Our second session took place the next night. In fact, we managed to game five straight evenings while we were together! Our intrepid adventurers awoke to delicious smells from the bottom floor of the inn. Sir John made his specialty, Cairngorm pancakes: thick, fluffy and smothered in macerated fruit. After a wonderful breakfast, the party decides to explore the village a little before embarking on their quest. They first go to the local temple of Moradin so the monk can attempt to get his blessed hops.
Winterhaven’s temple to the dwarf god derives its name from a giant hammer-shaped natural rock formation that is prominently in view in the courtyard, known as “Moradin’s Hammer”. It is an important destination for pilgrims, though sadly few have come of late. Offerings from devoted craftsmen can be seen at its base, and braziers of incense burn with a rich, spiced fragrance. Behind the Hammer is the temple itself. The architecture is rigid and geometric. A wide semicircular staircase leads up to the peristyle foyer and the entrance. Once inside, the party feels a wave of hot air envelope them and hears the rhythmic clang of iron. The temple interior is devoid of natural light, relying instead on braziers filled with molten ore along the sides, and a wide trough of it running down the center and into a giant forge. Dwarves in brown hauberks and silvery helmets are busy working metal and stoking the large fires at the forge’s flank. Standing at the entrance is a dwarf wearing brown robes with gold trim. She greets the PCs.
“Welcome to the Temple of the Soulforger, He that created us. I am Aeda Anvilseeker, First Child of the All-Father at this temple. Have you come to melt in His name?”
The monk speaks up and mentions that he has traveled all the way from Fallcrest to secure some blessed hops. “Blessed hops? I’d be more than happy to bless them, if I hadn’t run out of Deep-Clay urns. For the ritual to go properly, I must have an urn that has been fashioned out of clay from deep within the earth. Since our trade routes have been shut down, I have not been able to get any. Of course, were you to acquire some clay, we have more than enough crafters in the temple that could properly make the urn I need.”
Next, Borba wished to drop into the adjoining chapel of Avandra and give an offering to her goddess. Afterwards, the players decided to check out market square. The market square is filled with rows of covered vendor’s booths, where people come to sell and buy their grains, ore, and crafts from all over the region. On this day, however, most booths are empty, and in those that aren’t, the people don’t seem to be expecting anyone to talk to them. The players window-shopped a bit and discovered that adventurers are often better off seeking wondrous items in dungeons that purchasing them outright. The monk dropped into the farmer’s grange to see about purchasing some hops to be blessed once he found the clay he needed. Borba went with him to see about getting some grain to bring back to Fallcrest.
Inside the grange, a few desks with stacks of parchment are occupied by people busily writing. When asked to see someone in charge, a desk clerk exits into a rear office, returning with a tall gentleman of about 45, though his hair is still golden blonde. “I’m Thomas Fitzherbert, what can I do for you?” They inquire about hops and grain, and he responds, “Winterhaven in general is suffering at the hands of these foul beasts, but I believe the farmers and their customers are suffering most. After all, several towns rely on Winterhaven’s grain production as their main source of food, and if that’s shut down, people go hungry. Unfortunately for them and you, with the uncertainty regarding our own food supplies in the coming winter, Lord Padraig has commanded us to hold onto everything until the roads are safe to travel. Were you to make them safe, and bring back proof to help us convince other towns that they may indeed resume their travels, I will see to it that you receive whatever hops and grain you request within reason, free of charge.”
With the town shut down due to the kobolds, and cool items too expensive to purchase, the party decides to get to fixin’ Winterhaven’s problems. They figure the best approach to finding the kobold lair is to head east out of town and attempt to find a pattern in the mess of kobold footprints at the site of the ambush the previous night.
Upon arrival, some of the PCs notice a kobold hiding in the bushes that made a terrible stealth check… er, didn’t cover himself with foliage properly. As Wang is about to throw a shuriken at the kobold skirmisher, he drops his spear on the ground and cowers before them. Wang stays his hand and they tie the lizard up.
The party is now confronted with their first skill challenge: to use their currently available resources (footprints and a kobold) and determine precisely the location of the lair. Neither I nor any player had ever done a skill challenge before, so this was a learning experience for everyone. The basic aim of a skill challenge is to provide a non-combat encounter that gives XP for a success and is governed by the same attempts at balance as combat encounters are. Thus, the GM determines what skill checks lead to a “success” ahead of time, and how each success changes the encounter.
This particular challenge went accordingly: the party had to succeed 12 checks before they failed 6. They decided to divide their actions into two groups. One group focused on lying to the kobold that they were his allies so he would give up the location of the lair; the other attempted to perceive a pattern in the footprints and use it to track them back. Angus would roll to give aid to Borba on her bluff check (DC20), and Wang and Ryvre aided Aelfgifu in her perception check (also DC20). They managed to get 12 successes with only 4 failures.
As a DM aside, I realized at the end of this encounter that I needed to have put more planning into it. I’m not sure rolling the same things over and over was very fun in the end, but it made the most sense strategically to do that since both Borba and Aelgifu failed in their first attempts. If I do a skill challenge again, I will include much more branching such that the next step may require a different kind of skill challenge, and make the players actually RP how they are bluffing or tracking or what have you.
