Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lost Mine of Phandelver - Session 2 [D&D 5th Ed Actual Play]

Wherein the team arrives in Phandalin and encounters the Redbrands...

Bramble (Green Gnome Rogue/Charlatan)
Kokiri aka “Cookie” (Wood Elf Rogue/Sailor)
Atticus Digby (Half-Wyrd-Elf Wizard/Bard/Noble)
Roanvine (Human Ranger/Outlander)
Vandalar (Dragonborn Paladin/Noble)
Skeld (Hill Dwarf Cleric of Wotan/Sage)
(NPC) Peitor "Pete" Rabbitslayer (Halfling Fighter)

Taking up from the previous session, the team interrogates their three goblin captives. Only one of the goblins speaks Common and repeatedly tries to sell out his comrades in exchange for his freedom. The heroes don't go for it. The Goblins know that Gundren Rockseeker has been taken to some place called Cragmaw Castle, though they aren't sure exactly where it is. “Supposed to be a day north and east of here, in the forest.” They also know that their chief was working for some “big bosses” that live in the castle.

As the team makes their way back to the Three Boar Trail, they meet up with their wayward companions, Skeld and Vandalar. At last the team in complete, blizzard be damned.

The reunited team arrives in Phandalin well after sundown, and most of the shops and buildings are closed for the night. Skeld and Vandalar wait at the edge of town with the goblin captives while the rest of the team tries to figure out where they are supposed to deliver Gundren's supply wagon, as well as the Lion Shield goods they recovered from the goblins' lair. Sildar Hall thanks the heroes and makes his way to the Stonehill Inn (“I need a drink... in that tavern there, right now.”) with promises to pay the team in the morning.

Several of the buildings in town display this poster...
...which the heroes note for later.

Barthen's Provisions is closed for the night, but Digby manages to talk the owner, Elmar Barthen, into seeing them. Digby buys a gnomish ukelele as his focus or his shiny new Bard level. The heroes impress the storekeeper with their pluck and manners, and he tells them about the Redbrands, a gang of ruffians that have been causing trouble in the town.

The Redbrands get their name from the angry, dagger-shaped scar they have branded on their foreheads.

Meanwhile, on the edge of town, Skeld and Vandalar run into a couple of Redbrands returning from Edermath's Orchard with an armload of stolen cider. A fight erupts. One Redbrand runs off towards the ruins of Tresender Manor while his buddy attacks the cleric and paladin. The Redbrand's two attacks per round give the two heroes a solid fight, but they eventually come out on top, knocking their foe unconscious.

The fracas (and Skeld's radiant spells) draws the attention of the townsfolk. A small mob of villagers shows up (along with the other PCs) led by Mayor Harbin Westler. Westler is a fat, pompus old man who doesn't want any trouble in his town, but some of the other villagers seem relieved that someone's here to take care of the Redbrands.

As things start to settle, Daran Edermath (the owner of the orchard) shows up, demanding to know what's going on. He's a fire-scarred old half-elf leaning on a walking stick who talks like Charlton Heston. He invites the heroes back to his home while they lock the goblins and the captured Redbrand in his woodshed. They leave Pete the possibly-homicidal halfling to guard them (with Digby's owl familiar secretly watching Pete).

Reading this module, I didn't realize how irritating the Greenwood/Forgotten Realms names would be to say constantly. If I could do it over, I would change all the NPC names.

Edermath is a retired warrior and a member of the House of Hrothgar like the PCs. His house is decorated in hand-carved woodwork and mementos of his old heroic career. A faintly-green-glowing sword hangs over the mantle, which Digby identifies as Verdikast, the sword that Daran used to slay the great white owlbear of Thistlethorn Forest. Daran tells the PCs about all the troubles in the town, while the PCs confide their own plans to the scarred old hero. After a good meal, Daran lets the PCs stay in his place for the night.

In the morning, Sildar Hall helps the heroes transport their prisoners to the makeshift jail in the town hall's basement. Sildar also tells the heroes that he can't find his friend Iarno Albrek, another member of the Bastion he was supposed to meet in Phandalin. Would the heroes please keep a lookout for him?

The party interrogates the Redbrand (who is named Hugo) and discover that the gang's boss (a wizard known as The Glasstaff) is working for a mysterious figure known as the Devil Spider. They have a hideout in the basement of the ruins of Tresender Manor. There is a secret entrance to the basement in the woods.

