Friday, January 28, 2011

harpoons, rat swarms, and clown cars (kots, session 3)

To the north, they can hear the excited babble of goblin voices beyond the door. Every few seconds, a pained scream sets the adventurers’ nerves on edge. Two figures detach themselves from the group and creep down the dimly lit hall toward the door. Stopping before the door, one figure reaches out and oh-so-carefully tries to turn the handle. Locked. The two figures creep back down the dimly lit hall and rejoin the group.

“It’s locked. One of you rogues see if you can unlock it.”

“We don’t have any rogues in the party.”

“What?!? I thought we had two rogues at the start of the adventure!”

Greth suddenly finds something interesting on the ceiling and refuses to meet anyone’s eye. Sulader suddenly finds something just as interesting on the handle of his war pick and also refuses to meet anyone’s eye.

“We did. Their players switched characters, though, so now we’re exploring a dungeon without a rogue in the party.”

“Well, that’s just great.”

“Let’s just have the minotaur break down the door.”

“My name is Harold.”

“Yeah! Okay, everybody position yourselves behind the minotaur. He’s gonna bust down the door, so ready an action if you want to.”

“My name is Harold. Look, if we’re just going to bust down the door anyway, why don’t we try knocking on it first? Maybe someone will actually open it.”

Six sets of eyes swivel toward the minotaur… uh, I mean, toward Harold. You can see them trying to come to grips with this radical suggestion. Knock… on… the… door. Brilliant!
* * * * *
For our third session of Keep on the Shadowfell, there was once again some minor reshuffling of PCs. Sardalf (razorclaw shifter rogue) was replaced by a paladin named Sulader. So the adventuring party’s current roster is as follows…
  • Caliban (deva avenger)

  • Greth (gitzerai hunter/seeker hybrid)

  • Harold (minotaur great weapon fighter)

  • Korlon (half-elf warlock)

  • Sulader (goliath paladin of the Raven Queen)

  • Tarionsus (tiefling warlord)

  • Tosdar Strudil (dwarf battle cleric)
Welcome to the Dungeon!

After trekking up a winding road from Winterhaven and arriving at the ancient keep, the heroes saw that someone had clearly tampered with the ruins. In the center of the debris, stone blocks and timbers had been gathered off to one side. Someone had cleared a path through the rubble and pulled aside the wreckage to reveal a stone staircase.

Caliban and Greth led the party down the stairs leading into the dungeon. The flicker of torchlight spilled from a room at the bottom of the stairs. Moving a bit farther down the stairs, the avenger and ranger/seeker saw two short, gangly humanoids in the room. One was a run-of-the-mill goblin warrior, but the other goblin had what looked for all the world like a harpoon. Ahoy there, matey! The harpoon was attached to a spool of wire or rope that lay next to the goblin picador’s feet.

Since Greth and Caliban sneakily snuck down the stairs without being noticed, they started off combat with a surprise round (which occurs if any creatures are caught completely off guard at the start of a battle). Caliban charged the warrior, and Greth used twin strike on the picador. Twin Strike is pretty handy. It allows you two attacks and targets either one or two creatures. Like I said, pretty handy.

As far as I can tell from my notes, Caliban was the only PC to be hit with a harpoon during this encounter. He was also the only character to go down (just unconscious and dying, not dead-dead) during the fight. And he also went down (would’ve been dead-dead but for the grace of the DM) in the session’s second encounter. When he's conscious, the avenger has a pretty nifty encounter power called Oath of Enmity. When Caliban uses it to make a melee attack against a target and the target is the only enemy adjacent to him, he makes two attack rolls and can use either result. The effect lasts until the end of the encounter or until the target drops to 0 hit points, at which point he regains the use of the power. Like I said, pretty nifty.

Caliban took the harpoon in Round #1, which was also when Sulader lumbered onto the scene for the first time and promptly fell into a pit trap where a rat swarm attacked him. By the time the goliath managed to extricate himself from the trap, he was bloodied. The swarm followed him up and out of the pit. The rats then spent a few rounds tormenting Korlon. By the end of the fight, Greth, Korlon, Harold, Sulader, Tar, and Tosdar were all engaged with the freaking rat swarm. Greth got in the last hit, at which point a lone rat still managed to evade the heroes and scuttle back down into the pit. Geez.

Before that happened, there were still goblins that needed slaying. I must say, though, that none of them were as tough as that freaking rat swarm. One interesting moment was provided by a wounded goblin sniper who backed up against a door in the room to the south and yelled, “Don’t come closer or I’ll open the door!” Okay, buddy, calm down. Written in goblin on the door were the words, “BAD! DEAD!” The sniper ended up opening the “BAD! DEAD!” door and sprinting down some stairs. We let him go and used a dead picador’s harpoon to secure the door while we moved on.

