Sunday, September 21, 2014

"The Doppelganger" Chapter 7 of the Lost Mines of Elder Flinch

In this week's chapter, the team helps a lonely farmer deal with an ogre, gains two new adventurers, is ambushed by  hobgoblins, almost undone by a doppelganger, and take on a tribe of Red Orcs!

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:

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 3 Half-Elf Wizard) 
Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 3 Halfling Ranger)

Ser Valerius, Errant Armiger, Executor of Justicia (Level 3 Human Paladin)


Syral, Sylvan Assassin (Level 3 Wood Elf Rogue)

Balatan of Clan Brocktaw, Bronze Draconic Priest of Bahamut (Level 3 Dragonborn Cleric)

Clucks, Ser Valerius' Cart-Pulling Megallus (giant chicken)
Ogre in the Night

When we left our party, they were traveling from the tiny village of Flinch, recently the victim of a deadly massacre followed by being taken over by a gang of ruffians, to Swallow, a medium-sized town of several thousand inhabitants, to purchase needed supplies. They arrived in Swallow at dusk, just in time to make the closing of the gates.

Fitong, the half-orc barbarian, bade his farewell to the party. He had other plans elsewhere and did not plan to return to Flinch. Braxton and Aline took a room at the inn while Ser Valerius enjoyed the hospitality of a local peasant, as is his custom.

That night, a somewhat over-educated milksop of a farmer came into the inn begging for help! An ogre was plaguing his farm and he knew not what to do! He required the intervention of brave adventurers to thwart this brute and send it on its way! Braxton and Aline decided to lend the farmer a hand. The party interrupted Valerius' meal and took him away from his peasant hosts. They talked the gatekeeper into letting them out the city gate after dark and up the road they went. They traveled a few miles outside of town and turned up a path to a small farm carved out of the forest.

The forest was dark. A chill was in the air. A lamp and a torch provided the only illumination. The farm's split-rail perimeter fence had been knocked over and a wide swath cut through the crops to the main gate of the farm compound. The gate of the compound had been smashed in. Inside the compound, an ogre was holding a dismembered sheep's leg and drinking wine out of a barrel. Valerius stepped forth and challenged the giant brute as Braxton and Aline sneaked around. The ogre turned and attacked Valerius. The subsequent battle was short and resulted in the dead bulk of an ogre lying on the ground.

It was late and the party decided to stay at the farm. That night, Braxton heard bad singing coming from the compound. The farmer was in the barn, drunk and singing. Braxton offered to help him back inside. Farmer lamented that he had no friends and that no one liked him. Suddenly, he became paranoid and accused Braxton of orchestrating the ogre attack in order to take his farm!

"You can't have it!" he slurred.

Braxton extended his left arm hand out saying, "Look over here" When the farm looked, Braxton knocked the farmer out with his right hand. The diminutive ranger dragged the unconscious farmer back inside to sleep it off.

At dawn, Braxton made a hearty Bantami meal and Valerius left a gift of enough gold to purchase two new sheep. They left the farmer asleep.

That morning, the party followed the ogre's tracks back to its cave. The cave was just below the ridge at the edge of the plateau. They peered over the thousand-foot precipice and surveyed the jungle of the lower valley far below. Mountains towered to the north, west, and south. Mist constantly blew up from the valley, condensing into cool clouds that clung to the plateau. Braxton declared that he would one day build a home here. They found a bag with 20 gold in the ogre's cave.

New Companions

They returned to Swallow about mid-morning. Braxton and Aline went to gather their belongings and found two travelers in the room they paid for: a meditating sylvan and a sleeping draconian with bronze scales. The sylvan introduces himself as Syral and his sleeping companion as Balatan. Syral, Braxton, and Aline returned downstairs to talk.

Syral explained that he and his companion were headed to some small village in the north, Filch or Finch or something. Braxton corrected, "Flinch", and said that they were headed back that way if they wished to join them. About that time, Balatan groggily came down the stairs and met the rest.

After a Bantami second-breakfast, the party completed their shopping, had lunch, and rejoined with Ser Valerius . The reunited party, along with their new companions and Ser Valerius' cart pulled by a megallus (a giant chicken used as a draft animal), struck out to Flinch.

A Measly Bounty!
A few miles out of town, they came across a broken wagon blocking the road. A lone human female called for help. No one noticed the lack of cart animal. Nevertheless, they sensed treachery and stopped their caravan about forty feet away.

