one orc was at the barricade.

Local druid, at your service.
Meanwhile Paellia healed Inverna downstairs and Inverna used her Second Wind ability to boost her hit points further. She was ready to fight and moved into position downstairs. Of course the players had no idea this was happening.

The Druid stabilized Big Al using her healer's kit. But wasn't sure what she could do next. She was obviously trying to keep her final healing spell ready. The Rogue noticed a rat peeking at her from the top of the stairwell. Suddenly a voice in elvish called out, "Time to clean up the cobwebs, if y'all know what I mean." The player of the Druid got a bit grin on her face and said, "I drop concentration on the Web spell."

Now a piece of orc armor got caught in the webs, so it fell to the ground, alerting the orcs to something else happening. The orc leader ordered one of his men down the stairs, and battle was joined. The Rogue lined up her next shot, but she rolled a natural 1, and we are using fumble rules - so her bowstring broke. She had picked up spares, but it would take a full action to replace them. At that moment, the rat raced down the hall and joined the Druid. She transformed into a female halfling wearing furs, with a slightly unstable expression on her face and asking happily, "Are we having a battle?"

Entangle, the spell that can change the battle.
With Paellia and Inverna joining the battle the tide turned. Inverna took out one orc down stairs, so the leader ordered his remaining companion to deal with her. He moved to the game table, hefted it up with his massive strength and attempted to block the two druids behind it. His objective was to break line of sight so they could stop casting spells at him (he was hit by Entangle and Frostbite over the course of the battle). He would then engage the Rogue in single combat. But the leader rolled well to lift the table, but poorly to maneuver it. He kept slamming it into the hallway. The Rogue got in a free hit, but the guy wasn't falling. Meanwhile Inverna was taking hits downstairs, and was missing quite a bit.

I'll be honest and say the dice hated my players that night. They rolled a lot of natural 1s and the orcs kept making their Constitution and Dexterity saving throughs. Spells weren't hurting them. I could see the combat was getting frustrating, so I figure it was time to end it. Paellia asked the Druid if it was time for Bear. The Druid saw what was coming and said, "Yes. Bear Time, for sure."

Sometimes you've got to Be the bear.
Paellia transformed into a black bear and hurtled at the orc leader and his table. She pinned him under it, and did some brutal bite damage on him. The Rogue was able to edge past him and finish off the orc dueling with Inverna on the stairwell, delivering a one shot killing blow. The orc failed his strength check, and Paellia shoved the table down hard on the orc, crushing his spine and killing him.

After the battle ended, the Druid healed Big Al and got him back on his feet. They then moved to clean up the mess a bit. The players picked up the loot from the downed orcs and were pleased with the gems. Big Al gave them his mithril shirt as promised. He also invited them to stay the night at his place and rest up. The group agreed.

Paellia finally got a chance to talk to the players, and we had a good bit of roleplaying there. I had her talking in quick sentences, moving in birdlike ways and seem to take joy in fighting in animal forms. She explained how she wanted to find out where the dragon originated, because she suspected that something worse was happening to the East, where the dragon flew from. She felt that whatever forced a dragon to flee would pose a bigger threat to the world. She is part of the Emerald Enclave, a group of druids and rangers who protect the natural order. She offered a place in the order to the Druid if she could help protect the area around Phandalin and take care of the dragon. The characters accepted, being the heroic types they were.

Paellia dropped an important hint. If the heroes could figure out where the orcs came from, then they would determine where the dragon is currently residing. Because all the orc trouble seemed to start when the dragon moved in.

The session ended with the characters bedding down for the evening, after helping Big Al clean up a bit more around the place.

The post...

Mithral Shirt - armor anyone can wear!
So this session was dominated by a tough combat for the players. They spent time planning, but because they didn't specify what the objective was to their NPC, things went poorly. But also, man did the dice hate them. Having Al taken out so early in combat was a real problem, and why I held Inverna in reserve. But the fact that the orcs were just not getting hit, while the players were taking damage forced me to bring Paellia into the fight.

The players did ask me if that was part of the plan the whole time. I admitted that I held her in my back pocket in case things went badly. But I really think they could have healed Inverna or Al before battle and things would have gone much better. I know the Druid was trying to conserve her spells, but it would have been better to have some strong arms at full (or near full) health going into the battle.

Still the combat was fun, and Paellia was a fun character to role-play. I also made sure that she was doing what the players wanted, by having her always ask the Druid, "What do you think? Entangle?" or "What do you think, Bear?" I'm really trying to be careful about the NPCs taking the spotlight away from the players. And while I think that did happen a bit with Paellia killing the orc leader, she is not going to be involved in the adventure any more. If we continue playing into my planned Princes of the Apocalypse campaign, then she will return for that.

All that said, the players had fun and were curious to see what was going to happen next.

Up Next:

Session 11: Shriner's Convention

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 9 - Who Let the Cows In?

The prep...

"Time for to fight!"
This was going to be a tough one. We had a farmhouse full of orcs. We had many rooms they could be hiding or lurking in. We had the potential for an ally or two, but this could go very poorly if the players didn't handle it right. As I mentioned the Druid was a planner, so I had faith that they would come up with something.

