Chapter 1: Fruit Picking
Thaumont 1 – 15
Hurm, the githzerai monk; Leehland, the deva invoker of the Raven Queen; Voltoor, the human seeker; Petronella Kibre, the human swordmage; and Namib the shifter druid grew up in the town of Fallcrest. Times were tough, but life has a way of forging a person into tempered iron, and in the end that life is stronger because of those trying times. In special circumstances, a soul will give that life even more purpose and drive – directing it to leave a positive influence in the world. And for each person who does leave an everlasting mark, they must start somewhere. A small action leads to small mark in the world, but like a pebble dropped in a pond, the ripple effect grows and grows until their mark begins to take on a life of its own and this is where the stuff of legends begins!
Our story begins in early Thaumont. Hurm, Leehland, Voltoor, Namib, and Petronella have known each other for years and have, over the course of time, became companions after a fashion. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what motivated this unlikely group to look beyond their current situation and into the future, but by weaving a tapestry out of the threads of their pasts, a pattern begins to form.
Leehland ponders the curious nature of his rebirth and the importance of Fallcrest. While service to the Raven Queen occupies his days, there are so many unanswered questions; why was this reincarnation so different from past lives? What is the meaning behind these half-rememberd memories of a past life? And for what greater purpose has the Raven Queen chosen Fallcrest?
Voltoor suspects that Fallcrest is more than a broken dustbowl of a town and that his family played an important role in past generations but yearns to uncover the truth. He simply cannot stomach the idea of winding up as a farmer, trying to eke a living out of this parched earth.
Petronella is unsatisfied by the prospect of ending up as just another town guard. She has discovered a passion for the art of swordplay – an art that eclipses her father’s simple, brutal tactics so completely. Having been easily bested and yet impressed by the elf Liria, she now trains in the Esoteric Disciplines to perfect the blademaster’s dance.
Namib has been alone as long as he can remember. While he is accepted by his companions, many townsfolk of Fallcrest are less enthusiastic about embracing shifters into the fold – in their eyes he is simply a half-lycan savage. The badlands are a desolate and lonely place, and after years of solitude and hermetical life, Namib longs to find his dispossessed tribe.
Hurm is perpetually honing himself. Through intense training and meditation he is realizing his destiny of true enlightenment. He still has a long road ahead, but through painstaking work and tutelage he will prevail. Hurm is beholden to the monastery and as such must do as the Order’s master bids. The Order’s needs as well his protective nature guide him to do more than pore over texts within the confines of the abbey.
It is to this varied party that an opportunity is presented. The annual collection of fruit from an orchard located south down the river has begun. It is a strange thing that in this parched country, an oasis such as this can exist. However, exist it does, and as such the townspeople of Fallcrest must capitalize on in.
There is a brief time during Thaumont that the fruit is ripe. The bounty must be harvested before the hot season. It is so important to the town that the monks organize a fleet of fishing boats every year to go to the orchard and collect the fruit.
The trip is not without risk and as such the fleet is carefully organized and protected. Of particular worry are the revolting Bullywugs.
They have become much more than a nuisance of late. Not only do they take much fruit from hungry mouths of Fallcrest, and not only do they harass the monks and fishermen so that armed escort is required, but they have begun wantonly destroying the blessed trees that so many depend on.
It is for this purpose that the Abbot of Pinnacle Abbey, Ezaya, tasks Hurm with a voyage; to protect the fleet and the orchard and ensure that this year’s harvest is successful. Such an important task can only be entrusted to his thoughtful discretion. They spend some time discussing the voyage, it’s objectives, risks, and logistics.
And so Hurm seeks his companions to accompany him on this dangerous mission. Each fledgeling adventurer has his own reasons for coming. Each sees unique opportunities. With that, the new party begins preparations.
The trip is long and arduous so the travellers seek provisions and supplies for the journey ahead. They go to the one place in town where they know that they can obtain everything they need – Sandercot Provisioners.
The proprietor, Nimena, is in a trance when they arrive. She explains how this helps her maintain a self-harmony to those who are curious. The party immediately sets about purchasing the goods they will need. Some begin collection the goods while others (Voltoor in particular) take time to admire Nimena’s figure and her unique tattoos. They discuss the orchard with Nimena and some are surprised to learn that the trees grow straight from the water. Indeed the orchard is located in a mire along a tributary of the Barren River. Such a swampy environment is alien to most who are used only to the dry, dusty badlands surrounding Fallcrest. Namib in particular is excited by the idea of observing exotic swamp creatures and pledges to bring Nimena a sample of swampsnake skin. She is somewhat disgusted by the prospect of this and changes the subject by selling a colour-shifting mood ring to Namib.
