Session 1 – Prisoners

Today we played our first session in the new Neverwinter campaign. I choose to start the adventure in medias res to quickly reintroduce the concept of the mechanics quickly instead of starting with (the usually) awkward describing the characters to each other.

For inspiration I’ve used Runehammer’s excellent video on room design, more specifically Prisoners of Molok. In our version the players have been captured by a mad alchemist – Vivecca the Scarlet Alchemist and her seven derro. In their underground lair they are using an unholy machine that uses gelatinous cubes to dissolve trolls in to a very potent slime that can be used to reanimate the dead, and if further distilled as a somewhat disgusting but useful Potion of Regeneration.

Vivecca the Scarlet Alchemist herself is connected to the Thayans in Neverwinter as the player will find out as they make their escape through her various underground laboratories. Her dungeon is a couple of stringed room encounters designed to help the new players understand the rules, get some action and use their wits to manage. The combat encounters themselves was not especially dangerous – yet proved lethal when one of the characters decided to go toe-to-toe with a gelatinous cube as a level 1.

Following is a quick outline of the encounters that I used:

1. Prison Room

The players start out as prisoners, naked and without any equipment. They are shackled to a wall in rusty manacles and as they wake up from unconsciousness they witness a tall pale skinned woman dressed in a scarlet robes observing them from a distance. Gathered around her are seven dwarves, that upon closer inspection actually are derro. She orders the derro to handle the latest batch of prisoners, singling out humans, dwarves and halflings to be brought to the labs, while any other species are to be disposed of. Still weak, the players watch the woman along with the derro leave. Two ghoulish servitors approach the party. They grab an elf NPC, and drags him screaming towards a deep and drop him down a deep cleft. They turn towards the PCs.. ROLL INITIATIVE!

The players need to figure out how to escape their cages and prepare to fight the ghouls unless they want to be killed or worse. Scattered around the chamber are chests and crates containing some of the players equipment. They are able to retrieve their armor, their primary weapon and a few random item. I also introduced an NPC here that survived to help the party along and to feed them information.

This encounter is a directly inspired from Runehammer’s prisoners of Molok.

My players approached this encounter very carefully. Being slightly underpowered in the initial fights made them fear the ghoulish servitors even when they had retrieved their gear. This led to a very interesting approach, trying to use the environment and other smart solutions to defeat the enemies.

2. The Troll Room

The players free from their prison follow the sound of screaming through twisting corridors to a large chamber. In the middle of the chamber is a troll suspended in chains from the ceiling. Below the screaming troll is a large pool containing a gelatinous cube that is already enveloping his lower body and slowly dissolving him. Positioned around the pool are ghoulish servitors that scrape off the gelatinous cube to allow the troll to regenerate. A lone derro stands upon a balcony overseeing the operation. The tormented screams of the troll makes stealthy approach possible. Metal pipes are connected from the pool leading out into the next chamber.

A straight up combat encounter that introduces elevation and difficult terrain into the mix. The lone derro will try to flee when detecting the party, but must first manage to unlock a door with his key. If he escapes he will alert the two derro in the next room. There are a few chests in the room allowing the players to scavenge for equipment. I used equipment such as flint & tinder, rope etc.

This is as far as my group got on the first session. Room 1 took about an hour and the second room about 45 minutes. The players was trying lots of different things, exploring the chambers instead of quickly advancing. The party managed to stop the derro from fleeing into the workshop but they did kill the troll by releasing him from his chains into the pool with the gelatinous cube. In its weakened state the troll was engulfed and dissolved quickly. With the silence of the troll, the nearby derro’s in the workshop started out to investigate… 

3. The Workshop

Two derros are busy and bent over what seems to be an alchemist laboratory. They are filling up a greenish slime (refined troll-gel) into small vials. The players will be able to get they by surprise if the Troll is still screaming. If they released the troll – or killed it, they will go out to investigate if it fell silent.

This is an easy combat situation and is mostly about the players figuring out the connection between the slime and the regenerative troll blood. They will be able to find a six-pack of troll juice (will regenerate 1D4 HP / round for 5 rounds) if they have the stomach to drink it. In our campaign I’ve also placed a few letters to tie Vivecca with Neverwinter and the Thay faction.

4. Machines of Vivecca

The large chamber is smokey and have thick rotting sweet smell in the air. Two large machines dominates the center of the chamber and thick pipes connects them to each other and to the previous troll chamber. The machine are making loud noises, and belches noxious puffs of smoke now and then. In front of each machine is a derro operating the machine. Two ghoulish servitors are duly feeding the machines with coal.

