Rolling Discord

Two Roads Diverged in a Dungeon and I...

Racing down the stairs after the kobold the party suddenly came to a screeching halt. Norge, bringing up the rear suddenly skidded to a halt, almost as if he had run into an invisible barrier. He began to faintly fade out, becoming gradually more illusory. At the same time a shadow began to grow in the space within him, slowly solidifying. After a few moments only the faintest trace of Norge was visible, a sort of shadow occupying the place he had been standing a moment before. In his place John bon Jonne...the wizard sent to explore reports of piracy down river from Portage. John was not wholly formed, and retained a slight translucency about him, as if the shadow of Norge still present was the part of him missing.

There was some frantic shouting, which John responded to by indicating that he couldn’t hear anything, or speak. This was followed by frantic gesticulating as the party attempted to figure out what was going on. Peredu contemplated chopping John up into pieces since this was a sign of evil…until Ember reminded him that he was one of the people hired back in town. Confused, the party continued down the stairs, mysterious companion in tow, recovering startling quickly to the sudden disappearance of one of their companions.

At the base of the stairs they were faced with a T-intersection. To the right, marked by torches and splattered kobold blood a corridor stretched until it turned a corner. To the right, an unlit corridor marked by cobwebs and dust. Weighing the options of following their quarry into the well traveled section of the catacombs (but inhabited by those that weren’t the bandits they were looking for) and exploring the creepy unlit dark tunnel…the party of course chose the creepy unlit dark tunnel.

They traveled down the 5 foot wide corridor, Peredu taking the lead, the others clustered tightly behind him. Peredu suddenly froze as he felt a telltale click under his foot. Spears shot from the wall behind him, thrusting deeply into Avyx’s side. There was uproar and panic, as party members ran backwards, while Peredu stayed in place, terrified to lift his foot from the pressure plate.

With everyone retreated to a safe distance, Peredu lifted his foot. Nothing. They called Mairwen up front to peer down the darkened corridor. Nothing. The party once more clustered behind Peredu, closer if anything this time. Then click wham scream another row of spears shot out impaling Avyx and trapping her against the far side of the corridor. more cursing

Mairwen once again scouted out the rest of the corridor while Avyx bandaged herself up. The corridor soon turned a corner, ending in a small room. The party cautiously trod down the hall, until they safely reached the small room. It was filled with boxes and chairs, piled against a door. The door was covered with bits of steel armor, hammered, flattened, and nailed to the door to form a steel shell. Spears and other bits of timber were braced against the door as well. Whatever was in there, the kobolds had no intention of letting into their portion of the catacombs.

Avyx immediately suggested turning around, while Peredu suggested moving on in. To help bolster his claim he began to just move boxes away from the door. Mairwen, jumped in at this point and opened one of the loopholes in the door, clearly designed to jab spears through at whatever was on the other side. Peering through the door she saw shambling unsteady figures lurching in a large room. The dead walked.

Mairwen slammed the port shut, and ran to the other side of the room flatly refusing to step through the door. Zombies, she explained, were not part of the deal from the Reeve. Peredu, though, took this as a holy task, something that had to be done and he convinced the others (even as he continued to remove boxes and bracing from the door).

Gripping his sword, and saying a brief prayer to Bahamut, Peredu flung the door open and raced through…

Stick 'em

Emboldened by their success the party dashed onwards, down the corridor lined with flickering torches. Quickly the corridor opened up into a wide low ceilinged room. Eight sarcophagi were spaced evenly across the floor, the faces long worn off, or smashed to pieces by looters or the current kobold occupants. Niches lined the walls, former tombs, their contents dumped unceremoniously to the floor to make room for kobold beds. The occupants of those beds were awake, and immediately shouted in alarm. Our intrepid heroes dashed down 3 stairs and into the room.

Ember shouted a warning as they entered, there were a series of pits in the center of the tomb, covered by boards and fabric, crude traps.

