DND 5e: A Caravan Arrives; A Dragon Burns

Entering Greenest
Entering Greenest

There’s a song I wrote once. Everyone in Elturel was singing it. They loved me there, but what could I do? I’m just that good. They love me everywhere. The song was “Get Off the Cart”… I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the gnome cities beneath the rolling hills of the Western Heartlands, and why would you? You love the sun, the wind, the trees, and why not? Gnome cities were all mines in ancient times, and some still are, with the stone brothers ceaselessly chipping.

But we gnomes build workshops where deep pools one stood in their stillness. The old minecart rails now carry our automatons through the depths on their myriad tasks. Most gnomes only go where the rails go. But some of us get off the cart.

And yet here I am, stuffed beneath this dogcart like lost luggage, trying to keep out of the sight of the noble who hired me. I remember him. I’m hoping he won’t remember me. Or the music box I left going — by accident! — outside the door to his suite, all night. And the next day. See, I have nervous fingers, and sometimes I… build little things… and this music box looked so much like an ornate hinge that I just had to see if I could make the door musical.

I have to get off this cart. Soon.

My fellow guards are an odd lot.

Dan Cain, human cleric. Does he worship a god? Nobody knows what he does in the woods, but he always returns happier than when he left. The only way you can be sure he won’t go is the way he’s headed. Maybe that’s why he joined this caravan to nowhere.

Ellryn Leafwind, one of my forest brothers. He carries no weapons and wears no armor and his eyes burn with a quiet intensity. If he’s ever sprung a clockwork in the dark beneath the hills, I’d be shocked. One to watch out for.

Gina Battlehammer, a dwarf sister. The rock grows deep within her. She says little, still too young for her beard to grow in. She hates the stare of the sun but refuses to give that daystar the satisfaction of watching her sweat. The carven sigils on her battleaxe speak more loudly than her soft voice.

Zalandrin Silverthorn wears pointed ears and a thousand yard stare. Once on this accursed journey, I saw a squirrel chasing a bird away from its nest. Zalandrin was in full sight, and I swear he moved not a muscle, but the squirrel caught a sudden case of arrow, a look of startlement frozen on its lifeless face. As the carriage passed beneath, the weight of the arrow brought it and squirrel down to Zalandrin’s outstretched hand. The bird’s joyful song followed us a good, long while.

Me? Tinda Bronzenote, at your service. My full name would fill these chronicles, but this is enough for you, who have never visited the tessellated halls of my home, have never listened to our songs.

But if you have ever sung along to “Get Off the Cart”, then you owe me a shiny piece of electrum, or at least an ale the next time we meet. Music isn’t free, you know.

After many quiet days, the caravan master said we were nearing the town of Greenest, the end of our journey. A dark cloud hung heavy on the road ahead… rising from the towers of the small keep that peeked from behind the crown of a hill. A sudden gale shook the carts as a shadow sped over us — a blue dragon cried its electric cry as it flew ahead, the slow flap of its wings rolling thunder over the besieged town as the keep sprouted another tongue of flame.

Roger, the caravan master, tried his best to calm the panicking horses. The noble I’d been avoiding crashed out of the carriage, his widening eyes taking in the devastation, yelled words I could not understand at Roger, and stormed back into the carriage. Locks were turned. The door was barred, which I thought was excessive. The carriage is, after all, flammable.

The caravan master threw our pay at our feet and left us in the dust as he expertly turned the carts around and vanished down the Uldoon Trail, back the way we came.

With no better options, we decide to see what we can see in Greenest. The dragon has clearly been careful not to cause too much damage to the homes and houses, but hasn’t been as kind to barns and bales. It’s a rare dragon that cares that much what they burn. But we see, then, that humans and kobolds are looting the homes and chasing away the people. What could they be planning?

A small copse separates a river from the town. If we go up the river… standing in water near a dragon who breathes LIGHTNING? Plus — not that good at swimming. The kind of lakes you find in the Underdark are not the kind of lakes in which you learn to swim….

I rustle along the bank while the others wade in the river. I’m not all that comfortable among them, though Leafwind and Silverthorn are instantly at home. Leafwind look better with a hat. A tall, conical hat. Red.

Through the trees, we see a group of humans and kobolds looting a home near the edge of the village. Kobolds?

I put on my kobold costume.

