The Adventures of a 5e GM and her players, part 4 + 5

Because I’ve been super duper busy this week with work (things are looking somewhat up!) I didn’t have time to write this up. However, I am here now and I am writing this up from memory of what happened, as I largely remember everything last week and definitely remember this week. Well, enough excuses, let’s get on with the juicy details.

As a reminder, the group consists of:

  • Joey “Gruzark” Smith – Half-orc barbarian (berserker)
  • Ownka Bronson – Half orc bard (college of lore)
  • Hank – Human ranger (beastmaster)
  • Andarius Rhyn – Half elf druid (circle of the moon)

Our adventurers found themselves outside a village that they had been heading towards last session. They couldn’t see much activity and saw that the village did not have any walls or farmlands. The group, conscious that most of the world outside was rather xenophobic, approached the town cautiously. However, they weren’t met with torches and pitchforks; or rather they weren’t met with anything. It was incredibly quiet. The streets had no activity and as the group continued into the village they started to notice it was strange. They headed towards the centre of the village, finding the local tavern. They knocked on the door and were greeted by a human in chainmail, wielding a greatsword.

Now this human was… a tad hostile. He didn’t attack the PCs, but also had no interest in talking to them and it was only due to one of the other citizens stepping forward that the PCs were even allowed into the tavern. This civilian told the PCs that a strange man had come into the town last week, but had left soon after. However the next day the town found themselves under siege by the undead. Most of the village population was dead (and risen into undeath) and most of the survivors were sick and injured. The armor clad human turned out to be a paladin of Ghyllis, the god of death, and was protecting the town as best he could, but was only one man.

The PCs rested, but were rudely awoken by an undead attack during the night. A flesh golem was at the head of the charge, with a pair of skeletons and a pair of zombies. Joey looked out the window and took an arrow to the shoulder immediately. He proceeded to jump out the window and go into a rage, which started the combat in full. It was not a particularly challenging fight, with the main issue really being the fact that the flesh golem seemed to absorb their attacks and took a while to go down. Well, and the fact that my players were introduced to undead fortitude when one of the zombies just refused to go down until the paladin hit it with some radiant damage.

The group rested and then tracked the undead the next day, following their tracks to a small, wooded area (where Andarius failed a nature check to notice something plot related. Oh well…). Within this area they found a tunnel that led underground that seemed to be a natural cave (though Joey was insistent they were elven. Rolling a 0 on an intelligence check will do that to you).

This is where the session really ended. It was a bit of a shorter one as I think one of the players had to go and I didn’t want to start the dungeon crawl at that time as I knew what was coming up in room number 1…

Zombies. And skeletons. A whole lot of them. The PCs got into a fight with a room full of undead as soon as they entered. Due to torchlight, the PCs were well illuminated and got shot by crit archers. I call them crit archers because the number of natural 20s I rolled with them this session was disgusting, though they were all firing from out of the PCs’ darkvision and torchlight, so they were getting advantage. The PCs took a surprising amount of damage from the sheer weight of numbers, but were able to come out on top, though Andarius triggered an explosive trap when he cast a spell over it without knowing it was there, dealing Joey a hefty blow as Joey was standing on the other side of it. Joey then proceeded to charge right over the next explosive trap, the blasts totally incinerating his pet mouse.

After a short rest, the party moved ever onwards, more cautiously since the two explosive traps almost incinerated Joey as well. Joey felt wind from one way, so they decided to take that tunnel, managing to avoid the trap that lay in wait for them there. Exiting the tunnel they found a huge underground chasm and some spider webs. Andarius decided to start burning the webs like the good(?) druid that he is, which saw the PCs get attacked by a pair of giant spiders. However, the two spiders were quickly dispatched by the players and Hank harvested enough venom for a single dose of spider poison.

The PCs walked along the chasm, which Joey discovered had water at the bottom by dropping a pebble down and hearing the (very) faint splash. As they made their way along the chasm, using a dancing lights cantrip from Ownka to light their way, they found a naturally formed bridge across. While they debated whether or not to cross, Ownka’s lights came into sight of more undead who immediately attacked the party, firing arrows at Joey. It was here that the dynamic lighting feature in Roll20 came into its own. Joey, having been shot, went into a rage. He could see a pair of zombies advancing through the tunnel and charged down to them. As he reached them he noticed there were more than just two and quickly got swamped by zombies and skeletons, while the archers continued to harass the others as they came around the corner. As they were all grouped up, Ownka used shatter on the melee, hitting the entire crowd of undead but also hitting Joey in the process.