After purchasing enough food, supplies, and water-resistant clothing, the party sets about saying goodbye to their friends and family and agrees to meet at the Ancestor Tree when they are ready to depart. Once they gather Namib mentions that the Tree is ailing and requires attention. He is vague and irritable when his allies press him for further information, but explains that the tree is more than simply a plant. Voltoor who is also intimate with the forces of nature and primal spirits, however seems apathetic about the tree and makes it clear that he cares little about it.
With that, the party departs on the small fishing boats down the Barren river towards the swampland orchards that are their destination. The boats are launched in stages to minimize risk to the fleet. Voltoor, Hurm, Namib, and Petronella depart on one boat, while Leelhand embarks on the next.
The journey takes three days. The river is wide and slow and the boats languidly float down the river seeking the tributary which will take them to the orchard.
At the orchard, they find harvesting operations in full swing. There are several other boats already hard at work. The party immediately sets to work. Fresh, fragrant fruit is a rare delicacy as most of the fruit will be dried and cured for storage. The first order of business is for the party to gorge itself on the delicious, juicy orbs hanging off of the trees. Everyone indulges except for Hurm whose discipline and self-control is to him, a way of life. The bounty is great and the party collects several baskets of fruit in short order. While the group harvests, Voltoor and Namib investigate the mire and discover the best ways to move through the swamp as well as identify several hazardous creatures: snakes and insect broods. They discover alarming markings on the trees.
Another fishing boat pulls aside and points out some scoring on some of the trees. It appears that some manner of creature has been viciously attacking the trees. It is obvious that some of the trees are in such bad shape, they might not survive another season. Even if they do, their yield will be much less. Voltoor recognizes the markings as those of Bullywugs. The party has learned something of Bullywugs from Leehland who is an expert on them. However his boat has not yet arrived at the orchard so the party is at a loss to learn more.
Hurm and Petronella organize for a boat to be sent to Fallcrest immediately to retrieve a salve which could save some of the trees. Soon after the boat leaves for town, Bullywugs emerge from the swamp nearby. The alarmed party observes as they begin harvesting the trees by beating against them and shaking them roughly. Hurm skips across the water to nearby boats, warning them of the Bullywugs. Warrily, the party prepares for a confrontation, discussing possible strategies, both diplomatic and combatant. Namib calls out to them, attempting to lure them into discussion with promises of rich gifts. He is hoping to trick them into leaving somehow by passing off Nimena’s mood ring as precious jewelry.
His words fall on deaf ears. The only response Namib elicits is dismissive grunting and foul hand signals. The Bullywugs do not understand. The party calls out in a number of languages but for nought. Leelhand’s boat has still not arrived and he is the only one who can communicate with the foul, toad-like creatures.
They watch in horror as the Bullywugs, having sufficiently raped the tree for it’s fruit, begin mutilating it with their crude weapons; gouging and slashing the tree for no other reason than wanton distruction.
Voltoor and Petronella have seen enough. The party launches the boat towards the Bullywugs. The Bullywugs are caught off-guard by the sudden onslaught with several of them falling rapidly. They respond with force in kind.
Hurm launches into the brawl from his position at the other boat. He leaps across the mire from plant to plant appearing to tread on the water itself. He catches several grotesque Bullywugs by supprise with the tip of a spear that seems to extend far further than should be possible. His psychic powers seem to keep him one step ahead of the enemies. He bravely shields his friends from the onslaught but is overwhelmed by their number and falls into the morass.
Petronella swirls through the battlefield cutting at the horrible creatures who begin to stink and exude this monstrous petulance that makes the heroes gag and retch. She is supremely agile and charges through the water as if were air. She cuts down the beasts while magically exacting revenge for stricken allies. It is a startling sight, that of the Swordmage appearing out of thin air, swinging her razor-edged instrument of wrath. One Bullywug loses an arm, another an eye. The Bullywugs soon learn the cost of attacking her companions.
Voltoor calls on the forces of nature to summon huge swarms of insects. The insects seem to come from the entire swamp to just this spot. They surround and overwhelm the Bullywugs leaving them vulnerable and hampering their movement. Voltoor directs the swarm while piloting the boat adeptly through the swamp. When Hurm is knocked down, Voltoor quickly administers him a potent salve he made during the last fruit-picking shift. Hurm, thus invigorated is able to throw himself back into the fray.
