Thursday, March 12, 2015

Phandelver Session 3 (Plus some praise for combat) -- [D&D 5th Ed Actual Play]

The session report below was written quickly and poorly, with bad sentence structure and wonky spelling. It's not glittering prose, but I think it does a decent job of hitting the important points of the session.

Before we get to the recap, though, I want to comment on how fun D&D 5th Edition combat has turned out to be. On my side, monsters have been easy to run. Each monster or NPC has a couple of tricks that make them interesting (two attacks per round for Redbrands, or the goblins' attack-and-hode routine, Bugbears' extra damage, etc.) but remain simple enough that I, the DM, can focus on creating an evocative combat environment. Thanks to the whole “bonded accuracy” thing with 5th Edition, monsters and PCs both hit a lot, keeping fights tense and exciting.

On the other side of the screen, my players are good at using tactics in combat without turning D&D into a “tactical” game. The party has turned into a very effective SWAT team. The rogues and ranger use their stealth skills to slip into the shadows, where the rogues can use their powerful sneak attacks to pump out a lot of damage in the first round. The war-cleric and paladin rush into combat and draw enemy fire--not by using any special “draw aggro” power, but through pure roleplaying. “Raar raar raar! I'm a vicious iron-clad dwarf IN YOUR FACE swinging a howling sword at your boinloins! COME AT ME, YO!” With the “tanks” in the middle of the fight, the rogues can continue to use their sneak ranged attacks against any monster within arm's length of their armored allies. Meanwhile, the wizard directs his owl familiar to swoop in, use the “help” action, then fly away safely using it's “flyby” ability. This gives the next hero to attack the distracted monster advantage on their roll.

It's cool to see these tactics work even though we only use maps and minis about 50% of the time. I can't wait to come up with some scenarios that monkey-wrench this routine.

Now, onto the session report...

Our Heroes:
Bramble (Green Gnome Rogue/Charlatan)
Kokiri aka “Cookie” (Wood Elf Rogue/Sailor)
Atticus Digby (Half-Wyrd-Elf Bard/Wizard/Noble)
Roanvine (Human Ranger/Outlander)
Skeld (Hill Dwarf Cleric/Sage)

Absent Heroes:
Vandalar (Dragonborn Paladin/Noble)

NPC Buddies
Pietor “Pete” Rabbitslayer (Halfling fighter, in town guarding prisoners)

The heroes continue their assault on the Redbrand hideout. Vandalar's player couldn't make it, so we deiced that the paladin went back into to town to make sure the civilian posse got home okay. We assume she got distracted helping an old lady carry groceries or helping a cat out of a tree—y'know, paladin stuff.

Having already discovered a couple of secret passages in the bandits' base, the team investigates the Redbrand's workshop for hidden doors and finds two. Bramble sets up some bell alarms near one door, and the party continues down the other.

This passage turns out to be the Glasstaff's secret escape route. The heroes stumble into the evil wizard's bedroom, startling the Glasstaff as he sits at his desk. The team is shocked to realize that the infamous Glasstaff exactly matches the description of Sildar Hall's missing friend Iarno Albrek! Wasting no time, the team attacks quickly, beating the wizard into unconsciousness before he has a chance to cast a single spell.

The heroes roll the wizard in a curtain and tie him to the bed then search the room. Digby claims the wizard's Staff of Defense for himself while Skeld searches his desk. Among the wizard's papers, Skeld finds a letter to Albrek from the Devil Spider!
For any letters or notes the PCs find, I try and make handouts like this.
Bramble peeks under the bed and spots the wizard's rat familiar. She tries to talk to it, but the fiendish rodent tells the gnome to “Fuck off and die!” then scampers away through a crack in the wall. Digby uses Mending cantrips to seal all the rat holes he can find.

The Glasstaff's laboratory is in the adjoining room. Along with the wizard's alchemical gear, they discover his spell books and the journal of a dwarven adventurer, Urmon Fellhammer, that describes the history of the Phandelver Pact and the legendary Spellforge.

Fellhammer was a paladin on a personal crusade against the vampire Xyxor. While in Uruth, he heard stories of the mace, Lightbringer. This magical weapon was commissioned centuries ago by priests of Brahma but was lost when Wave Echo Cave and the Spellforge were destroyed. He set out to find Lightbringer with his companions—Jase Gumbleputty (a gnomish ranger and marksman) and Bolinda Plum (a human wizard).

Fellhammer's last entry indicates that his party intended to consult the “Ghost Witch of The Woods” for information.