During the interrogation, Vandalar steps out to get food. While in the streets, she sees a group of six Redbrands heading towards the town hall. She runs back to warn the rest of the team. The Redbrands (led by a man named Jasper) line up in the street outside the town hall and call out the heroes in classic Western fashion.

A fight erupts! Digby's sleep spell takes out Jasper. Roanvine and Kokiri pepper the bandits with arrows. Bramble sneaks out and around, shanking bandits with sneak attacks, using her innate illusion power to make Batman-esque smoke clouds to help make Hide actions. Vandalar and Skeld bash villains with melee attacks and keep their friends up with healing magic. When the dust clears, the bad guys are all dead. The villagers are elated, but justifiably concerned about Redbrand retaliation.

As the heroes loot the Redbrand bodies, Sister Graelle, the priestess at the local shrine of Chalice (goddess of healing, suffering, and mercy) approaches them. She laments that such violence has come to her town, but heals the heroes' wounds regardless. The good sister also gives last rights over the dead Redbrands, praying they will find redemption in the afterworld.

Sister Graelle is a member of the Tome and Compass society, a organization of explorers. The PCs ask if she knows where Cragmaw Castle is. She doesn't, but she might be able to find out if they do her a favor. She wants the PCs to find the spirit of an ancient elf diviner named Agatha and ask her where the famous explorer Cutter Tork's lost map case is. She has an old silver comb of Agatha's they can use to bargain with the spirit. Another quest!

But first, the team decides they need to take out the Redbrands NOW! They have a plan. Vandalr and Skeld will round up a posse of villagers to cause a ruckus and distraction at the main entrance of the Redbrand's base. When the Redbrands come running out, the townsfolk will scatter and the cleric and paladin will engage the villains. Meanwhile, the other, sneakier heroes will come up through the secret entrance, hitting the Redbrand's from behind.

The heroes seem to think the Redbrands' base is one large chamber. It is not.

As the PCs leave with their posse, they are approached by Linene Greywind, the woman that runs Lionshield Coster. “You're taking these boys with you?” she says, indicating the posse. “These people are my friends. You're going to get them killed.” The heroes assure her that no harm will come to the villagers. Linene doesn't seem quite so sure.

Cut to the ruins of Tresender manor. Skeld, Vandalar and the posse bash on their shields and hoot and holler calling the Redbrands out. They do not come. The heroes send the villagers back to town with booze money and enter the basement themselves. In the cellar, they are confronted by a trio of Redbrands trying to sneak up on them. It's a tense fight in a crowded area, but between the dragonborn's breath attack and Skeld's magic they are able to take out the bad guys.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hideout, near the secret entrance, Bramble, Digby, Kokiri, and Roanvine encounter a strange, one-eyed monster crawling out of a misty, cold chasm. The thing cackles and gambols about, speaking secrets about the characters that no one else should know.

“You! Your father wears the yellow robes!” it hisses into Digby's head, indicating his father's alliance with the Yellow Warlocks of K'Narth.

“Lost Princess!” it hisses at Bramble, indicating it knows about her past as an exiled noble.

Fed up, the PCs attack the monster (a Nothic, my favorite new monster). It blasts Digby with its entropic gaze, but the wizard-bard makes his save.

“The monster's eye flares with black-light energy, and your flesh doesn't rot from your bones!”
“I love it when that doesn't happen!”

The monster is killed in short order. Thanks to some secret passages that both Bramble and Skeld find, the two strike teams soon reunite.

Digby's Detect Magic spell indicates that the chasm has some weird low-level Necromatic magic. There's also the glow of something else magical glowing underneath one of the bridges spanning the chasm.

Lowering Bramble with a rope, they find a chest full of coins stashed in a cubby hole as well as a magical sword that Digby recognizes as Aces, the sword of Druuj the Slayer. Skeld claims the sword, hoping its dubious legacy won't offend Wotan.

As the session closes, the heroes lock themselves in a store room and take a short rest to regain some Hit Points and other resources.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Far Away Land RPG

As with a number of people in the RPG blogging community, Erik Tenkar's recent posts about the Far Away Land rpg by Dirk Stanley convinced me to buy the thing. My hardback copy of the Tome of Awesome came in the mail a week or so ago, and I was finally able to thoroughly absorb it this past weekend during my down-time at BASHcon (and there was a lot of down-time).
"More like RAAARR Away Land, amirite?"

I remember checking out the Far Away Land Kickstarter back when it was funding. I thought the  bright, simple art was charming and evocative and imaginative (it reminded my a lot of my friend +Leighton Connor's art. You should check it out!) I'm not sure why I didn't back it. I might just not have had the money at the time, or I might have been too distracted by Fate Accelerated to think about purchasing another game. I dunno.

