Category Archives: Actual Play

Chapter Five: Speaking with the Dead

Last session saw the party return from Cragmaw Castle and start making their way through the list of side quests they have accumulated.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master)
  2. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon)
  3. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance)

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


The party, with Vyerith in tow, returned to Phandalin and collected their reward for clearing out Cragmaw Castle. Whilst there, they sold what spare equipment they could and received the Gloves of Revelation from Gundren Rockseeker in return for escorting him to his base of operations.

[DM’s Note: The Gloves of Revelation are a magical item that allows the wearer to cast Identify once a day. The version of the spell that is cast allows only for obvious magical effects to be discovered. I gave this ability to my players because they have no party member capable of casting that spell and my plans for the campaign don’t really include reliable access to someone who can cast it.]

Sildar, relieved at the return of his friend, promised future rewards when his belongings finally arrive. Gundren, for his part, offered to accompany them to Wave Echo cave when they decide to go there.

N’idera, curious about her bow, used the Gloves to reveal its magical properties whilst the party decided, on the flip of a coin, to travel to Coneyberry and converse with Agatha.

By the time they reached Coneyberry, the Gloves had recharged and Sirath gave her the dagger from the hunting lodge to examine. The moment she touched it, vines erupted from the earth and wrapped around her, supporting N’idera’s body as she fell unconscious.

The Ranger appeared on the edge of a cliff and was asked a series of questions by two figures she realised were Malar and Gwaerom. She told them that she protects the wilds whilst Sasha hunts those who would harm them. The two gods were satisfied with this answer and she awoke, to see a blue glow around Sasha’s neck. Investigation revealed a small chain collar apparently growing there.

[DM’s Note: The dream vision was designed to allow N’idera’s player to choose the effects of her weapons by choosing a focus on hunting, or guarding. The answer she gave wasn’t one I predicted, but resulted in some cool character development and a flexible ‘loadout’ of magical weapons.]

Sirath realised the dagger would be better with N’idera and the party found Agatha’s lair. There they conversed politely with the banshee and obtained the information Sister Giraele required.

With that taken care of, the party decided to head towards Old Owl Well.

They approached it from behind and accidentally alerted the zombies working in the tower. Curious, but not hostile, Kostus emerged from his tent to investigate and was forced to shrug off the effects of Sirath’s Abjure Enemy. The party was hard-pressed to fend of the zombies but they succeeded, eventually, and were forced to incapacitate Kostus as he fled.

N’idera took him down, shooting him in the leg, and that was the point at which we ran out of time.

[DM’s Note: I use a rule that a ranged, non-magical attack can incapacitate an NPC but giving the players a round to stabilise said NPC, providing the attack is not a critical hit.]

Chapter Four: Clearing the Castle

After last session’s foray into a plotline of my own devising, we returned to the Lost Mine of Phandelver with an assault upon Cragmaw Castle.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master)
  2. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon)
  3. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance)

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


Play began with the party re-uniting and interrogating the captured Halfling. He said he had been hired from his home to provide undead minions by a ‘tall, thin figure’. The party took possession of the key to his house in Waterdeep and turned him over to the authorities.

They took care of business with the Graywind’s (including telling them about the supplies they had to leave in the hunting lodge and selling a lot of the stuff they had been hoarding) and examined the scroll case they had found. Within was the land deed for the hunting lodge and land around it. With that taken care of, they examined their current goals and determined to clear out Cragmaw Castle (and thus eliminate the big threat in the local area) before tackling anything else.

[DM Note: I gave the party the map to the castle in the last session as a way of tying things together (the undead goblins were part of the Cragmaw tribe) and because the suggested method of them obtaining it (random encounter) doesn’t feel right to me.]

Instead of waiting to scout it out, Sirath (true to form) strode right in through the main doors. The watch-goblins alerted the waiting reinforcements, as they are supposed to, and combat was joined. The party made great use of their plentiful AoE effects and made short work of the large force that rushed them in the entrance hall of the ruined castle.

