DDNext Rocks and Stirges suck ... in a good way!

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So I recently got back to the playtesting of Next with my group of young players (ages 6-12). We're playing Reclaiming Blingdenstone (Enhanced edition courtesy of the incredibly talented and generous Jeremy Murphy of Over the Misty Mountains blog).

Out characters are:

Jade, Human Dragon soul sorcerer (played by my 12-year old)
Wendel, Snivfneblin rogue thief (played by my 10-year old)
Kalgor Bloodaxe, Dwarf fighter slayer (played by my 7-year old)
Pingtu, Snivfneblin sun cleric (played by my 6-year old) 

I'll come back and describe some of the previous adventures, but I thought I'd start with the eponymous title.

The heroes have taken on the task of retrieving the Crown of Blingdenstone on behalf of the Kargien Dissengulp, Burrow Warden of Blingdenstone, who wants it for the good of the people of course...not for himself. No, no, of course not! The PCs already hate Kargien who I've played up as pompus, selfish and, by turns, annoyingly obsequious and stridently imperious. He has refused to help them with the quest to lift the curse on the Speaking Stones and requires them to recover the crown before he will give permission for them to enter the Hall of Miners and Armourers. The PCs are going along with his wishes for now, but don't intend to give him the crown and are planning to back someone else.

Anyway, Wendel (who is a resident of Blingdenstone) leads the party to House Centre via a less well known path that opens out at the top of a clif overlooking the approach to the palace gates. There they spy a bloody battlefield strewn with orc and kobold corpses (clearly not the combatants of decades ago, but more recent battles between who knows who). They also observe some patches of mushrooms, a large pool and a cluster of faintly glowing yellow crystals.

Ignoring the bodies (despite me having dropped hints to Wendel's player after a succesful local lore check that he knew of two previous scouting missions that had failed to return and rumours of strange lights and the walking dead in the caves around house centre) the heroes made a bee-line for the pool, mushrooms and crystals. Consequently they were spread all over the place when the zombies attacked.

A fierce fight ensued with great use of powers, positioning and a little teamwork, but the prize goes to Wendel, who as the fight proke out, immediately retreated to the ledge and threw a dart at a zombie clear half-way across the main cavern. (The choice of target was determined entirely by the fact the miniature had a raven sat on its shoulder pecking out the zombie's brains - this became designated as 'My Arch Enemy')

Focusing on My Arch Enemy meant that Wendel did not spot (failed check) the zombies that crawled out of the pool at the foot of the ledge and began to scale the cliff to get at him. When the zombies attacked, only Wendel's quick reactions (and my terrible rolling) saved him. Wendel's player asked if he could draw two darts and stab the zombies now flanking him simultaneously. I ruled that he could if he took disadvantage on both rolls. He hit with both and one zombie went down, the other staggered back with a dart in its chest! Wendel then decided that his escape was best made by leaping from the ledge into the pool. The zombie that had been clinigng to the ledge let go and followed him in. Kicking for the surface, Wendel was horrified to feel bony hands clawing at his legs from below. The diving zombie also grabbed him and began to bear him into the stygian depths.

Meanwhile the battle raged across the cavern, with the sorceress putting her power to good use. A storm of fire engulfed a group of zombies, turning one to ash instantly and setting three more alight. Kalgor's axe scattered limbs and wildly staring heads across the floor, while Pingtu called upon the warm light of Segojan Earthcaller (we really need an Earth Domain for clerics - sunlight in the Underdark seems sort of odd) to put down the foul abominations before him.

Under the black surface of the pool, Wendel was struggling for his life. His player kept screaming as 10-year olds do and so after one warning I just kept adding a round to the tally Wendel had spent drowning  vs. his 13 Con. Pretty quickly he'd used 10 rounds worth of air, but finally go the message and stopped being quite so shrill! The really positive side effect of this, is that it suddenly made Wendel's situation very perilous and much more dramatic. Wendel could not break the zombie's death grip and was quickly running out of air! Finally, the gnome broke free, snapping the zombie's arm off at the elbow, and shot for the surface with the macabre appendage still attached. By this time the others had destroyed the rest of the zombies. They were wondering where Wendel had got to just as he burst from the depths, spluttering and screaming bloody murder.

Kalgor ran to his friend and tried to catch his thrashing arm. Wendel's fingers slipped from Kalgor's grasp as the gnome felt a cold hand tighten once more about his ankle. With a last furious kick, he broke free and made it to the edge of the pool and heaved himself out. Moments later, the hideously animated rotting shell burst from the black waters and made for the shivering gnome. Suddenly, the water droplets froze midair and the surface of the pool turned to ice, freezing the zombie in place. Jade smiled at the stunned dwarf and gnome before helping both to their feet.

After getting warm and patching up their wounds, the adventurers tried the large iron bound doors of House Centre only to find them locked or barred from the other side. Jade called the others over to a broken portion of the wall, indicating a way into the palace through a ragged hole in the stone work. A strange orange glow shifted and flickered within, seeming to invite the heroes forward.

Inside, they found a ruined guard room littered with debris and skeletons from the long ago battle against the drow. Beyond, a broken door frame gave into another cave, and it was from here that the glow seemed to come. Moving cautiously, the heroes moved into the 'courtyard' of House Centre and discovered a trio of large beetles with glowing abdomens foraging amongst a riot of fungal blooms.

