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.
It’s about time we got into D&D 5e.
Admittedly, I did attempt to introduce the kids to D&D 5e using the “Lost Mines of Phandelvar” Starter Set, but after the first session, it never really took off. It’s been about 2 years since we seriously got down into an RPG campaign, so we’re itching to get back into one.
Evan, my 12yo boy, of course, decides to pick something completely different from the basic classes from the Player’s Handbook. If you’ve read some of our previous RPG sessions, he’s played a Skeleton Fighter, a Dark Stormtrooper operated internally by a Jawa, and in that Phandelvar session, he played a Warforged Construct.
After some googling, he finally settles on the Gunslinger, a D&D 5e Homebrew Fighter-type, popularised by Matthew Mercer. I use the stats defined there, while Evan comes up with a rather traumatic background story involving him being dropped on the face too many times by his evil foster parents who eventually decide to abandon him in the woods because he was too ugly.
Jojo, my 14yo girl, decides to go with something completely different from the normal characters she plays, which tend to be either roguish, or rangerish, or druidish, or a mix of all three. In the end, she settles on a Dragonborn Cleric of the Trickery domain who worships Loki (she adores Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Yes, Jojo's character is still somewhat roguish, but at least she’s being pious about it!
What better way to start off an adventure than with a good old ambush?
I show the kids the Dessarin Valley map, and Evan immediately points to the Westwood and declares that his character lives there, in a very specific tree on the map.
Skimming through the suggested adventure hooks to get the players into the Dessarin Valley, I decide to improvise on the “Bears and Bows” bandit camp side-trek adventure.
“Okay, kids, your characters do not know much about each other, but you both live in the woods, away from normal civilisation, and aside from the many, many monsters and creatures that you are familiar with in the forest, you are also friends with these barbarians who call themselves the Elk tribe. Anyway, a friend of yours from the Elk tribe (I poll the kids for a barbarian name, and they supply “Gib-Bob”) named “Gib-Bob” tells you that his tribe is expanding their hunting grounds into The Westwood. The barbarian scouts have located a camp of rough-looking humans, and have concluded that these are bandits after witnessing these humans rob and murder innocent travellers on the Long Road. Gib-Bob asks both of you to help clear out these bandits at their camp.”
Jojo shakes her head. “I dunno, dad, I really have no interest in killing bandits. Can I say ‘Thanks, but, no thanks’?”
Ah well, there goes the plan. I eke out a grin. “Oh sure. This is D&D, where you can do anything you want. So, what do you want to do?”
“Is there a town nearby?”
I point at Red Larch on the map. “Sure, the town of Red Larch is the closest to where you are. Just a day’s journey up the Long Road.”
I present the kids two options of travelling, by day or by night. I explain that travelling by day has greater possibilities of bumping into other travellers, while travelling at night allows them to travel more stealthily, but at the risk of bumping into more dangerous creatures. They decide to travel by night, and I roll two d20s against the “Random Encounters: Night” column.
4 and 9. Interesting.
“You travel stealthily along the Long Road at night, and just as you approach a rise in the road, you hear a strange screeching roar on the other side of the rise.”
Not bothering to hide, Jojo opts to walk up to the top of the rise and look at what is causing the noise, while Evan decides to hang back and arm his Musket rifle. “When Tempest arrives at the top, she sees a large strange creature off the side of the road. It has the body of a bear, and the head of an owl! The creature screeches in anger as it fends off two other creatures swooping down on it!” I show them a pic of the swooping creatures and the kids immediately identify them. “Hippogriffs!”
I pull up the picture of the Owlbear from the Monster Manual and tell the kids, “Okay, kids, this is an iconic D&D monster!” I read some background about the habits and ferocity of the Owlbear, and its curious origins about how it might been either a creature fused by a demented wizard, or a native creature from the Feywilds.
The kids roll their eyes. “Of course, it’s a magic cross between an owl and a bear! I mean, look at it!”
Magic mutant bear or not, the Owlbear is still a dangerous creature. I get Jojo to roll a Perception check and she rolls adequately. “As one of the hippogriffs swoops down to claw the angry owlbear, you notice a dark shape on its back!”
“Is it human-shaped?”
“Yeap. But you can’t make out much because it’s too dark.”
“Hey, dragonborn? I’ve got darkvision!”
“Oh, so you have! You see everything in black and white, and you definitely make out a human riding the hippogriff!”
Jojo seems plagued with indecision. “I don’t know which side to help! I mean, I love how that Owlbear looks, but I also love Hippogriffs!”
“How about NOT helping either side?” Evan suggests wryly. He edges closer with his rifle at ready.
I decide to hurry things along. “As Tempest stands there indecisively, the owlbear gets clawed again by a swooping hippogriff! The owlbear screeches in fury, and then it sees you standing there in the middle of the road! It starts to charge towards you!”
Evan says, “The owlbear is an animal, right? Doesn’t Jojo have some sort of animal skill, like Animal Seduction, or something?”
