Sunday, June 26, 2016

Campaign Journal 30 - Slogging the Deeps

The party had just killed 5 trolls in a large underground cavern, and stood bloodied and exhausted over the fire-burnt troll remains...

[Notable landmarks and locations are given names in the descriptions below]

July 17, Wednesday [day 4 underground] (cont.) - Following the big battle in the main cavern, the party explores the side passages out of the cavern (in search of treasure, of course). They find a sixth troll further back in the lair, dispatch it, and do find a significant haul of treasure accumulated over many years. The treasure consists of a little over 2,000 GP worth of mixed coinage (different kinds and different minting, some old and unrecognizable), 9 gems of ~100 GP each, 7 arrows that prove to be magical fire arrows (normal damage +1d8 fire damage), and 2 potions (Animal Friendship and Greater Healing).

The group continues south on the difficult passage to Green Cascades, a long narrow cavern with a stream along one side which is fed by a series of waterfalls coming out of the rock wall. The waterfalls are illuminated by phosphorescent green algae disturbed in the stream as the water cascades down into it.

There is some bickering amongst the party as they eat yet another meal of Melior's magically conjured Goodberries.

July 18, Thursday [day 5] - An uneventful day as the party continues south from Green Cascades along an easier passage. They pass through Temple Rock, a smallish cavern with a raised circular area in the center. On this circular area is a 30 foot diameter ring of a dozen or so cracked and fallen stone pillars. They end the day at Monolith, a very high-ceilinged cavern with a single unadorned 50 foot tall carved stone monolith. There are no runes or markings on the monolith, and it doesn't radiate magic, although it is clearly not a natural feature.

The characters are all feeling the stress of their days underground. Melior is continually haunted by nightmares during the night, with visions of the endless rock closing in all around him, and is unable to get a good rest.

July 19, Friday [day 6] - The party leaves Monolith behind and navigates the relatively easy passage to Tight Squeeze. Tight Squeeze lives up to its description in the notes as a brutal crawl, slither, shimmy and squeeze. Fortunately it only lasts a few hundred yards, although the passage beyond continues to be difficult.

During the day, Niam the rogue periodically hears a voice in his head saying "kill them all."

Near the end of the day, they reach the location called Boneyard. This is a long and wide cavern whose great expanse of floor is covered with bones of all shapes and sizes. There is a clear path that winds through the cavern, and as the party makes their way along the path, they can see what they believe to be a altar on an elevated section of the cavern off to their left. As they move, they begin to hear bones rattling, and skeletons of all types and sizes begin rising out of the bones and attacking them. They party hurries forward, hard-pressed, and timely and effective use of Turn Undead by Badric the cleric holds off the growing horde of skeletons long enough for the party to escape the far side of the cavern.

A ways down the passage, content that nothing is following them, the group rests for the night. During Arian the sorcerer's watch, excruciating pain runs through his left arm, and sees that the blue scaly skin that is part of his draconic heritage has spread from his upper arm all the way down to his wrist (on that arm only). The fingers of his left hand seem a little longer and more claw-like.

July 20, Saturday [day 7] - Leaving the Boneyard area behind, the party heads along the relatively easy passage toward Worm Bore...

Next - Heading south toward Worm Bore...

GM Commentary - This was a tough recap to reconstruct in January 2017 (as the next couple will be as well). Prep notes, known route of travel, our campaign calendar record and the XP recap for the session gives me confidence that I got it right. More or less. I think...

With the characters having been underground for almost a week at this point, I had a lot of fun trying to create a sense of a hint of creeping madness. Voices. Noises. Strange occurrences. The players definitely seemed to be enjoying that aspect of the session, and I got a lot of positive feedback on it. Which is another reason to be vigilant in making sure to not unintentionally turn the game into one big free-form miniatures battle game, and make sure the role-playing part of the game gets proper emphasis.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Laristen's Folly

About 100 years ago, in the early days of resettling the Northlands, a great cleric of Metris (in his aspect of protector of travelers) began building a stronghold in the far southwestern Iron Spire Mountains, overlooking the valley of the River Greve far below.
Laristen's Folly (in Hexographer)

Laristen's aim was to provide a safe haven for others exploring and settling the region. The nearest settlement was the then-tiny village of Wegley.

