D&D Encounters: Scourge of the Sword Coast (Week 8.)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 10, 2014

scourge-of-the-sword-coast-coverDuring our last session the heroes took care of the Orcs, Orogs, and the Ogre that inhabited the upper levels of Harpshield Castle. Afterwards the party decided to split into two groups and head down into the lower levels of the castle ruins using different entry points.

This week we were back to running four tables at Harry T North in Toronto, although a lot of our regular players were absent. The 4e table only had three players, the other D&D Next table had their usual six, and Craig and I had seven players divided into two groups and using D&D Next. So we were down to 16 players from our usual 20+.

I ran Team Noisy: Drow Paladin, Hal-Orc Paladin, Half-Orc Cleric, and Half-Orc Mage. Craig ran Team Sneaky: Halfling Rogue, Elf Cleric/Rogue, and Human Monk/Barbarian.

Harpshield Castle – The Lower Levels

Team Noisy

Barracks (#17)

The PCs cautiously made their way downstairs, but knew that they were making a lot of noise. Once they reached the bottom of the stairs two Orogs made their presence known as they stepped out from behind pillars at the far end of the room, and charged into melee with the PCs.

The Paladins took point to absorb the brunt of the attacks from these two hulking creatures. The Orogs called out alerting unseen allies that the PCs had arrived. The next round four Orcs joined the battle.

The Mage cast Sleep on the Orcs but only managed to get one in his spell’s enthrall. Two Orcs held back from the melee and kept throwing javelins at the heroes. The lead Orc joined the Orogs in the melee.

When the first Orog fell, the javelin throwing Orcs moved in to attack with their axes. By the time the second Orog was killed the party had also dropped one of the Orcs, leaving only two Orcs on their feet and one snoring at the far end of the room.

Unbeknownst to the party, the Cleric/Rogue from Team Sneaky managed to reach the Barracks from a side passage completely undetected by anyone in the melee. He decided that the four PCs had things well in hand as there were only two Orcs left so he turned and rejoined his group in another area of the dungeon.

At the top of the next round four more Orcs came charging down the stairs to flank the PCs. The Cleric cast Cause Fear on all four new arrivals, but only got two with the spell. One immediately fled back up the stairs while the other ran to the far side of the room. When he saw his Orc friend asleep he woke him up.

The fight continued and the Cleric was the first PC to fall unconscious. Fortunately the Drow Paladin was close by and used Lay on Hands and revive him the next round. The Orcs eventually dropped. One tried to flee but was killed by the Half-Orc Paladin’s javelin. The last Orc warrior wouldn’t shame himself by running and fought to the death. Only the PCs decided not to kill him and instead knocked him out and tied him up.

Once all the monster were dealt with the PCs healed up as best they could, searched the bodies, searched the room, and then moved on. They hadn’t heard cries for help from their allies so they assumed they did not need their assistance.

Isolation Cell (#22)

As the party headed down the south passage the Drow Paladin emptied his bags of caltrops behind them. He didn’t want to make it easy for anyone to sneak up on them.

When the PCs reached a door the smell was overpowering. Whatever was inside was rotting and smelled putrid. They opened the door and inside was refuse and rotting organic bits. In the muck was a humanoid body, clearly deceased. The PCs made no effort to fish him out. They closed the door and moved on.

Grick Trap (#23)

Ahead the party saw a crude-looking wooden barricade in the hallway. Closer inspection revealed that it had sharpened spikes on both sides and small windows near the top. They opted to leave it for now and come back later.

Well Passage (#24)

The next set of door were wide opened and daylight shone into the hallway. When the PCs looked inside they realized this room contained a well. They remembered seeing a well above in the courtyard, obviously this is where the water was drawn from.

They also saw thick knotted ropes hanging from above. Apparently the Orcs who ran down the stairs during the combat in the Barracks climbed up here before circling back and flanking the PCs. They cut the ropes, closed the doors, and jimmied them locked, preventing any wandering Orcs or other monsters from coming back down this way.

Abandoned Tavern (#25)

The next door led to an abandoned tavern. The room had doors in the other three walls and all were opened. On the floor were three dead Zombies. Clearly Team Sneaky had come this way. In fact they saw them ahead about to enter the Warehouse (#27). Team Sneaky gave them a signal that they were fine and then a signal to go back the other way. Team Noisy turned and went back to the Grick Trap.

