Playtest Campaign: Second Session TPK

54 posts / 0 new
Last post

After running a number of one-shots with the new D&D Next playtest, I wanted to see how the rules held up over the course of a proper campaign. With the release of advancement up to 10th level, coupled with reasonable xp progression, encounter building guidelines, and loot tables, the tools were all there to put a full-fledged campaign on the table. And so I dusted off an idea I'd been kicking around ever since I read this excellent story hour.



A Town Called Fortune


Twenty years ago, an adventurer named Brom discovered an elaborate dungeon complex carved into a mountain, filled with elaborate traps, fabulous treasure, and all the foul denizens who made the place their home. Brom made several forays into the dungeon, but ultimately fell prey to its peril. But not before others heard of the riches he'd pulled from that foul place.


A gold rush began. Adventurers of every stripe flocked to the dungeon, but they found that natural forces had blocked the cavern's entrance; a rushing underground river now flowed through the chamber that had been the entrance. One of the first true authorities to arrive was the Church of Tiamat herself; ever diligent in their pursuit of wealth, the Church seized control of the area and built a town. They called it Fortune, and the Exarch ruled over it. She commanded her magi to make open the way once a week by magically stopping the river, that adventurers could enter and seek their riches.


Now, the town of Fortune is abuzz with activity. Once every week, the forces of Tiamat hold Parade Day, where they march to the dungeon's entry with all the adventurers brave or foolish enough to enter. The whole town caters to the adventurers; the notary signs people up in advance for funerals (if you don't have one purchased, your body defaults to the Church of Tiamat after death for 'questioning'). The Mourning Girls offer their services, both to mourn at your funeral and as whores. Coffin shops are common, as are armories, weaponsmiths, and mercenary companies.


Those who have braved the dungeon and returned with noteworthy treasure are awarded an enchanted iron bracelet by the Church. Thus adventurers of great experience may wear a number of such bracelets, and command the respect of those in town. They may also draw the eyes of the noble Patrons, most of whom are masked, who may choose to sponsor adventurers on certain tasks. Furthermore, the higher-ups in the Church of Tiamat are always watchful for those who may become strong enough to become a threat. Better they die in the dungeon than cause problems later.



The Original Party


They numbered four, initially. Here is a quick rundown of the PCs:


Brolf, Male Human Fighter - Endurance Specialist, Thug Background - A big, dumb, extra-burly warrior. Did I mention dumb? Not very observant either. Typically rolled a d4 for listen checks.


Handmaiden Valanthe Siannodel, Female Elven Cleric of Pelor - Healer Specialty, Sage Background - A zealous cleric seeking to burn the scourge of undeath wherever she can find it. Also zealous in recording her findings on undeath in a big book.


Estoriel Trelayen, Female Elven Wizard (Academic) - Arcanist Specialty, Thug Background - An ambitious young scion of the Trelayen crime family (elven mafia who control a human town). She's seeking power and resources to take over the family business. By force.


Mink of the House of Mork and Mindy, Male Dwarven Monk - Endurance Specialist, Bounty Hunter Background - A monk. Not a lot of character to this one (as the name might suggest). He was mostly quiet.



The First Delve


The four PCs had all been hired on to guard a wagon with a huge cask of ale bound for the town of Fortune. Over the course of the two day trip to the town, they discovered they shared a common interest in seeing what the dungeon had to offer, so they decided they'd best join forces and venture down. There was a fair bit of drinking and partying once they arrived in Fortune, where they spent a couple days lingering in town.


After learning the fate of those who didn't have a funeral, all but Mink decided to put ten gold down with the notary so their remains wouldn't be disturbed by the Church of Tiamat. They also hired on a mercenary, an elven rogue named Palisa, who agreed to accompany them for thirty gold pieces. Prepared for their venture, they joined the procession on Parade Day, and made their way out to the dungeon.


They ventured inside, avoided several traps, then found their way down to the first level of the dungeon proper. They travelled south, and found the lair of the kobolds. In short order, Brolf fell into a thirty foot pit and nearly died. They climbed back out, Valanthe offered up some of Pelor's healing, and they carried on. They found an underground lake, with some fire beetles lurking on the shore. Though the beetles were not aggressive, Brolf was not to be denied the chance to smash things with his maul, so he attacked. Two of the beetles had the chance to sink their mandibles into poor Brolf, critting once and dealing eight damage in total. But Brolf and his friends prevailed, slaughtering the beetles.


Under the hood: The beetles totalled 40 xp, which is an easy encounter for the party. Only some dice luck on my part made it anywhere near threatening, and the outcome was never in doubt.


The warrior was patched up once again, and the party proceeded into the water. They began to swim when they heard something moving through the water towards them. Rapidly, they made an attempt to cut back to the beach, but only the wizard Estoriel and Mink managed to reach the shore! Palisa and Valanthe were near the shore, but Brolf was still well out and moving slowly, thanks to his heavy armor.


Under the hood: A pair of giant snakes are worth 200 xp, which is a challenging encounter for a group of five 1st level PCs. This was meant to be a challenging encounter.


One of the snakes attacked and coiled around Brolf, dealing a substantial amount of damage! The poor warrior's AC of 16 was doing nothing for him. The PCs struck back, but Mink's lack of any ranged weaponry and Estoriel's lack of a 0th level offensive spell were proving to be serious deficiencies. Valanthe managed to reach the shore, where she used lance of faith to great effect, but the second snake attacked Palisa and bit her in half and pulled her into the water.


Brolf managed to land the killing blow on his snake. Wounded, and desperate to get out of the water, he drew an opportunity attack from the second snake, who handily hit and dropped Brolf to -10 (not enough to kill him). Mink used his rope to lasso the warrior, but he couldn't pull him from the snake's clutches. The others managed to harm the snake, but not before it made another attack, this time lunging for the cleric, Valanthe! Her AC of 17 protected her, however, and the snake was slain.


Brolf was healed with a potion, and with Estoriel out of spells, it looked like it was time to rest.


End of Session One.

For session two, the fifth member of our group was able to make it. He rolled up a character, and I placed him as the surviving member of a group of adventurers who hadn't fared so well.


Rosco Tealeaf the Impostor, Male Halfling Rogue - Ambush Specialist, Guild Thief Background - A friendly halfling. The Impostor title was added later.



The Delve Continues


Battered and bloodied, but still alive, our heroes decided to hole up in an abandoned room. But before they could get there, they heard footsteps approaching. Lo and behold, they made the acquaintance of Rosco Tealeaf! The halfling told them he'd heard something coming their way.


The PCs accepted the halfling into their little company (after all, with Palisa dead, they had need of a rogue), and they set about preparing for combat. Sure enough, a pair of troglodytes, their giant spider pet, and a captive goblin attacked! The battle was ferocious (especially with Estoriel at a loss for spells), but the PCs managed to win without serious injury. They killed both troglodytes, and the spider, but the goblin slave surrendered, and was set free.


Under the hood: This was one of my random encounters, valued at 150 xp. By the book, it should be somewhere between an average challenge and a tough challenge, and it lived up to that in play.


One of the conceits of this dungeon is the random encounters; I'm rolling frequently, and I have a list of encounters ranging from 100 xp to 550 xp, with the frequency heavily tilted towards lower level encounters (though that changes on lower levels). My players have been informed that not every fight will be winnable, and that the dungeon will not play fair.


Following the battle, the party set about holing up for the night. Everyone gathered in the abandoned room. They lit a cook fire and began roasting the snakes they'd killed. Mink, meanwhile, decided he'd go exploring. He climbed up a shaft in the ceiling and explored some cramped tunnels, eventually coming across the kobold's main lair. But on his way back, he heard the sound of more foosteps approaching; what sounded like dogs, and some heavy paws.


Unfortunately, Mink was cornered, and the pair of dogs turned out to be hell hounds, in the service of a rather unsavory gnoll named Obrist the Ravenous. The party heard the hounds growling, and decided to emerge from their room to do battle in the hallway. Mink was holding off some gnolls as they tried to climb up to get him, but the rest of the party fared very poorly. They charged out, then everyone but Brolf and Rosco were felled by the hell hound's breath weapon. Then the other hound bit Brolf, dragging him down too. Only Rosco was left alive, and he made an ill-fated dash past the hounds only to be brought down by the opportunity attacks. Mink fought in the tunnel, dispatching the two normal gnolls, but Obrist, his hounds, and his carnivorous monkey were still lingering below. With no other option in sight, Mink tried to use step of the wind to outrun the hounds, but some poor rolls saw him caught and brought down.


Under the hood: Unfortunately for my PCs, I decided the smell of roasting meat would call for a random encounter roll, and it came up positive. And then I rolled a 98%, just within the 5% chance for the toughest encounter on my list. 550 xp: Gnoll leader, 2 gnolls, 2 hell hounds, and a carnivorous monkey. This would be well beyond a challenging encounter for a first level party, and it worked out exactly as expected: TPK.


On one hand, I felt like a dick throwing an encounter like that at my PCs, especially worn down by the day's encounters. But on the other hand, one of the central themes of the campaign is the deadliness of the dungeon. The very idea that the dungeon isn't fair, that not all fights are winnable, that I'm not going to pull punches simply because the chips are down. In this place, the heroes make their own luck, and sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.


Besides, maybe it's better to get a TPK out of the way early, to knock the complacency out of my players.


We set about creating new characters. Everyone decided to play the same class, though stats were re-rolled and some backgrounds / specialties were changed up.



The Second Party


Brelf, Male Human Fighter - Endurance Specialist, Guide Background - Brolf's older, wiser brother. Brelf is everything Brolf ought to have been but wasn't. Where Brolf was just big, Brelf is actually in shape. He is looking for his brother, and he fears the worst.


Handmaiden Meriele, Female Elven Cleric of Pelor - Healer Specialty, Sage Background - A very proper, feminine cleric who is looking into Valanthe's disappearance. She is intending to write a detailed treatise on undead creatures. Nowhere near as zealous as Valanthe was.


Estel Farwatch, Female Elven Wizard (Academic) - Arcanist Specialty, Spy Background - She's the assassin hired by House Trelayin to kill Estoriel, and bring back proof that the deed is done.


Mork of the House of Mink and Mindy, Male Dwarven Monk - Endurance Specialist, Bounty Hunter Background - Another monk. Not a lot of character to this one either.


Rosco Tealeaf, Male Halfling Rogue - Ambush Specialist, Guild Thief Background - The real Rosco Tealeaf, wondering who's been impersonating him these last couple of days? Turns out the last one was an impostor!



The Second Delve


The newly-formed party met in the Hall of the Lost, where friends and relatives of missing adventurers come to share information and hold out hope for their loved ones. They decided to join forces (conveniently). A mercenary named Drekkis offered his services for thirty gold, which they accepted, and the six of them made their way into the dungeon on the following Parade Day.


They navigated the traps at the entry with little trouble, and found their way down into the dungeon proper. They wound up in the same area as before, and discovered quickly the evidence of their previous characters' rather gruesome demises. Chewed bones and the remnants of some gear, all except Mink (who died running, and this died elsewhere). They decided to take out their anger on the kobolds, and using the secret shaft in the roof, they came upon the kobold lair from behind.


Under the hood: Fifteen kobolds is worth 150 xp, which ought to be somewhere between average and tough. It was firmly in the easy camp. But I wasn't too surprised at the outcome.


They quickly butchered the fifteen kobold warriors in the main hall, though during the battle, an escapee notified the chief of the attack. He began to setup a defense in the halls, using the trapped section to his advantage.


The PCs emerged, but they detected the traps, and while the rogue tried to disarm them, one of the kobolds blasted at him with a wand of magic missile. Not being a wizard, he needed to make an attack roll (which he missed). Rosco wisely decided to take cover. The PCs also discovered a secret passage that let them bypass some of the traps, however, so using that, they attacked.


There was a pitched battle: the chief (an improved dragonshield) and his hobgoblin ally fought alongside a kobold trapmaster and two dragonshields. The hobgoblin was taken down with a single radiant lance crit, while a crit from Brelf took down the trapmaster. Brelf then crit the chief to wrap up the fight and claim the spoils.


Under the hood: Two encounters ran together here. The chief was worth 25 xp, the hobgoblin was worth 40. The trapmaster was worth 70 xp, and the dragonshields 20 each. So all put together, it was 175 xp worth of trouble, most of the way to a tough encounter. The battle played out accordingly; the PCs had the upper hand, but they took their lumps, including a savage blow that took the NPC warrior Drekkis well into the negatives. Meriele had to heal Brelf during the fight, as he had been taken down to 2 hit points. But only Drekkis actually went down.


Looting, and gathering together, they rigged the trapped corridor again and decided to camp in the middle of it, using it as the more defensible ground. They posted watches, and managed to avoid any further encounters through the night. With the dawn, they had enough xp to reach second level, and we called the session there.

Observations


Two sessions in, and I'm already noticing a few things about this latest playtest.