Jojo face-palms. “Evan, first off, I’m not playing a ranger - I’m a cleric! Second, Animal Seduction!? Do you think I go around asking animals, (she puts on a leery accent) “Heya, babe. Whatchya doin’?” Laughs abound as we pretend that she gets pepper-sprayed.
When we get back to business, Evan declares that he is shooting the charging owlbear. He aims and fires his very first rifle shot in this D&D campaign.
He rolls a 1.
“With a loud bang, the rifle in Folax’s hands misfires! The shot goes wild into the air (and no, it does not hit a hippogriff) and the rifle jams!”
Jojo decides to blast the charging Owlbear with a Guiding Bolt spell, but it fails to penetrate the Owlbear’s thick hide. The roaring beast lunges towards the adventurers, and I get them to roll for Initiative.
Evan gets first go. “I drop my useless rifle, and use my Light crossbow!” The gunslinger resorts back to the old-fashioned ranged attack, and fires a bolt.
He rolls a 20! How’s that for complete turn-around?
“Obviously embarrassed by his previous attempt, Folax manages to fire a crossbow bolt right between the owlbear’s eyes! Critical hit for 13 damage!”
The owlbear is very bloodied at this point, but it manages to swipe a claw at the dragonborn cleric standing in its way. “It smashes Tempest for 8 damage, flinging her into a sideways aerial! Jojo, you’re down to 2 HPs! What do you want to do!?”
Jojo opts to blast the owlbear with her draconic lightning breath. We piece together the scene: “Even while Tempest is upside-down in the air, she lets out a lightning bolt breath attack at the surprised owlbear, hitting it for 4 damage!”
Evan re-loads and fires, but this time the bolt goes wide. I tell the kids, “The furious owlbear stands over the downed cleric, and opens its beak to stab down, but then.. it starts to fly!”
Jojo stares incredulously. “Owlbears can fly!? Oh wait, it’s the hippogriffs, isn’t it?”
Sure enough, the screeching owlbear is being lifted into the air by the two hippogriffs. The flying creatures carry the struggling owlbear higher and higher into the night sky, before letting it go right above the forest. The kids wince as I describe the owlbear crashing into the trees beyond. “I don’t think it survived that fall!”
Tempest is still lying on the road. I tell the kids, “You see the two hippogriffs land beside the road, and yes, you confirm that there are two riders on the backs of these hippogriffs! A human male gets off his hippogriff and walks towards where Tempest is lying, while the other (a young woman) stays on her hippogriff.” I show the kids a picture of what the guy looks like.
Evan says, “I keep my crossbow pointed at the guy.”
The human male reaches Tempest and grins down at her. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” Jojo splutters. “I just got side-swiped into a flying aerial by a raging owlbear, and you ask me if I’m okay!?”
The human male laughs. “Hahah, oh, that was just a bit of fun sport! My flying partner and I were just having a bit of fun with that owlbear!”
“You call flying around attacking animals ‘fun’!?” Jojo mutters. “I don’t like these guys!”
The human male laughs again, and tells Tempest that he and his partner are both part of a 'flying club'. I tell the kids, “The name of the club is the… oh, I forgot. It’s a great name, so let me look it up.” As I flip through the campaign book, Evan makes a dial-up modem noise. Smart ass. “Ah yes, the Feathergale club. They all ride flying mounts, like hippogriffs.”
I turn to Evan. “Roll a Strength check.” Evan rolls an 8. “Unnoticed by Folax, the woman rider on the other hippogriff suddenly does a swirling motion with her arms like this.” I demonstrate. “And then pushes her hands at you! A blast of wind rips the crossbow out of your hands and lands on the grass almost 15 feet away!”
“An air-bender?” murmurs Jojo, referencing ‘The Last Airbender’.
The human male smiles and tells them that they are welcome to try to join the flying club anytime they want, and walks back to his hippogriff.
Jojo waves. “Ooo! Ooo! Before you go, can I pet your hippogriff, please!?”
I tell her. “He laughs uproariously as he mounts his hippogriff. He says, ‘No.’ Then he and his partner launch into the air and fly off into the night.”
Jojo snorts. “I really don’t like these guys!”
Yes, I know, it’s called the “Feathergale Society”, but “Feathergale club” sounds more crass to me. And yes, deviation from the DM’s carefully prepared script is very common in our games.
So the PotA campaign recommends that the party of characters be at least Level 3 before starting on the main adventure path. For a party of new characters, there are four or five 'starter' quests which can be used to level them up accordingly. I was hoping to use the 'Bears & Bows' quest, which involves attacking a camp of bandits which happens to have a captive bear, but the kids had other plans. The Random Encounter roll of 4 (Owlbear) and 9 (Feathergale knights) allowed me to introduce some sinister 'air-bending' characters. I'm happy that this seems to have worked very well.
The Elk tribe is part of the Uthgardt human barbarian tribes in the Dessarin Valley. The campaign book refers to them as hostile to outsiders, but I thought it'd be interesting to have the kids start with a good relationship with them.