Torture Chamber

After the scene found at the top of the post, when we realized that being a rogue-less adventuring party had its drawbacks, Sulader went up and knocked on the door while Harold prepared to charge whatever opened it. At the sound of the knock, someone yelled, “Not now! We’re working over Splug!” The paladin knocked again while Korlon called out in goblin, “Intruders! Help!”

And the door opened.

And one very surprised goblin found a goliath and a minotaur all up in his grill, as the kids say nowadays. The ill-fated goblin doorkeeper screamed like a little girl and then went down like a sack of potatoes as Sulader and Harold moved into the torture chamber. They saw a goblin tied up on a table that was covered with implements of torture. The goblin squealed happily, “Yes, yes! You’ve come to rescue Splug! You are Splug’s heroes!”

Whatever, dude.

The adventurers were more concerned with a seriously ripped hobgoblin wearing a black executioner’s hood who started to move around the table toward them. From behind another table in the room, goblin after goblin started popping out until we thought that the table must be like one of those clown cars at the circus. (You know, when an implausibly large number of clowns emerge from a comically small car, to humorous effect. Okay, it’s not as funny when you have to explain it.) One of the goblins who popped out from behind the clown car table was a hexer. It would turn out to be quite aggravating. Its Stinging Hex attack caused Tar no end of problems.

Except for Caliban being cut down, this actually wasn’t a very tough fight… just a long one. At least Splug was cheering us on the entire time. I was disappointed when Tosdar used an attack called Wrathful Thunder and missed with it. I think any attack with such a cool name should automatically hit. “I smite thee with Wrathful Thunder, foul creature!”

So anyway, when the fight was finally over, we questioned Splug and found out a lot of interesting stuff from him. Most of which we were pretty sure was crap, but we thought he might be useful later on and so we didn’t kill him. In fact, we took Splug with us as we exited the dungeon. After the two encounters, some of us were banged up enough that we decided an extended rest was in order. As we were setting up camp for the night, a small bird flew around our heads, twittering urgently, and then settled on a tree branch. We noticed it had a note attached to its leg. The note was from Valthrun and read: “It is worse than I suspected. You should take the heart to Sunderpeak Temple and let the Sentinels of Bahamut dispose of it.” Back in Winterhaven, we had seen the temple on Valthrun’s map and knew that it was farther up in the Cairngorm Peaks, but on the same road as the keep. Before assigning watches and turning in for the night, we decided we’d head for Sunderpeak Temple in the morning, so that we could turn the shadow dragon heart over to the Sentinels and not have to worry about carrying it back into the keep.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"... and hell's comin' with us! you hear?" (kots, session 2... part the second)

The apparition gestured toward Caliban with a skull-capped rod and dreadful, black claws erupted out of the earth at the avenger’s feet, pinning him in their deadly grasp. Enraged by Kalarel’s mocking taunt and by the attack against his friend, Harold rushed forward, picked up the large barrel holding the (badly hidden) guard drake, and heaved it at the specter floating high above the adventurers’ heads. Combat around the site came to a halt as every eye watched the barrel carve a graceful arc through the air. The barrel and squealing drake passed through the apparition and then crashed down on the rocky ground at the edge of the burial site. After a moment of stunned silence, wooden staves flew in every direction as the furious dragon-like beast freed itself from the battered remains of the barrel. It was clearly not amused at being used as a projectile.

* * * * *

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

Upon returning to Winterhaven and sharing the news of their victory at the kobold lair, the heroes were treated like rock stars. Lord Padraig said that a feast in their honor would be held that night. After getting cleaned up at Wrafton’s Inn, the adventurers still had some time to kill before the feast, so they made their way to Valthrun’s Tower. They told the old sage about the battle against Irontooth and the kobolds. When they mentioned Kalarel, Orcus, and a rift, Valthrun’s expression grew troubled. He said he needed to do a bit of research in his library, but asked the heroes to return later that night, after the feast.

The feast in their honor was a rollicking, joyful affair and a good time was had by all. By all, that is, except for a sullen dwarf who looked as if he were drinking to drown some sorrow rather than to celebrate a great victory. Sure enough, the drunken dwarf— who introduced himself as Douven Staul— was despairing over the fact that some gnomes had ousted him from a dragon burial site where he had been searching for the fallen beast’s treasure hoard. The dwarf said he’d found the dragon’s bones, but they evaporated into thin air when exposed to sunlight. The gnomes had been helping with the dig and seemed friendly enough, but they suddenly became extremely unpleasant and drove Douven away just as he started to uncover something right about where the dragon’s heart would’ve been.

Having heard of their success against the kobolds, the dwarf offered the adventurers a job. He wanted them to help him reclaim the dragon burial site from the dastardly gnomes and the human rabble they had working for them. The heroes told Douven that they’d consider his offer and get back to him with their answer.