  • The rogue doesn't feel as gimped as I was expecting. Instead, Rosco was consistently dealing sneak attack damage, hitting regularly, and was almost always effective. His skill bonuses came up a fair bit too.
  • The encounter guidelines feel spot on. The xp values seem to be a good gauge of how difficult an encounter will be. They also mention that lower level monsters won't be so much of a threat as higher level ones, which was completely accurate in my findings, despite not a huge disparity in attack bonus.
  • Economy is something I like. The amount of treasure feels pretty good, actually; silver is worth something, and a gem worth 10 gp is actually a reasonably big deal at 1st level. I would still love to see them switch to a silver standard as they were discussing, but I'm pretty pleased with how things are now.
  • On the same note, equipment is pretty useful. After the TPK, the PCs were stocking up on caltrops, hunting traps, and all sorts of other useful things.
  • Area of effect attacks are extremely deadly in this edition. The biggest damage dealers were the hell hounds with their breath, and the kobold trapmaster's fire bomb. Those attacks were dangerous!
Good read, sounds like you guys are having fun, keep it coming!
The rogue doesn't feel as gimped as I was expecting. Instead, Rosco was consistently dealing sneak attack damage, hitting regularly, and was almost always effective. His skill bonuses came up a fair bit too.



I don't think you're DMing sneak attack properly. Let's put it this way:

You're in a fist fight. In real life. You and this guy are slugging away at each other, face-to-face. Now, someone else comes from out of nowhere and puches you in the side. Are you going to feel it? Probably not.

Now, let's change the scenario. You're in a sword and shield fight with someone, squared up, bashing away. You hit his shield, but dodge his counter. All of a sudden, you feel a stab in your side. Are you going to notice?

No, sneak attack.

Uh, what?

What about people who are with you, perhaps behind you throwing arrows. They're not going to notice the sword darting out of a shadow?
The rogue doesn't feel as gimped as I was expecting. Instead, Rosco was consistently dealing sneak attack damage, hitting regularly, and was almost always effective. His skill bonuses came up a fair bit too.



I don't think you're DMing sneak attack properly. Let's put it this way:

You're in a fist fight. In real life. You and this guy are slugging away at each other, face-to-face. Now, someone else comes from out of nowhere and puches you in the side. Are you going to feel it? Probably not.

Now, let's change the scenario. You're in a sword and shield fight with someone, squared up, bashing away. You hit his shield, but dodge his counter. All of a sudden, you feel a stab in your side. Are you going to notice?

No, sneak attack.

Uh, what?

What about people who are with you, perhaps behind you throwing arrows. They're not going to notice the sword darting out of a shadow?



I agree with MortalPlague.   The rules in the playtest say that the rogue gains sneak attack when another friendly is attacking a foe that the rogue attacks.   It makes sense.  If an opponent is distracted by another friend, even if the opponent knows the rogue is there, the rogue is crafty enough to exploit the weakness.   It works.    In fact, just tonight, we played again and the rogue player in our group said the exact same thing as MortalPlague.  We were all surprised that the rogue played better than it looked on paper.   For many monsters having just 1d6 extra sneak attack damage at 3rd level was enough since the rogue only attacked engaged opponents so he could add the 1d6 every attack.

Well played MortalPlague.  (p.s.  I also read your post on ENWorld and commented as Neechen.   I post here as Rhenny.)   You should definitely post more on these boards, too!

Take care.       

A Brave Knight of WTF

Great writeups! Sounds like your group had a lot of fun, even if they learned caution the hard way.

Where do the monsters in the dungeon come from? I'm planning a similar type of mythical dungeon in my game, but I'm not sure how I want to handle that worldbuilding aspect.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
I don't think you're DMing sneak attack properly.


Up till the latest playtest push, you were correct.  But the most recent one gives the rogue the ability to sneak attack any target in an ally's reach.

Well played MortalPlague.  (p.s.  I also read your post on ENWorld and commented as Neechen.   I post here as Rhenny.)   You should definitely post more on these boards, too!


Oh hey Neechen!  Your stuff's always a good read over on ENWorld.  I was on these boards before, up until the gleemax fiasco.  That's when I left and found ENWorld.  I definitely intend to start posting more over here from now on.

Where do the monsters in the dungeon come from? I'm planning a similar type of mythical dungeon in my game, but I'm not sure how I want to handle that worldbuilding aspect.


The ecology of the dungeon is probably the hardest thing I've been trying to figure out.  On one hand, I want things to make sense in world; I want the characters to be able to use politics and make alliances, to play sides against each other.  I want them to be able to destroy the monsters' food sources.  I want the dungeon and its denizens to react to the characters in a believable way.  On the other hand, I do want the dungeon to be a little bit 'gamey'.  There are deathtraps with little real explanation.  There are a whole bunch of bands of monsters living here with only the most tenuous of reasons to be there.  So in the interests of explaining things, here's what I've got.


Where do all these monstrous humanoids come from?

The dungeon has one main entrance / exit, but it has many secret ones as well.  The denizens of the dungeon have arrived mostly through those secret tunnels.  Some such tunnels connect up with the Underdark, while others offer alternative exits to the surface world.  Either way, the location of those exits would be valuable information for any PC.


What stops one faction from wiping the others out?

There are two main reasons for the fragile peace between factions.  The first is physical separation: the dungeon is shaped like a cross, with each tribe occupying a section that opens into a large cavern 400 feet wide and long, and 50 feet tall.  This cavern is full of relatively docile fire beetles (a ready source of food), who only attack if provoked.  So the various lairs are separated, and each group has plenty of food available.

Secondly, there is a human camp called Refuge on the first level.  It is ruled over by a mad swordsman who styles himself "King Hydra the Brilliant".  He has a retinue of criminal followers, who share the space with a band of aloof elves, and a dwarven expedition.  King Hydra is no gentleman; given the chance, he will enslave any hapless adventurers he can trick.  Once taken, he sells them to the gnolls (who then have dinner), or to the orcs (who put them in the arena).  The gnolls have a steady source of high quality food (adventurers taste better than beetles), and being lazy, they are content with their situation.  The leader of the orcs, a lady named Rusalka keeps her bloodthirsty forces in line with regular pit fights (it's an outlet for their orcish aggression), ensuring that they don't destroy their own strength with a futile war against the gnolls.

So yeah... there are politics at play.  I really can't wait to see how the PCs handle the situations. 
I like the internal cavern politics and ecological system. Do the humans etc. Keep torch supplies, or rely on firebeatles for illumination? I am intrigued by what alliances they may form (or destroy).

I'm thinking of having traps in my dungeon summon monsters and/or create undead. I worry that side tunnels would provide access too easily for pillagers to loot the treasures before the party gets there.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
I like the internal cavern politics and ecological system. Do the humans etc. Keep torch supplies, or rely on firebeatles for illumination? I am intrigued by what alliances they may form (or destroy).


The advantage the humans of Refuge have over the other dungeon denizens is that they can walk among the people of Fortune with few problems.  It's easy for them to duck out of the dungeon and re-supply.  In fact, that could be a plot hook, where someone is buying up supplies for the other factions...

I'm thinking of having traps in my dungeon summon monsters and/or create undead. I worry that side tunnels would provide access too easily for pillagers to loot the treasures before the party gets there.


Traps that summon monsters are lots of fun.  I think the best sort are the mechanical ones; the trip rope that rings a bell or clatters some pots.  If the PCs are clever, they can prepare themselves for combat, whereas an unwary party may just be ambushed.

The ecology of the dungeon is probably the hardest thing I've been trying to figure out.  On one hand, I want things to make sense in world;

Not happening in a typical multiple-layers-of-caves dungeon.

Reality: the primary energy (sometimes known as food) source is OUTSIDE.

The grizzly bears are IN THE ENTRANCE, close to the energy source.

Behind the grizzly bears are RATS.

Behind them are COCKROACHES.

There may or may not be bats on the ceiling above the rats and cockroaches. If there are, then there are more cockroaches and fewer rats.

But practically every dungeon crawl in a million universes has easy monsters at the entrance; the deeper into it you go - the further from the energy source and thus the less desirable the location - the nastier the monster.

That makes sense with a few sorts of monsters - rust monsters who happen upon a seam of iron ore, for example, or demons who don't need to eat - but in general it does not.

Now when there is an organization controlling essentially the entire dungeon (as is the case when, for example, a castle is first built), that is a different situation. Deeper into the dungeon is better defensively, so more desirable - and the top monster commands lesser monsters to bring him food, so not being close to the entrance is not a big deal.

"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
Not happening in a typical multiple-layers-of-caves dungeon.


Exactly why the second part of that quoted post mentioned that I also need to make concessions to gaminess.

What's realistic is rarely a lot of fun as a game.   
So we had our third session tonight.  Whereas the last two saw my dice luck being quite hot, it was time for my players to have the hot hand.  Many crits and tremendous burst damage in the first round meant they mowed through every single encounter.  It didn't matter how my dice were rolling, since they dropped almost every enemy before they could act.  They had a blast, of course.

I'll do a whole write-up later.  
I think that's a good point about the mechanical trap. I'll have to think about how to use it. I've thought about the dungeon summoning monsters within a time period of others' deaths, so it's a constantly repopulated environment. Which seems oddly helllike for the monsters.

I'm excited to see the full writeup!
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Session Three: Heroic Rampage

We sat down at the table one short; Mink the monk's player was missing. But we decided to play anyway; we'd just have Mink hanging out at the back of the party, "fighting some additional bad guys". An easy way to handle his absence without having to run his character.

The first order of business was to clear out the rest of the kobold lair. The party had only two areas left to check; a large barred door in the middle of the kobold complex had some threatening noises from behind it, while the underground lake (which had the snakes in it) was still mostly unexplored. Dealing with the barred door first, they quickly discovered an ogre locked away, with a healthy pile of well-gnawed adventurer bones. The PCs had the jump on him, and destroyed the ogre before he had a turn. Some good, hefty damage rolls really helped take him down fast.

Under the hood: Not much to say about this one. The PCs were smart; they unbarred the door stealthily, then gained a surprise round. The ogre rolled low on initiative. So all four PCs plus their NPC got in an attack, then three more attacks occurred before the ogre would have a chance to fight. He's got a lot of HP, but not THAT much HP.

Some loot was had, including a dead wizard's spellbook. I'm using an old rule from earlier editions, where the wizard doesn't automatically get spells when she levels up. Instead, she has to find a wizard who knows the spell, or find it in a book. Making spells a treasure or quest item can make for some great adventuring.

The PCs poked around at the lake, finding a couple of treasures underwater, and they quickly dispatched a bunch of non-aggressive fire beetles. Feeling mighty good about themselves, they decided they would be best served to explore some of the other wings of the dungeon. They jammed a broken pillar into the kobold escape chute (which led to a lower level), and then made their way out into the central cave.

The cave offered an opportunity to meet the other adventuring party who had taken the delve, entering at the same time they did. Marissa Cairn, a lady warrior in blue was sitting at a fire, cooking some giant beetle with her two surviving men-at-arms. They told the PCs they'd attempted to raid a place called the Hall of Bells on the second floor, but the undead had slain two of theirs. Marissa provided the PCs with some information on the other wings, so the characters made some decisions. They decided to attempt the goblin caves first, then to explore Refuge.


The Goblins

The big defensive feature of the goblin caves is a twenty foot chasm. The far side offers cover for goblins; they post a sentry there, who alerts the others if anyone's coming. The walls are covered in thick foliage, which allows someone to climb along them. But Brelf didn't require it; with Rosco Tealeaf on his shoulders, he made a jump, and with his 18 strength, he covered 18 of 20 feet. He grabbed the far edge with his arms, and used his second action to pull himself up and take cover. Rosco slipped around the cover and spotted the goblin sentry, who he quickly shanked.

The sentry hadn't had a chance to sound the alarm.

The party then ambushed a goblin patrol, then ambushed a scout sent to check on the noise. Then they forayed deeper into the cavern complex.

There was a lot of activity from the goblins; moving feet, barked orders. But the goblins wanted no part of a fight. They asked to parley, and two of the PCs met with Rax, the bugbear who leads the goblins. The PCs noticed that many of the goblin warriors bore wounds from an earlier fight; the bugbear confirmed that a couple of adventurers had been through recently. He offered to pay them to leave them alone. They accepted his terms, and about 250 gp richer, left the goblins alone. Perhaps the most surprising part was that Mariele offered to heal the goblins. When Rax declined, suggesting it would look weak, she left him a healer's kit. The gesture actually moved Rax; in the future, the bugbear may be more of an ally than he would've been otherwise.


To Refuge!

Well, not quite. The party went into the wing of the dungeon that held Refuge, the bandit town. But they were sidetracked. The entrance to that wing passes through a library, which is entirely picked clean except for one book, sitting on a conspicuous pedestal. Correctly realizing it was trapped, they decided to investigate; the book was a very fine spellbook, after all. They determined that the pedestal itself was alive; it was, in fact, a gargoyle. Standing back, the PCs decided to attack. The casters managed to inflict some damage as it emerged, and then the warriors promptly dealt with it.

Under the hood: A gargoyle is a level 5 monster worth 320 xp. On its own, it should constitute a tough encounter for a 2nd level party of four (280 xp would be the usual budget). Accounting for Drekkis the NPC, the encounter should be really challenging. It began with a roll of initiative and a surprise round. I decided that the gargoyle would have DR of 10 while in stone form (particularly since its body was largely out of view, only its arms were visible). Two arrows struck it, but failed to do enough damage (since gargoyles are resistant to non-magical attacks). The two casters, however, readied actions to blast it when it revealed itself. When its initiative count came up, the gargoyle burst into view, and was blasted for 21 damage between the pair. Gargoyles only have 34 hit points. It made one attack on Brelf and missed it. Then all the PCs smashed it to dust.

They claimed the spellbook, and set about exploring the rest of the wing. There was a section that led off towards Refuge which they ignored, then a section which housed some undead. A wight made a lair here, with six zombies accompanying it. The undead commander issued a warning not to tresspass, and the party decided to destroy said undead monstrosity. And they did.