When money gets short, sometimes I put on a quick production of “The Kobold Princess Who Grew Too Much”, a play I wrote. Performed the world over. Kings and queens tossing gold at me. I use a disguise spell to grow during the play. Not fitting into my clothes any more. The dwarfs always laugh.

If you have a couple silver on you, I might show you. Real silver, not that southern stuff.

I whisper disguise and there isn’t a kobold in Faerûn who wouldn’t invite me to perform for their king. From kobolds, I generally get gems. Uncut, but I know people. The rest of the group gives me odd looks. I bark. They sigh.

These people are not any fun at all. We see a family coming down the stream the other way, scared out of their wits. I bark at them. They scream and run the other way.

Pretty funny, but the group is kinda upset. They wanted information, but honestly, the best thing for those people was to get out of line of sight of the dragon. Disgusted, the party strongly encourages me to scout out the village, seeing I’m a kobold and all.

I wander up near a group looting a home. They yell something at me, but I haven’t learned comprehend languages, so I just smiled and nodded. That gets most people to leave you alone. But maybe kobolds don’t smile? They aren’t buying it.

Zalandrin, creeping to the edge of the copse, makes a noise. The kobolds and their tame human, their heads jerk as if pulled by an invisible string.

One kobold deftly catches an arrow with his right eye. He goes down in a puddle of greasy scales.

The tame human isn’t taking any of that. He draws a scimitar and swings at me, one of his allies! He misses, unsure, I guess, which side I’m on.

Gina Battlehammer runs up, axe already singing. I quickly charm person a kobold and set it on the human and decide Gina would be better with me behind her. Doesn’t have to worry about which kobold is the one she wants to not hit.

My kobold friend attacks the other kobold…? He was supposed to work on the human! Oh well! Missed anyway. That last kobold snatches an arrow out of the air with his throat, and only then do I hear the soft twang of Zalandrin’s bow.

The human, confused, turns from attacking me to swing at Gina. Someone should have had an attack of advantage or disadvantage when I moved away from him and he moved away from me.

Gina slices the human in two. Do humans have souls? Must remember to ask that drunken cleric. Or maybe he’s so drunk because humans don’t have souls. Maybe it’s okay to kill humans? I’ll have to check up on the local laws. Maybe there is a game preserve somewhere where you can bring your family to kill humans.

My charmed kobold friend, nobody left to attack, smiles stupidly, so I run him through with my rapier.

“We could have gotten some answers from him,” whispers Zalandrin. “I speak kobold.”

Well, thanks for that late breaking news, elf.

There’s a lot of plates, silverware and other valuables dropped by the dead kobolds. I drop my disguise and remove the kobold costume. It’s done its job. Cleaning it is murder.

A human family — couple hatchlings, a wounded man, and a woman carrying a spear with no little familiarity, comes running out of the village, pursues by a group of at least eight kobolds.

The kobolds, seeing us, assume by our arms and lack of running away that we’re friends, bark and motion clearly that we’re to help kill all humans. I suddenly have another vision of a walled off preserve where children of all nations could gather to kill humans in a safe, family-friendly environment. I’ll have to look into that. Are humans allies? I’ll have to make sure. Don’t want to kill them without a license, or something. Might be harvesting limits. And this village does seem infested with them. Perhaps they were sent here to breed. Could these be the dragon’s free range human farm? What are the rules about this situation?

Zalandrin says the kobolds are getting a little suspicious that we aren’t killing the humans yet, and frankly, so am I. But I tell Zal to tell our kobold friends that these humans are our prey (I hope). No go. I explain that these humans killed a friend of mine and that they should let us have these… they reluctantly leave.

The family is as terrified of us as they were the kobolds, and run to the keep, slip inside a hastily opened door that slams shut behind them. We knock on the door, exchange muffled words with a guard, and are soon let inside.

The keep is crowded wall-to-wall.

We look for someone in charge. The garrison commander, a red-beared dwarf who calls himself Escobert the Red, sees us and we are brought into a room with a crude model of the village on a table, asks us what the heck we are doing here. We explain about the caravan, and, accepting that, they tell of the suddenness of the dragon’s attack that morning, followed by kobolds and tame humans invading from the forest on all sides, driving people from their homes, looting and carrying away.

These same forces are working their way into the keep. There will be no leaving it without dealing with those cultists.