Like Voltoor, Namib has an uncanny ability to control vermin. He summons a deadly swarm of poisonous centipedes to crawl out of the mire and assault the Bullywugs. He blasts them with vicious, icy winds before transforming into vermin himself and rushing at them, stinging, biting, and clawing at their faces. Shifting back and forth, between shifter and swarm, Namib pummels the Bullywugs, forcing them back into Voltoor’s choking cloud of insects. Namib adapts to environments quickly and uses his connection with the mire and the primal energies around him to command a nearby swampsnake to constrict one of the Bullywugs.
Leelhand’s boat appears in the nick of time. Seeing his allies in trouble, he enters the battle exacting holy revenge in the name of the Raven Queen for violating this most important orchard. Leelhand takes over piloting of the boat and brings it over towards Hurm. The Deva calmly enters combat by firing bolts of radiant energy at several nearby Bullywugs.
The Bullywugs have been bested by the party. The two remaining Bullywugs flee for their crooked lives. The party relaxes and regains their composure, tends to their wounds, and admires their handiwork.
Petronella discovers that one of the Bullywugs was carrying a set of exquisite leather armor. It’s beautifully crafted and seems to carry within itself a healing energy. It fits her perfectly.
After resting, the party returns to harvesting and is able to collect fruit in peace for the rest of the day.
That night, while the party is resting and Leehland is on watch, the surface of the water is broken by a suspicious bubbling and churning. Leehland instantly perceives this strange event and quickly rouses the rest of the party. The party quickly decides to follow the bubbles as they move off into the swamp. After following for a while, the bubbles are revealed to be a lure as the boat is overturned, sending the adventurers careering over the sides and into the swamp.
Bullywugs emerge from every direction and the party is caught off-guard. Namib falls unconscious as two hulking Bullywugs pummel him into the fetid water. Hurm leaps into action, striking with his telescoping reach, trying to protect the others. These Bullywugs are powerful however, and despite the best efforts of Leehland and Voltoor, Petronella is pulled under the water and disappears. Indeed, there would most likely have been other casualties had it not been for the brave town guard Olmayne who comes to the party’s assistance from another nearby boat.
The remaining Bullywugs are slain or take flight and the party is left battered and dismayed and one member short. As the last Bullywug disappears, Leehland believes he hears it speaking of their king, a ritual, and the woman. They must be referring to Petronella.
The party realizes that there isn’t any time to lose and sets to work search for Petronella immediately. Leehland’s intimate knowledge of Bullywugs leads the party to venture further into the damaged and wizened areas of the orchard.
Eventually they find the Bullywug’s lair – a dam. Similar to a beaver dam, the lair is built partially submerged and all entrances to the compound must be under water. Hurm and Leehland begin searching for an entrance. Because visibility is so poor, they use tethers for safety to ensure they don’t get lost or trapped in the bog.
Their search is cut short when two Bullywugs are spotted returning to their lair. Namib and Voltoor haul Leehland and Hurm out of the water by their tethers and rush to intercept the returning Bullywugs. The monsters are dispatched – easily this time – and their return path reveals the entrance to the dam. The party fights its way through several guards who are blocking the entrance way. Once inside, they find themselves in a dank waterlogged tunnel built out of mud, sticks, and wood scraps sunk into the swamp.
The party begins searching the waterlogged corridors, looking for their companion, Petronella. They find several chambers that appear to be meant for sleeping. They also find chambers devoted to the rearing of Bullywug spawn. Voltoor and Leelhand are eager to begin exacting wrath and revenge, but Hurm and Namib aren’t sure that this course is pertinent or even right.
After realigning their priorities, the party heads in the other direction and soon finds the chamber they have been looking for. In the corner on a rock slab lays the bodies of three abused individuals, one of which is the supine body of Petronella. They are muddy and filthy but appear alive. In another corner is a large cocoon of unknown purpose and origin. Throughout the room are Bullywugs. They are startled as the party enters and spring to action with no hesitation.
A pitched battle occurs between the heroes and Bullywugs. Hurm wades into the thick of it as Namib, Voltoor, and Leelhand weave spells of hinderance and pain around their foes. They are accompanied by the guardsman Olmayne who bravely puts himself in harm’s way to protect the party.
