April Playtest - Back To Blingdenstone

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A buddy of mine hadn't had the chance to play through Blingdenstone yet, despite being a huge fan of the svirfneblin (deep gnomes) since 3rd edition. At last, our schedules lined up, so we roped together a few people and tried out the latest playtest package!

None of the group had much experience with 5th, but they had all played D&D before. They picked things up fairly quickly. Character creation was pretty easy, and didn't take too long.

The Cast

Barin Stiffhammer - Hill Dwarf Barbarian
His excellent name is courtesy of ENWorld's very own Dwarf Name Generator. He wound up wearing scale mail, and he alternated between using a maul in two hands, or a hand axe and a shield when defence was called for. He took the Soldier background, and went with the Disarm feat.

Brother Eli - Human Monk of the Path of Four Storms
Played by the svirfneblin fan, the monk was both dextrous and wise, making him a difficult target to hit. He was initially going to use his fists almost the whole time, but as the party came up against lots of small targets, he began to use his quarterstaff double-weapon to get more attacks. He took the Commoner background, and selected the Herbalist feat.

Ultus Bluffrunner - Wood Elf Fighter
Using a longbow, he decided to take Ricochet and Nimble Dodge. Both proved very useful. Wearing light armor, he and the monk were the only stealthy members of the party. He had the Guide background, and he chose the Weapon Mastery feat.

Reginald Sharp - Human Cavalier Paladin
With absolutely perfect hair, Reginald was a paladin with charisma. He wore medium armor and carried a shield, and in his hand was a bastard sword. The intention was to use it two-handed when damage was more important, but there never arose an occasion when he could spare the defence of the shield. He took the Spy background (bit of a carouser this one), and had the Shield Interpose feat.


Back to Blingdenstone

I'm pretty familiar with the adventure from all the times running it, so I brushed up on it quickly then jumped right in. We played through Briddick bringing the party through the Underdark, and had a couple of random encounters to get them all used to their characters.

First, they spotted the gray ooze before it got the drop on them, and since everyone had ranged weapons, they destroyed the ooze with little trouble.

Secondly, they stumbled upon a band of gnolls that had been slaughtered. One of the corpses was twitching, something that should not be happening an hour after death. Ultus got close to have a look, and eight giant centipedes burst forth from the corpse! The scene was unnerving, and it really showed the horror of the Underdark. The beasties themselves were little threat, but Ultus did get stuck in melee, where he was forced to use his rapier and shield rather than his bow.

A short while after, they arrived in Blingdenstone. As Briddick deftly navigated the maze, he filled them in on the current state of things. Once inside, he recommended they report to Kargien, then left to make his own reports. The PCs chatted with several NPCs, met (and mistrusted) Kargien, and wound up resting up at the Singing Stones.

One of the best things about the Reclaiming Blingdenstone adventure is the sandboxy nature of the game. I've run the adventure four times now, and each time, the players have discussed which quests they want to tackle first. The adventure does a great job of presenting a varied and interesting threat, and different players will consider different things to be more or less important. But the adventure never forces you to go down a path, it lets the players choose their own list of things to tackle.

The PCs decided that the Wormwrithings and the kobolds were the first order of business, and they rested up with the idea to set out in the morning.

I was using the Blingdenstone Enhanced (kootenaygamer.blogspot.ca/2012/08/blingd...) events for this playthrough, so for the morning, I rolled the 'Tucker's Commandos' event. It was absolutely perfect.

Seven kobolds and a dragonshield kobold led an attack on the Singing Stones, catching the PCs just as they were about to head out. A quick and one-sided battle ensued. Only the paladin took any damage, and that was from one sling stone. The barbarian, notably, killed three kobolds with his javelins, even with disadvantage on two of three throws.

With clear evidence of the kobold threat, they marched into the Wormwrithings with the aid of Miglin Crackedquartz. I played Miglin a little different this time; he was all for exploring the Wormwrithings in detail, and took great pains to wheedle and beg the adventurers to keep looking for gems. The PCs wanted to collapse the tunnel right away, but he convinced them to look around for an hour.