Under the hood: One Wight, Six Zombies is 420 xp. The encounter should have been a real challenge, but here's what happened instead. First, the mage won the initiative. She stepped forward and used ray of frost on the wight. She rolled a critical hit, and dealt 21 damage. Now at 6 hit points remaining, the wight had lower hit points than the zombies (who had 7). The cleric went next; she stepped forward and turned undead. She didn't roll enough to destroy any, but she had enough points to affect the undead. And since it affects undead based on hit points remaining, the wight was immediately forced to flee for a minute. Six zombies didn't stand much of a chance without their leader.

Examining the wight revealed that his armor would probably fetch a good price based on the amount of metal alone, so they decided to start removing it from him. Drawn by the sounds of battle, an ankheg began to burrow towards the party; the rogue heard it, so he ushered the party into the hallway, dragging the wight's corpse with them. Dragging the corpse wasn't helping matters any, and the brute burrowed up beneath the fighter. Brelf made his dexterity save, and was able to step back to safety. They battled the ankheg, who spit acid at the party, scoring the only real damage all day. Then they took the beast down, and cut it open to find a trove of swallowed gems.

Under the hood: The ankheg was one of my medium encounters on the random encounter chart, worth 210 xp. His breath weapon actually hit most of the party, and dealt the only damage most party members took all night. And since the DC on the save is 9, everyone made it, taking only 4 acid damage. The creature has an AC of 18, which every single attack managed to hit. It wasn't that the AC was poor, but my party's dice luck was incredible.

Satisfied with their victory, the adventurers decided to check out the other passage before venturing to Refuge. They explored a few tunnels with some portcullis traps, and found a puzzle door which required an INT check to pass by. They made that, and discovered an alchemist's laboratory, long abandoned, but with plenty of valuable tomes on science and the like. Also, they found some potions, and a the wire-connected skeleton of Hawthorne the Rat, the previous tenant's familiar. Hawthorne's story was carved all over his bones in arcane runes.

After some looting, the party found another room with some sarcophagi. Naturally, they decided to open one, and they found the bones of a dead tenant swimming in a gray ooze. The puddle attacked, and three monstrous centipedes emerged from a small crack to join the fight! The party made short work of them.

Under the hood: Gray Ooze is 150 xp, and I had 3 giant centipedes for a total of 180 xp. So this was meant to be an average fight. Surprisingly, it lasted the longest out of any of the fights, mostly because the PCs didn't want to hit the ooze with weapons (after the NPC got his greatsword damaged). Still, the magic was effective, and the warriors dealt with the centipedes with their usual efficiency. Ultimately, the ooze was slain on an opportunity attack, as it tried to get at the softer, magical targets. The fight may have reached the third round.

At this point, we wrapped up, with the PCs debating whether to return to town with their treasures (and earn some bracelets from the Church), or to investigate Refuge first. Either way, it should be an excellent session next Tuesday!


Observations



  • When PCs go on a dice rolling hot streak... wow. It wasn't that my dice were cold, my monsters didn't get a chance to act. None of the fights lasted more than 3 rounds.

  • D&D Next moves FAST. We got through 5 significant fights (the ogre, the goblins, the wight and zombies, the ankheg, the ooze), had plenty of exploration (they explored two wings of the dungeon), and had some roleplay encounters as well. All this in a four hour session. I nearly ran out of prepared material!



Observations



  • When PCs go on a dice rolling hot streak... wow. It wasn't that my dice were cold, my monsters didn't get a chance to act. None of the fights lasted more than 3 rounds.

  • D&D Next moves FAST. We got through 5 significant fights (the ogre, the goblins, the wight and zombies, the ankheg, the ooze), had plenty of exploration (they explored two wings of the dungeon), and had some roleplay encounters as well. All this in a four hour session. I nearly ran out of prepared material!




Another great read, MortalPlague.   

I love your idea about the wizard's spell acquisition it makes much more sense, and adds a lot to the game.

From your experience, and from mine, it looks like area attacks like the acid spray are really much more dangerous than usual melee attacks.   Last night, I played my first character in ages (since I dm mostly).  I made a halfling rogue to play one encounter in another group.  I had a great time, but in the first encounter, our party faced some kind of swamp drake accompanied by 4 kobolds.   The swamp drake got the jump on us, and was able to spray acid all over us.  My first saving throw as a player (probably the first time I played in over 6 years) was a "1".   My little halfling went down as the acid burned him to unconsciousness.  Only the cleric of our party saved, so everyone else took full damage.   Luckily we had 3 fighters and a cleric, so the fighters were able to clean up, and the cleric got me up next round.  

        

A Brave Knight of WTF

Save for half damage is pretty nice. I mean, as a dm tool. I just threw a small hive of ankhegs at my PCs today (writeup forthcoming at some point). That acid felt like a reasonable way to ping away the hp resource (party was level 5 by this point).

As for your dungeon... nice. The bugbear negotiations sound like character building rp. The combat sounds fun and fast! Speaking of which, D&DN keeps surprising me by how much we can get through in so little time. Do you ever try to imagine how much time a session would've taken in another edition?
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
My first saving throw as a player (probably the first time I played in over 6 years) was a "1".   My little halfling went down as the acid burned him to unconsciousness.


Lol... Oh man, bad luck.  In my buddy's first 4th Edition game, I rolled up a warlord who died in a bar fight, failing all three death saves.  It was a really ignoble death in a fight that simply spiralled out of control due to us not wearing armor in the tavern (he just hadn't considered that), and us rolling poorly (particularly me on death saves).

Save for half damage is pretty nice. I mean, as a dm tool. I just threw a small hive of ankhegs at my PCs today (writeup forthcoming at some point).


Yes, I'm planning to use it a little more often in the future.  I have some traps set up in the orc area that are acid blast traps.  The fun part is the PCs can take over the triggers, and use them against the orcs (or both parties).

...D&DN keeps surprising me by how much we can get through in so little time. Do you ever try to imagine how much time a session would've taken in another edition?


Always.  The last session would've been three whole sessions in 4th Edition.  Although the fights would have been tougher.

I'm really excited to see what happens next session (tomorrow).  The players are debating out of game whether to return to town now, or to hold out for six more days in the dungeon so the river is stopped once more, and they can carry all these valuable books out.  If they go back to town, then I get to introduce all sorts of new happenings; they'll probably get bracelets, which will draw in the noble patrons who might want to sponsor them (or at least have a chat with them).  Also, they'll suddenly be big fish in the pond.  It should be a lot of fun to see how they react to the newfound attention from other social circles.
Treasure Aplenty

The characters made the decision to hold onto the books and wait out the six days in the dungeon.  They figured that if they were going to haul back some treasure, they might as well make it a truly momentous haul!  So in addition to the various gems and coins and potions they'd acquired, and the collection of books, they decided to take a pair of 500 pound marble statues.

The first order of business was to explore the last wing on the first level.  Our heroes had destroyed the kobolds and plundered their section thoroughly.  Then they had battled the goblins, reaching an understanding with Rax, their bugbear leader.  Thirdly, they explored the side where the bandit town of Refuge was located, defeating all the undead who lurked in the halls nearby (though not actually visiting the town itself).  The last, they had been told was empty; picked clean by previous adventuring groups.  But Marissa Cairn, a fellow adventurer they'd crossed paths with earlier, had said she was headed there to see if anything had been missed.

In the interests of thoroughness, they set off to see what there was to see.  The empty area was, indeed, empty.  I hadn't even drawn a map for it, it was simply a collection of thoroughly-plundered lairs.  All except for one section, towards the back; a gloomy pool in a cavern, with an island at the far side.  And there, on the shore, looking terrified, was Marissa Cairn.  Minus her pair of bodyguards.

They found out that her bodyguards had been eaten by some sort of monster in the lake, when they tried to cross and claim the treasure from the island.  And, through some trial and error, they discovered that this thing was a blind creature with tentacles and one big mouth (think the Watcher in the Water from Lord of the Rings).  Brelf, being a guide by background, decided that since they were spending six days here, he would attempt to condition the beast to fear attacking the surface.  With the use of a hunting trap on a chain, he would bait the thing into setting off the trap, then haul it back up.  If the tentacle was still caught, it would be hit by missile fire.

Since the party had holed up in a relatively safe area, the chance for encounters was low.  Over the span of six days, there were two.  The first encounter was at night on the third day, when a ghoul and a pack of skeletons happened to smell the tasty flesh.  A relatively tough encounter, the two sides had a standoff at first.  But as the skeletons advanced, the party sprang into action.  The cleric went first, but unfortunately, her attempt to turn undead failed to yield any result (a really poor dice roll).  The mage had better luck; Estel strode forward and blasted several skeletons back with thunderwave, dealing significant damage to three.  Rosco's sling stone was tremendously effective, taking down another skeleton.  At Brelf's direction, Drekkis, the NPC warrior stepped forward to chop down another skeleton with his greatsword.  Unfortunately, that left Brelf without a target in reach, so he stepped up beside Drekkis, and stood shoulder to shoulder with the big warrior, ready to strike any skeleton that closed.

Sure enough, the skeletons closed.  Brelf missed his attack, while the skeletons both failed to strike Brelf and Drekkis.  The last skeletons were stuck behind the line of combat without a ranged weapon, as was the ghoul.  The ghoul hissed and took cover behind a corner, while the last two skeletons waited to shuffle up.

The next round of attacks was more successful for the party.  Handmaiden Mariele wielded Pelor's holy light with much greater success; she hit the ghoul with lance of faith, dealing 12 damage.  That put the creature into bloodied territory.  Then Estel acted, taking down a skeleton with a ray of frost.  Rosco's sling did its work once more, and then Drekkis carved up another skeleton.  That left  one skeleton, and a badly wounded ghoul.  Brelf stepped in and handily cut down the ghoul, and the skeleton was taken down by Marissa Cairn, the other NPC.

Under the hood: This was the second-toughest random encounter on my list, clocking in at 420 xp.  280 xp is supposed to be a tough encounter for a 2nd level party.  The PCs had several advantages; they had the initiative, and they had a bottleneck.  Being able to limit their incoming attacks was a big factor.  Also, my skeletons didn't have bows, which their stat block entitles them to, so the xp perhaps ought to have been a little less, but I wanted to get them up to 3rd level, so I didn't nerf it.  Furthermore, the ghoul was stuck at the back of the fight; I really should've given him superior cover from the corner, but I only granted him regular cover; every attack hit him.  Still, the positioning was mostly to blame for the lack of challenge.

The PCs were 20 xp short of 3rd level, so I gave them each 25 for their training of the sea monster.  They levelled at the end of their extended rest.

On the fourth night, during the first watch, there was another encounter with wandering monsters.  A pair of orcs, on the hunt for adventurers to enslave, carrying three goblin gladiator-slaves with them, came wandering down the corridors.  The orcs were laughing and joking and not being quiet in any way, so they were easily detected.  Furthermore, the PCs were quiet in their preparations, and managed to surprise the orcs as they came around the corner.

We didn't even bother rolling out the combat.  They took down the orcs, then took the goblin prisoners.  One of the goblins spoke a little common, and he pleaded for their lives.  There was a debate between Brelf, who wanted to kill them, and Handmaiden Mariele, who wanted mercy.  Eventually, they agreed grudingly to let the goblins live, but they would bring them to the surface instead of turning them loose.  Brelf did not want them to join with the other goblins, where they would then kill more hapless adventurers.

On the fifth day, the party began to move their treasure up to the dungeon entry.  Parade Day was tomorrow, which meant the waters would be stopped, and they could march out in triumph.  They piled the treasure on the beach, including their pair of marble statues, and they waited.  During the night, a dwarf from Refuge exchanged some words from a distance, promising them work if they ever stopped by.  Other than that, the evening passed without event.  And then with the dawn, the river was stopped.

Our heroes met another band, made up of mercenaries, making their way inside.  There was an exchange of boasting, but they were headed in opposite directions, so they took their leave.  Commander Fang was surprised and impressed to see the party, and he offered some of his soldiers to help carry the statues (and offer gladly taken).  With a great deal of wealth, they returned to town and earned their bracelets.

Drekkis took his leave, heading off to drink and woo some ladies with hiw new bracelet.  Furthermore, Rosco Tealeaf, the halfling rogue, announced that he was through with this place.  But he knew a guy who could step in to fill his shoes; an elf fighter with some thieving skill.  And so, after splitting the treasure, he went off to happier paths.

The party spent a day or two in town.  Some messages came in from friends of the characters (I had typed up letters for the other three, furthering some background details).  Both Brelf and the new elf fighter (his name escapes me at the moment) purchased Displacer Beast Hide Armor, and borrowing a few gold pieces from Mariele, they masterworked their weapons.  With a bracelet, they were also entitled to purchase the services of some more serious mercenaries at the Grey Company; Brelf investigated, seeing if any were worth their salt.  Estel sold the statues to a sculptor.


Onwards and Upwards

With the bracelets came the notice of important parties.  The characters were invited to a dinner with The Ivory Lady, a noble patron, who offered them a quest.  Deep in the dungeon, in the haunted Hall of Bells, a mummy known as Queen Teera wore a priceless necklace, which the lady greatly desired.  She sought adventurers who would accompany her in her mission to retrieve it.  Offering two hundred gold to each party immediately, and five hundred upon a safe return, the offer was simply too good to pass up.  Despite having to accept The Ivory Lady as the leader of the expedition, the heroes agreed to the task.