After several Bullywugs fall, the cocoon in the corner of the room splits open with a tearing, chrunching sound. A particlarly fat and vicious looking Bullywug emerges. It’s clear that he is their king by the way he struts forth. Upon freeing himself, he looks down at his arms and an expression of dismay clouds his face. “This wasn’t supposed to happen”, he burps out in his own gutteral language. “I was supposed to become a Slaad!” he exclaims before throwing himself at the party in a fit of rage.
The battle is difficult on the adventurers, who are exausted and nearing the end of their resources. They push to the stone slabs in the corner and revive Petronella who is luckily unharmed, though filthy and groggy. She awakens, shakes her head, and leaps into action as soon as she perceivs the situation. Finally, the Bullywug king stumbles, succumbing to a devastating shot from Voltoor’s well-aimed crossbow, but before he falls he is ripped asunder from within.
A Flux Slaad tears out of the king, the Bullywug’s entrails and torn skin falling in a heap on the ground. This is a much more fearsome foe. It moves through the chamber slicing down both Bullywugs and the heroes indiscriminately. The party is taxed to its limits in this battle. The monster is chaotic. One minute it is vitually immune to Leelhand’s devine fire, the next Namib’s gusting cold winds. It moves around the battlefield with uncanny speed.
Namib calls to the primal powers and summons a fierce hyena spirit to his aid, but he and the summoned beast are quickly struck down. Voloor is able to administer his precious healing poultices allowing his allies to keep fighting even though normally, they would be overwhelmed with pain. Hurm leaps about, striking at the Slaad with catlike grace. Petronella is awake in earnest and takes over defending from the brave guard Olmayne. Voltoor considers abandoning the party, but remains to finally strike down the Slaad just as his allies themselves are mostly fallen.
The party tends to the wounded and rests for a few short minutes. They go to the other two unconscious figures, kidnapped for the ritual. Just as everyone is readying to leave the Bullywug lair, they hear creatures approaching from down the passageway.
Bullywugs approach from both directions. They party attempts to talk their way past the Bullywugs. Leelhand who speakes their tongue, attempts to instigate fighting and succeeds in confusing the Bullywugs in the matter of who is king. Regardless, the Bullywugs are dim and impatient and fighting soon breaks out. With Olmayne’s help, the party is able to cut its way through them and leave the lair with everyones’ lives. As they are leaving, they spy several artifacts that seem out of place – tablets with runes cut into them.
The party rests and tends to their wounds. They have time to recouperate as they resume harvesting operations. They are approaching their quota and should be leaving for Fallcrest soon. During this time, they inspect the tablets they recovered from the Bullywug lair. They are three and they turn out to be extremely important discoveries. Hurm is elated as he realizes they are ancient codexes of his order’s rules of conduct. They describe discipline, responsibility, and public service. They are written in an ancient dialect, so it will take some time for them to be fully understood. Hurm departs for Fallcrest immediately with the tablets. Such important artifacts must be secured. The rest of the party remains behind to finish their fruit picking duties.
On the last day of fruit picking, it is foggy and cool. A few bubbles emerge from the swamp nearby and a wet, shining, jet black dragon slides out of the water with barely a ripple. It eyes the party shrewdly and then in an oily, silky voice, it demands the party’s bounty. It wants to claim the fruit for itself. In turn it will spare their lives.
Namib, who can speak draconic, tries to bluff the dragon into accepting his worthless mood ring as payment, but the keen dragon sees right through his ruse. The party is under an obligation to return with their fruit, and being unable to convince the dragon to reconsider, they provoke its wrath.
The dragon fights viciously, breathing acid and spraying corrosive fluids all about. It slashes and gouges with its jet black apendages all of which are lethal. Again, Olmayne and Petronella take the brunt of the frontal assault while Voltoor and Leelhand withdraw to a safe distance. Leelhand summons an angelic protector to fight in the Raven Queen’s name.
The dragon must have underestimated the party and is beaten. Once it realizes that defeat is inevitable, it slinks into the water, escaping with its life.
The party wastes no time departing the orchard and soon they are sailing back up the river towards their homes. The trip takes longer as they are moving against the current, but they make steady progress. After a time though, they spot strange creatures in the water. Vicious ray-like creatures are ravenously consuming fish in the river alongside of the boat.
The party pilots the boat close to shore in case harm should come from these rays. The ray creatueres turn out to be Ixitxachitls and they begin leaping out of the water like flying fish. Eventually the begin to fly parallel with the boat. Once several of them are floating in postion around the boat, they attack catching most of the party by surprise. The party handily beats them however and is able to return to Fallcrest without further incident. Upon further reflection, the party discovers that the Ixitxachitls were intelligent beings – servants of the demon prince Demogorgon. It is not known why they apeared in the river.