Peredu, Norge, and Avyx heeded this warning and veered to their left. Unfortunately Avyx and Norge had to proceed on their own, as two slingers took aim at him, gluing him to the ground and lighting him on fire. Peredu would, ultimately, spend the rest of the fight alternating between being glued in place and being set ablaze.

Once more Ember resorted to using her crossbow, and Mairwen decided discretion was the better part of valor joined her with her own crossbow. The two settled in to plink away at the kobolds while Norge and Avyx smashed their way in a circle around the room, while the kobolds gave ground (and blood) in the face of their assault. Ultimately Peredu finally freed himself from the glue and fire combination, and joined the fray, bursting into the last knot of kobolds defending a hallway deeper into the catacombs. One turned to flee down this hall, another skirted to the side and held ground for the final kobold who completed the circle and came face to face with Ember and began savaging her with a short sword. Mairwen, again realizing discretion was better than bleeding ran to the opposite corner and resumed plinking.

Responding to the shrill screams of the halfling, Peredu left the kobold to Avyx and Norge and chased down Ember’s attacker.

And just like that, it was over. The final kobolds fell dead, and the clinking of kobold claws faded down the hallway. Bloodied and battered the party took time to heal and poke through the ruined tombs. The bones had been smashed to pieces long ago, presumably by those looking for treasures (and not finding them) in moments of juvenile rage. Some small gold coins were found in the beds of the kobolds, along with a small statuette of a dragon (likely an idol worshiped by the kobolds it was reasoned).

Coffers filled, wounds bandaged, they set off down the hallway, deeper under the hill…

Of Spiders and Men

The party entered the cavern beneath the necropolis, edging single file through the natural fissure in the rock. As they entered deeper Peredu, taking point, noticed a series of bones dangling from the ceiling. Ducking under these crude alarms the party noticed the marks of picks along the wall, the natural fissure had been expanded by “human” efforts into a widened corridor. As they descended deeper, the marks became less crude, the floor leveled and the walls and floor met at neat right angles. Finally, the walls were covered in masonry blocks, lining the corridor so as to appear they were inside a giant building, and not the depths of a cavern. After some puzzling, poking at walls, and tracing the design work, the party concluded that this had been the work of Dragonborn.

Finally, after winding down into the heart of the hill, the cavern opened up into a small room, with a short stairway with a half open door at the base. Tom, Dick, and Harry were placed in the middle of the group, and with enormous reservation the party walked down the couple of stairs into a low square room with rotted tapestries scattered on the walls. Two corridors opened up across the room from the party.

Presented with…nothing…the party set about exploring the room, and Avyx prodded the closest tapestry, looking behind the rotting cloth, revealing an empty closet. As she turned away…she began to feel biting on her legs, looking down she was covered by a swarm of fist sized spiders. Chaos, to put it briefly, erupted.

While spells flew and crossbow bolts ricocheted, Avyx frantically hopped and danced while Peredu got down on his hands and knees, using the hilt of his sword to smash giant spiders. E,ber, freaking out ran into the corner of the room shrieking “No! Don’t bring them over heeeere” when Avyx started to run away from the spiders towards her. Then, while everyone was thus occupied a kobold came running out of a side corridor and stabbed Norge in the back.

At this Tom, Dick, and Harry promptly dropped their rusted swords and fled back out of the hill. Peredu started to follow them, calling for them to come back hurt and frustrated after losing them after all the time he spent alternating between bonding with and threatening them. However, Avyx began to scream shrilly, and Peredu noticed that the spiders had crawled under his armor.

Mairwen and Norge concentrated on the Kobold, Mairwen littering the air liberally with hand-crossbow bolts, while Norge smacked it with his ax. Avyx and Peredu resumed smashing spiders while Ember, frustrated with her errant eldritch blasts switched to her own crossbow and began to pick off spiders.

Eventually, the kobold was killed, and the last spiders smashed, stomped, scorched, or sliced.