The adventure asks for roughly three orcs per player character. I did this, but kept in mind that I could reduce or increase the number of orcs as needed. I decided to have one leader among the group, not a chieftain from the Monster Manual but an orc with max hit points. I also made him a bit smarter than the others, he would order the others around.

I placed three orcs downstairs in the mess hall of the farmhouse gorging themselves on food. The remaining three/four would be upstairs in the gaming room playing cards and drinking. The ranch owner Big Al would be locked in the cellar.

One thing I forgot to do was roll up some loot for the orcs to be carrying. But I did include a note that these were not the Talos worshiping orcs.

The story...

The party took great pains to check out the entire ranch, moving quietly and carefully. The first stop was the barn, which was intact, if not a bit bashed up. They secured the three horses and the wayward cow in the barn and continued their survey. They examined the burned out smithy and made a very high Investigation roll. They determined that the fire was probably caused by accident during the battle.

They found the bodies of some slain orcs, as well as the bodies of three humans viciously hacked up in a fury. It looks like this had only happened a day or two ago. The players were on their guard as they finally moved closer to the farm house. This whole perimeter sweep ended up taking quite a bit of time, as the players were trying to glean as much information as possible about the events here.

When they arrived at the farmhouse they could hear the voices of orcs coming from within. They snuck closer and noticed that the cellar door was secured with rope. They spent a bit of time trying to determine if the orcs were keeping a prisoner down there, or if the orcs had been trapped inside. The Rogue decided to use her stealth to creep close to one of the windows and peek inside (after they both examined the well, which was clear of enemies). The Rogue got a look at the kitchen which was empty but trashed.

They talked a bit about sneaking into the building. Then I helpfully reminded the Druid that she had the Wild Shape ability, which she could use to gain additional information. She decided to focus on spell casting with her character, but one of the class' unique features is the ability to turn into animals. The character gains all the physical abilities of the animal, but keeps the mental abilities of the character. However the druid can not cast spells in animal form. They can maintain concentration on long duration spells after transforming.

This cow has her eyes on you...
There was a lot of discussion about what type of animal would be the best for the job. Since they are low level characters, the Druid was limited to the type of creature she could transform into. No creatures with swim or flying abilities. She decided that transforming into the cow they found along the road would work. If the orcs saw the cow they wouldn't think anything of it. I didn't tell them that the cow might make tasty steaks for the orcs.

So the Druid used her Wild Shape ability and transformed into the ranch cow. She carefully walked around the building, pretending to be a disinterested bovine. She peeked into the windows as she went, and finally spotted the three orcs in the mess hall eating, drinking and joking around. They didn't notice her. She also heard more orc voices coming from upstairs. She returned to the Rogue and Inverna and stamped three times to indicate three orcs.

The Rogue then moved to the cellar door and listened at it. This was great, because I didn't even have to recommend doing that. She rolled very high on perception and hard the sound of wood scraping against stone. Discussion followed with the Druid nailing it - someone is tied up in a chair and it scraped against the stone floor. The Rogue untied the door and peeked inside. They found Big Al, the head rancher, tied up in a wooden chair with a burlap sack over his head. The Druid, still in cow form, let out a soft "Moooo", to which Big Al whispered, "What in tarnation are you doing here Petunia? I told you to run! Darn cows don't have a lick of sense." The players got a kick out of the cow's name as well as my poor Yosemite Sam imitation.

"You ready for some sarsaparilla?"
I described him like an tall lanky old time cowboy, and the players said, "Oh like Sam Elliot." And I totally rolled with it. So now Big Al is played by Sam Elliot, and has a thirst for sarsaparilla (for all you Big Lebowski fans out there). When the players pulled the sack from his head he was startled by the Rogue's fiendish appearance. But was more concerned that "Petunia" was still on the ranch. The players had some fun messing with Al, before the Druid returned to her elf form.

Big Al offered to give the players his shirt of mithral chain mail if they helped him retake his ranch from the orcs. He explained that the orc leader was obviously smarter and tougher than the rest. It was his idea to hold Al hostage, and maybe ransom him to the people of Phandalin. The players agreed to help Al, but warned him that it wouldn't be easy, and Al was beat up al ready (only 9 HP at this point).

The characters moved back to the porch and discussed how to best ambush the orcs inside. Eventually they came up with a plan. The Rogue would snipe through one of the half open windows. Inverna and Al would burst in through the kitchen and go for hand to hand combat. The Druid would use her Web spell to block one of the stairways, to keep the orcs upstairs from moving in that direction to back their friends up.

The group managed to roll well on stealth and entered the kitchen. Al armed himself with a wicked meat carving knife and prepared. Inverna and Al burst in and gained suprise on the three orcs. The Rogue had some issues with sniping since I ruled that the orcs had some cover from the half closed window. The Druid got her spell off no problem.

Inverna unfortunately got ganged up on. The orcs got in a series of hits on the poor elf and she was knocked unconscious. Big Al got a couple of good hits in, but it was the Rogue who moved in closer to the window once the battle started, and removed the penalty to her target, that did the most damage. The three orcs were killed, but the commotion caught the notice of the orcs upstairs.

The Rogue stabilized Inverna using the Healers Kit they had purchased a couple sessions earlier. They put her in the pantry, out of the way. Meanwhile the orcs tried to go down the stairs but ran into The Druid's web. They heard a fierce voice shout a few orders and then it went quiet.

