Monday, May 13, 2019

D&D 5e [Princes of the Apocalypse] Session 3: Troubled Taverns and Haunted Tombs

Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)

Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.

Adventure Notes:
300 XPs to level 2 isn’t that too far a stretch, and I’d estimated that the kids would have levelled up by now. So while the kids are trying to do their homework one night, I bug them about their levelling choices and feature progression. It’s important to keep their priorities straight.

Jojo’s dragonborn cleric gains a great “Invoke Duplicity” feature where she can create a perfect illusion of herself to confuse opponents and use as a decoy. She can even casts spells from the illusion’s location, which is pretty cool.

Evan’s gunslinger gains “Fast Reload” (re-load firearm as a bonus action), and a couple of Trick Shots from a list. He picks Dead-Eye (advantage on attack roll) and Violent Shot (extra 1d12 damage) when using his rifle.

“It’s been about a week since your battle with the bandits. You guys spend this time in Red Larch; for some reason you feel drawn to this place. In D&D, you get to choose how your characters live in between adventures, and you get to pick a lifestyle from this list.” I show the kids the various lifestyles, ranging from Wretched and Squalid, all the way to Wealthy and Aristocratic.

Jojo decides that her dragonborn cleric lives a Modest lifestyle (1 gp a day). She rents a room at the Swinging Sword Inn, and takes her meals at the Helm at Highsun tavern across the road. I tell her, “Before this, you’ve spent all your time living in the wilderness, and this is the first time you’ve really lived among some semblance of civilisation. How do you feel living like this?”

Jojo thinks a bit. “I think I’m really jumpy with all these people around. Sort of wary about everything around me. But I’m fascinated by cutlery! In fact, whenever I eat meals at the tavern, I take the forks and knives with me! Especially sporks, if they have them.” We muse that this quirk might be a throwback from her dragon ancestry’s obsession with hoarding treasure.

Apparently, sporks are quite common in Faerun.

Evan, of course, has been weighing up the lifestyle costs, and decides that his gunslinger lives a Wretched lifestyle. “It’s FREE!” he states, pointing at the page in the Player’s Handbook. I tell him that his character will live homeless on the streets and roads, and his equipment might get damaged or stolen. After Jojo warns him that he will probably catch some disease sleeping out in the dirt and rain, he finally relents and opts for a Poor lifestyle instead (1 sp a day).

I tell him, “Your gunslinger’s chosen background is Criminal, right? This means that you have or can make criminal contacts whenever you’re in some sort of town or city. Well, Evan, you make an interesting discovery about Red Larch.” I lean closer. “This town… has TWO taverns!”

“Dun-da-dum!!” intone the kids. I point to the map and tell the kids that Evan wanders into a shady-looking part of town, and notices this building with a barber’s seat on the front porch. “It looks like a barber’s shop, but you also see very drunk people staggering out the front door.” The gunslinger goes in to investigate, and finds that the front-room has been converted into a makeshift tavern, with a couple of tables, a lounge on one side, and bottles of liquor stored in a cupboard. A dark-skinned man introduces himself as Malandro, but please call him ‘Landro’.

“In fact,” I tell the kids, feeling inspired. “Landro looks just like Lando from Star Wars.”

Shifty guy named Landro? This is all too easy.

I tell Evan that Landro seems very friendly, but you can tell that he’s not someone who the authorities look kindly upon. In fact, it’s very likely that Constable Harburk hangs up most of the people who leave Landro’s on his meat hooks. “By the manner he’s talking to you, you can tell that he wants something from you.”

Evan ponders on his next move, and decides that he’ll try an Insight roll to determine what Landro wants. He rolls a 20! “After some chit-chat, Landro gestures at your rifle and says, ‘So, uh, that’s an interesting-looking piece of hardware you have there. How does it work?’”

At this, Evan gets up and applies his years of drama class from school, and says, “Okay, uh, I umm, shrug. Like this, and umm, I go, ‘I point it to things. And they die. A horrible, painful, torturous death!’”

“Right,” says Landro. “And what about those little metal things that you hang on your belt? What are those?”

“These?” says the gunslinger, gesturing to his musket ammo. “These balls are filled... with death!”

“Balls of death?”

“No! Balls FILLED with death!”

“Right,” repeats Landro, looking a bit mystified. “Well, I like you, Folax, and because I like you, I’d like to do you a favour. If you ever need to make more of those.. Death Balls, you can come and make them here. I’ve got some… special equipment that you might be interested in looking at.” The man gestures the gunslinger to follow him, and Evan does.

