D&D Encounters: Scourge of the Sword Coast (Weeks 5 & 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 27, 2014

scourge-of-the-sword-coast-coverWe ended week 4 with the party exploring the subterranean area beneath Julkoun. Regrettably I was unable to participate in the week 5 session, but the game went on without me. So in this week’s blog post I’ll do my best to quickly recap what happened while I was away and the move on to the details of what happened this week.

We’re still running four tables at Hairy T North in Toronto. The other two tables (one 4e and one D&D Next) have been full with six players at each most weeks. Craig and I continue to see the numbers at our combined tables dwindle. Last week Craig ran both groups together but only had eight players. This week we again had eight players but with two DMs. I’m not sure why we’ve lost so many of our regulars. Although we have had a few walk-ins this season, only one has stuck around. Two of the players at my table already told me they’ll be absent during the next few sessions so our super table may be down to a single table before the season ends.

This week the party ended up with the following members present: Half-Orc Mage, Half-Orc Paladin, Half-Orc Cleric, Elf Ranger, Elf Cleric/Rogue, Gnome Druid, Halfling Rogue, and Drow Paladin.

Week 5 – Julkoun

Underground Shelter (#22)

The party couldn’t pick the lock so they smashed the door down to finally gain admittance into the Underground Shelter. What they saw were Goblins hiding behind overturned beds, ready to defend themselves and fight the party.

The party rushed in and the battle began. The Goblins didn’t really pose much of a threat since they fell with one hit most of the time. The Mage managed to catch a bunch of Goblins in the area of his sleep spell early on which made the first few rounds easier for team heroes. The Hobgoblin bosses proved to be more problematic.

The heroes felt confident and moved to engage additional Goblins hiding in the adjacent Storage Room (#23) and Northern Well Room (#24). It looked like it would be an easy victory until the Goblin Shaman stepped out of the Defiled Shrine (#25). At the shaman’s side were two Giant Vipers which slithered towards the PCs. The Shaman cast flaming sphere catching most of the PCs by surprise.

The party had sense enough to focus fire on the Hobgoblin bosses in order to drop them quickly and then focus everything they had on the Shaman. The coordinated effort yielded the expected results and the heroes eventually defeated all the monsters hiding in the four rooms.

Defiled Shrine (#25)

While searching the Defiled Shrine after the fight, the Drow Paladin was able to read the Goblinoid scrawling etched over the previously beautiful frescos. He noted one particularly worrisome passage: “The Red Wizard gave it wings of shadow.”

Julkoun Aftermath

Once all the monsters were killed and the village secured the PCs retrieved their boat and then filled it with supplies from the warehouse. Three uneventful days later they made it back to Daggerford.

Word of their return and the fate of Julkoun spread quickly throughout Daggerford. The PCs were rewarded with the 25 gp each that Lord Daggerford promised for the return of goods and a confirmed report of Julkoun’s status.

Sherwin Miller introduced the PCs to local hero, Sir Isteval, who had recently returned from a trip to Waterdeep. Sir Isteval thanked the PCs for their services to date and insisted they join him and his companions at his home tonight for dinner. There they could tell him more of what they experienced in Julkoun.

Week 6 – Dinner in Daggerford

The PCs spent some time selling the treasures and wares they recovered from Julkoun, and then resupplied for the coming adventures ahead before reconvening at Sir Isteval’s villa. Once at Sir Isteval’s home he introduced them to his companions: Darfin Floshin and Kelson Darktreader. They had news of what was happening to the north of Daggerford but first wanted the PCs to recount their tales of Julkoun.

After hearing the details Isteval made a few keen observations and comments. First, where were all the people of Julkoun? There weren’t enough bodies found to account for everyone. Perhaps some escaped, but more likely they were captured and brought someplace else. Second, he cautioned the PCs about mentioning they’d read the words “Red Wizard” among the Shaman’s scrawling. The mere mention that a Red Wizard might be involved could send the masses into a hysterical panic. Without further evidence he recommended they keep this piece of information secret.

During the conversation Kelson mentioned that the Duke assigned him with the ridiculous task of searching the countryside near Daggerford for the thieves who stole the Delimbiyr Bloke. The PCs mentioned the coincidental timing of Jekk’s disappearance and the Bloke being stolen. Sir Isteval put an end to those suspicions by standing up for his friend, Jekk, and assuring the PCs that Jekk would never have stolen the stone despite his fascination with it.