A haggard, bitten, stabbed, and exhilarated party tossed the small room the kobold had been hiding in (finding a stash of rusted weaponry, and some gold), stopped long enough to bandage the worst of their wounds and raced deeper into the labyrinth…

Up That Hill

The next morning saw John bon Jonne leave with a contingent of the Portage guard, leaving the party, Tom, Dick, Harry, Peter and Paul to head out across the bridge into the Desolate Plains. The first day passed without incident until late in the day, when far to the north a single figure on horseback appeared, silhouetted against the horizon.

Panic ensued.

The five peasants wanted nothing to do with whoever was watching them and were all for turning back. The main party was split over chasing the rider down (Avyx) and hunkering down for the night immediately, and preparing fortifications. Cooler heads eventually prevail, with Norge noting that he’s too far away to chase down, and he’s not doing anything threatening, just keep an eye on him.”

Peredu, worried that the “cannon fodder” will bolt on them, takes them under his wing. As the party continues, keeping an eye on the figure, he talks to them, telling stories of his order, and promising to train them over the course of the journey to the bandit hideout.

That night, Peter and Paul disappear on their watch.

Furious, Peredu marches the rest of the day directly behind Tom, Dick, and Harry, alternating between encouraging them and threatening them trying to bolster their courage. As evening approaches they finally reach their destination. Ahead lies a jumble of boulders, overgrown with grass, inexplicably placed in the middle of a featureless grassland. At the very top a small copse of trees ringed the hilltop, screening the view of the crest.

The circled around the hill, setting up a camp on the banks of a small stream winding through the prairie. Mairwen was sent ahead to scout the hill, and see if any sentries were present, Peredu volunteered to escort her in case anything were to go wrong. One failed stealth check later and the two of them slipped into a gopher hole, collapsing in a clattering heap of armor and rogue. They scurried back to camp, fearful that they had been spotted with information on the hill: no signs of movement and a single trail wound its way up the face of the hill.

The entire party took turns sneaking up to the base of the hill, circling the hill, and wondering when the inevitable signal would come from the top and bandits would come swarming down on them. Silence.

Finally, Peredu pulled his sword, and forced Tom, Dick, and Harry to scale the rear of the hill. When they reached the summit successfully they shouted down that no one was there, and asked if they could come back down. Their request was denied and the rest of the party scaled the back of the hill, pushed through the trees and found themselves in a long abandoned cemetery. Not much was left, just the foundations of long smashed and looted mausoleums and scattered flecks of bone. Even these were of little use, as no one was able to identify them beyond “generally humanoid”.

After an exhaustive search of the necropolis they can find no sign of any bandits, or any recent activity. The party begins to grumble, wondering what sort of “informant” the Reeve had questioned to send them out to the middle of nowhere. Disgusted they make their way down the front of the hill, down the trail, back towards their camp. That’s when they see it, nestled between some boulders, hidden from view by overgrown bushes, a fissure in the hill, and an entrance into the hill itself.

Norge cautiously parts the weeds, peering into the dark chasm, and begins to worm his way in, the fissure expands to a tunnel, down into the depths…he shouts for the others to follow him, and they begin to file out of the dying sunlight and into the darkness of the earth…

This was nearly a disaster from a DMing perspective. There were a few false starts and stops earlier in the night when I had them in town, easily overcome by shoving narration at the party. However, this was the first time when they faced making decisions on their own, and the burden of being able to make ANY decision they wanted. Desiring to be thorough Mairwen was determined to scout out the hill, and figure out all the possible scenarios. Unfortunately, she failed a stealth check, and became convinced that scouts atop the hill had to know that they were there. This paranoia spread to the rest of the group, and the rest of their actions were guided by the fact that 1) they would not have the benefit of surprise and 2) they needed to somehow sneak up on the hill.

I could not for the life of me get them to go up the hill. I had placed the entrance to the dungeon next to the path up the hill, thinking that even if they missed the perception check to see it from the base of the hill (they did) they would still find the entrance by literally walking into it. I didn’t place a second entrance in the necropolis itself, as I had put something else there, something that their checks had not picked up (a collapsed inaccessible entrance).