Once combat starts in here, roll 1D4 and use it as a timer. After rolled number of rounds, one of the machines belches out a large toxic cloud. Players caught in it will need to succeed a DC12 constitution check.

This encounter is directly inspired from Runehammer’s second Molok video – Machines of Molok

5. The Turning Room

This chamber is filled with apparatus, tubes and barrels along the walls. The far end of the room is separated by large metal cage. Inside the cage are two ragged humans chained to the wall. Two ghouls have the first prisoner in an iron grip, forcing his mouth open while a derro dressed in a dirty leather apron with a large sack on his back is forcing a tube down his throat. The tube is connected to the sack on his back and with the player entering he starts to pump something into the prisoner. This is another use of the troll juice. It kills the prisoner who then reanimates as a ghoulish servitor. The remaining prisoner screams for mercy.

The derro and his ghouls have locked themselves into the cage. The players will have to force the cage or use ranged attacks/magic to save the prisoner before it is too late. Use 1D4 as a timer.

6. Barracks, Kitchen, Latrine, Living Area and Library

This area is the living area of the Derro. It is dirty and nasty and not really anything exciting is here. It can be used to find some equipment or more information about Vivecca and her minions. Investigation is a useful skill here. The library contains several coded books on Viveccas research written in undercommon.

7. The Giant Skeleton

This very huge chamber contains a large skeleton of a giant suspended along the wall. A balacony runs along the walls two meters up. The balcony is reached by a set of stairs in the other end of the chamber. Two derros clad in leather aprons and troll juice backpacks flanks the giant skeleton on the balcony. As the players enter the chamber they both starts to hose down the skeleton with the juice. It is only a matter of rounds before the giant skeleton turns into a giant and very dangerous ghoul.

On the ground floor are four large coffin like machines along each wall. They start to hum and crank and from a random (roll 1D4) machine emerges a ghoulish servitor merged with various metal plates and weapons (e.g. blades instead of hands) every other round. These ghouls will lumber slowly toward the closest target and attack. The ghouls will keep spawning until the machine it self is destroyed. Now where will the players focus their attention?

The giant will be animated in 8 rounds…

This room encounter is inspired by The Tabletop Terror’s channel invasion of Runehammer, an excellent video.

8. Vivecca the Scarlet Alchemist

The last encounter is a chance for the players to fight Vivecca herself – a potent caster. I have not yet determined the design but I hope to make it memorable as well. Most likely it will be Vivecca as a spellcaster with a meatshield of ghoulish servitors.

 

Final note. It was extremely fun to run the first two encounters for the group. I imagine that we’ll handle another two encounters on the next session and after that we need to step up the actual role-playing a little bit to make sure it doesn’t get too combat focused.

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A Neverwinter Campaign

In our Session Zero the other week I prodded my players about their interest and aspirations for the game and we started the character creation. Based on the session I decided to go with the 4E Neverwinter campaign setting. The Neverwinter city itself and the surrounding area have many interesting highlights ripe with good story elements, but what I really like is the composition of the various factions along with the suggested character themes. It is a sureway of getting the characters integrated early on into the campaign, and I really like the story to be about the characters and not just a villain and a setting.

We will be playing 5E so most of the character theme mechanics will be wholly dropped – it is all about the fluff and the roleplaying. In our follow-up session, the warlock character naturally selected to go with the Devil’s Pawn theme and it looks like the Dragonborn Paladin or Half-elf ranger might go for the Spellplagued Harbringer.

I am now in the middle of getting up to speed on the setting, planning and preparing the first adventure. I’ll use an adapted version of Runehammer’s Prison of Morlok to start the campaign in medas res… Once that is going I’ll focus more on the Neverwinter setting and the actual campaign.

Session Zero for a new campaign!

Today we have started up a new D&D 5E campaign at work with me at DM and three co-workers. Our goal for the session was to start creating characters and talk a little about the expectations of the game ahead. Most of the players have not played RPG since the 90s as youngsters and myself is a little rough around the edges when it comes to D&D. They all have some familiarity with CRPGs such as Baldur’s Gate so they were naturally drawn to Forgotten Realms rather than any other setting. I am ok with that even though I personally wanted to explore the dark setting of Symbaroum.