“Landro leads you to the backroom of his tavern, and then reveals another door to yet another backroom! This room has no windows, and has a workbench with what looks like a mini forge. There’s a small stone furnace to melt metal in, and a stone slab with little indents or grooves to mold small things in.” Landro tells Folax that he is welcome to use this room to make more of his ammo, and he’s even welcome to sleep in the tavern on the lounge. “All I ask in return,” says Landro. “Is that you help keep... trouble from happening in the tavern. And that if anyone asks about this room and the equipment here, you say that you’re using it to make your stuff. Deal?” He sticks out a hand.

By this point, there are so many unanswered questions floating around about the dodginess of this entire deal, but the gunslinger gruffly accepts the hand-shake. “Deal.” Yes, this boy makes me worry sometimes.

Meanwhile, Jojo’s dragonborn cleric is catching up with Kaylessa from the Swinging Sword Inn. Kaylessa is very open about her background, growing up in a merchant family from Waterdeep (the City of Splendors!) before deciding to open an inn in Red Larch (the Gateway to the North!). Aside from that, Kaylessa talks about the weird weather (it hailed in the middle of summer last week!) and blames everything on the ‘evil at Lance Rock’.

The dragonborn cleric leaves the inn just as Kaylessa launches into another discourse on the ineffectiveness of the town’s constable. I tell Jojo, “You head across the road to the Helm at Highsun, and walk straight into a tavern brawl! There’s a female half-orc bashing up three common workers in there!”

“A brawl? That’s the sort of thing I’d expect at Evan’s tavern!” She heads towards the bar counter and finds the bartender cowering behind it. Garl (the bartender) fearfully asks Jojo if she can do something about the brawl before it brings down the place. After a brief negotiation, the dragonborn cleric agrees to help for a free drink and some coin, and gets up to survey the scene.

“The female half-orc looks like a caravan guard, and she’s holding up a worker by the front of his shirt, just about to smash him face-first into the table!”

Jojo says, “I cast Command! I say, ‘STOP!’” I roll a failed Wisdom save, and immediately, the female half-orc stops, still holding the worker hanging on her fist. The dragonborn cleric collects the workers, including the one hanging on the half-orc’s fist, and sits them down at the bar counter.

“How long does the spell last, dad?”

“Well, it’s really just one combat round, so she’ll be free in a couple of seconds.”

“Okay, so do you boys want to let me know what happened here?”

The workers are very defensive. “She’s just crazy, man! Just half-orc crazy!” Garl the bartender leans over. “I’ll tell you what happened. The half-orc just got fired from her last job, and these guys were making fun of her!”

At this, the dragonborn cleric looms over the workers angrily. “What!? That’s NOT cool!” Jojo skims through her spell options and casts Thaumaturgy to make the floor and bar counter tremor, the lights flicker and her voice boom. “I don’t want you guys to show your faces here again! You brought this fight on yourselves, what were you thinking about teasing an orc?! She’s a flipping orc! Now GET OUT!” Thaumaturgy also allows the user to cause doors to fly open, which Jojo does dramatically to the tavern door.

“The workers cannot get out of here fast enough! They stumble over each other on the way out, and are soon gone! The few patrons of the tavern huddled in the corners of the room start to clap appreciatively!” As the dragonborn cleric soaks up the applause, the female half-orc comes up to her.

“Ahh! Please don’t hit me!” squeaks Jojo.

Instead, the half-orc holds out a hand for a handshake. “You’re alright in my book, sister!” Jojo decides that her dragonborn isn’t too familiar with handshaking customs, and passes the half-orc a spork instead. The half-orc looks at the spork puzzledly before keeping it, while Garl murmurs, “Hey, isn’t that my spork!?”

The half-orc buys another round of drinks for Jojo and herself. She introduces herself as Zomith, or just Zoey. She is a caravan guard who got kicked out of her previous caravan for fighting with the other guards. And the job before that, for fighting with the other guards. And the job before that, for fighting with the other guards.

“You detect a pattern here, and it soon becomes apparent that she’s got some real issues,” I tell Jojo. The half-orc also complains to Jojo about the second-last job she had protecting an important delegation from Mirabar. I explain that Mirabar is a rich mining city to the north. “This delegation was an important caravan carrying dwarven artifacts and trading bars that are shaped like Toblerones, and make a distinct ‘ting!’ sound when flicked.”

Mmm… Mirabar Toblerones

Adventure Notes:
Yes, I know that Mirabar trade bars are actually four-sided pyramids attached at their bases. Our campaign world Mirabar trade bars are like these, because... Toblerone!

Over the next few days, the word gets around about how the dragonborn cleric sorted out the brawl at the Helm at Highsun, and the fearful wariness that the dragonborn tended to invoke among the local townsfolk slowly begins to give way to a healthy respect, especially after Constable Harburk mentions that Tempest and Folax were part of the group which attacked the bandit camp.

