Sunday, May 31, 2020

Session Report - 5e Undermountain - Assault on Castle Cragmaw

After defeating the goblin bandits in the Cragmaw caverns, the group decided to pursue the bandit leader by following the map they found, leading to Castle Cragmaw!

Session 5

Cast of Characters
Raku Chilhuly - dragonborn guild artisan, 3rd level battlesmith artificer - played by Emily
Willibald Hornblower - halfling noble, 3rd level college of lore bard - played by Steve
Nehryx - centaur outlander, 3rd level brute fighter - played by Corey
Crow - tabaxi acolyte of Nuula, 2nd level rogue - played by Lindsey

The group hiked a day through the Grosseberg Mountains. Thanks to a well-chosen campsite, they didn't encounter any of the hobgoblin warbands that stalked this part of the range.

In the morning, they found the ruin of Castle Cragmaw. It had seven towers, with only the smallest keep connecting them all. Several of the building walls were collapsing. They circled through the woods around the castle to check for possible entrances. There were a couple obvious ways in, but the group opted for stealth, and Willibald managed to find a hidden passage through the rubble and into the ruined keep.

They arrived in a hallway that separated one half of the castle from the other. The air was filled with echoes of activity, distant shouts and bumps from the activity of the goblin inhabitants. Heavy canvas curtains had been hung as dividers. They checked one set of rooms off the hall, and found another curtain dividing a large bedroom. They could hear voices beyond the curtain and opted to return to the hallway.

Further down the hall they found a door to a room that seemed to be housing a great commotion. Someone was barking orders, and there were rhythmic clangs and grunts beyond the door. Willibald carefully cast an illusionary copy of the door while the group gingerly opened the real one. They couldn't see beyond, but would be able to surprise anyone on the other side by appearing to pass directly though the door itself.

Expecting to find some sort of military drills, the group was somewhat surprised themselves to find a fat bossy goblin in a chef's hat and apron shouting orders as a miserable work crew of sou chefs and cleaners engaged in various preparatory activities around the dining hall. Crow shot the head chef in the back with her shortbow, and he went down with one blow. The others burst through the door, with Nehryx galloping across the dining room to block one of the exits. Strangely, as the other goblins ran around in a panic, they still avoided leaving via the last unguarded door...

Willibald rode on Nehryx's back, and the two were troubled by another group of goblins emerging from the other side of the door Nehryx was blocking. Willibald used his newfound skill in demoralizing commentary to take some of the sting out of the goblins' blows - "You're the cleaners? No wonder they call this a mess hall!" Together, he and the one-man brute squad Nehryx worked to defend themselves from the two groups of attackers, while Crow and Raku sniped from the doorway, keeping the goblins in a state of panic and confusion until the last body fell to the floor.

400 XP from monsters (eight goblins 50/each)

Correction - Nehryx is the brute squad!

Session 6

Cast of Characters
Raku Chihuly - dragonborn guild artisan, 3rd level battlesmith artificer - played by Emily
Willibald Hornblower - halfling noble, 3rd level college of lore bard - played by Steve
Nehryx - centaur outlander, 3rd level brute fighter - played by Corey
Demic - minotaur entertainer, 3rd level oath of the dragonlords paladin - played by Ben
Crow - tabaxi acolyte of Nuula, 2nd level rogue - played by Lindsey
Owyn Lavashield - dwarven hermit, 1st level druid - played by Eli

The group waited in rapt tension for a few moments to hear if the ruckus had attracted any unwanted attention from elsewhere in the castle. Moments later, they heard footsteps coming from the room beyond the dining hall ... it was Demic and Owyn, enjoying some pilfered snacks. "Were you two back there the whole time? Didn't you hear us fighting?" Nehryx demanded. Demic brushed the crumbs off his hands, then shrugged, "Sorry, we thought it was just the goblins arguing with each other!"

Apparently the castle's other inhabitants thought so too, because no one else came to check on them. Not wanting to push their luck, the group also avoided the door that none of the goblins used, even as they were being slain, and went back out into the ruined hallway. In the hall, they considered clambering up the rubble piles that still acted like walls to peek into a couple of the neighboring rooms. Willibald went up one wall and Crow the other, but neither was able to be very quiet about it, knocking loose debris down into the rooms they intended to spy on. Willibald saw two hobgoblins dressed in their mercenary armor ... and they saw him too! "Hey, look over-" but the sound was drowned out by a thunderous "HOOO!" as an owlbear in the other room spotted Crow and decided to make her a snack. Willibald slid back down the rubble pile and told his friends to make ready. The hobgoblins burst into the hall and were followed not long after by the galloping owlbear.