Furthermore, the party was approached by Commander Fang of the White Guards.  He told them of a bandit queen who has been striking the food caravans coming to town.  Reputed to be a lady of great charm, Illantha Fane is a serious danger to the town of Fortune.  Since they had a few days to wait till the next Parade Day, when they could head for the Hall of Bells, they accepted the task.  As they set out to track down the bandit queen, we wrapped the session.


[size=4]Observations:[/size]

  • We didn't get as much done in the session as I'd have liked, but in the end, splitting treasure is always a long process, no matter the edition.
  • The gold from two levels of adventuring, after being split five ways, was not quite enough for masterwork weapon and an armor upgrade.  I like that.  Two characters managed it, by borrowing money from the casters (which they were then able to repay with the 200 from their new patron).
  • I'm going to be throwing some harder encounters at the PCs in the near future.  These last two sessions, they haven't been challenged at all.  Illantha Fane is secretly a Green Hag, so that ought to make things interesting.  Also, she's got a lot of bandits.
  • The Hall of Bells should also make for a good challenge.  Mummies are a harrowing monster to fight.  Lots of undead in the Halls too, as well as some custom creatures.
 
For those of you following along at home, tonight my PCs will battle some bandits, then attempt to plunder the Hall of Bells.  In that vein, I've posted up the Hall of Bells as a standalone adventure.  You can take a look at it here.
How'd they do? And did you have them update their characters?
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Awesome stuff, MP!  Been a bit busy (and even sick) of late, so fell a bit behind here so it was nice to get to spend some time reading your excellent input and recount.

Speed of combat is definitely one of the attactions to this edition, isn't it?  From my perspective, it allows for more roleplaying and exploration/exposition because you won't be cheating players out of action since it happens more often in a given time frame.  This, in turn, bring more life to the campaign world and, at least for my players, more interest in the characters' part in the world.  The PCs still get a good dose of XP and loot (usually important to players in the long run) but they also feel more engaged in the world.  It has been win-win for our campaigns here.

At any rate, keep up the good work and here's to looking forward to your next account after the break. 
The session went well.  We did update to the new rules.  I asked my players to update their sheets, but players being players, only two of four came to the table with an updated character.  Furthermore, we had an out-of-town friend drop in, and we had to roll up a fighter for him.  So that took time.  All in all, our start was about an hour late.

That said, it was one hell of a session.  We only scratched the surface of the Hall of Bells, but the bandits were a big win.  As for our out-of-town friend, he really enjoyed his first taste of 5th Edition.  He'll be in town for next session on New Years' Day, and he hopes that he can make it for another game.

A bit of a mixed blessing, the lack of time.  I took a look at my Hall of Bells and beefed up a few encounters.  I hadn't noticed, but the xp budgets for encounters have gone up in a big way, so the early encounters were a little bit flat.  Next session promises a more appropriate challenge.

I work in retail, so I'm exhausted with the Christmas rush right now.  But I'll see if I can find some time to properly relate the events.  It's a session that demands I step up my storytelling.  
Sounds awesome, except for working retail.  My wife did that for years as the head of the credit department for a major jewelry chain.  There's no fun in that from what I saw.

Looking forward to hearing the account once you do get a little recharge time. 
Exciting stuff. Hopefully in a few days you'll get a chance to make that writeup. Good luck w/ the job.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Gather round, friends!  Let me tell you a tale.  Twas a cold December evening that saw five companions in dice sit down at a table and welcome an old friend back into the fold.  From the snows of Edmonton he hailed; the brother of Brelf's player, who had long ago been a noble paladin at our table.  He had played 2nd and 3rd Edition many times, but only played 4th once since he had moved abroad.  He was eager to join in some D&D with us once more, no matter what version we played.

So we introduced him to 5th.

It took some doing, creating his character.  The problem was not the system.  The problem was that my printer had died, and I hadn't bothered to print up any of the Background or Specialty sections.  I also didn't have a sheet for him.  So we scrawled one by hand, then set about picking options for his character.  Some of my players also had to update their characters to the new playtest rules.  We were also distracted; we had a gift exchange that happened at the beginning, so there was plenty of fight for the attention of my players.

Still, we got things rolling after an hour.  Our friend had built a duelist fighter named Ral Meynolds (get it?), who had distinguished himself at the Battle of Serenity Castle.  He was a soldier of the east, currently on leave to explore Fortune.

And of course, to tie him into the adventure, he had also been hired by Commander Fang to tackle the problem of Illantha Fane and her bandits.



The Ambush


The PCs were introduced to one another, and Brelf and Ral hit a rocky patch almost immediately (expected, since their players are brothers).  The group began to trek out of town, with Brelf attempting to look for signs of bandit activity.  Unfortunately, he failed his check pretty badly, which meant the bandits found them first.

A couple of good spot rolls on the part of the elves, Estel and Marielle meant that the bandits didn't have an actual surprise round.  No, they just had the advantage of good position.  There were three of them; Illantha Fane herself, a beautiful bandit lady (actually a Green Hag), and two of her more capable bandits.  They took aim and began to shoot, but the PCs had a good initiative.  Estel went first and put one of the bandits to sleep.  There was some fire exchanged between some of the bandits, then Mariele attempted to command Illantha to approach.  Only creatures with more than 30 hit points can roll a save, so when she rolled one, the party realized she was more than an ordinary bandit.  She shrugged off the compulsion and laughed.  Ral managed to close with her, but he missed with his attack.  She leered at him, then went invisible and ran away.  The PCs made quick work of the other bandit, but they realized that they'd just met the leader.

Under the hood: This wasn't meant to be a challenging encounter.  One Green Hag and 2 Human Warriors should not challenge a party of five 3rd level PCs.  And it didn't.  Estel, had she rolled better on sleep, could have put down both warriors.  And if Illantha had failed her save on command, she'd have been in much tougher straits.  Still, the ability of hags to turn invisible at will saved her.  It made it really easy for my villain to escape. 

The characters took the fellow who'd fallen asleep captive, and when they woke him, they questioned him.  He told them about the other bandits, and how Illantha was really magical (he hadn't a clue about her true identity- none of the bandits do).  But he was happy to sketch the camp for them in exchange for his life.  They realized they couldn't have him running back to the bandits to warn them, so they tied him up in a tree.  Brelf was menacing him the whole time, so as they left him there, Estel conjured a silent image of Brelf glaring at him from the tree branch above, just to spook him.  It worked.

The characters played the waiting game; they set up an ambush, and waited for the bandits to come looking for them.  Sure enough, six capable bandits went out looking for them.  By the time the surprise round was up, only two were left standing.  And they'd lost the initiative.  They were swiftly cut down.

With the numbers thinned, our heroes took stock of the bandit camp.  I've attached a picture of the map here:

IMAGE(http://www.jasonromein.ca/banditcamp.jpg)

The slashed-out parts of the map are cliffs that overlook the camp.  The green sections are bushes which provided half cover to anyone in them.  The six stones towards the bottom of the camp were a ring of standing stones, which surrounded a stone hut; Illantha Fane's lodging.  The big round circles are the trunks of the old oaks, in whose glen the bandits set their camp.  You can see the big bonfire, and the pool they use for water.  To the north and west are rows of tents, where they rest.  When the PCs approached, most of the bandits were sitting around the bonfire, drinking and talking and laughing.  Several were off in the tents, making merry in other ways, while there were a couple of notables.  Sitting by the big tree just southwest of the bonfire was a mage. And sitting at the campfire was a big burly northman with a spiked chain.  There were another four bandits of a capable nature, and then there were ten bandit rabble; farmers and farmgirls who'd been handed clubs and told to come along.



The Attack on the Camp


The PCs had formulated their plan.  They positioned their archer, Vell (a replacement for Rosco Tealeaf) up on the cliff that overlooked the bonfire, where he had a commanding view of the battlefield.  Estel, the wizard, went invisible and quietly approached from the southwest, through the narrow forest ravine and into the bushes just west of the standing stones.  Her stealth roll wasn't so great, however, so unbeknownst to her, Illantha Fane heard her approach and went invisible herself to go investigate.  In position, Estel knew the mage and one of the female bandit rabble were talking on the opposite side of the big tree from her.  She could also hear the sounds of activity coming from the tent closest to her; one of the female rabble was enjoying some quality time with one of the male bandits.

Estel cast sleep.

Fengus had been watching Lucelle all evening.  The girl was a looker; that golden hair of hers shone in the bonfire's light.  And those breeches she wore?  Temptation itself.  He had brought her a drink.  She had giggled, and they had drunk together.  They had parted from the others, gone off to seek his tent.  And there, they'd both felt no more need for clothing.  They were in the throes of passion when suddenly... Lucelle fell asleep.

Estel rolled enough on her dice to put the two bandit rabble to sleep (the one in the tent and the one beside the bandit mage).  Acting on the cue, Vell took his shot, and rolled enough damage to pin the wizard to the tree, dead.  The others charged from behind the trees by the stream on the east, and closed with the bandits around the fire.

The fight was brutal and quick.  The bandit barbarian didn't have a chance to act, and a ton of bandits at the fire were just cut down.  The only complication to the plan was Illantha Fane; she appeared next to Estel and raked her with her claws, dealing a fair bit of damage to the wizard.  But she made her save against the corrupting touch.  Ral Meynolds moved to defend the wizard, running to attack Illantha but coming up short.  Then she went invisible.  The group polished off the bandits at the fire, and the stragglers who rushed in to join the fight, while Ral and Estel attempted to deal with the hag.  She was clearly a hag now; the corrupting touch had been a revelation of her vile nature.  And they pursued her into her hut, where she surprise-attacked Ral and sliced him badly (about 20 damage).  But cornered, they managed to take down Illantha Fane.

Under the hood: The encounter was slated at 760 xp.  Under the old rules, that would've been a tough encounter.  But now, it amounted to somewhere between average and tough.  Through clever play, the PCs shaved off 180 xp by picking off six bandits, which brought things down to a 480 xp encounter, which was a little below average difficulty.  And through play, it proved to be exactly that.  Still, it was tremendous fun.  When the sleep spell went off, we were all laughing, and the challenge of pinning down Illantha Fane was exciting and dangerous.  All in all, a fun encounter.  With the new rules, though, I probably should have included more bandits.

I'm going to leave off there for now.  Next time, I'll tell of their return to town, the arrival of Pohtep, and the journey to the Hall of Bells. 
Another great read, Mortal Plague.   Now that the PCs are 3rd level how do you feel Combat Expertise dice are working?

In our group, we are beginning to lament that the fighters and rogues can pile on so much damage each and every round if they want to do so.   As their dice grow, I'm sensing an imbalance with fighters and rogues vs. monsters, and it seems that fighters and rogues are also more powerful than the spellcasters when an adventuring day is 4 or more encounters long.     

A Brave Knight of WTF

I'll have a better idea after next session.  I've ramped up the difficulty on all my encounters, and I'm going to sic' a Behir on any stragglers.  And there will be a white dragon lurking in a lair, if they choose to attempt it.  A little carelessness will result in blood, I think.

Mind you, they have 3 NPCs, and maybe another 4 if they're diplomatic. 
Good good stuff, MP.  Well reported.

Do you feel as though you have to artificially ramp up difficulty on your encounters?  Are you throwing tougher creatures than you'd normally consider appropriate for their level just to challenge them?  So far, it feels that way to me (and, honestly, sounds a bit like it from reading your excellent accounts, but I don't want to assume anything).

XP charts and encounter building guides aside, what matters most to me is that my groups feel challenged and galvanized by level appropriate enemies.  I don't want to have to throw a Basilisk, Dragon, or Minotaur at my lower level player characters to give them a feeling of dread and uncertainty, I want to be able to do that with interesting, dangerous creatures of their level.  I want to be able to save those more horrific creatures for a later date (or as clearly too powerful foes to be wary of and avoid).

So far, my solution is to enhance (aka 4E) some of the current creatures to give them more breadth - the goblin shaman with some spellpower or the gnoll assassin with poisonous bolts, etc.  That said, even they often fail to live up to any sort of adequate confrontation as characters simply dispatch them too easily.

I hesitate to boost AC and/or HPs at this time until I am sure I do not like the current balance of character power to creature durability - but that day seems to be approaching fast.   
MP, great read as usual. I'm also curious along Shade's line of questioning. I've found max hp (instead of average) gives a badguy an extra round and a half... but, it doesn't necessarily match the expected XP of the challenge. Otoh, fights are always mitigated by good tactics, good rolls, and PC numbers.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Do you feel as though you have to artificially ramp up difficulty on your encounters?  Are you throwing tougher creatures than you'd normally consider appropriate for their level just to challenge them?  So far, it feels that way to me (and, honestly, sounds a bit like it from reading your excellent accounts, but I don't want to assume anything).



This has absolutely been the case.  The PCs can take a hell of a lot of punishment.  And if they win the initiative, it spells bad news for the enemies.  Not to mention their damage output is off the wall.

That said, I just wrapped session six, which was the first time my PCs truly felt like a fight could've gone either way.  I'm going to be typing up the report just now, so hopefully it'll give you some better ideas of how the encounters seem to play out.

This is the second half of the fifth session.  Where we left off, the heroes had just defeated the bandit queen, and were standing in the camp amidst the corpses of her followers.