But now I have the Tome of Awesome, which combines the Core Rules, Creatures Vol. I, Companion Rules, and Tales of Awesome. It's a whole lotta' book (270+ pages).

The game uses a pretty simple three-stat system with a d6 dice pool mechanic. Roll a few dice, take the highest and compare scores. Pretty simple, nothing too amazing, but functional. There are also simple rules for magic and gear. The Boons, Flaws, and Abilities make sure that each character, while numbers-lite, is distinctive. The game is designed to make characters quickly and get them out into the world, exploring and fighting monsters. I can get behind that.

And I can fit an entire character plus illustration on half a sheet of paper...
For me, though, the Tome really shines when it gets into the actual world of Far Away Land. It's a wonderful mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy in a world where humans are a newly arrived race. Hive-mind Lincoln clones, bear-riding nuns, immortal psychic snails, alien invaders, magical robots. It's all the best parts of Jack Kirby, Tom Scioli, and Adventure Time (so, yeah, Jack Kirby).

There are evil giant robots called Ten-By-Ten-Men. TEN-BY-TEN-MEN!!!

The book details some nifty group world-building mini-game, but also includes a decent gazetteer of many unique places in Far Away Land. There are a lot of hex maps with big unexplored areas and evocatively-named mystery places to tantalize the GM's imagination.

Far Away Land delights me. I think it will work well with some of my Skype games when I want to play some gonzo fantasy but don't want to deal with all the details or "baggage" of D&D.

Also, the game seems nicely hackable. I am fascinated with the idea of using Far Away Land for Carcosa.

Let me tell you what really sold me on this game, though. It's Dirk Stanley's amazing semi-animated shorts for Far Away Land. My favorite, Episode 5, details the Boom War. Check it out!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lost Mine of Phandelver, Session 1 [D&D 5th Ed Actual Play]

A few weeks ago my home group started out new Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition campaign, using The Lost Mine of Phandever adventure from the starter set. It went great. I tweaked names, settings, factions, and props to better suit my campaign, but there's still plenty of spoilers for that adventure to be found below. 

Player Characters:
Bramble (Green Gnome Rogue/Charlatan)
Kokiri aka “Cookie” (Wood Elf Rogue/Sailor)
Atticus Digby (Half-Wyrd-Elf Wizard/Noble)
Roanivy (Human Ranger/Outlander)

Absent Characters
Vandalar (Dragonborn Paladin/Noble)
Skeld (Hill Dwarf Cleric/Sage)

The PCs are all new members of The House of Hrothgar (also called the Hrothgarem) with the rank of “Unblooded.” Hrothgar is a deified mortal hero from Time of Old—a slayer of monsters, defender of the weak, and liberator of the oppressed. The House of Hrothgar is an organization committed to ideals of Hrothgar. During the Nights of Fire, the House of Hrothgar was all but wiped out. Most Hrothgarem are now either old men or inexperienced adventurers. That's our team.

Vandalar and Skeld's players weren't able to make the first session, due to an unfortunate snow storm. We decided that their characters, too, were stuck in a blizzard (unusual for late-summer in the Marchlands.)

I gave each character a couple of rumors to help get them involved in the adventure and setting. This turned out pretty well.

Our heroes start in the city of Horizon in the Sundered Shield tavern. The master of the local branch of the Hrothgarem, Sondhiem Stonearm (an old dwarf with a rune-encrusted arm of living stone), has given them their first assignment. They are to assist the dwarf Gundren Rockseeker and his human associate, Sildar Hall, by escorting a wagon-load of supplies to the struggling mining town of Phandalin.

Gundren is short, even for a dwarf, with a great big hat and a massive red beard that hangs past his knees. Pretty much only his beady eyes and broad nose are visible on his face. Gundren covers their bar tab for the day and agrees to provide the party with a few healing potions, too.

Sildar is a lanky, bald man in his mid-50s with a massive handlebar mustache. He's a member of the Bastion (an organization dedicated to keeping the Marchalnds free of foreign influence). His chainmail is old but well-kept, and he carries a fine sword whose hilt bears the black bird symbol of Lord Rook (ruler of Horizon).

Gundren and Sildar head out for Phandalin that afternoon “to take care of business.” The PCs' wagon will be ready in the morning. They will pick it up at Runcible Hawk's General Sundries. They have a day and night to kill.