I should have come up with a better contingency plan, and in the future I’ll do more prep work thinking of “other” options they may pursue to get them less on a rail, and I’ll be less attached to my specific details (it wouldn’t have killed me to let them find an entrance on the top of the hill, really). But, at the end of the day I need to come up with a way to move the party past sticking points that aren’t all that crucial. There was no reason for them to stall at the base of the hill for 20 minutes or however long it took, I’m going to need to work on ways to push them on, and indicate that it doesn’t matter, without ruining the flow of the story. Maybe next time I’ll feed that paranoia, and have a group of enemies (a small number they can easily handle) come out of the cave entrance and attack them, both showing them where to go, and make them feel “right” in their assumptions. The downside of that is I give up my narrative arc, allowing them to dictate the feel of the world. All in all I need to learn that there are no “wrong” answers in D&D. I know this acadmeically, and one of my goals is to ultimately create a very free-roam world. However, at this point in our first session (using a modified dungeon straight out of the book) I wasn’t quite there yet as a DM.

At this point Ember and Mairwen hadn’t contributed too much to the session (Mairwen checking out the hill had been at Avyx’s request), both mostly sitting and observing, trying to get a feel for things. I made a little note of this, and decided I would have to put little beats into the story tailored to prompt their inclusion into the party a bit more forcefully.

Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get better at this in time. To this point we’d been playing for an hour. No combat, but we were on the right track for a successful evening I think.

The Adventure Begins


Evening falls over the dust choked streets of Portage. Day laborers saunter, unhurried, with heavy packages and crates slung over their shoulders or dragged behind them in simple carts. Occasionally a pack of dirty children scamper into the street, playing the sorts of games that make sense only to them.

Amidst this crowd, drawn through various mechanisms, strange individuals roam the streets. They survey the scene, take note of the squalor and resign themselves to move on to the next opportunity. One by one, at one of the two intersections in town, they see a notice:

Adventurers wanted, for daring deeds and heroic undertakings. Prior experience strongly preferred. Meet this evening, at the Knights Crossing Inn. Serious applicants only. See Avyx Baltarran.

One by one they tear the slips off the bottom of the notice, expecting this to be yet another caravan guarding job, but likely the only way to fund their way out of town.

The Knights Crossing Inn turns out to be a well situated building situated at the other intersection in town, on a road built in ages past, connecting two bridges to the empty plains across the River Sto. The Innkeeper, a surprisingly open faced Dwarf who introduces himself as Belkin points them to a low crowded room. A tremendously tall Tiefling woman greets each individual as they enter, her blue hair nearly touching the beams. Food has generously been provided by their host, so each should feel welcome to dive right in.

The room fills, mostly with peasants and local tough-guys. But here and there, sitting apart from the boisterous crowd (mostly looking for free food) are more serious applicants. All remain silent, except two: a young Halfling woman darts in and out of the crowd sampling food and talking incessantly, and a young Human man in an outrageous cloak performs simple tricks with fire for an enthusiastic and increasingly drunk group of farmhands. The Halfling looks hard at the human and promptly starts giggling, something about his cloak she finds hilarious (the mystical runes are in fact, gibberish, as revealed by her Arcana check).

Eventually a pompous well dressed figure enters the room, flanked by two elaborately garbed guardsmen. Avyx calls the room to silence and explains that this man, Hjeldin Barkavaad has offered to hire a group of mercenaries to deal with a group of bandits hiding in the Desolate Plains.

He explains that in order to expand Portage, and revitalize its economy they need to exploit the fertile plains across the River Sto. Unfortunately, past attempts to do so have met with disaster, as the bandits (feeling threatened) swoop down and burn the farmsteads once the guardsmen leave. Barkavaad can’t afford to hire guards to permanently patrol the entire Eastern bank of the Sto, so he is hiring a dedicated crew to wipe out the nest of Bandits. He will simultaneously send out a portion of his guard to sweep the river south of town, to deal with a bandit excursion that has been threatening barge traffic between Portage and Sto. He offers 10 gold pieces for ever bandit ear, which will be distinguished by a particular gold earring favored by this group of bandits.