The group made short work of the two mercenaries. Demic and Nehryx outmatched the pair with their swords, Willibald magically shattered a section of intact wall to shower them with shards of rock, and although Raku had little success with her crossbow, she was able to send in her robot (technically a "steel defender") Darla, who looked like a metallic cat-dragon hybrid. "Robot robot, attack attack" intoned Darla.

After the brief battle, they heard stomping footsteps and a voice approaching from deeper into the secure area. "What's all that noise?!" Demic put on his best monster voice and attempted another act of deception. "Uh, sorry sir, the owlbear didn't like chef's dinner tonight." The voice behind the curtain seemed to find this extremely plausible, perhaps it was a common occurrence? "Well, just try to keep it down out there. I'm conducting important business. If it doesn't like the goblin's dinner, then feed it some goblins!" The footsteps then receded and a door slammed not far away.

The group took a few moments to search the hobgoblins' barracks and the owlbear's keep. Raku spotted a chest sitting atop the last remnant of the old first-floor ceiling, but they decided to retrieve that after dealing with the king of Castle Cragmaw. Before following the voice they'd heard before, the group members refreshed each other with magic.

Crow volunteered to loop around look for a side-entrance into the king's chamber. She found a partially collapsed wall she could clamber up, and ended up in a small room connected to the main chamber. Nehryx planned to lead a charge into the room, but rolled too low on initiative, and ended up going last. "Okay, everyone behind me, on ten! One, two, hey wait not yet!"

Willibald barged in first. He saw the aging bugbear king, a vicious wolf, and an elvish woman who suddenly changed to look like a copy of Willibald. He attacked his duplicate, who attacked him back much harder! As the others hurried in, they made quick work of the wolf and the befuddled king, who scarcely had a chance to raise his morningstar against them before he was struck down by Nehryx and Demic's mighty blows. Crow emerged from the side room to find only the second Willibald remaining. "Hey guys, hey guys, it's me, it's me Willibald, Willibald" the two said in eerie unison. "Ask me something, ask me something only I would know, only I would know!"

Noticing that his double was copying his movements, Willibald lay prone on the ground. His touble tossled with him so that the two kept trading places on the floor. Raku cast a spell to see magic, which revealed which one was false. By shouting advice to the others, she was able to direct them to hit the imposter every time, which proved fortunate, since the strange creature proved able to endure far more punishment than the original Willibald could have. Between these two tactics, the creature was defeated without any of the others hurting Willibald, and before it could change shape again to copy Raku. As it died, it assumed the form of an almost featureless gray humanoid.

With the king dead, and the castle certain to devolve into anarchy when the other mercenaries and bandits in his employ discovered that. A search of the room revealed the king's private stash of coins and healing potions, along with an unidentified map. The group quickly sent Crow up the side of the owlbear's tower to steal the king's treasure, a horde of coins, along with a healing potion, and a pair of scrolls.

950 gp each from Black Iris
277 gp from treasure (220 silver pieces + 270 electrum pieces + 120 gold pieces)
potion of healing
scroll of revivify
scroll of silence
1850 XP (two hobgolins 100/each + owlbear 700 + bugbear 200 + doppelgagner 700 + wolf 50)

"Robot robot, treasure treasure"

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Blogs on Tape 3 - Encumbrance is Bliss?

Nick LS Whelan continues to convert a curated selection of rpg blog posts into audio files for the Blogs on Tape project. I'm a fan! Admittedly, my opinion here is biased by the fact that he's just recorded a third episode reading aloud one of my posts.

My third appearance is Episode 82 - Mechanics for Resource Management: Part 1, The Easy Way. You can read the original entry on my blog here.

My writing previously appeared on Blogs on Tape in Episode 71 - Should We Start Numbering Hallways on Our Maps? (original entry here) and in Episode 47 - Campaigns I Want to Run: Dungeons & Decorators (original entry here).


Once again, big thanks to Nick for his ongoing contribution to the rpg blogosphere! You can also check his How to Help page if you want to support this project.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Miniature Miscellany Redux - Fairy Castle, Nutshell Studies, Miniature Offices, Model Trains, Replica Studio, Antique Furniture, Bookcase Nooks, Atalier Dollhouse

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle
Museum of Science + Industry

"One of the most popular film actresses of her time, Colleen Moore assembled a legion of her industry colleagues to help craft this miniature home of fantastic proportions. She shared it during the Great Depression, touring the country to raise funds for children's charities."