As a green gnome, Bramble can talk to small animals. She decides to spend some time talking to cats and recruiting them to the team. She finds two grubby alley cats living in an old storm drain—a scrawny gray thing named Mouser and a big fat orange cat named Fafhrd. She convinces them to leave the city with her “to go on an adventure. She has to take Mouser and Fafhrd's box of “cat junk” (old fish heads, bits of shiny foil, and unidentifiable clumps of fur and filth) with them. They are horrible, disgusting animals.

One of Digby's rumors mentioned the abandoned village of Thundertree and its infestation of undead. The wizard was able to sweet-talk the Horizon branch of the Compass and Tome society into letting him look at their maps until he finds the location of the old town.

With out paladin and cleric stuck in a blizzard, the party decides they needed some NPC back up. They convince Stonearm to assign them another unblooded Hrothgarem. Peitor “my friends call me Pete” Rabbitslayer, dual short-sword wielding halfling warrior, joins the team.

Pete is a curly-headed halfling with a face full of freckles and an upbeat “golly gee-wiz, buddy, I sure am glad to meet you guys!” attitude. And here is where I fall in love with 5th Edition as a DM. I am able to stat up Pete in about 30 seconds. +2 mod from Dex. +1 from Con. Fighter, two shortswords, scale mail, folk hero, DONE!

The next morning, the team, their new cats, and  their NPC buddy head out of town, traveling south along the Old Warrior Road. A couple days pass and they turn East onto the Three Boar Trail. They soon encounter the remains of Sildar and Gundren's horses, peppered with arrows. Before Bramble has a chance to talk to the carrion crows, they are attacked by Goblins!

Digby's glowing Mage Armor spell marks him as a spellcaster, and the goblin archers target him. The young wizard goes down with the first hit. A lucky 20 on his death save lets him instantly stabilize. Someone pours a healing potion down his gullet, and he's soon back into action.

The rogues lead one of the melee goblins into a sneak attack on the other side of the wagon, while Pete eviscerates another goblin with his short swords. Roanvine skewers an archer goblin with an  arrow. The once-again conscious Digby spots the second archer and zonks him with a Sleep spell. The team's first combat is tense, but quick, and now they have a captive goblin.

The team leaves the trussed up goblin with Pete and the wagon while they follow their trail back to their lair. They spot both the traps on the trail, but Roanvine accidentally trips the snare trap while he's trying to disarm it (natural 1) and has to cut himself down.

The goblins have made their lair in cave that turns out to be an ancient Dragonborn structure. The entrance is flanked by crumbling statues, and the once-precisely cut walls and floors have eroded to rubble. A wide stream passes down the main corridor. The whole structure appears to have once served as some sort of mill or refinery over a thousand years ago.

The PCs are about to enter their first dungeon. The cleric and paladin are absent, and the party left their NPC fighter back at the wagon. I give the players the option to quit for the night and wait until next session when their tank and healer are here, but they decide to press on. I am a bit concerned, because I have heard reports that this first dungeon can be a bit tough for new characters.

I needn't have worried. The two rogues, the wizard, and the ranger are all strained in Stealth. They go through the goblin lair like a black-ops team of Jason Bourne ninjas. They subdue the wolves with food and kind words, and split up the goblins and their bugbear boss using distractions and minor illusions. The party turns the goblins' clever “flood the chamber” traps against them, washing away opposition and weakening the bugbear enough to take him out with arrows and spells from the safety of the bridge above. Digby uses his familiar (Wyrd Owl Yankovik) to deliver touch spells with fly-by attacks. Brambles disguises herself as a goblin and lures monsters into kill-box ambushes. The dungeon assault is clever and exciting and successful. They have also managed to capture three more goblins.

The team rescues Sildar from the goblins. He tells them that the monsters have taken Gundren, his map, and all their gear (including Sildar's magic sword) to someplace called Cragmaw Castle. The team decides to take a long rest before continuing to Phandalin, so they use Digby's owl to send word to Pete to come to the caves with the first goblin captive. When Pete arrives, he is covered head-to-foot in blood and smiling widely.

“Golly guys, that goblin was sayin' just awful things about you. Also about your mother, Buddy. Also he tried to escape, yeah. So I had to kill him, y'know. Gosh I hope you aren't upset.”

The team is concerned about Pete.

The session ends, and everyone present hits level 2.

Lost Mines of Phandelver Rumors

At the start of our Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign, I gave each of the player characters a couple of rumors to help give them some buy-in to the adventure and the setting.

