First off, Floyd (who plays the PC Excellon and drives up from IL) put together a GM screen based on the reference sheets downloadable from EN World here.
He added some pics to the outside, gleaned from various editions and sources, and made a four panel screen. I set up behind it with the creatures I would need for the night as well as my dice and dice tray.
The group really pulled things together during the Castle Cragmaw section of the 5E D&D Starter Set adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver. I was impressed by the way they worked together to overcome the many challenges. They reconnoitered well, made a solid plan, stuck with it, and reacted with speed and decisiveness, fine-tuning their plan along the way.
So, with the following warning in mind, let's look closer . . .
The rest of this 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!Here are the PCs and their players:
- 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
At this point, the party is all 3rd-level PCs. They were a little shy of that benchmark but the Owlbear encounter at the end of the previous session pushed them all over the top. The group was definitely feeling their oats. Approaching the site of Cragmaw Castle, they were pleased the Goblin guide had not steered them wrong. In preparation, the Halfling disguised himself as a Goblin. They secured the Goblin up a tree and, not taking chances relying on the Goblin disguise, the wizard cast invisibility upon the Halfling who scouted out the location.
If you're going to use dry erase markers, as Norm does, be sure to use the low-odor EXPO variety and clean them up as soon as done using the dry erase board solution from EXPO.
The Halfling checked out several possible entryways and decided to urge the group to attempt the sally door on the south end, and the group agreed. Noise from the mess hall helped the group decide it was the first thing to handle.
Much like they did with the dice game in the Redbrand lounge, the party worked as a well-oiled machine and wiped out the Goblin in the mess hall. Some fast melee, an arrow or two, and a Sleep spell dropped all but the cook who was knocked out and tied up swiftly with no real chance of alerting anyone else in the castle.
They moved the fallen around, made a quick search, the made ready to check out toward the castle's western entrance.
It was fortunate they sent the Halfling first and that he opted to check for traps. It would have all turn sour if he had died while invisible in Goblin disguise under a pile of rubble. Those in the know will note I fudged some of the architecture here but the castle plans were close enough for our gameplay.
The moved into the temple area from two fronts. It took a moment for the Grick to decide when best to attack with a divided party but dropped down on the Dwarf who was peeking through the curtain to the north. The three beyond the curtain were cowering in the convex area between the curtains, as it happened, having heard plenty of discussion regarding the deities represented by the carvings and ornaments of the temple.
The Grick nearly killed one or two members of the group with some solid hits but was vanquished nonetheless. I was amazed that no one ever searched in the brazier despite giving them plenty of opportunities. As it happened, they never did discover what was in there.
When they moved north through both curtains at once, they were confronted by the two Goblin acolytes even as the Goblin, Lhuopo slipped out the door to the west and alerted the Hobgolins in their barracks. The party wasn't aware that the Hobgoblins were being summoned by did see that Lhupo had headed west so they sent the Halfling around to head him off. As he crossed the entrance chamber and opened the door, he saw the Hobgoblins coming out and was greeted by a shouting Lhupo. I had remembered that the Halfling, though now long visible, was still disgiused as a Goblin. I rolled the contest and both the Hobgoblins and Lhupo were fooled b y the disguise. Through the Halfling did not understand the words, the gesture to get out was understood. In fact, Lhupo was sending the Halfling to summon the other Goblins and trusted him to do so. A crucial mistake on his part, though the Halfling turned and shut the door on his way, seemingly following the orders.
As the Hobgoblins stormed over to the northern portion of the temple, the shrine, they were not fighting very effectively. While they were hard to hit, they were taking steady damage and losing quickly. A couple of hits they did make managed to inflict their martial advantage damage but it wasn't enough to stop the heroes. At one point, the Halfling jumped into the fray and git in his sneak attack damage as the Hobgoblins were still convinced he was a Goblin and on their side.
As the Hobgoblins were faling in the shrine, Lhupo attacked from the south west door side. He knew he had already alerted the other Goblins by way of the Halfling posing as a Goblin, so he didn't bother to check if they were coming himself. After a round or so of fighting with the Folk Hero, the Goblin from the front entryway were now coming of their own accord. Lhupo glanced over his shoulder and began to gloat how the castle forces would slay all of the intruders. On that same round, however, the Hobgoblins were felled and the newly arriving Goblins were all enveloped in a Sleep spell. The Dwarf Cleric and Halfling came round from the north, the Folk Hero renewed his efforts, they surrounded Lhupo, and finally cut him down. He died quite sure that his comrades were winning and the intruders would shed their blood in the desecrated temple.
With the western end of the complex secured, they moved eastward. They considered resting at this point but wisely decided to press on. Quickly determining they'd stick together and use the southern most of the two eastbound doorways, they quietly moved up then barged on through, surprising two Hobgoblin guards. They dealt with the two Hobgoblins standing guard and chose not to disturb the large beast barred in the southeastern tower. This is when things got tricky.