Barkavaad explains that an informant has let them know that the Bandits are based out of some ruins two days walk into the plains, and a good portion of the bandits have left the camp looking to seize some shipments of Dwarven goods scheduled to head down-river the next day.

At the prospect of having to actually fight, some of the local bad-boys beat a hasty retreat, shoving large amounts of food into their pockets first. However, five agree to stay along with a group of loners, easily the more dangerous, better armed, and competent. The Reeve, after one of the guardsmen whispers into his ear, insists that the young wizard (who had earlier been performing parlor tricks) accompany the guards down river, leaving the rest to assault the main hide-out. He doesn’t listen to any objections, insisting on this tactical support of a wizard for his personal guards.

The group, uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the others agree to set out the next morning. Norge, decides to treat the heroes and their unskilled assistants to Dwarven hospitality, buying round after round. He and Belkin spend the evening reminiscing about their mountain home, while the others drink themselves silly. A plan was reached regarding the unskilled peasants, out of fear that they would just get in the way or run away; they would use them to search for traps before the party went down any dungeons. The human Paladin Peredu sets off to his room to sleep, promising to wake the others at first light.

The Party:

Avyx-Tiefling Warlod and leader of the hill-attack party.

Ember-Halfling Warlock

John bon Jonne – Human Wizard (sent south with the town guard, and absent for this quest)

Norge – Dwarven Cleric of Bahamut

Peredu Ivorson-Human Paladin

Mairwen- Half-elf Rogue

So this was the very first moment of DMing, the first moments of the Campaign, the first time any of us had played D&D (except Norge). To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I decided to go with the “drummer needed” style of introduction because it required the least work on my part, and of my party. I let them decide how and why they were in town, and why they accepted to offer, and just went from there. It was a little tongue-in-cheek, winking at how silly most adventuring parties get their start, but it served a purpose.

I promptly made a giant mistake after gathering them into the Inn, I said “okay…go.” No one spoke. crickets Awkward. Familiar flushing on my neck. It was 5th grade all over again.

I can only assume that lack of familiarity with “how to play,” nerves about being “that guy” (you know the one who affects a British accent of sorts, puts on pointy ears, and is just a little too into it), and not really knowing “what to do,” all contributed. Anyhow, after enduring the silence, and having my own freakout, I tried to poke and prod responses with little in the way of a result. Avyx half-heartedly started to explain what she was up to, but nervously trailed away to nothingness.

“Enough!” I thought, “I’ll cram more exposition down their throats!”

At this point, however, I was just as nervous. How can I weave an engrossing story (because just shoving them into dungeons isn’t fun), without crossing the same line. So I kind of brought in the town mayor, gave them a contract, and shoved them out the door “in passing” as my narrative style. All third person, no direct dialogue “he tells you to go in this direction” “he says he doesn’t know that” etc. etc. I snuck in a little flavor, but probably could have balanced it a bit better. Oh well, it’s a learning experience for all. At this point it was a symbiotic relationship of suck…I sucked at telling the story, they weren’t responding, further decreasing my ability to tell the story.

I sent John away awkwardly because I wasn’t sure what to do yet with my character. On the one hand I definitely wanted John to be a presence in the group, but this was our first session (and my first time DMing) and I didn’t want to get too distracted with my own turns and fail in my story telling role. I went back and forth about including or excluding John, and at the last moment decided to send him away, quickly making up an excuse about a second bandit excursion to the south. That wasn’t important, what was important was to get my character out of there so the party could focus on themselves and their interactions with each other as players and with me as DM, not try to balance when I was DM and when I was John. I did have a contingency plan for if I had John sent away, which would be revealed at a later time.

Oh well, once I started narrating, things got moving a little better, except for those damn peasants. They had been introduced for local flavor, with the intention that the party 1) wouldn’t want to be burdened with incompetent help, or 2) want to share the loot. Instead I ended up with 5 untrained peasants, who I promptly named Tom Dick Harry Peter and Paul in their group. I was horrified as they decided if all else fails they could use them as cannon fodder.

Oh well, I quickly came up with a plan for how to use them, at least the adventure was underway…


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