A Rival


While the party looted, secured the lost food, and generally dragged all the bandit corpses into one place, Brelf was chosen to run back to town with Illantha Fane's head so the guards would send out some wagons to retrieve the food.  In the camp, however, four adventurers on horses approached.  Their leader was a magnificent cleric of the god of trickery, a dark-skinned demagogue named Pohtep.  He shared a horse with Daria, an assassin rogue masquarading as a simple harem girl.  An elf archer named Shirk followed, as did a feral human fighter named Felicia Lunarlynx.  They greeted the party, made mention that they'd come because they saw smoke (from the bonfire).  Pohtep, they learned, was a glib fellow, using words to mesmorize, offering insult and backhanded compliment more often than not.  In short, Pohtep was a dick.  They discovered that he was seeking something from the Hall of Bells - the very destination of their next venture.

Under the hood: Pohtep is a character I played in a 4th Edition game, run by one of the current players.  He was enormous fun, all charisma and cleverness, always maneuvering for a political edge in the ruthless Aztec-style city the game was set in.  Felicia Lunarlynx was a fighter played by a friend of mine (not a current player) in a 5th Edition playtest.  She fought through some of Blingdenstone.  I promised to use her as one of the adventurers in my campaign.

Pohtep rode on towards town, while the others lingered to await Brelf's return.  Brelf himself met the riders on the rode, and after a brief exchange of insults, he passed them by and arrived at the camp.  Wagons followed, unloading the food, and the adventurers were well rewarded for their deeds.

More importantly, the group filled Brelf in on the nature of the threat that was Pohtep.  The man seemed competent, and could pose a serious threat to their efforts at claiming Queen Teera's necklace.  While the others set about preparing for the journey, Estel took it upon herself to try and take Pohtep out of the picture.  Direct confrontation would be too obvious, but instead she hired one of the Mourning Girls to kidnap Daria, the rogue (and apparently, Pohtep's woman).  The kidnapping succeeded the night before, but Pohtep tracked down and murdered the girl who took Daria, and showed up angry on the morning of Parade Day.

Under the hood: I ran this with a couple of d20 rolls to see the results.  Pohtep crit his attempt to find Daria.  It was no contest; he showed up to enter the tomb.

The adventurers all marched up the mountain and entered the Hall of Bells.  The PCs had enlisted the aid of two NPC warriors: a grizzled northman named Zarchus, and a slick rogue named Myrielle.  The Ivory Lady was accompanying them as well; though not as capable as her hired champions, she was good enough to keep up.  That meant the PC group numbered eight strong, while Pohtep's only numbered four.  But they were a potent four.

The PCs went first, but in the upper cavern, they decided to get their bearings.  The knew that the dungeon rotates, and they knew which chamber the Hall of Bells was beneath.  So armed with that knowledge, they spent an hour getting their bearings, descending to the second level, and marching up to the correct wing of the dungeon.

Pohtep had the opportunity to reach the Hall first, but I rolled a d4 for which direction he picked and came up with the wrong one.  So the PCs were first into the Hall.

I won't go into much detail about their early encounters; they went inside, explored the South Cells, and found the skeletons and zombies there to be an easy challenge.  They took down some undead, then heard Pohtep and his band approaching, which is where we ended the session.

Under the hood: I hadn't updated the monster numbers to reflect the huge boost in xp budget in this packet.  So they fought only two skeletons and four zombies in the first chamber, then two zombies from the storage room, followed by two skeletons from the North Cells.  The whole fight was trivial; only the zombies' ability to stay up made it anything close to interesting.  Still, it's fun for players to have a stomp from time to time.

Hall of Bells - this is the dungeon my PCs were attempting.  Included is the whole map, with updated monster numbers, and the stats for Pohtep and his company.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the old D&D adventures (whether it was published or homebrewed) was that there wasn't any true sense of XP budget involved in them.  It was much more organic, as if we all just said, "what makes sense here."  Occassionally, a room was lightly guarded or a copse of trees had a nest of stirges or a pile of refuse had an ooze in it, etc.  It also meant that the rumor of a black dragon in that swamp could be true or that the an orc stronghold was heavily guarded - encounters that were too dangerous for players early, but carrots for them to be lured to when they felt bold enough.

Granted, sometimes the get-to-the-point nature of linear adventures has some attractiveness.  Every encounter is well balanced and level appropriate.  It ensures challenge and resource use at a fixed pace, and helps drive the story and push the players along.  It's what makes MMOs successful.  A party gets to walk into a world where caves have [for Level 5] posted at the entrance and get a pretty good dungeon romp from start to finish with "boss fights" and invidivual encounters leading up to it (just like a dungeon queue in WoW).

I can't argue with DMs and players who prefer it that way, I just tend to enjoy a more open canvas world.

By the way, your Hall of Bells is fantastic.   Well done.

When we last left our heroes, they had just entered the haunted Hall of Bells.  The last few sessions had seen a fair bit of combat, but nothing truly threatening.  I wanted to change that.  The Hall of Bells was my opportunity.


First off, the December playtest push changed up the experience budget values.  I actually had a great deal more budget to play with when selecting monsters.  In addition, the monster math had been tweaked to make monsters more dangerous.  The monster math hadn't been truly dangerous last session, but with a good dungeon crawl chock-full of undead, I was prepared to amp up the difficulty.


The party featured a few hired mercenaries, who I did not include in the encounter building numbers, so the PCs would have a bit of a leg up on the difficulty.  One of the conceits of the campaign is that mercenaries actually do give PCs an advantage in the dungeon (for a price).  It would defeat the point if I adjusted encounters to compensate.


So here's what I did.  First, I put together the dungeon and populated it.  Then I went over and adjusted the number of monsters up from my original design to meet the new encounter guidelines.  But that wasn't enough.  I created a group of rival adventurers who would be racing the PCs in a friendly / not-so-friendly rivalry.  Then, I also added a behir (a Level 10 monster) who had followed the rival adventurers into the dungeon, and was lurking in the tunnels below, eating the crypt spiders.  The behir functioned as an ambush predator; it would attempt to sneak up on and eat any stragglers, but if it was discovered, it would retreat back down below, using its superior speed to escape.  But the constant threat of a behir attack had the characters on their toes.


All the building blocks were in place for a climactic dungeon crawl session!  Let's meet our party.


 


The Brave Adventurers


Brelf Proudhammer - Human Fighter 3 (Guide background)


Handmaiden Meriele Amastacia - Elven Cleric of Pelor 3 (Sage background)


Estel Farthrow - Elven Wizard 3 (Spy background)


Evellios (Vell) - Elven Archer Fighter 3


Zarchus - NPC - Human Fighter 3


Myrielle - Semi-NPC - Human Rogue 3


The Ivory Lady - NPC


 


Unfortunately, real life circumstances kept Ral's player from joining us, so his character was quietly retired.  We did have a guest sitting on who hadn't played before, so she took over the NPC rogue Myrielle.  So with a band of seven, the adventurers continued their exploration of the Hall of Bells.


 


The Parley


When we left off last session, it was with Pohtep and his rival adventuring group approaching via the main entrance.  The PCs debated whether they would take the diplomatic route or not, but ultimately their good tendencies won out.  The PCs hailed him from down the corridor, and they discussed the terms of their exploration.  They told him that they had staked claim to the area, while Pohtep promised them that he was not after the necklace they sought.  He suggested that there was room enough for both parties to explore, and took his group northwest towards Area 7.


The PCs were left to the cell blocks.  They cleverly used acid to loosen the bars to the statue room (Area 4), searched it thoroughly (which took half an hour), and looted the trinkets there.  They avoided use of the tunnels beneath to reach the chamber, which meant they avoided the crypt spiders and the behir.  For now.  They ventured into the North Cells (Area 6) and found a wight and five zombies awaiting them.


This marked the first battle using the new math.  The wight taunted the PCs into coming to fight him, and he arranged his zombies in a line before him, blocking access; or so he thought!  Brelf won the initiative, and using a longspear, he jumped over the zombies.  His high jump height cleared seven feet.  I ruled that one zombie got to make an opposed dexterity contest to attempt an opportunity attack, but Brelf handily won that too.  Then he struck the wight for a savage blow, nearly dropping him on the first attack.


Meriele stepped forward and turned undead, and all the undead fled.  The zombies ran as far as they could, while the wight simply didn't get the chance; he was cut down before he had a chance to act.  However, the reinforcements arrived in round two; 2 wights, 3 skeletons, and 2 zombies from Area 9!


The wights were immediately dangerous; one pinned Brelf in the corner with the help of the zombies, while the other one took on Zarchus.  It was here that parry proved its worth, saving Brelf and Zarchus considerable damage.  The skeletons all had bows, however; they arranged themselves on the far wall and began to peg both Brelf and Meriele, who were both threats.


Meriele backed off down the tunnel to avoid the skeletons, hiding behind were Vell was standing.  I had the behir lurking about nearby, so I gave it a sneak roll.  It did poorly.  I handed Meriele a note telling her about noises from down the corridor.  Fortunately, she didn't go off investigating, but she did peek around the corner, only to see a flash of something blue ducking back into hiding.


In the end, the PCs managed to cut down the undead, though with considerably more HP loss than I'd expected.  Brelf briefly investigated the blue thing, but there was no sign of it; whatever it was, it had slipped back down into the tunnels.


Under the hood: I had planted an extra wight in this encounter, and it proved to be a good idea.  The first one went down so quickly it didn't even factor.  Overall, this encounter was worth 1190 xp.  A tough encounter for four 3rd level PCs should be  840 xp.  So this was tougher than tough.  And honestly, it actually worked out as the numbers suggested.  There was a fair bit of healing thrown out, the cleric used her turn undead, and only Vell was unscathed through the whole fight.  The fight also exposed the two weaknesses of parry; it doesn't stop ranged attacks, and it's a reaction - only one use per round.


 


The Second Parley


With the attack from Area 9, the PCs knew about the secret passage, so they followed it through.  They found another well with bells dangling above it, and they met Pohtep and his band once more.  Both groups looked considerably banged up; Pohtep had been clearing out some of the other areas.  The rival adventurers offered to join forces; the Hall had proven to be more challenging than either had expected.  Wisely, our heroes did not trust Pohtep; they questioned him on his actual goal.  He conceded that he was seeking a powerful weapon; a mace called Scarhallow.  Each PC aside from Meriele was fine with his goal.  But Meriele had the truth written on her face; she knew of the weapon, and had been tasked to retrieve it for her own church.


No truce could be reached.  There was further discussion; the demagogue was keen to reveal that he knew the secret of the bells, though he would not share it.  He also revealed the true nature of the behir, and informed the PCs that it had followed his group into the Hall, and was even now preying on the creatures that live in the tunnels beneath.


Pohtep and his companions left, heading further into the dungeon, while the PCs discussed their options.  The prospect that they might have to slay Pohtep was entertained.  Meriele hesitantly revealed a secret; Commander Fang of the White Guards had drawn her aside before they entered the dungeon, and told her, "Pohtep is a good friend of the Exarch.  It would be good if he did not return from the dungeon."  Evidently, the leader of Tiamat's Red Branch and her White Branch were at odds, politically.  But being a good character, Meriele was hesitant to act on such a suggestion.


 


A Journey In The Tunnels


The PCs decided to ring the bells and see what happened.  They positioned themselves back in the side chamber, and had Vell fire an arrow.  The bells rang, and it summoned a pair of crypt spiders to the bottom; without looking down, all the characters heard was the skitter of legs.  Then they heard a hiss and the sounds of combat; the behir was tearing the spiders apart!


They decided to take advantage of the combat; they wanted to see if they could catch the creature.  But by the time they got down to where it was, the beast had slain the spiders and was already moving on.  The party decided not to pursue the behir into the tunnels.


The tunnels proved to be a good way to move around, however.  The caverns from the north cells in particular headed northwest, which led in the direction they hoped to go.  So taking to the tunnels, and moving in a group, the heroes advanced.  They came to the bottom of a well.  They could hear the sounds of far-off combat from above; Pohtep was battling a mummy in area 13.  Brelf had Zarchus give him a boost up, then he climbed the rough surface of the well.


At the top, he peeked over the edge.  There was Queen Teera herself, the awful mummy with her court of eight skeletal warriors, each armed with a bow.  He had come up right in the throne room (Area 14)!  He managed to make the wisdom check not to succumb to her aura of dread, but the Queen was still a terrible figure.


"Who are you to enter my throne room?" she rasped.


"I'm Brelf Proudhammer, and I'm an interloper in your halls," he replied, somewhat awestruck at the sight of her, and a little sheepish at being caught.


"Did you bring friends?  Or were you fool enough to come alone?"


"They're below," he admitted.


The Queen turned to her archers.  "Ring the bells," she commanded.


Brelf cursed and clambered down as the skeletons drew their bows back and peppered the bells with arrows.  The sound filled the tunnels below; there was little doubt the spiders were coming.


The PCs formed quick battle lines, with Brelf and Zarchus up front.  The spiders appeared; one from the north, one from the southwest.  They attacked with savage ferocity, battling both fighters.  Brelf was holding his own, but Zarchus took a serious bite on the first round, and succumbed to crypt sickness.  Pale and shaking, and in rough shape, the NPC warrior suggested they might bottleneck the spiders in the southeast tunnel.  Brelf agreed.  The PCs began to move back, forming a new line, while Brelf and Zarchus held theirs at bay.  The spider bit Brelf too, but he made his constitution save.  Zarchus took more damage; he was in bad shape.  The others lined up behind Meriele, who stood at the front line with her chainmail and shield, a warrior for her faith.  Zarchus made good on his retreat, and so did Brelf.


