Beginning this week every party participating in this season’s adventure will have the option of following one of three adventure paths. So there is a strong likelihood that the path my group took this week will not match the path your group took this week. It’s going to be tough to describe what happened without giving away some spoilers. Please be mindful of this as you continue reading.
Players who don’t want to know what’s still to come may want to delay reading this recap until they’ve had an opportunity to complete this part of the adventure. DMs who have not yet run this adventure path can hopefully learn from my ups and downs to make their DMing experience better when the time comes.
This week we had a great turn out as our numbers continued to grow. We had three tables with five players each. We haven’t seen this kind of turnout since the Dark Sun adventure back in season 2. My table had five players: two new players (one brand new last week, one brand new this week) along with three seasoned veterans (one a DM at another FLGS). The party consisted of an Elf Slayer, Pixie Wizard (Witch), Drow Wizard, Tiefling Ardent/Battle Mind (hybrid), and Fargrim the Dwarf Fighter (Slayer) pre-gen.
We picked things up in Hommel Lane. At the end of last week’s session the PCs decided to get a room at the Golden Grain Inn with the intention of pursuing the bandits the following morning. When the PCs gathered in the common room the next morning they noticed one Dwarf from the night before was still drinking. He asked the party if he could tag along with them since all of his drinking buddies were on the floor passed out and weren’t any fun. They party agreed to let him come with them.
This new Dwarf friend had spent enough time in and around Hommel Lane that he knew the way to the Moat House and was able to guide the party. After trekking four hours through light forest, the party emerged from the tree line and spotted the Moat House in the distance. They watched the fort for about half an hour and saw no signs guards, patrols or anyone coming or going. They proceeded with caution, weapons sheathed.
Anticipating that they’d find the bandits inside the Moat House they decided they’d try to talk to them rather than just attack. Realizing that they’d need some kind of explanation for who they were and why they were here they kicked around some ideas.
With a successful History check a couple of the PCs realized that no one actually owns the Moat House so even if the bandits were using it, they didn’t necessarily have any real claim on the property. The Dwarf threw out the idea of posing as a descendent of the original owner and asserting his right of ownership. He’d allow the bandits to stay there if they paid a tax, and he’d wave the tax if the bandits engaged the party in conversation rather than hostilities.
This plan was eventually dismissed in favour of one that the bandits might actually believe. The PCs would claim that they’d stirred up trouble in Hommel Lane and were chased out. They would claim that the authorities were after them and that the party needed a place to rest and possibly mount a counter attack.
As the PCs approached the Moat House they noticed the torrid state of the fort including the destroyed second story, the damaged front doors, the rickety drawbridge and the two sizable holes in the walls. Poor Perception checks didn’t reveal any guards or other signs of immediate danger. There was a brief discussion about one of the Wizards trying to sneak in through a hole in the wall, but that was dismissed in favour or party unity and strength in numbers.
When the PCs entered the courtyard a voice called out to them. “You’re not welcome here. Leave now or be killed.” The fast-talking Ardent rolled a couple of stellar Bluff checks and managed to engage the bandit leader in dialogue and hold off any attack. The leader agreed to let the PCs stay in the Moat House to discus their shared problem of the Hommel Lane authorities, but as a gesture of good will she insisted the PCs all drop their weapons. When they did she called out to the archers “FIRE!”
The eight archers got a surprise attack and fired upon the five PCs. Then we rolled for initiative. The archers rolled a natural 20 and went at the top of the order. Eight more shots flew at the five PCs. Of the 16 arrows fired, 14 hit. Before the PCs even got to act they were all bloodied. And to add insult to injury they all had to spend a minor action to pick up their weapons on their turn.
It looked like it as going to be a disastrous TPK, but smart tactics made a huge difference. The Drow Wizard popped his Cloud of Darkness which saved the PCs during the next arrow volley. The Witch ran up to one of the arrow slits and cast Beguiling Strands through the arrow slit to take out two archers. She then fell prone making her harder to hit by the remaining archers. The Elf Slayer charged the nearest arrow slit and managed to hit and drop an archer.
From the guard room near the front of the Moat House the PCs heard a voice call out, “Mr. Ribbit, come on, boy. Help your master.” Seconds later they saw a frog the size of a man emerge from the shallow pond and slowly start approaching the courtyard.
The bandit leader appeared from the darkness and deftly threw her dagger at the Ardent scoring a hit. With only a few hit points remaining, the Ardent moved into the Cloud of Darkness and healed himself. The Wizard fired Magic Missiles at the leader preferring a guaranteed hit over the chance of missing with a more substantial attack.