The orcs weren't going to come rushing down... but what could the players do to finish the job? I thought that was a great place to end the session.

The post...

Quote from Inverna.
The great thing about having planners in the party is that they take the situations seriously and give added weight to the overall story and world. The bad thing is that they can be overcautious and the game pacing may suffer. I had planned for this to be an intense battle filled session, but most of it was spent creeping around, peeking in windows and planning the next move. So yeah, I might have been a bit disappointed. But the players were really into it, and that was fun.

The bit of Sam Elliot humor broke up the tension a little bit, but I think it worked well in the overall scheme of things. The battle against the orcs felt a bit one sided. The characters surprising the orcs gave them essentially a full round to beat up on the monsters without being attacked back. Also the four sided dice hated Inverna. Each time I rolled to see which target the orcs were going after, it was always Inverna. The up side is that neither of the player characters were hurt. The downside is, their toughest character is now out of the game.

I think this session went very well, and the ending was great. A tension filled cliffhanger is always a good way to stop the session and keep the players wondering what is going to happen next. Looking forward to seeing if they plan for their next move in between sessions.

Up next...

Session 10: Bearly Surviving

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 8 - Village of the Dead

The prep...

A Bard with necromantic spells?
Since we didn't get all that far in the previous adventure, I pretty much kept all my prep notes the same from the previous session. I really didn't think they would get much further than the Shrine and Coneyberry. I was proven right, but not quite how I expected (Which is actually expected. The players never do what you think they are going to do). I was really hoping they would trigger my zombie attack. I mean we were playing the week of Halloween - it needed to happen. I will say this is the lightest prep I have done for the campaign yet. I reread my notes for Coneyberry and the Shrine, but that was about it. I felt like I was winging it a bit, but everything worked out well in the end.

I figured out what my issue with D&D Beyond was. It was user error. I was able to update The Rogue's character sheet using "custom" features. This will work fine for our little home game, and now The Rogue can use her Assassin traits. Sadly, these traits didn't come into play this session.

The story...

I spent a few moments going over The Rogue's new assassin abilities. She was pleased to be able to activate some serious damage at times. We then jumped into the adventure.

"It's about time for some orc slayin'."
This session I wanted to show them the dangers of unpredictable non-player characters (NPCs). Inverna had been playing well with them for the previous adventure. But this time they were going straight into battle with orcs, and she is not going to let good sense get in her way of killing every single one of them.

This was proven after the players explained to Inverna what they saw in the night. She was angry they didn't wake her up to kill the orcs. When they went to investigate the severed heads on the stakes, I described how angry Inverna got. She then proceeded to knock down the heads and spit on them. The players were disturbed by her intense hate. They tried to get more out of her about it, but she just said that all orcs were blights on the world and deserved death. I made it clear that any attempt to parlay with orcs wasn't going to happen with Inverna around. The group did notice that the severed orc heads did not have any signs of the tempest god Talos on them, unlike the orcs they ran into at the dwarves ruins.

The Druid did finally cast detect magic on the folded piece of green cloth she found in the treasure barrel. I told her it glowed with magical light and was part of the school of Enchantment. A really good arcana check revealed that it would boost charisma in some way. She messed around with the cloth and it unfolded into a classic green Robin Hood hat, complete with feather. Putting it on made the Druid suddenly more dapper and appealing. The players got a kick out of this items. And it can be useful since neither of them have a very high charisma score.

"Ladies..."
The characters started toward Conyberry. The rogue moved took to off-roading approaching the ruined village from the west. Doing some snooping she discovered the village was deserted, but she also found more signs of horse prints in the ground. The Druid and Inverna approached the village along the road. They encountered the only semi-standing structure still reamaining, an old church or town hall. Inside they found a huge symbol of Talos carved on one wall and inked in blood, three lightning bolts. They also found fresh dug earth and four posts with severed orc heads on them. Like the other heads these did not seem to have any symbols of Talos upon them. Inverna wanted to ruin this site too, but the Druid talked her down.

The rogue found the horses near the other end of the village, near a trail leading toward the ancient shrine that Inverna told them about. Both characters tried to use animal handling to approach the horses, but the Druid rolled an natural 1. I described how she approached and promptly stepped in horse dung which was much more distracting to her than actually trying to approach the horses. The ladies left them to graze and started down the trial to the shrine.

As they approached they saw the ruins of the shrine. They determined that it wouldn’t be hard to defend, with the huge wall around it. They saw a guard in the only remaining tower, and stealthily manuvered their way around the whole structure. They rolled really well on stealth, so they were succcessful at staying hidden. It was a good thing too, because they saw an ogre wandering around inside the shrine’s walls. The behemoth was too intimidating for the group so they snuck back to Conyberry, much to Inverna’a annoyance.

When they arrived at the ruined village, the two players let Inverna blow off some steam and destroy those orc stakes. They tried the animal handling again and this time rolled very well. The horses were befriended. They noticed that th horsed were branded with BAK. There was a bit of discussion about what that may mean but they didn’t have too much time to consider because Inverna cried out in horror. The two heroes raced over and saw something shambling out of the structure toward Inverna.