I rolled for an encounter every ten minutes, rather than once per hour, so they had six rolls for encounters. They found some crystals first (and I just gave them the maximum three, since I'd accidentally told them Gurmadden required ten). They then found some citrines, and mined four of those. Then they found an iron vein, which was relatively worthless (for the amount of time it would take to mine). Then they hit a kobold ambush.

Now this was one vicious encounter. I put a few too many kobolds into this, perhaps, but it was fun to threaten the party with their first big battle. Two of the PCs were surprised, which didn't help either. First, a kobold alchemist hit them all with a fire bomb, dealing fire damage to the whole party. Then an ogre emerged, prodded by two kobolds with spears towards the party. And this wasn't a blind ogre either, it was a fully-functional ogre. On top of that, another 11 kobolds with slings were lurking in the wings, ready to pounce.

The kobolds' mob tactics really carried they day. The slingers didn't miss at first, and I rolled a few high results on the sling stones. Even though Eli and Ultus could reliably take down four kobolds in a turn, things were brutal. Reginald the Paladin went down in a flurry of sling fire before he had a chance to act, and then the ogre lumbered in close. Barin the Barbarian fed a potion to the paladin, then I let him fly into a rage (seemed appropriate, considering he was about to face down an ogre). The kobolds nearly took a bunch of people down, but the paladin saved Barin with a timely shield interpose. Then the paladin healed everyone with a lay on hands! Being able to divvy up the healing meant he could give the lion's share to Barin, but give a little bit to each of the others and himself.

Barin stood toe to toe with the ogre, with the paladin interposing his shield every turn. The rage meant that Barin Stiffhammer only took half damage from the brute's attacks, but even so, a solid hit could have taken him down. The interpose turned a hit into a miss once (though the ogre's glancing blow hit for 2 damage after halving it), then it turned a glancing blow into a full miss another time. Combined with lay on hands, and the paladin really shone through the whole encounter, despite being a magnet for sling bullets (he went down three separate times, only to be fed a potion each time). Eli and Ultus each went down once during the battle, only to be healed too. So it was one hell of a fight, but the PCs survived. Reginald killed the ogre, Ultus shot the alchemist as he tried to flee, and the day was won.

They decided it would be a poor idea to linger in the tunnels, so they headed back. They found the page from Everall's journal on the way out, then collapsed the tunnel behind them.

Resting up, they decided to tackle the House Center next, and to find the crown. Also, their XP would boost them to second level. With renewed capabilities, the PCs awoke to a commotion, as a tavern brawl had erupted at the Singing Stones (one of the random events from Blingdenstone Enhanced). It was dramatically perfect, to really highlight the fact that the svirfneblin were fraying, underscoring the fact that the PCs had only collected four singing stones total. Not enough to help Gurmadden bring the music back to life.

Sorting out the brawl, the PCs carried the injured svirfneblin to the infirmary, where they left them in the care of Jalless. Then they went seeking the House Center. I'm using the improved House Center found here: docs.google.com/file/d/0B2aB_PxvuLxrcGtx....

After a quick reconnoiter, they killed the fire beetles in the courtyard. During their recon, however, Ultus caught sight of Talabrina Duskryn and her bodyguards watching from the distance. Being spotted, the drow retreated into the tunnels; the only information revealed was that the figure was likely female, and she had two bodyguards. But it was certainly enough to spook the party.

Nevertheless, the adventurers marched into the House Center and defeated the skeletons in the south guard tower. That done, they turned their attentions on the keep proper. But alas, that will have to wait. For it was late, the players were tired, so we called it.


Observations:


  • This was the first time I'd seen the paladin in play, and I really liked it. He was a very capable combatant, able to hold his own in a fight. But he was also perfectly suited for aiding his allies. He had a great deal of buff powers, combined with the shield interpose, and that's even without using any of his spells. Full marks to WotC for making a paladin that filled the role very well.

  • Not sure if it was due to their new-ness to 5th Edition or not, but only the monk really grasped how to use a skill die. He's played more 3rd and 4th edition than all the rest combined, so that might have had something to do with it. I really like the theory behind the skill die, but it seems to confuse new players.

