Aw yeah, we’re back! The vinyl map has been unrolled, the rulebooks marked with sticky notes, the character sheets frantically dug out of a desk drawer, and the dice lovingly polished and consecrated in the name of the Polyhedronae, the Arbiters of Fate.
We’re moving forward without Joe and Liam, as their current schedules are pretty crammed (and Joe’s character died). This means the group is without their beefy fighter and arcane support, but with only a few more sessions until completion of the Phandelver, Trev and Darryl will just have to soldier on.
In Attendance: Loki Fastfoot (Darryl), Grimdark Stonelock (Trev)
And obviously myself, the DM.
After returning to Phandalin and discovering that Sildar, Iarno, and Gundren have all been murdered (and the elven barmaid Aelya missing), Grimdark and Loki sit in their pub, Barry’s Barrel Room, planning their next move. Mouse meanwhile packs his bags and scarpers back to the temple of Oghma back in Neverwinter. I mean, people have died, for fuck’s sake. Who knows who could be next!
With an assault on Wave Echo Cave coming up, I throw Trev and Darryl a bone and give them some henchmen to help them out, in the form of their more martially-minded bar staff…
(Ex)-Sergeant Pyke, the only surviving mercenary from the group’s adventure in Leilon who was taken on as the pub’s bouncer. He’s wielding the greatsword that Barry once owned and sold waaaay back when the group first went shopping in Phandalin.
Helga, the arcane apprentice who was hired as head chef. Prestidigitation is a hell of a convenience in the kitchen. Luckily she also knows a few other spells.
And Droop, the little goblin who stuck around once he was given a bed and a job. He has a pokey stick and a burning urge to avenge Barry.
This is the first adventure from the book that I’ve had to seriously tweak. I mean, look at this map. Look at it.
That’s a beast. I split the map into two halves (and thus two sessions), and made a few of my own adjustments. This session would be exploring the mines and searching for the way down into the Forge of Spells and the final encounter with the nefarious Black Spider.
Loki and Grimdark, armed with the map to Wave Echo Cave (a long-lost location that is apparently only a few miles from the town… apparently no-one was too concerned about actually finding it again) ride there, their three
meat shields brave companions in tow. They enter the pitch-black mine, and in the entrance find the base camp that Gundren and his brothers had set up when they were exploring. Among the general clutter of the campsite, they find the body of Tharden, one of the three dwarf brothers. Grimdark mourns him, and says the appropriate rites over his body. Loki hungrily eyes one of the ears for his necklace. I’m starting to think that Darryl is getting a little too carried away with this whole “psycho halfling with a mutilation fetish” thing.
Two tunnels branch away from the entrance; one leads north, and slopes downwards, going deeper into the mine. The other branches off to the east. Deciding to clear the level they’re on first before descending further, Grimdark leads the group down the east tunnel, and finds that there are a load of empty store-rooms, barracks, and an assayer’s office; clearly where the mine’s workforce slept and ate.
As they explore the kitchens, Grimdark’s light briefly illuminates a pale, scrawny humanoid who shrieks at them and scuttles through the passageway into the mess hall. The group follow, and find a gang of ghouls, a classic D&D monster for challenging adventurers who are slightly more experienced. Well, that’s what I’d hoped. Not only did the entire group manage to act before the ghouls, but my rolling was absolute garbage; the most the ghouls managed to achieve was scratching Loki and Pyke a little bit before they were stomped flat.
With the living quarters cleared (and a little bit of loot found), the group descended into the labyrinthine tunnels.
Now for a bit of a DMing aside; I’ve tried to run mazes and labyrinths in games before, and it’s been a mixed bag. I’ve tried letting players mapping it out as they go, text-based adventure style (“you walk 50 feet and approach a T-junction, exits are south, east, and west, which way do you go?”, etc), which is dull and repetitive. I’ve tried drawing out the entire map and blocking parts of it out and revealing it as players advance, which requires a lot of prep. So I went for something a bit more abstract.
I had no large map but instead had four “locations” within the tunnels; three dead-end caverns, and the fungus cavern with the continuing path. I randomly numbered these 1, 2, 3, and 4. When the group were in the tunnels, I had them take Survival skill checks. If they passed, they could choose to explore a cavern of their choice. If they failed the test, I would send them to a random cavern, but subsequent Survival checks to find their way would be easier.