"Oy! We're here for the fancy dress party!"
Headless Zombie Orc corpses lumbered up front the fresh dug earth with one goal, to tear apart the ladies. The Druid used quick thinking to cast her Web spell on the doorway. This trapped the first zombie inside the doorway, and the remaining ones were too dumb to do much more than wander right into its back. The Rogue and Inverna took turns slashing the trapped zombie and took him out.

The Druid dropped her web spell and the remaining three zombies stumbled forward. The Rogue and Druid were able to avoid taking any hits, and did plenty of damage against the undead horrors. Inverna wasn't so fortunate and she took a bit of a beating. One of the zombies popped up one last time for a good scare before the Rogue dispatched it with a quick flick of her rapier. Inverna apologized for letting her anger get the better of her. The Druid healed Inverna and the three took to the trail again, this time riding the three horses they befriended.

[Side note: We aren't using miniatures so I had to once again come up with descriptions for each of the orc zombies. It was tough to come up with unique descriptors for headless monsters. Another DM challenge I hadn't considered. I ended up using names like "Grey", "Stump" "Hole" (huge gaping hole in his abdomen) and "Pegleg". It ended up being a bit funny sounding, but the players enjoyed it.]

Along the trail they ran into a wandering cow also with the BAK brand on it. The players came to the conclusion that the animals were somehow freed from the ranch, which only means more trouble. They were able to roll really well once again for animal handling (both of them again nailing it), so the cow was now following them to the ranch.

The pair finally arrived at Butterskull Ranch, and saw that it was indeed in disruption. Pigs were roaming the fields and orchards, it looked like a couple of buildings had been burned or smashed. There was no sign of anyone around (other than the pigs). With this eerie setting established, we stopped for the evening.

The post...

Looks like she rolled high on her Stealth check.
This was another good session, got a bit of roleplaying with Inverna in there. The players got to understand the depths of her hatred for orcs. This has made her a bit unreliable when it comes to battling these foes, so they will need to think about how to keep her from doing reckless things. So far they have been able to talk her down, and her mishap with the zombies was embarrassing. So we'll see.

They did some exploration, sneaking all the way around the Shrine. This actually took a bit of time, since they were moving slow and I was describing what they saw a little at a time. Those stealth rolls were so good, they were able to remain unnoticed. They also have a pretty good idea of the layout of the shrine. So if they wish to return (and it sounds like they do) they will have an idea of how to get in. They did spend a good bit of time talking about whether they should attempt the shrine before the ranch. Inverna wanted to, and wasn't afraid of any ogre. But the Druid player is a planner, and she didn't want to rush in without something place. She felt their mission was to resolve Butterskull Ranch, and they would handle the Shrine on the way back. So we got a good bit of roleplaying in that section as well.

Finally they got in some combat, as I had the reckless NPC trigger my zombie trap. Since I had been building up Inverna's frustration with not begin able to attack the orcs in the shrine, I think it worked out very well to have her lose her cool and start messing with things. The zombie battle went really well for the players. That Web spell is really effective, and it allowed them to remove one creature right away. The rest of it was just some damn good rolls by the players and poor rolls by the zombies. But hey, we had our Thriller moment worked in for the Halloween week and that was good.

All in all a fun session, and a great foreshadowing for the challenge looming next time.

Up next...

Session 9: Who Let the Cows In?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 7 - Along the Triboar Trail

The prep...

I calculated that the trip to Conyberry was going to take around three days to travel. So I decided to throw together an random encounters table. I put together 12 encounters that the group may run into on the way to Conyberry. These were not all combat encounters, some were just strange things they notice along the road. I tied to tie them to the story as much as I could. So they might find carnage from a dragon attack. Or signs of orcs passing through. Some are weather effects. Some are just raccoons raiding their camp during the night. They will roll 1D12 for each travel day and see what happens. If they roll the same number more than once, than they will get a free day. I rolled up some additional random loot for these encounters as well.

I wanted Conyberry to have a bit more of an adventure to occur there. So I came up with the idea that the orc shamans are using some kind blood ritual to give them Talos' power. In Conyberry the group will find this ritual in progress. If they disturb it, then zombie orcs will attack. I've got a few more hints of the ritual on the way to Conyberry too, as part of the random encounter table.

They should have enough to fill in the time for this session with this amount of work. But the Shrine is nearby, and that is a full blown battle in itself. They should also meet with Paellia here, so I've got her prepped as well.

The story...

Savior of goats named Rupert.
So after being sick for two weeks, we finally got back to playing. Things didn't get off to the best start. We were messing around with D&D Beyond for a bit, as the Rogue was trying to activate your subclass features for the assassin. Unfortunately, I confused the way D&D Beyond works and it we were going around in circles. We spent way too much time trying to figure it all out and ended up just putting aside her ability updates for now and start playing (in the end it didn't matter all that much since there wasn't any combat in this session.

So it started with the Druid and Rogue going to the Inn to find out more about the dragon attack in Phandelver. They chatted with the innkeeper and then went to talk to Donnabella the magical unicorn who saved the goat from a messy end. She told them a bit more about the dragon, mentioning again about how arrogant it is and how it filled the whole town square when it landed. I wanted to ensure they understand this is a young dragon and something they can take on once they get to a high enough level. Donnabella was still injured so the Druid used some of her healing magic to help the recovery process along. This fascinated the young "unicorn" and she thanked the characters, and reminded them that she would be happy to accompany them on an upcoming adventure if they needed magical aid.

