The Young, the Old, and the Diggers

Alarums, Illusions, and Flames: Beyond the Black Portal
IRL Date 6/25/16

A somewhat smaller group met with DM Don and me at the Reaper Game Store to proceed with the party’s further adventures in the underground caverns:

James, playing Aevay, a dragonborn rogue and arcane trickster.
Robert, playing Anima, a dragonborn fighter with some spell casting ability.
Martin, playing Varris, a sun elf wizard.
Jeff, playing Tor Black, a dwarf cleric of the war domain.
And your chronicler, Andy, with two characters:
Thandiina, a human fighter (battle master)
Varanus, a lizard man cleric of the light domain.

In addition, Don had brought his wife, Jen, to assist in running the opposition. This was our first signal that this would be tough. It was not to be our last.

When we had left our heroes, they were near an ancient dwarf temple in a vast underground cavern, surrounded by fields in which were growing a number of fungi, which had obviously been cultivated. Inside the temple was a dwarf seemingly frozen in amber, to whom those who could enter the temple (apparently only characters of good but non-lawful alignment, based on who had been able to enter) could communicate by touching the amber, with a normally reposing stone golem on guard outside. The band had availed itself of the opportunity to take a long rest and fully recharge all abilities. Following this there was an extended discussion on plans. According to the dwarf, most of the exits from this area that led to the surface had been blocked off when their citadel was attacked and the rest of the village destroyed by the evil forces that lay beyond the black portal which lay between two large columns opposite the temple. The dwarf also informed the group that there was a way out through a large tower in the center of a citadel that lay past the portal, and in fact, he drew a map of the citadel.

Varris sent his familiar in the form of a raven through the portal to scout, and saw what appeared to be a large group (a very large group) of something skeleton-like, armed with bows, on all of the various towers and internal walls of the citadel, plus apparent skeletons and zombies on the ground. There were at least eight such towers, all connected to a very high central tower by internal walls. Anyone just walking through the portal was likely to be pincushioned almost immediately. On the other hand, the group could try to determine whether any of the other exits was still usable, facing unknown dangers. Or, the party could attempt to go back the way they came, assuming they could get past the gate and the kobolds who guarded it. So, a vote was taken. Varanus received a sense from Bahamut that it would be really good to pass through the portal and destroy the evil that was there, and that the unknown alternatives were probably even more dangerous. He therefore voted to proceed through the portal, and was followed by the majority. After some additional scouting by the familiar, the group crafted a plan.

Both Varris and Aevay had access to the spell silent image; in addition Aevay had the ability to use a mage hand, planning to use that to fire a flaming arrow from his hand crossbow as a distraction. The silent image would be used above the party so that hopefully the skeletons on the towers and walls wouldn’t see them. The idea was that if someone could climb to the top of one of the walls without being noticed the party could get up there and have cover and a positional advantage over the enemies on the ground, and could perhaps gain cover against some of the enemies on the walls as well.

The plan having been decided, it was implemented. The group entered and did not seem to be detected. Aevay then cast her mage hand and fired a flaming crossbow bolt from as great a distance as she could. This seemed to distract the bulk of the enemies. Thandiina then proceeded to climb the wall. Unfortunately, not all the foes were distracted: A loud horn sounded, and Thandiina was made. Arrows came flying at her, wounding her. At this point, now the the party could see how many of their foes were arranged, and noted that there were approximately 10 skeletons on the top of each of the towers on either side of the portal, and a line of them along the wall. So Varanus put a flaming sphere in the center of one of the towers, starting to burn some skeletons and also setting the wooden parts of the tower aflame. In the confusion, Tor cast a sacred flame on one of the foes on the wall, one which was not a skeleton and which appeared different, and Varris attempted to use a chill touch against it.

