Friday, August 29, 2014

Fifth Edition D&D Character Creation Crib Sheet

I created a three-page crib sheet for my players which provides the important character creation details at a glance for D&D Fifth Edition. I share it with you, the world, because I'm a giver and I love you all.

Fifth Edition D&D Character Creation Crib Sheet

Monday, August 25, 2014

"We'll buy all the pots!" Chapter 3 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

Wherein we continue the Lost Mine of Phandelver using D&D Fifth Edition. The party explores the village of Flinch, meet some nice people, run afoul of some ruffians, and head to their secret base underneath the ruins of the old manor house.

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

Our party consists of:
  • Varis, a Sylvan Shaman (Level 2 Wood Elf Druid)
  • Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 2 Half-Orc Barbarian)
  • Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 2 Halfling Ranger)
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 1 Half-Elf Wizard)
Last week, the party had defeated the goblins hired by the Black Spider to waylay them in the Defile of Castragon and had just arrived in the small village of Flinch at the far end of the mountain pass.

Getting to Know Flinch
It was late in the afternoon, about an hour before sunset, when the party arrived in Flinch. The gate was wide open with no guard. People went about their chores, avoiding eye contact with the newcomers. The party entered under the appraising eye of a menacing looking individual in a red cloak. The mysterious observer lurked just inside the gate. He skulked away as soon as they entered.

They stopped outside the inn. Sildar told them he would go inside and secure lodging. They were free to go where they wished. 

The party visited a shop bearing a sign like those they found on boxes salvaged from the goblin's den. The shop housed Lion's Shield Coster, a local outpost of the trading guild of the same name. They returned the goods they rescued and received a reward. While there, they also sold their woolly ox and cart as well as the the goods they were hired to transport. The guild-master, a shrewd Kalmathi woman named Linani, paid them in scrip. She also warned the party about the Red Cloak gang, saying that she wanted to no trouble and preferred to stay out of their way. 

They then headed over to the Miner's Hall to sell some loot and cash in their scrip. There they met a devious gnome banker named Harra Thorntooth, protected inside a cage. She cashed in their scrip and purchased the jade statue they took from the bugbear's hoard. She offered to store their gold in her vault but they declined. Sensing that they were travelling mercenaries, she then took them aside and secretly offered them a bounty to kill or capture the leader of the Red Cloaks, a wizard named Glasstaff. They took the job.

Aline Joins the Party
After leaving the Miner's Hall, the party gathered around the town notice board to look for work and catch up on news. While reading notices and dividing gold, they met Aline, a wizard of half-human/half-Sylvan ancestry. After some chit-chat, the group offered Aline a job with a signing bonus of 10 gold coins. She accepted. A few Red Cloaks, loitering outside the nearby Worker's Hall, took notice of the transaction.

The party went to smithy to purchase weapons. There they met the young blacksmith Yurgh and his wife Gathe. Yurgh was a young journeyman, fresh out of his apprenticeship in Swallow. Gathe was learning pottery because the town needed a potter. Unfortunately, she wasn't very good. Clumsy Fitong accidentally broke a few he was handling. Feeling bad, Braxton declared, "We'll buy all the pots!" and over-paid for the lot.  

Having procured a new better axe for Fitong, the party entered Barthen's provisions and geared up, purchasing ropes, rations, and other sundries. 

Fitong Loses His Shit
Suitably equipped, the party marched to the rear gate with the intent to head up the hill to the ruins of the manor house. Two Red Cloaks blocked their way, noting they had seen the wealth being exchanged at the notoice board. They demanded that the party hand over the scratch. Two additional Red Cloaks began to amble up behind the party from the Worker's Hall.

Fitong sprang into action, rushing forward to the two at the gate. One of the rear Red Cloaks tried to grab Aline by the wrist, but was shocked by magical electricity for his trouble. Braxton fired an arrow at one of the Red Cloaks at the gate, pinning his wrist to the wall, while Fitong lost his shit and started chopping off heads!

A crowd began to gather and watch, shocked at the sudden escalation of violence. After all the Red Cloaks were dispatched, Fitong, still in a frothing frenzy, charged into the now empty Worker's Hall and started smashing up the place. He was eventually becalmed by his fellows.

The crowd, at first disgusted by the brutal killing of the Red Cloak, now clapped and cheered as the party exited the gate and marched up the muddy hill to the manor to eliminate the bullies that plagued the village.

The Ruined Manor House
Within the ruined compound of the manor of the old archon, the party found a set of stairs descending into the darkness. They explored the stairs and came upon a cellar and large cistern filled with water. Two Red Cloak sentries tried to sneak up on them in the darkened room but were instead spotted by Varis and soon dispatched. A third hid in the adjoining storeroom and set up an ambush behind some crates. His ambush was detected when he knocked over a box. The party, aware of the ambush, rushed in and the third ruffian was soon killed. Three red cloaks like the kind worn by the ruffians hung on a nearby wall. The party took the cloaks from their hooks and donned them. 

The only exit was a door to the north. Braxton determined that the door had been unused, so the party ignored it and instead searched the south west corner for a suspected secret door. It was Braxton that located the hidden passage.

"I Know Many Secrets!"
The party came upon a large natural cavern was torn asunder by an ancient catastrophe, leaving a deep crevasse. The crevasse emanated and unnatural cold. Two wooden bridges spanned the rift. One of the bridges was spotted as being unsafe and ignored. As they crossed to the other bridge, Varis began hearing hissing alien thoughts in his head.

"I know your secret! You're here to kill the wizard! I know many secrets!"
A Creepy Beastie
Fitong spotted a mysterious figure lurking behind a natural column on the other side of the rift. The party sprang into action! Varis magically turned himself into a bear. Everyone else rushed the figure, attacked, and quickly killed the strange one-eyed beast as it clawed and psychically lashed out at its assailants in futile self-defense. As the alien creature died, it fell backwards into a spatial rift that resembled burning edges of paper. 

The party explored further down a hallway. They found two doors, one left and one right. They opened the door to the left, Varis, still in the form of a bear, walked into the room while four Red Cloaks played games at a table. At the sight of the bear, the Red Cloaks immediately jumped up and attacked. A bloody battle ensued. At one point, Fitong went down and had to be magically healed. Ultimately, all four ruffians were defeated.