Grick Trap (#23)

grickWhen they rounded the corner the PCs saw a Grick on the other side of the barricade. They made appropriate checks to identify the creature and knew they were hostile. The Drow Paladin moved closer hoping to raise his crossbow through the opening in the barricade and shot the monster. However, the Grick won initiative and fled back around the corner.

Determined to find and kill the creature the PCs decided to disassemble the barricade carefully. They didn’t want to destroy it if possible. While they worked the Grick kept coming around the corner to peek at them. Finally the Drow Paladin was fed up and thrashed the barricade. After a few good chops it was destroyed and he moved forward to attack the Grick. The monster attacked but missed and then all four PCs attacked and killed it.

Around the corner the passage continued on and the heroes saw another barrier. In the walls to the south were rough passageways. Clearly these were not part of the original stonework and explained where the Gricks came from. They weren’t here to fight Gricks so they destroyed the other barrier and pressed onward.

Throne Room (#20)

In the next room the PCs saw a powerful looking Orc sitting atop a throne made of stones, bones, heads and skulls. This must be the Pale Chief the Shaman spoke of during the last session. The Half-Orc Wizard proceeded into the room alone. The Pale Chief had something in his hands, a large object with flat edges. He recognized the visitor as a Mage and smiled. “Are you here to help me unlock the magic in this relic?” he asked as he thrust the object towards the Mage. It was the Delimbiyr Bloke that went missing from Duke Daggerford’s residence.

The Mage played along. He began by translating the inscription for the Pale Chief, reading it loudly so his allies could hear: “Friendship is more than a word. Weigh it carefully.” The Pale Chief commanded the Mage to unlock the magic within it. When he could not the Chief pounced upon him revealing his true undead nature.

wightThe Pale Chief was an undead Wight and his touch attack dealt a devastating Energy Drain capable of instantly killing. The Mage took damage and was down to a mere 2 hit points. He wisely disengaged while his allies charged in to help him by fighting the Pale Chief.

The Chief was a devious and cunning opponent. He cast Cause Fear on three consecutive rounds until the Cleric and both Paladins had all failed saves and were magically frightened. Now they all had disadvantage on melee attacks against him and couldn’t approach we he stepped away towards the Mage.

During the second round of combat the PCs noticed zombies approaching. They’d been waiting in the Abandoned Storage (#21) room for the sounds of combat in the Throne Room. Two approached from the south and two from the west, surrounding the PCs in the room. The Mage kept stepping farther away from the Pale Chief and the defenders kept using their abilities to block attacks made against him. Their protection imposed disadvantage on the Pale Chief negating three natural 20s in a row, two of which ended up pairing with 1s.

The Paladins and Cleric easily destroyed the two Zombies that approached from the West but the Mage had to weave through the other two to escape and get back into the hallway. Risking two opportunity attacks, the Mage made a break for it and ran. The Pale Chief likewise risked the opportunity attacks knowing his opponents had disadvantage and ran after the Mage.

Let’s pause for a minute to see how the other PCs were making out.

Team Sneaky

Although I didn’t run this table I got a brief report from Craig. The group wanted to make use of their sneaky abilities so they progressed very slowly and cautiously. They checked every door they found for traps and used surprise during combat encounters to try and drop foes quickly and quietly.

They began in the Tower Basement (#18). Once through the door the Cleric/Rogue went to check on the other party in the Barracks (#17). Seeing that they had things well in hand he backed off.

Team Sneaky then headed into the Abandoned Tavern (#25) where they quickly and easily dispatched the three Zombies wandering around in there. In the Orc Treasure Room (#26) they found a locked chest which they opened without incident. Inside they found treasure including a map.

As they backtracked through the tavern and on to the Warehouse (#27) they heard Team Noisy coming up behind them. They signaled for them to go back which they did. In the Warehouse they first attacked the spider husk before battling a Grick. In the south wall they found a rough passage that the Grick created. Following it south they found the Grick Burrow (#30) and then the Grick Hatchery (#29) to the west.

In the Grick Hatchery they had to face more Gricks which they handled easily. They decided to gather up a bunch of Grick eggs to throw at any Orcs they might yet face in the dungeon as a lark. Furthermore they decided to stomp on the rest of the eggs. It didn’t take long for more Gricks to show up and swarm Team Sneaky.