After the feast wound down, the adventurers went to talk to Valthrun again. The old sage’s expression was still troubled as he told them that the rift the fanatical kobold mentioned could only be the one located below Shadowfell Keep. The keep, constructed during the time of the ancient Nerathi Empire, was built to guard a rift to the Shadowfell that lay in an underground cavern in the mountains north of Winterhaven. The rift had been magically sealed, Valthrun said, but then years later, some mysterious tragedy had struck the keep’s garrison and the fortress had been allowed to fall into ruin. Local legend said the ruined keep was haunted. The adventurers felt as if a chill wind blew through the room when Valthrun told them his research indicated the rift was thought to be connected to a vile sanctuary of Orcus in the Shadowfell. The old sage surmised that this ‘Kalarel’ must be a death priest of Orcus who was attempting to collapse the seal and open the rift.

Knowing that the bones of a shadow dragon will dissolve when exposed to sunlight, the heroes shared Douven Staul’s story with Valthrun. The old sage was alarmed to hear that the dragon’s heart had apparently been discovered at the burial site. The shadow dragon heart, he said, could be used as a powerful component in a ritual… just the kind of magical ritual that was designed to open a rift to a sanctuary of Orcus in the Shadowfell. Valthrun grew silent as he collected his thoughts, then he told the adventurers that he was certain all of their discoveries so far had been orchestrated by the Raven Queen. The old sage said he was sure the Raven Queen, no friend of Orcus’, wanted the party to stop Kalarel’s attempt to open the shadow rift.

Uhhhh, okay.

Before turning in for the night, the heroes found Douven and told him they’d gladly accept his job offer. The hard-drinking dwarf thanked them and said he’d lead them to the site in the morning.

Despite waking late the next morning, the adventurers were tired and on edge. Talking it over, they discovered that they’d all had disturbing dreams during the night. Looking around, they noticed that the inn’s other patrons also appeared haggard and careworn, as if everyone in town had experienced a restless night’s sleep. The party feared that the collective nightmares were a sign the seal on the rift below Shadowfell Keep was beginning to fail.

Finding Douven to be terribly hung-over, the heroes rustled up a small cart for the dwarf to ride in and then they all set out for the dragon burial site.

The Dragon Burial Site

The fight at the burial site was a confused affair with vicious guard drakes darting around, dastardly gnomes turning invisible at inopportune times, clueless human rabble the heroes were reluctant to kill, and— to top it all off— an appearance by a malevolent, ghostly apparition.

When the hovering apparition became recognizable as a death priest of Orcus, Caliban cried out a challenge: “If you’re Kalarel, know that we’re coming for you!”

(The avenger gets credit for some inspiring trash-talk, but if I were the DM, I would’ve given him +2 to his next attack roll if he just would’ve added, “… and hell’s comin’ with us! You hear?”)

The specter, floating a good fifteen feet above the heroes’ heads, sneered, “Of course I’m Kalarel, and you pathetic fools will soon join my army of undead!” Right back atcha, Caliban.

When the apparition came down to nearly ground level so that it could pound on Caliban with its mace-like rod, the rest of the party was finally able to close with it and get in some telling blows. Harold even used Goring Charge on it, which resulted in the unusual sight of a spectral apparition floating five feet off the ground being knocked prone by a charging minotaur.

After the specter had finally taken enough punishment and disappeared, the last surviving gnome reappeared and attempted to flee with a box. Tar and Harold, in a heartstopping chase up and out of the dig site, only just managed to catch the gnome and slay it before it could escape. Opening the box, they found a pulsing, black, foul-smelling, amorphous lump. Hello, shadow dragon heart.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"someone needs to coup de grace his butt" (kots, session 2... part the first)

Our second session of Keep on the Shadowfell saw some minor reshuffling within the party as Arak of the Shadows faded away into the night, to be replaced by Greth (githzerai ranger/seeker hybrid). A new player also joined us, bringing a deva avenger named Caliban to the party. The more the merrier, I always say.

After defeating the second kobold ambush, the heroes rested and healed up at a nearby farmstead. Word of the group’s mission spread through the area like wildfire and before long, visitors from other farms arrived to talk with the adventurers. All of the farmers in the area were afraid that the increasingly destructive kobold attacks would disrupt the upcoming harvest, so the party received many helpful tips concerning the location of the hidden kobold lair.

Outside the Kobold Lair

Following up on one especially promising clue, the heroes found themselves moving through a glade of trees bordering a shallow river. Sardalf and Caliban stealthily led the way as the roaring of a waterfall somewhere ahead helped to mask the sound of their movement. The rogue and avenger froze in their tracks as several kobolds became visible through the trees. Some of the savage creatures were fishing in the stream while another sharpened his weapon near a sacred circle where magic runes glowed on the ground. Caliban recognized the spot as an old druid circle.

As the rogue and avenger manuevered closer to the kobolds, one of the creatures spotted them and sounded the alarm. Suddenly hearing a growing tumult, the rest of the heroes quickly moved up to support Caliban and Sardalf. As battle was joined in the area around the druid circle, Sardalf split the party by crossing over to the other side of the river. As several kobolds on that side of the battlefield moved to attack the reckless rogue, Greth and Tosdar also crossed over the river to try and support him.