N’idera, after trapping two watch-goblins in their room, and Sirath began to explore. N’idra found a set of bloody chain-mail and an ornate longsword. Whilst they were doing this, Ara’tak decided to continue further into the castle and triggered a trap. Although he escaped unscathed, the sound of the ceiling falling in alerted more of the castle’s inhabitants.

The party (possessing two characters with a high Perception score) heard the sounds of surprise from the banquet hall to the south and, with some slight damage to their pride, vanquished the large number of goblins within. Both the goblin who fled, and one of the watch-goblins from the other guardroom were hunted down and slain. One goblin escaped with its life.

The party then checked out the northern rooms of the castle (after finding the Owlbear tower and the secret entrance) and beat both the Grick and the goblins in the chapel handily.

Unfortunately, due to Sirath’s magic use during the last battle, the rest of the castle was on high alert. The crash of her magic enraged the Owlbear which broke out of its tower in response to the painfully loud noise and went on a rampage as it escaped. Recognising this, the party moved carefully forwards.

[DM’s Note: Thunderous Smite REALLY puts its work in to alert the NPCs to the party’s progress.]

They found the signs of the Owlbear’s escape and entered the final room. The King of the Cragmaws proved a challenge but they overcame both him and his wolf in okay shape.

As N’idera checked on Gundren (who was held captive in the King’s chamber), Sirath opened the second door in the room (the first being the entrance).

Full disclosure, as a DM, I am unhappy with the stat block for Vyerith. I kept it the same, but interpreted the line about the extra damage occurring in the first round of combat as occurring in the first round of combat she takes part in, but only if she hasn’t been detected. Imagine my surprise when she rolled a natural 20 and downed Sirath instantly.

The fight was nasty but short and the party, initially distrustful of the drow they encountered, took her prisoner. N’idera, being a half-elf, remains distrustful but seems happy enough to keep an eye on her.

Whilst searching their new prisoner who explained that she was trader, N’idera found Gundren’s map to Wave Echo cave. Keeping that, but leaving her with everything else in the satchel she had ‘mysteriously’ acquired, the party set off back to Phandalin.

[DM’s Note: Vyerith is supposed to fight to the death if cornered, but the party put a lot of effort into talking her down and I don’t think DM’s should ignore the efforts of their players. Also, she ended up with the Cragmaw King’s satchel because the party didn’t have time to search the room and Vyerith snagged it while they weren’t paying full attention to her.]

Chapter Three: The Seeds Are Sown

I’ve been sitting on my notes for a few weeks now, so I figured it was time to type them up and post them.

Due to only having two players, this session gave me a chance to break from the published material and start laying the groundwork for my own campaign. I think it went well.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master)
  2. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance)

The PCs were woken by a loud, insistent knocking on the doors of their rooms in the tavern. Sirath opened the door in her own unique fashion and stood in the doorway, looming over the 6 year old girl with her greataxe at the ready.

N’idera, sensing the potential for the situation to head south quickly, caught the girl’s attention and tried to calm her down. Having rushed from bed, this was the first opportunity for any members of the group to see her unnaturally white hair. She managed to calm the girl down and was told that Linene Graywind, the woman who runs the Lionshield Coster in Phandalin, needed their help and had sent her youngest to find them.

A few moments later, the party were following the little girl across town and found Linene staring blankly at a wall. Managing to calm her down and get her focus, the party learned that Linene’s husband and son (Roark and Rogir, respectively) had been ambushed as they returned from trading along the Triboar Trail. Her eldest child, Lucille, was missing. All she knew was that they had ridden hard to escape (one of the horses had almost been lamed) and that the only place they would have stopped for definite along the Trail was an old hunting lodge used by traders as a refuge during bad weather.

N’idea did what she could to help the Graywind men heal and she and Sirath bargained with Linene for the use of some horses. Torvak and Ara’tak remained behind to help where they could and both PCs set off, their sellable items stored in Linene’s safe. Whilst depositing their items, a small wolf with fur the same colour as N’idera’s hair jumped out of her bag.

Having been shown a map of the Trail, N’idera knew how long it would take to get to the hunting lodge so the party rode hard for the first few days and then slowed enough to notice a road off the Trail about a day before they reached their destination. N’idera scouted it out and found an abandoned quarry before they resumed their journey.