After that the group split up the remaining loot with Inverna. She thanked them and also said she would be willing to accompany them if they had any other orc related shenanigans they wanted to get into. They asked her to come along with them to the Butterskull Ranch, and she agreed. They would meet up the next morning.

The duo headed over to Barthen's provisions. They picked up a couple of Healer's Kits. These can be used to stabilize a character who has been downed in combat, and keep them from bleeding out. In other words, it keeps characters from rolling those nasty Death Saves. A good idea to have a few on hand, just in case the healer (aka the Druid) goes down. The Druid also reached inside the treasure barrel. She found a folded piece of green cloth. I kept trying to get her to unfold the cloth, but she never did. If she did, something fun happens. Hopefully she'll remember she has it and it doesn't get lost in the bottomless pouch.

Quinn is ready to PUNCH!
As the group headed back to the inn they finally ran into Quinn Hightopple. This halfling fighter loves punching anyone in the crotch (yes it actually says that in his NPC information). Tobin the Innkeeper yelled to the women to watch out, and they were able to use the door to knock the halfling pugilist down. He offered his services (and ability to punch dragons in the crotch). They declined. I played this mostly for laughs and they found him just annoying enough. Tobin was able to placate him a bit, and the ladies went to bed. Once again they barred their door with a chair, partially from robbers but also from Quinn.

The next morning the group started their two and half day journey toward Coneyberry and the Butterskull Ranch. I asked them to roll on the table I created and they rolled for the raccoon rummage. So during the day I described how the trek was uneventful. They tried to get Inverna to tell them a bit more about the dragon and the area around. I was careful to describe some the issues around the area, but not give away too much. Inverna knows some stuff, but I want the characters to rely too much on her knowledge to get in and out of trouble. That night during the watch the Rogue heard something sneaking toward the camp. It was a bit of fun as they tried to determine if it was an enemy or worse... Quinn! Turned out it was just a raccoon. The rogue did a catch a release program with the little guy.

The next day they rolled on the chart, and got WIND! So the winds started battering the ladies as they traveled, making things miserable for them. It slowed them down so that it added a half day to the travel. This will come into play on when they meet Paellia the local druid who is waiting around Conyberry. As they traveled they came upon a couple of strange things. They found traces of horse hoof prints around the area closer to Conyberry. They also found dried black stuff. A good survival roll revealed it to be dried blood, possibly orc blood. The group was wary, but settled down for the evening.

Area around the Triboar Trail is pretty open.
I had them roll on the chart for the third day, and they got a random encounter with an orc party. We were getting near the end of playing time, and I knew a full combat would take too long. So I adjusted the encounter a bit. If the characters drew attention to themselves, then a battle would start the next session, but if they kept quiet they would see something interesting.

During the watch the Druid noticed some torchlights coming along the trail. She kept quiet and watched as a group of orcs passed by. Two were carrying large stakes, and one was carrying a bloody sack. They were talking as they walked and this awakened the Rogue (Inverna was sound asleep). The two adventurers observed the orcs plant the stakes and then remove two heads from the sack and place them on the stakes. Then the orcs trudged back to Conyberry muttering to themselves. The players had a chat about what they saw and decided to investigate with Inverna the next morning. And that is where we stopped.

The post...

The 12 sided dice, least used
of the dice.
So we had another session without any combat. But I think it went as well as it could. We were messing around quite a bit with character sheets and talking some game mechanics at the start. That will happen sometimes. I think once again wandering around the town and talking with the NPCs took up a lot of time. I didn't mind so much because we hadn't played in a couple weeks, and it helped get us all back into the world of the game.

While I had everything set up for a combat on the random encounter table, the players just didn't roll them up until the end. This worked out fine, because it gave the game world a bit more reality. Living in California, we know all about days where the wind just blazes away for days. So that moment worked really well (I could see the scowls on the ladies face as I described the wind). Again, I was playing it off the cuff here to make sure the game moved at a good pace and end on time. The ladies had a good time during this session, and the mystery of the orcs got them curious about the next session. So overall, it was a pretty successful session, but I'm looking forward to some combat next time.

Up Next...

Session 8: The Village of the Dead

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 6 - Stormfront

The prep...

"About time we show up!"
We finally get to the orcs invading the ruins. I had their stat blocks cooked up for a few weeks now. For this session, I did want to give the players some additional loot. So I pulled out the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) and used the Individual Treasure: Challenge 0-4 table (p: 136). Orcs are challenge rating 1/2, so I rolled on the table. One orc rolled a ridiculous amount of platinum, so I took that amount and shifted it to an equivalent gemstone from the 50gp Gemstones table (p: 134).

I also gave each orc a visual identity, so it would be easy for the party to identify targets. This is very important when you aren't playing with miniatures. It adds to the storytelling and allows the players to pick which target they want. I didn't do this with the ochre jellies, (and I probably should have). But since I had three orcs swarming the party here, it might come into play.

I figured that the group was going to chat with the dwarves some more after the battle, and maybe even take a short rest. They may make it back to Phandalin, but I had my doubts. With that in mind, I didn't prep too much else. I pulled the new quest cards out (three more). I reviewed the stats for Inverna and made sure I had all the notes ready. We dove right in.