And this is where something big happened. Joey went down in a flurry of zombie attacks. The first one didn’t drop him. The second caused his half-orc endurance to trigger, as it would’ve knocked him down but instead reduced him to 1 hit point, the third attack dropped him unconscious and the fourth caused two failed death saves. Once again, for the third time this campaign, Joey’s survival came down to a d20 roll, but this time luck was not on his side and he failed his third and final death save. Yes, we had a player character casualty this session.

The party eventually managed to fend off the remaining undead, with two zombies being particularly stubborn and causing more damage than they really should have through constant undead fortitude successes, but a fog cloud cut off the archers sight lines so they were unable to harass the back line and stopped causing the multitude of failed concentration checks that they were causing. The party retrieved Joey’s body and retreated outside the cave system to lick their wounds and plan their next move.

I enjoyed this session, though the death of a player character is never an easy thing to deal with as a GM. This particular player character went down with very much a fight, but the PCs were just unable to carve a path to him in time as he was surrounded by zombies and skeletons. I (hope) it has put some foreshadowing into the players’ minds that their three months of jail time has meant that things have definitely progressed in the world and the threats are very real.

I do like that this is a very threatening location. Necromancers in this setting are incredibly dangerous and should be approached carefully; there are reasons why the majority of the non-elven population fears magic and I feel like the PCs are encountering one of them now. I was happy to start introducing another aspect of a big bad as well, rather than just bandits and wild animals.

I believe that next session the players are diving back in, but I sincerely hope they re-evaluate their approach. There’s a lot of potential XP on offer here, as well as a very decent reward, but there’s also a large risk associated with this.

I look forward to see what next session brings.

The adventures of a D&D 5e GM and her players, part 2

It has certainly been a while between part 1 and part 2. It wasn’t meant to be this way; in general we are a weekly session, but scheduling and real life commitments left us without a session for three weeks, as I will not run with half of the group missing (especially considering what the players were going into).

As a reminder, the group comprises of:

  • Joey “Gruzark” Smith – Half-orc barbarian (berserker)
  • Ownka Bronson – Half orc bard (college of lore)
  • Hank – Human ranger (beastmaster)
  • Andarius Rhyn – Half elf druid (circle of the moon)

And important NPCs that popped up this session were:

  • Hemerith Niltherin – Wood elf scout captain (rogue, scout)
  • [Name not revealed] – wood elf druid (circle of the land)
  • Izran al-Shaziin – Trade Prince of Mahraz (custom)
  • Izran’s bodyguard – Human fighter (specialisation not revealed)
  • Izran’s bodyguard – (brown haired) Wood elf (class and specialisation not revealed)
  • Izran’s bodyguard – (red haired) Imperial elf sorcerer (specialisation not revealed)

We picked up where we left off last session. The town mayor was dead, as well as his cultists. Three town guards were also dead with the last one knocked out by Joey. The flying demon’s corpse had disappeared and the other, larger demon had escaped after knocking Joey and Hank out and killing Fiona, Hank’s wolf.

With time quickly running out, the first thing that happened was the departure of the wood elves. Enemies of the state already, they knew they would be executed on the spot, as there was no immediate, solid evidence to prove that the mayor was a demon cultist. They quickly conversed in hushed tones and then darted out. The druid wild shaped into a house cat and left through a window, while the scout captain used his speed to make some distance between himself and any nearby guards, before using his skill in stealth to make his escape. With the wood elves out of the picture, I waited to see what the PCs would do. Andarius searched the mayor’s body for evidence while Ownka tried to rouse the unconscious guard. Due to the time sensitive nature (the town guard were coming!) I  made them roll skill checks; Andarius rolled investigation and Ownka rolled medicine. Andarius rolled a 6 and Ownka rolled a 3, so they were unable to both find the evidence or rouse the guard quickly, which was a shame because the mayor had a separate arcane focus to his tome, that had turned to ash upon his death, which was clearly a demonic focus.

