Merchants, Melorans and a Monk

Session 2: the Kobold Lair, Pt. 1

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.

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Session 1: To Winterhaven

Our first session took place in San Diego in August of 2009. Characters were worked on intermittently the week prior, so everyone was ready to roll immediately. I based a lot of the adventure off of the published module Keep on the Shadowfell, since it was (1) my first time as GM and (2) it was free.

We have five people in this campaign, which is great since every encounter is pre-generated assuming such, and I don’t have to tweak an encounter unless I want to for whatever reason. The five are all family by choice or not, and only two have ever played a tabletop game before.

1. My sister-in-law Rachel is playing a half-orc barbarian named Borba Gadorba. She fights with a great club, wears hide armor, and has chosen the Rageblood class feature. Her character is a merchant from Fallcrest with her own wagon who seeks to profit from the drop of supply of grain since Winterhaven’s roads have been so dangerous of late.

2. My brother Sean is playing a dragonborn fighter named Angus McBangus. He is a great weapon fighter, preferring a great flail to knock around enemies with. He has RPed his dragon breath racial power as a poisonous fart cloud. Anyone who knows my brother in real life is not confused in the slightest. His character is an ex-soldier-turned-muscle-for-hire who is accompanying Borba as her bodyguard.

3. My fiancée Sarah is playing a human shaman named Ryvre Starbright who is multiclassed into cleric. She wields a totem she shakes at enemies in one hand and a spear in t’other, and has chosen the protection route. Her spirit companion is a polar bear. Her character is a hippy who left bard training because her artistic integrity and the school’s insistence that spoken word to the rhythm of bongos wasn’t music didn’t mix. She now lives in an enclave of Melora just outside Fallcrest, trying to spread the good word of not inoculating your children to magical plagues and keeping the wood elves’ home pristine.

4. My sister Brittany is playing a shifter druid named Aelfgifu of the Mobinogi tribe. When she’s not catching people on fire with her quarterstaff, Aelfgifu enjoys shredding them to ribbons in liger form. She has opted for the predator druid class feature, and the razorclaw subrace. She belongs to the same enclave as Ryvre, and is en route to Winterhaven to investigate rumors of an “unnatural” presence.

5. My sister’s boyfriend Eric is playing a human monk named Wang Hung Lo. He has chosen the currently only-available class feature, centered breath. He eschews weapons as merely a hindrance, and prefers to pummel his opponents at fisticuffs. When not punching and dodging, Wang is a monk of Moradin, drawn to the god due to his Patronhood of crafting. Wang now brews beer to honor the All-Father, and is forced to travel to Winterhaven to buy more blessed hops to continue his Bacchanalian praise and worship.

And so we begin.

Little news of Winterhaven has come down the King’s Road to Fallcrest of late. Few travelers attempt a journey to the important agricultural village, and fewer still return. Exaggerated tales of strange or unnatural creatures lying in wait to kill any who venture on the Road keep most would-be travelers safely on the banks of the Nentir River. Not everyone can be or wants to remain prudent, however. The drop in the supply of grain from Winterhaven has brought with it a spike in the price, and merchants weigh the risks of the journey against their potential to profit. Borba Gadorba, a half-orc trader, is such a merchant, accompanied by her infamously gassy bodyguard, Angus McBangus. While Borba and Angus choose to travel for wealth, other citizens of Fallcrest do not have a choice. Annual religious holidays cannot wait for favorable conditions, and so Wang Hung Lo of the Trappist Order of Moradin leaves East on the King’s Road to Moradin’s Hammer to acquire the necessary blessed hops for the upcoming Day of Crafters, along with Borba and Angus, offering his services free of charge. Melora’s followers, those who seek to protect all that is natural, see too a threat to the Wilderness they value, and are sending two of their best neophytes, the Druid Aelfgifu and her Shaman companion Ryvre Starbright, to investigate. These five travelers set out for Winterhaven together to increase their chances of survival.

As the party travels down the King’s Road, the wind is cool and comfortable. The road beneath their feet is level. An occasional ancient cobblestone peeks through the dirt road, indicating decades of neglect. A successful perception check and a wicked high nature check by Aelfgifu establishes that there are kobold footprints all over the road, and she quickly informs the party of exactly what kind of threat they are amongst. As she does so, kobolds that were hiding behind the rocks spring into view and begin to move toward them. With a shriek, the small kobolds attack. Scaled and rust-colored, they have reptilian heads and tails.

I used this combat as a tutorial of the game rules. The kobolds (totaling 8) rolled pretty poorly the entire combat; the slingers never landed a single special shot against them. On the other hand, the PCs rolled very well, particularly the monk, who used his daily (whirling mantis step) and killed three kobolds at once with it.