The story...

Speak up! I can't hear you!
As we started I brought up the fact that the trio hadn't received the Sending Stones magic item that they were promised. These are essentially fantasy walkie talkies that have one use per day. I told them we could do a little retcon and they could ask the dwarves about these. Instead this turned into a full blown discussion about how to split loot with the dwarves. The Druid thought giving the dwarves a few of the gems would be a good idea, in case they wanted to meet up with them later. The Rogue wanted to take all the gems and just pretend they didn't find anything of value (nice role playing there). They asked Inverna, and she just said she didn't care, as long as they didn't cut her out from her fair share.

Eventually they didn't really make a solid decision. But slept on it. So we jumped forward to the next morning with the orcs hurrying ahead of the storm toward the ruins. The Druid rolled a high perception check and got a good description of the figures. When she got back to the group with the description, Inverna confirmed they were orcs, and was ready to fight. I pulled up the map of the ruins and showed them the approach. The Druid player looked it over and asked about the thick wall in front of the temple. Was that a 5 foot opening with a door? Sure was. She suggested they bottleneck the orcs into that area. Inverna loved it and volunteered to be bait. She can't wait to kick some orc ass. The Druid and the Rogue would be on either side of the doorway and use ranged attacks. Since the Rogue's crossbow string snapped in the previous battle, she was going to throw daggers and large rubble. The Druid had her spells ready. The dwarves retreated into the temple and would hold the door open if the characters wanted to retreat.

So the plan proceeded. The characters tried to be stealthy but one of them failed the roll and the orcs heard them, and started creeping forward. But once they saw Inverna, the leader (one with a necklace of elf ears around his neck [ewwww said the players]) cries out "Death to Knife Ears!" Yeah I borrowed that from Dragone Age but I always liked that epithet for elves. As the orc hurtled forward, javelin ready, The Druid cast Entanglement in the area where the orcs were rushing. This caused the roots and plants to erupt from the ground and wrap around the orcs. Two were immediately ensnared. The one at the back with a broken tusk rolled a natural 1 and started shrieking like a baby which cracked the players up. But the leader with the gory necklace was strong enough to power through. He hurled his javelin yelling "TALOS!" He missed Inverna, but kept rushing toward her.

The battle continued, and the Entanglement  spell worked great. Combined with the bottleneck, the orcs were unable to swarm into the area. With three players working on them with attacks and spells, they fell one by one. Broken Tusk rolled a natural 1 two more times, and I described that his efforts to escape only further entangled him, until he was prone, covered in vines and screaming like a baby. But he got fierce enough when Inverna walked over to him to finish him off.

That strategy worked so well that none of the player characters were injured! Only Inverna took a hit from a javelin, and she was tough enough to keep fighting after that. The party pulled the loot, and decided to give the healthy amount of coins to the dwarves, instead of the more valuable gems. It was a good compromise that the players felt pretty good about. I did make them sweat a little bit when the dwarves mentioned an empty stone box in an pillar (where the gem hoard was hidden) and how it was odd that it was empty. The dwarves suspect the players are holding out on them, but they also just watched the players slaughter three very strong orcs, so they aren't in any mood to pick a fight.

The storm hit the ruins just as the players started on their way to Phandalin via Umbrage Hill, which is on the way. The Druid used her Detect Magic spell to see if necklace they found on the dwarf skeleton was magical. It wasn't. But here mechanical Goldfish WAS! I have plans for that little guy if they ever got to visit the gnomes.

The Rogue is always looking for these.
At Umbrage Hill they met with Adabra again. She could sell them potions of healing, but they were 50 gold pieces. Really damn pricy. The characters couldn't afford those at this time. But they chatted with Adabra, enjoyed some tea. They asked Adabra about the wandering druid Paellia, and told her about the message Paellia left. Adabra felt that meant that Paellia was going to be in Conyberry in five days time. I also had Adabra hint that she and Harbin had a previous relationship, and may still like each other. So the players had a bit of fun teasing Adabra.

It was still raining as they headed back to Phandalin. Now here I ran into a bit of trouble, because I had thought a little bit about what happened in the town while the party was away, but I didn't really plan it out fully. I didn't think they'd get here during this session. So once again, I had to improvise a little... and very soon a lot.

So I described how the town square had a huge series of massive claw marks torn into it. One nearby building was partially destroyed. The town was deathly quiet, only the pounding rain could be heard. I figured the players would head to the inn or directly to Harbin to find out what happened. Instead they decided to visit the Coster - the only option I didn't really plan for.

So I panicked a little bit. I ended up pulling out the adventure book (I was so flustered I didn't even use my tablet which would have been faster). I try very hard not to pull any books out during the game, because it slows things down. But yeah I goofed here. I eventually pulled up the name of the owner of the Coster and her inventory. Of course she has one of those elaborate Forgotten Realms names, so I adjusted it too Lillian. Luckily the players liked her immediately. She volunteered to send a message to Neverwinter for them (they discussed a dwarves archeologist who may know and pay to learn more about the ruins). She also grumbled about Haylia, who the characters already don't like or trust. She sold them replacement bow strings and a few more arrows for the Rogue.