Continued in Chapter 2…
DM Commentary: Session 1 Notes/Thoughts
Session #1 served as the campaigns introduction. It established the beginning of the story, the scene and most importantly, the tone.
There was a tremendous amount of work to get this campaign underway. Not only did the genesis of the campaign need creating, so too did the setting, the people and the places. In addition, this is our first campaign to make use of Obsidian Portal. This meant learning the site, establishing the layout, learning some basic html, learning Adobe After Effects and teaching the players how to use the site as well.
Initially I spent time creating the city of Fallcrest and created places and people that would have been considered public information to anyone living in Fallcrest. Then I provided the players secret information that only their character would konw – based on their background and their trained skills.
As a group we had a round table discussion as to the beginning relationships of the PCs. Once that was established we set some house rules and got underway.
As for this particular adventure the inspiration came from African watering holes. There the need for water is so great that both predator and prey share the resource and often at the same time. For Fallcrest, that resource is food instead of water. The food is used by Fallcrest townsfolk, monstrous tribes and wild animals. I made this relationship even more complex by introducing another dynamic. The Bullywugs not only need the resource, their insanity drives them to abuse it to such an extent that they destroy it as well. This makes them the obvious bad guys but just how far do the players take protecting the swamp? Do they wipe the tribe out, do nothing, or find some middle ground. This is the moral dilemma of the adventure.
The swamp made for an interesting terrain. The Bullywugs have swampwalk and can get around without any issues. The PCs on the other hand, had to deal with difficult terrain. The swamp water itself also gave the Bullywugs another tactical advantage. If they dropped prone they had total concealment and could easily move around.
Our last campaign made it all the way to 30th level. I quickly realized that after handling the complexities of high level, the few options that 1st level PCs had may feel dull. Enter terrain powers. These worked quite well and gave the PCs ways to reduce the advantages the Bullywugs had. They are listed below and come from Kobold Quarterly Magazine.
Caught in the Flow (At-Will Terrain)
You catch your enemy in an unexpected current, moving it farther than you normally would.
Requirement You must use a power which forces an enemy to move from, to, or through a square containing water.
Check Perception check (easy DC)—You notice the flow of water.
Success Those undergoing forced movement move 1 square farther.
Stinging Swarm (Single-Use Terrain)
You disturb the reeds and shake the trees, dislodging a swarm of angry insects.
Check Insight check (moderate DC)—You disturb the resting insects. You may fall prone as part of the standard action to avoid the attack.
Success A swarm of vermin rises to harass its perceived enemies.
Target Each non-prone creature in a close burst 2 centered on the triggering square
Attack Level + 4 vs. AC
Hit Ongoing 5 damage (save ends)
Water Snake (Single-Use Terrain)
You recognize the signs of a water snake in the area.
Requirement You must hit a foe with an attack.
Check Nature check (moderate DC)—A water snake is attracted to your area. It uses the opportunity to attack your foe.
Success: Snake wraps around opponent and immobilizes him and ongoing 5 damage (save ends)
Skip over the Lilies (At-Will Terrain)
Stepping lightly from solid ground to lily pad and from hanging vine to decaying log, you make your way across the water as easily as you would across dry land.
Check Acrobatics check (hard DC)—You step adroitly from one solid landing to the next.
Success You pass over water or mud as if it were solid land, taking no penalty to your movement
Failure: You move half your speed minus 1 square.
A roll of a natural one ends your movement after one square and you are prone.
Powerful Stride (At-Will Terrain)
Getting good leverage, you use momentum to move a bit further than you normally can.
Check Athletics check (Mod DC) – You move further than you otherwise would.
Success: Get a bonus of +2 to your movement in the difficult terrain. This movement can not exceed your normal speed. In most cases this will be 5 squares.
Failure: Move half speed like normal in difficult terrain but with 1 less square. Will usually man moving 2 squares instead of 3. Also ,if you roll a 1 on the check, you do not move at all, the move action ends and you are prone.
After one session of a new campaign i can see how party composition can make a big difference to the 4e experience. Three controllers means more book keeping in terms of conditions, effects and zones. We will need to improve our management of this.
