Sunday, September 7, 2014

"HOOAT!!!" Chapter 5 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

In this chapter, the adventurers seek out the castle hide-out of the Cragmaw goblinoids. There they encounter some devious goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears, a duplicitous shape-changer, and a rampaging owl-bear!

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

The party:
  • Varis, a Sylvan Shaman (Level 2 Wood Elf Druid)
  • Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 2 Half-Orc Barbarian)
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 1 Half-Elf Wizard)
  • Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 2 Halfling Ranger)
  • Garl Gembeard, a Daro Warrior (Level 2 Dwarf Fighter)
A Plan with Palok
Last week, the adventurers defeated the wizard Glasstaff, leader of the Red Cloak gang, only to learn that the remaining members of the gang had been recruited to serve Harra Thorntooth, the gnomish proprietor of the Miner's Hall and member of the secret society known as the Rahasya.

The adventurers had discovered that bugbears, as well as the timid goblin Palok, were allied with Glasstaff at the direction of the Black Spider. The presence of Palok indicated the alliance included the goblins that ambushed their cart in the Defile of Castragon, an inference that Palok himself soon verified. Knowing that the goblins took the dwarf, Gundren Rockseeker, and his map to the mine, to their secret headquarters, a place called Cragmaw Castle. At hearing their plans, Palok the goblin began jumping and repeating the only word he knew, "Meek! Meek!"

Interested, the adventurers began questioning Palok. Palok spoke only in pantomime, gestures, and various inflections of the word "Meek!". Using this crude sign language, Palok was able to express that he knew the way to the castle, and that he would help the adventurers in exchange for freeing his goblin brothers from the tyranny of the bugbears. However, they had to promise to not kill any goblins. The tall hairy ones, however, were fair game. 

The adventurers equipped themselves for the expedition and set out at noon that day.

"Isn't Garl a gnomish name?"
The journey across the lake and into the Defile of Castragon was uneventful until they reached the point where they encountered an ogre road-block the day before. There they met a daro (dwarf) who was examining the scene looking for clues. They cautiously approached and hailed the short fellow. 

The daro introduced himself as Garl Gembeard. Garl was looking for his kinsman, a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker. Garl was expecting Gundren to arrive in Flinch the previous day. When Gundren failed to show, he came looking for him. The adventurers brought Garl up to speed on what they knew of the fate of the dwarfish daro. Seeing as their quests coincided, Garl took the adventurers up on their offer to work together and joined their band.

The party continued, led by Palok. They eventually came within sight of one of the ancient signal towers of the ancient empire of Nedula Madhyans, perched high on a steep ridge overlooking the defile. There was nothing special about this tower, several such abandoned ruins loomed over the Defile of Castragon. Palok, however, indicated that this one was special and pointed to an old staircase winding up the ravine. The staircase was ancient and eroded to the point that it resembled piles of weathered stones forming a path. 

The sun had long ago disappeared behind the mountainous folds of the defile and the sky was darkening into twilight as the adventurers reached the top of the stairs. Pairs of standing stones formed a path that led along the top of the ridge to the half-ruined walls of the ancient fortification.  Under the cover of darkness, Braxton ranged ahead to scout out the castle. He could find no signs of life outside the walls of the ruin but the stench of goblinoid permeated the place. Peering through the collapsed rubble of the outer walls, Braxton could make out flickering indirect light on some of the interior walls. He returned to the party and reported his findings.

A Stealthy Approach
Based on Braxton's reconnoiter, the party left Palok at the top of the stairs and climbed down along the steep slope of the ridge where it would be harder to see their approach. They then climbed back up under the ruined north wall of the castle. They traversed the route with stealth over the fallen stones. Only Braxton was halted when he almost set a pile of stones tumbling down the pile, threatening to give away his position. The rest scrambled into the room, surprising the four hoboblin warriors resting within. 

Braxton eventually caught up and joined the fight against the crimson goblinoids, Varis turned himself into a brown bear and began chewing on their red almost-feline heads, and Fitong and Garl cleaved a bloody swath through the hobgoblin warriors.  The four warriors were soon defeated.