Following this, the PCs decided the best course of action was to try to talk their way out of the situation. They made their way up the stairs, Joey carrying Fiona’s body and Andarius using one of his final spell slots to rouse the guard with a cure wounds spell. They made their way up the stairs, but their previous attempts at finding evidence and rousing the guard led to them reaching the top of the stairs as the guards made their way in. Ownka managed to talk them down from immediately trying to kill the party to merely arresting them with a persuasion roll in the twenties. With some minor resistance, the guards put the PCs in chains and led them to the prisons where they were dumped and left to their own devices.

The PCs spent their time trying to annoy the guards who wouldn’t speak to them or even acknowledge their existence. Once in the cells, the guards didn’t even care that the prisoners had slipped out of their manacles or were casting spells, at least for the first week. Essentially, the guards didn’t have the manpower to keep the PCs contained if they really wanted to leave. The sergeant was around CR 1ish and the guard NPCs themselves were CR 1/8. They had no real magical support as the town’s wizard was basically awful in combat, so if the PCs wanted to break out, they easily could have; Andarius spent his first week making frequent sorties out of his cell as a rat, as the guards didn’t seem to care about rats. However, after a week the town wizard managed to erect some anti-magic wards around the prison, disabling all magic within the perimeter. This was a strange moment in the session as I believe the PCs thought I was waiting for them to break out whereas I was actually waiting for them to just… be done with what they were doing. In the end I just asked “are you going to try and break out and is there anything notable you want to do?”

Once this was sorted, the PCs were in prison for three months, which caused universal “wait, what?” responses. The PCs were in prison for three months because the guard still believed they were demon summoners. The guards were scared out of their minds of the PCs and wanted to escalate it to the highest powers, as demon summoning is literally the worst thing to do; it’s even worse than necromancy! After about three months, the PCs were visited by a slightly rotund man, who Ownka identified as Trade Prince Izran al-Shaziin, the big boss of the Mahraz city state, as well as what appeared to be a personal bodyguard and two elves, one brunette and one redhead. They walked up to each cell to which the brown haired elf merely said “no,” or “not this one,” as she passed by each player character, before leaving. As they left, Ownka requested some more food and perhaps an opportunity to see the sun, as they had been underfed and kept in the dungeons for three whole months. He rolled well on a persuasion check, so the trade prince said he would see what he could do. Shortly after, due to a communication issue, Joey destroyed his bed. Don’t look at me, I don’t know why either!

The next day the PCs were brought out of their cells and led out to the mess hall where I was originally going to give them food, then forgot about it. Whoops. Anyway, they were led to the mess hall and sat down at a table, where the trade prince, who was revealed to be one of the chosen, proceeded to make a deal with the PCs. The PCs were not shackled or anything, and I was curious to see if the PCs would do anything stupid at this point. The reason they weren’t shackled is because the trade prince was confident that even if they were demon summoners there was nothing they could do to escape from this group, as while he wasn’t that strong in combat (built to about level 9 with no combat abilities other than “hit with sword for 1d6 damage”, the individuals accompanying him were a bit beefier (just a bit…). Regardless, the PCs were compliant and were led to the mess hall where the trade prince made a deal with the party in exchange for essentially brushing everything under the rug. The PCs asked what would stop them simply running away after they get turned loose, to which the red haired elf said that she would track them down and end their existences. Met with some skepticism, she asked the trade prince if he could afford a new bench and proceeded to disintegrate the bench next to the PCs. Now, there were two interesting things there; the lesser interesting point was that disintegrate, which the PCs failed to identify through arcana checks, is a fairly high level spell. I don’t make strong NPCs for no reason. Furthermore, after the PCs asked what would stop them from running, the trade prince, who is in charge of the entire city state, is the head of his family and one of Ahtar’s chosen champions (god of commerce), had started to speak, but the red haired elf interrupted him and cut him off.

Details were given for the assignment and the PCs learned that war had broken out between Logran and Mahraz since Khan al-Shaziin (Izran’s younger son and 2nd in line)  and his friend, a paladin who worked with the PCs in the early days named Clara Teverton, took evidence acquired by the PCs earlier in the campaign to a meeting in the continental capital and accused Logran of sabotage. The players were tasked to:

  • Kill Dennis Harding – Spymaster in Logran who was in charge of the bandit operation (so PCs wanted him dead anyway due to previous family threatening)
  • Kill Lewis Gambrill – General of one of Logran’s armies stationed near Divinity Bay, the main port town in Logran
  • Retrieve a relic of Ahtar being held in Logran’s temple district, as Logran had barred any pilgrimages to visit this holy relic, with Ahtar being the dominant religion in Mahraz.
  • Retrieve a collection of books and scrolls, which they were given a list of, from Logran’s city hall.

