Saturday, March 13, 2021

Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 24 - A Rat in the Toe

 The prep...

Too many rooms, just clip a few.

So my player decided to handle the escort mission to the mine next. I took some suggestions from Bob Worldbuilder and Sly Flourish on this adventure. First off, D.J. Raskin was going to have a bit of knowledge about mining and actually know one of the miners real well. This way he could give my player a few hints (like the mine having multiple entrances) if she got stuck. Also, D.J. knowing one of the miners allowed for some drama to occur when he runs into that miner later in the adventure. 

So I created a new NPC, Volga Runegrog, a female dwarven miner that Raskin knows pretty well. She is leading the group of survivors at the mine and they are holding the rear entrance to the mine. She is focused on killing all the wererats and taking back the mine. I also threw in a turncoat miner working with the were rats (already becoming one of them) to add some additional drama if I need it.

I fleshed out Zeleen a bit more, making her greedy for the golden bell at the shrine and trying to get the characters to clear out the area so her gang can take it for themselves. I also removed the carrion crawler with some striges. It feels like it works a bit better in the hidden cave (and fits the environment the player has experienced already. She knows that striges are in the area).

The final change was to make the mine a bit smaller, with fewer rooms to explore and make it a bit more streamlined for my player to navigate. It will be a nice break from the massive complex of Axeholm, and by removing the empty rooms, I can increase the drama a bit. 

The story...

About that time ol' DJ showed up.

After the recap, I made sure the player had everything she needed from Phandalin, and had all her spells selected for the day. She head over to Barthan's and pulled a strange cold idol of Cthullu from the treasure barrel (yes she rolled that from a trinket roll). She paid one gold piece for it and Barthan was happy to see it gone. 

The Druid and Inverna then met up with D.J. Raskin, former adventurer and excited to hear stories of danger and excitement. As they traveled to the mine, I rolled for the dragon... and he turned out to be hunting in the area they were going. So I had them witness Cryovaine attack an orc and ogre hunting party right in front of them. The took cover as they watched the dragon pick up a howling ogre and then drop him from a height. Then swoop down and blast the area with ice. To wrap up the dragon swooped back down, pried up the frozen ogre and flew away toward Icespire Peak. 

After that excitement, the group continued to the mine, and snuck up on it, expecting trouble. Sadly, Inverna didn't do well with the stealth check, and they were discovered by the were rat guards. The guards were in human form, so they didn't immediately draw suspicion from the player. To present less of a threat, the Druid transformed into an fine horse, and pretended to be Raskin's steed. 

After D.J. mentioned that he was there to check on the miners, the guards got a bit cagey and then said they needed to talk to Zeleen. The party followed the guards back into the cave where they met Zaleen (after noticing the secret knock the rat guards used to get the door to the audience chamber opened). 

Where oh where is my wererat?

This next bit was a bit awkward, since the Druid was in the form of a horse, she couldn't talk. This meant that I had to do some scenes with NPCs talking with each other. Inspired by Bob Worldbuilder's take on the were rat gang, I went full 1940s Noir New York Gangster with the accents, and my player was amused. Zeleen was enchanted with the lovely horse and D.J. chatted with her about where the miners were. I made sure that D.J. collected the information, but didn't make any actual decisions. He kept glancing to Inverna and the horse. Inverna was all about attacking the obviously lying were rats, but the Druid kept her head.

Zeleen wove a tale of her group finding the miners here all dead or dying. And her group tried to help, but it was too late and they all died. But she would give D.J. a nugget of gold for their trouble. No one was buying that story, so with a bit of prodding and the Druid in horse form acting like she really liked Zeleen's attention, the were rat leader mentioned how they were living at the Shrine of Savras. While they were there this half-orc shaman showed up and was ranting about the end of all who opposed him or something stupid like that. They told him to take a hike, and within a week a group of orcs and ogres showed up and drove her folks away from the shrine. She would be happy to leave the mine if they could go back to the shrine. 

