“Manticore! It’s on the move!” shouted one of the Feathergale Knight sentries. All the Knights stood as one, dinners left uneaten, and words from tales of their greatest triumphs left hanging in the air. “We should take this opportunity to slay the monster,” said Thurl Merosska, commander of the Knights. He then removed a gold ring from his finger. Holding it up he offered it as a prize to whomever could bring him the Manticore’s head. The Knights ran to the stables to get on their flying mounts and vie for the prize.
This week at Face to Face Games in Toronto we ran three full tables with seven players at each. I was again running the new kids’ table. A few players were not completely new as they’d participated in one previous week of D&D Encounters or one session of D&D Expeditions; the rest were brand new. The party consisted of a Dwarf Fighter, Dragonborn Fighter, Human Paladin and four pre-gens –Dwarf Cleric, and three Halfling Rogues.
The Manticore Hunt
As the Knights funnelled out of the tower the PCs looked at one and other with disappointment. Thurl told them they could participate in the hunt if they liked. There were many Giant Vultures in the stables and the PCs could try flying them. He explained the birds were very well trained and would only require minimal handling. In the event that mounted PCs were wounded, killed, or unseated the birds were trained to return back to the spire. Four PCs jumped at the chance to fly.
The Dwarf Fighter, Dragonborn Fighter, Paladin, and Rogue #1 all climbed atop Giant Vultures assigned to them, made a quick Animal Handling check, and were off. The Cleric, Rogue #2 and Rogue #3 decided it was better to stay behind. Thurl suggested they head up to the pinnacle level where they may be able to spot the battle with the Manticore through the spyglass.
The PCs were noticeably behind the trained Feathergale Knights and were not going to be able to catch up to them. Instead the PCs flew down into the lower valley to conduct their own search for the elusive Manticore in the fog. It only took a couple of minutes before the PCs spotted it. They fired their crossbows at the beast but were too far to be accurate. The beast managed to lose the PCs by doubling back in the fog and heading back towards the Spire.
From atop the Feathergale Spire the PCs continued to make Perception checks. For a long while they saw nothing until the Manticore eventually was spotted heading towards the Spire. The Cleric cast Thaumaturgy to amplify his voice and called out “BEHIND!” This alerted the PCs who immediately realized what the Manticore had done to elude the pursuers.
The Manticore understood that attackers were incoming so it found an area with tall rocky outcroppings that it could hide behind. When the PCs got within range it fired at them with its tail spikes with deadly accuracy.
The PCs on the Spire tried to help their allies by firing down on the Manticore, but the range made accuracy difficult. Nevertheless they gave it their best shot round after round.
The PCs on Vultures needed to guide their mounts while firing crossbows. This proved difficult, but not impossible. When they were unable to tame their mount it resisted their commands and only flew half speed. The aerial combat was a chase around numerous rocky pillars. When the PCs hit the Manticore they weren’t doing a lot of damage but they had superior numbers on their side.
The Manticore was smart enough to realize this so it began attacking the Giant Vultures. When the mounts took two direct hits their survival instincts kicked in and they fled back to their roost. The first time this happened the Dwarf Fighter managed to stay on the bird, but realized if he didn’t let go he’d be taken out of combat. He decided to jump on the back of the adjacent Manticore as his Giant Vulture left. His Acrobatics check was more than sufficient to make the jump and stay balanced on his new unwilling mount’s back.
The Manticore used its tail spikes to dislodge the Fighter scoring a direct hit. The monster then attacked the Paladin’s Giant Vulture and with two deep slashes another of the PCs’ mounts was homeward bound. The Paladin was not as fortunate as the Fighter and he fell 10 feet when his Vulture banked and flew off.
While shooting from the Spire above the combat, Rogue #2 managed to score a crit by rolling two 20s despite her disadvantage. That was the turning point. With that damage the Manticore began screaming out, its howls echoing off the canyon walls. A few rounds later a similar roar was heard echoing back. The monster called for help and it was on its way.
On the ground the Paladin and Fighter continued to make ranged attacks against the one Manticore they could see. The PCs atop the Spire spotted the other Manticore coming in fast. The three PCs decided to grab mounts of their own and get down to help their friends.
By the time the Cleric and two Rogues made it down to the fight only one PC was still on a Vulture. The Dwarf Fighter was unconscious so the Cleric healed him and brought him back into the fight. The next round the Cleric used Command on the Manticore and told it to “SIT!” This brought the Manticore to the ground where the recently awakened Fighter managed to land the killing blow. Unfortunately the Manticore’s mate had just arrived and witnessed the kill. She focused all her arracks on the Dwarf Fighter and dropped him. But on the next round the Cleric revived him again.
All three Rogues remained on their mounts (the only PCs that did) and with some fantastic Animal Handling checks managed to get the Giant Vultures to fly out of sight and hide, granting the Rogues advantage and sneak dice on subsequent turns. Rogue #2 learned the meaning of karma when her first attack with advantage came up two 1s. I wouldn’t have believed the same player could get two 20s (while rolling with disadvantage) and two 1s (while rolling with advantage) in the same combat if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
The subsequent combat could have gone either way. The second Manticore managed to bring six of the seven PCs to under 5 hit points. Any hits were likely to drop them. The poor Dwarf Fighter took a hit and fell unconscious again, but this time there was no magic to revive him.
As the second Manticore was nearing death Rogue #1 jumped off her Vulture and onto the monster’s back. She managed to force the creature to the ground where the PCs surround it. Just before the Manticore was likely to make its final round of attacks, the Dwarf Fighter rolled a 20 on his death save to get back into the combat. The Manticore attacked three PCs but hit none. It was down to 2 hit points and should have disengaged, but it got greedy. As it flew off it provoked attacks from all the PCs. Rogue #1 slashed and missed but the Dwarf Fighter managed to land the killing blow again. Both beasts were down.
The PCs took trophies from the downed Manticores before getting the Vultures to grasp the remains and carry them back to the Feathergale Spire. Rather than head back themselves, the PCs decided to try and find the Manticores’ lair.
They walked through the valley for two hours looking for signs of where the lair may be. They eventually found enough clues that they discovered the lair. Inside were two Manticore eggs. The PCs were smart enough to realize that the eggs needed to be kept warm or the hatchlings would die. Once that task was handled they decided to take a long rest in the Manticores’ cave before returning to the Feathergale Spire in the morning.
To be continued.
The combination of a large group and rookie players meant that things were going to go slowly, and they did. Fortunately there was plenty of combat and plenty of dice rolling so that kept everyone interested most of the session. I had to double the Manticores’ hit points to keep a party with so many people challenged. I also made sure to have the second Manticore arrive just as the first one was about to die thereby ensuring no lull in the combat.
I decided to get all the flying PCs to make Animal Handling checks each turn they were in combat. This allowed for more dice rolling, but also made things a little bit different each round depending on who succeeded and who failed he check. I also had the fight take place closer to the Spire than the adventure suggests. I didn’t want to force any PCs to go flying if their character didn’t want to try it. Yet I wanted to make sure those left behind could make a useful contribution to the combat, even if it was just shooting with disadvantage.
Next week the PCs will start their hike back to Feathergale Spire. Will they make it or will something else get their attention and perhaps lead them in a different direction? We’ll see.
How did your Manticore hunt go? Did any PCs in your party stay behind? What did they do while everyone else was off hunting? For those flying what did your DM do to make the encounter memorable? What mechanics did other DMs throw in to spice things up?
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