After the fight, the party retreated to a storage alcove located north of the natural cavern. There they rested for an hour before pressing on. 

Flight of the Wizard
The party returned to the corridor and took the door to the right. Within they found a wizard's laboratory and library. A rat scurried into hiding. The party took a few minutes to explore the library and examine the vials and alchemical apparatuses therein. 

The party prepared themselves and opened the door to the adjoining room. To their surprise, the found an empty bedroom. Looking around, Varis saw a secret door slowly closing. Still in bear form, he charged through the secret door and up the stairs. As the party followed behind, Aline noticed a letter on the desk signed with the mark of a black spider.

The bear burst into the natural cavern where a wizard with a glass staff was destroying the functioning bridge. He gave up and ran into the cellar with the cistern. The bear gave chase!

The bear that was Varis pursued the wizard Glasstaff into the cellar but found nothing! No wizard was to be found! Only a wet spot on the floor like something had been retrieved from inside the cistern. However, the bear used his keen sense of smell and located the wizard, hiding invisibly within the room but making his way towards the stairs. The bear lunged and clawed the wizard, turning him visible. The wizard screamed and shouted out a spell. There was a burst of mist and the wizard disappeared.

Varis the bear looked around for the wizard as rest of party caught up. He spotted more mist in hallway at top of stairs where the wizard has teleported. Varis gave chase up the stairs. 

Glasstaff the wizard had disappeared into the night. The party, having caught up with Varis, began their quest to track down Glasstaff the Wizard, leader of the Red Cloak Ruffians.

After Thoughts
We're still really enjoying the new edition. Woobee said that he likes it so much he's thinking about running again. He also bought his own Player's Handbook, which brings our group's total to three.

During the fight at the gate, Woobee (who plays Braxton Hicks) said, "I want to shoot an arrow, pinning one of the ruffians to the wall." Without hesitation, I said, "Sure! You forego damage and impart the 'restrained' condition until he spends an action to free himself." Woobee said, "Deal!"

Boom, instant archery maneuver. Everyone loved it. I'm really liking the little ways I can quickly improvise things like that.

For example, in the fight in the gaming den, Trevor (who plays Fitong) wanted to jump up on the table to gain capital-A Advantage vs. the ruffians. I said, "Sure, make an acrobatics check. If you fail, you don't fall down. If you succeed, you gain Advantage."

I didn't give any stakes for failure because I didn't want to punish my players for thinking creatively. There's a DM of the Rings comic that captures this sentiment perfectly. And whenever a player in my group wants to do something fun and imaginative, only to be shut down by rules or the GM, the player says, as passive-aggressively as they can, "Fine, I attack its foot like everyone else!"

I want to reward the awesome with incentives, not punish it with rules!

Anyway, my only complaints with the Lost Mine of Phandelver so far is that the Nothic went down too easily. Like a chump! The module suggested to make use of its "Know your secret" power, but how? Second level PCs don't have secrets yet!

Also, they make it easy for the wizard Glasstaff to escape, and even suggest having him come back later on, but my players, like most players, are LOATHE to ever let anyone get away! And I didn't want to drop plot immunity on them. Varis the bear has the wizard's scent and can out-run him. Oh, there will be a reckoning next week. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Visual Guide to Flinch

The village of Flinch was founded more than five hundred years ago by a multi-racial expedition led by the legendary dwarfish explorer named Elder Flinch. The expedition consisted of dwarfish miners from Duirnhold, gnome bankers from Thither, and human wizards from Yon. They came to this valley to mine the flanks of Mount Zinnober.

The dwarfs soon discovered a productive lode in a mine known as the Wave Echo Cave. In addition to the great mineral wealth, the mine contained Atuta Dhatu, the exotic metal with which dwarfs construct their magical artifacts. The dwarfs created magical weapons on-site in a location known as the Forge of Spells.

The mine and the village prospered for centuries until eighty years ago when an army of Red Orcs from Mount Zinnober, led by their now-legendary god-champion Osgda and supported by evil mercenary human wizards, poured down the mountain, attacking, destroying, and laying waste to the entire Xanthus River Valley. The Red Orcs of Zinnober were finally pushed back and ultimately defeated at the Battle of Flinch by an alliance of archons known as the Aureate Compact. Flinch, however, was destroyed.

The survivors of Flinch re-built. The mine was destroyed and Flinch became nothing more than a stop for caravans heading into and emerging from the mountain pass known as the Defile of Castragon. The villagers subsisted on farming beets, potatoes, turnips, and other hearty high-altitude tubers as well as raising sheep and woolly oxen.

With the death of the archon in the Battle of Flinch, the village found itself without a hereditary leader. The surviving villagers turned to selecting a village elder to serve as town leader. This arrangement has served the small village well for the last eighty years.

A few months ago, a band of fifty Red Orcs of Zinnober returned, led by a chieftain wearing the armor and carrying the axe of the legendary Osgda. They emerged without warning from the ruins of the archon's manor atop the nearby hill. The villagers were caught unawares, the gates were not closed in time, and red orcs invaded the village. The men and children were brutally tortured and butchered, the surviving women, those that did not take their own lives, were taken as breeding stock. The village was looted and burned.

When outsiders learned of the fate of Flinch, no archon would devote troops to their aid. It was not until a small band of brave heroes, adventurers, and mercenaries came to Flinch that the Red Orcs were defeated or driven out and the villagers freed.

Of three hundred villagers, only nine women survived.

Since the liberation of the village, new settlers have arrived from Swallow, Choke, Thither, and other towns. The burned-out debris has been cleared and new structures have been re-built. Many of the original structures are still little more than ruined foundations.

