Our playthrough coverage continues from here
We've been gearing up for our final leg of the 5E Starter Set Adventure for a while. Getting us all together proved difficult in the end of the summer so those of us who could make it week to week opted to hold off and play boardgames. Some have far to travel and can only do so if an RPG is in the offing. Sadly, a last minute illness still meant our delay meant playing shorthanded. We pressed on.
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
- Fighter, Folk Hero (Human) - Samuel played by Kurt
- Wizard, Acolyte (High Elf) - Heronimus played by John (proxy to Floyd)
For this final session, I made some adjustments to the layout and extent of the Wave Echo Cave complex, compressing the ecosystem and the map. Images and details on that below but the intent was to make sure we could potentially get through the last leg in just one evening. It worked out well though in retrospect, I might have done a few things differently. Read on and enjoy but with the following warning . . .
The rest of this post, a continuation of
this series is fraught with spoilers.
You have been warned!
(My own players have now played and
are welcome to examine the details below or in previous
posts in this series.)
For the last leg, even after having purposefully skipped some of the less-intriguing areas of the adventure like Thundertree, Given we hadn't played through the whole adventure, and much experience that could have been gained in the omitted sections was not available to them, we opted to raise the group up to fourth level. I wanted to truncate the Wave Echo Cave location so as to fit it into a single evening. That too, would require the group be strong enough to handle most encounters swiftly. While the temple and smelting locations are clever, as well as interesting set pieces, in my view they don't necessarily add to the adventure aside from be places where certain creatures could be encountered. As such, they were eliminated and the encounters (mostly) relocated to a tighter cave complex. Much of the southern end of the complex remained intact with some adjustment in the middle. Compare the following to your own map f you'd like to follow things along in closer context.
To speed up play, and because I enjoy using battlemats much of the time (as do my players) I grabbed some images from the players map I got through Mike Schley's excellent resource
. As with previous areas that are heavily geared toward combat in this adventure, I blew them up to one-inch equals five feet. I had to add in some grid lines because the map for Wave Echo Cave is set to ten foot squares. I then printed the pages out on 110 lb cardstock, cut out the sections, and attached them to some thin foamcore boards in sections. I made the images in greyscale / black & white because it is less expensive though in previous parts of the adventure I colored some portions in with markers. I considered coloring the fungi area but didn't bother.
Floyd brought a GM screen for me to use, set up with the faction symbols on the outside and some updated charts on the inside. Very nice, indeed. One will note that one of the main features of Wave Echo Cave, the underground sea, and even all traces of water are gone, thus necessitating an alteration in the explanation of the periodic echoes. I simply allowed for this to be coming from beyond the section of this complex through fissures and louder toward the natural caverns to the east, loudest in the northeast, which still accomplishes the original design intent, leading the PCs toward the Forge of Spells.
During play, I used cardstock pages to introduce a fog of war beyond the reach of light sources. I had moved the Ghouls into the opening cavern and though this left the body of the dead Rockseeker brother less intact, it was still easy enough to identify once it was seen. The group moved in, engaged in hand to hand combat, then backed off to the cave mouth and allowed the Dwarf Cleric to turn the Ghouls. This gave the group a minute to snag the body and drop into the gorge in the north of the cavern, which I deemed the Ghouls would not drop into themselves. A couple of the PCs had taken some damage and after a quick bit of healing they pressed on.
Rather than heading north to the maze of mine tunnels, the group opted to head east toward the louder sounds of the "waves." In the first passage northward, Gundren took the time to bury his brother, if only temporarily, with the Dwarf Cleric to say some words over the corpse. The rest of the group edged eastward and discovered, after tossing a light source well into the next cavern, that Stirges were swarming around in the heights. I didn't have Stirge miniatures but had some Giant Ice Flies that I had created for another game some time ago. I had used some dollar store flies with the black base removed, drybrushed with icy blue and a touch of black, then re-based. They worked just fine. A sleep spell took them out after only doing a smattering of damage.
After squishing the sleeping Stirges, the group had a look around. The bones of those who had fallen here long before and the decorations on the walls gave them some confirmation of what they already knew about the mines and cavern complex.
They checked out the storage room to the north, now a dead end, keeping it in mind for later to rest.
They looked over the original entrance, realizing that any clearance effort would be beyond their strength and time. They quickly looked in the assayers room and discovered the coin chest. Then they looked in but did not enter the guardroom, avoiding dealing with the skeletons there. I missed a trick with the assayers room. Discussing things afterward with Norm, we decided it might have been a good idea to set the Flameskull on one of the sides of an assayers scale, playing possum, and have it come to life while the group was vulnerable. I had left the Flameskull out completely. I considered adding it back in when I allowed the group to level up to 4th-level before we began playing but didn't pull the trigger. As it was, the evening was full enough so no big loss.