With the top of the tower and the wall getting very hot, Thandiina decided to drop to the ground and attempt to use the javelins she had picked up previously to attack the fleshy undead, while Varanus concentrated on the flaming sphere and Tor continued to use the sacred flame against the fleshy foe. Suddenly a rope dropped from the wall above Thandiina and the enemy swarmed down it to engage her in melee. Aevay moved to fire her own bow at it, and Varris added his own flaming sphere to Varanus’ at the top, and the two spheres began cleariing the wall of skeletal foemen. By now the enemies had seen through the silent image and began targeting the entire party. Thandiina [note that this was prompted by one of those questions a DM sometimes must ask] drew the silver dagger she had obtained previously and began stabbing at her opponent in melee, but his counterattack took her down entirely. Aevay and Anima riddled him with arrows as Tor continued hitting him with the sacred flame, and the spheres on the wall continued to advance, having set the initial tower completely ablaze. Fortunately for Thandiina, Aevay was able to use her mage hand to force a potion of healing down her throat, so she was able to reengage in the fray.

Unfortunately, while the skeletons on the wall were being forced to retreat from the flaming spheres, the skeletons from the tower on the other side of the portal ran onto a bridge to the other tower and continued to pepper the band with arrows. Aevay and Tor were both seriously wounded at this point, while Varanus was using his own healing abilities to keep Thandiina upright and facing the most powerful of the undead. Tor’s attempt to turn him failed, although a couple of the skeletons fled.

Suddenly, from across the field, appeared a group of at least twenty more skeletons led by a second creature of the type that was fighting Thandiina. Aevay then used her own silent image to make it appear as though her mother had arrived. This doesn’t sound so impressive until we remember that her mother is a blue dragon. The newcomers spread out to surround and attack this new foe, as Thandiina dealt her foe a mighty blow just before being dropped once again. While Anima ran to get Aevay’s silver longsword to engage it, Tor was able to finish it with one more sacred flame just before being taken down by arrows fire.

The entire party was in bad shape at this point; Varanus was able to heal Tor enough for him to prepare a retreat, and then picked up the unconscious Thandiina and carried her toward the portal prior to healing her. The new foes, having determined that they were fighting an illusion, proceeded to form an effective firing line and the arrows were truly raining down now. With all but Aevay beside the portal, it was determined that Varris would use a thunder strike to drop the bridge completely (a previous effort having almost done so) but with all the arrow fire targeting her, Aevay went down. Thandiina, never willing to leave anyone behind, ran out, picked up the unconscious dragonborn, and then forced a potion of healing down her throat, at which point Varanus tried to grab her, Thandiina, and Tor and drag them all back through the portal. Although his grip on Tor slipped the dwarf followed immediately. The foes could not follow through the portal.

The group is planning to assault the portal again after healing and recovering, as this still appears to be the way they need to go to get out of the caverns. But to do so will require not only fighting through all the foes that they know about, but no one knows what may reside inside the tower, only that through some openings they saw so much light that it was painful. And now the enemy will be expecting an attack. Only time will tell if the party can craft a plan sufficient to get through.

[In retrospect, having Thandiina try climbing the wall was probably a mistake, as Aevay could have attempted to use stealth, and the flaming spheres were what did the most harm to the greatest number of enemies. On the other hand, the group’s teamwork was much more effective than before — particularly during the retreat phase, and it is an old military maxim that retreating in good order is very difficult indeed. In addition, it’s possible that had the other characters been present that might have given the group sufficient numbers to actually win the fight outside the tower — but what may lie within the tower remains a topic of grave concern.]

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Supplemental Adventure Log: Maculate's Perspective
(IRL Date 6-11-2016)

From the forum, here is Maculate’s own personal perspective on what happened. As a side note, it didn’t hit me that we hadn’t gotten his name until after the session was finished; at the time we got distracted trying to catch up to our friends in combat.

6/11/2016

That crawler has been following me for days! Run run run run run…all I do since leaving them behind all thanks to this damned crawler. To make matters worse, I had to jump in the water to get away! The Old One must be looking out for me since I survived somehow, only to be rescued by a trio of lightsiders.

How odd that no one asked me my name. Oh well, I didn’t introduce myself because they didn’t ask.

We don’t trust them anyway.

Three of their friends are orc food. Fools want to save them. I wonder what they have done to justify the effort.