There is no half-way house and nothing for partial completion. Either the PCs need to complete every task, or they will be executed for the unlawful removal of a town’s government, as while the trade prince knows they didn’t summon the demons, they were still guilty of working with terrorists (the wood elves) and staging a coup.

Finally, Hank managed to revive Fiona. Since I’m using Matt Mercer’s “The Fading Spirit” resurrection mechanic, he almost failed to revive her, but used a re-roll I had granted him before to try again. Initially, a 4 was rolled, but the re-roll was an 18. Again, the PCs narrowly avoided a casualty due to the luck of the dice.

So I was conflicted on this session. I enjoyed running it, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as the last one. However, this was to be expected as last session culminated in fighting a demon cultist and the demons he summoned. It was interesting to throw in a few more subtle hints at the intrigue going on in the world, but the three month time-skip puts us closer to the central plot becoming an issue. This is a good thing as when I say issue, I more mean an issue for the PCs. Things happened in those three months while the PCs were stuck which I’m going to have to get down in detail and there are definitely big things on the horizon.

Dealing with petty bandits is now mostly behind the PCs now and I am concerned that my players don’t work as a team much. When faced by a coordinated foe, I feel like the party could be in real danger of collapsing, as shown by the CR2 encounter with the wood elf scouts on their way to the town. it scared them away when they were level 4 a few sessions back. Time will tell, but I think casualties could be coming…

Also, in terms of things that do happen, not everything is as it seems and I don’t give things away here because my players can read it (and I’m not in the habit of giving away plot for free)

The adventures of a D&D 5e GM and her players, part 1

I figured I’d try something new. Something regular. Something that I can write about each week. But what could I write about every week? Well, I run a 5e D&D game in a 100% custom setting, so let’s give that a try. I will start by introducing the player characters:

  • Andarius Rhyn – A half-elven druid from a lost noble house.
  • Ownka Bronson – A half-orc bard, performer and seeker of knowledge. Identifies more with his human side.
  • Joey “Gruzark” Smith – A half-orc barbarian who grew up as a farm boy. Identifies more with his orc side.
  • Hank – A human ranger with a slightly naive outlook on the world

So, we’re jumping into things mid campaign. Well, not in the middle as we’re still in early days, but this certainly wasn’t the first session; therefore this may be a bit of a long post. The party are level 4, pushing on level 5.

So, what happened? Essentially there has been a lot of build up to this session in the previous ones. The party came across a town that was under attack by local wood elves, which was rather uncharacteristic of them as while wood elves were usually incredibly hostile to outsiders, they never really left their forests. The wood elves retreated as the PCs arrived and the mayor asked the PCs to help him take out the wood elf leader (who had a 500gp bounty on his head for his antics). Logically, what you would imagine people would do would be to help the mayor, end the aggression, claim the bounty and ride off into the sunset. However, these are PCs; normality doesn’t apply.

Afterwards, the town blacksmith ripped off the barbarian, as most of the town worshipped the god of commerce and he identified the barbarian as an easy mark. The mayor refused to help the PCs get their money back, as he was also a worshipper of the god of commerce. This made the PCs not like him that much and so they decided to investigate the wood elves. The elves did attack again, but after the PCs killed a few, the wood elves pulled back for reasons unknown. Joey tried chasing a druid who was trying to carry the some of the wood elf dead from the town. He was peppered by covering fire from nearby wood elves, but pulled the druid back behind a wall. She turned back into her humanoid form, casting a call lightning spell to take out Joey, but not before sustaining a nasty axe wound. Joey survived by making 3 death saves and stabilising (as he was down with no one around to help him).

Hank and Andarius went to investigate at the forest’s edge and Andarius was pulled in by some sort of compulsion effect, walking into the woods somewhat blindly. They were greeted by the same wood elf druid who had dropped Joey, appearing to be an important member of her tribe, and a brief parley was had. The elves asked the PCs to help them kill the mayor and accused him of corrupting their lands and summoning demons. This meeting was interrupted by an attack by a winged demon that almost killed Hank in the ensuing combat.