Before the Dwarf Slayer acted I turned to him and in a very serious tone said “You know what I think you should do this turn? I think you should roll a 20 on this attack roll.” The player, also being completely serious turned to me and said, “OK, I will.” He charged the bandit leader and rolled a natural 20. Max damage plus Power Strike (also maxed) dropped her. After the cheering died down and the high-5s were done I explained action points to this new player. He chose to use his action point to charge the only other archer in his range, scoring another hit and dropping another bandit.
Unfortunately this display of heroics brought the wrath of the Dwarven bandit upon the Slayer. One hit dropped the hero as he only had about 5 hit points left. The Elf Slayer charged in to avenger her fallen comrade and scored a hit. However, the bandit was still very healthy and on his next turn he dropped the Elf as well.
Meanwhile the rest of the party took out the remaining archers. The Ardent went toe-to-toe with the giant frog killing him with minimal difficulty. The Dwarf who called out for the frog was devastated when his pet was killed and he charged the Ardent. With the three conscious PCs still facing off against two Dwarven bandits they had no chance to get to their fallen allies. Both unconscious PCs failed their first two death saves. They finally managed to drop one Dwarf Bandit and get to the wounded PCs but the Dwarf Slayer failed his third death save before he could be stabilized. They just managed to stabilize the Elf, although the Wizard had to endure an opportunity attack to get to her in time.
With the final Dwarf Bandit still swinging the Wizard decided for the first time all night to not use Magic Missile and try another power that could inflict more damage. What the player didn’t realize was that a Magic Missile would have killed the bandit. If he missed the attack roll the Dwarf Bandit could possibly kill another PC. Fortunately the Wizard hit and did enough damage to drop the final combatant.
The PCs declared at the beginning of the battle that they were not going to kill any of the bandits. They believed that if they captured them and returned them to Hommel Lane they might get some kind of reward. Once they had them all securely tied up they decided to search the rest of the Moat House before reviving any of them.
In the leader’s room was a locked chest. Rather than pick the lock they looked for a key on the leader, which they found. However, they made no effort to look for traps and unfortunately set one off when they tried to open the chest.
One of the rooms was barred and written on the outside was “Sick Room. Keep door locked.” The PCs decided to heed the warning. In another area the PCs found boxes and crates filled with supplies, the spoils of the bandits’ raiding. Some boxes had Wyndell’s symbol on them.
A staircase leading down was blocked by a stone door, clearly added recently. Upon the door were magical sigils which the two Wizards understood required a password or phrase to bypass.
When the bandits were revived the leader tried to bargain for her life. She agreed to be cooperative if the PCs agreed not to execute her. She agreed to stand trial in Hommel Lane for her crimes. The PCs were bitter about the whole drop your weapons ploy from earlier and were not inclined to show mercy. She sweetened the deal by telling them about her accomplices in Hommel Lane. They finally agreed.
When asked about he sick room she explained that the mad men inside were cursed. They were the subjects of the cultists residing beneath the Moat House. She had no idea what the pass phrase might be and she doesn’t want to know. The cult leader, Lareth the Beautiful, is clearly an evil and vile man. She doesn’t like dealing with him and will be glad to be gone from here. The PCs returned to Hommel Lane, accompanied by prisoners carrying Wyndell’s goods.
Despite a PC’s death the group really had a fun time with this encounter. The combat proved difficult but that was really due in large part to my hot DM dice. Had the initiatives been different or few archer attacks not hit, things might have gone very differently. I know another table at my FLGS that ran this encounter had a TPK.
In retrospect I’d recommend that any DM running this encounter make the archers go last in the initiative. I’d also consider reducing the archers attack scores (which are +11 vs. AC) by 2 or more. This seemed really high to me.
Although the adventure doesn’t really give a talking option I felt it made for a more interesting approach to the confrontation. The fact that no one in my party was great at Diplomacy or Bluff pretty much ensured there would be combat, but a more glib party may be able to turn the tide before blood is shed.
I actually removed one giant frog from the combat. DMs should remember that you can make changes on the fly if the party is having trouble or if they’re just walking all over the monsters. Of course if the party doesn’t visit the Moat House until they’re level 2 or 3 they’ll likely have an easier time and you’ll want to throw both frogs at them.
One final thought is that DMs should encourage creative thinking and unusual tactics. My group considered splitting up but the “Never split the party” mantra seemed to trump that call. Remember that this adventure draws heavily from old-school adventures and in some circumstances splitting up may actually be beneficial so don’t dismiss it out of hand.
Which path did you follow? For those who went to the Moat House how did things go? Any one else have a PC die? Any other TPKs?
Recounting Encounters Podcast
Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with Marc Talbot (Alton) from 20ft Radius in which we recount that week’s experiences with D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective FLGS and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. This season we welcome another gamer to our podcast, Craig Sutherland, one of the other DMs that runs and plays with me in Toronto. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.
Actual Play Podcasts
We continue to record our D&D Encounters sessions and make them available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.
Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.