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!”
“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
Thus ends session 1.