The PCs went back to town, rested and proceeded to do some further investigations in the morning, but were unable to find any concrete evidence. Ownka also managed to convince a cleric in town to at least see what happens and help the party. They met again with the wood elf druid and had another discussion which was rife with hostility, but Andarius somewhat managed to keep the peace between the two sides. They still offered to help the elves, as the elves assured that were they to corner the mayor he would reveal his true colours, but they only offered their aid in the event the mayor did show his true colours. The wood elf druid and the scout captain with the 500gp bounty on his head (who turned out to be a champion of the wood elven deity) infiltrated the town and met with the PCs to confront the mayor in the town hall.

As soon as they confronted him as he was doing stock of emergency supplies in the basement of the town hall, combat immediately started as the mayor recognised the wood elves and the wood elves immediately went on the offensive. It didn’t take long for the mayor to start summoning demons, summoning the same type flying demon that had attacked and almost killed Hank the first time around, though as he summoned it he called for help from the guards, accusing the PCs of being the ones to summon the demon. The PCs made quick work of the cultists present, but the tiger that had come out of the bag of tricks as well as Fiona, Hank’s wolf, was rendered unconscious by the flying demon’s otherworldly droning. The cleric that Ownka had convinced to help was immediately killed by the demon, but the demon was made short work of when the scout captain got a heavily damaging sneak attack critical hit. As the combat became more desperate for the mayor, he enacted his final gambit and summoned a far more powerful demon which immediately went for Andarius, as Andarius was casting spells that were problematic for the mayor’s second in command.

This second demon proved too much for the party to handle, afflicting Hank with a confusion spell that rendered him useless for a large part of the fight, as well as stunning Ownka, effectively rendering him incapacitated too. It took down Joey in melee combat after focusing its attacks against the barbarian who was recklessly attacking, and forced Andarius to fall back after losing his wild shape form. However, around this time it seemed that the mayor lost control over the demon and so it turned to escape the battle, anticipating it would eventually fall if it stayed. It brought Joey down and auto-critted with its last attack as Joey went down, causing two failed death saves. It then dropped the barbarian, used a fly spell and flew for the door, bringing Hank and Fiona down on its rampage out. Hank and Fiona both failed their first death saves as the wood elf druid healed Joey to get him back in the fight (after he passed his first death save, where a fail would’ve caused Joey’s death. The druid then brought Hank back up with a healing word as she dispatched guard reinforcements one by one with her quarterstaff under effect of shillelagh.

However, it finally happened. After failing her first death save, Fiona then got a 1 for her next death save, causing two extra fails and actually killing her off. Once the demon escaped, the party managed to kill off the mayor as the scout captain had constantly hounded him with Andarius getting the final hit with an ice knife spell.

As the mayor fell, the last guard went down to Joey’s non-lethal strike and the session ended. The PCs all reached level 5 and next session we pick up where we left off, with the party battered and bruised and in the middle of a potentially very hostile town.

Aftermath of mayor battle

The aftermath of the fight. Everyone is rather worse for wear, but that’s a lot of dead things!

But what happened to the demon that escaped? As it was summoned by other means it has not disappeared with the death of the summoner, so who knows what will happen next…

I really enjoyed GMing this session for my players. I had always planned in that the mayor was a demon summoning cultist who had managed to gain a position of power within a town and I’m hoping that this causes my players to realise that their enemies can be very sneaky without making them paranoid of every mayor they meet. I was also happy to finally start incorporating the general plot of the game into the narrative and start introducing it to the PCs, as this is their first encounter with demons in this campaign. There will be more encounters with demons to come, but now the PCs know that they are out there, especially as the strong one escaped the fight to terrorise people another day.

It was a long session, going from around 8pm to 3:30am for a grand total of about 7.5 hours, but it was worth it. None of us needed to go to work the next day (at least not in the morning) and I feel like everyone enjoyed it, despite this side quest being very dangerous and actually causing the first death in the party (Fiona, Hank’s animal companion).

Also, I appreciate this was a bit of a longer post, but I basically had to condense multiple sessions into this one to recap what had happened or “the PCs did some investigating, then attacked the mayor” would’ve seemed a little bit out of place. Next week will be a shorter post as I will only have to go over the one session!