I guess no one read my last post, huh?


Back at the druid circle, Caliban, Harold, Korlon, and Tar were locked in combat with a particularly feisty kobold warden. While they were trying to take him down, a slinger also appeared, taking up position beside the cliffside waterfall and pelting the heroes from afar. Choosing the biggest target in sight, the slinger took aim at the minotaur and hit Harold with a stinkpot, which ticked him off quite a bit. A moment later, the minotaur became even more irritated as he was struck with a firepot and burst into flame (again!).

The kobolds outside the lair put up a stiff fight, but as the tide of battle began to turn in the heroes’ favor, Tar heard one of the wardens shout, “Fall back to the cave!” (in draconic) and the remaining reptilian savages began to retreat. The adventurers closely pursued the fleeing kobolds, cutting several down. They also saw that a couple of the varmints escaped by running through cleverly camouflaged holes in the cliffside. While investigating these cave entrances, the heroes also discovered a large opening behind the waterfall.

After taking a short rest to bandage their wounds (helped by the healing properties found inside the druid circle) and ready themselves for the fight inside the kobold lair, the adventurers boldly advanced through the waterfall entrance in line abreast.

Inside the Kobold Lair

Upon entering the cave, the party heard scurrying and urgent whispers echoing throughout the torchlit lair. As the adventurers moved forward cautiously, the kobolds stayed out of sight, hidden away in the shadows. When the heroes had advanced a little way into the cave , the kobolds came swarming out of their hiding places, attacking the party from every side. Sardalf was immediately wounded very badly. As the rogue attempted to fall back, the rest of the party closed with a vicious dragonshield who was making a nuisance of himself. Tosdar finally took out the ’shield, but then he and Sardalf triggered a hidden pit trap. Luckily, both of them managed to avoid falling into the trap.

As kobold tunnelers and pikers continued to assault the party, a shifty slinger popped out of a small opening in the cave wall and took aim at Harold. The kobold’s shot missed, but the minotaur— still annoyed at being hit by the stink- and firepots during the fight outside the lair— charged the slinger and cut it down. Harold had no sooner dropped the slinger than a burly, battle-scarred goblin appeared on the heroes’ flank. Kobolds scurried out of the goblin’s way, as if afraid to get too close. A great tattoo depicting a skeletal ram’s head marked the monster’s face. He wore a wolf fur cloak and a chain shirt, and he wielded a battleaxe in both hands. As it charged Greth, the goblin whooped with laughter and roared (in surprisingly good common), “You will all be a blood sacrifice to Orcus!”

Irontooth turned out to be quite the trash-talker. Sure, he could talk the talk, but could he walk the walk?

Well, he did smack the adventurers around pretty good with those two battleaxes. And the goblin’s kobold allies, especially an unpleasant wyrmpriest and a fanatical warden, kept flanking the adventurers when they tried to close with Irontooth. After the goblin went into some sort of blood crazed frenzy, Caliban was unconscious and dying, and Harold and Tosdar were one hit way from joining him. With things looking pretty grim for the good guys, Harold used Comeback Strike (2d12+5) to put the vicious brute on the ground. As Irontooth lay there, though, he was still kind of twitching and slobbering a bit, so Harold growled, “Someone needs to coup de grace his butt.” Tar was up next and without further ado, the tiefling took care of business, cleanly separating Irontooth’s head from his shoulders.

Upon Irontooth’s gruesome demise, most of the kobolds took off, escaping into small tunnels that were scattered around the cavern. The fanatical warden, however, stood his ground, raving about Orcus and declaring that if the adventurers killed him, Kalarel would see he was raised and then they’d be sorry. The adventurers captured the lunatic and attempted to interrogate him. He told them, “Kalarel will open the rift and a flood of undead will destroy all who oppose Orcus. Whaah, ha, ha, ha!” The deranged kobold kept going on about Orcus this and Kalarel that, getting more and more worked up… so eventually his head also somehow got separated from his body.

While collecting kobold heads (for the bounty) and searching the cave for loot, the heroes discussed the matter and agreed that with Irontooth dead-dead, the kobold tribe had suffered a crushing defeat and/or been freed from a hated overseer. Either way, the adventurers decided that they could return to town and tell Lord Padraig that the creatures no longer posed a threat to Winterhaven.

So to sum up, the battle at the kobold lair ended with the score being…

Our heroes: 1

Orcus-worshiping, trash-talking, snaggle-toothed goblins: 0
* * * * *

Saturday, January 15, 2011

never split the party

D&D Encounters Week 17: Monsters at the Door ended with a TPK for our DM. This is why they tell you not to split the party, boys and girls.

* * * * *
After slaying the black dragon, Vermastryx, the party safely returned to Restwell Keep. They met with Lord Drysdale to pass along all they’d learned of Benwick’s forces, then sought a much-needed rest. They were awakened the next morning by the trumpeting alarm of the imminent attack.