  1. Main Gate: a small gate-house facing the lake, usually left open and unguarded. 
  2. Stable Ruins: the demolished foundations of the old stables.
  3. Barn: the barn and silo contain stored hay and tubers, a few pens outside hold a few pigs.
  4. Smithy and Kiln: a journeyman blacksmith named Yurgh recently settled in Flinch from Swallow. His wife Gathe has taken over the kiln and is learning pottery. She is not yet very good.
  5. The Auld Dun Inn: a modest inn with six rooms for rent. The proprietor is a recent settler, a hill-folk man named Tobey. He came to Flinch to be a prospector but soon realized he knew more about hospitality than metallurgy.
  6. Barthen's Provisions: The last trading post before Horek. The proprietor is a middle-aged human named Elmar Barthen. 
  7. Lion's Shield Coster: a merchant company from Kalmath. The master of the post is a shrewd Kalmathian trader named Linani. 
  8. Ruined Temple: a temple to the Aslak pantheon once stood at this site. Now it is a shell containing tumbled marble columns. The villagers have erected a small shrine on the site.
  9. Rectory: once the home of the priests of the Aslak pantheon, it is currently empty.
  10. Ruined Elders' House: the elder's house was once the residence of the elected leader of the village. It also served as a public meeting place. Now only the ruined foundations remain.
  11. Homes: several modest homes survived the sacking of the village. They are occupied by farmers and herders.
  12. Notice Board: the village elder once posted proclamations and rulings to the board. Here trade expeditions recruit escorts, prospectors hire workers, and mercenaries and sellswords may find adventure.
  13. Miner's Hall: a trading post and assay office for prospectors. The hall is run by a wealthy gnome named Harra Thorntooth. 
  14. Worker's House: a large building that serves as temporary lodging for itinerant workers looking to find employment with a prospector or trade caravan.
  15. Homes: more modest homes that survived the sacking of the village. They are occupied by craftsmen and traders. 
  16. Rear Gate: a smaller gate facing the nearby pond. It was this gate that was stormed by the Red Orcs of Zinnober.
Not Shown
The Ruined Manor: the once majestic walled manor home compound of the archon of Flinch lies in ruins atop a nearby hill a half-mile away from the town itself. It stood undisturbed for eighty years until it was recently inhabited by a tribe or Red Orcs from Mount Zinnober.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"MEEK!" Chapter 2 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

This week, we continue to play D&D Fifth Edition. The party explores the goblin caves searching for their employer. They make a deal with a devious goblin, get smacked around by a really tough bugbear, are double-crossed, then deprive an enterprising ogre of his occupation.

Our party consists of:
  • Varis, a Level 1 Sylvan (Wood Elf) Druid
  • Fitong, a Level 1 Half-Orc Barbarian
  • Braxton Hicks, a Level 1 Hillfolk (Lightfoot Halfling) Ranger 
First, a minor change. Last week, Scott's elven druid was killed in the first round of combat before he even got an action. Scott usually plays fighters. He made a druid in order to branch out. When the druid died, his replacement was an elven fighter. His character in AD&D was an elven fighter/magic-user and he had essentially made the exact same character. Since the replacement fighter had done nothing but fire one arrow into a sleeping goblin, we talked it over and I allowed Scott to replace his new fighter with another druid. 

The party, having dispatched the two goblins sleeping at their post outside the cave entrance, entered the cave. 

Wolves in the Dark
A cavern opened immediately to the right. They entered the cavern and heard the threatening growls of three hungry wolves. Luckily the wolves were chained to the wall. Braxton easily calmed them down and the party explored the cavern. Braxton found a natural chimney over a pile of debris on the floor. He shimmied up the chimney with a boost from Fitong.

The chimney opened into another chamber. Within Braxton spotted two goblins, a large hairy brute, a bugbear by reputation, and a pet wolf. The bugbear spotted the tiny ranger and ordered his goblins to grab him. Braxton managed to avoid their grasp and retreated back down the hole. The goblins then threw rocks down the hole before piling large stones on top of the opening.

The part headed back into the stream passage. Ahead of them, the passage grew taller, over twenty to thirty feet in places. They spotted a timber bridge about ten feet up, crossing from one side of the passage to the other. Atop the bridge was a goblin lying on his stomach, watching them. Fitong unsuccessfully tried to climb up to the bridge while Varis and Braxton ineffectually loosed some arrows at the goblin.

They quickly abandoned the lurker on the bridge, however, when the sound of stones being tumbled echoed from deeper in the cave, followed by the rushing of a great mass of water. The trio barely managed to scramble into an adjoining passage to the left when a rushing torrent scoured the cavern behind them.

Fitong Falls
A new passage lay before them. The passage climbed a steep ten foot escarpment. A few seconds later, they heard a second rush of water pour through the cavern behind them. Fitong took the point and climbed the escarpment. The top, however, was loose and collapsed underneath him. Fitong fell back down in a tumble of loose stone and dirt, injuring himself in the process.

The entire collapse was loud and echoed through the caverns. Fitong picked himself up and brushed himself off. The party continued to climb the now loose debris of the cavern.

Doing a Goblin a Favor
At the top of the rise was a passage to the right and a large cavern to the left. The rear half of the cavern was elevated ten or more feet by a wide ledge. The party entered the cavern to find five goblins, alerted to their coming by the rock slide. One of the goblins, obviously a leader, stood atop the ledge at the rear. He held a human captive as a hostage. It was Sildar, the human warrior that accompanied their daro (dwarf) employer.

Before anyone could act, the goblin leader shouted, "Stop there or these ones are killed! You make talking with Yeemik, yes? You have these ones if you do Yeemik, how you say, a solid!". Yaris reluctantly parleyed with Yeemik. Yeemik asked the party to kill the bugbear Klarg. If they do this, he will return the hostage.

The party, hedging, asked for goblins to help. Yeemik demurred, "If goblins help you, goblins will be killed! If goblins killed, then no one of to be chieftain! No!"

The party persisted, and Yeemik compromised, "Okay, you have Palok! Him on bridge. Go tell Palok that Yeemik want him!"

Braxton went to the bridge, catching the goblin on watch by surprise. The little goblin shouted, "MEEK!"

Braxton simply pointed a thumb back to the cavern and said "Yeemik!" to which the little humanoid replied "MEEK!" and scampered past to the goblin den.

Within the goblin den, Yeemik ordered Palok to guide the party to Klarg. Palok fearfully replied, "MEEK!"

Palok led the party over the bridge to a large cavern with a waterfall. The stream at the base of the waterfall had, until recently, been contained by two small fieldstone dams. Three goblins were hiding behind stalagmites watching the stream entrance. The party caught them completely by surprise.

