Friday, July 25, 2014

The Friday Grab Bag - My 5E D&D Starter Set Playthrough Keeps Going (and Going!)

Our playthrough coverage continues from here!.

Before we jump back into the adventure, I have some added information to share.  One of the things I wanted to try and work out before our next game are inserts for a customized GM screen.  To that end, I discovered a thread on EN World where user ren1999 was building one for himself to use with 5E Basic D&D.  While I hope to make mine with more group-specific and Starter Set specific info, I'm keeping an eye on that thread for ideas for content and how to prioritize the layout.  See more here.

Also, WotC has put the five pregen characters from the 5E Starter Set up online as a PDF here.  Folks that are running the game, especially online, have been clambering for these.  Even if you are not playing or running the 5E Starter Set, you might want to look them over to get some insight on the new rules.  For our group, the characters and their players are named (in the order of the PDF) -

  • Fighter, Noble (Human) - Excelon played by Floyd
  • Cleric, Soldier (Dwarf) - Nox played by Norman
  • Rogue, Criminal (Halfling) - Bulbo played by Keith
  • Wizard, Acolyte (High Elf) - Heronimus played by John
  • Fighter, Folk Hero (Human) - Samuel played by Kurt

But without any further ado . . .
This whole post, a continuation from last week, will be fraught with spoilers, so you have been warned. 
 My own players should avoid the text below as well!
Often I post reports like this from the perspective of the adventurers but let's look at the rest of this section of the 5E Starter Set adventure in part from the point of view of the hapless victims of our fearless band of marauders.  I'll try to include details that would seem most important to the villains without leaving too much out for those who want the usual treatment.  Maybe a GM's insight into how one might run the bad guys will prove useful to other GMs.  Some of the encounters were from the previous week, held in reserve from the blog because the group had yet to complete the section. 

When last we left our adventurers they were surrounding the Nothic.  The group was taking a few hits but were dealing some serious damage to the creature.  The Nothic, who is often prone to negotiate.  Perhaps because he was once a wizard (though now horribly, insanely aberrant), he misses talking to people.  Perhaps, all Nothics are just greedy.  This one opted to attack for various reasons.

(Someone off-blog had asked for a peek behind the decision to have the Nothic attack rather than negotiate and the following is a capsule of what I shared.)
In this case, the party (without cloaks or disguise) are clearly intruders, had blood on their weapons, one had just fallen down the crevasse and was severely wounded and had thoughts of taking over the complex for his own (Nothic gained that info), and while three were back helping the Noble out of the crevasse, the unarmored one (Wizard) was wandering over in easy striking distance (with surprise and Advantage) with only the little one (Halfling) supporting him. 
I rolled a die and determined the Nothic would use the upper hand to try to take one or two down, perhaps using that and the injuries of the Noble to extort payment from a position of strength.  Nothics are evil, after all.

And there they were, the Nothic on the east side of the northern bridge, with adventurers all around him.  Some Fancy Dan of a warrior was standing atop this arched footbridge.  Our Nothic knew, through mental insight, that the so-called Noble had declared his intentions to claim the complex for his own and, in all likelihood, slay all who might live within.  With this threat came many merciless minions.  Action was taken.  What was meant to be an attack by the Nothic to slay an unarmed intruder before threatening the rest of the interlopers had swiftly turned into the Nothic fighting for his life above his cozy home in the treasure-laden crevasse.  Oh, the injustice!

The Dwarf was the hardest to hit and, despite Nothic's claws flailing multiple times at the bearded invader, only once did the nails cut through the Dwarf's armor, and then not-at-all deeply.  The Halfling was trickiest, avoiding damage but slipping in from time to time to strike with his little blade.  Another armored Human stood on the west side of the footbridge, firing arrow after arrow, more than a few finding the Nothic as a target even though the cavern resident had positioned himself with both the stone pillar and the Usurper as some form of cover.  It simply wasn't fair!

The party whittled away at our misunderstood mage-turned-monster, who was merely defending his home, and all soon seemed lost.  No matter how often the Nothic struck, a myriad of blows from the marauders rained down on him from all around.  Before long, the Nothic was at death's door.  But the leader, upon the bridge, slipped.  An errant swing of his axe had him slightly reeling astride the wooden span.  With all his strength, the Nothic plunged both sets of claws deep into the torso of the usurper.  Into his mind he projected an ultimatum, "Let me live or we both fall to our deaths!"