While the team is busy looting the wizard's room, there's a sudden knock on the door. “Boss!” shouts a rough, thuggish voice, “There's something weird going on. You'd better come out for a moment!” The Redbrands must have found all the iron spikes the team has been leaving in their doors.

The heroes rush the door and beat the bandit into submission. Down the hall, they can hear the telltale sounds of men putting on armor and readying weapons. The team is once again on the move, readily falling into the commando-like tactics that have served them so well. The two rogues and the ranger slip into the shadows with their formidable stealth skills. Skeld kicks in the door to the next room, surprising the four Redbrands inside. The fierce, mail-clad, sword-swinging dwarf draws the badguys' attention while the rogues and ranger take them out with sneak attacks. Digby's owl familiar swoops in to distract enemies with its “flyby” ability—moving in, making “help” actions, then flying away. The Redbrands lie dead or unconscious before they can mount an effective counter-attack.

When the heroes return the Glasstaff's room with three more hog-tied prisoners, they find the wizard's familiar (who had slipped under the door) trying to chew through its master's bonds. Digby's Chill Touch spell quickly dispatches the fiendish rat.

Lego heroes against lead villains!
Continuing through the hideout, the party hears several rough, brutal goblinish voices and one squeaky, whiny goblinish voice. Taking up familiar positions, the party approaches the room. Bramble tests the door to see if it is locked, but botches her Stealth roll. The rattling door handle causes the voices beyond to pause for a moment. Wasting no time, Skeld tries to kick in the door... and rolls a 1. The door holds, and the voices inside fall eerily silent. Sighing in resignation, Skeld opens the door via the handle and is (not very) surprised to find a massive bugbear waiting for him, filling the entire door frame.

The battle begins! Our heroes focus fire and take out the first monster as they rush into the room. They spot a second bugbear, lurking in the shadows near a bed, while a scrawny, terrified goblin watches form the far side of the room and faints dead away. The party engages the second bugbear and are quite shocked when a third bugbear (who got a 20 on his Stealth roll) steps out from the shadows and drops Roanvine the ranger with a single sneak attack. Things are desperate, as the giant shaggy goblinoid has bypassed the designated “tank” and is among the much squishier rogues and bard. Kokiri bravely lunges at the bugbear and wounds the monster deeply but not fatally. The bugbear swings it's great morning star around and slams the elfin rogue, dropping her to 0 hp. Kokiri slams against the wall and slides down to the floor, leaving a smear of blood behind. With two PCs down and bleeding out in as many rounds, the fight turns tense. Skeld slays the Bugbear he was fighting with a natural 20, and Aces, the sword of Druuj the Slayer, starts wailing alien war hymns (which sound a lot like Motorhead). Finally, with a combination of spells and swords, the third Bugbear goes down. Healing potions revive the unconscious heroes. The team is glad they convinced Gundren Rockseeker to throw some potions in with their payment.

When the goblin (whose name is Droop) revives from his faint, he freaks out at the sight of Digby. “Oh please, most powerful wizard, do not put Droop to sleep again. You spared Droop's life once, spare it once more!”

Digby is confused. “Do I recognize this goblin?” He makes an Intelligence check, and rolls a 2. All goblins look the same to him. “When did I cast a spell on you?” the bard-wizard asks.

“On the trail, when we attacked your wagon. You killed my friends but spared me. You left me tied up with the halfling.”

A look of shock crosses Digby's face. “You're supposed to be dead!”

The goblin wails in fright once more, but the party manages to get the whole story out of the terrified goblin with a couple of Charisma rolls and a well-placed Friends spell.

When the party was exploring the lair of the Cragmaw goblins a couple of days ago, they left their goblin captive (this very goblin, Droop) under the watch of their halfling hireling, Pete. A couple of hours after the party left, “the clayskin came and killed the halfling. It took his shape, and I was able to escape. I ran here, where the Devil Spider's human minions live.”

Roanvine the ranger specializes in monstrosities and recognizes the creature the goblin is describing—a doppleganger. The party realizes that they have left a murderous monster in town, watching their prisoners.

The heroes want to get back to town quickly, but are afraid of leaving the Redbrand's base unexplored. They quickly investigate the couple of rooms they had skipped over. After battling a handful of skeletons and some Redbrand guards, they rescue a captured townswoman and her two children. They have been beaten a bit but don't seem too badly injured. They are, however, quite eager to get back home and bury their father, who was murdered by the Redbrands.

The session ends with our heroes, their prisoners, and rescued captives returning to town, speculating on what the dopple-Pete-ganger has been doing in their absence.  

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