Continuing Blingdenstone (5th level PCs)
Falrick the Dwarven cleric left the fellowship, and another cleric from the world above, Erebus the Half Elven (really just a Human in terms of the playtest rules), had come to take Falrick’s place. Jythar the Wizard was preoccupied, so Trannis the halfling rogue, and Agrail the Human fighter, decided to go with Erebus to speak with Hankala and other Deep Gnomes in Blingdenstone.
The group decided to ask Hankala about the magical axe that she had previously gifted to Agrail. Agrail wanted to know if it had a name and a history. Hankala told the group that it was passed down from generation to generation in her family, and each new owner would rename it as he or she wished. It was called, “Gilvlak” and “Seslat” and a host of other names. The group also spoke to her about the Crown of Kings. She reiterated that she preferred that Gurmadden become the next King, but if the crown was found, she thought it best to gather all the Deep Gnomes and call for a vote. The adventurers agreed, but they did not tell her that they had the crown.
After speaking with Hankala, the group spoke with Pingtu. They gave him the ruby they found in their previous adventure, and he put it into one of the many speaking stones. He told them that he still needed an emerald, and he also needed Ermenia Root Dust to help him reawaken the earth magic. He asked the group to travel to Mezra’kal (a Drow and Deep Dwarven trading city) that was about 18 hours from Blingdenstone. He told him they could use a rough map he would make to travel to the Iron Warrior, and then they would have to pass through a very dangerous area they called “The Gauntlet.” In Mezra’kal, the adventurers would have to locate a dealer and bargain for a sack of Ermenia Root Dust. He warned the group that they could not draw weapons in Mezra’kal, and they could not let anyone know that they came from Blingdenstone or were allies with the Deep Gnomes.
Before leaving on their quest, the party spoke with Jalless and she and Erebrus spent 2 hours making antitoxins so that Erebrus could take 3 doses with him on their journey. The party also spoke with many other Deep Gnomes and asked if they needed anything else from Mezra’kal. There were requests for many other components and small goods, but nothing more important than the Ermenia Root Dust. Hankala wished the adventurers luck and told them that they were going way beyond what anyone could expect from them, and she thanked them for their devotion.
Well rested and ready for travel, the three adventurers set off to the east. They traveled for a few hours, noticing how dark the tunnels and caverns were as they left the relative comfort of Blingdenstone. Trannis snuck ahead of the others, remaining hidden as he explored, while Agrail carried a lanturn, and Erebus followed. Eventually they came to a fork in the road that Pingtu must have forgotten about. Not sure which way they should go, they all studied their situation. Trannis was able to spot some signs of travel to the south east, so they took that root, while Trannis noted the other path on the map. After another hour of travel, they came to a larger cavern with a pool of water blocking their path. They realized they had to get across, so they knew they would have to swim. Trannis took some rope and tied it around himself; then he dove in and swam for the other side. When he got to the center, he felt a large creature bump his legs, but he swam faster and made it to the other side. Agrail and Erebus had to take off their heavy armor and tie it in a bundle. Trannis strained and broke a sweat pulling the heavy load through the water to his side, and then he readied a shortbow as he tried to spy what was in the pool. Agrail swam across with Erebus right behind him. Agrail felt powerful jaws clamp on to his legs and begin to pull him under. Trannis fired his bow and hit a creature in the water, an albino crocodile, but it would not let go of Agrail. Agrail chopped down with his axe, and although the water hindered his attack, he was able to score a healthy blow against the croc. Then, Erebus jumped directly on the crocodile’s back and uttered a dark prayer, a chilling touch, that killed the croc and saved Agrail from its clutches. At the other side of the pool, the fighter and cleric donned their armor and bandaged Agrail’s massive wound so they could continue.
As the party traveled further, they came to a descending tunnel, and they all felt the ground beneath them give way. Rocks began tumbling, and they were caught in a rock slide that carried them down 60’. With twisted ankles, and bruises from this mishap, Agrail needed to bandage himself once again. Trannis also had Erebus bandage his wounds.
A few more hours passed, and the group found themselves at another cavern. They could see the eastern path they needed to follow, but it was 50’ above them on the other side of the cavern. Agrail took rope and dug his hands and feet into the rocks to make the ascent. He was able to scramble up and secure the rope to help Erebus make the climb. When it was Trannis’ turn, he decided to tie the rope around his waist, and then he yelled, “pull me up.”