Outside the Great Hall, Lord Drysdale gave each of the heroes a battle horn, to mark them as having the authority to give orders to the keep’s other defenders. As Yulbraxis, Vermastryx’s brother, soared overhead, a page rushed up to the group, reporting that a large force of lizardfolk were assaulting the front gate with the aid of an immense behemoth. Drysdale charged the adventurers with repelling the attack on the gate, telling them to meet him in Fountain Square after the gate was secured. Without hesitation, the party rushed to the outer gatehouse.

The heroes quickly established a secure defensive position atop the wall and wasted no time in lowering the sturdy portcullis to reinforce the thick wooden gate. Within moments, a horde of lizardfolk warriors began to swarm up and over the fortress’ walls. At the same time, a huge, horned beast crashed through the wooden gate and thundered into the portcullis.

Despite the fact that every defender was needed atop the walls, the wizard chose that moment to abandon the party’s position and move down to the open ground just inside the battered gate. The other four heroes, along with the guards atop the walls, were hard pressed to beat back the lizardfolk attack. Just as the last of the brave guards was overwhelmed by the attackers, the behemoth finally managed to break through the portcullis. A number of lizardfolk warriors broke off their attack on the heroes atop the wall and swarmed down into the keep to join forces with the huge, horned beast and the fiendish mystic who was leading it through the destroyed gate. The wizard, facing this furious assault alone, was quickly cut down.

After finally managing to dispatch the last of the lizardfolk swarming up and over the outer wall, the remaining heroes left their position atop the gatehouse in an attempt to rescue the fallen wizard. Even though they had the best of intentions, abandoning the high ground proved to be a costly mistake. Once they were down on ground-level inside the keep, the adventurers eventually succumbed to the combined attacks of the mystic, behemoth, and lizardfolk warriors.

Total Party Kill.

As you can see from the note and question mark in my campaign journal (below), I wondered at the time why the wizard was abandoning our defensive position atop the wall and heading down into the keep by himself. It seemed like an ill-advised move since— in the face of an overwhelming assault— he was giving up the high ground and ignoring the teammates that he should’ve been working with. After the session was over, our DM said that he thought the turning point in the encounter came when the party was split by the wizard’s actions.

Hopefully Lord Drysdale was able to send additional soldiers to plug the gaping hole in the keep’s defenses that was caused by the party’s failure to secure the gate. We’ll find out next week if the debacle at the gate doomed the fortress or if victory can still be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

welcome to winterhaven! (kots, session 1)

The kobold slinger’s firepot shot burst on impact and Harold was instantly enveloped in flames. Incredibly, being on fire failed to slow down the hulking fighter’s thundering charge. He continued to plow through the thick foliage near the road, seeking to close with his foes. The sight of a huge, blazing minotaur waving an enormous greataxe was too much for the kobolds, though, and with shrieks of terror, the small creatures fled in every direction.

* * * * *
Despite a snowstorm and frigid temps, seven of us met at Stonebridge Games this past weekend and started our Keep on the Shadowfell campaign. Besides Harold, there was Arak of the Shadows (drow rogue), Korlon (half-elf warlock), Sardalf (razorclaw shifter), Tarionsus (tiefling warlord), and Tosdar Strudil (dwarf cleric). Scott (aka DiceWrangler) was our DM.

As the adventure began, the player characters found themselves traveling together on the old King’s Road, heading for the small, remote village of Winterhaven. Arak, Korlon, and Tar were heading for Winterhaven after hearing that some rich noble had recently offered a generous bounty on kobold heads. Sardalf and Tosdar were on the road because they’d been hired to deliver a heavy, sealed chest to Valthrun the Sage in Winterhaven. Harold had been tasked with investigating rumors of a death cult operating in or around the small village (see my last post, “Meet Harold the Minotaur”). The PCs had found themselves leaving Fallcrest at the same time and decided to band together since the old King’s Road winds through a dangerous wilderness where there’s safety in numbers.

While still some hours away from Winterhaven, the party was ambushed by kobolds. Not surprisingly, given that they’d never before fought together as allies, the small band of travelers had a difficult time coordinating their efforts in combat. The razorclaw shifter was unconscious and dying by the end of the encounter, but the rest of the group (including a flaming minotaur!) finally managed to defeat the ambush. They captured a badly wounded kobold dragonshield and it told them about a goblin overlord named Irontooth, whom the kobolds apparently despise. While stripping the prisoner of his armor, the adventurers found that he had a symbol of Tiamat crudely branded onto his chest. The drow, tiefling, and half-elf collected several kobold heads so they could claim the bounty for them, then— with one very frightened prisoner in tow— the party resumed their trek to Winterhaven.

“Welcome to Winterhaven!”

As the adventurers approached the stone walls of Winterhaven, they suddenly realized what an odd sight they would present to the rural villagers. After all, it probably wasn’t every day that a dwarf, a shifter, a half-elf, a drow, a tiefling, and a minotaur appeared before the gate with a bound, bloody kobold in tow. The two guards manning the outer gate did indeed seem astonished by the party’s composition, but they still waved the small band through and pointed them to Wrafton’s Inn.