N’idera and her wolf, Sasha, managed to sneak up the lodge’s drive and got quite close to it before Sirath’s armour clinked loudly. N’idera saw the two goblin guards the moment they loosed arrows at Sirath as the dragonborn rounded the corner and came into view of the lodge. She felled one and then entered the crawlspace under the lodge as Sirath dashed around and came up behind the other guard.

It was then that Sirath tried to grab the goblin and felt its flesh give way under her hands. A brief scuffle later and it was evident that the goblins were, in fact, animated goblin corpses.

[DM Note: I ran these using the goblin stat block but with the undead keyword and half their speed.]

Sirath relayed this information and N’idera took a minute to focus on her connection to the primal energies of the world and sensed 10 undead nearby, as well as a larger force moving slowly towards Phandalin.

What followed was a lovely example of what happens when one PC (Sirath) tries to sneak, gives up on the idea and proceeds to stride through every room of the house.

The PCs started in the courtyard in the middle of the building, reached through the crawlspace. The 4 undead goblins (alerted by Sirath’s failure to move sneakily) ‘hiding’ there posed no threat and the PCs were quickly able to follow the obvious drag marks on the ground.

The first two rooms were empty, a bookshelf in one decorated with the Tresendar crest and stores in the other showing signs of age.

The next room had two hob-goblin corpses in it. Sirath, entering whilst N’idera was searching the stores for signs of ownership, caught sight of movement behind a crate and decided to move it. Two things happened; she found a fireplace and she dropped the crate. Loudly. Before she could investigate the fireplace, she was interrupted by the hob-goblin corpses animating behind her.

After that was taken care of, N’idera noticed what seemed like a button hidden in the carvings on the mantel piece and proceeded to discover a shaken, manacled Lucille hiding in the chimney. After calming her down, N’idera pressed the button but was unable to find where the muted click came from.

Sirath wasted no time in spotting the hidden alcove in the chimney and grabbed the oilcloth package hidden within.

[DM Note: With N’idera’s absurd Perception score, I was figuring on her noticing the items. It threw a spanner in the works when she didn’t. But hey, that’s how the dice roll.]

The rest of the house posed little problem to the PCs. Sirath walked noisily across a poorly maintained nightingale floor and alerted everything left in the house, before walking boldly through every door without regard for the consequences. Fortunately, the PCs proved more than equal to the undead in the house and they were quickly in the clear. They paused briefly in one of the last rooms to loot a scroll case and a few items from a secret compartment in the bottom of a chest.

As they began to stock the Lionshield cart pulled up in front of the lodge with what they could carry from the house, N’idera noticed some strange runes carved into the wooden porch and main doors of the lodge. She could sense the weakening necromantic energy emanating from magical symbols and began to destroy them.

As she did so, she had a vision of a phoenix rising from a sea of blood. Sirath, seeing what she was doing, joined in and accidentally destroyed the master rune of the ritual. She was saw the same thing and received the message ‘Netheril will rise again.’.

As she recovered from this, they noticed a swiftly killed (but definitely not undead) bugbear. The bugbear had a map pointing them towards Cragmaw Castle, as well the key to Lucille’s manacles. It was around this time that Sirath opened the package from the chimney to examine the bow (decorated with a charm to Malar) and dagger (whose pommel was carved in the shape of a pawprint inset with starmetal) within. She gave the bow to N’idera and didn’t tell her about the dagger.

Both PCs could tell there are some qualities to the items they don’t currently understand or know how to access.

[DM Note: My attitude to magical items is that an Arcana check can determine whether or not an item is likely to be magical (Detect Magic being the only way of determining if an item is definitely magical), but an Identify spell is required to learn what properties an item possesses. Attunement is enough to learn the basic properties of something, but plot related items need the Identify spell casting on them. At the same time, because they are plot related, their magical nature is likely to be more obvious.]

They realised that they could outpace the undead force moving towards Phandalin and headed for the quarry (which lay directly between the lodge and the town). N’idera’s ability to sense undead revealed that the large force was considerably smaller and they began to worry that most of it had split off, or sped up, from the few that she could still sense.