The Gricks launched themselves at the three PCs, overwhelming them. The party took heavy damage and the Gricks kept on coming. The PCs pushed on to the Grick Burrow (#28) but the monsters pursued. The PCs didn’t drop the eggs while fighting so the Gricks continued attacking and chasing them.

The Monk and Cleric/Rogue were knocked unconscious. The Rogue was down to 1 hit point when he managed to get away. As he got back into the dungeon the Mage came running towards him, with the Pale Chief in pursuit.

The unconscious PCs both failed two death saves before the Monk managed to roll a natural 20 and wake up. The Gricks had retrieved their eggs from the fallen PC and retuned them to the Grick Hatchery. They dared not leave them unguarded which allowed the Monk to quickly stabilize the Cleric/Rogue and then pull him into the dungeon corridor.

All For One

In the corridor the Mage managed to get a few feet past the Rogue as he fled. The Pale Chief had been having difficulty hitting the Mage so he opted to try the other wounded PC in front of him. He hit the Rogue and the Energy Drain killed him. The Mage kept running and didn’t look back.

The Pale Chief turned and headed back towards the Throne Room where three PCs were still fighting two Zombies. The Monk arrived in the passage to find his other ally dead. He heard the sounds of fighting so he moved the Cleric/Rogue to the side of the passage and joined the living PCs. The four together easily killed the Zombies.

The Cleric and Paladins surrounded the Pale Chief and hacked away at him. The Monk finally got the killing blow in with a hand crossbow. The Pale Chief exploded when killed, burning the three nearby PCs but not enough to drop any of them.

Aftermath

When the PCs finally had a chance to rest they returned to the Barracks. The found the Mage face down. He’d stepped on the caltrops and fallen unconscious. The Orc they’d tied up was long gone. His frightened ally returned when the spell wore off and freed him. The two fled as fast and they could.

After a short rest they revived the two unconscious PCs and then did a thorough search of the dungeon and castle. We’ll pick things up there at the beginning of the next session. The PCs all advanced to level 4.

Thoughts

This was one of the most fun sessions of D&D Encounters I’ve had this season. The non-stop combat and exploration made things exciting from start to finish. For the first time this season I used maps rather than just theater of the mind. I used dungeon tiles and minis which I think enhance the experience for everyone. As the PCs moved from room to room I just used the tiles to make the map on the spot.

We finally had the results we’d hoped for with the two groups exploring different sections of the dungeon simultaneously. Unfortunately both groups got in over their heads so when they came together neither side could offer the other group assistance or healing. I think if we’d had more players the odds would have favoured the PCs a little bit more and things might not have gotten so dire.

Another thing we had this week that we haven’t yet had in this season of D&D Encounters was sustained pressure. So far the PCs had one or two small combat encounters each session and then they got to take a long rest. This week the PCs quickly realized that they should manage their resources better. The spellcasters ran out of spells, the healers ran out of healing, and everybody ran out of hit points.

One thing that I didn’t miss at all when I was playing 4e was mechanics that will instantly kill a PC. The Pale Chief’s Energy Drain specifically said that it instantly killed (dead-dead) any PC who dropped to 0 hit points from the attack. I hated killing the Rogue but that’s what the power said to do. It was an eye-opener for the all the players that your character may die if you’re not carful or if you’re unlucky.

For groups that have already completed Harpshield Castle, did the Pale Chief kill any PCs? Has anyone had any character death’s this season? How did you handle it? Did the player make a new PC or revive the dead guy? Would you allow a PC dropped by an energy drain to come back to life?

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 10, 2014 at 10:22 am

We had 2 tables of 4, each running a 4e version of the adventure at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA last night.

My table had all strikers… an assassin, a thief, a slayer/fighter, and an elementalist sorcerer. We started off by recapping all the plots & mysteries they’d been exploring: the Red Wizards, the arming of monstrous tribes, the lost Delimbiyr Bloke, the monstrous attacks, and the disembodied devil master. They had 3 main areas of Harpshield Castle to explore: the outlying buildings, the basement of the main tower, and the main tower itself.

To simulate the many orcs still around, we had a “random orc” mechanic. Every time the party opened a door while exploring, there was a 50% chance that a random orc would attack, and that 1d4 party members would suffer 5 damage before putting the orc down. This worked well, as it kept the tension mid-level, but didn’t overly damage the party.

Exploring the outlying buildings, the party found all sorts of fun things, from the former quarters of a paladin of the sun god to a refuse room to a room full of bees(!!!). Honestly, any time I can say “everyone take 5 points of BEE damage”, I feel like I’ve succeeded as a DM.