The Nothic felt the enemy stab deeply with his blade and shove him from the bridge, dislodging his claws.  As he fell into the crevasse, he could see he would land upon his treasures, some cold, golden comfort in his final moment.  He cerebrally screamed into the mind of his slayer hoping it would echo in his soul forever.

When Floyd's attacked with his Noble Fighter resulted in a "1," I allowed the Nothic to have Advantage on his next round of combat.  When the Nothic subsequently rolled a "20," and both claws had struck home, I allowed the Nothic to have buried his claws so deep it required a Opposed Strength Check (Contest) to separate them.  When Floyd struck with his sword, he also rolled the check and despite the Nothic rolling first and rolling high, luck was with the Noble Fighter.  I rewarded the well-played moment by having the falling body reveal the location of the chest hidden in the crevasse.  The group found the only one of the secret supply room doors, in the northeast alcove.  Through that, they discovered the Armory and only glanced into the tomb without entering (leaving the Undead undisturbed for now), then went below to the Redbrand Common Room.

Meanwhile, a weekly dice game was taking place in a Redbrand Common Room not far away.  Oblivious to the action that had transpired in the cavern above, Sulidan, the Redbrand who had been with Glasstaff the longest, was fleecing his fellows with a set of loaded dice.  He had just managed to build the pot large enough for a final throw of the bones when the door burst open and a sizable warrior moved in and around the table.  The newcomer hacked at the Redbrand to Sully's right dealing him a vicious blow.  Right on the warrior's heels, a wizard, his profession fast becoming apparent, danced across the room shooting out flames from his fingers, engulfing the table of ruffians in fire.  This finished off the injured Redbrand.  Next through the door came a Dwarf who clouted the ruffian across from Sully, and the former dice-mate died in his chair.  A fourth combatant appeared at the doorway and plunked an arrow in the back of the ruffian to Sully' left and killed him where he sat.  It all happened so fast that it was all Sully could do to blurt out, "Don't kill me!  I know things!"

After dispatching three dice players, and gaining some knowledge from the fourth, they bound him and checked the laboratory.  After a bit of confusion, they killed a large rat that was trying to escape the room beneath the door to the east.  It had already tipped off Iarno, though, who fled the complex.  After gleaning what they could from the paperwork left behind, including the identity of Iarno and the existence of the Black Spider, they discovered the secret way up to the storeroom, and made their way back to the Cistern hoping they could catch up with Iarno.  The tied up Redbrand from their first battle had been killed, seemingly by Iarno, and they figured out they had missed something hidden in the Cistern that had been retrieved.
 Figuring they had lost Iarno, but ignoring the door to the Bugbear Barracks, the group approached the tomb from the front hallway, nearly falling into the pit trap.  They opted to then go back around through he secret way to the tomb.  They vanquished the Undead and quickly handled the two Redbrand guards, releasing the prisoners.  With the former captives in tow, they returned to the Cistern and led them up and out through the cellar and back to town.  They felt they had cleared the complex.
In the meantime, the Bugbears had discovered the death scene in the dice room, not noticing the tied up Redbrand behind the dicing table.  The Bugbears checked Iarno's quarters and discovered he had fled.  The Bugbears opted to leave via the secret tunnel but soon reunited with Iarno hidden in the woods, who rallied the Bugbears awaiting a chance to make an attack on the adventurers.  Seeing they were still strong, he used his invisibility potion to follow them into town.  Because they revealed their next plan on the streets, Iarno returned to the Bugbears and waited in sight of the Manor ruins to see when best to make an assault.
"I had a very good thing going on here," thought Iarno.  "If it hadn't been for that meddling Sildar, and his collection of fools, I might have established a kingdom here in time and eventually had power enough to make the spider pay."

The disgruntled employee of the Black Spider knew there was but one way forward.  Fleeing the area was out of the question.  His identity was now known to Sildar and soon to the Lord's Alliance.  Neverwinter was off limits to him.  No place would be safe.  He needed to force the issue here and now, remove the adventurers from the picture, deal with Sildar and the folk of Phandalin, and re-establish control over the town.  If he could get this done before Sildar sent word to Neverwinter, it might buy him even more time.