Rumors for Vandalr, a Dragonborn Paladin/Noble
A group of ruffians known as the Redbrands have been throwing their weight around Phandalin, bullying the villagers and making life miserable. Their leader is known as The Glasstaff.

The mayor of Phandalin, Harbin Wester, is a weak and pompous man, more interested in filling his belly and his coin purse than helping the town.

Rumors for Kokiri, an Elf Rogue/Sailor
A year ago, you were almost killed in a bar fight by a gang of thugs called the Redbrands. You've heard they've set up shop in Phandalin.

The mayor of Phandalin has put out a bounty on the orcs that have been prowling the mountains near Basilisk Spur. 100 gp goes to the party who takes care of the problem.

Rumors for Bramble, a Gnome Rogue/Charlatan
A book you swindled from a dwarf merchant in Horizon says that the ghost of an elvish diviner resides in the woods west of Conyberry. The book says if you gain her favor, she will answer any one question for you.

A shipment to Phandalin from the Lion Shield Coster (a merchant company) has been waylaid by unknown bandits. There is a standing reward of 50gp for the return of the stolen goods.

Rumors for Digby, a Half-Elf Wizard/Noble
Kost, a Yellow Warlock agent has been conducting an archeological dig the ruins of Old Owl Well, an ancient wizard's tower.

The town of Thundertree was destroyed by an earthquake almost 30 years ago. Deep fissures in the ground released alien vapors that caused the dead to rise.

Rumors for Roanvine, a human Ranger/Outlander
You have heard rumors that a green dragon has made its lair somewhere in Red Widow Woods, south of Horizon.

A unknown beast has been killing sheep and cattle in the hills south of Phandalin. It's only a matter of time before some poor villager falls victim to its depredations.

Rumors for Skeld, a Dwarf Cleric/Sag
Wotan granted you a vision. In your dreams, you saw a ruined dwarven keep overrun by goblins. The old altar of Wotan has been defiled and rededicated to unholy, pagan entities. Such an affront must not stand!

Before the town was destroyed by orcs three centuries ago, Phandalin was ruled by the Tresender family, widely rumored to be a bloodline of warlocks.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Aces" -- Legendary sword of Druuj the Slayer

I don't like giving out boring weapons in my D&D games. Even a "generic" Sword +1 in my games has a distinctive look and a bit of history to it. The newest Dungeon Master's Guide has some nice tables to help spark ideas, too, which I appreciate.

The players in my new D&D game recently found this sword in our "Lost Mines of Phandelver" game (replacing Talon in the Redbrand hideout).

This longsword grants its wielder +1 to hit and damage rolls and does not require attunement. The hilt bears a large spade symbol (as in a deck of cards) and the crossguards are made of horn. The heavy, serrated blade is made of dark, meteoric iron. The grip is wrapped in strange black leather, and the pommel ends in a wicked spike.

The mighty warrior Druuj the Slayer wielded Aces in Times of Old. Druuj came out of the North from unknown lands. Neither wholly good or wholly evil, Druuj worshiped strange, foreign gods and slew both men and monsters. According to legend, Aces sings alien war hymns in the heat of battle.

Aces was inspired by another magic sword I saw on some Tunnels & Trolls website years ago. I wish I could remember which one. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Girallon [5th Edition D&D Monster]

I find the lack of four-armed apes in the Monster Manual disturbing, so I took matters into my own hands. Using the rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide to figure out the Challenge level of this guy wound up being a lot easier in practice than I thought it would be.

Large Monstrosity, unaligned

AC: 14 (natural armor + DEX)
HP: 65 (8d10+21)
Speed: 40’, Climb 40’

STR: 18 (+4), DEX: 14 (+2), CON: 16 (+3), INT: 6 (-2), WIS: 12 (+1), CHA: 7 (-2)

Skills: Athletics +6, Perception +3
Senses: Darkvision, Passive Perception: 13
Languages: -
Challenge: 3 (700xp)

Multiattack: The girallon makes four fist attacks or two rock attacks

Fist, Melee weapon attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target. Hit: 8 (1d8+4) bludgeoning damage.

Rock, Ranged weapon attack: +6 to hit, range 35/70 feet, one target. Hit: 10 (1d12+4) bludgeoning damage.

Grab: A target hit by two fist attacks in one turn is grappled and must make a STR saving throw (DC: 14) or also become restrained. A grabbed character can use their action each round to make another STR save (DC: 14) to break free. While grabbing a target, the girallon loses two of its fist attacks.