Braxton noticed dark figures lurking in the trees to either side of the road. Valerius called out "There seem to be some mysterious figures lurking in the trees behind you!", the woman replied "What? I'm sorry. You're going to have to come closer. I can't hear you!" To which they replied, "No!"

At that point, the woman, frustrated, shouted "It's them! Get them!" and four hobgoblin warriors ran out of the bushes and opened fire with arrows. The party responded quickly. Braxton put some arrows in the woman and she quickly fell to the ground. Valerius and Balatan closed with and fought the hobgoblins around the wagon while Braxton and Syral sneaked through the trees to flank them. One hobgoblin jumped up onto the wagon but was taken out by Aline and Braxton.

After the battle, they cautiously approached the spot where the woman fell, but she was mysteriously gone without a trace!

Searching the hobgoblins, they found papers with drawings of Aline, Braxton, Fitong, and Varis. Each was listed with a reward of 25 gold pieces and each posting bore the mark of the Black Spider! Braxton was offended by the paltry reward.

So the Black Spider put a bounty on their heads. Interesting!

Ser Valerius is a Doppelganger!
The party arrived in Flinch several hours after nightfall but encountered no further trouble. After paying the entrance fee, they retired to the Auld Dunn Inn where they caught up on the events of the past two days by talking with Exposition. As is his custom, Ser Valerius enjoyed the hospitality of a peasant family.

 That night, after going to bed, there was a loud banging on the door of Braxton and Aline's room. Braxton got out of bed and asked what was the matter. Ser Valerius exclaimed that there was trouble in town, and he needed Braxton and Aline's help in defeating Harra Thorntooth! Braxton opened the door to let Valerius in.

Ser Valerius immediately stabbed Braxton in the chest! Braxton fell to the floor, mortally injured.

Aline, who had gotten out of bed, tried to cast a Hold Person spell on Valerius but with no effect. Valerius then stabbed her. She fell to the floor.

"Valerius! What have you done?"

By this time, Balatan and Syral had come out of their rooms. Syral immediately rushed Valerius, tackling him. Both went bursting through a nearby window and fell to the ground ten feet below. Meanwhile, Balatan set about stabilizing Braxton and Aline.

Valerius was the first to his feet and he ran around the ruins of the Elder's house. Syral gave chase. When he rounded the corner, he saw the old miner Lanar, stumbling drunk, and another old miner Linar, stumbling drunk, both were exact duplicates.

Syral examined each one closely. One had bloody hands from the recent battle. Sensing its the discovery, the Lanar with bloody hands bolted for the rear gate. It arrived before Syral, climbed the steps, and stabbed the young guard standing watch over the gate, taking his keys.

Desperate Battle Atop the Gate
Syral caught up with the shape-changer and the pair battled atop the gate. Syral tried to swing around a post to double-kick the doppelganger in the head. The creature caught Syral's legs and morphed so that it was pointing the opposite direction. It then spun around, swinging Syral by the legs, in an attempt to throw Syral off the wall. Syral caught himself on the wall and pulled himself up. The doppelganger morphed one of its hands into a long blade and stabbed Syral in the chest! Syral fell and the doppelganger ran off into the night.

Back at the room, Balatan had revived Braxton and Aline and the trio ran outside. They followed the commotion to the gate and found the young guard and Syral both lying unconscious on the ground. Balatan revived them both with holy prayers of Bahamut while Braxton retrieved the "captain of the guard" and Aline went to gather the real Ser Valerius from the house in which he was staying.

All the guards were young volunteers, typically the teenage sons of recent settlers, and none had been on the job more than a week. The captain was one of the settler men, a farmer, with no experience guarding a village. He was unsure of what to do but followed the orders of Braxton, Balatan, and Ser Valerius.

The party set watches for the remaining hours of night, two at a time. The next day, they met in the common room at the Auld Dunn Inn and formulated their plan.

They would attempt to draw out the Black Spider by making it known that they were headed back to the Old Owl Well. There they hoped to lure one of his agents into the open, where they would capture and question one for information about the Black Spider.

An Afternoon by the Well
After breakfast, they packed up their gear, left the megallus at the stables, and started hiking up the trail towards the slopes of Mount Zinnober.

They bypassed the ruins of Balk, about three miles outside of Flinch, where they pointed out the tower of the green dragon to the new members of the party. Balatan was ready to fight but they explained that they were unready to deal with that threat.