Only one of the spiders had taken any damage, due to poor rolling on the PCs' part.  Meriele had a spiritual weapon flying around, and Vell had shot one.  One spider was at roughly half damage, the other was unscathed.  But the bottleneck would help limit the terrible melee attacks of the spiders.  Unfortunately, Vell hadn't retreated back far enough, and the spiders lurched forward.  The healthy one rushed him in melee and critically hit Vell, dealing 20 damage.  The archer then failed his constitution save, contracting crypt sickness, with its necrotic vulnerability.  The wounded spider spat a gob of necrotic ichor, but fortunately for Vell, it missed.  A hit would've meant double damage; it might've spelled Vell's death.


Vell managed to withdraw behind the cover of Brelf and Meriele, who were holding the line with impressive skill.  With the battle lines locked in place like that, the spiders couldn't hit them, and over the next few rounds, they managed to bring both beasts down.  Following the battle, Meriele used lesser restoration to cure Vell, though she hadn't enough of Pelor's grace left to cure Zarchus too.  Fearful that the behir would show up and attack them while they were vulnerable, they retreated back to the north cells and climbed out of the tunnels.


Under the hood: I couldn't have been more pleased at how the initial meeting with Queen Teera went.  It's rare you have a chance for an exchange of banter between hero and villain, especially if the villain gets to spring a trap.  So that was tremendous fun.  As for the encounter, it's hard to quantify.  The crypt spiders were a custom creation; you can find their stat block in the adventure if you're curious.  I was trying to build something terrible and fierce, with a sickness too, so that one couldn't simply shrug off their bite.  Let's face it; few things in D&D are as scary as lingering effects.  The spiders had roughly 56 hit points each, which actually gave them some staying power.  It was impressive how long they lasted, particularly with AC 14.  But the other side of the coin was dice luck; the PCs spent the first round not rolling above a ten on the d20.  And there was a good deal of dice hate in the whole encounter, even past the first round.  Still, I was quite satisfied with the results of the fight.


 


The Third Parley


Battered and injured, the PCs met Pohtep again; he and his group were likewise battered and injured.  They'd been fighting one of the mummified handmaidens.  Pohtep suggested a truce; that both parties rest up before venturing back in.  It was clear that both groups required an extended rest.  He also offered to share a camp with them, but the party was mistrustful enough to decline.  Probably a wise choice.  In a bid to show off whose god was mightier, Pohtep used one of his lesser restoration spells to cure Zarchus, where he then smugly suggested that their whole group owed him a debt.  Brelf was insistent that Zarchus would've had the strength to fight it off on his own.  Amused, Pohtep left, to set up camp outside the Halls.


 


At this point, we took a break for dinner.  It goes to show how quickly 5th Edition can run; we started at 4 pm, and took our dinner break just after 7 pm.  In the span of three hours:


  • RP encounter (the first parley)

  • Exploration encounter (getting into and looting the statue room)

  • Combat encounter (the north cells and reinforcements)

  • RP encounter (the second parley)

  • Exploration encounter (the tunnels)

  • Combat encounter (the battle with the spiders)

  • RP encounter (the third parley)


That would've been a long session in any other edition, but for 5th, it was half the session.  And none of it felt rushed or unfulfilling.

I really need to get around to typing these up sooner.  Our 7th session is already in the books, and I'm still putting six up.  :p

Session Six - Part Two


Without much further ado, our heroes set up camp in the dungeon.  They didn't trust Pohtep's offer to share camp; they figured (correctly) that he would enact some sort of treachery.  So they set watches (two on watch at a time) and rested in the South Cells.

Most of the undead in the halls isn't inclined to rove.  But the behir was another matter entirely.  I gave it a pretty good chance to show up during any of the watches.  It landed on watch two, with Brelf and Estel awake and watching.  Brelf made an excellent check and spotted the beast slipping quietly up the South Well, just a short ways down a corridor from where they camped.  On an excellent stealth roll, he managed to hide beside the doorway so that he'd have a free attack on the beast when it slipped inside the room.  Estel hid similarly, and readied a ray of frost.

The surprised behir was struck by the ray, but Brelf's attack missed (his dice were miserable this session).  The behir was high on the initiative, however, so when its turn came around, it beat a hasty retreat.  It's incredible speed put it down the well before anyone could catch it, even with Estel's ray of frost.

Under the hood: This particular behir is an opportunist, hoping to pick off strays and eat them.  Its bravery extends to sneaking up on sentries, but when confronted by the whole awoken band, it decided to retreat.  The delightful part of the behir's stat block is its speed; the beast can move 50 ft, and climb 30 ft.  It makes it a perfect ambush predator.

The PCs worried that the beast might try again, but their fears were unfounded; it had been bitten once, and it was not keen to be bitten again.  The remainder of their rest passed without event.

Gathering their strength, the PCs set out to find Queen Teera.  They decided to check some of the rooms to make sure nothing would surprise them, and wound up slipping into room 12.

There, they were attacked by the wraith who used to be a guard captain, and his skeletons, half armed with bows.  The ghouls joined the fight almost immediately.  The undead won the initiative, and they charged forward and blocked the entrance.  Most of the fight took place there; the wraith fell quickly, despite taking half damage, though he did strike for some decent damage himself.  The ghouls managed to paralyze both Brelf and Zarchus (NPC warrior), though each of them shook off the effects quickly.  The remaining skeletal archers were finished off, as were the ghouls, and the encounter was won.

Under the hood: This encounter weighed in at 700 xp.  Average for 4 PCs at level 3 is 440 xp, while tough is 840 xp.  So this was leaning much closer to tough than to average.  However, I ran this fight rather poorly.  One of the best ways to make a fight boring and static is to bottleneck the PCs in the door, and that's what I did here.  In doing so, I made it so only the wraith and one other skeleton could attack the PCs in melee, which meant all the melee PCs focused the wraith down very quickly.  Handmaiden Meriele helped with some radiant damage as well.  The ghouls were reasonable threats, but their low AC made them easy to bring down.  The skeletal archers proved to be the biggest challenge, constantly hitting.  Brelf, once again, emerged from the fight with a score of arrows sticking from him.

They claimed a silver chain of rank from the defeated wraith; he had once been the Captain of the Queen's guards.  Satisfied with their victory, they ignored the cavern and decided to confront the Queen.


Regicide: Not Just For Kings!


Since Brelf had seen the layout of the Queen's chamber the day before, the adventurers had a good idea of the layout.  They sent Vell around to the end of the chamber to peer down the collonade, and he was able to confirm that they had not moved.  So they made a plan.  Brelf, with Meriele and the NPC warrior Zarchus would attack through the side door, engaging the archers in close combat.  Meanwhile, Vell, Estel, the Semi-NPC rogue Myrielle and their NPC patron, The Ivory Lady would slip around to the collonade approach, and fire at the foes from behind the cover of the pillars.  It was a very good plan.

Initiative was rolled.  Myrielle the Semi-NPC Rogue went first, followed by Estel, the wizard.  There was no way to get a surprise round against the undead, but since the collonade attackers were going to spring the attack, I gave them advantage on the first attack.  They all had to make their saves against Queen Teera's fearsome presence, and all made it; except for Estel!  I allowed the wizard to 'spend' her advantage in exchange for a second saving throw, which she made.  The PCs had been preparing for the attack, after all.

Here's how it went down.  Myrielle took aim and shot Queen Teera.  She added her martial dice, and came up with 9 damage, after Queen Teera's damage reduction cut it in half.  Then Estel went; she cast Melf's Acid Arrow.  Being a metamagician, she used her energy substitution to make it a fire arrow.  The bolt struck Queen Teera.  She, being vulnerable to fire, took a solid 32 damage.  Queen Teera died.

Undead are not creatures prone to any sort of morale, however, so her skeletons continued the fight.  There were eight of them with bows, and though Brelf, Zarchus and Meriele launched a devastating assault, cutting down three of four to start, the others began to wear down the warriors with their incredible accuracy.  Then the two wights joined the fight, emerging from the chamber behind the throne.  And from further down the hallway, the Queen's handmaiden, another mummy, and her five zombie guards began to lurch towards the ranged characters from behind.

The melee contingent fought the wights while trying to pick off the skeletons.  Meriele left them to go for the new mummy; she had some alchemist's fire ready for Queen Teera, but robbed of that chance, she figured one mummy's as good as another.  The ranged characters began to retreat down the hall, firing ranged attacks while the mummy and zombies slowly tried to close.  Mummies and zombies are both slow, so it was easy to kite them, but they needed to be dealt with quickly; Brelf and Zarchus were being shot to death by the archers while dealing with the wights.

I've attached a picture of our battle mat at about this point.  Characters are labelled.  The green is the outline of the tunnels that run under this area.
IMAGE(http://jasonromein.ca/TeeraFight01.jpg)

You can see that there was a further complication; sensing his opportunity, Pohtep and his band were moving in from the south to enter the fight.  Myrielle was backed into a wall by the mummy and her zombies; instead of disengaging, she decided to try her luck cutting down the mummy.  Alas, that didn't go so well; the damage did not fell the undead creature, who then struck her for all her hit points.  Myrielle was knocked down to 0, and then she failed her save against mummy rot.  Which meant that she could no longer regain hit points (among other things).

The ranged characters dispatched the mummy, with the aid of Meriele's alchemist's fire.  But Pohtep marched up the short hallway and announced gleefully his intent to betray them.  He channelled trickery and cast mirror image, becoming a target much harder to strike.  Laughing, he launched his attack; his archer, Shirk parked in the short hallway and began to pepper foes with arrows.  Felicia Lunarlynx, the ferocious warrior charged Zarchus and Brelf straight on.  And Daria meekly slipped into the chamber behind the throne room, waiting for her chance to strike unnoticed and assassinate someone.  Pohtep was marching up and he used his magic to cause problems; he used Command to force Brelf to kneel, and that's what he spent his next turn doing.  Two skeletons remained, and he hadn't the ability to take them down.  Zarchus was busy fighting for his life against the ferocious Felicia Lunarlynx.

The Ivory Lady finally made something of herself in this fight; she took aim at Pohtep with her crossbow and crit him!  On top of that, she successfully hit the true Pohtep, rather than one of the doubles, hitting him for nearly 20 damage.  Nearly bloodied, the priest of trickery used inflict serious wounds on Meriele.  He missed the Handmaiden, but she still took half damage, which was enough to drop her unconscious.

Felicia was striking at both Brelf and Zarchus with whirlwind attack, though both were parrying most of the damage.  Their battle went back and forth until Vell took aim and critically shot Felicia for nearly 30 damage.  Badly wounded, the fighter had only a single hit point remaining.  Brelf went in for the kill and hit.  He rolled 14 damage.  She parried 11.  She caught his blade, but the force of his blow drove her parry down, till his axe rested in her skull.

At the top of the round, a new creature entered the initiative list.  Those who succeeded on a listen check could hear something moving about down the well.  The bells had been rung earlier, when Vell had been taking cover behind them.  But it was clear to all that something was coming up the well.

Estel was trying to strike Pohtep, managing to dispatch one of his doubles.  The Ivory Lady was handed a potion for Meriele; she ran forward to the stricken form, and then fed the cleric a potion.  Meriele returned to life with 5 hit points.  The last of Pohtep's doubles was destroyed, leaving him a ready target for Brelf.  The wounded warrior ran over and planted his axe in Pohtep's back, taking down the evil cleric with extreme prejudice.

At this point, the behir struck.  Ringing the top of the well were Brelf (badly wounded), the corpse of Pohtep, Meriele (badly wounded), and The Ivory Lady.  I rolled a d4 to determine who the beast went for, and came up with Meriele.  The behir attempted to pull her down the well, but on a roll of five, it missed! Frustrated, it slunk away into the tunnels, not wanting to risk full-on conflict.

Brelf dashed over to the hallway, where he cut down Shirk.  The last member of Pohtep's band, the lovely assassin Daria surrendered.  And with that, the fight came to a close.

Here's how it all looked at the conclusion.
IMAGE(http://www.jasonromein.ca/TeeraFight02.jpg)

Under the hood: This was one hell of an encounter.  I linked three whole encounters, and I added a random behir attack at the end.  It was a dynamic, shifting, exciting encounter.  Many characters nearly died.  Much loot was acquired.  And the XP from the fight gave the PCs level four.

There were a few standouts.  First, Queen Teera went down like a punk, but the circumstances felt appropriate.  She'd had a chance to be badass earlier, so I didn't feel like my villain hadn't lived up to expectations.  Secondly, her demise had come specifically at the hands of a potent spell which had been modified to cater to her specific weaknesses through use of a class option.  It was a reward of smart play and preparation that they were able to take her down as quickly as they did.

The rival adventuring group worked really well, and felt extremely dangerous.  I built them using PC rules, so it was really a PC vs PC fight.  Pohtep's mirror image was brilliantly effective; it made him a caster who could withstand some hits, while his lackeys tied up some of the warriors.  Felicia was a dangerous combatant; she nearly took down Zarchus, and had he fallen, she wouldn't have had to split attacks between him and Brelf.  Shirk was dishing out tons of damage as an archer.  Only Daria never really got to use her tricks, and that's fine; she was really an assassin, so full-out combat isn't her thing.

I couldn't have written a better script for the behir attack.  When the die came up and indicated Meriele was the target, the whole table was riveted.  The attack roll came up '5', and we had a great description of Meriele lying flat as the beast swept over her.  It was electric.

And when it came down to it, it was a fast combat!  This sort of fight would've taken a majority of the session in 4th Edition.  Not so here!