Salvana Wrafton warmly welcomed the adventurers, although she wasn’t at all sure what to make of the minotaur. While the rest of the party relaxed in the alehouse’s spacious public room, Korlon and Sardalf (taking the kobold with them) headed for Valthrun’s tower to deliver the chest. The magician’s tower, a solidly-built five-story structure, is the highest building in Winterhaven and is rumored to be over 300 years old. As the shifter and half-elf knocked on the door, several villagers stopped to watch. Hardly waiting for the sound of their knocking to die away, the rogue proceeded to pick the door’s lock. Apparently not caring that his actions were plainly visible to any number of curious bystanders, he slipped into the tower. Finding that the bottom floor of the structure was being used as a storage room, he began to rifle through the boxes and chests that were scattered about. Despite the fact that he could now hear footsteps coming down the stairs that led to the tower’s upper levels, he broke into a chest that was a twin of the one he’d brought from Fallcrest. Incredibly, Valthrun seemed not at all put out to discover an intruder in his tower. Nor did any of the bystanders run to alert one of the town guards that a stranger was breaking into the sage’s residence. I guess they’re a pretty laid back bunch there in Winterhaven.

Meanwhile, back at the inn, Arak of the Shadows tried to strike up a conversation with Ninaran, a female elf who was quietly drinking by herself off in a corner. Finding his polite greetings firmly and rudely rebuffed by the surly huntress, the drow could only wonder at his ill-luck with the ladies. Shortly after Ninaran departed, the town’s lord— Padraig— arrived to sip some beer and rub elbows with the villagers who gather each evening to drink, gossip, sing, and play games of chance. Padraig was delighted to meet the adventurers and invited them to join him at his table. During the course of their conversation, they found out that Padraig hadn’t heard of Irontooth or any goblins in the vicinity, but recently something had been stirring up the area’s kobolds. He offered the adventurers a reward if they’ll clean out the kobold lair that’s rumored to be somewhere south of the village. The party accepted the commission and promised to start out the next day. Padraig was surprised to discover that the adventurers had brought in a live kobold and, despite the lateness of the hour, he immediately wanted to put the prisoner on display out in the market square. While villagers began to gather in the square to view and torment the kobold, the terrified prisoner began to babble in draconic, mumbling something about Orcus. Just as the adventurers began to question him more closely, an arrow shot out of the gathering darkness and killed the kobold. By the arrow’s fletching, Arak recognized it as belonging to Ninaran.

After spending a comfortable night at Wrafton’s Inn, the party prepared to set out in search of the kobold lair. Before they started out, though, Harold and Tosdar paid a visit to the village temple. While several deities are worshiped at the temple, it is formally dedicated to Avandra. The minotaur and dwarf questioned Sister Linora, the temple priestess, about any unusual or strange occurences in the area. She said that the kobold attacks had grown more frequent lately, but that nothing else out of the ordinary had happened. When they asked her directly about rumors of a death cult operating in the area, she passed off the idea as ridiculous, but Harold sensed she was holding something back. Politely leaving a small offering to Avandra, the adventurers took their leave of the halfling.

Leaving Winterhaven, the PCs headed out into the wilderness again. Several miles southwest of the village, while still in an area of scattered farmland and pasture, they suddenly heard a chicken squawking nearby, somewhere in the brush that bordered the road. When the squawking was abruptly cut off, as if something had wrung the bird’s neck, and was replaced with the sound of a creature moving quickly away through the thick foliage, the razorclaw shifter took off, hot on the trail of the mysterious chicken thief. After hesitating for a moment, Harold and Tar followed.

Sardalf ended up paying for his rashness by falling into a trap that had been cleverly hidden amongst the bushes. Extricating himself from the trap, the rogue rushed into a small clearing where he was promptly set upon by several kobold bandits. Picking up right where he left off in the last fight, the shifter spent most of the rest of this fight unconscious and dying. In fact, by the end of the encounter he was one failed saving throw away from being dead-dead.


The novice adventurers again neglected to coordinate their tactics, so this fight was a lot harder than it needed to be. The party was split up for most of the encounter, with three members fighting on the road while the other three (minus the downed rogue) rampaged around in the thick brush rooting out the creatures. As evidence of our bumbling strategy, by the end of battle the tiefling and drow had joined the shifter in taking a dirt nap.