D.J. and Inverna told Zaleen they would like a moment to chat. And Zaleen and her buddies left the room. There were essentially two plans. After learning that the ladies had already been the shrine and taken care of most of its denizens, Raskin suggested they return there, finish off the orcs and then come back with proof for Zaleen and maybe get her group out of here without a fight. Inverna was all for attacking now, surprising them and clearing the mine that way. The Druid was still in horse form, but signaled that Raskin's idea was the one she wanted to try. She had already deduced that Zaleen was a wererat (the player figured it out from my description and remembered the ratty evidence from the shrine earlier in the campaign). She rolled a 24 on history and so she remembered a story that were rats could only be harmed by magic or silver weapons. This swayed her decision to try their luck with the orcs.

One of the dangers of Wildshape.

Zaleen was delighted by this and wished them luck, then booted them out of the mine. The group did a quick circuit and saw the other two entrances to the mine as well as the dwarven graveyard. D.J. was dishearten to see so many were killed. I asked if they wanted to investigate either entrance further, but stye decided to keep on the path they were on, and continue to the shrine via Coneyberry. The party traveled up to the shrine, with more tales of being shared among the travelers. D.J. thought they were pulling his leg with stories of the lightening boar attack on Falcon's hunting lodge.

When the party arrived at the Shrine they found more devastation. Earlier in the campaign I rolled for Cryovaine hunting and he attacked the shrine. So here they found more of the walls knocked down, claw damage and bodies of orcs laying scattered around. They also found the impact point of another ogre (probably the one that was high on mushrooms from the previous session). But it was quiet and abandoned.

Now, I rolled for the dragon again... and got the Shrine again. I didn't say anything imagining that Cryovain was nearby, but not visible (in a copse of trees not too far away). The group explored the shrine again, looking for some kind of proof. But then they hit upon an idea. Zaleen kept mentioning the bell during their conversation. The player remembered that the Rogue had noticed that the bell was not all of one metal, she caught the glint of something gold. So using their Immovable Rod, and some rope Inverna climbed the shrine and scraped at the bell. Sure enough it was made of gold but covered in paint to look another color. Raskin mentioned he had some tools to chip away a bit of the bell to bring back as proof. They thought this would be great.

Oh man, I wasn't expecting this.

So all three of them were there on top of the shrine as Raskin started working, and with his tools, he made the bell ring as he tried to pry a chunk off. The noise woke the dragon.

I took a page from Professor Dungeonmaster over at Dungeoncraft, and used a Timer. I rolled a D4 and it landed on 4. I told the player that the dragon would arrive at the shrine in four turns! I determined who had the highest dex and they would act first. It was The Druid, followed by Inverna, followed by Raskin. 

What followed was a great sequence as the Druid used Misty Step to move down from the shrine, got inside and remembered the illusion trap in the alter room. She hurried to it, hoping the illusion would work on a dragon. Since she knew it was there, she got advantage on her wisdom save and was able to enter the room. Invera and Raskin followed (with the chunk of bell pulled free). They left the rope behind but there was nothing for it. They all made it inside the alter room just as Cryovaine landed on the belfry.

His booming voice echoed all around them, taunting them. "You rang the bell to play. I want to play. Come out." I also borrowed from Jurassic Park having him tap one of his claws impatiently against the stone. This quickly became his tick.

The player was at a loss. She was looking through her gear, Inverna's gear and asking what Raskin had on him. I described how Raskin was terrified and not looking like he'd be much help. Inverna was ready to fight the dragon now! The whole time Cryovain is taunting them, asking why they are hiding and clicking his claw. He landed on the ground, attempting to sniff them out.

Moonbeam for fun and profit.

Then the Druid found something in her spell list. Moonbeam doesn't require her to see the target. She asked if she could make a perception check to determine where the dragon was, and then cast Moonbeam on him. That sounded reasonable (Cryovaine wasn't attempting to be quiet). She rolled great on perception and knew exactly where he was. Then she unleashed Moonbeam casting it one level higher to get the damage boost.

Now it was already night when this happened, so the moon was out. I described how the light of the moon concentrated and them struck the dragon. He rolled very high for his Constitution save, but he still took some damage. I rolled an Intelligence check for Cryovaine to determine if he understood that a spell was cast on him. He rolled a 2... so he had no clue. In his mind, the moon was attacking him for no reason.

I had him start shouting in draconic, confused and outraged by this offense. He flew up and landed on the belfry again, yelling at the moon. The Druid just moved the beam back onto him. This time he failed his Constitution save and took a large amount of damage - over 20. Cryovaine cried out in pain, surprised and disturbed by this turn of events. He took to the skies, still shouting at the moon and demanding to know why it betrayed him.