The party advanced cautiously into the next room, a store-room filled with booty taken from trade caravans. Inside the adjoining chamber, they came upon a yellow goblin priest and two acolytes, praying to the blood-stained totem-like idol of their dark goblin god. The three were quickly overwhelmed. True to their word to Palok, the goblins were taken alive and bound.

A Grick for Garl
The adventurers pulled away some curtains to explore the next chamber. The room was tall and dark. Aline case a light spell to illuminate the shadowed recesses of the arched ceiling. Carved bas-reliefs of the ancient gods of the Uuani, those who would later be cast down by the Aslak to become devils imprisoned in the nine hells. One of the statues resembled a large boa constrictor with octopus-like tentacles for a face. As Garl the daro ventured in to take a closer for hidden treasure, the bizarre creature came to life and fell upon him! Garl was grievously injured by the monster! The rest of the group attacked the thing and it was soon killed. Garl was soon revived and the party continued on their quest.

Beyond the next door, they encountered a hall with many exits and several collapsed walls and ceilings. To the north, beyond a curtain, they found a ruined wall exposing the room to the elements. Behind another door, they found a short hallway. Varis, in bear form, covered the curtain to the south while Fitong opened the next door to the east.

King Grol of the Cragmaws!
Behind the door was the largest hairy bugbear they had ever seen! Near the bugbear was the unconscious form of a daro, none other than Gundren Rockseeker! A large wolf stood at attention as the door opened. The bugbear called out an alarm and stomped as hard as he could onto the head of the unconscious daro before he swung his heavy morningstar at Fitong!

Fitong fought a desperate battle against both the bugbear and the wolf, supported by Braxton's bow , Garl's axe, and Aline's spells. Varis heard the approach of hobgoblin reinforcements from behind the curtain. The snarling, biting, clawing bear was able to keep them at bay.

Suddenly, another dwarf, the spitting image of Gundren himself, ran up behind Aline, shouting "Hold fast! I'm here to help!" Aline, momentarily confused, was even more confused with the burly dwarf swung his hammer, knocking her unconscious!

Garl turned from the battle with the bugbear only to see Aline standing over the unconscious form of.. Aline? Aline called out, "I was attacked by some kind of shape-changer! Don't worry, I took care of her!"

Varis, who had witnessed the whole thing, was still in bear form and was unable to shout out a warning. Garl was taken in by the deception. Aline said, "I think I hear some more goblins coming from this way. I better go take care of them!" and ran off around the corner and out of sight.

Varis killed the second of his opponents and, exasperated, turned back into human form. "That's not Aline! THAT'S Aline! The other one is a shape-changer! Someone help the Aline on the ground and someone else go kill the OTHER Aline!"

By this time, the bugbear and wolf had both been defeated, leaving only the shape-changer. Fitong, still enraged by his berserk blood-lust, chased off after the shape-changer, followed by Garl, while Varis saw to the unconscious body of Rungren and Braxton administered aid to the fallen Aline.

Fitong ran into the room with many exits and ran south. He found nothing but an open door that led outside and a ruined gap that led through the wall into an adjacent tower.

Braxton heard a door opening, he looked down the hall into the room once occupied by the two hobgoblin guards. He saw the shape-changer Aline opening a door from inside. The false Aline grinned and stepped aside as a hybrid horror straight out of the Valley of Beasts, some kind of massive bear with the head of an owl, squeezed through the doorway and came rampaging through the room, bellowing a hoarse growling "HOOT!" exactly like some cross between an angry bear and an owl!

Braxton immediately grabbed the unconscious Aline and pulled her into the bugbear's room, closing the door behind him. Varis looked up and said "What did you do that for?" Braxton hooked a thumb towards the hall and nervously replied, "Owl-bear."

The owl-bear ran past, squeezing into the doorway into the room with many exits. Garl turned around just in time to see the terrible monster coming towards him. The massive bear claws reached out ahd grabbed Garl, pulling him into the gnashing monstrous beak! The owl-bear munched down on Garl's head before Fitong arrived to engage the creature in battle. Garl was left to collapse like a rag-doll to the floor.

