When we left our heroes they had just managed to get inside Harpshield Castle. A band of Orcs were currently camped in the castle and were likely to defend their position if challenged. The Half-Orcs in the party and the Drow took the direct approach and walked right up to the front door asking for admittance. The rest of the party’s sneaky members climbed over the wall and into the pig pen.
We ran three tables this week at Harry T North in Toronto. The 4e table and D&D Next table were both full, as usual. I’ve given up calling the group Craig and I are running two tables because it’s not anymore. This week I ran both tables by myself as Craig was unable to make it. However, we only had seven players so it was certainly manageable.
We had two new players this week; one brand new to D&D Next and the other a regular who’d missed a few weeks. The party I ran ended up with the following members: Half-Orc Cleric, Half-Orc Barbarian, Drow Paladin, Halfling Rogue, Elf Ranger, Elf Cleric/Rogue, and Human Monk/Barbarian.
Assault on Harpshield Castle
The party began the session in two groups. The Halfling Rogue, Elf Ranger, Human Monk/Barbarian, and Elf Cleric/Rogue were all trying to use their superior abilities to be stealthy and were called team sneaky. The Half-Orc Cleric, Half-Orc Barbarian, and Drow Paladin were dubbed team diplomacy since they were trying to talk their way past the Orcs.
Three members of team sneaky managed to get up to the castle walls undetected and then climbed over the wall and into the Pigsty (#13). The fourth sneaky PC, the Rogue/Cleric decided to go elsewhere, find a better vantage point of everything and stay out of sight until something required his attention.
Back in the pigsty the PCs were surprised to find an Orog tending to the animals. The monster won initiative, ran up the steps, opened the door to the Arch Guard Hall (#12) and managed to get onto the bridge that connected the pigsty to the castle. As soon as the door was opened he called out to the two half-sleeping Orc guards to wake up and help him stop the intruders.
The Rogue’s speed and cunning allowed him to get onto the stairs and shoot one of the inattentive guards before he could get up. The Ranger’s tried a similar tactic but missed. The Monk ran out on to the bridge to face off with the Orog. The Orog managed to get one quick hit in on the Monk and the Monk managed one good hit in return despite making multiple attacks.
The Rogue switched targets, shooting instead at the other lazy Orc guard and scored a crit, killing him instantly. The Ranger killed the previously wounded Orc leaving just the Orog battling team sneaky. The Monk and Orog kept missing each other while the Rogue scored another crit badly wounding the Orog. When the Monk managed to drop his foe the PCs advanced across the bridge and into the Arming Room (#11).
The brief battle on the bridge didn’t seem to attract any attention. Likewise the other friendly PCs hadn’t done anything to start an all out war with the Orcs so team sneaky kept being sneaky. They cracked the door from the arming room to the courtyard open a little bit and saw the heroes from team diplomacy heading inside the tower as the doors were closed behind them.
Team sneaky decided to press their advantage and all three PCs decided to take a quick pot shot at the unsuspecting Ogre still standing in the courtyard. The Rogue and Ranger hit, the Monk missed. However the Rogue’s hit was a crit and nearly killed the beast in a single shot! As the Ogre roared out in pain team sneaky closed the door.
They could hear chaos erupting in the courtyard and after a round or two they opened the door again to see what was happening. Five Orcs in the camp grabbed weapons, while the others fled towards the Common Room (#10) in the north part of the castle. The Ogre was going berserk smashing the door to the tower so the PCs shot her again and killed her. The Orcs, now alert to danger, saw the arrows fly and charged the arming room door.
The Monk stood in the doorway forcing all comers to attack him. The Rogue and Ranger both used bows to shoot any approaching Orcs. Three rounds later they’d killed three Orcs and the Monk only took one superficial hit for his trouble.
The other member of team sneaky took advantage of the chaos to quickly and quietly grab an unsuspecting Orc, slit his throat, and then pulled him into the unoccupied area where the Rogue/Cleric had been hiding. The next round when the Orc’s companions came looking for him, the Rogue/Cleric did the same thing again.
Seeing no more Orcs in the courtyard the PCs ran from the arming room to the Lower Tower (#15) doors to see if their allies needed assistance. The Rogue/Cleric climbed on top of the common room, peered through a crack, and confirmed it was now empty.
This was the group with the Half-Orcs and the Drow. They’d initially gain admittance to the castle claiming that they were looking for a full-blooded Orc relative. When that ruse was played out the Drow said he had an offer from his matron to get the Orcs’ assistance with a raid on a nearby noble villa. An Orc relayed this offer to the Chief in the Upper Tower (#16). Before she came down she blew a whistle which alerted the guards as well as her pet Ogre who awoke, stood up, and moved out of her Pen (#4) to flank team Diplomacy.