Through the march we came to a palisade guarding the orcs. Somehow they saw us as we came over the wall and combat ensued! The healers dropped very quickly for some reason (Perhaps because they forgot they were not infantry and charged head first into the teeth of a skirmish line. Did I say fools? Yes, I see that I did. We state it again. Fools.). At this point, for some reason, the damned animals came after me!

Two of the animals hit me and the first died screaming to my Hellish Rebuke. At this point my magic reserves were spent and The Old One left me with only my cantrips and wits.

The large, remaining orc stepped back when I asked him if he wanted to burn too; and promptly charged me.

When I came to…

The carrion worm that had been pursuing me these last days had sprung into camp to assault the party. Thankfully the orcs seem to be gone.

The dragonborn ran to my side to heal me. Perhaps this one is trustworthy, but probably not.

Somehow while I was returning to my senses, this group of strange lightsiders managed to kill the worm.

We setup in the orc village and took an extended rest.

The bard is insane! He lost a leg to the orc stew pot and now seems obsessed with a prosthetic which was eventually crafted from the orc javelins. (We think that they put the points in the wrong place…)

To add to the oddity of this group of misfits, they voted on whether or not to cross the river. VOTED! Democracy is no basis for running an adventuring company. I should have voted to see if I have a vote. Too late now. We’ll vote next time and find out.

On the far side we found ourselves at a very well tended crop field of mushrooms and wheat. We found a road as well that lead by ruins and a pair of towers and all was illuminated by orbs on pillars giving the light of the surface at dusk. So bright! We travelled to the village/ruins.

Three of the group could enter the temple: both dragonborn and the bard. In the temple they all touched a dwarf in amber and began talking to no one. Well, we think that the dwarf-block didn’t like the way the bard was touching it (or perhaps WHERE he touched it) as somehow Stumpy Bard angered something and the statue in front of the temple came to life and pounded the bard.

Upon the sea of dwarf (Can we call them squats? Probably best not to since there are squats..err…dwarves…in this group. We’ll wait until they die to call them squats.) Upon the sea of dwarf bodies within the temple we found a small cache of silver weapons. The bard attempted to keep the short swords for himself which lead to a conflict between the bard and the non-healing dragonborn. From somewhere, a flaming sphere fell upon the bard and incinerated the greedy flying hopping peg-legged narcissist, and incinerated him. It was really rather saddening if only because it also damaged much of what he was carrying.

Such a pity.

A pity we didn’t do it sooner….Muhahahahahah! Err…Well, back to it I suppose!

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Orcs: Terrifying or Terrified?
IRL Date 6/11/2016

[Note: I had to miss the session scheduled for 5/28, along with Jeff (who plays Tor, the dwarf cleric), leaving the group with no clerics at that time. Our characters were assumed to have been distracted trying to figure out a way to build a boat from giant mushrooms.]

Playing in this session were:

Don, the DM
Martin, playing Varris, a sun elf wizard
Shawn C., playing Maculate, a warlock of uncertain race (joining us for the first time)
Shawn, playing Errs, a bard of uncertain race somehow connected to elves
James, playing Aevay, a dragonborn rogue
Jeff, playing Tor Black, dwarf cleric of the Domain of War
Vincent, playing Ellar, dwarf paladin
And Andy, your chronicler, playing two characters:
Thandiina, a human fighter
Varanus, a lizard man cleric of the Light Domain

As Thandiina, Varanus, and Tor were beginning to realize that their attempts to build a boat appeared to be doomed to failure, they heard a splash and saw a humanoid form crawling from the river. It appeared to be an individual wearing a large cloak and cowl. When Varanus offered to help him up he refused, and he did not appear to be wounded. The individual was quite reticent about his origin and reasons for being here. (This was Maculate, the warlock who was joining the party.) However, the quartet heard sounds of fighting coming from a trail which led inland, and with Maculate joining them, immediately ran to investigate.

(They also realized that their erstwhile companions seemed to be gone; this could be ominous.)