When Harold finally managed to slay the pesky kobold wyrmpriest, the dying magic-user called out “Orcus take me!” in badly accented common. The adventurers who heard him got the distinct impression that the kobold was less than enthusiastic in this proclamation. When they stripped his corpse of its weapons and armor, they found he had a symbol of Tiamat branded onto his chest. Around his neck was an amulet, an obsidian dragon head with a crude symbol of Orcus scratched on the bottom of it. While searching the immediate vicinity for an escaped dragonshield, the adventurers discovered that it had bolted down the entrance to a compact tunnel. They wondered uneasily how many other hidden tunnels might criss-cross the area. Increasing the heroes’ unease was their certainty that this was no random ambush by the kobolds, but a cunning attack that had specifically targeted them. With the hunters having become the hunted, the group now had a very personal stake in the quest to dispense with the kobold threat once and for all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

meet harold the minotaur

Later today I’m all set to take part in the first session of a mini-campaign, Keep on the Shadowfell, that will be held at Stonebridge Games up in Longmont. After I decided that I wanted to play a minotaur fighter named Harold, I went ahead and geeked out by writing a short bio of my character. I looted quite a bit of material from an article in Dragon #369 by Robert J. Schwalb titled, “Playing Minotaurs.” The last paragraph is spun off of one of five story hooks that the DM gave us last week to help us place our characters into the adventure’s setting. The photo to the left is the mini I’ll be using to represent Harold during the campaign.

Rare is the minotaur who leaves his home to seek a life of adventure, but Harold is a good-hearted, young warrior who broke free from a clan overcome by demon worship. His clan collapsed into violence and depravity when cultists of the demon lord Baphomet secretly infiltrated the community. The wicked temptations planted by the cultists drove Clan Terios to embrace the dark impulses that tug at all minotaurs. Upon escaping, Harold vowed he’d fight evil wherever he found it, especially the corruption of Baphomet, the Horned King. Bound by conscience and honor, Harold has taken up allegiance to Pelor so that he won’t succumb to the demonic brutality that stains the souls of numerous minotaurs.

Like other brave minotaurs who have escaped the clutches of dread Baphomet, Harold suffers suspicion and hatred from other races. Despite his unimpeachable manners and quiet nature, he often cannot overcome the animosity that stems from not only his monstrous appearance but also from the widespread infamy of wicked minotaurs. Everyone knows that minotaurs embody the tension between civilization and savagery, and everyone has heard the hair-raising tales of minotaurs who have lost the fight with their conflicted nature.

Like all those of his kind, Harold’s appearance combines the features of human and bull, having the build and musculature of a hulking humanoid, but with the cloven hooves, bovine tail, and (their most distinctive feature of all) a bull’s head. He has dark brown fur and skin. At an imposing seven feet three inches tall, he towers over most of the other residents of the Nentir Vale. Harold wears a battered but well-maintained suit of scale armor and in battle he skillfully wields an enormous greataxe. All minotaurs take special pride in their horns, so it’s surprising to see that one of Harold’s horns has been broken off halfway down its length. Those who summon the courage to ask him about it will find that he refuses to talk about how his horn was broken.

Harold is currently making his way northwest along the King’s Road. Grundelmar, the dwarf priest who oversees a temple in Fallcrest dedicated to Pelor, requested he investigate rumors suggesting an “evil death cult” has been operating in and around the small, remote town of Winterhaven. If there is any truth to the rumors of a death cult, the zealous dwarf has tasked Harold with revealing the extent of the blasphemy and disrupting any nefarious schemes the cult may be involved in.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

we killt us a dragon

The five adventurers descended into the ruins, climbing quickly and quietly down a sturdy rope ladder. A dim green light greeted the small band of heroes as they entered a large chamber. From atop a damp ledge, they cautiously surveyed the area, taking in the features of the room, including a number of glowing crystals, pools of water fed by a subterranean stream, and a grisly collection of partially consumed humanoid corpses. The party decided to remain on the ledge while the druid’s animal companion, a large wolf, explored the grotto. Even though they expected to be confronted by the chamber’s draconic occupant at any moment, they still almost jumped out of their skins when the black dragon broke cover, erupting out of the water and attacking the wolf. Eldeth was the first to recover from the shock of the black’s sudden and violent appearance. With a booming battle cry to Moradin, the dwarf charged fearlessly down the embankment and to the water’s edge. Eldeth’s greataxe bit deeply into the dragon’s flank, drawing first blood on the small band’s dread foe.

* * * * *
And so began our battle to the death with the female black dragon, Vermastryx (Week 16: Into the Dragon Lair). Truth be told, I didn’t want to be the first one to head down there and have a go at that dragon, but I was next up in the initiative order after she appeared. At the start of my turn, a loud voice inside my head preached eminently sensible words of caution: “Wait here, a safe distance away, and see what the dragon does next…” “Stay here and let some other fool be the first one down there…” But then a small, insistent voice started to whisper words of folly and recklessness: “Ye’re a dwarf. Ye have a huge axe in yer hands. Are ye really going to stand here like a coward when there be a dragon down there begging to be killt???”

Sometimes it just comes down to asking, “What would my character do?”

By the end of the fight, one member of our party was dead-dead, another was unconscious and dying, but the cleric, knight, and Eldeth were able (by the skin of our teeth) to take down Vermastryx. I had five hit points left when she fell and I don’t think the cleric or knight were much better off. Whew.