Fitong cut one goblin down while Braxton fired arrows into another. Varis used his druidic magic to cause small fireballs to burst on the third. During the slaughter, Palok was jumping around, grabbing hold of Varis' arms and clothing, trying to stop them, desperately shouting "MEEK! MEEK! MEEK!" . It was too late, all three were quickly dispatched. Palok stamped his foot and slumped his shoulders in disgusted frustration.
The party quickly realized what they had done and apologized to Palok. Palok just crossed his arms and pouted like a four-year-old. He angrily pointed his finger towards a cavern entrance to the right.

Who's Ambushing Whom?
The entrance to Klarg's chambers rose steeply and opened into another large cavern filled with stolen trade goods. A fire smoldered in the center. Braxton stealthily approached, followed by Varis. Fitong waited in the waterfall room next to Palok.

Braxton looked around. The chamber had no inhabitants. A closer inspection revealed two goblins hiding among the stolen goods in the rear of the room. The goblins had not noticed him yet. He approached, cat-like.

Suddenly, Klark burst out of his hiding place behind a stalagmite, followed by his wolf pet. His surprise attack was a failure but his follow-up connect and sent Braxton to the ground. Varis fled the room to alert Fitong.

Fitong rushed into the room and engaged Klarg in battle. Varis cast a magical enchantment on his staff and lent his support to Fitong by clobbering on the wolf.

Meanwhile the goblins had dragged Braxton's body away and were bickering over his possessions.

The wolf was quickly defeated, followed later by Klarg. The goblins stood to fight but were quickly killed.

Varis worried that Braxton may be dead. Fortunately, Braxton was simply unconscious. Fitong found a chest among the stolen goods. Within the chest he found two bottles conveniently labelled "Vitality and Health". He administered one to Braxton who was soon back on his feet.

The Deal Goes South
The party made their way back to the goblin den with Klarg's severed head. They were met at the entrance by wary goblins. Yeemik still held his weakened prisoner atop the ledge. The party demanded he fulfill his agreement. Yeemik doubled down, "No! New agreement! You pay Yeemik... fort- no, FIFTY gold for these ones!" The party balked and attacked. Yeemik threw the human prisoner over the ledge with a sickening thud.

Varis was grievously injured in the melee but Braxton quickly administered the second healing potion. The goblins were soon defeated.

Varis and Braxton rushed over to the dying human prisoner. Varis provided first aid and saved the warrior from expiration.

They carried the human on a makeshift stretcher back to their wagon on the road. There they made camp and recuperated from the day's actions.

Sildar's Story
The human prisoner, Sildar, thanked his rescuers. He related the story that led to his employment with the daro (dwarf) named Gundren Rockseeker and to his capture earlier that day.

Sildar is a human male in his forties. He has graying hair. He is an agent of the archon of Thither. He is often assigned to accompany caravans to and from Horek. He met Gundren Rockseeker in Horek.

Apparently, Gundren is one of three Rockseeker brothers. The brothers had recently located the entrance to a long-list mine near the village of Flinch. Sildar agreed to travel with him to Flinch because Sildar also hoped to learn the fate of his friend Iarno Albrek. Iarno is a human wizard and also an agent of the archon of Thither. Iarno who traveled to Flinch and was never heard from again.

Anyway, Gundren was carrying a map to the secret entrance of the lost mine. Klarg somehow knew this ahead of time and set up an ambush. Sildar heard the goblins say that Gundren was taken to something or someone called the Black Spider, but that the map he was carried was taken to somewhere else called Cragmaw Castle, wherever that is.

Sildar asked the party to help him make it to Flinch and offered them 50 gold if they did so. They agreed.

The Enterprising Ogre
The next day, the party encountered an ogre constructing a makeshift roadblock out of boulders. The ogre failed to noticed their approach and the party attacked with bows and javelins. The Ogre threw his own homemade javelins in return. Fitong charged the ogre followed by Varis wielding his empowered staff. Fitong climbed the rocks and fought the ogre face to face. The ogre was soon defeated and the boulders were moved from the path.

Later that day, the party arrived at the great gate at the eastern entrance to the Defile of Castragon. They hailed a raft to ferry them across the lake and arrived in the mountain town of Flinch.

The village of Flinch

It had been a few months since the sack of Flinch by the Red Orcs of Zinnober. The town had been repopulated with settlers from Swallow. Some of the buildings were still destroyed but others were being rebuilt or had been recently completed. Children played along the road winding up the hill to the ancient walled village. The gate was open and they were met by no guards. Security was surprisingly lax in lieu of the recent troubles. A surly figure wearing a red tunic was leaning against gate absently chewing on a sliver of wood. He eyed them suspiciously as they entered the village. He threw away the sliver and skulked away.

To be continued...

Monday, August 11, 2014

"The Lost Mine of Elder Flinch", Chapter 1

This week, we decide to re-boot the campaign using Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.

The Scene
When we left our party, they were in Swallow. Some were recuperating, some were training, others were researching the identity and provenance of recently acquired magical items.

I had given the group experience points, which I allow them to distribute amongst themselves as they see fit, and was all set to run them through the Defile of Castragon. The players, Woobee, Scott, and Trevor, were sitting around doing bookkeeping and arguing about the proper and fair distribution and allocation of experience points.

It was Friday. The D&D Fifth Edition Players Handbook had just been released. We had talked about switching to Fifth Edition at some point in the near future. However, my plan was to delay until October or

My Reasons
My reasons for the planned delay were due to the following:
  1. When we switched from Dungeon Crawl Classics to AD&D, Lucinda purchased an AD&D Players Handbook on eBay. I wanted to make sure she got the most bang from her purchase.
  2. Lucinda is expecting a baby and would likely go on maternity leave in October or November.
  3. The Monster Manual won't be released until September 30th. Not having a Monster Manual is a severe restraint on my improvisation of new adventure material.
  4. My birthday is August 28th and I was planning on getting the Fifth Edition PHB for my birthday.
However, in the past few weeks I have become increasingly annoyed at some of the idiosyncrasies and complexities of AD&D. I had made a decision early on to use as much AD&D as-written as possible and keep house-ruling to a minimum. It had now become evident that had I to decide all over again on a system to convert to from DCC, I would choose essentially Basic Fantasy RPG, a retro-clone of Basic that splits class and race.