The Orc “chief” who met with the PCs was in fact the tribe’s Shaman. But she clearly spoke with the authority of the actual chief whom she called the Albino Chief. The Drow relayed his offer. If the Orc tribe was willing to provide their strongest warrior to the Drow’s cause the tribe would be compensated. The Shaman agreed but needed assurances that the Drow would not simply take the Orc warrior as a slave nor reneg on their agreement if the raid was successful. She demanded the two Half-Orcs be locked in the castle’s dungeon until the champion returned. The Drow accepted the offer (without consulting the PCs who were standing right there).
The Shaman had one of the Orog guards lead the three PCs into the tower and close the doors behind them. Seconds later they heard the Ogre outside cry out in pain. The Shaman told the two Orog guards to keep the PCs under close guard while she headed upstairs to see what was happening.
The Cleric tried to nonchalantly cast Aid on the three PCs and managed to convince the Orogs that he was just fidgeting because he was nervous about going to the dungeon. The Orogs readied attacks just in case the party did anything stupid, which the Barbarian did. He raged and attacked the nearest Orog only to miss.
The Orogs attacked the closest PCs, the Paladin and the Barbarian, hitting both. The Shaman, who was just at the top of the circular staircase and could still see the PCs cast Spiritual weapon and bashed the Drow Paladin (the only 20 I rolled all night).
Despite the best efforts of the Cleric and Paladin, they couldn’t get past the Orog guards and up the stairs to engage the Shaman directly. When the PCs thought they’d killed the first Orog he managed to stay on his feet (a racial ability they have to remain at 1 hit point even if they should be dead). The next round the Orog did fall.
This left an opening for the Paladin who tried running up the stairs to fight the Shaman. The Shaman instead cast Hold Person and immobilized the Paladin, neutralizing him. When the second Orog guard took a lethal blow he too managed to stay on his feet. This time the Shaman healed him to keep him going a few more rounds. After healing her guard, the Shaman fled to the upper tower and closed the door behind her.
By the time the PCs killed the second Orog and the Paladin made a successful save to shrug off the Hold Person, the Shaman had escaped. The PCs burst into her chambers and she was gone. When they looked out the window they saw her fleeing. Despite their efforts to shoot her, she managed to get into the cover of the forest.
One Big Happy Party
The fighting ended for both groups in the same round coincidentally enough. Some PCs had beneficial magic buffs in effect so rather than search the main level of the castle thoroughly they ran around to all the rooms to make sure no more Orcs or Orogs were hiding. Satisfied that this level was clear they decided to head down into the dungeon.
Team sneaky used the trapdoor and rope ladder in the tower to access the lower level quietly. Team diplomacy, renamed team noisy, used the staircase they discovered in the room all the Orcs fled to during the fight.
Team sneaky ended up in the Tower Basement (#18) which was just an empty square room. The only door out was closed. Team noisy clomped down the stairs and right into the arms of the waiting Orcs who had set up an ambush in the Barracks (#17).
This week’s session may have taken two hours to complete but it certainly didn’t feel that way. The combat kept things moving and everyone had something to do every round. Some of the PCs that are very combat-oriented finally had a chance to show us what they’re really good at and kicked butt. We saw a lot of natural 20s this week including 4 of 5 attack rolls in a row from the Rogue. I only rolled one 20 as the DM but I rolled max damage a lot so it was all good.
With the party divided into two main groups for most of the fight I think I should have worked the initiative differently. I did what you’d expect and had everyone roll initiative and slotted them accordingly. It made for a lot of jumping from one group to the other. Looking back I should have done all the actions for group 1 (PCs and the monsters) and then switched and done the same for group 2 each round. The reason I didn’t was because I thought the two groups might decided to interact with each other. They did not. Oh well, live and learn.
Despite all the combat this week the party still only managed to clear out the upper section of Harpshield Castle. I really thought that they’d get into the dungeon and finish that up this week, but it just wasn’t happening. It’s pretty clear now that the party will only get to three of the five areas of interest (at best).
This adventure has so much potential and I really think it would make for an amazing 6-month home campaign. I think putting something this beefy out as an Encounters season was a mistake. There’s just too much here for any DM to possibly get their group through it in just 12 sessions. I realize that’s likely the point and that Wizards intentionally provided lots to do so that groups could choose their own path, but it is frustrating know what great things await the party at each of the locations they won’t get to.
Where is your party? Which areas have you visited so far? Where do you see them going next?
- 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.