With the castle only partly complete, an orc horde accompanied by several giants swept down out of the mountains and massacred everyone, with the exception of Laristen himself, and cast down most of what had been built. Laristen, broken in spirit, is said to have disappeared into the far south, never to be heard from again.

Legend has it that his treasure, hidden in, around, or below the castle site, was never recovered. The ruins can easily be found in the foothills northeast of Wegley. The castle ruins are now known as Laristen's Folly...

Tychon's Tower

Located on a craggy hill at the north end of the Trollclaws, just a few miles south of the Road, is the multi-spired tower of the archmage Tychon. Tychon is a venerable half-elven evocation wizard who is rarely seen in public these days, although his retainers frequently visit nearby Nandra to buy food and other supplies.
Tychon's Tower (in Hexographer)

Tychon routinely accepted students (for a high price) in days gone by, but is less likely to welcome intrusions on his semi-retirement in recent years; many would-be students have been turned away.

It is said that his tower is protected by a sanctuary mageward (the most powerful kind of mageward in existence following the Weave-Rending). There are also a trio of metal statues flanking the entrance to his tower that are believed to be iron golems.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Torhaven and the Torvald Mines

The dwarven hold of Torhaven, and the Mines of Torvald that underlie the town, is the biggest producer of iron and steel in the North. Torhaven is located on the southern edge of the Iron Spire Mountains, 2-3 days' journey north of the city of Nandra. Torhaven consists of both an above ground town as well as a fortified underground dwarf hold.
Torhaven (in Hexographer)

Ruled by the Brighthammer clan, Torhaven is known to be connected to the Deep Realms, and has trade connections both above and below ground. The dwarves produce both raw metal ingots as well as finished metal goods and crafts of all types (and high quality).

Torhaven can also be a source of information, as dwarven sages and elders have extensive knowledge of dwarven history, lore, and knowledge of the surrounding lands.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Castle of the New Dawn

The settlement known as New Dawn, or more accurately the Castle of the New Dawn, is located in an area that is largely wilderness. It sits at the southern end of the Telzek Hills, west of Lake Beranarr (and therefore northwest of the Silver Hills). The nearest town of size is the town of Forlorn, 40-plus miles to the south/southwest.
Castle of the New Dawn (in Hexographer)

The Castle was founded in the year NR 659, almost 50 years ago, by a band of priests serving Ardran, the god of life, vitality and renewal. It was their goal to form a bastion in the Onorian wilderness around which civilization could re-form. Settlers would move in, farms would be established, towns and villages would grow, and the wilderness would be reclaimed for civilization.

The reality has not met the original goal, at least not so far. There are fertile farmlands in the gently rolling hills and excellent grazing lands all around, but the threats that still exist from being on the extreme edge of civilization pose a constant challenge, and the influx of settlers has been very slow.

New Dawn is a fortified hilltop town of approximately 250 souls. Perhaps another 250 people live in farms and homesteads close to the town. A series of stout stone watchtowers guard the area and provide early warning for monster attacks and other unwelcome incursions. The town walls and watch towers are manned by servants of the Temple of the New Dawn (the priests of Ardran and their retainers) as well as members of the Order of the Stalwart Shield [see below]). Retainers of the Temple of the New Dawn, known as the Dawnriders, patrol the lands and roads nearby mounted both on warhorses and flying hippogriffs.

The town trades with the high elves of the Forest of Kyrell (to the west) and the towns of the Great North Road to the south, bringing in necessities that cannot be produced locally.

Due to its location, the Castle also often serves as a base of operations for adventuring bands exploring the Onorian wilderness to the north and east, or the Onorian ruins that exist within a day or two's travel.

The Order of the Stalwart Shield - The Order is a group that is associated with New Dawn (and based there), but it is separate and distinct from the priesthood of Ardran. The Order is a group of warriors and others pledged to protect New Dawn, led by paladins of Brand (god of duty, honor and protection). Members of the Order serve as guards for the town, help man the watch towers, and patrol the surrounding lands.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Campaign Journal 29 - Journey to Alberneth (pt1)

Play begins with the party in the Underdark, on a main "road" east of a location called "Crystal Landing", on the way to find the Tombs of the Alberneth. [Malachy (barbarian 5), Melior (druid 5), Arian (Sorcerer 5), Badric (cleric 5) and Niam (Rogue 4) present]

July 15, Monday [day 2] - The party continues east on the well-traveled Underdark road, following their maps and notes. They pass a junction where another sizable passage branches off to the south, but continue east, arriving a a location called "Razor Rapids".