The characters all let out their held breath. D.J. commented that he was going to ask for a transfer out of this crazy place as soon as possible. Inverna cheered the Druid's skills and ingenuity. But the Druid was troubled. That was a dangerously close scrape... how would they deal with Cryovaine when the time came? Did they even have a hope? And that is where we wrapped for the night.

The post...

Shrines are just trouble.

The session started off fine. Heavy role-play with Raskin chatting up his new friends, and then interacting with the were rats. It was fun to have Zeleen become a horse lovin' girl the moment she put eyes on the magnificent "beast". It was also fun seeing my player put together the pieces of the story to realize that the were rats were at the Shrine of Savras originally. 

But I will say the dragon rolls for this session are what made it work. Having Cryovain attack an orc party in front of the player at the start was a stroke of luck. Great foreshadowing that he was hunting in the area. So when he appeared at the end, it felt natural. 

It was great to have the player actually come in direct contact with Cryovaine. I played up his mocking attitude and impatience. I think the player started to hate him just a little bit there. The Timer of the D4 worked great. It felt like it really drove the tension of the dragon coming for them. It would have been crazy if I had rolled a 1, I'm imagining characters jumping down and taking some kind of fall damage. 

But my player is really worried about battling the dragon. Seeing him hunt by picking up and dropping his enemies, and seeing the damage from his attacks close up has really brought it home how dangerous he is. She doesn't have any ranged weapons to really fight him with, but there may be another way.

Smug white dragon?

I know my player, and she likes to have a plan. At this point, she feels like she doesn't have the knowledge to make a plan. So maybe the treasure at the Dragon's Barrow isn't another magic weapon - but knowledge of dragons. Maybe there is another way to impair Cryovaine that will tie directly into her methods as a druid.

She also mentioned that if they could drive him away, that could be an option. I agree. And then I thought of something else. I'm currently reading The Tyranny of Dragons campaign adventure. Maybe I could introduce the dragon cultists from that adventure - and they could help in getting rid of Cryovaine - for a price. More pondering...

I may be going off book for this finale, but I think it may work best for my player. All that said, we had a good time with this session. I'm very curious to see what she comes up with for the next session, and if they find the dwarven miner's holed up on the other side of the mine.

Up Next...

A miner problem.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Timer - Dungeon Master Tools

Looks harmless, right?

 So I've seen a few recommendations about using a timer during a session before, but I've never tried it. Professor Dungeon Master over at Dungeoncraft swears by them. I recently had a chance to use one while running the adventure Salvage Operation from the Ghost of Saltmarsh adventure book. Guess what, it worked great. It drove up the tension of the finale sequence to impressive levels. I'm certainly going to look to add this to future set piece encounters.

Now you could use an actual timer counting down seconds until something happens. But the timer in Salvage Operation is built right into the encounter. So lets set the scene here. The characters enter a ship floating abandoned on the high seas. They are looking for a heavy box that requires two characters to move. It is at the bottom of the ship. So the characters search the ship, encounter traps and monsters along the way. When the reach the bottom, the hold is partially flooded, but the box is there. 

The moment one of the characters touches the box, all hell breaks loose. A giant octopus attacks the ship and tries to tear it apart. The adventure then breaks down what occurs in the environment round by round. First, tentacles explode into the hull hitting some characters. Next round the ship shifts throwing some of them around. Next round the ship starts to sink. The whole time more tentacles are smashing throughs he hull. The characters are trying to escape and two of them are lugging that heavy box around with them (need to keep it in hand if they want to get paid). Any monsters left on board are trying to escape. And the rowboats out in the water attempt to get closer to save the characters. Each round things get worse as the ship continues to sink and level by level gets flooded with sea water. 

"There are going to be two dead people in here!"

Now this set up is pretty complicated with lots of moving parts (literally and figuratively). But you can keep it simple. There is that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Indy and Short Round are trapped in the room with the ceiling and spikes closing in on them. Round by round it gets more frantic as they try different things to get out. Meanwhile Willy is outside of the trap attempting to help. You could easily capture this moment in D&D, with plenty of different elements to keep all the characters engaged in the danger.