Knowing now that but a fraction of the adventuring party would be returning to the Manor ruins to bury the dead, Iarno caught back up with his Bugbear allies hidden in the woods.  They crept up to listen and discovered the adventurers were the only ones willing to go deeply into the complex.  Iarno waited until most of the Deadbrands were pulled out and the townsfolk-helpers were busy with the bodies already brought forth.  Those idiots were still marveling over the burning body of the Nothic when the three adventurers on hand descended one final time to retrieve the three bodies form the Common Room.

Iarno scrawled a message to the Black Spider and dispatched it with the Goblin who would be glad enough to free from the Bugbears.  The Goblin only knew the way to Cragmaw Castle but they would pass word along to the Black Spider.  IF the Goblin managed to make it there.  It couldn't be helped.  Iarno needed all three of the Bugbears to re-establish control here.  With the Goblin on his way, Iarno gathered the Bugbears and slipped into the secret passage from the woods.

Without much light in the tunnel, he sent one of his burly, stealthy henchmen ahead to watch for when the adventurers would pass across the northern footbridge.  When he returned with word, Iarno split the group, sending two Bugbears, including Eyepatch their leader, down the southern staircase while he and another Bugbear, Splitnose, flanked the adventurers from the northern staircase.  Just to be sure they were softened up a bit, Iarno urged Splitnose to allow the other Bugbears to engage in the attack first, then head down.  As they descended to the sound of fighting in the Common Room, that damned Dwarf Cleric stepped out into the hallway.  If that bastard shut the door and barred the way, this combat would not end well.  He didn't.  His Dwarfish pride kicked in and he attacked Splitnose even as he was still upon the lower steps.  Iarno did his best to stay hidden behind his burly buddy, just above him on the staircase.

By the sound of it, the Bugbears in the Common Room were holding their own.  Splitnose was getting the upper hand here on the staircase but just to be sure, Iarno shot a couple of Magic Missiles at the bearded miscreant.  The dwarf called out that he was in trouble and another blow from Splitnose laid him low.  Iarno patted Splitnose on the back and sent him down to the Common Room to help finish off the others.  Still, there was no sense risking personal injury while the Bugbears had things handled.  Iarno stooped over the expiring Dwarf and rummaged through his pouches, snagging a couple of gems, a scroll, and some baubles.  As he heard Eyepatch call out that the battle was lost, Iarno looked up to see Splitnose hadn't entered the room and was now barreling his way toward the stairs in flight.  Leaving whatever else might be on the Dwarf's body, Iarno ran for it.  He didn't have to outrun the adventurers, he just had to outrun Splitnose.

As it happened, they both made it out the secret tunnel.  With little left he could do, while not risking his own neck completely, Iarno led Splitnose further off into the woods then slew him.  He had been bleeding profusely and it was not tough to tap a couple of missiles into the base of his skull.  If word of this bad turn reached the Black Spider, Iarno's days would be numbered even shorter than they obviously already were.  If he could just ensure that the Black Spider's plans for Wave Echo Cave were not thwarted, he might still stay in the evil graces of that tyrant.  For now, Iarno wandered off further into the woods to scheme and ponder his own existence.

With the complex now actually cleared of enemies in earnest, the group rounded up the supplies and weapons and made a deal with Barthen to liquidate them.  They put on hold their intentions to take the place over and stayed at the Inn where a long rest could more safely be assured.  With Sildar, they intended to leave the next morning using their Goblin guide to locate Cragmaw Castle and rescue Gundren, should he still be alive.  Most of that two-day journey north was uneventful but on the second night, during third watch when the Wizard and Cleric were up, the Wizard perceived a large creature lurking nearby and coming closer.  As the brush parted, an Owlbear burst forth.  Thinking quickly, the Wizard cast an image of as large a dragon as he could between himself and the charging beast.  It worked!  The Owlbear doesn't fear much but it also isn't bright and a dragon is just a little too big for him to comfortably attack.  It turned tail and lumbered off in the woods northward.

This ends the two weeks of dealing with the second section of the 5E D&D Starter Set Adventure.  We will continue and are having fun.  While we still need to refresh our memories on some of the rules changes from time to time, the game is playing well enough in this form to keep us enjoying what we have played.

More to come!  The next post in the series is here.

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