"No, I don't trust Haylia."
Lillian also told them about the dragon attack. It wasn't so much an attack as it was a demand for tribute and adoration. This is a young white dragon. I'm playing him like a bully who isn't all that bright. White dragons are notoriously dim witted, but quick to anger. This one was forced out of his home to the east by cultists. So he is grumpy already. But he sees the town as easy pickings and feels he can bully them into getting free food and loot. Which he can.

Lillian explained how he made his demands, and was going to take the local goat as a snack. But Donnabella, the aspiring magician who thinks she is a unicorn attacked the dragon with a simple fire spell and ran away with the goat. The dragon was angry and smashed a building on top of Donnabella, crushing her legs. The goat got away. The dragon laughed and said that they see what happens to those who defy him. He said he'd come back soon and expect a cow, or horse or willing victim - or some treasure to add to his horde. If they failed him, he would destroy the village a building at a time.

After hearing that story, the characters headed to visit Harbin. Once again I had quite a bit of fun playing the blustering town master hidden behind the door. He paid them for the job well done. They teased him about Adabra. He told them of the dragon attack in his own blowhard way. "And lo, upon wings of death, there came a white dragon, and he did smite the earth with terrible force!" They reviewed the new quests on the job board. They decided to head to Butterskull Ranch by way of Conyberry, so they could meet up with Paellia. We ended with the group heading to the Inn to check in on Donnabella and get some rest before their next adventure.

The post...

Peanut Butter Skull Ranch Cookies!
This was another very fun session. The money talk at the start went on a bit longer than I would have liked. But the Druid and the Rogue are learning more about how different their characters are. The Druid wants to play fairly straight with everyone. The Rogue is greedy and now needs money to pay off Haylia, so she is willing to bend any rules to get her hands on money.

I have to say I'm really proud of the players for taking the time to come up with a plan using the map, and really working it over on the orcs. It showed them that good planning can make or break a battle. They used the rest of the session for some solid roleplaying, and information gathering.

My big lesson is to be a little more prepared with those NPCs, if possible. I had come up with a little bit about Lillian over at the Coster's a few sessions back. But they characters start out so well equipped they didn't need to visit her. It would have probably taken me a little less time to dig through my notes to find what I had for her (which looking at it now, wasn't all that much different from how I played her). I think I got more flustered than I should have, and could have played it off a bit better. In other words, it annoyed me more than it annoyed the players.

I've not dropped hints about Talos the storm god (which The Druid was able to recall with a very high History roll). I had mentioned Butterskull Ranch early on in the adventure, when the characters first entered the inn and ordered bread and cheese. They saw Tobin the Innkeeper carving out a piece of cheese from a skull shaped lump of cheddar. He told them all about this special Skull cheese (the players dubbed it head cheese), and how he hadn't seen anyone from Butterskull ranch in a while and his stock of the cheese was getting low. So it was nice to see the payoff kick in here.

So Coneyberry has an adventure tied to it, and I think that and meeting with Paellia will take up the next session. So I won't have to dive into Butterskull Ranch yet. But I should be prepared for both, just in case the Coneyberry adventure doesn't pull them in. In either case, this was a fun one, and a little bit of a break from the darkness of the dungeon delving in the previous session.

Up next...

Session 7: Along the Triboar Trail

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 5 - When Condiments Attack

The prep...

Dippin' Sauce of DOOM!
It was time for some combat. It had been a while since the duo had actually rolled those attack and damage dice. Those goblins Beviz and Boothead were the targets that time. This time it was a trio of ochre jellies. Since it had been four sessions since we had a full blown combat, I knew I would have to take it slow, and help both players get back into the swing of things.

First off I decided to actually draw a map of the area they had explored. I did this before the session. It had been a week since they had explored the area, I didn't want to have to rely on their memory of the place. So I did a bit freehand sketch work (and no, I can't draw to save my life). I warned them that it wasn't to scale or anything, but was more for reference to help them determine where they could move to if they wished.

I had the ochre jelly stats prepped a couple weeks before hand and was good to go there. I had Inverna's stats ready as well. I watched a video of the Dungeon Dudes talking about The Essentials Kit and discussing the sidekick characters. They had some good recommendations and I decided to use those in this game. I made it clear to the players the Inverna would do what she was told to do (within reason), but that her default was to swing that sword of hers. However once combat started I had the players take turns rolling for Inverna. This made her feel a little less like a DM controlled player.

That was about as much prep as I needed to do. I figured they would continue exploring the temple and deal with the jellies, then maybe spend some time with the dwarves at the end. I doubted we'd get to the orc combat, but I had them prepped just in case.

The story...

Inverna likes welding swords and line dancing.
We started the session with the classic, "Roll for initiative." The players rolled and the Rogue got to attack first, followed by Inverna, then the jelly and then the Druid. I won't give you a play by play, but lets just say things went about as well as they could have. I actually miscalculated how fast the jellies could move. They are really slow, so the Rogue was able to get into a better position within the altar room, and maneuver behind pillars to take shots at the creature. Inverna moved in and attacked, rolling very well this whole session. The Druid used her Frostbite cantrip to cause frost damage and slow the jelly down further. She also used her Entangle spell to cause roots and vines to erupt from the ground and hold the jelly in place. The players did a fine job with some great rolls and took the jelly out.