Now I wouldn't abuse these timers. I would keep them for key moments in an adventure where it is important to drive up tension or increase the sense of danger. Using these constantly can take away some of the fun they add. 

Dungeons are the obvious place to use them, since you control so much of the environment, and the creatures. But as you can see in Salvage Operation you can do this just about anywhere. 

So the first thing you need to consider is how many rounds you want this to take. The fewer rounds, the more intense the situation. Professor Dungeon Master often rolls a four sided dice and the result is how many rounds will pass before something happens. I used this in a different adventure. A dragon was heading toward the characters and I rolled a D4 to determine how far away he was. I rolled a 4 and the characters scrambled to get off the roof of the shrine and inside before the dragon arrived. That was a blast.

"I did not sign up for this!"

But you can be a bit more structured like Salvage Operation was with each round describing how the stakes got higher and higher with each round. And that can be important, you want each round to get more and more intense. So you can stretch out the danger. You may even want to put a single round where nothing new happens just to give the players a moment to catch up. Salvage Operation has the octopus constantly bombarding the ship, but if the characters attack the tentacles and do enough damage, the octopus stops for a round.

 Last you want to make sure you don't remove choices from your players. You can use the round by round structure as a guide, but if you players figure out a clever way to get around some of the obstacles, then let them do it. The object is to create tension, not railroad the players.

So using timers is a great way to increase the stakes in an encounter or sequence. Try working one into one of your dungeons or set piece encounters the next time you are prepping for the game.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 23 - The Haunting of Axeholm

 The prep...

Oh man, better plug your ears!

So I had most of Axeholm prepped from the last session. One thing I wanted to build up in this session was the banshee. I decided to have her moving around upstairs and causing her ghostly light to be visible from the balcony below. I was going to start the session with the characters seeing that before they open the doors to the throne room.

I also took some time to clarify ghoul paralysis with the players, so they understood that I caused Inverna to be held in error last time. 

The final change came from Bob Worldbuilder's YouTube channel about running this very adventure. I loved his idea of having the ghoul Castilian wielding a magic axe that the characters can use later. This will be especially important if things go badly at the Gold Toe Mine adventure. The Druid has the shillelagh cantrip already, and that will give her staff magical abilities.  But Inverna doesn't have anything magical. So this magic axe would be a good fit for this sidekick.

That was about all the additional elements I needed to add, but I went through the Lazy Dungeonmaster's checklist one more time, reread my notes on the rooms the party hadn't explored yet, and then got ready to play.

The story...

I'm sure that's nothing... or no one.

The Druid and Inverna were in front of the door to the throne room and about to proceed ahead, but noticed some flickering light from high above them... not fire light. Intrigued, they tried to get a better view of the light source, it was coming from the balcony, or behind it. The light was pale and bluish, and the player remembered Harbin mentioning the haunting (as well at the rattling shield they encountered when they first entered the fortress).

This lead to a bit of a sidetrack as the pair retraced their steps back up to the second floor and tried to find a way over to the balcony, or at least a better vantage point to see the light source. There were unable to do much, except see that the light appeared to be pulsing because it was moving back and forth by a doorway behind the balcony. A collapsed corridor prevented them from moving around to the balcony from where they had currently explored. The player decided to find a different way up there... through the throne room.

So the pair went back down and cautiously entered the throne room. I reminded them about light sources, and how dark it was inside. Inside the throne room they found the dwarf Castilian sitting on the throne. I had his decaying body holding the shimmering axe, seemingly untouched by dust. The Druid rolled a very high perception check and noticed his signet ring as well, and figured that was an important item.

Magic axe for all your 
dragon slaying needs.

The pair was super cautious, because this is obviously some kind of trap. As they neared the figure on the throne, the Druid used her collapsing pole to tap the axe free from a distance... and the ghoul sprung to life, enraged by their effrontery. Inverna went in close and the Druid cast spells from a distance, and the pair was making short work of him. But he let out a howl of rage, and there was movement from the chimney. It worked to keep the druid busy casting Entangle in front of the chimney just as other ghouls started to emerge. This kept things manageable for the party. Inverna took down the Castillian, and then hurried to the Druid to help finish off the other ghouls, three in total. A couple ended up breaking free from the engagement, and get some hits in on the Druid, but it was a pretty swift battle over all.