The deva invoker has an awesome daily that lets him summon an angel and the angel packs a wallop. Its a 2d12 plus wis mod damage power. He hit for max damage without a crit and hit for 28 points of daamge – Wow! Whats funny though is that it left the bullywug with 1hp and it dropped into the swamp water and fled.
The encounter started with 12 2nd level Bullywugs. Since they were preoccupied with fruit collecting and killing trees I treated them as minions initially. The players took 5 out this way and had the jump on the remaining seven by the time they started to fight back. Excluding the minions this would have made a high end level + 1 fight but with the PCs getting the jump it turned the encounter into a standard level + 1 fight. One PC was knocked unconscious which met my expectations for the fight.
Oh and in case you did not notice. There are no leaders in the party.
DM Commentary: Session 2 Notes/Thoughts
Session 2 unfolded a little differently than expected.
During session 1, when the group arrived at the swamp and found out they were fruit picking with several NPCs, Voltoor’s player commented that the party would have to probably save there butts at some point. Little did he realize, I had planned the exact opposite.
At this point in their career, the PCs aren’t that much more extraordinary than the average towns person – they just have more guts! When I conceived the adventure, I knew that the swamp was ripe with opportunity for ambushes and I could put the bullywugs in the driver seat in terms of pushing the story along. Since the players mandate was to collect a certain amount of fruit, they couldn’t just pack up and leave no matter how bad things got. If they did, they would be risking the other fruit pickers lives and their reputation in town would take a big hit.
Thus, this session was SUPPOSED to be about guerrilla warfare. After the beating the bullywugs took in the last session, they were out for revenge. Add in the fact that bullywug society looks at females as the lowest members of society, and that the PCs actually contains one female character and you can see who might be the target of their revenge. Again, I expected to have to make several ambushes, but the first ambush worked perfectly and is pushed the story along a lot faster than I had anticipated.
The ambush was accomplished by the bullywugs coming up underneath the PCs boat and flipping it over. The PCs were spread out to start the encounter as I randomly rolled how far people were pushed from their starting square and everyone was prone. This let me spread the bullywugs around and they were able to pick on one or two party members quite nicely. This was also helped by the players poor rolling, and poor tactics on their part. They gave me several opportunity attacks as they scrambled to get better positioning and I was able to drop two PCs this way. These bullywugs were brutes and hit pretty hard and hit hard they did! At any rate, one bullywug was told to grab the female and get out of there and so he did. The rest fought and eventually lost their lives, but the damage was already done. The only thing the players had to go on, was that the king wanted to use the female in a ritual of some sort, which pushed the players to track the bullywugs as fast as possible. I should note that this fight would have been much worse on the players if the boat with the NPCs did not come to their aid. The NPCs managed to do enough damage to drop one bullywug from full which helped turn the tide of the battle.
Some interesting decisions came up a little later for the players after they found the bullywug lair. Several rooms contained only females or young. Both times, at least one player wanted to seize the opportunity to end the bullywug presence, but the others held their hand – whether it was because it was the right thing to do, or fear of making too much noise and attract attention.
Finally the PCs came to the kings room (after an unannounced skill challenge, which they dealt with nicely with the Hand of Fate ritual, and several more fights) only to find the king in a cocoon.
Bullywug society believes they might be able to transform into slaads under the right conditions, and this is what the king believed. After reading a bit about slaads, particularly, the flux slaad, it spoke about how flux slaads often used portals near bullywug tribes to lead them to greater chaotic acts. Since this seemed to be at odds with one another, I decided to combine the two entries. The bullywug king, does indeed turn into a slaad, but this only happens upon his death and its his death that actually creates the portal for the flux slaad to be able to enter the world. Thus, the ritual he performed causes this event to happen upon his death. Of course, he has no clue this is how it works. So partway through the fight, the king bursts out of the cocoon pissed that his ritual failed and he is still a lowly bullywug. Once he reached 0HPs however, I described how the flux slaad burst out of his chest, much like an Aliens movie. I thought it was pretty cool!
The PCs won the day, just barely, I might add, and I ended the session with the PCs trapped in the throne room, and they can hear a horde of bullywugs coming to aid their king. They are basically out of surges, out of dailies, and up the creek without a paddle. Can’t wait to see what they do….
The brutes ravaged the PCs. WotC new damage chart seems to be spot on. The PCs tactics didn’t help matters either. As a group we have made a concerted effort to reduce table talk and this has made a big difference in terms of tactics. The PCs seem to be a much less cohesive unit and mistakes are made. I will have to be careful not too make the fights too challenging until the players learn to compensate for this.