But just as they were about to celebrate, another one oozed from a nearby wall and attacked the Rogue at close range! This was actually recommended by the adventure to add another jelly if there are more than two characters in the room. It made for a fun switch up, as Inverna and The Druid moved closer to help their companion. Once again the ladies had some great rolls, although this time Inverna's sword actually clove the jelly into two separate but still deadly monsters. The Druid gasped and said, "Its like those bastards from Legend of Zelda! I hate those guys!".

After the battle in the altar room concluded the group examined the area. Again, I have to give props to the dungeon designers for providing enough hints in this starter dungeon. It helps guide DMs and players to start looking for secrets all over the dungeon. One of the pillars in the room is broken, I used this opportunity to describe to The Rogue how it looked hollow inside. She immediately examined the remaining pillars and found one with a secret door inside. Within the pillar were a mass of dwarf skulls "Gross!" and a box full of gems "Sparklies!"

But what does it mean?
The Druid examined the altar and I slipped in a clue. The main iconography for the temple was a double diamond symbol (which I made up on the fly), and it was chiseled out in numerous places and replaced with a strange triangular symbol. I drew the symbol for the Druid and she made a history check. I told her to do it with advantage (rolling two  20 sided dice and using the higher roll) because she had seen this before. She rolled very high, since she was proficient in History. In her character backstory she selected that she had an ancient tome in her possession that was filled with dangerous information. I fleshed that idea out a bit with her to have it be an apocalyptic tome written in a mess of strange languages and symbology (very Lovecraftian, I admit). The symbol found here was in that tome, and from the research that she made, was part of a larger sequence of symbols - five in total. But what they meant was always unclear. To see one in this buried temple was bizarre.

Essentially I'm seeding adventure hooks for the module Princes of the Apocalypse with that symbol. But I can also work it into this adventure a bit. I've determined that the white dragon terrorizing the area was driven out by the cults in Princes, so they will all tie together in one way.

The trio continued to explore. Each new room got a thorough search by the Rogue who was obsessed with finding loot and riches. They spent a lot of time what they termed "The temple bathroom" and found a crushed skeleton in another room. That skeleton had a silver necklace they almost missed, but the Rogue decided to check the figure on a whim. Further exploring revealed another Ochre Jelly. The ladies were confident... and then he bad rolls started. They kept missing and worse, they started roll natural 1s.

Now I added a fumble rule to this game, just about the only house rule I'm using. Roll a 20 on the 20 sided dice during combat and you automatically succeed and roll double dice for damage. But roll a 1 on the 20 sided dice and you fumble. You might drop your weapon, or miscalculate your spell and it fizzles completely, or your bowstring might snap. The Rogue had her bowstring snap, and The Druid's quarterstaff slipped from her hand. Only Inverna was immune, and she landed a few hits. I'm so glad I was letting the players roll for Inverna, because even though their characters were doing badly they didn't feel completely useless since they were also rolling for her. Eventually they were able to defeat the monster but took some damage from it. By the end of the exploration all three were pretty beat up, and The Druid had exhausted her spells. They were in need of a rest.

They headed back out to the front of the temple. Night was falling and the dwarves were happy to see them. The trio related their adventures (leaving out any mention of the loot) and the dwarves were entranced and happy that the ladies arrived when they did. They chatted a bit and then bedded down for the night. I asked them for a watch order. Norbus the dwarf took the first watch. Inverna and The Druid would take the next watches. Being elves they only need four hours to get the benefits of a full rest. For a druid this means all her spell abilities will return.

We ended the session with The Druid taking a little walk during her watch and in the dawning light seeing a storm moving in from the sea. As lightning flashed, she saw three figures heading toward the gates of the ruins. Who were they? The group would find out in the next session.

The post...

Scarier with the face, or without?
This session was a lot of fun for everyone. Combat pulled in the pair and they had fun trying their abilities and spells against a gross monster. I was afraid they might be overmatched, but the Druid's spells were very effective and The Rogue was making some great shots, with two critical hits during the session.

The only real issue I ran into during combat was organization of information. I had the stats on a handy page on my tablet, but I kept having to scroll between Inverna's stats and the monster stats. It slowed me down a bit, and I'm thinking I may just need to print out a cheatsheet for Inverna, or have The Druid player hold onto those stats and use them when she rolled for Inverna.

They did get bogged down a bit with some indecision on where to go a couple times. They got really nervous in one corridor with two attached corridors leading to it. They couldn't decide where to go and spent way to long deciding. Of course I knew the two corridors lead to the same place, so it didn't really matter, so that probably colored how long it felt to me. But I think we could have moved a bit faster in that portion of the exploration.

I'm only saying that because we really ran out of time with the Dwarf section at the end. I was rushing because I saw that ending this with the orcs on the way would be a great way to kick off the next session. But the players didn't really get to talk about loot or the sending stone reward, or what to tell Harbin. The Druid did ask about the triangular symbol and Norbis rolled a natural 20 on his Intelligence check, so I had him recount seeing that symbol when he was a young man at a shrine in the Desserim Valley (the main location of Princes of the Apocalypse) so I was able to lay another story seed there.

All in all, the group had a fun time, we played just over 2 hours, so that felt like a nice full gaming session that flew by.

Up next...

Session 6: Stormfront