By the time they arrived at the scene of the battle it was over. Ellar and Varris reported that orcs had taken Aevay, Errs, and Anima (played by Robert, who was absent this session) prisoner by orcs who had appeared out of nowhere and taken them away. Concerned with what might happen to their companions, the group set out in pursuit.

After a short pursuit the group came within site of a palisade which formed a semicircle against the river. They searched for doors or gates, but there were none. Tor discovered signs that the orcs had entered and exited by means of climbing ropes from the top of the palisade. Varris had his familiar (a raven) perform a brief aerial reconnaissance and discovered that there were no ramparts at the top of the palisade, and that the center of the compound was dominated by a gigantic kettle over a large fire. The three prisoners were tied to stakes facing the kettles, having had all their equipment and even their clothing removed. A number of orcs milled about the compound, which had barracks-like huts arranged along the wall.

While the party debated the best approach to take, the raven observed one of the orcs tie a tourniquet around one of Errs’ legs and cut it off completely, throwing it into the kettle! When she learned of it, Thandiina reached the limit of her patience. She had Maculate cast spider climb on her, took a rope, and ran up the side of the palisade. Fastening the rope securely to the top of the palisade she then proceeded to run down. The rest of the party followed.

What followed was an example of no plan surviving contact with the enemy. Thandiina’s plan had been for her to emerge from behind the hut (having come down between the palisade and one of the huts) and attract the orcs’ attention as much as possible and get them coming after her, giving the other characters an opportunity to flank the orcs and possibly race across to free the prisoners, who were only barely conscious. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. One of Thandiina’s problems was that she had no missile weapons, so after shouting insults at the orcs and watching them form into a rough skirmish line, she had little alternative (particularly with them throwing poisoned javelins at her) than to charge them and try to engage their leader. And as Varanus moved around the other side of the hut he was attacked by a disembodied spear. As Ellar began firing arrows at the orcs Varris attempted to hit one with a chill touch and unfortunately failed. Tor cast a spiritual weapon and unfortunately missed as well, as did Thandiina. There was also a distant rumbling sound.

(Almost the entire party was rolling dice abominably at this point, and the orcs were not.)

The next round both Thandiina and Tor fell to multiple attacks. Varanus, trying to reach them, managed to trap two of the orcs beside a flaming sphere but was taken down shortly thereafter. Maculate ended up engaged against a pair or orcs, took one down when it hit him with a warlock power (hellish rebuke). He then intimidated the leader (who happened to be an orog as we found out later) into backing away and scratching a “line of death” in the dirt in front of him. Unfortunately, in the next round the orog charged him and took him down as well. In the meantime, the raven had begun furiously pecking at the ropes binding Errs to the pole. And the rumbling sound grew closer.

Varris and Ellar concluded that it was time for the better part of valor and withdrew to the wall, scaling it rapidly. Four orcs followed them. Varris knocked three off the wall as soon as they got to the top with a well timed thunder strike. At this point the rumbling had become very loud, and Varris saw the source: a gigantic cylindrical creature with tentacles at the head end, and it was coming directly toward the fort! When the surviving orcs saw it they immediately turned to flee.

Ellar then proceeded to leap down and rush toward Errs, whose bonds had just been released by the raven, finally. He used lay on hands to heal Errs, who was then able to use his own healing ability to heal Tor, who healed Thandiina and Varanus, who healed Maculate. Errs then pulled Aevay from her stake and began running toward one of the huts.

By now the carrion crawler (because that’s what it was) crashed through the palisade, apparently moving toward the kettle. Ellar had tried to get a Parthian shot on the orog but wasn’t able to kill it right away, and it leaped — plate armor and all — into the torrential river. The other surviving orc warrior managed to get over the palisade, and the caster, who had been in front of one of the other huts, disappeared back inside; the party later found out that she had apparently exited via an escape tunnel.

In the meantime, the group had a gigantic foe to deal with. Thandiina, Varanus, and Maculate tried to move to a greater distance away from it (even Thandiina wasn’t crazy enough to charge this thing. Some comments to the effect of “about bloody time” may have been made.) Errs threw the still unconscious Aevay against the wall of one of the huts and started attempting to prepare spells. Varris, who had not come down from the top of the palisade, remained there, prepared to jump either way; yes, he was literally sitting on the fence. And that’s when Tor had a truly clever idea.