  • Likewise, the elf's player never grasped the idea that he had advantage on spot and listen checks. We had to keep reminding him. Also, being underground granted the dwarf the same bonus, which was similarly forgotten.

  • As always, the speed of combat surprised me very pleasantly. Even the kobold ambush played quickly at the table, and that was filled with agonizing decisions. Players didn't have any qualms giving up an action to feed a potion to a downed comerade, or to heal the group with lay on hands.

  • There was a moment when the barbarian was raging and facing down the ogre when we realized he would lose his rage if he stopped to drink a healing potion. I really loved the way that worked. It really fits the rage idea very well.

If you play again, you should make sure to let your Monk know that he doesn't have to use a quarterstaff to use two-weapon fighting. You can use two-weapon fighting with your unarmed strikes, since you have at least four of them to attack with, five if you've got a thick skull. Being able to use unarmed strikes in combination with two-weapon fighting is the main reason Monks don't have Flurry of Blows anymore, because they don't need a separate ability to do it.
You know, that's absolutely correct.  I'm not sure why we didn't think of it.  I'm sure he'll be delighted.  
We had another session today, and it was a doozy. The PCs were all level 2, and the new PCs started there too.


New Players!

Our group grew to six people, so we had a few new PCs rolled up.

Pope Ganja - Human Cleric of the Lifebringer
Winning the 'least-immersive name award', the Pope quickly became the group's healer. He was definitely geared up for it, though it turned out that lance of faith did less damage than his mace. Since he wore chainmail and carried a shield, he wound up being fairly hard to hit. I'm not sure which feat he picked, since another player was helping him build the character. He was a minstrel, however, which was great fun, since the player is a gifted guitarist.

Nancy Langstrom - Human Illusionist Wizard
The player had great fun describing his character as a short, rotund blonde woman who illusions simply couldn't fix. She picked up the mage armor and minor illusion cantrips (not sure what the third one was), and chose magic missile, gust of wind, and cause fear.


Adventure!

The party had just cleared out some skeletons from the House Center of Blingdenstone. Brother Eli, realizing that he no longer needed his quarterstaff, snapped it over his knee and vowed to always use his fists from now on. The two new arrivals conveniently happened by, the party met up, and decided what to do. They figured they would tackle the barracks first (on the lower level), since they didn't want to leave any foes behind them. They discovered that there was a mass of skeletons lying inside, many of them broken and shattered. The characters noticed that ten of them were complete skeletons, however, so they fully expected ten to rise up and attack.

Sure enough, they did. The group backed away to hold them at the door; Reginald Sharp (the paladin) would stand in the door with Barin Stiffhammer (the barbarian) right beside him, while the others used ranged attacks to take care of things. This plan worked right up until the first skeleton acted and tried to push Reginald out of the way. One opposed strength check later, the skeleton shoved Reg back, took an opportunity attack from Barin, and died. But the damage was done; the two skeletons right behind stepped up and started attacking. One struck Reg for 4 points of damage, while the other flailed ineffectually at Barin.

The battle was a controlled one; even with the doorway unblocked, only two or three skeletons could fit outside at any given time. So the PCs whittled them down while the ones dealing bludgeoning cleaned up on their turns. It didn't take long, and there was no real danger. Smart tactics won the day for the PCs.

The characters picked through the bones, found some loot, then headed upstairs. They quickly checked some doors, slipped through an ante chamber, and found it empty aside from two skeletons (who did not get up) and a metal chest. Pope Ganja found a scrap of paper on one of the skeletons; one of the notes from Everall's Journal! Barin investigated the metal chest only to find that it contained nothing. He didn't realize there was a secret compartment at the bottom, but instead chose to smash the chest in frustration. With his maul. He rolled a 20 on the dice, and after adding skill die and strength bonus, he came up with 26. He not only shattered the chest, but broke the ornate decorative silver swords wrapped in velvet in the chest's now not-so-secret compartment. Still, they would fetch a good price (100 gp each, even in their broken state), so they took them along.