"From the chapel's floor-to-ceiling stained glass to the flickering of the tiniest lights, every inch on display is a study in artistry and craftsmanship. The Fairy Castle is virtually a museum within our Museum, a collection of miniature treasures in every room, from inch-square books signed by the world's greatest authors to statues nearly two thousand years old. Though the Castle's magical residents are never seen, we know for certain they have exquisite taste."


Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
Smithsonian American Art Museum

"Frances Glessner Lee crafted her exquisitely detailed miniature crime scenes to train homicide investigators. These dollhouse-sized dioramas of true crimes, created in the first half of the 20th century and still used in forensic training today, helped to revolutionize the emerging field of homicide investigation."

"Lee is considered the mother of forensic science and helped to found the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University. At the time, there was very little training for investigators, meaning that they often overlooked or mishandled key evidence, or irrevocably tampered with crime scenes. Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change this. Lee was a talented artist as well as criminologist, and used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to solve this problem. She constructed the Nutshells beginning in the 1940s to teach investigators to properly canvass a crime scene to effectively uncover and understand evidence."

"The equivalent to virtual reality in their time, her masterfully crafted dioramas feature handmade objects to render scenes with exacting accuracy and meticulous detail. Every element of the dioramas - from the angle of miniscule bullet holes, the placement of latches on widows, the patterns of blood splatters, and the discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses - challenges trainees’ powers of observation and deduction."

I Turn Work Frustrations into Mini Magic in My Office
Derrick Lin
Bored Panda

Agency Life Told in Miniature Figures
Derrick Lin
Bored Panda

"Sometimes work can be really hectic and frustrating and as grownups, we are expected to be cool about it and keep the whining to ourselves. I work in advertising and my workday is often very chaotic and unpredictable."

"With my iPhone, a reading lamp, and miniature figures, I recreate the imaginary scenes of my honest thoughts in work situations right on my work desk. Pairing each photo with corresponding caption, I post them on my Instagram and Tumblr feeds as a way to document my eventful career. My tiny people are always there making sure I don’t hide my feelings."

How Model Trains Transformed from Cutting-Edge to Quaint
Ben Marks
Collector's Weekly

"In the 19th century, the railroad was the Internet of its day, connecting people with one another and moving merchandise and raw materials across great distances at unprecedented speeds. As railroad tycoons laid more and more miles of track throughout the growing nation, increasing numbers of citizens were able to witness the spectacle of a steam-engine locomotive roaring through their once-remote towns. In an age when few people traveled farther than 20 miles from their homes in their entire lifetimes, the effect must have been thrilling."

"Naturally, children were eager to play with pint-size versions of this new technology, and 19th-century toymakers obliged, cranking out model trains in wood, cast iron, and tin. By the first half of the 20th century, millions of little boys dreamed of waking up on Christmas morning to find a model train tooting around the tree."

"The problem with model trains in the 21st century: technology. Trains haven’t thrilled us for decades. For most of us, our experience with trains ranges from being packed into a crowded commuter train at rush hour to being stuck behind the wheel of a car at a railroad crossing as miles of groaning gondolas and rattling tanker cars rumble by. For the 21st-century kids stuck in the back seat of that car, trains are noisy, antiquated, and irredeemably boring."

Artist Constructs Intricately Detailed Miniature Replica of 1900s Photo Studio
Kristine Mitchell
My Modern Met

"Ali Alamedy has an eye for detail. The Turkish artist creates delightful miniature dioramas that are filled to the brim with hand-crafted items and absolutely ooze with charm. His newest piece is an adorable recreation of a photo studio from the 1900’s. The tiny photo studio took 9 months to complete, and was built using an assortment of materials such as wood, plastic, copper, and paper. Filled with over 100 tiny, period objects, Alamedy constructed each and every component of the studio from scratch. His time-intensive work manages to stay true to the spirit of vintage photo studios, and overflows with small-scale details that show true appreciation for the craft."

Japanese Artist Crafts Miniature Antique Dollhouse Furniture by Hand
Emma Taggert
My Modern Met

"Japanese artist Kiyomi brings some interior design chic to the world of dollhouses, with a range of handmade miniature antique furniture and accessories. Made from various materials including paper, wire, and perspex, her incredibly detailed, tiny creations include everything you would find in an 18th century world. There’s antique, industrial style cabinets and chairs; haberdashery items, such as spools of thread, sewing scissors, and a vintage sewing machine; as well as little shoes and hats, laid out in a tiny clothes store. There’s even a miniature bakery complete with teeny-tiny pastries."