Anyway, so we were talking about converting, my plans for the conversion, and my reasons for the delay. In addition to the reasons I listed above, I added the following caveats:
  • A. Even if we converted right now, due to my lack of a Monster Manual, I'd only be able to run published adventures: either the Lost Mine of Phandelver or the Tyranny of Dragons.
  • B. Because I lacked the PHB, and wasn't expecting to have one until the 28th, the players would be limited to Basic classes and races.
  • C. As a result of A and B, the players wouldn't be able to convert existing characters over. They'd have to start at first level with new characters.
Then Trevor said, "Well, I have a Player's Handbook!" And we all said, "WHUH???"
Trevor had a Fifth Edition PHB. He had stopped off at Guardian Games on the way to gaming and picked one up.

Woobee and Scott started looking through it. They loved it.

Suddenly, I was sick of AD&D. I was done. Also, I saw an opportunity to end the stupid argument/debate over XP allocation that I knew would probably lead to inter-player conflict, passive-aggressiveness, and future complaints.

Pulling the Trigger
I said, "Fuck it! Let's play fifth edition!"

I decided to run the Lost Mines of Phandelver. Everyone would have to make new first-level characters (only later did I figure out way to convert existing characters, but they'd have to start over at first level, see below).

So Woobee, Scott, and Trevor made first-level characters:

  • Woobee made a Hill-folk (Halfling) Ranger (soldier background).
  • Scott made a Sylvan (Forest Elf) Druid (hermit background).
  • Trevor made a Half-Orc Barbarian (hermit background).

I decided to continue the campaign in the world of Agartha. Everyone agreed that we had invested a lot of time and imagination in this setting and it had become a place everyone was familiar with. It had become "real". I'll have to make some adjustments to the setting. I'll also have to make adjustments to the adventure to remove the Forgotten Realms and insert it somewhere in or around the Xanthus River Valley. For example, instead of Waterdeep, the PCs would start in Horek. Instead of Phaldelver, they'd be headed for Flinch.

The Lost Mine of Elder Flinch
The new party started in Horek. They were hired by a dwarven miner to escort a caravan through the Defile of Castragon to the village of Flinch. Their employer and his human fighter bodyguard were to travel ahead and make preparations. The party was to drive a slow ox-cart full of supplies through the pass and meet their employer in Flinch.

Halfway through the first day, while ascending the twisting ravines of the Defile of Castragon, the party came across the remains of their employer's horses. There was no sign of their employer or his bodyguard.

The hill-folk ranger noticed movement in the boulders above them overlooking the ravine and spotted two rock-goblins. Before he could shout ambush, two other rock-goblins unleashed a volley of arrows as the party. The ranger fired back, killing a goblin. The second fired an arrow at the sylvan, hitting him between the eyes! The druid fell limp to the ground.

The other two began clambering down the hill to join in melee battle. The barbarian fired back, killing the second rock-goblin. The two remaining rock-goblins met our heroes in battle. The brave ranger rushed to the aid of the dying sylvan but was unable to save him. The sylvan druid's life slipped away despite the efforts of his diminutive companion.

It was the ranger who was next to fall, cut down by the scimitar of a vile goblinoid killer. The barbarian then made short work of the two rock-goblins before rushing to the aid of his tiny companion. The ranger was saved by the immediate ministrations of his barbarian colleague.

The pair lamented and mourned the loss of their colleague of their travelling companion. After a few hours of rest, the ranger felt well enough to continue.

From the remains of the ambush it became clear that their dwarven employer and his human bodyguard had been captured and taken away as prisoners. Their tracks led to a trail among the rocks. The pair decided to follow the trail and rescue their employer.

The ranger and the barbarian followed the trail for several hours. The pair narrowly avoided a snare set by the rock-goblins but the ranger missed a deep pit, into which he fell and injured himself.

Eventually, they found a stream emanating from a cave in the mountainside. The cave mouth was covered in cactus-like thorn bushes common to this side of the Great Wall mountain range. Lurking nearby they encountered another sylvan!

The sylvan was a fighter, a distant relative to their druid companion who had recently died, as it happened. The elven fighter had been searching for these goblins for some time now and had only recently found their lair. They decided to work together to rescue the dwarf and his bodyguard and eliminate the rock-goblin raiders.

As they stealthily approached the cave entrance, they spotted two rock-goblin guards sleeping behind a blind of cactus thorn-bush. The trio quietly prepared their bows and fired into the goblinoids, killing them before they could wake.

At that, they splashed into the stream and ventured into the dark void of the cave.


After Thoughts
I couldn't wait for my birthday. I went out and bought my own PHB on Saturday. I regret nothing!

I really like Fifth Edition. Here's a list of all the things I like:
  • The simple skill/proficiency system
  • Advantage/Disadvantage
  • Backgrounds
  • Spell slots
  • Armor
It's a nice synthesis of all the good parts of all previous editions. I can easily tell what parts are first edition, what parts are third edition, what parts are fourth edition, and what parts are innovations. Wizards did a really good job.

I gave my players an option. They can create new first-level characters or they can convert their existing characters over but re-start at first edition.

I feel bad about re-starting the campaign at first level. My original plan was to wait until I got a Monster Manual and then convert existing characters over. There were two things wrong with that plan:
  1. It's a new edition and I think its important for players to start from the beginning to get a feel for what their options are in play.
  2. I would have to wait until October!
Lucinda has chosen to convert Babu. He will be re-set at first level. Here's what happened:
Babu (and any other character starting over) woke up in the temple of Thumina in Swallow. The last thing they remember is being in Swallow. Weeks have passed. Babu has no possessions and no memory of the last several weeks.

Babu (and any others) was the victim of a vampire! He has had his levels drained and was near death. He (and any others) have spent the last few weeks recuperating.

He must start anew. He must create a new spellbook and fill it with magic. He must re-learn all his skills!
Soon, he (and any others) will be sent on a quest to Flinch to deal with some ruffians that have moved in. There Babu will meet up with any survivors of the Rock-Goblin's lair.