Oh yeah, and they also found the Delimbiyr Bloke, that lost macguffin/artifact piece that the Duke was so worked up over. The party unanimously decided not to give it back to the Duke, though, and to instead try to find the rest of thing the Bloke fit into.

In the basement of the tower, the party found an elderly half-orc reading the few books that remained of the once great Harpshield Library. This was an inserted plot device, because I felt like the WOTC version of the adventure had too many unexplained bits that players would have no way of knowing. So this elder half-orc, who actually turned out to only be 14 winters old, explained that he’d been possessed by an evil “other one” whose name he could not say. He knew that the orcs had been used by the red wizards to build Bloodgate Keep, but the memory of its location was removed from his head when the “other one” stopped possessing him, leaving his body a withered husk. The party was able to ask lots of questions, though, and are now better informed about the Baazka plot, the Bloodgate Keep plot, and the weapon-trafficking plot. They also got more hints as to the seductive tavern lady Natyssa, which will make her actions later in the season make more sense, as well.

The final fight with the Pale Chieftain and his two big brutish reavers was rough, to say the least. All the strikers did tons of damage, but the wight’s draining touch made their lack of healers very apparent. Also, with no holy characters, their lack of radiant damage attacks was also woefully obvious. And the 2 reavers were just bags of hit points who also hit very hard. To make things worse, the party was spread out (the assassin & thief each climbed up to enter through separate windows, while the fighter & sorcerer took the stairs), so we had the assassin (who unfortunately had several necrotic & poison attacks) and the thief vs the Wight, while the other two each had a single Reaver on them to keep them busy.

Once the fighter/slayer (who is played by an 11-yr-old who really gets excited about D&D… the sort of player you love seeing succeed) broke free from his Reaver to lay the killing blow on the Pale Chieftain, it was already 9:30, so we needed a way to end the fight while the 2 Reavers were still just barely bloodied. I had inserted a “treasure” into the session of the alt reward “Gruumsh’ Battle Fury” (I forget the exact name)… but basically the idea was that the undead orc was an unworthy chieftain in Gruumsh’s eyes, so whomever killed the chieftain would get this alt reward to represent the orc god’s favor. So I just went with it, had the reavers drop their weapons, turn to the fighter, and cry out “Hail Chieftain!”. The 11-yr-old was overjoyed, and we decided that he now owns Harpshield castle and has a small clan of orcs as his followers (going back to the 1st ed tradition of fighters attracting followers). We agreed that they won’t be able to fight for him in this adventure, but he’s going to have them work on fixing up the castle so that eventually they can trade with nearby towns. This seemed like the most fun (and very reasonable) ending, so we all agreed that this was what happened. The party went back to Daggerford to tell Sir Isteval what they’d learned, and to rest & level up to level 6 for the final 4-session chapter of this season.

I had so much fun this week. Random orc attacks, bees, and I got to give a kid a castle and make him feel like a heroic badass. I know you don’t usually “win” at roleplaying games, but I kind of feel like I did win this week.

2 Vobekhan April 10, 2014 at 11:31 am

We had a fun session this week, and although we still havent finished Harpshield Castle after 3 sessions, I think its only going to take 1 more.
It did take the players 20 minutes to agree on how to approach the castle at the start of the session but once the action started the whole thing flowed nicely.
Once the rogues split off in the latter part I chose to spend a little longer with the gnome and halfling mainly because the gnome player is very quiet and tends to just sit back and let others take the limelight, so this was their time to shine – and shine they did.
You’ll also notice that several monsters were missing from the write up, I took the orcs out of the dining room as felt them unnecessary and the cells and storeroom occupants have been moved to the throne room which will hopefully become apparent next week.
I also told the elf rogues player what his stone dwarf ring does as he had spent a short rest wearing it now. Once per day it would allow him to make an extra action, but at the cost of 50% of his current HP (to a minimum of 1) – he has neither revealed this to his comrades nor used it as yet.
The players were certainly cautious as having fought both camps and now in the castle proper they havent been able to take a long rest and are definitely running low on healing magic – lucky for them the gnome and halfling found that decanter of healing then eh ;-)

3 Carl the Paladin April 10, 2014 at 10:48 pm

As the one playing the half-orc mage who stepped on caltrops, I think I just learned to never leave the game early.

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