For character creation we did it old school – roll 4D6 and remove the lowest dice for each stat. Once done, they were allowed to swap places with one stat. It was very fun since it helped them choose a class based on the dice. We ended up with a Dragonborn Paladin, a Tiefling Warlock of the Fiend and an Half-elf Ranger. Should be an interesting mix especially the RP tension between the warlock and the paladin. We actually never managed to finish the character creation in the two hours we had available. Next time we’ll go into backgrounds, skills and equipment. Might take us sometime to get the game off the ground – but it is all about the journey together and not the end.

Based on our first session  I don’t think this group will focus on the roleplaying initially, but I might be wrong. I’ll slowly nudge and prod until I can get them talking in character of their own accord.

Getting your adventure fit for publishing

I’ve been collecting and reading old D&D adventures for quite some time, and I always find it interesting that some adventures are quite memorable from a gameplay perspective, but totally misses out on readability and presentation (Lendard Lakofka’s L1, L2 and L3 comes into mind). The excellent blog – Chaotic Henchmen Productions – have a few really good posts on how to improve your adventure writing:

More tips can be found on their blog!

Barrowmaze and Inkarnate

In preparation for running the mega-dungeon Barrowmaze, I created a player map of the Duchy of Aerik using the excellent webtool Inkarnate.

Inkarnate is super easy to use and can produce excellent maps. Why don’t you give it a whirl? I have only messed with it a little bit and have not been able to improve the resolution when exporting the map which is a little discerning but no show stopper.

I was able to produce the following map in less than an hour… I might make a new version skipping the hexagons and removing the icon representing the actual maze as it is for the players.

Barrowmoor_map

First Part of The Murky Cellar

In this series of slowly adding to the dungeon and encounter The Murky Cellar I’ve added descriptions of the first area. The cellar itself.

Theme & Intro

I did design the cellar to be used as an introduction to my new players and to give them an easy way of getting into roleplaying games and a first taste of combat. It is intended to be old school dungeon crawling.

The Murky Cellar should feel like a dungeon encounter that makes the player feel like an uninvited guest exploring a cold murky cellar. It is rather low fantasy – and intended for new players needing to get their first combat encounter going.

The encounter is system agnostic, so use stats and mechanics from whatever system you are using.

Also adjust the number of goblins to suit your group and your level of difficulty. For my group of players I aimed to have 2 goblins per player at the most.

The Manor of the Silvermanes

For many years the manor was the home to a noble family, The Silvermanes. They ruled the area surrounding their manor  and for a long time they ran several farms and even a profitable silver mine. Some decades ago a terrible disease plagued the region causing most of the people left the region in fear of the disease. The Silvermane family unwisely decided to stay braving the disease. One by one they contracted the deadly disease. The family head buried their dead in the family crypts below the manor. Finally the last lord, Ruric Silvermane, locked himself down in the crypt as he felt the disease take hold of him.

The Silvermanes and their land was soon forgotten and as time passed the manor decayed and crumbled. In the last decade various goblin clans moved into the cellars below the manor. They have been unable to open the entrance to the family crypts. The goblins have dug a passageway from the cellar into the nearby cave system.

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Room Descriptions – The Cellar

1. The Stairway

The stairs spirals down into the darkness, the only light comes from whatever the players bring. The stairway leads down to an old wine cellar. The narrow passage east is lined on the north and south by inset shelves. The stone walls are damp and slimy.

Trigger – as soon as the player reaches the bottom of the stairs, roll 1D4. That is how long they have before 1D4 goblins turn up from their lair to investigate. I suggest you roll the D4 openly to add a little suspense. Something will soon happen…

If the player sneaks or moves stealthy, they will remain undetected. If they cause any ruckus the goblins will be prepared for them and spring an ambush…

2. The Manor Wine Cellar

From the narrow passage it opens up into a larger cellar. Two large broken ale barrels dominates the center of the room and the broken remains of wine shelves line all four walls. A large double stone door sits in the eastern wall. Wooden debris is scattered all over the room. Several unlit oil lamps hangs in chains from the domed ceiling. There is a strong musty smell down here of sweat and possibly urine.

As the players move further into the room, they will also become aware of stairs in the western wall leading down. It is only a couple of steps down, half a floor or approx 5-7ft.

Creatures:

Depending on the trigger in the previous room, the goblins is likely to appear from the stairs. It is a generic fight with the goblins having a low damage output and health (max dagger damage). Combat here will alert additional goblins (In 1D4 rounds another 1D4 goblins arrive).