Following the battle, the PCs bandaged up and claimed the priceless necklace from Queen Teera.  They searched Daria and relieved her of her weapons.  She made an attempt to use her charming presence to charm Brelf, but his godlike wisdom check bested her formidable charisma check.  Angered at her attempt to seduce him, the group sent her out into the dungeon to make her way back, weaponless and alone.

I rolled a percentile chance for her to make it back out of the dungeon; she had the advantage of stealth, though without weapons, it was risky.  Still, the dice told me she lived, so there would be one who beat them back with news of Pohtep's demise.

Weary and beaten down, the party decided against further exploration.  The Hall of Bells had kept its secrets so far, so why not another week?  Gathering the poor rogue Myrielle, stricken with mummy rot, they headed to the entry hall.  There, they would rest a little longer so they weren't so vulnerable when they came out.

So that's it for session six.  Session seven, coming up soon!
Thanks guys. Now, I'll type up what happened in Session Seven.

Home For A Rest

Our noble heroes, worn down by the fight in the Hall of Bells (and nursing their unconscious, mummy-rot afflicted NPC rogue) swam the river and emerged outside the dungeon. True to form, they had also carried the statue of Queen Teera from the statue room in the halls, and they dragged it through the tunnel behind them. Because they'd brought a statue out last time, they simply couldn't disappoint their adoring public.

The session saw them spend some time in town. First off, they went to the Church of Tiamat and claimed their second bracelet, putting them firmly in the upper echelon of heroes in Fortune. Few manage to claim two bracelets! Zarchus (the NPC warrior) took Myrielle (the NPC rogue) back to the Grey Company, so that they could fix her affliction. The Ivory Lady, meanwhile, brought the PCs back to her camp where she paid them the five hundred gold pieces she owed. She gave them a bonus for going above and beyond the call of duty; the hall had proven more dangerous than even she had expected! An extra twenty platinum coins was doled out to each participant, and each PC was given a silver ring set with an ivory mask on a black field; the symbol of her house. An honor, naming them as agents of her house.

In town, the various characters found themselves the center of attention. Particularly Brelf and Vell; many would-be adventurers challenged them to brawls and wrestling matches, or in Vell's case, archery competitions. We ran a brief 'combat' for each, just to give the PCs a chance to show off. Other adventurers were trying to hit on Estel, who was instead trying to manipulate them to serve her goals. Meriele followed the others, healing those who Brelf injured in his fights.

Estel had a job to do; the elf wizard was also an assassin in the service of House Trelayen, an elf crime family. The last time they were in town, she'd received word through her contact Maya (one of the Mourning Girls) that Princess Rethella, the heir to the Trelayen family was coming to Fortune to personally oversee operations. She had left two instructions for Estel; the first, that the Emperor Suite would be available to her when she arrived. The second, that the cleric Roevus was no longer in Fortune. The first, she was keeping an eye on. As for the second, Estel had been hard at work planting the seeds in the minds of adventurers to go after a treasure on the third level called the Golden Fleece.  Every time she spoke of it, she suggested that Roevus would be a fine cleric to take along. The last week's efforts had come to naught; Roevus remained above. But while suitors were hitting on her, Estel deftly suggested that they might want to go after such a prize, and that she'd be inclined (maybe, possibly, perhaps) to join with their venture if Roevus were along.

It bears mentioning that Estel had hatched another plot earlier; just prior to going after the Hall of Bells, she had talked to Maya about the possibility of delaying Pohtep. Drugging him would be tough, they decided, but Estel came up with a plan to kidnap Daria, Pohtep's girl. Sure enough, Maya put the plan into action; she enlisted another of the Mourning Girls named Prea to kidnap the girl, so that Pohtep would spend the morning trying to find her and miss the opening to enter the dungeon.

Alas, all did not end well. Pohtep showed up with Daria on the morning in a foul mood, and Prea turned up dead.

In any case, the first day back was without major events. The PCs were rewarded, they heard some of the news, and they found out that Daria had actually survived to make it back to town.


A Message Signed In Blood

The following morning was the start of four full days in town. The dungeon would be opened on the morning of the fifth day.

That morning, there was a buzz in town. Vallanor the Bold had arrived! A noble, charismatic hero rode into town with his retinue; a butler, a cook, four men-at-arms, and six ladies.  He began to boast about his feats, spreading his gold around, and he loudly announced his intention to enter the dungeon on the next Parade Day.

Each of the PCs was invited to a celebration of their second bracelet in the town square at noon. Wary, they prepared some anti-toxin, and as they collected in the square, they imbibed it. Estel made an excellent spot check, and noticed that all the Mourning Girls were in attendance except for her contact, Maya. And she also spotted what looked like a headsman's block up on the platform. But she didn't try anything rash, and minutes later, the Exarch appeared.

It was the first time any of the PCs had met Exarch Anaiya Draco, the Commander of the Red. She was an unassuming woman, actually, with plain features, brown hair, a little under six feet, and splendid red plate armor. The only thing unremarkable about her was her stance, which suggested a strong martial tradition. But otherwise, she was unremarkable.

She spoke about how the PCs demonstrated the qualities that the town of Fortune was built upon. "Bravery, skill, and a desire for more and greater wealth," she said. "For they were not content with merely one bracelet, but when back in for more." She finished with a toast, a fine fire brandy, which servants gave to the PCs. All drank, but the goblets were not poisoned.

Following that, she brought forth Maya in chains, and put her down on the block, her neck outstretched. "In Fortune, we do not tolerate those who murder their fellows," the Exarch said. And with eyes on the PCs, she commanded her headsman to take off Maya's head.

It was clearly a message aimed at the PCs. They had slain Pohtep in the dungeon, who the Exarch was fond of. Cross me again, and you could be up here too.

Finally, she announced that Pohtep's funeral would be two days hence.


The Wager

The crowd was congratulating the PCs on their accomplishments as they dispersed. One of the last to reach them was Vallanor the Bold himself. He congratulated them warmly, and then challenged them to a wager. "There are griffons who live at the top of the mountain," he said, gesturing to the mountain that loomed over Fortune. The very same mountain that housed the dungeon itself. "Join me in my hunt tomorrow, and we shall see who bags more griffons!"

The PCs agreed. To make things more interesting, Vallanor proposed a wager; five hundred gold pieces to the ones who slayed more griffons! To this, the PCs also agreed. They were hoping to hire on more and better mercenaries for their return to the dungeon.

The rest of the day was largely uneventful. But not entirely. Many of the characters had received letters the last time they were in town, and Brelf was no exception! Except that his wasn't for him. It had been for Brolf, his deceased, stupid brother. It read:

Hi Brolf!

I learnt to write. I hope you learnt how read? If someone reads to you, I laugh.

I killed a moose yesterday.

I want to come to Fortune. I will come with the new moon. You and me will kill all the things. We drink all the ale. It will be like old times. You and me will be best.

Don't tell Brelf.

Cousin Sacks


There was no doubt that Cousin Sacks would be going to his death, and that it would be difficult to persuade him not to go into the dungeon. So Brelf had taken some advance steps; he gave Drekkis (one of their earlier mercenaries) 30 gold pieces for the express purpose of getting Sacks well and truly drunk, so he wouldn't be able to get into the dungeon. After that, they'd see what happened.


Well, Brelf was in the tavern when Sacks showed up. Big, fat, and dumb, Sacks waddled into the tavern and immediately froze when he saw Brelf. He had been spotted. He tried to pretend he hadn't, and turned around, trying to subtly waddle back out. Brelf walked over and put a hand on his shoulder.

"What are you doing here Sacks?"

"Oh hi, uh, Brelf."

"What are you doing here?"

"Oh, nothing."

"I saw your letter."

Sacks went pale. Brelf told Sacks that Brolf was dead; Sacks laughed, convinced that Brelf was kidding him until Brelf brought out Brolf's skull. Drekkis arrived, and Brelf handed him three extra platinum coins and nodded for him to grab drink. Sacks took the news of Brolf's death in stride; he vowed to make sure that both he and Brolf were good and drunk by the end of the night. The thought that Drekkis was paying made things even better! He turned Brolf's skull upside-down so it would hold more beer (neglecting to consider the eye sockets), and prepared for some partying.

Brelf prepared to do some Sacks-avoiding.

The next morning, the group went hunting. They met up with Vallanor, who was planning to take the trip with his four men-at-arms, and he suggested that they could pick the path up the mountain they wanted to take. Brelf, being a guide (by background) chose what he surmised to be the quicker path up the mountain, so they split up and began the ascent.

The first obstacle they came across was a small lake, which due to the rocks around it, they'd have to go through. They were ambushed by a witch, who cackled and commanded her pets to feast! Five giant frogs hopped up from the water, and began to attack the PCs. One frog managed to snag Vell, while another grabbed Estel. The others were less successful, though one pulled Brelf over with its tongue. Then the witch cast a spell of silence, which prevented Meriele and Estel from casting spells!

The lack of casting would prove to be a serious problem. Vell was fighting in close, where he took disadvantage on his ranged attacks. One of the frogs had him grabbed, so he couldn't get away. We ruled that Estel could use her wand in the silence (still not sure if this is correct or not, I suspect not, but I wanted to make her wand useful), so she picked off a couple of the more injured frogs with magic missiles. Then things got real interesting. One of the frogs swallowed Estel whole! The witch closed with Brelf and inflicted moderate wounds upon him! But Vell was able to kill Estel's frog, which allowed her to clamber out, and Brelf took down the witch. The other frogs had died in the fight, and the green slime which clung to one of the trees hadn't had a chance to attack.

Under the hood: This encounter clocked in at 620 xp (some of which didn't even come into play, with the green slime). The witch was a re-flavored Dark Priest. An average encounter for four 4th level PCs is 840 xp. So this should've been an easy encounter, by the encounter guidelines. It proved to be quite difficult, actually, in large part thanks to the witch's silence. Shutting down the cleric and the wizard was a really potent trick. Combined with the terrain, it meant that Brelf couldn't easily reach the witch. I was impressed with how challenging the frogs were, being level 1 monsters in a 4th level fight.

The party looted the witch, then proceeded up the mountain. The terrain gave way to alpine meadows, with plenty of jutting rocks. As they neared the peak, where the final leg of the journey would require a climb, they saw the other group, a little ways back. They had the advantage of time, it seemed! They also found some ettin tracks, which led to a large cave towards the base of the peak section. It would take too long to slip around, and it would be hard to sneak up on the ettin (what with the two heads and all), so they decided to lure it out and fight it.

Cleverly, Brelf suggested that Estel use her illusionary magic to call out to the ettin, mimicing a female giant looking for a mate. She did so, and rolled a considerable bluff check in the mid-twenties. However, she didn't speak giant, which imposed disadvantage. She rolled the same result on her d20, however, making it a moot point.

The ettin would've been harder to fool, since it had noticed (on a critical spot check) the approaching people. But he was completely fooled by the check. He emerged, with his saber-toothed tiger on a chain, and bellowed out to the fictional giantess, "Why you come up with little people?"

The surprise round ensued. The saber-toothed tiger was cut down quickly, while the ettin was savagely wounded. Brelf engaged it in melee, and the ettin had a turn or two to try and pummel him. The first time, it landed a crit with one club and a hit with the other. The second time, only one hit, which was fully (and impressively) parried by Brelf. The ettin was wailing around the whole fight, calling out to the giantess he imagined was lurking somewhere, asking her for help. But by the third round, the ettin ran out of hit points.

Under the hood: This encounter was worth 1090 xp, which puts it somewhere just above average difficulty. However, the surprise round made it an exercise in futility to measure it. Surprise rounds are really, really deadly in this edition; they trivialize encounters, and ought to be handled judiciously. I'll often allow PCs to have advantage on their first round as a 'partial surprise' before I'll hand out a full-on surprise round.

The PCs were still ahead of Vallanor the Bold and his group, but the others were making good time up the meadow. The PCs quickly looted the Ettin, and dragged the saber-toothed tiger corpse into the cave (so Brelf could skin it later), then they began to climb the rocky cliffs up to the griffon nests. Only Brelf had a climber's kit, so he was setting ropes and pitons for everyone, which slowed them a little. Vallanor the Bold reached the base, and all of his men had kits; they climbed much faster. But the initial lead led the PCs to the summit first.


Battle On The Peak

I drew the battlefield. The summit was a rough circle, with open cliffs on most sides. There were smaller ledges below the cliffs, forty feet down. If someone was knocked off the edge, they'd get a dexterity save to catch themselves, and if they failed that, they'd fall to the lower platform. If they were knocked off the platform below, they'd fall down the mountain and likely die. The summit was littered with rocky upcrops, each one a twenty foot tall pillar of stone. On top of one, the griffons made their nest.

I allowed the PCs to choose where they came up. Vell opted to have climbed ahead a little, and perched up on top of one of the upcrops, for a commanding view of the battlefield.  Estel climbed up at the base of Vell's outcrop. Brelf and Meriele climbed up a little further along. And the griffons, all perched atop the rocky upcrops, shrieked and began their attack.

The griffons won the initiative, and swooped in with deadly purpose. The first attack was on Vell; one of the griffons plowed into him with a single claw attack, and pushed him off the edge. He took 2d6 and 4 from the claw, then failed his dexterity save and spilled over the cliff. While most would only take 40 feet of falling damage, he had climbed onto the upcrop, and took 60 feet worth. Fortunately, Vell had tumbling dodge, which I allowed him to use to mitigate some of the damage. But he was still sorely wounded. Another griffon pounced on the mage, Estel, and tore into her with its claws and beak. Still a third flew around and attacked Meriele from behind, savaging her with claws and beak. The first initiative count had left the party reeling.