With the keep stuffed at over a hundred people and humans, at least that many trapped outside and perhaps still alive, their seems to be no safe place. There could be a couple hundred cultists out there as well, looting and burning but not doing all that much killing.

Our drunken cleric seems in danger of sobering up, insists on being shown the nearest tavern. He is ignored.

Escobert the Red makes it clear that we are welcome to take refuge in the keep — but we need to pay with services. He throws us a heavy ring of keys that will let us out of the keep through hidden ways. Get outside and kill cultists, or get outside and save more humans.

Or, just get outside and stay there.

I know my vote!

Sorry this update seems more focused on what my character is doing than what anyone else’s character is doing. I have to learn everyone’s voices so I can get more of what they say in there.

DM suggests we cut down on the comedy, so… probably will be somewhat more serious going forward. Nobody wants to be cut down in the next encounter. So far nobody has stepped up to lead the group — and maybe it’s early — but the last time we played we had no leader and so we all just did whatever we felt like, and this adventure is shaping up the same way. Nobody wants to take charge.

I’m not saying I’m not part of the problem — I definitely didn’t clear any of my moves with the group, who would probably have preferred I not dress up like a kobold and stuff. But, I honestly don’t know what else to do. We’re all MMO players and it shows so much. See mobs, kill mobs, see mobs, kill mobs. Loot the corpses. That’s not D&D. MMOs look like D&D on the outside, but inside they are dead. I figure, if we’re playing like it’s an MMO, we need to do the opposite.

A kobold, er, gnome bard isn’t going to be a leader. Zalandrin might. I have no idea what kind of things Superman and Leafwind can do yet.

D&D4e: The Story of the Ghost

Ghost Encounter of the Blurred Kind
Ghost Encounter of the Blurred Kind

As a shaman, talking with spirits is what the dwarf Valda Onyxheart does every day. It’s in her _wheelhouse_. To be attacked by the _hentai_ tentacles of a ghost when she was just trying to make some sort of spiritual connection … well, some insults just can’t be borne.

It’s been a month since the Adventure Company last met, but only minutes have passed in the tunnels beneath a village surrounded and attacked by the undead. The villagers we have promised to protect have barricaded themselves within an old church; we are scouting the tunnels beneath the village for a clear path to a graveyard and an escape.

The tunnels so far have not been empty; zombies and skeletons wandered around, but we killed them dead. Deader than they were. We killed them _more_.

A light breeze from the east stirs the dust; we cautiously check the other passages and find no other exit, and decide finally to enter the mausoleum and find the source of the wind.

The mausoleum is dark. Tightly sealed sarcophagi (sorry, sarcopha-people, let’s not impose gender roles onto them) line the walls. Fire pits mark the location of ancient ritual flames, but they are long since dark.

The goliath Kav thinks he sees an oily smear in the air to the north, but finds nothing except some dust swirling in the breeze. The tiefling Barakas checks the coffins to the south, but sees nothing.

We discuss, for a few minutes, whether we should head back to the chapel and bring the villagers to this place of relative safety. Since it has only been a few minutes, though, we decide they can take care of themselves for a little longer while we ensure the path to safety is clear. The breeze tells us we must be close.

We head east, toward the source of the wind, but are stopped as an insubstantial presence coalesces in front of us. It’s a ghost! We can make out that it is humanoid, was once perhaps a human, but seems agitated now because, ghost.

Kav tries speaking to it, but gets little of value from it. Valda uses her Speak with Spirits power to improve her Insight and tries to discern more about the ghost and the meaning of his presence here. She gets his name from him — in life, he was Durmon Garis, a protector of the village who died to an orc invasion — but as they speak, he becomes more agitated and a darkness overtakes him. He lashes out with a tentacle of inky black.

It’s ghostbusting time.

Kav tries a couple of tentative attacks and finds that his hammer can harm the thing; dark tentacles assail him and then his fears take control and send him fleeing. The gnome Pakts fires blast after blast at it, while Barakas weakens it with the ever-reliable Magic Missile. Valda does the best she can, directing her spirit companion, the basilisk Dern, to try and catch the ghost’s attention, but Durmon’s spirit ignores it. Aside from a couple of hits, Dern is mostly powerless against the ghost.