They then spent the afternoon resting and waiting at the Old Owl Well. The air was cool and the sky was grey. At one point, a large dark shadow swooped overhead, flying down the valley to Balk. They watched as the green dragon disappeared from view within the walls of its ruined tower.

A few hours into their rest, they realized that their plan wasn't going to work. No agents of the Black Spider were attacking. So they decided to continue looking for the lost mine of Elder Flinch.

The Red Orcs of Wyvern Tor
The party continued their trek up the valley, following the direction of the arrow they found in the tower next to the Old Owl Well. They eventually reached the treeline at dusk and were enshrouded with fog and mist and gathering darkness. Visibility was reduced to a sixty feet at best. Based on something they heard from somebody, perhaps even a misunderstanding of something they heard, they were looking for a rock shaped like a wyvern. Partly due to the low visibility and partly due to there not being a rock shaped like a wyvern, they could find no such rock.

Braxton scouted ahead, he did find several cave entrances in the sheer face of the mountain. The scree and talus below the caves indicated trash and waste left by habitation.
Red Orcs of Zinnober camping in a cave

Braxton returned and reported what he found. He and Syral approached with stealth to within fifty feet of the cave. Braxton spotted an orc lookout sitting on a rocky promontory jutting out from the mountain near the cave. The lookout had not spotted the pair. Braxton and Syral took aim with their bows and fired two arrows. Both were sufficient to slay the lookout.

Braxton approached the cave entrance and listened. He heard many voices speaking orcine and a large voice speaking giantish, which he understood, saying "Hey! Let me eat some of that! Let me have some! I'm hungry!" Based on the echoing voices he heard, the smell, and the spoor at the cave mouth, Braxton estimated ten or so orcs and something bigger, and ogre or a giant!
The rest of the party approached noisily.

The rest of the party approached noisily. The noise of their approach caught the attention of the one speaking giantish. It bellowed out a call to battle, alerting the orcs, and the sound of its plodding footsteps echoed through the cave. From around a corner deep within the cave came loping an ogre! Before he could take another step, Braxton and Syral filled him with deadly arrows, dropping him in an instant!

The orcs began to swarm over the walls made of boulders they used to keep the ogre separate from their camp. A fierce battle ensued in the caves of the red orcs. Balatan and Valerius held the line, with Valerius fighting a mostly defensive battle. Braxton moved around the battlefield, firing arrows from various sight-lines. Syral darted back and forth, leaving dead orcs in his wake. Aline's witch-bolts failed to score any hits. At one point Syral fell under the axe of an orc and Balatan had to leave the line to save his companion.

Eventually, there was just the boss orc, a brutish individual wearing chain mail who spoke the common tongue. Aline tried to put him into a magical sleep but he brushed off the effects of her spell. The party soon defeated the leader and the battle was won.

Upon exploring the cave, the party found a treasure chest belonging to the leader, as well as a passage leading deeper in the cave. Next to the passage was an arrow drawn in chalk. This was Wyvern Tor! 
This was the way to the Lost Mine!

After dumping the bodies outside the cave, the party decided to rest for the night.

Next Week, part 1 of the final act of the Lost Mine of Phandelver as the party finds and explores the Wave Echo Cave Mine!

After Thoughts
In case you are wondering about the high character turnover lately, it's because we're using this adventure to experiment with the new system. I'm encouraging my players to play different characters to see what they like and don't like Play something different. Do something new. Once we finish with the module, they'll be fifth level and they'll have to commit.

I did a lot of ad-lib dungeon mastering this week. The farmer with the ogre trouble was a random event I rolled from the Midkemia Press Cities book. The hobgoblin road ambush was a random encounter from the module, which I spiced up with the doppelganger that escaped the goblin castle. And finally the doppelganger attack in the inn was something that was just too perfect to pass up!

The doppelganger fight, I might add, was kinetic, fast-paced, and lots of fun! I chose not to use minis for that fight and it kept the action moving throughout the scene. Trevor, who is playing Syral, is a dungeon master himself and loves descriptive cinematic fighting with lots of stunts. That fight allowed me to indulge him.

For anyone who has read the module, I have obviously taken some of the side-quests and put them in a direct line with the Wave Echo Cave mine. That was because the players skipped all that and their characters would have to tackle the mine at third level, so I added some additional encounters to beef it up.