The group had observed that this particular carrion crawler was missing an eye. Tor proceeded to cast a create water spell inside its other eye. [Note: There was some discussion and debate regarding whether this was even possible, but ultimately Don ruled that it was, this time at least, but not necessarily to expect it to be possible again.] The spell caused the creature’s remaining eye to explode in all directions, severely wounding it, not to mention blinding it, at which point Ellar was able to finish it off. Yes, the two dwarves slew the carrion crawler unassisted.

By now the group was quite battered, so a long rest was in order. A search of the dead orcs’ bodies and their huts yielded loot on the paltry side: a few coins, some javelins (Thandiina picked up 10 of those just to have some missile weapons) and some odd unguents and chemicals from the orc shaman’s hut. Errs and Tor spent a good deal of time working on a prosthesis for the missing leg. (As a side note, Errs had been able to move around earlier because he was flying.) Nothing came upon the group while they were resting. Varris sent his familiar to do some more scouting, and the raven reported that the opposite side of the river had apparently well cultivated fields with several roads going through them. The group determined, after discussing and even voting on whether to attempt to retrace their steps and report to their patron on the orcs, to push forward, and to see what the fields represented.

They then proceeded to spend about two days constructing a raft, having Errs fly a rope across the river, and pulling themselves across via the rope. Everyone made it, although the raft almost sank. They then set out down the roads through the fields, until they came to what appeared to be an almost completely ruined village in the middle of the fields. The village contained a number of buildings which appeared to be so ruined as to be dangerous, but there was a stone building that appeared to be a temple, which was intact. Before the temple stood a statue of a dwarf at rest. Before the statue were two pillars with a sheet of utter darkness between them. This was also ominous.

When the group approached the temple they discovered that only certain individuals were allowed to enter; curiously, neither of the dwarves were among them. Errs, Aevay, and Varanus entered. Inside, they found the bodies of dead dwarves, and lying on a bier at one end of the temple, what appeared to be a dwarf encased in amber. Errs of course immediately went to touch the amber. He was shocked when the dwarf inside began to communicate with him telepathically. Varanus and Aevay immediately joined the conversation.

The dwarf in stasis informed the trio that he had been the last defender of this village when it was overwhelmed by orcs, and that the sheet of blackness was a gate beyond which the orc invaders were. The gate (for that’s what it was) can be traversed each way according to the dwarf. Over the course of the discussion Errs gave offense a number of times, and the dwarf told him to stop talking or else the stone golem would take action. Errs provoked him again, and the statue outside began moving! Errs quickly backed down, and the statue became quiescent once more. Finally, the dwarf allowed the party to take whatever they could use from the bodies of his companions; a search revealed several silver weapons. Aevay immediately laid claim to a silvered longsword, and the other weapons were parceled out. Errs did not get one.

But he wanted one. So he attempted successfully to filch the longsword from Aevay. Since her recovery, Aevay had been experiencing moments of intense rage toward Errs, and once she discovered the theft she yielded to it and attacked him, dealing a massive (seemingly magically enhanced) amount of damage and slaying him instantly. Then Varris cast a flaming sphere and destroyed his body. No more worrying about the prosthesis! At this time, with the group preparing to go past the gate, the session was ended.

[As a note, it appears the rage Aevay was feeling was coming in part from the group’s patron. Shawn wasn’t extremely upset over the character; his observation was that he had started to get tired of having to be “chaotic stupid” all the time, and is going to create a character for the next time that is neither stupid nor flighty. At least the growing feud between Errs and Aevay has been resolved.]

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Opening the Gate: Should the Group Abandon All Hope?
IRL Date 5/14/2016

A larger group gathered at the Reaper Game Store for the next stage in the tale, and there were additional changes. Dallas, the DM, announced that he would unfortunately be leaving town and handed the DM duties over to Don; they had both been players in my previous campaign (“The Survivors of Lemuria.”) Today they would be working together as part of the handover.

