D&D Encounters: Scourge of the Sword Coast (Week 7)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 3, 2014

scourge-of-the-sword-coast-coverWhen 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.

Team Sneaky

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.

Team Diplomacy

harpshield-castle-level-1This 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).

Thoughts

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?

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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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe April 3, 2014 at 9:59 am

This week my table (playing a 4e version of the adventure) had emerged from the underground laboratory of a red wizard beneath the Phylund hunting lodge, and were looking out over a somewhat ruined castle (Harpshield) that appeared to be full of orcs. They’d intercepted correspondence that the orcs were being supplied with high quality weapons to ensure their silence about something called “Bloodgate Keep”, and were eager to learn what the orcs were up to.

Seeing orcish patrols moving around, they knew they didn’t have a lot of time, but they also saw guards in the tower with heavy crossbows, and knew that a full frontal assault was unwise. This would require some plotting (and a free-form skill challenge). I gave them the following info:
- the castle was about 200 yards away, but the patrols were definitely coming through their area
- about 50 yards from them, in the woods, was a herd of deer
- a swampy area was on one side of the castle, and the walls appeared more crumble in that region
- there was a decent part of the wall to climb, though it was in full view of the guard tower
- there was also a wooded region near the walls with tall trees
- it was fairly cloudy, and the Nature-trained estimated about a 30% chance of some rain in the next day or so

The party decided to scare the deer into running in front of the castle, which drew the guards’ attention. They then moved in to climb the walls, falling only occasionally. When they got around on the other side, they ran into an orc storm shaman, who was calling some orc reavers to join him in going after the deer. When he saw intruders, though, the fight was on (success in the skill check meant that the party was not surprised, and that there were fewer orcs prepared to deal with them).

The battle was pretty fierce, with each orc having that annoying/awesome “Savage Demise” power that lets them take a standard action when they die. The party split up all over the map, which wasn’t the greatest tactic, but they soon learned the error of their ways, and focused fire first on the shaman, then on each of the reavers. Since they killed all the orcs, there was no interrogating to be done. Next week they’ll explore more of Harpshield Castle, eventually meeting with the “Pale Chieftain”, who has made his own deals with the necromantic Red Wizards.

2 Auiva April 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm

We ran a 4e table of 7 this week (paladin, blackguard, fighter and avenger make our melee wall, with bard, cleric-warlord and invoker providing extra attacks, debuffs and heals from further back), Which first consisted of finishing up the last of Phylund hunting lodge we’ve been at for the last few sessions. We then returned briefly to Daggerford, before finally shrugging about what to do next and actually go after the Bloc and Jack up at the dwarven hold.

I have to say, after a rousing battle last week in the basement of the lodge, wedged between both oncoming gnolls and undead, I think we were expecting to find…more. We’re all pretty sure we PCs missed something important in the place (and probably important to the plot), but aren’t sure what. The gnolls have been successfully cleared from the areas, and two sessions before we’d found a red wizard, however we unsuccessfully have been able to make anyone talk and it’s led to many puzzle pieces that we’re unsure how to connect. Most of this week was spent in exploration of the remainder of the lodge, expecting perhaps another fight, but mostly going in circles (which was sort of our own fault when it came to perception checks).

I give full credit to our DM for doing his best to keep us on the adventure, and attempting to streamline it to fit the 12 weeks. However, the lingering sense that we are only scratching the surface still exists (a feeling that is similar to the last two seasons), and reading the DMs’ comments above my own suggests that this feeling exists because it’s true.

WOTC has decided to create complicated, multi-pronged adventures, to which I give them kudos, but several months of play with these adventures in a public play setting as both a player and DM confirms for me that WOTC, if it intends to keep its Encounters program alive, needs to reconsider its setup. Either slightly less sprawling adventures, or else more time for each season. Then again, I have primarily been at the 4e tables, and fully admit that the combat system of that edition means chunking the playing time in a certain way. However, I feel that the stories being told are sprawling enough (and often with tenuous connections that the players can’t necessarily suss out) that even 5e players may be feeling like they are not able to find all they want to in the allotted season? 5e players, how has this been for you?