Trevor, on the other hand, is keeping Thaddeus off-line until we finish this adventure. Then he'll convert Thaddeus over and we'll pick up more or less where we left off.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Flinch and the Defile of Castragon

Xanthus River Valley

The Defile of Castragon is a narrow pass through the mountain range known as the Great Wall located near the small village of Flinch, located in the northernmost region of the Xanthus River Valley near the headwaters of the Flavous River.

The Ancient Trade Road
The road made of cyclopean slab-like paving stones was laid down in ancient times by the Agarthan empire to facilitate trade between the remote kingdoms of the north and the sea-port city of

The Ancient Trade Road

The Flavous River
The Flavous River begins as glacial runoff high in the crags between Mount Zinnober and Nightflame Mountain. It collects in a deep clear lake below the village of Flinch and cascades down a series of several natural multi-step waterfalls before it joins with the Xanthus River to the south.

The Agarthans built small stone bridges to cross the many creeks and streams that feed the Flavous River.

The Jetty, Water Wheel, and Flinch. The Manor House can be seen in the upper left.

The Village of Flinch
The village is a small round walled village built in ancient times. It can house 400-500 inhabitants. The land around the village has been cleared of trees for nearly half a mile and is farmed for beets, turnips, potatoes, onions, leeks, and other bulbs and tubers. The farm plots are separated by low fieldstone walls. The village itself has one main gate and a smaller side gate. The walls of the village are built of ancient stone and are quite resilient. There are twenty buildings in the village including a polytheistic temple and a great hall. The village hasn't been ruled by an archon in hundreds of years. Instead, the village is governed by a village elder.
Flinch, the surrounding field walls, and the jetty. The manor lies just off the map to the north.

The Ruined Manor House of the Last Archon
These hilltop ruins overlooking Flinch are all that is left of the estate of the last archon of Flinch. The archon died hundreds of years ago with no heirs. His manor sat abandoned and eventually collapsed. The last archon was an avid hunter and collector of rare beasts. It is said that he kept a menagerie of monstrosities held in magical stasis somewhere in his manor, and that one night they escaped, killing the archon and his household. The villagers believe that monsters haunt the ruins still and refuse to go near it.

The Jetty
The ancient trade road ends at a stone jetty in the lake beneath Flinch. Since ancient times, rafts ferried caravans back and forth across the lake to the western gate, the entrance to the Defile of Castragon.

The Defile of Castragon
A narrow pass that wends for almost twenty miles between Mount Glothacon and Mount Ignoit. A paved road marks the way. Steep mountain slopes rise to either side. At some points the road rises and falls starkly. In ancient times, the pass was patrolled by Agarthan road wardens. No warden has passed this way in centuries. Today, the road is in poor repair, covered in pot-holes and twisted and jumbled in great upheavals of earth. Boulders, landslides, and wash-outs often hinder travelers. In addition, the way is plagued by ogre attacks, hill giants, bandits, griffons, perytons, giant birds of prey, and massive spiders. Despite the dangers, the defile represents the only route through the Great Wall, and merchants are still willing to take the risk.

The Jetty and the ruins of the Eastern Gate

The Eastern Gate
The gates are ruins from the Agarthan era. They were once massive five-story fortified gatehouses to either side of a huge arched gate. They have long ago fallen into ruin, their walls and ceilings collapsed. The skeleton of the arched gate still stands, soaring a hundred feet into the air. No one knows what happened to the cyclopean iron barred doors that once sealed the gate. Legend says they were stolen by a storm giant.

Signal Towers
In ancient times, small signal towers stop atop the ridges overlooking the defile. By shutting the light of a large fire, the guardians of the Castragon could relay messages from one end of the pass to the other. The towers now lie in ruins, occupied only by aerial predators.

The Watchtowers
Two watchtowers once occupied commanding overlooks, allowing unprecedented visibility across the valley to the south and the wastelands to the north. Each watch tower consisted of a citadel and a ten-story tower. A network of subterranean passages connected the watchtowers to the defile thousands of feet below. Today, the eastern tower lies in crumbling ruins while the western tower is said to be occupied by a reclusive wizard.

The Western Gate
The western gate, like its eastern counterpart, lies in ruins. Its great iron gate permanently open, facing the arid wastelands.


The majestic beasts known as sky-whales drift serenely through the mountain peaks of the Great Wall, their thick hides impervious to most predators save the great Roc or Storm Giant hunters. One tribe of Mountain Folk have raised a handful of sky-whales from infants, domesticating them for use as mounts and beasts of burden.

Nightflame Mountain
The midnight-blue stone of Nightflame mountain rises to a height of 14,000 feet, towering over the lesser peaks that surround it.  At night, the summit of the mountain is aglow with a halo of strange witch-fire.

Mount Zinnober
At a height of 13,000 feet, Mount Zinnober looms over the northern mountain-scape. Mount Zinnober is made of reddish-brown stone. It is home to many tribes of orcs, notable for their red skin.

Monday, August 4, 2014

"The Red Orcs of Zinnober, Part 2", Chapter 25 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week, the party continues exploring the ruins of the Archon's Manor in Flinch. There they survive some devious traps, use ingenuity and guile to surprise and kill an the chieftain of the Red Orcs of Zinnober, are in turn almost killed by a lightning bolt, manage to flee before a nine-headed fire-breathing hydra (!), and ultimately free the nine surviving villagers of Flinch.