The NPCs then told the heroes about their encounters with Gnolls and Orcs north of Daggerford. The monsters were getting bolder and more aggressive. Kelson mentions that a group of adventurers went on an expedition to the ruins of Harpshield Castle about a month ago and haven’t returned. The adventurers had reason to believe they might find some overlooked treasure in the old castle and were willing to face the monsters in the area including Orcs and Gricks.

Sir Isteval suggested the PCs head to Harpshield Castle to see if they could find the missing adventurers. It was entirely possible they never made it to the castle and the treasures could still be there, ripe for the taking. Half the party wanted to find loot while the other half of the party was concerned for the missing adventurers. All agreed that at first light they’d head to Harpshield Castle.

Harpshield Castle

All that remains of Harpshield Castle are the walls and the foundation. It hasn’t been a functioning castle in over 500 years and time and weather have taken their toll on the site. Wanderers, nomads, hunters, and adventurers have all camped in the castle’s courtyard over the centuries. A tribe of Human barbarians known as the Gurs fixed the place up about a decade earlier, but have long since abandoned the site.

The castle sits atop a large hill that rises 200 feet above the surrounding countryside and nearby forest. The nearest tree line is more than 500 feet from the walls making it difficult to approach undetected.

The party approached the hill from the forest but stopped to observe before stepping out from the foliage. The party’s scouts spotted Orcs in the castle keeping watch. The Druid transformed into a hawk and flew over the castle to do an aerial reconnaissance. This time she was not shot down and easily got the lay of the land including the number of Orcs in the castle’s courtyard.

The PCs decided to split up so each could take advantage of their best talents. The Rogue, Rogue/Cleric, and Ranger all decided to slowly and carefully creep up to the castle walls. By taking their time they had no problem and were not detected. The Druid waited an hour and then again transformed into the hawk and flew up to the castle.

The three Half-Orcs and the Drow decided to be direct and walked slowly and confidently up the path to the front door. The PCs were easily spotted and two Orc guards came to intercept them. The Orcs were cautious but curious.

The PCs made up a story about searching for their full-blooded Orc relatives. The Drow was their companion in arms. The guards knew better than to let the PCs into the castle but the Mage’s suggestion spell changed that and they were escorted right on in.

Once all the PCs were at the castle the Druid (still in hawk form) screeched. The PCs who walked in the front door didn’t know what that meant. The Rogue and Ranger sprang into action, climbing the wall and jumping into the pig pen. Their plan was to release the pigs into the courtyard to cause panic. They didn’t realize there was an Orc tending to the pigs that spotted them and put up a fight.

In the courtyard one of the guards called the tribe together to see if any of them were the Orcs the PCs were looking for. Obviously none were. The PCs were unsure what to do next so they asked to speak with the tribe leader. The Drow wanted to know if the tribe would help his mistress attack some nearby surface targets. The guard headed into the tower to speak with the chief.

The PCs could hear a commotion coming from the pig pen but had no idea what was happening so they ignored it. The Rogue/Cleric had climbed over the castle walls and was hiding among some rubble keeping an eye on everything.

The guard returned and asked the PCs to come to the base of the tower where they could meet with the chief. They complied. As the doors opened one massive Orc guard came outside while another remained inside. A piercing sound of a whistle came from the top of the tower. The Orcs did not react to it at all. However, from a nearby room the PCs heard the sounds of chains rattling. The big Orc guard smiled.

From the room where the chains were rattling a giant Ogre plodded out, looked around and then moved behind the PCs, opposite the Guards at the base of the tower. The PCs were surrounded.

Thoughts

I find that this season it’s really taking a while to get things going. There are plenty of great role-playing opportunities and the players are having a lot of good interactions with each other and the NPCs, but it’s bringing the action to a halt. I think having the large group is partly to blame but it just seems that this adventure has serious issues with pacing.

If this were a home game I don’t think it would be as big an issue, but two hours once a week just isn’t enough time to get things done. Just when it starts getting good we have to stop for the week. Then the following week it takes a while to get back into the grove. Is anyone else experiencing this issue with this adventure?