3 Justin Yanta April 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

Well I have been traveling for work for a while and I managed to come back into town for 2 weeks before I headed out again. It was great timing as the Current GM had some conflicts with work and would not be able to run the adventure so I got the supplies from him and ran weeks 5 and 6 (we are a little behind because of the GM being busy).

Special note: The player characters continued with the Icewind Dale characters so they were all level 4.
Week 5:
Well knowing that at level 4 18 goblins would be a pushover I decided to drop 50 goblins (Special they gained ADV if 3+ goblins attacked the same target), 5 Hobgoblins (using Orc stats), and 2 giant vipers with a custom shaman. Also I modified the map some and made a choke point for the goblins to trap the party. A new player to D&D joined the table along with a lot of the regulars.
Party:
Halfling Rogue – Assassin
Tiefling Rogue – Assassin
Dragonborn Paladin – Order/Shieldmaster
Warforged Paladin – Order/Defense
Ranged Fighter – Weaponmaster/Ranged
Drow Bard – Wit/Ranged
Elf Druid – ?/Ranged

The Halfling and the Tiefling manged to pick the locks on the door and the Halfling snuck into the room. 30 goblins and 3 Hobgoblins were there (most were sleeping 10 Goblins and 1 Hobgoblin were eating). The Halfling snuck in by everyone and managed to Assassinate the Hobgoblin and one of the Goblins and then retreated under the table. It was time for battle

The battle lasted a long time but the main highlights:
1. Druid cast moonbeam on the sleeping goblins burning them up easily
2. Goblins kept swarming the party and really hurt the Paladins (Warforged AC was 21 while the Dragonborn was 19. The ADV helped)
3. After turn 3 the last 20 goblins and 2 hobgoblins charged in from opposite sides of the room. Everyone’s jaws dropped at the wave of bodies coming at them.
4. The Ranged Fighter, both rogues had 2 attacks (ranged fighter was using the ranged feat to get 2 attacks). That wiped out most of the goblins along with the moonlight
5. Turn 5 the Shaman showed up with the snakes and poisoned a few people. The party was almost dead at the end.

The group won and found the boots of striding and springing. I made the boots “cursed” and the Dragonborn put them on. Now he always wants to move and roam around (thanks to the goddess that the boots came from [the defiled statue]). This is great fun because he is enjoying always wanting to keep moving, no stopping.

Week 6: The party moved up to Level 5 and took a long rest in the basement. They were leaving the village when a rabbit came up to them. The rabbit talked to the Druid and told him that the mistress of the glade needs his help. The Druid talked the others into the task and they followed the rabbit to the mistress of the glade. She told them that she would heal them and give them food and rest if they would stop the goblin raiders that were camped nearby and destroying here forest. The party agreed and headed to take out the raiders.

I had 20 wolf riders. The rider and wolf were together but if you killed the wolf the rider would go prone and then get up to fight. If you killed the rider the wolf would continue to fight.

I started with 6 riders at the camp and had a different person roll a 6 sided dice at the beginning of each turn to see how many more would show up till the 20 was reached. This again made a long fight but worn down the group. Everyone was hurt at the end and 3 people were koed (everyone but 2 people were bloodied). They saved one goblin and learned of a dwarven mine that all the villagers were taken too. The group headed back to the mistress of the grove and she cast 1 cure light wounds on each person that was bloodied. That healed them up slightly and the group headed to the mine to find the villagers and why they were taken.

It was fun to DM again and get people into the story. I also made the battles very hard for them just so they would remember the fights and feel like it was a victory. The new person that joined in Week 5 loved it so much that he went and bought some dice and miniatures because he really wanted to keep going. It is fun seeing new people enjoying the game. I hope to be back soon to have some more adventures with the group.

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