They planned their ambush well and dealt with the undead easily. From her position at the top of the quarry, N’idera was perfectly placed to find the Halfling cleric she accurately deduced was involved in controlling the undead.

The session ended as she clapped him in irons and they began the journey back to Phandalin.

 


Due to a few factors, these APs are probably always going to feel a bit rushed and note-like. I felt this bears pointing out now, rather than later.

Chapter Two: Pest Control

Recently, we got to play through the rest of the second chapter from the Lost Mine of Phandelver. We were joined by another player with no experience, which made the encounters easier.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master (at the end of the game))
  2. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon)
  3. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance (at the end of the game))

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


Ara’tak, at the end of last session, found a map detailing the hidden entrance to the Redbrand hideout (they had also been told that one existed in the woods by an NPC). The back of the map had a message written on it in low quality invisible ink referencing a beast in a pit and ‘Old Netheril’. After entering the hideout, wearing some of the Redbrand’s cloaks and with a new ally in tow, they found the crevasse and began to explore.

They explored most of the cavern before Ara’tak noticed the Nothic and, using some pretty awesome RP and the ‘Old Netheril’ reference from the map, avoided the fight entirely. They found out that there were prisoners to the east and a magic user to the north-west.

(DM’s Note: My players reacted so well to this encounter that I have some plot ideas for continuing after we finish the adventure.)

What followed was a truly beautiful series of moments that could have gone sour but were recovered at the last minute as the party split up and began to explore, turning back from three possible encounters at the last moment. They wound up at the entrance to the hideout and Sirath pushed Ara’tak into the cistern. This had a two-fold effect; Ara’tak found the satchel hidden there, and the nearby guards realised they were no longer alone.

The fight was short, brutal and highlighted why Paladins with Thunderous Smite are monsters in mêlée combat. Ara’tak, once again, was downed but Torvak’s purpose as party healer prevented any lasting damage. They scouted the way out of the cellars through the ruined manor house and then ‘found’ the pit trap in the hallway.

The skeletons, as per the adventure rules, ignored the party when they began looting the coffins in the Tresendar crypt and the two guards in the cells next door had no chance to really do anything before they were downed.

A series of REALLY good rolls from M. saw his Paladin breaking the cells open (releasing the prisoners and collecting the Heirloom sidequest) as well as busting into the armoury.

With the entire east side of the dungeon explored, the party opted to go through a secret door that Ara’tak had found right at the beginning of the session and surprised Iarno himself in his quarters. The surprise round saw N’idera dashing past him to steal his staff, Ara’tak dousing him with another creative use of Create/Destroy Water and then Sirath letting loose with her lightning breath. By the time the round was over, Iarno was really low on health and opted to surrender. He had only a few moments to irritate the party with his superiority when answering their questions before Sirath tired of him and buried her axe in his breast bone. There were a few moments of intra-party tension after that before they started searching his room.

(DM’s Note: This was my first opportunity to introduce a magic item for the party to use to compensate for being smaller than expected and N’idera found it but is unsure what it is.)

The familiar in the next room spent a few minutes running from the wildshaped Druid before curling up on its dead master’s shoulder (where it met the same fate as Iarno) and the workshop was well and truly looted.

What followed was glorious. The ‘poisoned’ condition on the Redbrands in the penultimate room made for a lot of whiffed rolls that, for some reason, the players (with the exception of Ara’tak who went for a wide flank)seemed intent on matching. Thunderous Smite proved its worth again but alerted the nearby Bugbears.

Ara’tak discovered this fact and launched a surprise attack by using his last spell slot and then tactically withdrew to the crevasse. One of the bugbears followed him and the others continued towards the fight.

The fight, as to be expected with the party running low on resources, was tough but satisfying. The Nothic, lured by Ara’tak, killed the last Bugbear and dragged it away to eat. Thus satisfied, it had no problem with the PCs taking its hoard and leaving the hideout for Phandalin (where they turned Iarno’s body over for the reward), their pockets full of loot and their level bumped up to the 3.