Folax gains a reputation of being the unofficial bouncer at Landro’s tavern. I tell Evan, “You begin to recognise the regulars at Landro’s tavern. One of these regulars is a shepherd named Greenboot, or Greenie to his tavern mates. Anyway, Greenie comes in one day and starts telling everyone about these grave mounds he came across in the fields not far from town. He’d herded livestock through these fields just a couple of weeks ago, and they weren’t there before.”

The gunslinger asks the shepherd a few more questions about these mounds before going out for “a walk in town”. Going up the street, he bumps into Tempest, and they exchange a few words on what they’ve been doing since the bandit camp attack. Folax mentions the grave mounds to Tempest who decides to come along to check it out with him.

The adventurers make their way to the location where Greenie had mentioned, and I read out the text from the campaign book: “On a barren hilltop a few miles from Red Larch, you find four freshly dug shallow graves. The earth scraped out for the holes is piled nearby, although hastily gathered stones cover the graves. The faint smell of death hangs in the air, and several vultures circle overhead.”

Grave-site desecration certainly does not rank highly on my kids’ moral radar, especially when there is potential loot involved. After digging up the graves, they discover the four dead occupants - a dwarf dressed like a craftsman, a woman warrior in a red surcoat emblazoned with a black axe, a man in weird rock-like armour, and a very gaunt, hollow-cheeked man wearing a white robe and black shoulder feathers.

“I know what this is about,” says Evan sagely. “These guys are obviously adventurers who are total noobs and got killed here.”

Jojo rolls her eyes. “What, so this is some sort of newbie graveyard?” The dragonborn cleric tries to take the rock-like armour, and I tell her that once she removes the armour, it immediately starts to crumble into sand.

“See? Total noob armour that sucks,” points out Evan. “I mean, how is sand armour going to protect anyone!?”

The two adventurers pile the rocks back on the graves and head back to town. I tell them, “Just as you both walk into town, you hear high-pitched screaming, and a small girl comes running towards you both! She crashes into Folax and hugs the gunslinger’s leg while crying uncontrollably!”

Evan says that he picks up the child and pats her on the back to calm her down. Jojo decides that her dragonborn would probably freak the child out, so she casts Disguise Self. “I make myself look like a child-friendly person.”

“You mean, like a clown?”

“Are you crazy!? That’ll traumatise her!”

Eventually, they get the child soothed, and she tells them her name is Pell, and that she lives with her mom and three siblings at the local poultry, and her stupid older brother had dared her to go touch the stone door of a nearby tomb. “And then, I saw a!”

“I can totally relate to her,” says Jojo emphatically. “How old is she?”

“Um, maybe six?”

“Six-year-olds never lie,” states Evan firmly.

“Except mine,” I mutter just loud enough from behind the campaign book.

The kids let this slide and tell Pell to go home while they go check out the tomb. Jojo says, “I tell her that it’ll all be okay, and that we’re very friendly, and if she sees a dragon-person walking around, that’s okay too because dragon-people are all cool. Got that? Here, have a spork.” The little girl nods and runs off home.

I fill in the kids on the whole deal of the gods and the undead. “As far as the gods are concerned, the natural progression for mortals is that they live on the Prime Material Plane, and when they die, they go to one of the god’s domains. Undeads break this rule by sticking around on the Prime Material Plane. That’s why clerics all have the ability to ‘Turn Undead’ by using their holy symbols.” Jojo had previously decided on her holy symbol, and drawn it on her character sheet.

The adventurers make their way to a low hill with a tunnel carved into its side. “Just some ways into the tunnel, you see a stone door, left slightly ajar. There is a name carved on the door, but it’s much too worn out to read.”

The dragonborn cleric pushes the door open, and I tell them that there’s a tremendous crash as a wagon wheel and various metal parts fall from the top of the door. “The crash echoes into the tunnel, alerting anyone or anything in there! You guys wait, but nothing else happens.”

The adventurers cautiously make their way into the tomb. “You guys walk down the tunnel and come to a square room with a stone block table in the middle. There are rust stains on the table, indicating that there once were items on it, but they are now gone. There’s a rusty iron door on this wall here.”

The gunslinger hits the iron door with his fist, and there is a dull clang. “Just then, you notice a swirling mist on the far corner of the room!”

“It’s the ghost,” says Jojo. “I prepare my holy symbol!”

The mist forms into a horrendous-looking Specter. I show the kids a picture from the Monster Manual. “Specters hate the living and daylight! This one raises its hands like this and booms, ‘LEAVE NOW!’”

“Only if you say PLEASE!” retorts Evan.

I roll a d20. A slight pause. “PLEASE!?” The kids high-five.

Evan says, “Well, a deal is a deal. I’m leaving.” With that, the gunslinger walks out, his rifle under his arm.

The dragonborn cleric tells the Specter. “Look, um. This is a really cool place - maybe you can show us around?”