The owl-bear pushed forward into the room with many exits with a mighty "HOOAT!" and clawed and bit at the orcine warrior Fitong. Aline, once more conscious thanks to healing potions administered by Varis, chanted a magical incantation to put the great ursine beast into arcane slumber. The owl-bear stumbled and blinked, but shook it off and continued fighting!

Varis turned back into bear form and charged the creature from behind. The owl-bear's great head swiveled around 180 degrees and bellowed, "HOOAT!!!"

Braxton was able to maneuver past the battle and revive the unconscious Garl. Together, with everyone's assistance, the mighty owl-bear fell to its many injuries.

A Short Rest
After the perilous battle with the owl-bear, the party performed a quick reconnaissance of the area for the shape-changer, who was now long-gone. They checked on Gundren, but the poor daro had expired after getting his head stomped. They searched the room and found a leather pouch packed with coins stashed under the mattress of the bugbear's bed. The pouch was completely sewn shut with no opening. Braxtomn cut it open to find the gold within. In addition, he saw markings drawn on the inside of the leather.

Aline took the pouch and turned it inside out, revealing a map! The map, written in daro script, revealed a route from Flinch to the lost Wave Echo Cave!

The adventurers took an hour to rest and discussed their options. They had what they came for and could just leave. However, they decided to explore the rest of the castle, just to ensure no one would follow them.

When they left the room of the bugbear leader, the body of the owl-bear had mysteriously vanished!

Nobody Likes Bullies
The party continued their sweep of the south face of the castle. They opened the next door and found a kitchen with two long tables. Seven starving miserable goblins were preparing food at the command of a large fat goblin wearing an apron and a chef's hat and carrying a meat cleaver.

Everyone froze as the door burst open. The goblins hesitated. The party hesitated. The goblin chef began grimacing at Fitong in the doorway. Fitong strode forth, glaring his fangs and and brandishing his axe. The goblin chef began backing away, quailing under the intimidating mien of the orcine barbarian.

The goblin chef mustered up his courage and attacked Fitong, missing. Fitong pounded the chef with the butt of his axe. The chef crumpled to the ground.

The rest of the goblins looked back and forth at each other like students at Hogwarts. Fitong glared at them and pointed towards the exit. The rest of the party stood away from the exit and allowed the frightened goblins to file out and flee.

Mopping Up
The rest of the castle consisted of the two towers at the entrance guarded by two goblins each. Doors were opened, goblins were told to flee or die, goblins fled.

In addition, a trap at the entrance was triggered by safely avoided by Fitong.

After clearing the castle, the adventurers decided to spend the night. Braxton went to retrieve Palok. Unfortunately, he found the little goblin dead, murdered, no doubt, by the evil shape-changer.

Palok's body was returned to the castle and a cairn was made for both Palok and for Gundren. Dwarf and goblin, eternal enemies, laid side by side in eternal rest.


After Thoughts
We had a lot of fun this session. For one thing, we were joined by our good friend Jeffy who has been absent from our group for eleven months due to the birth of his second son. Jeffy will be returning full-time in a few weeks.

I got a good reaction from the players when the grick fell from the ceiling. A grick is kind of a new monster for them so there was a sense of "AGH! What the hell is THAT! KILL IT!"

Personally, I squandered an opportunity with the doppelganger. I should have had her impersonate and injured Gundren and have the party deal with figuring out which was the real one. I always have a hard time being convincing with shape-changers. My players did a fantastic job role-playing being confused by the switcheroos.

Finally, the battle with the owl-bear was by FAR the best fight we've played in a while. First of all, my comical bellows of "HOOAT!!" were just hilarious. Everyone was saying it for the rest of the night. Second, the little owl things like rotating its head 180-degrees really made it feel like an OWL-mixed with a bear. Everyone said "Of course it can do that! Why didn't anyone ever think of that before?"

Next week, the group plans on taking one of the side-quests because Jeffy won't be back for two weeks. So, probably the abandoned village, maybe some druid stuff, maybe a necromancer. You know how it is.