Kav overcomes his fears and runs back into the fray. The ghost knocks Kav and Valda back with a tentacle blast; Valda catches her second wind and sends some healing Kav’s way as well. The ghost eventually weakens; Barakas pushes it away with a bolt of force, but that only has a temporary effect. It vanishes and re-appears again in front of Kav.

We eventually dissipate it enough that the darkness that infected the spirit is driven away. For a moment, the ghost of Durmon Garis stands before us shining; a bright spirit clad in armor. He thanks us for setting him free, tells us to “seek the claw”.

The ghost then vanishes utterly and forever, opening the way for us to continue east. There’s noise from behind us, though, the sound of two people running in fear.

It’s the two children from the chapel; moments after we left, the undead surrounded the chapel and crashed through every window. The adults battled briefly, but could not hold back the horde. At least they could keep the children safe; they handed the boy the village’s crossbow and locked them both into the tunnels beneath, ordering them to find us and stay safe.

As the door locked behind them, the children could hear the sudden screams of their families as they were torn to shreds.

We vow to protect them and bring them to safety. The boy knows of a cave a couple hours travel east, through the forest. But not the forest that is infested with undead hordes. That’s the forest to the west. Forest to the east is safe… probably. The cave is used by the villagers for outings.

Next week: Escape into the Probably Safe Forest.

D&D4e: Temporarily Alive

Exploring a crypt with Roll20.net
Exploring a crypt with Roll20.net

When there’s undead behind you, undead ahead of you, undead below you and for all I know, undead above, you just have to wonder if maybe this “living” thing is just a mistake. A mistake the gods are trying to fix.

This is why Valda puts her faith and trust in good, solid stone. Stone that protects. Stone that builds. Stone which, when dropped from a good height, makes pretty short work of undead.

But there’s no good stone in the forest. Just trees and undead. Undead swarming from beneath the mountains, swept along by a force emanating from Shadowfell. A sudden clearing; living survivors hurled together for one last stand. Not far away is a stone chapel.

The solid sanctity of well-fitted stone calls Valda like a siren. The others — a goliath, a tiefling and a gnome — see the chapel as well. They move together toward the sanctuary.

The door is locked and barred. The four refugees yell and shout and pound the door; the goliath takes up his hammer when the door opens a crack. There’s a human looking warily through the barely opened door. The goliath pushes the door open, and the four pile in.

With the door locked and barred once more, the refugees catch their breath and introduce themselves to the humans barricaded inside this small chapel. Valda, stoneborn shaman. She calls the spirits of the stone to aid her; they coalesce into the form of a shimmering basilisk. The goliath, Kaveith, is a warden from a northern land. The gnome, Pakts, a warlock; and the tiefling, Baracas, a wizard.

The humans are all that are left of a nearby village. Undead claimed most of them; the survivors took what supplies they had and barricaded themselves in the chapel. The simple benches were broken apart to cover the windows and bar the door.

The humans are not doing well. Their leader, Nathaniel, has an injured leg and cannot move swiftly. Teenaged Jass wants nothing to do with the four strangers; the other humans want the refugees gone, but it does look as if they know how to fight; if they are fleeing the undead, if they would take the human remnant with them, surely the gods would reward them?

There is no other exit from the chapel. Aside from a well-locked steel door in the back of the chapel, behind a tapestry. A search of scattered vestments reveals a set of keys, one of which opens the door. If there is a path to safety, the villagers are promised, we will return for you. Meanwhile, lock this door securely behind us.

A poorly carved tunnel leads into the ground. The goliath has to crouch in order to make his way. Valda instructs her basilisk, Dern, to stay close to the giant. Pakts and Barakas follow.

There are undead, but nothing too deadly. These are undead who will not be scheming a way into the chapel any longer. After sending a half dozen undead back to their graves, the party pauses for a brief rest in the well-constructed foyer to a mausoleum.

Still Alive!
Still Alive!

We start on our new adventure! There were supposed to be six of us, but only four were able to make it. We did our best. The DM, Chris, threw some softball encounters at us as we figured out the rules and tried to do things the right way. Always something more to learn, with D&D.

The star of the night was the Roll20 tabletop software we use. The ability to tie our skills and spells to macros speeds combat quite a lot, and lets us players add a little bit of flavor text so that it’s not just a dry announcement of an ability. The top picture shows Barakas sending in some death; you can check out my spell macros listed below the play window.

Roll20 keeps us relying upon our player handbooks, and that’s a good thing. It feels like we’re really playing D&D now, not just playing the tabletop software.