“LEAVE THIS PLACE!” I tell the kids that the Specter’s form stutters between the ghastly form, and a young thin man. “I’M WARNING YOU! STAY AWAY FROM THE TOMB OF MY MASTER!”

“Who’s your master?”


“It’s, uh, kinda worn out. Can’t read it anymore.”

“For the love of - his name is LORD THEODORE! Could you write that on your way out, please? That’s T-H-E-O-..”

“I like this guy!” declares Jojo. “Let’s name him!” We decide that his name is S'il-vous-plaît which is the French word for ‘Please’. I decide he looks a bit like one of our favourite comedians, Mathew Baynton from “Horrible Histories”.

S'il-vous-plaît explains that he was the bodyguard of his master who was horribly murdered. And after his master’s death, he swore that he would protect the tomb from intruders. “But I didn’t bring enough warm clothes, and it gets really cold in here, so I died from pneumonia after about two weeks.”

Meanwhile, Evan is waiting outside at the entrance of the tomb and decides to head back in. Just as he turns back, I tell him to roll a Perception check. “Are you serious!?” He rolls badly, and I say, “You hear a whistling sound, and a javelin the length of a man skewers you in the leg! You take 11 damage!”

The gunslinger looks back and sees a huge half-ogre and a small goblin laughing at him. The goblin leisurely starts to pull back and aim a shortbow at him. Evan says, “I tell them, ‘Okay, you got me!’ and then I fire my rifle at the half-ogre!” He rolls a hit, and opts to use Violent Shot to up the damage to 13.

“The half-ogre and goblin have never seen a firearm before, and you catch the half-ogre by surprise when you blast a chunk off his broad neck! He clasps his hand over the wound as blood splurts out!” The goblin’s shortbow fires and misses, and I say, “The goblin must have been so startled by the loud bang that his arrow flies off its mark and hits the doorframe!”

Inside the tomb, S'il-vous-plaît is recounting all his problems to the emphatic cleric. “And then, recently, there were these two creatures, a half-ogre and a goblin, that came in here and laughed at me. They set up a trap at the door so that they can get alerted by anyone coming in here!”

“You’re incorporeal, right? Why couldn’t you just run into them and damage them?”

“The goblin was too quick. And I’m afraid of ogres.”

“Wow, this guy really sucks at his job!” says Jojo. “I try to cheer him up, and say, ‘Hey, look at me’. I cast Disguise Self to look like S'il-vous-plaît. ‘Ta-da!’”

Just then, they both hear the loud blast of Folax’s rifle outside. Tempest heads outside and finds Folax facing off the half-ogre and the goblin. “I still look like the specter, right? I raise my hands and shout, ‘LEAVE THIS PLACE!’”

The half-ogre squints at the disguised cleric and laughs. “You here, Si-Bu-Play? It daylight - you no can come out!”

Tempest says, “That’s what you think!” She steps out into the daylight. “I cast Thaumaturgy to tremor the ground and amplify my voice, ‘LEAVE NOW!’ I’m going to make S'il-vous-plaît look like a total badass!” She unleashes her dragonborn lightning breath attack at the surprised half-ogre and goblin.

I roll the d20s for the saving throws. The goblin dives aside and take half-damage, and somehow, the half-ogre makes it too! Growling (and crackling from left-over electricity) the half-ogre yanks its battle axe off the ground (getting a mild static shock from it), and charges at the disguised cleric.

Folax gets in another hit with the half-ogre using his light crossbow (according to him, it was ‘luckier’ than his rifle), while Tempest uses her ‘Invoke Duplicity’ to create a mirror image of herself. This does not deter the half-ogre though, who does a wipe-sweep at the cleric and her duplicate, scoring a staggering 16 damage, bringing her to 1 HP! In the end, Folax manages to down the half-ogre with a well-aimed stab with his dagger up through under the half-ogre’s chin and into its brain.

The goblin charges screaming at the gunslinger, but once the half-ogre collapses dead, it turns and runs screaming away. Tempest uses her last spell slot to fling a ‘Guiding Bolt’ at the retreating creature, and the adventurers watch as the bolt arches up, over and then down to smack the goblin dead in the distance.

“I LOVE being a cleric!” states Jojo.

Adventure Notes:
The kids really got into their characters this session. I had no idea what the outcome of the Haunted Tomb would be; the campaign book briefly gives some detail about the Specter, but that was it. The kids are now talking about how they might get S'il-vous-plaît out of the tomb to join their party.

Jojo asked an interesting question during the half-ogre fight: if she uses Invoke Duplicity while still maintaining her Disguise Self spell, will her duplicate be a duplicate of her dragonborn self, or her disguised self? I ruled the latter, but am curious to see if anyone else would rule otherwise.

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