Unfortunately, Matt had to work, and so [Name] the monk was not active, although he was still with the group. Joining us for the first time were:

Jeff — Playing Tor Black, a dwarf cleric
Vincent — Playing Ellar, a dwarf paladin
Martin — Playing Varris, a sun elf wizard

Returning, we continued with

James — Playing Aevay, a dragonborn rogue
Robert — Playing Anima, a dragonborn fighter
Shawn — Playing Errs, a bard of indeterminate (but somehow fey related) race.

And myself, Andy, with 2 characters:
Thandiina, a human fighter
Varanus, a lizard man cleric

At least the party shouldn’t be short of healing powers on this expedition. Of the clerics, Tor follows the Domain of War, while Varanus follows the Domain of Light.

The newcomers had received a summons from the same noble wizard who had employed the original adventurers, and he had teleported them to the location of the group. Introductions of the new characters were made quickly, and it was time to open the gate which the troll (barely defeated in the previous session) had guarded.

Once the gate was opened the party entered into a scene of carnage. The ground was covered in the dead bodies of goblins and orcs which had apparently fought a major battle against one another. (Thandiina expressed regret that so many orcs had died without her assistance.) The friendly kobolds had told the group they would be locking the gate when the heroes passed through, as they feared what might come out. The friendly kobolds were probably wise.

From the large abattoir chamber two separate corridors led out on opposite sides. The two dragonborn heroes (possessing effective darkvision) proceeded into one, while Varrs sent his familiar (at this point in the form of a bat) into the other. Each scouting party found another troll. Aevay immediately attempted to sneak attack the one in her corridor, and battle was joined.

The first troll, with Anima, Thandiina, and Aevay flanking it, was not able to hold out for long, while the second troll, attracted by the sounds of combat, charged into the chamber to face the dwarves. Varris and Errs moved immediately as far from both trolls as they could in order to use their spells. In the meantime, Thandiina, Anima, and Aevay were engaged to the first troll, while Ellar engaged the second with support from Tor. Although several characters — most notably Anima — were dropped over the course of the fight, the two clerics were able to keep them alive, and the trolls were dispatched with much less difficulty than the smaller group had previously had with only one.

At this point the group rested and proceeded to explore deeper into the caverns. Some distance in they discovered a variety of fungi were growing; shortly thereafter they encountered an underground druid grove-cum-mushroom-farm. The druid gave the party a small number of mushrooms that might prove useful, and they proceeded on their way. Over the course of the journey, however, it became apparent that Ellar had ceased to move, and when the rest of the group discovered him he was completely paralyzed. However, he recovered after a rest from this apparent poisoning, and the exploration continued.

Eventually, the party entered into a truly massive cavern, with a river running through it and a profusion of mushrooms growing all over it. The river was fed by a waterfall, which appeared to come from an opening far above; the noise and mist interfered with everyone’s senses. As was often the case, Errs went on his own to explore, and ended up in the waterfall and being swept down the river, while the other characters found a safe way down to “ground level.” Errs managed to drag himself out of the river, and once the party found him some more verbal backbiting began between him and Aevay. Aevay suggested they fight a duel to resolve their conflict, at which point the two of them were suddenly teleported to a different space by the groups patron, who insisted they duel to the death.

[Note: At this point they began a somewhat ineffectual duel because the patron was sick of their constant backbiting; after it went on for a few minutes one of the players suggested that since there were two DM’s today we should take advantage of it and have one DM resolve this fight while the other dealt with the rest of the group. That being a good idea, Don went separately with the duelers to resolve the duel, and the rest of us only got the after-action report.]

However, further exploration of the area revealed little enough except for more mushrooms. Varanus investigated the river and determined that not even he (as a lizard manat he is a powerful swimmer) could risk trying to swim in it due to the swift current. At this point both combatants returned, having apparently resolved their issues. It wasn’t completely clear what had happened, but apparently Errs had won the duel, but the patron had returned Aevay. They joined the rest of the party in attempting to determine whether they could use the larger mushrooms to fabricate a boat to explore the swift river.