Despite my misgivings, I am having fun and I believe the players are too. There is a lot of stuff happening and the PCs are right in the thick of it. This week they finally made it to the next location of interest. I’m guessing it will take them two more session to complete their adventures at Harpshield Castle. Craig and I will need to decide if we’re going to cut more content or possibly split the party into two and send them each to different areas simultaneously. We’ll see how things progress and ask the group what they’d prefer.

I want to commend my group for doing a great job of separating player knowledge from character knowledge over the past few sessions. Rather than recreate the maps, we’ve just printed large copies of the ones from the PDF adventure. These maps have rooms numbered and show traps, secret doors, placements of certain creatures, and other areas of interest. The players have acted appropriately in-character and have not let these indicators sway their decisions or affect they way they’d play their character. Good job, guys.

So we’re half way through this season. Do you feel like you’re half way through? How much have you completed so far? What are other DMs planning to do with the weeks remaining to wrap things up? Has anyone had issues with players misbehaving because they could see things on the maps?

Additional Resources

  • Pre-generated characters: Visit our D&D Next Pre-Generated Character Library where you can download the level 2 pre-gens that came with this season’s adventure.
  • Maps: A two-part poster map came with the Launch Weekend kits. If you want your own copy you can now download the poster map. Half is the map of the Sword Coast, half is the detailed map of Daggerford.

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with fellow Toronto DM, Craig Sutherland, and 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. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.

Note: New episodes of Recounting Encounters will be available in our D&D Encounters Archive and on iTunes on Wednesdays moving forward. Now DMs can listen before they play.

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.

We’re experiencing technical difficulties getting the actual play podcasts uploaded. We recorded the sessions but just haven’t been able to upload the files. As soon as we resolve the issue we’ll post them immediately.

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.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe March 27, 2014 at 9:59 am

We ran 2 tables last night, 5 & 4, both doing my rewritten 4e version of the adventure, at Modern Myths in Northampton.

Last week the party had fought gnolls outside the Phylund Lodge, which had some weird nature magic making all wildlife in the surrounding area rather crazy. This week they went into the lodge, and were met by HUNDREDS OF GAPING MAWS AND SHARP TEETH!

The stuffed animal heads of the Phylund family scared the party briefly, but they soon recovered. The party knew the history of the Phylund family, a famous family of wealthy hunters from Waterdeep. They knew that the last of the family line, a young lad named Turok, had last been heard from a few years ago when he went off with that druid to the Isle of Dread, but nobody had seen him since (NOTE: only 1 or two at my table got the references to Turok the Dinosaur Hunter and the dinosaur-themed Lair Assault, but it was still worth it for me to throw in there). They also knew that the Red Wizards were apparently taking artifacts (like the Delimbiyr Bloke) for unknown purposes, and that the Phylund Lodge was said to have artifact(s) related to hunting/nature gods, so the were on the look-out for Red Wizards potentially looting said artifacts.

In the house, they heard high-pitched, wicked laughter and a loud roaring, like that of a giant creature. Sneaking around the corner to peer into the main room, they saw an imp flying around the room, shooting magic at a large dire bear and laughing at it as the bear failed to hit the imp back. The bear shuddered every time it was hit with the magic, but as it turned, the party saw that it was just a dire bear’s SKIN, with head & claws attached… effectively an animated dire bearskin rug. The party scared the imp off, and the rug circled and lay down again.

The Nature-trained & Arcana-trained in the group did some testing ont he rug, and eventually determined that it was an artifact to Melora that could, if the proper ritual was performed, summon a prime example of a desired species to the area to be hunted. They determined that the imp’s tormenting had set the rug’s magic on overdrive, which explained the crazy wildlife behavior outside. Taking the rug with them (it was no longer animated), they proceeded to search the lodge.

I had a lot of fun with a random item table for perception checks, and I tried to go really old-school with the potential items. The low Perception range had things like Rusty Butter Knife and 1d4 Squirrel Livers, while the mid range had various non-magical (but still cool-looking) clothing & accessories made from animal parts, and the higher range had magic items, pseudo-magic items (roll of eternal toilet paper), and the trap door that lead down to the next area.