The curtain at the north end of the room ripped open and there stood a Bugbear, King Grol, holding a knife to the throat of an obviously incapacitated Gundren, their Dwarf benefactor. The stand off lasted a few moments as all parties readied actions and considered their positions. When it seemed that Grol was going to kill Gundren, several actions happened in quick succession. The Folk Hero fired an arrow but caused little damage. The Halfling sprang forward but also just winged the king of the Bugbears. The wizard got off a couple of missiles but barely harmed the enemy. Even the Noble Hero got a swing in quickly but only grazed him. Because of good initiatives and readied actions, the Dwarf even had a chance to strike before the Bugbear would be able to slice Gundren's throat, but it was not enough to finish him off.
It seemed such a waste for this rescue attempt to fail. I gave it a few moments of thought and decided that the Doppelganger would act now on the behalf of the party, but for some rather interesting motives. I decided the Doppelganger had already sent his Wolf off with a message to the Black Spider that Cragmaw Castle was as good as lost. It seemed feasible that the Doppelganger had been monitoring the situation. Still unable to convince Grol to give up the map to Wave Echo Cave nor to transfer Gundren as prisoner to him, the Doppelganger was in a bind. If he had left empty handed prior to knowing the full outcome, the Black Spider would not be pleased if Grol lived and branded the Doppelganger a coward. The Black Spider would be no less disappointed if the Cragmaw Castle fell and the map was not secured.
Seeing no other option, and knowing by Reading Thoughts that the heroes believed they'd find the still-at-large Iarno here at the castle, the Doppelganger took on the guise of Iarno and struck the killing blow in the back of Grol. While doing so, he shouted out the word, "Redemption!" As faux-Iarno stood over the corpse of King Grol, he quickly pleaded his case to the heroes, and Sildar was present for this. Although they took faux-Iarno prisoner, binding his hands and gagging him against the chance he might cast spells, they let him live and it bought the Doppelganger time.
With another Hobgoblin as prisoner along with faux-Iarno, the group made camp in Grol's chamber for the night. It was a much needed rest as everyone had been hurt and spells were running very low. During the third watch with Sildar, the Dwarf Cleric, and the Elf Wizard, the Doppelganger made his move. The Dwarf Cleric was stationed out near the door to the temple, watching the sally entrance and and the northern concealed door. The Elf was in the room between Grol's room and the Owlbear tower. Sildar guarded the prisoners and watched over the party that slept in Grol's chamber. At one point, as will happen on a four hour watch, I had Sildar needed to relief himself and went out to ask the Elf Wizard to keep an eye on things.
In that moment, the Doppelganger took on the likeness of the Halfling Thief and slipped from his bonds. As the Elf Wizard entered the dimly lit room, the faux-Bulbo was right in front of him and told the Elf Wizard he was going to patrol out the concealed door. He hadn't had time to retrieve the map nor kill Gundren but now he was more in fear for his own life. I rolled a Passive Perception Check to see if faux-Bulbo could keep the Elf from noticing the discrepancies in the sleeping party members and prisoners, and the Elf did not. Plus, the Elf Wizard's player had made it very clear he was intently keeping an eye on faux-Bulbo because he suspected he was up to something. As faux-Bulbo left the room, heading west, the Elf called to the Dwarf Cleric to let him know that Bulbo was going out for some reason. The Dwarf Cleric moved toward the room with the concealed door but was somewhat behind faux-Bulbo. At this point, Sildar came back into Grol's chamber and immediately spotted that the Doppelganger wasn't where he had been left, so he shouted this information.
All three ran to try and prevent the escape. The Doppelganger had a lead and was out through the canvas curtain swiftly. The players were becoming frustrated that yet another enemy leader was potentially getting away. With lousy rolls, Sildar and the Dwarf Cleric saw nothing outside to indicate where the Doppelganger had gone. But the Elf got lucky, and perceived that the Doppelganger had left the castle then turned and climbed up the rubble, taking on its natural coloring and demeanor, hoping to blend in and wait for the heroes to give up on finding him. We rolled initiative. The Doppelganger won and leaped down on the Elf Wizard with a boulder in hand to attempt braining him. He missed and the onslaught by the heroes laid the Doppelganger low in two short rounds. They felt vindicated.
Now, it made much sense how the faux-Iarno had managed to say all the right things to press them into not killing him. He had read their thoughts and knew which buttons to push to garner leniency. This also meant that, they reasoned, word had arrived that the real Iarno was at large and likely the Black Spider knew of the group's movements. While they determined the best course was to return to Phandalin, they were up in the air over their next move. Mosy seemed to want to strike at Thundertree but some group members wondered if they shouldn't move quickly on Wave Echo Cave. Gundren, obviously, urged the latter. More on their decisions and continuing adventures soon enough . . .
The adventure continues here.
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