The only door deeper into the place was a metal one, which gave the party pause. Ultus took a moment to listen at the door, and he aced it. He heard a faint continuous whispering from the far side, but he couldn't make out the words. Stealthily, the party slipped the door open and saw a large-ish room. There was a sense of foreboding and great evil here; shadows clung to the corners, and the torch's light did not penetrate as deeply as it ought to. There were six skeletons lying propped against the wall, halfway down the chamber, so far unmoving. There was a door at the far end, also metal. And along the right wall, two alcoves were recessed, and the light barely made a difference to their gloom.

Ultus poked inside the chamber and his keen elven eyes pierced the dark of the nearer alcove, revealing a long-dead drow sitting on a stone throne, his ashen skin drawn taut over decrepit bones. Eyes had rotted, replaced with tiny pinpricks of red light. A fine suit of drow chain armor adorned the figure, and his gnarled claw-like fist clasped the pommel of a very fine mace. The skeleton of a svirfneblin king lay at his feet, and the Crown of Blingdenstone rested on the drow-wight's brow. The drow was whispering continuously about his ownership of the city and the allegiance of all living things.

Rightly spooked, Ultus returned. The wight was not responding to their presence, so the group decided to enter the chamber. They realized the skeletons were a likely threat, so Nancy Langstrom (the wizard) stepped up and began the fight with a gust of wind! 2d10 bludgeoning damage ought to have dealt some serious damage to a bludgeoning vulnerable creature, but the damage roll was 4. Half of them saved, half didn't, but all were still alive.

Initiative was rolled as the wight rose silent and grim from his throne, his mace clutched in that gnarled fist. Many of the PCs wound up on top. Brother Eli, armed now with fists, took on the skeletons, and dropped two of them soundly. Reginald and Barin moved to face the wight, while Ultus stayed back but fired an arrow. The wight's minions struck first; a group of four svirfneblin zombies lurched from the other alcove at the wight's command (the remains of the previous retrieval team). The only target nearby was Brother Eli, and they all attacked, but only one managed to hit him. Then the skeletons went, and all four attacked Brother Eli, but only one managed to hit him. Things could've been a lot worse; the monk was left with a handful of hit points.

It was the wight's turn, but neither of his mace swings managed to land on Barin. He had already taken a bunch of damage and was bloodied.

Pope Ganja moved to help Brother Eli with some heals, and he brought his mace to bear against the skeletons, turning one to powder. The group really enjoyed the skeletons' vulnerability to bludgeoning damage. Nancy fired off a magic missile, hitting the wight and taking down a pair of skeletons. And then from the top, Reginald and Barin went to work, but they didn't manage to hit the wight. Eli took down another two skeletons, leaving only the zombies. Then Ultus shot one of the zombies, but it made it's CON save and stayed standing.

The zombies went to work, but neither could hit Pope Ganja or Brother Eli. The skeletons were dead, so it fell to the wight to deal some damage. And deal it he did! He landed a blow with the mace for 11 damage, though Barin was raging, so it dropped to 5. Then he reached for him with a gnarled claw and touched the barbarian, draining his energy for 8 damage (which bypassed the rage DR). Worse yet, the touch of the wight lowered his max HP by 5 as well, until a remove curse spell could restore him!

Pope Ganja acted next, and he held aloft his holy symbol and turned undead. The zombies were all wounded by this point; they all crumbled to ash before the cleric's radiant might. And the wight was below 10 hit points, so he was frightened and would spend the next while fleeing. The flight was cut short, however, when Reginald's turn came up and he cut down the foul creature.

With the Crown of Blingdenstone recovered, and the battle won, the party bandaged up and worried about Barin Stiffhammer's condition. Many jokes were made about future issues with hammer stiffness as a result of the wight's affliction. In the end, though, they would have to seek out some way to reverse the effect.

The party looted the royal apartments, then left the House Center with the crown, looking for Kargien. The orcs beat them to it, however, with an ambush attempt outside! Five of them with longbows at a hundred feet proved to be quite a fight; most of the party had to run up for a few rounds, while Ultus exchanged shots with the orcs. The savage archers nearly took down Brother Eli, to the point where he had to drink a potion while running up. During the approach, Barin Stiffhammer attempted another javelin throw with very poor results. But the orcs were eventually put down, mostly thanks to Ultus and Nancy's long-range work.