Book Nook Shelf Inserts are Really Cool, and Everyone Should Know They Exist
Christopher Hudspurth

If you haven't seen or heard of a book nook before, it's a little shelf insert that goes between books and looks like a tiny door leading to an incredible place, or depicting unique sights.

My Atelier Dollhouse

Notes: My previous miniature miscellany got really positive feedback, and several people suggested additional links to check out. I also realized I'd forgotten my friend Derrick Lin's miniature work. Big thanks to astralbath and bombasticus for their recommendations especially.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Advice on Campaign Mysteries from From the Sorcerer's Skull

A little while back, Trey from From the Sorcerer's Skull wrote about how he builds mysteries into his campaign settings, in response to a question I asked him. Ever since, I've been meaning to collect and share some of Trey's other advice about building a mystery-filled campaign.

I first noticed that From the Sorcerer's Skull had advice on campaign mysteries when Trey posted a list of six unknowns in his Land of Azurth campaign, and then a follow-up to check-in on how many his players had solved.

In The Cultivating and Care of Campaign Mysteries, Trey lays out five pieces of concrete advice for creating a mystery-filled campaign:

- Embed the mysteries at the time of setting creation
- Don't decide on all the answers
- Create recurring NPCs to encourage player interest
- Create treasures that connect to the mysteries
- Build on player ideas

The first bit of advice here seems obvious, but probably is worth pointing out explicitly. You need to decide on some secrets early in your setting design process, so that you'll be able to decide on hints and clues to get your players interested. "If you want the players interested in the mysterious background of your setting, it has to be there."

His second piece of advice seems to contradict the first, but I think the idea is that you should decide on questions, but shouldn't decide on all the answers. Some questions your players might never investigate, and so might never need an answer. Other questions, an answer better than what you might have originally thought of could emerge as a logical conclusion during play.

I feel like this relates to the advice to build on player ideas. By that, Trey means trying to connect the player character backstories to the campaign mysteries - giving the characters a stake in the mystery, or using elements of their backstory as clues. But I think building on player ideas can also mean building ideas that they propose while they're investigating. When they describe what they've learned so far, and what conclusion they draw from it, that might sound more correct than what you originally thought of, and that's okay.

Trey's other two recommendations here are to use NPCs and treasures to help get the players involved in the mysteries. NPCs who act suspiciously might suggest themselves as suspects. The search for a famous treasure might reveal clues that illuminate the setting's history. And both NPCs and treasures are things that players want to interact with and learn more about, making them a source for clues that players will want to learn.

This piece ties in well with some of Trey's other advice about campaign setting creation. Adventure Time and Campaign Construction is a defense and explanation of making some of it up as you go along, rather than making it all up in advance. Setting History Should Do Something is a more general discussion of what kind of setting material is most (and least!) useful to make up, regardless of when you do it.

Trey explains his reasoning for not creating too much of your setting in advance:
- The campaign should start simple to make it accessible
- Seeing what the players like and respond to can help guide your setting creation
- The setting should only be revealed a little a time, in ways that connect to the adventure

A lot of the idea here is to slow down the pace at which you invent setting details to help enforce a slower pace of revelation. You don't want to overwhelm your players with too much detail before they even start playing, and if you haven't written the details yet, then you can't over-share them.

In addition to your players proposing ideas and theories at the table, what they're interested in (and what they're not) can help guide you to only create the things they want and you need. Again, you don't want to reveal too much detail during each gaming session; leaving things undecided prevents you from revealing more than you should.

And again, Trey suggests using monsters, NPCs, and treasures as like "hooks" to try to attract player interest and to show you what they care about. When they start tugging on a string, it's time for you to start fleshing out whatever's at the end of it.

The idea here isn't that you make it all up along the way, but rather, you start with a strong foundation and build it as you go, rather than starting with the entire edifice (or starting with nothing!)

When you are writing some backstory for your campaign, Trey recommends that backstory should:
- Reinforce the themes, flavor, or mood of the setting
- Establish constraints or parameters for adventures
- Provide obstacles for players overcome or toys for them to play with
- Avoid describing events that are repetitive or don't directly impact the present day setting

One way to think about this advice is to not write setting material that isn't actually important to your setting; another is to make sure to let your players interact with whatever is important.