After checking out the entrance and the near rooms, and a short rest in the storage room, they moved toward the fungi cavern. They had given it a quick look before, and tossed something in to disrupt the puffballs, watching as the cavern became spore-ridden, so they knew what they were up against. They decided to chance it one at a time. I give each player a single reroll they can use during each session. They cannot save them from week to week, so they know to use them or lose them. As each ran the gauntlet of the fungi cavern, most set off the spores and failed their first save. The rerolls were all used up before reaching the far side but they made it nonetheless.
They had a good look around the next cavern before deciding top set up and try the scarred doors of the "Wraith" room. I use quotation marks because this is really a toothless encounter designed to give the PCs a chance to gain some information. The Halfling Thief was prompted to cross and check out the chest they saw from the doorway, which triggered the Wraith to rise and threaten anyway violating the room.
The Halfling Thief thought quickly and offered up a magical potion to appease the Wraith, so I allowed that to be enough if they agreed to leave him in peace, which they did, and as they left I had him beseech the group to eliminate the threat in the northern room. Some of the players heard "Spectre" rather than "Spectator" and some discussion ensued before they mustered their courage to deal with the next threat.
They crossed northward and climbed the stair.
Again, they set up well to handle whatever they would find.
I explained the differences between the miniature I used and the actual Spectator but it worked for our purposes. The dice went their way and although the creature got off some attacks at the Noble Fighter who rolled poorly on Initiative and stood in the door as the group moved back and forth, taking some ranged attacks. In the following rounds, the fighters charged and landed some heavy attacks, finishing the Spectator.
They gather the magic items, assessed the weakness of the forge, and continued on to find the Black Spider.
They followed the winding hallway back into the worked sections of the complex, fearful at most had taken some damage and spells were now running low.
They found a collapsed room with the bodies of dead Bugbears. My interior explanation was that these had fallen as the Black Spider made his own hasty attempts to gain the secrets of the forge.
The two Bugbears the Black Spider, Nezznar, a Dark Elf Wizard, had left in his employ were in the barracks, as was the villain himself. As the Bugbears fought, Nezzner attempted to grab something and make his escape. He was seen, so rather than risk his own life, he left behind the sack (treasure from the unused sections of the adventure) and took to the maze of the mines.
Poor rolls by the players allowed the Bugbears to last for many more rounds than should have happened. This turned out to be a real nail-biter, despite Nezzner getting out and probably getting a good lead on getting away. It was made even more sweet as I described these two Bugbears and the ones who helped Iarno escape from the Phandolin manor ruins. Once the Halfling Thief slipped through the lines and was able to divide the attacks from the doorway, others slipped through. A Hold Person finally stopped one of the Bugbears and once they were able to coordinate their attacks on the other, they chopped him up then finish off the held creature.
They were very happy with this, quickly gather the treasure sack, and made after Nezzner, hoping the Ghouls left behind in the entrance cavern would slow him down.
But they hadn't seen the mine-maze before so this threw them off and they slowed their progress to be sure they were not taken unaware. I had replaced the Ochre Jelly, figuring it was too slow to be a real challenge for the group, with a Minotaur, which I constructed from some slightly-beefed-up Ogre stats. I thought of having Nezzner attack them from hiding, invisible at first as he now was in my estimation, but they made such quick work I opted for Nezzner making off with what little dignity he had left.
The group also searched the rest of the maze, came up empty, gather up the body of the one Rockseeker they had found, dealt with the Ghouls again (having had a short rest early and able to turn them), and left the complex.
We were out of time for the evening and I offered the chance for the group to fight Nezzner in league with the dragon from Thundertree but we all agreed that we had the lion's share of adventure from the Starter Set and were done with it. We'll re-start the 1E campaign next time we get together to roleplay and go back to our twice a month schedule, those who are more local boardgaming in the off-weeks.
No one was more pleased the group's success while being less pleased with his dice rolling than Floyd. He really stepped up, running two PCs for the evening. He'll also be running a regular Saturday afternoon 5E game at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL starting this week. If anyone is interested, mention it here and I'll be sure he gets word. I plan to make some more notes on how the whole process of playing through the 5E Starter Set Adventure (with some Basic rules) and will address my thoughts on a System Saturday post this weekend or next.
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