The duo took some time for a short rest before moving on to continue exploring the vast complex. They eventually reached a stairway where they could see the moving blue light again. Moving as quietly as possible they crept of the stairs and saw the shimmering shape of a woman moving up and down the hallway. The pair decided to time their move into an adjacent hallway so the figure wasn't facing them. They had some great stealth rolls and succeeded.

The explored the rooms, finding a luxuriously appointed chamber with elven style paintings and women's clothing. Then they found the Castillian's chamber. And here I screwed up. Because once again the player's version of the map in D&D Beyond shows the secret chamber in the chimney. My player saw it and pointed it out... well too late for me to hide it now. She found the secret brick and opened the chamber with the treasure chest. She had retrieved the signet ring from the Castillian and used it to open the chest and found a necklace of elven design in there, along with the magic items.

She has a quest for you.

This whole time I kept mentioning how the glowing light would come closer and move away. And would ask for stealth rolls from time to time. Eventually Inverna botched one and the banshee entered the room.

The party didn't attack. The banshee told them to leave, but stopped short realizing they were elves, and that maybe they were servants sent to help her. The Druid played into this a little bit, asking what was wrong with "the lady". The banshee lamented that she was trapped in this place, and couldn't leave until her amulet was returned and her enemies were destroyed. The Druid handed the necklace of elven design to the banshee, and she was delighted. She was even more pleased to hear that the ghoulish Castilian was dead.

Still the banshee felt the presence of two more of "those horrid little dwarves" and told the characters to finish them off. So the Druid and Inverna continued to search Axeholm to find that last two ghouls. Once they did, the pair made quick work of them and returned to the banshee. She thanked them for their help and then vanished into the gloom, leaving the amulet behind. Of course it was a magic amulet, now imbued with the power to cast Bless once. A powerful tool that may come in handy.

With the ancient castle cleared of enemies the ladies left for Phadalin, stopping at Umbrage Hill to pick up some more healing potions and share some tea with their old alchemist friend, who mentioned seeing the manticore and his mate flying by, and the male still wearing the silly white glove on his head.

The two got paid and of course got to level up as well! 

The post...

It is not haunted, it's previously owned.

I enjoyed this session in Axeholm a little more than the previous version. The combat with the Castilian was pretty intense and the interaction with the banshee made it feel a bit more dynamic. I will say that having the secret room show up on the player's map was unfortunate and made the search for the amulet too easy. So the resolution to the banshee encounter felt a bit anticlimactic. 

That said, I liked that the banshee had a bit more of a personality and that her story got told through the encounter. It made her a bit more like a Ghost as opposed to a banshee according to the rules as written, but I know my player enjoyed that element more than a straight up fight against the creature.

I'm planning on having Inverna pick up some better armor (now that she has some serious coin) and she should be ready for adventure with her new magic axe. The Druid is also excited for her new spells and getting to test them out. Looking forward to the next session for sure.

Up Next...

A Rat in the Toe

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Initiative Problem - Dungeon Master Tools

And he's running the old school rules too!
We're doomed!

 "Roll for initiative." It's become a meme. It means that it is time for the characters to throw down with some monsters. It means, everything just got more serious.

It also means the game comes to a screeching halt as everyone at the table rolls dice, adds modifiers and the DM tries to put everyone in turn order, display that turn order, and correct any errors that may come up. After all that, you can start the battle. With a group of new players or large group this can take 5 minutes or more. It feels like an element of the game that could be improved.

Keeping Initiative

So let's work within the rules.

Only roll once for each creature type. So if the group is being attacked by 4 mephitis, 2 giant centipedes and a water weird, you are only making three rolls instead of seven. It will be MUCH easier for you to track, especially if you run theater of the mind style. 

Here is one of my biggest time saver suggestions. Take some time during session prep to roll initiative for all the monsters and NPCs that may be involved in the battle. I will include Sidekicks, Retainers, and Henchmen if we are using them. Then when it comes time for the game, no one has to wait for me to roll for all these other characters.

I also use a spreadsheet with the character's names in one column. I plug in their initiative rolls in the column next to it. If I pre-rolled for the monsters, I'll add them in the same way, and then I'll sort the rolls highest to lowest. This is also a great way to track monster armor class, passive perception and hit points, so I have that key information at a glance.