Razor Rapids - The map notes say that Razor Rapids is a location where a foot bridge and cargo ferry cross an underground river. Above the bridge (top of picture, with the ferry), the water is calmer. Below the bridge, the water drops down into cascades and rapids churning between sharp rocks. Falling in would be bad.
"Razor Rapids" - goblins trying to burn the bridge

As the party arrived, the cavern was lit by torches and a fire. The fire was a group of goblins trying to set fire to the middle of the bridge. Attacking by surprise out of the dark, the party was able to shoot down the half dozen or so goblins who were actually on the bridge and moved to put out the fire that was beginning to catch. Meanwhile, the spell casters dealt with the remainder of the goblins on the far bank, including a sorcerer, primarily by means of a well-placed Spike Growth spell. After gathering food and water from forage-able areas, the party continued east.
Putting out fires while dead goblins float away

Wind Tunnel - A couple miles further east on the main road, the party came to the location where they would branch off to the south, taking a smaller more difficult passage. Entering the area (from the right of the picture), there was enough dim light from phosphorescent fungi to see the entire area. A large rift of indeterminate depth was oriented north to south, with another branch to the southeast. They would need to cross an ancient stone bridge (which did have a post and chain railing), and then get across the open rift (top left of picture) before moving on to the south. A gusty breeze moved through the area from north to south.
"Wind Tunnel" - a Cloaker attack

Melior shape shifted into a giant spider and investigated the area, crossing the bridge to the far side. Arian followed successfully, then Malachy. When Mal was in the middle of the bridge and Niam and Badric were only starting out, something large and dark (and flying) attacked Badric. This turned out to be a cloaker, a terrifying and tough creature. A cloaker has two special abilities - to project multiple copies of itself (so that you had a hard time actually damaging the real one) and a frightening moan to scare people. A frightened character fights at disadvantage and cannot move closer to the creature.

The fight turned out to be easier than it should have been, although Niam and Badric did both end up with only a few hit points each. Malachy was frightened for one turn, but then did manage to shake off his fear and help. The cloaker didn't hit on too many of its attacks. But the real hero was Arian the sorcerer, who cast a lightning bolt as hist first action, picking the real one of the four images to shoot at. In subsequent rounds, he cast a number of other spells at the creature, never failing to hit the right one. That and the fact that the cloaker as never able to successfully "engulf" a character certainly saved one or two characters from death on the bridge.

After healing, and a bumbling effort at crossing the smaller rift via ropes, the party headed south away from the well traveled road.

July 16, Tuesday [day 3] - The party continues south, through areas called Sink Holes and Five Forks. The day is uneventful.

July 17, Wednesday [day 4]...

Troll Haunt - In the afternoon, the party arrives at the location noted on the maps as "Troll Haunt". The scribbled notes indicated that the Silver Swords fought several trolls here, killing two (but not with fire), and running from several more. When the party arrives (from the right of the picture), the cavern is mostly dark, continuing off out of eyesight. There is a fire in the distance, and a smell of something cooking. There is one troll near the fire, and another crossing the cavern in its direction.
"Troll Haunt" - 2 trolls cooking dinner

A vicious and long drawn-out fight ensued, with the two trolls quickly joined by a third. A Called Lightning storm flickered around the chamber, doing substantial damage to the trolls (and sometimes to friends). As the first three trolls were being finished off, a final two came out of the darkness, but fortunately for the party they arrived in sequence and not at the same time, because the party was in pretty bad shape. The 63 hit point damage-resistant barbarian was down to 3 HP, and the Niam and Badric were also on the verge of unconsciousness. This was the party's toughest fight ever (but a huge XP victory...).
5 dead trolls and a battered party

We ended the session with the characters standing over the burned bodies of 5 trolls; battered, bloodied and bruised, and having spent most of their higher level spell slots.

Next - Surveying the troll wreckage.

GM Commentary - This was a different kind of session for us. There has been a good amount of "story" in the past few sessions, and not a whole lot of fighting. I thought that a first full session of journeying through the Underdark would be a good opportunity to have a combat-heavy session, and get a chance to use a lot of the various terrain bits I have crafted over the last few months. Combat takes a while, and we got through three major encounters, all on detailed terrain set ups (in 4 hours). I wouldn't want every session to be like this, but every now and then it is a nice change of pace, and the experience points gained by the characters were huge.