Following their victory, the party returned to the barricaded sections of Blingdenstone.

That's it for part one, I hope to type up part two a bit later.
Nice report. I take that you don't use Cult of Urdlen modification from the same blog? docs.google.com/file/d/0B2aB_PxvuLxrcEVi...
You mention that you have run this module several times. Did you happen to have any players reach 3rd level before attempting the town hall quest? My group started with trade mission, then decimated orcs and is now destroying kobold lair with variable success. I think that town hall mobs as written on module would be too easy for them, so I plan to support the wraith with some ghouls (from freshly dead orcs) and surprise ghost attack through the floor, I would appreciate some advice based on experience. 
Honestly, I like Talabrina too much to pull her in favor of the cult.  I haven't actually read the cult, so I'm probably missing out on something pretty cool, but I'm content with the way things are.  As for the House Center, the original needed some fixing.  I ran it as written once, and once was enough.  It had no atmosphere as the players trudged through the pointlessly twisting maze of tunnels, doing battle with some giant centipedes who couldn't possibly threaten the party.  And then more twisting, mazelike tunnels that don't make any sense from a 'functional floorplan' standpoint.

Of the four times I ran this adventure, this is how it went down.  The first time, the group never made it to the House Center.  It was a short session with only two people, mostly to explore the adventure.  They did fight and kill Talabrina in a pretty cool corridor battle, however.

The second time was the aforementioned attempt with the original Center.  There were no problems with the difficulty, and the experience was a low point in the module.

The third time was at PAX.  I was using the updated House Center, and the PCs were second level.  We were running towards the end of the block of time, so I threw together the gatehouse encounter with the skeletons, the fire beetles, then I had Talabrina and her bugbears attack from behind, then the wight attacked from the front a round later.  It was an epic, entertaining encounter.  The monsters in recent packets have more teeth, so that encounter would tear apart a level 2 party.

And this was the fourth attempt, and you can see how it turned out.  I bolstered what was supposed to be there, and the party still came out easily ahead at level 2.

So I haven't seen a third or higher level party, but I would definitely advance the wight a little to make him scarier, and give him some ghouls or wraiths.  And a good-size mob of skeletons and zombies.  One idea I wanted to implement but didn't was to have about ten minions in an adjacent room so that if the players were on the ball, they could close and hold the door to keep the foes out of the fight.  It would give them a chance to bar it or cleverly stop it from opening.  I would also suggest starting the wight out of sight (or at least in a position of cover).  If the PCs can see him right away and win initiative, they can nova him pretty easily.

Anyway, that's been my experience.  By the time the PCs are at third level, they are pretty dangerous.
First, thanks for the write up, MortalPlague.   I love reading what you report so much I read it twice, once on Enworld and once on these forums...lol.

   
Nice report. I take that you don't use Cult of Urdlen modification from the same blog? docs.google.com/file/d/0B2aB_PxvuLxrcEVi...
You mention that you have run this module several times. Did you happen to have any players reach 3rd level before attempting the town hall quest? My group started with trade mission, then decimated orcs and is now destroying kobold lair with variable success. I think that town hall mobs as written on module would be too easy for them, so I plan to support the wraith with some ghouls (from freshly dead orcs) and surprise ghost attack through the floor, I would appreciate some advice based on experience. 



Hiru, I've kept the Blingdenstone adventure going through to 5th level, but to do it, I had to include a number of Underdark encounters that the PCs had to traverse in order to make it to the trading city.  Then I had the Drow find out about the PCs and their connection to Blingdenstone so as the PCs returned from the trading city, they were hunted by Drow.   (This is an over-simplification of the way my game ran, but it serves to show that after 3rd or 4th level, you have to become more inventive to even come close to challenging the PCs...granted, I ran the campaign with the last playtest package.  I'm sure the new pacakage would make it a little more challenging for the PCs.)

A Brave Knight of WTF