Player Characters
  • Thaddeus, Stider of Swallow (Level 3 Human Ranger)
  • Jilani, Curate of Amun-Tor (Level 4 Human Cleric)
  • Biscuit, Footpad/Minor Trickster (Level 2 Gnome Thief/Illusionist)
  • Mayori, Otherworldy Warrior/Evoker (Level 2 Elf Fighter/Magic User)
  • Bombus, Hillfolk Cutpurse (Level 3 Halfling Thief)
  • Gravy, Priest of Thumina (Level 1 Human Cleric)
  • Gwen, Otherworldly Archer (Level 4 Elf Fighter)
  • Babu the Conjurer (Level 4 Human Magic User)
  • Knott the Axeman (Level 4 Human Fighter)
Other NPCs
  • Princess Murti of Kalmath (Human active NPC, 1-4 hit points, combat ability -1)
Scorpions and Fingertips
When we left our party, they had just defeated an ambush of seventeen red orcs. Having caught their breath and gained their bearings, they continued exploring the ancient cellar of the ruined manor house overlooking Flinch. They exhausted all the remaining rooms: a mess hall, sleeping quarters for the orcine brutes, the private quarters of the tribe's witch-doctor; finding all empty of occupants. In the sleeping quarters, Bombus found several sacks filled with the filthy personal belongings of the tribe. He found one sack to be guarded by a dead scorpion which fell to the floor. Within the witch-doctor's quarters Bombus found a chest with no lock. Curiously, the handles recessed into the sides of the chest resembled open mouths with teeth. He used his thief's tools to disable the lock as best he could. In the end, he had to take a chance and use his fingers to open the lock. Luckily, he had successfully disarmed the trap. Within was stored a dagger, jeweled necklace, a leather bag with twenty platinum coins, a diamond, and the mummified remains of dozens of finger-tips.

Water, Sand, and Illusion
Continuing their search, they discovered a concealed door in the hallway. Beyond the door was a hall with three identical doors. They opened the first door, revealing a long corridor with an identical door at the far end. As they entered the hallway, the door slammed shut behind them. Vents opened, allowing water to pour into the corridor. The passage was quickly filling with water. No amount of force could open the door in which they entered. Thaddeus and Knott started to attack the door with sword and axe, finding it vulnerable to physical damage. With the water just about to their armpits, they managed to smash the door to splinters, spilling the water into the hall.

They tried the second door, but it would not open.

The third door, however, opened to reveal another corridor, identical to the first. Mayori fired an arrow at the far door. The arrow stuck. They entered. The door behind them immediately slammed shut and the corridor began filling with sand. Thaddeus and Knott repeated the demolition of the first door on the new door. When the sand had just reached their hips, they bust it down. Bombus, curious about the far door, opened it. Behind was nothing but wall and a silver key dangling from a hook. He took the key.

The party once more turned to the second door. They were confounded by the lack of key hole. Sensing an illusion, they felt all over the door and finally found a concealed key hole. The key inserted and the door opened. At this, the water and sand magically disappeared and the doors were restored to their original undamaged state.

At about this time, Biscuit the gnome came walking up. Biscuit had been left with the horses to camp high on the ridge with Princess Murti. Biscuit explained that it became very uncomfortable up there and there was no way he was going to stay up there exposed all night in case any night creatures attacked, so he took Princess Murti down to the village where he encountered the lone survivor, Exposition. Exposition explained where the party went so he came to catch up with them.

Biscuit the Doomed!
Darts in the Dark
The center corridor proceeded and turned right, proceeded, then turned right again. Before them was a wide passage, its floor made of square paving stones, its walls a checkerboard of small square holes, the kind darts might be fired from. They could see a room just around the corner to the right, light by candles.

Sensing another trap, Bombus volunteered to proceed. He raced across the paving stones, setting off a flurry of darts fired from the walls. He made it to the other side unharmed and saw the chieftain of the red orcs, his witch-doctor, and three massive dire wolves, standing guard over a rich treasury of piled gold and stolen trade goods.

He ran back through the trap, again unharmed despite the flurry of darts, to report his findings. The party attempted to cajole the chieftain into coming around the corner. The chieftain, speaking the common tongue, declined, and called into the question the honor and bravery of the party as well as questioning the legitimacy of their births. In addition, he asserted his knowledge of the proper lack of bladder control that he claimed afflicted members of the party in the face of the orcine chieftain.

The Breach in the Wall
The party assigned Jilani to distract the chieftain with further verbal repartee while they sneaked back to the corridor of the three doors. Figuring that the orcine chieftain was just beyond the wall, Babu applied the contents of an Oil of Etherealness to the wall. A five-foot section of the wall became invisible and immaterial, creating a breach into the treasury beyond. Through the breach rushed Knott, Mayori, Thaddeus, and Gwen.

Knott charged the witch-doctor while Gwen and Thaddeus unleashed a hail of arrows on the chieftain. Caught by surprise, the chieftain fell to the barrage of missiles. The witch-doctor, however, responded to Knott's charge by magically charming him and ordering him to stand in the corner, out of the fight.

While Babu cast a spell on one of the dire wolves, putting it to sleep, Biscuit and Mayori took on the other two dire wolves in melee combat. Thaddeus and Bombus then charged the witch-doctor. The other two lupine beasts soon joined the first in eldritch slumber.

The witch-doctor, in turn, cast a spell that caused multiple arcs of magical lightning to burst from his fingers. Thaddeus, Bombus, Mayor, Babu, and Biscuit were caught in the blast. Thaddeus lost his sword, AGAIN! Mayori and Babu were critically injured but Biscuit was killed outright! To add insult to injury, the sleeping wolves were jarred awake and continued their attack. Jilani, sensing need, rushed to aid her colleagues.

Soon enough, however, Thaddeus, Gwen, Bombus, and Jilani had killed the wolves and the witch-doctor.

The party found themselves with more loot than they could carry. Thousands of gold coins lay heaped about on the floor along with bolts of silk, amphorae of wine, books, statuary, spices, furs, and other trade goods taken from doomed caravans that never made it past the red orc blockade of the trade road near Finch.

The party took a short rest and caught their bearings. Mayori and Babu were in no shape to continue. They were barely able to walk, much less fight. But they decided to continue with the rest. So the party returned to the four-way intersection and then to the brick wall that was different from the rest of the stone in the cellar. Enough force knocked the wall down revealing a long forgotten passage and a round room with a deep dry well. The party lowered Bombus down the well with a rope. At the bottom, he found loose soil and silt. He shoved his sword into the dirt and found the top of a buried chest. He dug around as best he could without a spade, revealing the top of a heavy chest. Knott was then lowered down to smash the chest open with his axe. Within they found a suit of chain mail, a sword, and thousands of coins and gems. They decided to leave the treasure for now and return for it later.

They then retraced their steps and explored a new corridor to the east. They found a room with a fireplace that had been used by the orcs as a gaming den. The Otherworlders found a secret door that led to the treasure chamber behind the wall. Thaddeus inspected the large fireplace and found a loose brick. Behind the brick he found a sack filled with 100 gold Agarthan coins.