Desperately, the PCs focused on the griffon attacking Meriele, since it could also be shot by Vell on the cliff below. The griffon was bloodied in one turn, while Estel blasted the two near her with thunderwave, knocking one close to Brelf and Meriele. Unfortunately, she was still separated from the others. When the griffons acted again, they tore into Estel and took her down hard. The wounded one disengaged, and used its impressive movement to sweep around to the far side of the peak, while the unhurt one Estel had thrown their way began its attack on Brelf with an attempt to push him off, which missed.

The PCs managed to bloody the second griffon, while it flew off and around, and the third one emerged. The first one returned, joining the fight to take down Meriele and Brelf. Meriele fell, leaving Brelf to fight it himself. Vell managed to kill one of the griffons, while a second one circled around and took him down. Only Brelf was left standing, fighting two badly-wounded griffons. He killed one, but the other was up on a rocky upcrop, out of range. He decided to throw his axe as part of his cleave, but sadly, he missed. The remaining griffon swept down at him, and they fought back and forth for a round, but the griffon's damage was really high, and he took down Brelf.

TPK.

Under the hood: Wow. This one got out of control fast. There were a number of factors in play here. First off, the encounter was worth 1590 xp. A tough encounter for a 4th level party of four PCs weighs in at 1680 xp. So by the numbers, this should have been tough, but not overwhelming. Secondly, the PCs weren't down any significant resources. They had needed a bit of healing on the first fight, but the second was a breeze, and nobody had gone nova.

So what went wrong? A few things. The griffons won the initiative, and had a very, very strong first round. Vell's fall from the top made him unable to really move around the battlefield, since he'd have to spend a full round climbing back up to reach the battlefield. Estel climbing up away from the others made her a vulnerable target, and her going down in the second round meant there were no acid arrows flying about, which would've been significant ranged damage (and automatic, to boot; half on a miss is still damage). Finally, dice luck played a huge role. My dice were hot. I can't count the number of times I rolled 15+ on a d20 that fight, or max on a damage die. And my players all, with no exceptions, had poor dice luck. They missed all fight long, and rolled below average on almost every damage roll. Brelf especially suffered from that.

What would I do differently? Not much. I would probably split up the griffons, so they'd act on separate initiative counts. Most of the rest was bad dice luck and poor placement on the part of the PCs. The encounter was designed to be challenging, but not overbearing; just a few poor decisions compounded by some bad luck led to things spiralling out of control.


It wasn't a glorious TPK; it was a side quest, meant to be entertainment between delves into the dungeon. But you never plan for a TPK, do you? In any case, I told the players that Vallanor was scaling the cliffs, and was pretty close to the top. So if they wanted to continue playing their characters, it would be quite possible for him to enact a rescue (and slay the last, badly-wounded griffon). One of the players suggested we roll to see who stabilized and let that determine who gets rescued, so we did. Everybody stabilized, save for Handmaiden Meriele, who bled to death on the summit.

At that point, we called the session. Next week, we'll see Meriele's replacement. And the player of our dwarf monk is returning, at long last free from his December work schedule, and he'll be bringing in a new character. It should be exciting to see how things go. I look forward to seeing how Brelf, Estel, and Vell cope with the Handmaiden's death, and how the new characters work out. Additionally, Meriele had purchased a funeral, complete with the 'Ceremony of Fading Light' (a ceremony for Clerics of Pelor), so we'll finally get to see a PC funeral!

Till next time!
Again, I enjoyed reading your exploits.   It is interesting to see how encounters vary in difficulty depending on a number of factors.  One thing I've noticed, and it seems you have too (based on your reports) is that sometimes simple movement and other abilities makes a creature much more tough (fly, swim, grapple) or at least gives the illusion of tough.  In my last game a giant albino crocodile (re-skinned giant lizard with 42 hit points and chomping jaws) bit, grappled and nearly pulled the fighter deeper under water.   The fighter (and rest of the party) was 5th level, but the croc had xp value about 200 xp.  By the numbers, it should barely have been a problem, but because of the terrain, and its ability to grapple and swim, it scared the heck out of the players.

I agree with you about initiative and surprise.   PC/Creatures who go first or bunch up their attacks are much more dangerous...and a full round of surprise is often the kiss of death.   

Thanks for the great write-ups.

Cheers.    

A Brave Knight of WTF

...sometimes simple movement and other abilities makes a creature much more tough...


Definitely.  The griffons ability to fly made them pretty tough to get to in the last fight (though their aggressiveness meant they could almost always be attacked).  I'm delighted that dragons are really fast in this edition for this exact reason; getting a chance to have them fight then disengage will be an extremely cool battle, I think.

I agree with you about initiative and surprise.   PC/Creatures who go first or bunch up their attacks are much more dangerous...and a full round of surprise is often the kiss of death.


Yes.  PCs going first makes the battle really tough, while the reverse is often true as well.  My buddy called it 'first round blues'; in 4th Edition in particular, when monsters won the initiative, they'd make it seem like the PCs were going to be wiped out.  But PCs would invariably bounce back with a suite of encounter and daily powers and seize momentum.  5th has less of it, but it still has it; I expected the PCs to down a griffon in the first or second round through sheer firepower.
You may have noticed that I didn't post up anything from last Tuesday.  We had a few people sick, so we instead ran a 5th Edition one-shot.  Over the course of two weeks, I've been planning my next session.  In the interest of getting some pre-session thoughts, I'm going to post a few things up here.


New Characters


Meriele's player has rolled up a monk.  Her order sent her to Fortune previously to retrieve a lost scroll from the dungeon, which she did successfully (earning two bracelets).  Her order has just finished decoding the scroll, which tells of an enlightened hero who ventured deep beneath the earth in the dungeon.  Giving her a scroll of 'Speak With Dead' and a few important prophecy-related questions, they've sent her back to Fortune to look for the corpse in the dungeon.

Our fifth has returned as well (the fellow who played Mork and Mink).  He's rolled up a rogue (with some pretty good stats, I might add).  I haven't had a chance to talk with him about character back story, but it'll be good to get back to five players.  It'll also be good to see a rogue in action!

As for the next session, there will be a funeral for Pohtep (the NPC rival), then a funeral for Meriele (since she paid for one).  She also paid for a special religious ceremony called the "Ceremony of Fading Light", which will be presided over by Brother Averyn, her previous aide.  I still have to come up with some ideas for a special cleric ceremony for a cleric of Pelor, so if anyone's got ideas, I'm all ears.  Mostly fluff and flavor stuff, but I'm open to suggestions.  I want it to feel grand and special, since she put out extra money for it.


Back To The Dungeon!


Brelf's plan is to clear out the goblins on level one (since Meriele will no longer be around to object).  Then to plunder the treasure vault of the Hall of Bells.  Then he wants to kill the lake monster he was taming.  There hasn't been a discussion in character just yet, but it seems likely they'll be tying up loose ends.

I expect the goblins to be easy fodder, but it'll be fun for the PCs to feel the benefits of being higher level.  Letting them mow through a whole cave of goblins should be fun.  Then the treasure vault will allow them to claim some actual magical weapons, a moment I've been anticipating for some time.

As for the lake monster, the beast was previously in an area cleared by other adventurers.  I'm going to give it some new inhabitants; a drow, her five troglodytes, and their pet rust monster.  It should be a speed bump encounter for them, but I want to give the impression that the dungeon isn't always sitting quiet and waiting for them; some places get re-inhabited!  The lake monster itself I'm modelling off of the hydra, and it'll function similarly.  It likely won't be much of a challenge either, but I think it'll be fun for the PCs to get in some easy killing.


The Adventure


My buddy has volunteered to run a short 3-4 session game in February, so I'd like to put this campaign through a short climactic arc before we put things on hold for a bit.  My campaign thus far has revolved around the PCs controlling their own destiny, where they can make educated choices and retreat is always an option.  Well, I want to change that.

I'm going to collapse the floor beneath them, and sent them plummeting several hundred feet into an underground lake.

The way back up is not an option; they can't scale the walls of the cavern.  All they can do is swim to shore.  The PCs will then have to find their way back up through the caverns and tunnels, fighting what they can beat, avoiding what they can't.  I want to make provisions matter here (I plan to have one of their NPCs ask about provisions before they leave town, just to make sure they have some).  I want them to seek out food, to cook what they can catch, to have to ask the question, "Can I eat troglodyte?".  I really want the long rest rules to come into play, too; I'm probably going to adopt one of the slower-heal rules for the campaign.  Till now, it hasn't mattered.  But for this arc, it definitely will come up.

There are risks, of course.  PCs may die in the course of the adventure, and it will be difficult to just add in a replacement PC.  They have some NPC mercenaries, so that's a possibility, but I'd prefer to keep them from becoming full PCs; they have obligations to their mercenary company in town, which would be tough for a PC to work with.  That said, I may have the PCs encounter some other survivors deep down; prisoners, perhaps?  I may offer the chance to roll up and play a second PC, though I'm really not sure if my players would enjoy that or not.  I may just have said prisoners lurking in the wings, waiting to be rescued whenever a new PC needs to turn up.

I'm going to try and come up with some interesting exploration scenarios, in addition to the combat hooks.  If anyone has some particularly good ideas for challenging terrain features (like a natural chimney, or a tight crevasse, things like that), I'm all ears.

The floor collapse will be the work of the Exarch's agents, which means that she'll consider the PCs dead.  The PCs will know this.  The big dramatic payoff will be when they stroll back into town, even after they were presumed dead, putting her on shaky footing.  Which I think is a good way to end before a break.

Thoughts?
Hi Mortal Plague.  I made a random chart for underdark encounters (some combat some just flavor or hazards).  As DM, sometimes I like to trick myself too by rolling random encounters.  It keeps me in suspense.

Underdark Exploration Table


1.  Tunnel crawl  (pcs have to get down on hands and knees to crawl through a very tight passage if they want to continue)


2.  Rumbles…rock slide down a chute -  DC 15 Dex 4d6 or 2d6


3.  The ruins with bone pile (Stirges attack)


4.  20’ gap with path continuing 20’ above on the other side


5.  Cavern with a large pool of water (20’ by 20 foot) before the exit tunnel


6.  Same as 5, but Albino Alligator lives inside.   Tries to grab and drag pray to underwater cave.


7.  20’ x 20’ cavern with phosphorescent mold all over the floor and walls


8. Are we lost?  Dead end cavern…collapse cuts party in half..giant snakes investigate.


9. 50’ wall to climb to get to the exit passageway.


10.  Sulfur smell….mist and steam 10’ x 10’ passageway.  DC 13 Con or 2d6 damage


11. Tunnel collapse (DC 12 Dex 4d6 or 2d6)   - 1d6 hours to dig through


12. Lizardmen tribe ambush.


13. Phosphorescent mushroom patch


14. Dead end…pit descends (20’ drop)


15. Displacer Beast on the prowl.


16. Dead body…a Deep Dwarf drained of blood.     Banded mail, greataxe…Duerger Dark Forge Necklace.    2 Carrion Crawlers are feasting on the body or a huge spider attacks the party to capture more pray.


17. Hissing and sliding sound down the way.    It is retreating from the party.


18. Green slim tunnel ---- Spot DC 12…..Dex DC 12  who pass under.    1d6 damage + 1d6 damage per round until it is scraped off.


19. Large mushroom caps growing 10’ up from the bottom of a small depression that is 60' across. Below the mushrooms is a spongy substance that secrets acidic juices (Acid mold that does 1d6 damage per round of contact).  One of the PCs accidently kicks a small rock and it fall into the depression.   The PCs hear a sizzling from below (if they look down, they see the rock smoking and in 20 rounds it decomposes)  PCs can hop from one to another DC 10 dex check.  Make 2 checks to get across. 


20. 3 spears stuck into the ground to form a tripod.  There is a large skull (panther-like) placed upon the top of the spears.  Some kind of tribal marking (Lizard men left behind after they killed a Displacer Beast).

A Brave Knight of WTF

Those are some really good suggestions, Rhenny.  I'm definitely going to use those for inspiration.

I think what I'm going to do is create a series of areas that are connected in different ways.  Each area will be of varying size; some will be a few small caverns, others will be a huge cave, while still others will be a labyrinthine maze of tunnels.  I'm going to have lines between each of them, representing a way the party can travel.  Some ways will require more effort to traverse; for instance, one way might be a vertical chimney, where they must use climbing gear.  Or another way might skirt the edge of an aboleth's lake.  Other ways might be safe and benign.

Not all of the ways will be obvious, either.  Some will require the PCs to search or interact with the environment; one might be hidden behind a barrier of moss, which is revealed if it's cleared away.  Another might need the PCs to reach the ceiling to get to it.

Also, each area will have some challenges.  There will be staked territory for lizardfolk and orcs and the like, where the chance of encountering a patrol is increased.  There will be some areas which are monster lairs.  And still others which feature environmental hazards, like a huge crevasse, or a lava pool.

I think the list of suggestions you gave me will shape many of these areas.  I love the mental image of a tripod of spears with a displacer beast skull; just fantastic.  I'm definitely going to have some displacer beasts and lizardfolk, so that's in for sure.  And the tunnel collapses are certainly going in the list of random encounters; I don't want it to just be monsters, after all!