It worked okay; Trev actually nailed every Survival check required (makes sense for a dwarf to know his way around underground) and they easily cleared the maze, diverting to one of the caverns to grab some loot in the form of a wand of magic missiles which they gave to the person in the group most deserving of it.
They advance into the glowing fungus cavern. Loki identifies the fungus as poisonous, and warns them not to touch it, as it could release toxic spores. Everyone agrees to be careful, and they start walking through carefully. Unfortunately, they’re too preoccupied in being careful, they don’t notice the pack of bloodthirsty stirges descending on them from the cave roof until it’s too late!
Stirges are the unholy lovechild of a mosquito and one of the Skeksi from The Dark Crystal, and are about the size of a large seagull. They are pests, and individually not too dangerous. Ten of them though…
They mob the group; three attach to Grimdark, two on Loki, two on Pyke, and one on Droop. We all quickly learned that stirges are fairly vicious; they only have 2 hp, so you could look at one funny at it could die, but each turn they’re attached to a creature, they drain it for 5 hp (on top of the damage they did to actually sink their proboscis in). Droop goes down and starts dying, though Grimdark stabilises him. Loki goes slash-happy and acts as the prime stirge exterminator, hacking them off his comrades. In hindsight, I really wish I’d imposed disadvantage on his attack rolls, or have him risk hitting his ally if he missed the stirge. Ah well, this whole evening was pretty much the set-up for Hindsight: The Movie, starring Every Person Who’s DM’ed Ever.
By the time the stirge have escaped or been killed (and Loki has carved off a dripping proboscis), the group is battered and bloody. Just as I’m thinking I’ve finally got them on the back foot, they cheerfully announce they’re going to cross six healing potions off their stash, and after some good rolls, they’re pretty much back up to full health. I mean, whatever, that’s fine.
Following the tunnel round, they come across a cavern with a deep, dark pool. Grimdark senses some sort of power coming the depths, and remembers (i.e. is reminded by me) about the legend of Lightbringer, the incredibly shittily-named holy magic mace lost for centuries blah blah. Loki dives into the pool (I make him take a Constitution save to avoid taking some cold damage) and finds the mace at the bottom, but he can’t shift it. Yep, it’s basically Mjolnir. Only the worthy can lift it, etc, and funnily enough a halfling thief who mutilates the corpses of his enemies to fashion jewelry out of their body parts is pretty fucking low on the sliding scale of “worthy”. With a long-suffering sigh, Grimdark strips off his armour and jumps in.
At that moment, the group hear voices approaching down the tunnel. They hide as a pair of the Black Spider’s hobgoblin goons walk through on patrol. Loki scuttles above the cave mouth, and Assassin Creeds them as they walk underneath him. Grimdark emerges from the pool with a new magic weapon and wonders what he missed. After Helga dries him off with prestidigitation, they follow the hobgoblin’s patrol route back to a large cavern. At the back, they can see a winch-powered elevator leading deeper into the mine, and presumably to the Forge of Spells. However standing in their way are a squad of hobgoblins and a spectator, a sub-species of beholder.
Sooo… I’d rather not talk about this “fight”. I made some dumb mistakes and had grossly overestimated how much of a challenge the hobgoblins would provide. Highlights, if they could be called that, included the spectator being killed before it had even acted, and Droop going mad with his wand of magic missiles and killing off two of the hobs himself.
What I’d intended to be a fairly challenging final fight of the evening was little more than a speed-bump, and it left me grouchy and annoyed at myself; that’s the danger of not DMing for a while, it takes a while to get back into the mindset. I was getting rules wrong, not describing stuff well… bleh. Plus we all agreed it felt weird to be continuing the adventure without Joe and Liam, but one more session and we can close the book on Phandelver!
Ongoing Quests: Find the Forge of Spells and eliminate the Black Spider.
“Ears” Collected: Stirge proboscis, spectator eye-stalk.
Genuinely Challenging Encounters: 0.5, and that’s only because of the stirges got lucky. My dice rolls were garbage all night.
Loki, Grimdark and the three others boarded the elevator and descended into the depths, to the Forge of Spells. Hopefully there’ll be something more challenging down there.