Thaddeus with Facial Hair
Further up the hall, past a ruined staircase, they found the remains of an ancient library. The ceiling had collapsed long ago, half-burying the room. The books had long ago been destroyed by the red orcs. Within the library were four doors.

Behind the first door they found a small chamber, almost a vestibule, and found themselves face to face with a harpy poised to attack! After the initial shock and the readying of weapons, the party soon realized that the harpy was completely motionless. Mayori stuck his sword into the creature with no effect.

Moving into the next vestibule, they encountered a strange humanoid with an octopus-like head, sitting on a silver pedestal. Lying on the floor were the bodies of ten dead red orcs, at least two weeks old. Bombus touched the humanoid and set off a magical shockwave that injured everyone in the room. Shaking off the effect and counting their stars that they survived, they decided to leave the pedestal alone.

In the third vestibule they found the body of a stag, lying on the floor dead, with two weeks of decay. Apparently, the other specimens were magically preserved. The party deduced that the witch-doctor dispelled the magic, causing the stag to fall down dead. They quickly closed the door and moved to the fourth vestibule, they found nothing more than a pedestal and a shriveled pile of dried skin.

Moving along, the Otherworlders once more detected another secret door in the hallway. The door led to another parallel hallway directly behind the south wall. They moved into the new hallway and saw that one way led back to the chamber with the makeshift barricade and the other way led to a large room.

They cautiously advanced towards the large room. At one time there was once a chute for delivering wood from the surface in the northeast corner of the room. The chute had been widened into a large tunnel by the digging of some massive beast. Within the room they saw a large forge and smithy with a sand pit. Sitting on the sand pit was a massive red nine-headed reptilian monstrosity out of some primeval nightmare!

The hydra saw the party and charged towards the entrance where they stood, dumbfounded. Before it could arrive, the party turned and fled back through the nearby secret door. As they shut the door, the entire hallway was engulfed in flame. The party wisely ran away from the deadly creature.

After reaching safety and catching their breath, the party returned to the room where the captives were kept. They freed the nine captives and listened to their story.

Apparently, the red orcs had caught the town completely by surprise. There was no sign of their approach. They simply appeared from the forest and overwhelmed the town before gates could be closed. Most of the town had been slaughtered. The men were impaled, hung from the walls of the village, or dismembered and eaten. The women were either killed or kept for breeding stock. They thanked the party for rescuing them.

Afterwards, the entire group returned to the village. It was near midnight and it was raining. They all sought shelter in the long-house in the center of the village. Within they found Princess Murti reading a book by candle light. She looked up from her book and saw the injured state of Mayori and Bombus, as well as the armloads of magical weapons and armor carried by the rest of the party. Sensing that her escorts were in no state to guide her through the pass for at least another week, she closed her book and sighed in resignation.

Introducing Gravy
The next day, while Mayori and Babu rested, those who could returned to the manor house with Thaddeus. They avoided the smithy with the pyro-hydra but instead returned to the treasure chamber. The party then carried all the treasure in bags and carts back to Flinch, requiring several trips.

The women of the village began to clean up and rebuild. The bodies of the men were lowered and cremated, with services performed by Jilani.

While they did so, a peregrine acolyte came wandering up the road. A human who seemed lost but wearing the robes of an acolyte of Thumina, goddess of the moon and the harvest. He had a large bruise on his head in the shape of a horse-shoe. He wandered into the village and was met by the party. He introduced himself as Gravy. He knew not where he was or why he was here and, lacking any other purpose or protection, asked if he could travel with the party for a while. The party agreed.

While the injured rested, the village was repaired. The gates were rebuilt and the buildings were restored as best they could. Knott helped in the building while Thaddeus hunted for game in the nearby forests.

After a week in Flinch, the party decided to return to Swallow in order to identify the newly acquired treasures and also so Jilani could study under her priest and advanced to the next stage in her order of mysteries. If Princess Murti felt any annoyance or impatience at the delay, she betrayed no sign of it, though she always kept a wary eye out for additional assassins.


After Thoughts
Thus concludes the adventure "Taking Toll" by Les Kay, part of the Dark Folk supplement by Mayfair Games.

Next week, the party hopefully returns to Flinch to finally head through the Defile of Castragon in order to deliver Princess Murti to Horek before assassins catch up with her! We'll see. They're players, they might decide to cut Princess Murti loose and go hunt pirate treasure. And they are free to do so.

Also, the next two weeks will be without Jilani and Babu, or at least their player, Lucinda, as she heads back east for vacation.

I'm sad about poor Biscuit. I will say this. I apparently have a taste for the blood of Jeff's characters!

Poor Jeff. His current job schedule means he only gets to show up and play once every two-to-four weeks. We miss him! And just about every time he shows up, I kill his character. First it was Sausage. Now Biscuit. All night, I kept saying "Hurry up! I need to kill another of Jeff's characters!"

It's also interesting to note that since Scott switched from playing Valerius the Paladin to Mayori the Otherworlder, the role of "party leader" has switched to Trevor and his character Thaddeus. It makes sense because Mayori is "new" to the group, and although Thaddeus hasn't exactly been around long either, his player Trevor, who is a seasoned DM (and helps me out a lot while I'm running), has filled in that void in party leadership.

You might also note that Gwen was demoted from player character to henchman. Gwen's player, Bill, has sadly left the group. We will miss Bill, but he just couldn't sustain gaming every Friday night until midnight. So Gwen has been given to Trevor to run.

The Sword of Dire Necessity
Another item of note, the sword found at the bottom of the well is listed in the book as a Vorpal Sword!!! That's one of many examples of just how treasure-heavy this short adventure is! I kept most of it, but that was just too much!

So I dialed it back. It's now a one-use Vorpal Sword known as the "Sword of Dire Necessity". It is a +3 sword until you roll 17-20, where it gets one use of the vorpal property and kills its target outright, like any other vorpal sword. However, at that the sword begins to glow and sparkle, then disappear. It reappears somewhere else in the multiverse. It's worth 800 XP to keep, 2000 GP sale value.