In my initial play test I let the goblins spawn until the players moved down into room 3, to put a little pressure on the players. They quickly realized they needed to advance quickly. This makes the encounter a little bit more than just a standard combat.

Treasure:

Most of the wine in the cellar has already been looted but a persistent search could yield results. Difficult perception checks required to find 1D3 bottles of fine brandy. Could be valuable to the right buyer.

3. The Goblin Lair

The small staircase leads to a large room. It is unclear what it was once used for as there are now debris and straw mats all over the floor. A number of chests and barrels is in north east corner contains goblin supplies. Lines are strung across the room from which various small dead animals are hung. The smell of goblin is prevalent in this room. A closed heavy wooden door is in the western wall.

The smell of urine and feces is stronger near the hole. The smell comes from the goblins privy (area 10).

The wooden door is blocked from the other side (see area 4)

Creatures:

The goblin clan sleeps and eats here.

5 filthy flea ridden goblins is in here and when they heard the combat from the wine cellar they prepared for a fight. They will attack en masse and try to swarm the first player that enters. When half their number are killed or incapacitated they will either try to flee towards the cave tunnels or beg for mercy.

Note that regardless of the amount of goblins spawned in the previous room there are 5 goblins left.

Combat twist – the lines that the goblins have stringed across the room to dry meat will act as hinder for a human sized character, only half movement allowed. Goblins, halflings, dwarfs and other small folk moves as normal.

Treasures:

Scattered around the floor are 3D6 copper coins, lizard and rat meat. The goblin supply crates contains:

1D4         Contents

  1. A small weapon – dagger, club, short sword etc
  2. A light piece of armor – leather boots, leather cap – smelly and nasty
  3. Goblin Rations – dried mystery meat (most likely rat or lizard)
  4. Treasure – A potion, some coins or a cheap gem.

4. Goblin Chieftain’s Room

The door is barred from the inside. The spineless chieftain Olegg Birdmuncher and his bodyguard blocked the door with debris. The players will have to manage a strength check to force the door open. Two characters will fit working the door at the same time.

Creative players might use debris to create a battering ram or similar. Reward creativity!

As the players bash down the door, the two goblins that barred the door are flung to the floor (giving the players initiative).

The smell of decaying meat in here is almost overpowering. Like the previous rooms the floor is littered with debris and broken shelves. Along the west wall are three big cadavers strung up on the wall in various state of decay. A big meat cleaver is stuck into one of them. Slabs of cut meat are piled around them, A rather fat wide eyed-goblin wielding a metal staff watches the players in horror as they enter. Some makeshift furniture are arranged in the northern part of the room, including the chieftains treasure chest.

Creatures:

The Goblin chieftain Olegg Birdmuncher will fight to the death if the player’s attack along with his two bodyguards. Give Olegg double HP and double damage compared to normal goblins. His two body guards should also have a slightly higher damage (+1?) and 20% more HP.

Treasure:

  • Olegg’s Staff – A long 1.5m iron staff. Closer examination reveals that one end is cut as a hexagon. Leather straps and bird feathers adorn the top. Olegg found this staff in the cellar when they moved in. It is actually the “key” to the double door in area 2.
  • Olegg’s treasure chest – It is trapped. If a player opens the chest without succeeding with a perception/detect traps it will trigger. As the lid is opened rusty nails spring out from the lid doing 1D3 HP. Metal gloves fully protects the opener. Inside are a dozen small colored rocks that Olegg found pretty. An ebony flute, two empty but beautiful wine bottles. 4D6 copper coins and 2D6 silver coins.

And that is all for today. The caves and the crypt will be added to next…

Updated Murky Cellar Map

After my first play test of the Murky Cellar, I discovered that I had to make a few changes to better accommodate the combat and encounter I wanted.

I’ve increased the passages from 1 square to 2 squares to make it less narrow. Narrow could be interesting for specific claustrophobic encounters.. Secondly I moved the opening to the cave from the first cellar room to the second. In my encounter I allowed the dice to spawn new goblins coming from room 3 and move up to room 2 to stress the player in their combat a little. Having the hole there served more as a distraction at this point.

Finally I also added a stream to the natural cave for the goblins to find some water…

ruinen_cellar2

Sadly the play test encounter resulted in the party fleeing the cellar… I will have to work on the balancing of the encounter.