A successful route of the kobold ambush allowed the party to make it to Winterhaven before sundown. The rutted King’s Road leads to the foot of a broad hill that holds the walled village of Winterhaven. The village is nestled in the southern foothills of the Cairngorm Peaks. The walls are weathered stone topped by defensive palisades. Small thatched homes stand around Winterhaven, each fronting a small piece of farmland or pasture. Beyond the farms to the west and south lie dark woods, and to the north, tall mountain peaks. Just outside the city walls, they decided to scout the town from afar in case the town was somehow no longer safe. Borba notices some guards standing sentry having a talk with an important-looking, well-armed man. Aelfgifu and Wang briefly discuss burning the city down before they are reminded of their mission and the alignments they chose at character creation. With this in mind, they approach the guards in hope that the Winterhaven sigils they sport are not a disguise.

The important-looking man notices their approach and confronts them: “Oi, there! What’s your business?”

The party informs him of their intent to either trade with the town or investigate nearby. He replies, “Oh, pardon my rudeness! Not many travelers feel like bravin’ the King’s Road these days, and ya can’t really blame them I suppose. In any case, welcome to Winterhaven! The name’s Baxter Beaumont. I’m the sergeant of the guard here in town. How long are you staying?”

Upon hearing that they will be there at least a day if not longer, Beaumont recommends that, “Well, ya best be seekin’ a room at the Pick and Sickle, I’d wager. As I said, not too many been coming to Winterhaven lately, so there should be vacancies for all o’ you. Here, take a look at this map. It’s right over here. O’course, first you should go to Winterhaven Keep and check in with Lord Padraig. With all the trouble we’ve seen, we can’t take any chances with visitors, beggin’ your pardon.” At this point, he also hands the party a map of the village so they can navigate more effectively.

The lawful good monk considers pickpocketing Beaumont until a voice in his head suggests that the captain of the guards could possibly have an incredibly high passive perception, and the party moves on. They make no attempt to circumvent his command that they visit Lord Padraig first, and head straight for Winterhaven Keep.

Inner walls surround the keep as a last bastion in the event of attack. At the moment, though, the portcullis is raised, with only two sentinels keeping tabs on those who enter. Once through the gate, the PCs see two cylindrical towers flanking a stately manor house. The guards direct them towards it, and they enter the throne room of the keep. Lord Padraig notices them enter. His is an older man with white hair and piercing black eyes. He wears a white and grey hauberk, and after greeting the PCs says: “You’ve encountered the kobolds that have turned the old King’s Road and our outlying farms into their personal hunting grounds? Those beasts vex me sorely. Attacks along the road have grown more frequent over the last few months. Something’s stirring the kobolds up. I don’t suppose you would be interested in taking a commission from me? I can pay 100gp for your services.”

The players accept his quest, and decide to head to the village inn to get some shuteye. The Pick and Sickle Public House is the soul inn of Winterhaven. It is among the largest buildings in town, capable of holding upwards of 100 travelers in its 5 stories during busy harvest months. In front of its Tudor façade is a sign swinging in the breeze, depicting a criss-crossed mining pick and farmer’s sickle, as Winterhaven is at the annex of the fertile Nentir valley and the ore-rich Cairngorm Peaks. Beneath the crest is a wooden board suspended by short chains with the word “vacancy” burnt into it.

As the players enter, they see a large, open common room. The ceiling rises 50 feet to a glass-covered skylight. Encircling the center are the guests’ chambers numbering around 12 per floor. Large wooden support columns are adorned with sconces that illuminate the inn in the twilight. Around them, they see large wooden tables, empty but for a few exhausted patrons. Suddenly, a well-dressed dwarf emerges from a back room carrying a bowl of stew. He looks strong but portly, a clue to both a storied past and a more recent life of retirement. He notices your presence and scuttles over after delivering the bowl to a customer.

“Greetings, travelers! Welcome to the Pick and Sickle Public House! I am Sir John of the Larderguarders! Care for anything to drink? We have fine ales, wines, and our house specialty, cider! You must try it!”

The players accept the offer. Sir John replies, “Certainly!” and startles the party by immediately shouting, “DIIIAAANE!”

From the kitchen, a muffled female voice replies, “JOHN!”

“DIAAANE!”

“JOHN!”

“Egads, woman. Pardon me, my friends, but my lovely wife needs my attention.” The dwarf bows deeply and heads back towards the kitchen. After a minute, he and a female companion emerge with frothy mugs and a plate of food containing breads, sausages and various hunks of cheese.

“Allow me to introduce my lovely wife, Diane.” He hands you all ciders and places the food trays amongst you. The cider is rich with flavour, if a little sweet. “Now, what brings you to my inn?”

The party replies that they are in town indefinitely and are trying to alleviate the kobold threat. “Well, business has certainly been better. All these damned kobolds are keeping customers from getting here! Anything you can do to help out there would be most helpful.”

After quaffing the fine fare of the Larderguarders, the players retire to their rooms, contemplating just how they might tackle seeking and destroying the local kobold problem.

Video: Pick and Sickle, Part I

Video: Pick and Sickle, Part II

5/6 of the group

If playing D&D wasn't nerdy enough...

Angus and his controller

It's not the size that matters, it's how you roll 'em

Thus ends session 1.

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Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.

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