Alternative Initiative

Still love saying "Roll for initiative" but hate all the book keeping and organizing? You can still have the players roll, but keep it simple. Have all of them roll a single 20 sided die, and the highest roll is what the group takes. Or they take turns throughout the session, and just keep track of who last rolled. This can lead to them planning a group what they want to do (don't give them too much time, they are under attack), and lead to some interesting cooperative combats.

Or use the dexterity score as the initiative score for the characters and monsters. This way the players know who is going in what order, and the only question is what the monsters will do. This allows for some planning by the party ahead of time. "We know the monk is going to move first, so let her get into position behind the orc and do some damage. Then the rogue goes next, attacking the same target and getting sweet Sneak Attack damage, oh and we are using flanking rules too, so the Rogue attacks at Advantage!" 


While I enjoy the variety that rolling initiative creates during combat, I'm coming around more and more to something faster and gets us into combat with minimum fiddling. My spreadsheet is super helpful in my online games, but I also like the simplicity of just letting the fastest character move first. It will be something to try out in a one-shot for sure.

What tricks do you use to speed up the initiative process, or do you have an alternate style you use that works great at your table? 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Schools of Magic - Dungeon Master Tools


Quick, guess the school!

Here is a Dungeon Master tool that you'll want if you have a wizard in the party... or anyone with the spell Detect Magic on them. This spell allows the caster to detect if an item is magical or has a spell cast upon it. But it also allows the user to determine the school of magic (if any). 

Yeah, the school of magic. Now, typing "school of magic" into D&D beyond will yield all kinds of results, but none of them are actual lists of the school of magic. And for some reason this information is not included on the DM screens. Instead this information can be found in the Player's Handbook in the Spellcasting chapter in a callout box in the Attack Rolls section. I still have no idea why.

There are eight schools of magic in Dungeons and Dragons (but a DM can create their own to add or replace if they wish). Most players who use spell casters do have a knowledge of the eight schools, because that can impact their spell selection depending on what class they are.  Your players will probably expect to hear the names of one of these schools when they cast this spell.

So you need a copy of that list somewhere behind your DM Screen. I use One Note to run my games, and I have a tab for rules and reminders - this list is in there and I can access it easily. If you are running a physical game without electronics, then maybe just print it out and post it on the screen somewhere.

This information isn't just handy for the Detect Magic spell, but also if you need to describe something magical in game, or have a theme for spell types - like enchantment spells always glow blue when cast. In time (like a lot of these helpful reminders) you may end up with these schools memorized, but it doesn't hurt to have the list in a handy place, when the occasion arises.

Schools of Magic

  • Abjuration - spells of a protective nature 
  • Conjuration - spells move objects and creatures from one location to another
  • Divination - spells that reveal information
  • Enchantment - spells that impact the minds of others
  • Evocation - manipulation of magical energy aka damage dealers aka fireball
  • Illusion - spells to deceive the minds and senses of others
  • Necromancy - manipulates the energies of life and death
  • Transmutation - change the properties of a creature, object or environment

Evocation for the WIN!

Dungeon Master Tools

 I'm going plunk down my articles about Dungeon Master Tools, so they are all in place and can be accessed easily by anyone that is looking for some advice on running the game. Hopefully you find these worthwhile.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Dragon of IceSpire Peak Campaign Diary - Episode 22 - Stinky Fortress

The prep...

Lots of adventure potential in here.

I vaguely remember the Axeholm adventure from when I read it last year. I specifically remembered the banshee haunting the upper floor. I thought there were other undead creatures, but I couldn't remember for sure. So I pulled out the book to review the location and damn! This place is huge, containing lots of empty rooms and when you do run into monsters, they nearly all have the power to paralyze the characters. OK, this will be challenging.

I did like how part of the challenge was getting inside the building. I knew my player had a few tricks up her sleeve, but I was curious to see what she would come up with.

Once again, I took the Dungeon Dudes advice and printed out a copy of the Axeholm map, and then made notes on the same paper. This place had so many rooms, it forced me to write very small, but I focused on keeping my horrible handwriting legible. I made note of the treasure and monsters, but there was an element I wasn't fond of.