My players are very keen to loot everything which means I can seed plot ideas and foreshadowing among treasure and personal items.

The interest with which they discussed the Nothic encounter after the game, and the positive feedback from it, gave me a few ideas about structuring encounters in the future and about possible plot-lines heading forwards.

 

Chapter One: The Road to Phandalin

This weekend past, I sat down with my partner and a friend to run through the opening act of the D&D Starter Set, Lost Mine of Phandelver.

I’ve never run a published campaign before, my partner (J.) has never played an rpg before and our friend (L.) has a few sessions under his belt so in our respective spheres, none of us are experts.

To compensate for only have two players, I added a DMPC two levels above them to the group and I plan on adding some minor magical items later into the campaign to make up for the lack of a fourth damage source.

Over the course of the weekend, we played through the first chapter of the campaign and made great headway into the second chapter.


Cast

J. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger

L. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon (at the end of the game))

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


Play began with the two PCs being asked to meet Gundren Rockseeker in Neverwinter for a job offer. N’idera was introduced as an enigmatic sort but their initial meeting with Gundren went well. He and Sildar explained they had need of guards for a supply wagon leaving Neverwinter for Phandalin in a few days’ time. The PCs were happy enough to provide this service and agreed to meet each other again a few days later. They were also told that a third guard would meet them there.

A few days passed and they arrived at the wagon. They examined its contents to satisfy the indentured half-elf who needed to fill out the requisite paperwork for the merchant selling to Gundren and Barthen (of Barthen’s Provisions in Phandalin). Seeing all was well, they set off for the frontier. The third guard introduced himself as Torvak ‘Stonefist’ Drantil-Agasto, a Goliath healer wandering the lowlands. Enamoured by his tattoos, they asked for more information.

Torvak explained that as a youth, he killed a young drake with a stone and was honoured for it.

[DM’s Note: This was to a) set up his credentials as a character capable of fighting and b) to introduce him to the PCs. He also has a broken arm he refuses to heal to highlight his purpose as a meat-shield and healer.]

From there, the adventure continued as written. The PCs spotted the dead horses and one of the Goblin archers (a low Stealth check can be blamed for that). N’idera, her suspicions aroused, focused on the thickets along the side of the road and spotted two other Goblins, one archer and one swords-goblin.

The fight was brief, brutal and a helluva failed ambush. It ended when the last of the Goblins fled and was captured.

[DM’s Note: The Aarakocra ability to fly provides a LOT of mobility. DM’s should factor that in if they have Aarakocra in their own campaigns.]

The Goblin was tied up to hang from a tree, questioned about where he came from and then *ahem* piñata-ed.

[J.’s one-liner was ‘You shouldn’t have killed the horses’.]

The party rested overnight and, in the morning, disguised the cart as best they could through the use of Druidcraft and practical camouflage. They set off swiftly, Torvak clinking slightly in his scale with a shield strapped to his broken arm. The Goblin traps were spotted and avoided, the snare was disarmed and collected.

They made good time, honouring Mielikki when they encountered some weather-worn statues bearing her symbol, and found the entrance to the Cragmaw hideout.

N’idera decided to scout ahead and discovered the Goblin guards in their blind. Much the same as the failed ambush. N’idera’s first strike was a deadly one and Ara’tak brought death from above, severely wounding the other Goblin as he dropped from the sky.

The guards dealt with, they moved into the hideout. They found the ‘kennels’ and released the wolves, after calming them by feeding them a dead Goblin guard. There was a brief discussion about using the chimney to get further into the cave but, in the end, they decided to explore it fully before being funnelled into who-knows-where.

A Goblin standing watch on a bridge over the stream was dispatched unconventionally. N’idera shot out the bridge support with a fire arrow and dropped him into the river. This gave them a ladder to climb into the passage on the other side. The Goblin forgotten, they climbed up and scouted out the main sleeping quarters.

Using Create Water to douse the cooking fire and create a temporary mist, the PCs moved against the bulk of the Goblins. N’idera bypassed the guards and climbed the ledge to find Yeemik beating Sildar to a pulp. She promptly began going to town on him.