Now it’s back to Restwell Keep to rescue it from the attack of Benwick and Vermastryx’s brother, Yulbraxis. A hero’s work is never done.

I’ve enjoyed all of the Encounters sessions so far (only four more to go!), but one thing that has started to bother me about the adventure as a whole is the complete lack of meaningful decision points for the players. I mean, the story itself has been fairly engaging and (especially since the dragons entered the picture) it has definitely featured rising action building toward a pivotal moment of maximum tension, but…

But just once I wish the adventure would’ve provided the players with an opportunity to make a decision that inserts a branch point into the story. I understand that the whole structure of the preplanned Encounters sessions is designed to do certain things well and to gloss over other aspects of gameplay…

But I’d still like to have the choice of opening the door on the left instead of the one on the right. And I realize that if the players make unexpected choices, it forces the DM to improvise, but the solution to that is as simple as WotC providing the DM with instructions that say something like, “If the PCs open the left door, then such & such happens… If the PCs open the right door, then this & that happens…”

The DMG2 says, “Strong decision points give the players a sense of freedom and influence over the course of events.” The lack of decision points in the Encounters sessions sometimes makes me feel that I’m simply along for the ride. This is unfortunate since it makes the adventure less interesting to me. It’s less interesting because nothing going on in the adventure has been my choice. Choices have consequences that help shape the storyline. If the players have no choices to make outside of tactical decisions in combat situations, then they’ve had no influence over the course of events and haven’t helped shape the storyline. And, ultimately, that’s why I play D&D: I play to participate in an adventure and help shape a story. If I’m not going to have the chance to do that, then I might as well just stay home and read a book.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

dungeons & dragons comic book

“It is a time of magic and monsters, a time when the civilized world has been reduced to a few scattered points of light glowing with stubborn determination amid a rising tide of shadows. It is a time when only the bravest dare tread the wilds of the unknown.

A small town built upon the ruins of a larger city, Fallcrest lies at the crossroads of the Nentir Vale, a great wilderness dotted with a handful of inhabited villages and towns where bandits and monsters roam freely, threatening all who venture far from the settlements.

This is a place in need of a few heroes.”
* * *
So begins Issue #0 of IDW Publishing’s new DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS comic book. That special issue has two stories that introduce the heroes and worlds of both the ongoing D&D series (debuted in November 2010) and the DARK SUN five-issue series (launches in January 2011).

In Issue #0, a 10-page story (“Fell’s Four Five”) establishes the cast for the DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS series. Surprisingly, the comic doesn’t start off in a tavern, but in a good old dungeon with Adric Fell (human knight) and Khal Khalundurrin (dwarf paladin) smashing through a wooden door and immediately battling some filthy gnolls slavers. Making their way down into the Underdark, Adric and Khal collect the other members of their party, Bree Three-Hands (halfling rogue) and Varis (elf ranger). Fell’s Four invade the Underdark searching for a band of brigands, but instead find the aforementioned gnoll slavers… and a young black dragon. Our heroes manage to slay the dragon and gnolls, saving the human slaves, thanks to the help of a hottie with horns and a tail, Tisha Swornheart (tiefling warlock).

As of this posting, two more issues (#1 and #2) of the comic have been released.

In Issue #1 (Shadowplague, Part One: Bad Day), Tisha officially becomes the newest member of Adric’s company and Fell’s Five finds themselves embroiled in a supernatural zombie attack plaguing the town of Fallcrest. Attempting to find the leaky portal to the Shadowfell that’s allowing dark energies to infect everyone’s minds, the adventurers battle an evil changeling and encounter zombie orphans. Good times.

In Issue #2 (Shadowplague, Part Two: Hide in Plain Sight), as the heroes leave Fallcrest and pursue the changeling, they come across a caravan under attack by orcs. Believing their quarry is pinned down by the ambush, Fell’s Five punches through the orc line and joins the besieged caravan. With a doppelganger carrying a nightmare artifact hiding in plain sight among the frightened travelers and a band of bloodthirsty orcs pressing home their attack, the caravan leader tells Adric, “This is a very bad rescue.”

The last time I bought a comic book it cost 75 cents, so I was a bit dismayed to discover that a comic nowadays goes for $3.99, but I have to say that the new DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS series sure looks like each action-packed issue will be worth every penny. The art (Andrea Di Vito) and coloring are fantastic and strike just the right note to believably portray the world of a fantasy roleplaying game. The writing of John Rogers breathes fresh life into stereotypical D&D characters (halfling rogue, dwarf paladin of Moradin, elf ranger, etc.) through witty dialogue and skillful storytelling.

After receiving Issue #0 for free at my first Encounters session at Total Escape Games, I’ve found myself eagerly looking forward to the release date of each new issue. If you play D&D or are simply a fan of sword-and-sorcery fantasy adventures, then I recommend you run out to your local comics store and pick up the DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS comic book.