Jade, a keen student of alchemy, immediately set to capturing the beetles for thier valuable and fascinating glands. Unfortunately, the beetles didn't really want to be caught so fought back with sharp mandibles. Jade's sword put an end to that nonsense and happily did not appear to extinguish the light of the gland. Kalgor busied himself with killing the second beetle and Wendel followed the third into a rocky tunnel. Jade and Wendel began to disect the beetles while Pingtu watched on in fascination. Meanwhile, Wendel tried to sneak up on the beetle which scurried further and further into a cave that looked like it might once have been used as a storage or stable of some kind. Suspicously large and substantial spider webs hung thickly like rotting tapestries, but Wendel's small size allowed him to follow the beetle largely unhindered. At last, the beetle came to a halt at a pool, its softly pulsing light rippling across the water giving it an eeries fiery glow. Wendel stepped quietly up to his unsuspecting prey and with a quick downward stap of a dart, killed it dead. A strange buzzing that Wendel had been to preoccupied to notice previously finally intruded on his consciousness, followed moments later by something the size of a rat landing on his shoulder. A sharp prick drew a started cry from the gnome and he looked in alarm at the grotesque thing that looked like a cross between an insect and a bat, and which was currently attached to his neck by a long needle-like probocis. Alarm turned quickly to fear as he realised sveral of these creatures were fluttering about his head and begining to attack!

"Help!" Wendel screamed, but his voice came out broken and hoarse and his friends did not hear him as they examined the fascinating glowing gland they had only moments before retrieved from the dead carcass of the beetle outside. Pulling at the thing attached to his neck, Wendel ran from the cave, only just avoiding the thick webs and belatedly noticing the large, motionless mound of a desicated spider. Two more of the vile creatures attached themselves to his body, sucking his blood and leaving him feeling weak and dizzy.

"Help!" This time they all heard and, startled looked around for the gnome who had once again done a disappearing act. Running towards the tunnel he'd noticed before, Kalgor drew his axe ready for trouble. Once a dwarf get's under way, he is a force to be reckoned with and neither his enemies - or unfortunately he - can turn him aside from his trajectory. So it was that Kalgor blundered straight into a thick spider web that brought his valiant charge to an untimely halt. Even before he had time to think webs - spiders - oh no!, he was swarmed by a buzzing cloud of bitting, flapping insects that began to suck his blood. 

Wendel, staggered from the cave his vision swimming and feeling naseuous, weak and terrified in equal parts. He pulled the vile creatures from his skin as he ran but he knew he was close to collapse. Then he was out of the cave and Pingtu and Jade were there, helping him kill the blood suckers and shouting for Kalgor. His last thought as he slipped into unconsciousness was that he hoped he hadn't awoken a doom that would claim his friends as well as him...

Stirges are brutal! Tongue Out

Lessons learned:

Monsters are fairly easy in a straight up fight but add in terrain and separate the PCs and they become a serious challenge - all PCs were 3rd level at the start of this encounter and both the zombies and the stirges were a threat.

Did I mention - split the party and go after lone PCs! :p

Improvising feels so much easier with Next. Perhaps it's because I'm not even attempting to use an XP budget or 'build' encoutners or balance them in any way, I feel I can throw all sorts at the PCs and not worry. The zombie encounter was largely improvised based around the PCs actions (zombies climbing up to the ledge, grabbing and drowning*) and the stirges attacking the lone thief when he went off on his own. I also through in the webs and spider carcass at the last minute into what had previously been an empty room labelled stables!

*Drowning is not scary as currently presented in the rules. It only became so when I levelled misbehviour sanctions against my son and reduced the number of rounds he had left to breathe. If not for both our obstinancy - he keeping acting up and me keeping 'punishing' him, I don't think we would have felt threatened by grappling under water at all. As it was, it really added to the spice and excitement of the game. 

Probably other stuff that I've not thought about yet... 
Thank you Lion shanks.  For the post and the next generation of gamers.
Nice post.  Thanks for the report. 

We love stirges too.   In our first game 3 stirges attached to the rogue...he was really scared...he ran screaming back to find the cleric.   Those little buggers nearly took the rogue down..but luckily he pried one off and so did a few of his buddies....even so...I think he was down to 2 hp...the cleric healed him to 6 again...and then he got sucked down to 2 once more.    

Cool creatures.


A Brave Knight of WTF

Thanks, guys!

@ Sir Kaikillah: It has literally been my pleasure :D

I think this edition (previously I've only ever played 4e with the kids) is the first time they've ever really felt their characters are mortal. The stirges really shook them up...and they're loving it!

My daughter loves tinkering and improvising in-game (and in real life), so I've been messing with alchemy and allowing Jade to harvest various mushrooms and other ingredients - such as the fire beetle glands. She loves this. A great example of their ingenuity was they decided to capture a thoqqua (rock worm with fiery tail capable of melting rock) to free the forges from the pech-grown stone (they don't know about the pech yet). So they managed to stun one of the worms (Kalgor used a non-lethal shield bash) and I asked them how they were going to transport the rock-melting creature back to Blingdenstone. Quick as a flash, they came up with putting it in a cauldron they'd taken from a gang of bandits in the Mushroom Fields and used ray of frost (turned down to 'stun'!) to keep the thoqqua in a frosty torpor!

I'm definitely loving the creativity the looser rule-set is setting free.

I need to figure out some interesting potions they can make with all the ingredients they are finding and with the help of Henkala Shadownsong.