At this point the real life hour had become late, so this was the point at which the story was left.

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Next of Kin to Chaos: Beginnings
IRL Date 4/30/16

Five gamers joined DM Dallas at the Reaper Game Store on 4/30 to begin a new campaign using D&D 5th Edition; for most of us it was our first experience with this version, although several have played and/or GM’ed various other versions of D&D, Pathfinder, and Savage Worlds. Once all the character generation and preliminaries had been completed we had the following group:

Andy: Playing Thandiina, a human female fighter with an emphasis on sword-and-shield. (In fact, she’s essentially a trained professional meat shield.)

Matt: Playing Deegan, a human male monk, armed with a short sword because the martial arts aren’t so powerful when just starting out.

James: Playing Aevay, a dragonborn female rogue. This character began the quest at 4th level as she was imported from an earlier aborted campaign.

Sean: Playing Errs, a male of a race with no name but fey origins of some sort, a bard.

Robert: Playing Anima, a dragonborn female fighter.

Apart from Thandiina and Deegan, all the characters were of some chaotic alignment, and it showed during this adventure. In addition, although all the players were male, three of the five characters were female, and by coincidence were sitting on the same side of the table, so we had the “girls’ side” and the “boys’ side.”

Each of the characters had received a separate invitation to the palace of a nobleman in Neverwinter, and answered. This nobleman was a powerful wizard of some sort, it would appear. While being escorted to his audience chamber Errs was having difficulty keeping his hands off some of the lovely artwork in the hallways; he received a telepathic order not to touch anything. Being somewhat contrarian (not to mention chaotic) he proceeded to palm a valuable-looking ring, which he slipped into Deegan’s backpack. No one else (including the nobleman) appeared to notice.

Upon arriving in the audience chamber the mismatched band was presented with a proposition. It seems that a number of outlying villages in the nobleman’s domain had been suffering from depredations from orcs. Thandiina (who bears an unreasoning hatred of them) was on board from the moment he said “orcs.” The rest of the group was a bit more hesitant, the more so when informed that they would need to sign a contract in blood in order to receive the payment once the mission was complete. Eventually, after a good deal of wrangling, the group all signed the contract, received a healing kit and two healing potions in case they needed them, and were told where to go to acquire horses to make their way to the region where the villages were.

Upon acquiring the horses the group discovered that riding was more difficult than they believed; Deegan actually fell from his horse taking some damage. Errs found that so amusing that shortly thereafter he slapped Deegan’s horse to see what would happen. Aevay became annoyed with Errs by this point and punched him — almost knocking him out in one punch. (Aevay is very strong for a rogue). The chaos did not seem to be diminishing.

Eventually the band set up camp in an open plain and planned on watches, when they were approached by a group of riders. The riders seemed peaceable enough, and reported they had been on the track of a group of goblins. As it turned out, the goblins were on their track instead, and soon overtook the newly combined group. A quick, sharp battle broke out, but the goblins were quickly annihilated. Thandiina was forced to fight next to a half-orc from the other group. (But is wasn’t a problem, because “the poor half-orcs are greater victims of the orcs than most others.”)

Although the combined group had managed to defeat the goblins easily enough the goblins did manage to scatter the team’s horses, and as night had already fallen the group was in no position to track them down immediately. Instead, they determined on a watch schedule. The following morning, Errs and Anima set out to find the horses, while the rest of the group waited at the campsite, the allies of the previous day having departed as peaceably as they had come. The pair of trackers managed to track the horses successfully until they came to a small entrance to a cave, where they found one horse and the tracks of the rest. Continuing the trend of being disorganized, while Anima busied herself signaling the rest of the group, Errs followed into the cave. A short time later Errs found himself hit by a number of spears and losing consciousness.

By the time the rest of the adventurers reached Amina and the cave Errs had been missing for several hours. With two human and two dragonborn characters the question of light became pressing immediately. Ultimately the two human characters followed the others ready to light torches but leaving them unlit at first. Spears came out of the darkness but missed, at which point Thandiina lit a torch and held it up, seeing a number of small, scaly humanoid forms in front of her, which she identified as kobolds. The kobolds cowered before the light, whereupon the heroes promised to extinguish it if their friend was returned to them.