Meanwhile, Torvak and Ara’tak were having a slightly worse time of things. Ara’tak running ahead, was quickly swarmed by Goblins and knocked to the floor. Torvak healed him, only for another round to see him dropped again. Meanwhile, N’idera was busy whittling Yeemik down until he died and she returned to the main combat, peppering the Goblins from the ledge. With her help, and Sildar’s rather shaky sword/throwing arm, the fight was ended.

[DM’s Note: This fight showed me it might be worth lowering enemy numbers to deal with a smaller party. All the encounters are scaled for 4 PCs and having less makes it very easy to swarm and overwhelm PCs, especially at low levels. I tweaked a later encounter’s geography to deal with this.]

After some use of Torvak’s healing ability, the party moved on. With a mostly restored and re-armed Sildar, they found the penultimate chamber. Making good use of N’idera’s high Stealth score and Ara’tak’s magic, they lured three of the four Goblins into an ambush. The fourth, a REALLY soggy Goblin, was killed as he ran to alert Klarg, shot from behind just before he reached the top step.

The fight against Klarg himself was tough. After Ara’tak’s magic caused an acrid smoke to flare from the fire and distract the wolf, the PCs were able to get a few hits in before the bugbear raged from one assailant to the other until only Torvak remained standing in mêlée with him. N’idera, on the other side of the cavern where she had fought off a Goblin, found only one target left and did what she proved she was good at doing; she exterminated the goblinoid menace.

A quick investigation turned up Klarg’s treasure chest and the items from the Lionshield Coster. The goblins dealt with, they returned to the cart and continued their journey to Phandalin.

Arriving after sunset, they awoke Barthen and delivered the goods to him for the agreed payment, finding out that the Rockseeker brothers should have re-provisioned days ago in the process, before retiring for the night at the inn.

Ara’tak left the inn early and was able to watch Sister Garaele limping into the Shrine of Luck, a chapel of Tymora. He followed her in and she explained about Agatha and her mission to ask Agatha about a spellbook.

N’idera, meanwhile, overheard the barmaid and the innkeeper’s wife discussing the disappearance of Thel Dendrar’s family and how Daran Edermath, the Orchardkeeper, might be able to use his former adventuring skills to find them.

They both agreed that they should do what they can to help and began by entering the Lionshield Coster to inform Linene Graywind that they had found her lost items (she paid them and was very grateful), and to buy new weapons and armour. Ara’tak decided to upgrade his ranged capabilities and bought a sling after realising that mêlée probably isn’t always the best place to be.

Linene also warned them about the Redbrands loitering in town.

From there, they hiked up to the Orchard to talk to Edermath about the missing family. He revealed that he is a former adventurer but is no longer capable of doing what he did in his youth. He told them that he suspects the Redbrands, who have a base under the ruined manor, took them in retribution for Dendrar standing up to them. As they were about to leave, he also told them about an undead problem at Old Owl’s Well. This piqued N’idera’s interest greatly.

It was as they were heading for the Sleeping Giant taphouse that they found Sildar, who paid them their dues for escorting him to Phandalin. He also asked them for help finding where the Cragmaw’s have their base and to keep an eye out for Iarno Albrek (he furnished them with a description). They also noticed the bounty poster for Orcs at Wyvern Tor.

After Sildar bade them farewell, they continued to the Sleeping Giant where, well, pain happened. The ruffians were subdued, painfully, and questions were asked of the lone survivor before he was tied to a tree and the town was told where to find him. The PCs, thinking ahead, stole Redbrand cloaks and set off for the base under Tresendar Manor after Ara’tak pilfered the Redbrand chest in the bunkroom of the Sleeping Giant. In it, he found a map of the town with what seemed like a list of targeted businesses and locals scrawled upon it.


Overall, I felt the session went well. The Revised Ranger rules proved what an improvement they are over the original class and my players used their heads to compensate for their small group size. I didn’t have to fudge dice rolls or make poor decisions for NPCs once. Their emphasis on smart scouting and positioning, as well as clever use of available magic and geographical resources made for some good, engaging gameplay.