You can try to 
escape... but no.

According to the module, the banshee must be fought to the death. In addition there is an interesting story of how the elf that turned into the banshee was imprisoned here. I guess some my come out in dialogue with the banshee, but the way the encounter is set up the characters aren't going to hear it. Now if my player brings along Inverna again (and I think she will since that is her favorite of the companion sidekicks) then we will have two female elves that I think the banshee may want to communicate with. 

So I decided to include another element to the haunting, one where the characters don't have to kill the banshee to end the haunting and get something cool out of it if they follow this path. Besides my player is a big fan of scary movies, ghost stories and spooky podcasts. She will love the challenge of solving the mystery to help a ghost. Luckily I don't have to change too much. 

Future banshee?

I will have the banshee explain that her beloved amulet of the god Corellon was taken from her by the Castilian, who imprisoned her in this place to have her beauty with him at all times. She cursed the whole fortress in her rage and this transformed all of them into undead. If the characters slay all the dwarf ghouls and bring her back her amulet she can finally know peace. Of course the characters are tasked with clearing the fortress out anyway, so that was already in the cards. I hid the amulet in the secret treasure chest that requires the signet ring to open. Once the Banshee has this, she will vanish, leaving the amulet behind, but now it can cast Bless once as a bonus action.

Now this location has an interesting social encounter as well as the exploration and deadly combat. I think this will work well.

But I also needed to prep for the rest of the session which included the aftermath of the siege on the Hunting Lodge, traveling back to Phandalin to get the new job and seeing if they could find a dwarf who could decipher some of the information on the map they will find on the dead body of the orc druid. I got all that prepped Lazy Dungeon Master style and was ready to play.

The story...

We started in the immediate aftermath of the battle at the Hunting Lodge. The ladies helped Falcon find his two assistants and the animals. They also stuck around to clean up the place a bit (moving bodies and restoring the palisade to a semi workable version. They did a little looting of the bodies and found a couple of gems worth some gold. This took a couple of additional days in the world of the game. 

Falcon gave them a letter he wanted them to send to Neverwinter. He seemed to know Haylia and told them that she would be able to get the message to Neverwinter quickly. He gave them a couple gold pieces to cover the delivery. He also said he would help them out if they ever needed it.

Still watching everything in 

Next the pair headed toward Phandalin. I had my player roll for the dragon again, and she saw it lift off from the area of the Shrine and head further north (Neverwinter). They weren't too worried and continued on without going full stealth like they did at the last dragon sighting. Arriving in Phandalin they met up with Haylia to get that letter sent to Neverwinter (that may come into play later if the Druid revisits Falcon). I also reminded them that Haylia had a dwarf working for her, and after they found out where he lived they visited him.

The dwarf reviewed the map they found on the body of the dead anchorite. I mentioned that there was dwarven runes scrawled on the map in certain key areas. The dwarf revealed that they appeared to be names (names of the anchorites in those locations). One showed the tower in the sea, one showed the manse, one showed the Circle of Thunder and one showed the Shrine. By the Shrine the word "Rats" was written. He also found a faint scribble near IceSpire Peak that said "old home". Just some hints to the players at what was going on with these orcs. They did ask about Axeholm and he said he had heard of it, but never been himself. He told them that any good dwarf fortress would be very difficult to get into if it was sealed properly. He did mention that there may be chimneys in the cliff around the gates, and some may be large enough to sneak into. 

Last stop in Phandalin was a visit to Townmaster Harbin. I do love roleplaying as the pompous Harbin and his interaction with Mr. Whiskers, his cat. It was quite a bit of fun having him talk a bit about Axeholm and how it was haunted and how it was in a very mountainous region. This was a not so subtle hint that they characters may need climbing gear... but my player wasn't worried. She had something up her sleeve.

The Druid then confirmed that Inverna could come along on this next adventure. Inverna accepted, but was a bit disappointed that she didn't get to kill more orcs, either at the tower or this broken circle spot on the map. The Druid promised they would head to one of those locations next. So after a good night's sleep they headed southeast to the location of Axeholm.

Rolls for random encounters went well for the characters. They were left alone on the journey. I did mention they passed Umbrage Hill, but I should have reminded them that they could purchase Healing Potions there... something I think we might all regret before this adventure is over.