In the meantime, Errs awakened, severely wounded, in a wooden cage deeper in the cavern. Because he has dark vision he was able to see that there were a number of other cages in the chamber, along with some kobold guards. Not knowing what else was going on, he laid his plans to escape, although still severely wounded.

Back at the entrance to the cave, the kobolds were sufficiently intimidated by the remainder of the party to agree to release Errs to them. They agreed to take one member to Errs and lead the two back. Thandiina agreed to follow the kobold leader. However, since Errs didn’t know this was happening, he implemented his escape plan, which was to cast the thunder strike spell at the door of his cage. The spell blew the cage apart, impaling two kobolds into a wall. Errs, who also possesses darkvision as a racial trait, looked around to try to find the way out.

The thunder strike was loud enough for everyone in the cave complex to hear. Thandiina and her guide began to run toward the sound, with the remainder of the party and the bulk of the kobolds close behind them. When they arrived and saw the tableau — particularly the two kobolds impaled on the wall — everyone halted. The kobolds actually bowed down before Errs, impressed with his prowess. Aevay was disgusted and attempted to punch Errs again (triggering multiple facepalms) but immediately backed down from the large group of threatening kobolds. (The entire sequence was reminiscent of the scene from Return of the Jedi — “It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity!” Errs had no such compunctions.)

Having backed away from the precipice of a large battle with a horde of kobolds, the intrepid explorers began asking the kobold leadership if they knew where any orcs were. (Thandiina had a special interest, but everyone was anticipating being paid for eliminating the orcish threat.) The kobolds commented that they knew there were a number of orcs deeper in the caverns — the kobolds feared them — but they were beyond a gate which was kept locked.

And which was guarded by a troll.

[Really? A troll against a 1st level party? Talk about confidence in our tactical acumen! We didn’t even really have any healers, although Errs had a limited healing ability.]

When asked about the missing horses the kobolds, completely unembarrassed, pointed to their stomachs; the horses would no longer be available, but they aren’t really useful underground anyway. The party decided to release the other kobold prisoners, one of which was a kenku who agreed to assist against the troll. The group then went to face it, having been fully healed by the kobold tribe’s shaman. The plan was for Aevay to approach it stealthily and attempt a sneak attack, followed by the rest of the party charging. Aevay would take a lantern so the humans could find their way to the troll.

This plan, clearly flawed from the start, failed. The troll saw the lantern from a great distance, preventing Aevay from succeeding in a sneak attack on it; the trolls counterattack almost took her out. But at least the lantern was there. Anima, Deegan, and Thandiina charged; Errs remained at a distance firing arrows at the troll. Of the kenku there was no sign, but that’s usually the case with them. The troll took out Anima in its first attack. Aevay and Errs both suggested retreat, but Thandiina was unwilling to leave Anima behind. The troll wounded her and then dropped Deegan. Thandiina was able to use the second wind ability to recover, and was wounding the troll effectively, and the group saw a number of other wounds appearing on the troll inexplicably. (These were due to the kenku.) [While this fight was going on there were chants of “TPK! TPK!” coming from the peanut gallery.] While in the thick of this fight Errs, who had had enough of the punching, shot Aevay in the back and dropped her before running to stabilize Anima and Deegan and eventually even Aevay.

Finally the troll dropped, having severely wounded Thandiina again, forcing her to use one of her healing potions. A knowledge check allowed the group to realize the body needed to be burned, which it was, and troll ashes swirled through the air.

All the 1st level characters reached 2nd level as a result of this fight [Note: 5th edition has a very different experience progression from the versions most of the players are familiar with.] and prior to going past the gate the group decided it was a good time to rest and recuperate since the kobolds were friendly. But there was bad blood brewing between the bard and the rogue; only time would tell if it would tear the group apart or lead to healing.

[In the aftermath, realizing the party didn’t really have a healer, Andy got permission to create a second character, and will be running a cleric in the next installment.

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