Stay tuned…

The Murky Cellar

I now have the Murky Cellar mapped out for the Forest ruin that I plan to run later this week as part of an introduction to Pathfinder RPG. I wanted an easy low fantasy combat encounter to run where I could introduce gradual challenge to test out the rules for me and for my players. I was really not impressed with the scenario that comes with the Pathfinder Beginner Box… mixed monsters, way too much treasure and magic items. I prefer the players not being able to upgrade their gear after the first encounter to max.

img_7286
Building the cellar using Dungeon Tiles. Minis are from Pathfinder and the Swedish RPG – Drakar och Demoner.

I originally drew it on regular grid paper and then did some slight editing in GIMP. Not 100% happy with the results. I want it to feel a little bit cleaner and perhaps work out a better method for adding grids to the dungeon.

When I mapped out the cellar using Dungeon Tiles, I realised that I’ve drawn the corridors and rooms slightly too narrow. I prefer to have at least the corridors two grids wide unless making a special nasty passage.

The Murky Cellar essentially consists of three different regions. The first original cellar, inhabited by goblins. A natural cave system that connects into the cellar in the south; and finally a crypt section where the family buried their dead and carried out a little bit of experimentation…

ruinen_cellar
The Murky Cellar –  I will redraw the map with wider corridors and slightly larger rooms.

I’ll be running the encounter with my group and post the full encounter with room descriptions and theme shortly after on the blog…

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Dungeon Tiles to bring the cellar alive.

Meanwhile – let me know what you think and feel free to leave comments, suggestions and ideas in the comments below.

The Forest Ruin

I used this encounter for my new groups first combat lessons. I wanted them (and me) to get a flow for the combat mechanics. As such we did not put effort into talking about why and where or how the players had arrived. Quite simply a combat encounter.

You are completely lost. The rain is pouring down almost horizontally, making it hard to see anything at all. Somehow you stumbled away from the road and ended up walking into a hilly area with a few trees sprinkled around. The rain grows heavier and you really need to seek shelter from the elements or you will catch a cold or worse. It is now starting to get dark as well making it hard to setup a camp. Up ahead on a hill there seems to be the old ruins of a house. As you get closer, you see that it must have been abandoned several years ago. Several walls are crumbling and most of the interior seems shattered and broken.

ruinen-i-skogen

The ruins appear to be abandoned and they will easily be able to seek shelter inside. Some of the walls have crumbled and makes for easy entry. There are plenty of dry wood from broken tables and shelves inside that can be used to fuel a fire. There is very little of actual value in the ruins.

Perception: A successful perception check will unearth several small footprints inside the ruins. These can be traced to a stone stairwell leading down into the darkness. A character that is a bit experienced with tracking or goblinoids will figure out that these tracks do come from goblins and that they are pretty recent. There is most likely goblins down the stairwell…

Treats: There is an old chest in the southeast corner beneath some rubble. Random item inside.

D4

  1. A weapon of sub-standard quality
  2. A piece of armor barly usable
  3. Supplies – a roll of rope 6 meters (20 feet)
  4. Nothing of value

The Goblin Attack

If the player decides to camp they better setup a watch. A party of goblins will sneak up from the stairwell and attack. If there are no watch, they will be in for a nasty surprise.

Use a perception check to see if they do wake up in before a goblin straddles them with a dagger on the throat… if you are nasty try out the damage to sleeping target, otherwise have something wake them up. Perhaps their mule detected the goblin, or one of them stumbles on the debris.

If they setup a watch, use D4 to determine during which watch they appear. Their numbers should match the player party. In my game of three players I used a 1D6+2 to determine numbers. Use your system’s goblins.. They should be pretty cowardly and aim to swarm a player if possible. When half their numbers are cut down, they will retreat towards the stairwell.

Our session…

In our game our merry band of heroes found the stairwell but decided to camp first and venture down in the morning. They did camp in the southwest room and before setting watch taking the time to create a fire and also create a makeshift barricade towards the other rooms. This gave them the advantage during the night ambush.

The group consisting of a knight, a squire/archer and a healer fared well against the goblins. I played out two waves of goblins and in the second wave the goblins managed to jump the healer and knocked her unconscious. Despite the low light use any penalties – we’ll save that for next encounter.

After the battle they never dared venture down the stairway, waiting for the morning first… also wanting to heal up and rest a little.

I drew up the encounter on grid paper and used Pathfinder Pawns 2D minis to help visualize the combat. This is something new for me as a DM but I think it did wonders. The players were much more keen to flank and maneuver around the enemies than I was used to making combat more fun and creative.

Down the Stairwell

I’ll post the map and encounters for the basement in the next post…