Spider... did someone say spider?

Upon arriving at Axeholm I described formidable gate, the closed portcullis and the general feeling of unease in the area. The ladies decided to climb the up to one of the chimneys that looked big enough for them to enter (she rolled great on perception). Inverna is strong and athletic so climbing wasn't going to be a problem. And the Druid used a potion of Spider Climb and the two scuttled up the cliff face, and squeezed their way into the upper levels of the gate house.

Since this building is haunted by a banshee, I decided to do some spooky antics in the empty rooms on the second floor. The room she entered (the West Upper Barracks) has a lone shield on the wall. As the ladies got ready to explore I had the shield rattle a bit on the wall. Just a little tapping to startle them, but nothing else. I made it clear that there was no wind in the room, maybe a tremor?

I won't detail all the exploration and slow methodical search my player performed. I will tell you about the battle against the Giant Spiders, because that was nuts. It happens in the Upper Bastion and for my session it was four of these monsters. I described the area as having a strange mist in it (the webs). As she moved forward to examine I had her roll a perception check. She got a 10, so she only discovered at the last minute that the mist was webbing, and then initiative got rolled. The Druid immediately set the web on fire hoping to catch some of the spiders in the flame. I figured half of them would take 1d4 fire damage and she rolled a 4 so that was a good start. But soon enough the bite attack started and she was paralyzed. 

Ok, so I really wanted to avoid a TPK here. Like I said, this is a casual game for fun. It isn't fun to have your character paralyzed and the NPC doing all the work. The Giant Spider does not allow you to attempt to break from the paralysis on each turn, like a grapple. I modified the venom so that it was weaker and she could attempt a Con save each round to try to break out of it. Yeah, it isn't Rules as Written, but for this player and this type of game I think it was fine.

Oh so that is where the smell is coming from.

So she was able to break out of the paralyzed state, but she still had the Poisoned condition on her. So she still used spell Lesser Restoration to remove that. Soon enough Inverna suffered the same fate, being paralyzed for a round and then breaking out. The Druid cast Lesser Restoration again, and eventually the two defeated the four spiders... barely. They were both low on hit points. So they retreated to the Barracks and had a short rest.

At this point I was getting worried. This adventure is balanced for 5th level characters. She is 4th. So I was already wondering if I should maybe drop some of the numbers for the ghoul battles coming up. But then again elves are resistant to ghoul's paralyzing touch... so maybe it isn't so bad after all. I'll have to play it by ear.

The pair explored the northern half of the upper hall. I told them about the smell of death coming from the tunnels below. I had them hear a strange moan coming from across the vaulted ceilings of the Gathering Hall. Eventually they went down to the Lower Halls and explored. They ran into a single ghoul feeding in the West Hall. At that time I forgot that ghouls could not paralyze elves (for some reason I didn't remember that transferring over to 5th edition). So Inverna did get paralyzed, but they made short work of the creature before it could do more damage. I was careful to describe how it was obviously a dwarf that had been warped by some hideous curse or magic. Needless to say the player was disturbed.

We stopped right before they entered the throne room, which should prove very interesting. 

The post...

Payment, one coin at a time.

All in all it was a solid session. The first half was role-playing heavy but a lot of fun as we got things sorted after that last battle and prepped for the new adventure. Getting to play Harbin again is always a treat for me. The second half ran pretty smooth, but it felt a little slow. Much of Axeholm is empty rooms, so it really falls on the DM to build on the dread of the place. Really give the players a feeling that this place is cursed and dangerous. The smell of decay coming from the ghoul nests should drift up tunnels and down open corridors as the players get close to them. Make sure the banshee leaves some ghostly clues like rattling the shield, leaving footprints that disappear as you focus on them, or just moaning in sorrow. The module doesn't really give you those tips, but I think they make this setting come a bit more alive. 

Even so it feels like there should be a little something else to find in here. My player did miss out on an encounter with a Stirge, because she didn't mess with a chimney. And they also didn't go any deeper into a ghoul's nest that they found the entrance to. She'll need to do that at some point, but as a whole the second half felt a little less exciting then I hoped. Still I am looking forward to meeting with the banshee and seeing where that goes.

Up Next...

The Haunting of Axeholm