Upon going into the basement, the party entered a 15’x15′ room with a shelf running around the edge, lit by several small fire braziers. The imp was here, and he asked if the party were the ones destined to bring back his devil master Baazka. The party interacted with the imp (whose name was Toot-Toot) for a while, learning about the powerful devil trapped between worlds by the closing of some portal, and eventually found out that one of the Red Wizards was further down, studying something. The party eventually convinced Toot-Toot to open the way down for them, at which point the floor disappeared and they all fell 100 feet or more.

I should note that I threw this in because I felt like the whole Baazka plot is important to the season, but not really referenced in any way the players could find out in the original adventure. So I added Toot-Toot as an amusing opportunity for the party to get some valuable information in a non-text-dump kind of way. It worked well.

The party was slowed by the magics at the bottom of the fall, landing in Thegger Grynn’s lab (DC 15 Acro to land on their feet instead of prone, but no damage). The Red Wizard turned from his research with a sigh, saying that it was a shame the slowing magics were permanent, or else the fall would have done the work of killing them for him. As a pile of bones in the corner blazed to life with fire (a blazing skeleton), a battle with the red wizard began.

The fight wasn’t too hard, though the party gained a respect for ongoing fire damage (after the Icewind Dale season, they’d almost forgotten). Afterwards they found numerous arcane texts on portal creation, increasing the size of portals, and holding them open longer so that more things could pass through them. They also found a note:
“Thegger, increase the weapon shipments to the orcs to ensure their silence about the Bloodgate Keep project. – Valindra”

Some Streetwise checks revealed that the party had heard of Valindra Shadowmantle, one of the leaders of the Red Wizards, and they finally had their culprit for the “who’s been handing better weapons to the monstrous tribes” sub-plot. Nobody, no matter how high they rolled, had heard of Bloodgate Keep, though, so they presumed it was a new creation, and as they all had those pretty maps from WotC of the region, someone suggested that if the Red Wizards built a site with big portals this close to Waterdeep, they might be able to bring some really BAD things to the area.

The party had no way back up to the lodge, so they looked around and found a secret door leading to a long passage slowly sloping upward. They reached the surface to look out at a ruined keep on a rocky rise. They could hear common orcish expletives like “SQUABOO” and “LOK-TAR” being yelled, and knew they were likely among the orcs mentioned in Valindra’s letter.

Next week, we’ll do the Harpshield Castle plot.

2 Joe March 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

And yes, regarding the 2-hour limit, that was the biggest challenge in trying to rewrite this season to be specific to an organized play, D&D Encounters-type setup: making sure that the important plot elements fit into 2-hour blocks that made sense and didn’t feel forced. It’s a constant struggle to let players feel like they have some freedom to explore, interact, and try things, while at the same time essentially railroading them towards certain plots and areas.

I’ve found that adding blatant references to the more subtle plots has made it easier to reveal those… for instance, the party has found a number of references to how most men in town seem taken by Natyssa (love notes, painted portraits, etc)… which will make the reveal about her make much more sense when it happens. Or adding in the extra mentions about Baazka so he doesn’t come out of nowhere later on.

There are still tons of potential plots in the published version that we’re skipping over, but I think our players will have the chance to experience the big ones, and enough little ones to feel like they’re having a unique experience (even if it’s a consistently “unique” experience across tables to accommodate players moving table-to-table each week).

3 Vobekhan March 27, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I have printed a set of the unmarked maps off for when the players need them so I havent had any problem with character/player knowledge issues, though I’m prety sure my players would be able to seperate the two.

Going by how long my guys have taken on the previous locations I think I’m going to have to cut Phylund Lodge out and just continue with Harpshield and Floshin Estate before the “finale” leading into Dead In Thay.

The 2 hours feels a bit tight some sessions and we might be looking at extending it depending on the players availability as both they and myself rely on public transport timetables.

The good news is that Encounters has encouraged several of our regular players to begin playing in their own home campaign also using the Next playtest rules.

We all agree we are enjoying the “traditional” adventure feel of this season more than LotCS though.

4 Frank Foulis March 31, 2014 at 1:42 am

I have gone to 3 and a half hours since Storm over Neverwinter and have not looked back. Running using D&D Next with a mix of theater of mind and then mini’s and maps. I have been complaining as the DM because my players have focused on smaller details like wanting to search the wilds for Sir Isteval and ignores any prodding from me to get them to the right place.

Right now I do not think I will finish at the right time.

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