The challenge was actually beaten on a successful bluff check (rather than perception), so in the end the kobold was convinced that the party was on his side. “Come! I show you where Szartharrax is!” Any question asked as to the nature of Szartharrax simply resulted in a response of either, “Szartharrax mean!”, “Szartharrax scary!” or both. The skirmisher led the PCs north of the road and eventually brought them to a small cave opening. “Szartharrax in there!” said the kobold as he trembled. Apparently the little guy wasn’t too keen on this Szartharrax, and as the PCs look back to ask him more questions he darted away into the underbrush. Left with no further information, the party enters the cave, sans wagon.
The cave is dark and damp, dimly lit by torches (convenient since kobolds have darkvision ;-) ). The entrance is crudely set up as a guard post, although the lone guard evidently was not expecting guests. At the sight of the PCs, he leaps from a chair, draws his sling, and shouts, “Intrudersss! Intrudersss!” He is positioned behind a pit with a greenish liquid substance in it. As the players move in to attack him, Borba and Wang are slapped by gluepots which immobilize them, and they see that an additional slinger, along with a skirmisher, are standing behind a closed, iron portcullis. The remaining mobile PCs work their way cautiously around the green pit. The druid shifts into liger form and is able to quickly reach the slinger on the other side, but as she does two more skirmishers emerge from a hidden alcove and start flanking her. Meanwhile, Angus is fast at work attempting to lift the iron portcullis so someone can attack the kobolds behind it. Borba and Wang eventually unstick themselves, and the kobolds are dispatched before they can leave and warn whatever else is in the cave of the PCs’ presence. They decide to push forward through the passageway behind the portcullis.
The next cavern has four stalagmites in the center. To the left and right, the walls have a series of 6 niches carved into them, containing poorly constructed rigs with unknown purpose. Opposite the entrance is a raised portion of the cave floor, on top of which sits an altar to Tiamat, the dragon god. Three kobolds carrying spears stand by the altar. The players apparently interrupted a worship service. The skirmishers attempt to take cover from ranged attacks, while the players move around the stalagmites to engage them. They soon find out the rigs in the niches are makeshift traps that should paralyzing darts. Most if not all the PCs successfully dodge the darts, though, and quickly make work of the skirmishers. After looting the 10gp offering off the shrine, the players advance through a passage in the back.
The next cavern is… er, cavernous. Near where the PCs enter are 4 stalagmites and another pool of the same green sludge. Arrayed on the stalagmites are several animal skulls, all of them arranged in small piles. At the far end of the cavern are several kobolds on a raised, constructed platform which contains a large double-door in the middle. One of the kobolds holds a sludge-drenched stone stone tied to a long rope that is secured in the ceiling. The players roll really well on initiative, and get to go before the kobolds. Apparently ignorant of the laws of physics, Wang seizes the opportunity to kill the kobold holding the stone-on-a-rope. He lands a shuriken right to the forehead, and the kobold drops dead, releasing the stone as he falls. The stone now slams straight into Borba, knocking her back, and then sweeps around the room to the other side of the platform to be grabbed by another kobold. Not to be discouraged by classic pendulum mechanics, Aelfgifu drops flame seed on the kobold now holding the stone, crisping him up and once more releasing the pendulum. However, as luck would have it, none of the kobolds have been able to move this round, and there is no one who has moved into position to grab the stone on the other side. The skull-skull stone now falls prey to its own damped oscillator model, and slowly comes to rest in the middle of the cavern.
The PCs now charge the platform. Borba and Angus attempt to bludgeon the doors down, while Aelfgifu and Wang leap onto the platform. Ryvre hates all things revolving around athletics checks, and decides she would do best trying to protect the party from the outside. Angus lands a savage blow against the door, dropping it to a single remaining hitpoint. He and Borba, however, spend the next 3 rounds trying to reproduce the attack, to no avail (DC16 strength check). Meanwhile, Wang savagely leaps over the wall and down into a pack of guard drakes that were remaining silent behind it. He unleashes his daily and bloodies both of them, while Aelfgifu manages to make it on top of the platform and shifts into liger form. The guard drakes now go and bloody the monk in one round. The other kobolds continue as best they can to pelt javelins and firepots onto Borba and Angus, chipping away 3 or 5 hp here and there.
On Wang’s next turn, he decides that he needs to move out of melee range of the guard drakes, and takes two attacks of opportunity in the process, which render him unconscious. With Aelfgifu still busy killing kobolds on top of the platform, the guard drakes have no one to attack but the ones trying to bust down the doors, so they decide to break through and attack (GM through a little bone, there ;-) ). This puts Wang in line of sight of Ryvre, who brings him back to consciousness to continue pummeling folks. All critters die pretty quickly after that, and the party is left fairly bloody and tired. They decide to go back up to the wagon and spend the night under the stars.
Thus ends session 2.