Traveling for another hour or two, the group made it to a cave with ruined pillars knocked over on the ground. It looked as if this was gazebo type structure, long ruined. In the room were patches of moss, and directly in the center Trannis could see some bones. He snuck into center and began searching the bones. He found a humanoid skeletal hand with a gold ring still on it. Then as he shifted the bones further, he and the others heard the flapping sound of flying creatures. 6 stirges descended from the roof converging on the rogue. Trannis stabbed one with “Demonshard” his shortsword, and then he braced himself for attacks. Agrail fired an arrow, but missed. Then he dropped his bow and moved to Trannis’ side with shield held firmly to aid the more vulnerable rogue. When a few of the stirges attacked, Trannis tumbled, and avoided one, another missed him completely, and a third attacked but Agrail was able to push Trannis down and block the stirges attack with his shield. Just then, Erebus stepped into the ruins saying, “do you believe in fate, my friends,” and when the others nodded, Erebrus channeled a burst of negative energy killing all of the stirges, and injuring both Agrail and Trannis. With no other foes to fight, Erebus cured Agrail, and tended to Trannis’ wounds as well. Feeling a bit better, the party moved some of the fallen pillars to partially block the west and east exits to make a more defensible position so they could rest for the day. Before resting, Trannis scouted ahead and saw that the tunnels continued on for as far as he wanted to sneak, so the party felt safe enough for the time being.
Good flow – Roleplaying aided by checks, move from roleplay to exploration, from exploration to trap like situation, from exploration to combat, etc. We did all of this in about 2 ½ hours of play.
Everyone was able to contribute, and there were times where the wizard was missed since the group could not make some nature checks, some other intelligence based checks to determine history, what would be good trading items, what was the value of the ring, etc.
To make the exploration of the Underdark more random, I decided to let them travel and make hourly checks with one skill that they felt could help them in their travels. If two of the three rolled under a 15 in any hour (or a few hours passed without mishap), I rolled randomly on a chart that I created to add an underground encounter (the unexpected fork in the path, the rock slide, the pool with the albino crocodile, the stirges).
The albino crocodile was a re-skinned giant lizard with 42 hit points. It dealt 18 points of damage to Agrail with one bite, and it instilled fear since it was beginning to drag Agrail under the water. If I had used the stats for the giant lizard from the bestiary, I would have had to place 3 or 4 of them in the small pool, and that didn't seem right. With 42 hit points, it lasted just 1 round, but all three PCs hit on their rolls. If any one of them missed, it would have gotten a chance to drag Agrail deeper under water. That would have made the encounter much more interesting and dangerous.
The stirges were a nuisance, but served a purpose. They gave Agrail a good chance to use his protect skill, and they caused Erebus (Raven Queen Cleric) to use a channel divinity. At first we thought that channel negative energy was overpowered, but after a while I thought about it, and realized that it worked well. The stirges were only 1st level creatures, so they should be killed, and the cleric had to injure his comrades in the process. I like that trade off.
This part of the adventure was designed to be more like a prelude to the tougher encounters when the party finally gets closer to Mezra'kal (the Underdark trading city run by a Drow and Deep Dwarven consortium). If the wizard had made the journey with the party, these encounters would have been much easier, and since the wizard gained his first 3rd level spell, I think he is beginning to gain power and feel more mighty (which I like).
One thing we noticed was that the Protect maneuver has some ambiguous wording. It says “When a target within your reach is hit…” The use of the word target is strange. Why not use ally or creature you wish to protect. Also, what happens if the fighter is behind the ally and the attacking creature is on the other side of the ally? Does the fighter push the ally down or aside and thrust his shield between the ally and the attacker that is 10’ from the fighter? I can accept that, but it seems like a more difficult maneuver than just holding a shield out when the fighter is next to the ally and adjacent to the foe that attacked.
All in all, the more I DM, the more smoothly the game seems to play. Even the combat encounters that were not intended to hurt the party too badly seemed dangerous to the players, and if I wanted to continue the session and push them further before they rested, I could have done that, but since we needed to break for the night, and the group made the cavern they were in more defensible, I decided to let them rest too.