I prerolled the 3 NPCs attacks and damage numbers before the session. This let me use the NPCs and fly through their turn almost to the point that they didn’t even have a turn. I plan to do this for all NPCs going forward.
The coolest scene in the session was when the PCs entered the kings chamber. Hurm, the monk, was going to go poke the cocoon, but failed his Terrain Movement power so he couldn’t move very far. He moved up to the edge of the room (the hallway the PCs were in was only 5’ wide) and he activated a stance that dealt damage to anyone moving adjacent to him. I described the bullywug minions, who went next, as being wary of him and they wouldn’t close in. They all moved closer but stayed 2 squares away. Hurm’s player was thinking this was really cool, and the description certainly was, as it invoked the feeling of an old martial arts movie where the bad guys wouldn’t close in on the hero for fear of getting their asses handed to them. What Hurm’s player didn’t realize is that they had a close burst 2 croak and they all used it on him dropping it. The old martial arts feel quickly turned into an Indiana Jones feel – you know, where the guy with the whip does all his fancy manoeuvres, only to have Indy pull out his gun and shoot him. Yeah, that about describes it! A totally awesome moment that had us all laughing.
I underestimated how quick the PCs would get to the bullywug lair. Because, it wasn’t even the next day yet, the PCs still had no Dailies and they were running low on surges. By the time the king fight happened, the PCs were really hurting. They really lived or died on their dice, and the fights were a bit rougher than I had planned on. In hindsight, the best thing to happen to the players was for Hurms player to fail his movement check and not poke the cocoon. I had the king come out of the cocoon a few rounds later, but if Hurm disturbed him before that and he was killed, they would have had to deal with a bunch of bullywugs (which was already a high level +1 fight) along with a level 9 slaad.
In the end, things worked out just fine. The only modification I made to the slaad was that I lowered his defences by 3. The first 5 attacks made by the slaad were like this – 1, 1, 3, 4, 5 which resulted in all misses, in that order. Then we played a game of 5 PC pickup. The slaad started scoring some hits and dropping people. Voltoor, was able to apply some surgeless healing via some poultices I let him create which brought some people back into the fight. In the end, they just scraped by. Almost everyone is now out of surges, some are only at 1 HP.
The final note I should add, is that, after capturing Petronella, I let her player play a guard who was one of the other NPCs travelling with the group. This let him still play and contribute to the game. During the king fight, the NPC dropped and the players revived Petronella, getting her back into the fight and this helped turn the tide against the slaad.
DM Commentary: Session 3 Notes/Thoughts
Session 3 wrapped up the bullywug adventure in the swamps and saw the players make level 2 during the session.
The session started with the PCs in the kings room hearing multiple footsteps coming their way, and the PCs in no shape for a fight. The previous session ended at this point for a few reasons. First, I wanted to give the players some time to come up with some creative solutions to the problem, and second, it made for a fantastic cliff hanger. In the end, their decision may not have been all that creative, but it was effective. They chose a combination of “fight their way out” and “sow discord” amongst the tribe. When I conceived the cliff hanger, I was prepared for the players to ask if they could cut their way out, after all the walls were only mud, clay and tree branches (think beaver damn) and was expecting them to take this option. But their solutions worked out just fine.
On the way out, the group discovered some stone tablets that were lodged in one of the walls. They quickly grabbed them and fled.
After some rest and recuperation, they discovered the tablets were a major artifact for Pinnacle Abbey, Hurm’s monastic order of which he is a part. It turns out these tablets were lost during the Dawn War, and are the most sacred relic that the order has. These tablets are detailed in the Miscellany section of the wiki. Namib’s player wondered out loud what Bullywugs were doing with the tablets. And this is the first big question of the campaign that will get explained as the story unfolds.
Once the Bullywugs were taken care of I threw in a few random encounters (pre planned of course) that I thought would be fun. While the random encounters don’t add much to the story, they were chosen for a specific reason, which again, will become apparent as the story progresses.
There was one note-worthy scene worth describing. While escaping the bullywug kings chambers they ran headlong into a bunch of bullywugs (naturally!). Namib’s player turns to me and says, “Do you remember in Star Wars, when Han Solo charges down the hallway after the stormtroopers, guns a blazing while intimidating them with a psuedo war cry?” I said “Yes, of course,” and he replies with “That’s what I do!”. He goes on to explain that he throws the kings head at them, then charges them and at the end of his movement changes shape into a swarm of centipedes. Visually, that seems very awesome to me.