Still loving the automatic docking of Roll20 in to the Google+ Hangout.

Next week: a mausoleum! THAT doesn’t sound dangerous! And, what’s happening with the villagers we left behind?

D&D4e: Demo Fight

B.A. had the right idea
B.A. had the right idea

The Adventure Company reconvened last night to prepare for our new adventures. We made a few changes since the last time we met. All new characters, for one — we’d all died in the last encounter, at the bottom of a deep hole, in front of a portal to an evil realm, a realm in which many of us are presumably now trapped for eternity.

We welcomed a new face, Mike S., who brings the Adventure Co up to fighting strength. And we moved from Fantasy Grounds 2 as our tabletop of choice, to Roll20.net. We moved tabletops because we wanted a tabletop that did LESS for us. We’d make our own dice rolls; our spells and abilities would be marked off on paper character sheets and in the pages of the actual source books. More primal. More real. Plus, it’s free.

While Roll20.net has its own video chat system, we switched to a Google Hangout, into which Roll20 docked itself neatly. So no more switching between the game window and the hangout window.

You die, I die, we all die
You die, I die, we all die

The Adv. Co. v2 is comprised of Pakts Dabagars, gnome warlock; Kaveith, goliath warden; B.A., tiefling wizard (sorry, missed the complete name); Valda Onyxheart, dwarf shaman (my character) and her spirit companion Dern, a basilisk; and a tiefling invoker whose player was knocked off the net by snow storms and didn’t get to play last night so I didn’t catch his name.

Arrayed against us were three hobgoblin soldiers and two hobgoblin archers, so fairly evenly matched, except they were level 3, we were level 1, and a tiefling down.

We did have a gnome, though.

We were soundly defeated. If the DM hadn’t had some of the hobs flee, it would have been a wipe, but the gnome DID survive!

So yay for our side.

It was a good tech shakedown, and allowed us all to get familiar with our abilities and how to perform our roles.

I’d expected my spirit companion to be more of a secondary tank, since it takes no damage unless it is hit for ten or more points of damage, which causes it to dissipate and causes me to take five damage. Dern turned out to be all too fragile, being dissipated time and again, until I was finally knocked unconscious, even though I’d been hit directly by an enemy only once.

However, every hit Dern took was a hit someone else didn’t take, and the maximum party damage for each hit he took was five hit points, instead of the ten or more points actually dealt. So as a damage sponge, he worked pretty well.

Healing was a struggle. My bread-and-butter heal is dependent on my spirit companion attacking and hitting an enemy, and an ally being adjacent to it, who will gain three temporary hit points. So I guess that’s not really a good heal, because temp hit points don’t stack. But, it’s free.

My actual heal, Healing Spirit, heals an ally within five squares from me, and additionally a second ally adjacent to my spirit companion. I can only use that twice an encounter, but it can be four heals, depending on how PCs are distributed. Trying to keep my spirit companion in the best place took some thought, but it was helped a little because it would die all the time, which meant I could just bring it back where I wanted it to be (within range).

Since this was a one-off encounter, I didn’t mind using my daily as much as I would normally. Mine is Blessing of the Seven Winds, which damages one creature, but leaves a persistent, movable 3×3 zone of wind on the battle map for the rest of the encounter. Clearly, if it is to be used, it should be used early, and I dropped mine as soon as I saw which way the wind was blowing (*cough*).

The DM played it for the rest of the encounter as if it were continually knocking monsters within it down, but on re-reading the spell description, it looks like its only power, once cast, is to slide each creature caught in it one square on my command as a minor action. This is actually far more powerful an effect than we’d played it.

Since this is a SLIDE and not a SHIFT, adjacent allies would get attacks of opportunity on it. Since the effects of the swirling winds are under my control, once cast, my allies can stand in it without being affected by it.

I’m liking this. It IS a daily, so I won’t be able to use this every encounter; but used by this interpretation, and I believe it to be the correct one, the fight would have gone differently last night.

Anyway, fun was had by all. Combat is still slow, but that’s D&D4e for you. Wasn’t all that fast with the original D&D, either, especially since in the original D&D, people would be doing all sorts of weird stuff, using the environment and so on. 4e is far more tactical.

Next time we meet, it will be for real. And perhaps we’ll be facing monsters more our level.