A note on XP - The goblins with sorcerer and boss were worth 1,000 XP. The cloaker was worth 3,900 (which should have been much more dearly earned). Five 5 trolls were 9,000.  This is 2,780 per character, plus 200 each in "per diems" (see below). This is massive XP given that our characters started the session with between 6,300 and 11,000 total depending on how many sessions they have been at over the course of the campaign. I have been stingy with XP (intentionally), as I think the game plays best at the lower levels. Our 5th level characters already seem tremendously powerful now.

Niam the Rogue (assassin) achieved 5th level, and Melior the Druid reached 6th.

A note on Underdark travel - The recent Out of the Abyss adventure book from Wizards of the Coast says to roll for Underdark encounters every hour. I did make a fairly detailed encounter chart that we will use on occasion, but I have elected to go with more of a "travel montage" way of getting through this journey. With ~10 days of travel to get to the Tombs, and 6-8 hours of travel per day (due to the difficulty), it would take us forever to get to the destination, and we'd all end up bored silly. I've told the players that they will get a 100XP per day "per diem" of XP for all the little minor encounters and challenges that we don't need to play out. Every combat with a pair of giant spiders, or some snakes or lizards causes no real or long term threat to this group. So we'll skip it. We'll have a random encounter every now and then that will be worth playing out, and the rest will be planned encounters and events. This makes sense in this situation given that they are following a predictable route using detailed maps and notes. This couple of sessions is 100% railroad. We'll see how it goes.

[I will continue backfilling the missing write-ups (from sessions 23-28), but I wanted to get this in while the details were fresh in my mind]

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Campaign Journal 28 - Into the Underdark...Again

We left our party having just passed a magical flame barrier in the dungeons under a ruined tower in Kristovaria...

July 13, Saturday (cont.) - The group finished exploring the small laboratory dungeon and comes upon a door with a glowing magical runes written on it. Duncan the wizard reads that they say "Dwarves say door." Thalmyr the dwarven paladin speaks the word "door" in dwarvish and the runes fade. They open the door and go into the chamber beyond. The part of the chamber near the door is a finished chamber, but the far side blends into a natural cavern.

A gray tarp is discovered to be hiding a small crawlway to a series of caves and passages. In the series of 7 or 8 caverns, the party kills a group of 6 gnolls in one encounter, kills a pair of gricks and a pair of grells in another, and finds the decaying dead body of a 7 foot tall lizard-like creature. They discover both a cave entrance to the surface (on the far side of a hill just west of the ruins), and a passage that seems to lead far down.

They camp on the surface near the cave entrance for one last night above ground.

July 14, Sunday - Into the Underdark. A full day's descent toward the location called Crystal Landing. Camp just short of Crystal Landing.

July 15, Monday - The group arrives at Crystal Landing and sees a group of gnolls below them, guessing that they are a different bunch of the same group that they killed in the caves near the surface two days earlier. They surprise the gnolls and are able to defeat them, Malachi and Thalmyr taking some damage in the process.
Crystal Landing and more gnolls

As they are investigating the huge and wondrous cavern filled with giant rock crystal formations, they hear noises coming. They hide, and a small drow elf merchant pack train of giant lizards passes through the center of the cavern (heading east, the way the party needs to go). The party decides not to attack.
Fighting Gnolls

After they let an hour or so go by, the party follows the drow group out the east passage, which is a wide and well-maintained road...

GM Commentary - I really enjoyed bringing out some of my new toys for this session. I wanted Crystal Landing to be an impactful visual moment as we began the Underdark story arc, and I think it went over well. It definitely as the "wow" moment I was hoping for.

[January 2017: I also think it is fair to say, looking back, that this was the first of a series of several sessions where I became so enamored of the terrain that I was crafting (and having a huge amount of fun doing it almost as a standalone hobby), that I lost track of certain other things that I could have been focusing a little bit more on. Also, spending time focusing on a few cool visual encounters per session (each of which take a while to play out) made it such that the journey to the Tombs probably took a session or two longer than it could have. It's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to use all of the cool stuff you are making and lose a bit of objectivity on some of the choices you are making. I'm trying to be mindful of this moving forward, and make sure that the crafting serves the game and not vice versa.