I had him roll an intimidate check and he managed to scare about half the bullywugs away. Of course, the check shouldn’t be too hard when your kings head lands at your feet and you have the guy who threw it at you charging you AND on top of that as he closes in bursts into a million centipedes. I think even frog men would run from that!
After this part of the adventure was over, I reflected a bit on its design. There were too many encounters with only difficult terrain. I should have mixed it up a bit more, however I was very satisfied with the level of difficulty it had. Some of the fights were easy, and some were down right hard and the players had to use good tactics to succeed. Voltoor’s players in particular sacrificed a lot of attack to do heal checks to either stabilize the dying, or grant saving throws, or allow second winds and this was invaluable. The party would have experienced death by now if not for his actions. Several times, players were down for up to five rounds, with two death saves failed and about to die only to have Voltoor’s player get them back up into the fight and turn the tide. Good job by him!
Another nice outcome from the adventure, was the NPC Olmayne. Originally, conceived as a bit part for this adventure he became invaluable and almost a 6th member of the group. When Petronella was captured, I had the player play Olmayne. Then the following session Hurm’s player was unable to make it, so I had Olmayne fill in again knowing the group was going to face a nasty beast in a black dragon and without him would likely be TPK’d. Throughout the two sessions, he developed a fantastic personality. The players (as well as their PCs) like him very much. He risked his life multiple times (even fighting when he was at 1 HP) and did his fair share to the enemy. Every time they thanked him for his help, he chalked it up to duty so his humble nature also won the players over. And in the end, in the last encounter, he was pretty ravaged by some Ixitxachitl, so now he has an (ir)rational fear of fish. Olmayne’s personality grew so organically from the adventure that I think it was one of the most naturally created NPCs I have ever done.
This past week I got my hands of the new “Red Box” which I have been waiting for since it went up on WotC release schedule. I read on the ENWorld boards that the level 2 solo black dragon printed within is downright nasty. So of course, I had to use it. I mean, we ARE in a swamp after all. Most of the tactical analysis done on the boards indicate that at least one death is expected in the fight, if not an outright TPK. I consider my group to be at the top end in terms of tactics so I was VERY interested to see how this would play out, and it did NOT disappoint.
The fight was very close – a few more hits by the dragon and I’d be writing about how the dragon is eating dinner right now. The dragons attack bonuses are a bit on the low side and this combined with some poor rolling at the start meant he was slow out of the gate. I also made a few minor mistakes in terms of the order of use for certain powers, so it could have been played better, but this was evened out by some poor choices by the players. At one point, Namib took a pounding from the dragon and needed to get out of harms way. Unfortunately, he chose to move closer to his allies allowing me to include him in my breath weapon the next attack. His mistake almost resulted in his death.
The most interesting thing about the ENWorld analysis was that melee characters would have a hard time with the black dragon, since it did 5 damage (while bloodied) to anyone adjacent to them every time it got hit. Our party consisted of only 1 melee player so this bonus damage from the dragon wasn’t as effective as it would be against most groups.
The players were also able to effectively lock it down. After the swordmage (Petronella) marked it, Lheeland used a power that doubled the mark penalty to -4 for the rest of the encounter. With its low attack, the dragon couldn’t afford the penalty, and even it I decided to live with it, the swordmage could just teleport next to me anyways so why bother going after anyone else? So, I feasted on Petronella. She withstood it pretty well, and if memory serves, never did drop, but was barely standing by the end of the fight.
Although there were no deaths, two characters were damn close. Both times, the PCs were only a few HPs away from death and taking ongoing damage. Both needed immediate help. In one case it was Voltoor who saved Namib (who was 2 HPs away from death) and in the other, it was Olmayne who then saved Voltoor. If the initiative was in a different order, they would have died.
As you can tell I was pretty pleased. This is the first solo creature, run by the book, that could stand up to the party without any help whatsoever. Contrast that to the last campaign where I had the players, at level 3, fight 2 level 3 solo white dragons and it was a cake-walk and I really like the way creatures are being designed now. Yay for WotC!
In regards to the bullywugs and the Ixitxachitl fights, there isn’t too much to talk about there. The fights were pretty straight forward.
I will leave you with one last bit of knowledge however. Ixitxachitl is pronounced ish-it-SHACH-itl, or iks-it-ZATCH-i-til or ik-zit-zah-chih-tull. Take your pick! This concludes todays lesson!