Eberron is a bit guilty of violating Trey's suggestions here, with its ten-thousand year backstory, its series of highly similar apocalyptic invasions by varieties of reality-warping demons, and its setting-defining war that's finished before the campaign starts. Carcosa suffers from this too - there are psychic powers you'll never roll high enough to receive, cool alien artifacts you can't use, rituals you're (supposedly) not supposed to perform, and even a titular city that isn't really even there to visit.

Even the core rulebooks of most editions of D&D are guilty of this is in a way - playing the way the rules suggest, by starting at 1st level and likely dying multiple times while trying to level up, the books are filled with class features you'll never receive, spells you'll never be high enough level to cast, monsters you'll never have enough hp to fight, and artifacts you'll never find as treasure. That's not just because there's too much stuff to include it all, but because so much of the coolest stuff is explicitly walled off where most players will never get to it without breaking the rules. (Plus NPCs who sound suspiciously like Gary and his friends - they're more powerful than any PC, and either you'll never meet them, or they'll totally overshadow you if your paths ever cross.)

The way I interpret Trey's advice here is, basically, don't do that. Whether you're laying the foundation for your setting before the first game or adding details mid-campaign, figure out what's supposed to be important, and give the players the opportunity to encounter it right away. Whether that's as clues they keep running into, rumors they keep hearing - or as monsters, treasures, NPCs, or adventuring sites they actually get to see - give them the good stuff. (Because if you don't, a corollary of this idea is that whatever you DO give them is what your campaign is actually about - no matter what you intended.)

In a mystery campaign, presumably that means foregrounding the mysteries, the hints that lead you to wonder about them, and the clues that help you solve them. If you built mysteries into the backstory of your campaign, but the players never learn about, or find any evidence to help unravel them, then they're essentially dormant, and whatever your campaign's actually about, it isn't about solving those (unknown, unrealized) mysteries.

Azurth isn't a sandbox, it's got an episodic, mission-based campaign structure that gives Trey a bit more control over which part of the setting his players are interacting with each session. But he does have some ideas for building a setting where they player are more free to wander around looking for secrets. In The Weird Town: Investigative Sandbox, he offers some ideas for creating a compact setting where almost every major site holds a mystery.

- The town has many distinct secrets to investigate
- The town itself is weird and mysterious (not just a neutral site where crime coincidentally occurs)
- The player characters might be outsiders, but have a connection to town that gives the investigation some urgency

Finally, Trey also has some concrete advice for GMs to use to keep their players' investigations moving along. In The Simple Art of Mystery, he offers seven tips for GMs so they can facilitate (rather than hindering) their players' attempts to solve mysteries:

- Make sure the players want to solve a mystery
- Have a plan but leave some things open
- Always let the players find the most important clues
- Repeated interactions with the same NPCs always reveals new information
- If the players reach an impasse, an NPC will always react to their investigation so far
- Every NPC has a secret
- The players can solve mysteries without being Sherlock Holmes

The first piece of advice here is another bit that seems obvious but bears mentioning, which seems to be Trey's hallmark for starting off these pieces. Make sure your players know they're solving mysteries, and make sure they're on board to do that.

The next piece of advice here is another hallmark, you need a strong foundation in order to leave meaningful clues, but don't fill in every single detail in advance. Your players' guesses about what's going on might supply ideas worth including in the canon, and their actions during the game might cause you to invent details you couldn't have planned to include. When this works, it creates a sense that the players have discovered something true that even the gamemaster didn't realize before. But for that to work, these discoveries probably shouldn't contradict information you planned but never revealed.

Trey places a lot of importance on NPC interactions, which feels appropriate. Your players can search a room and find all the physical objects in it (and if any of those objects are clues, Trey recommends letting them find the object, rather than risking failure with a skill check) - but figuring out the meaning of those objects is probably going to require talking to NPCs. Just like every building in the mystery town houses its own weirdness, every NPC has their own secret. In addition to solving your main mystery, you can also make progress by figuring out what each person is hiding.

You probably learn as much from a clue-object directly as you're going to learn the first time you look closely at it (at least within the game!) - but you can always learn new information by talking to NPCs, even the same NPCs you talked to last time. If you have new questions, they have new answers. If you don't have new questions, because you've hit some kind of impasse, then it's time for an NPC to do something that generates new information. The mystery shouldn't exactly solve itself with no input from the players - remember, they're supposed to want to be here doing this - but it's a classic trope of the genre that having nosy kids start poking around spooks the villain into reacting. Canny investigators sometimes do things simply to provoke a reaction that will reveal a vital clue. Arguably, in fact, those villain reactions should happen with some regularity, even before the players have exhausted all their current leads. Just make sure that however the villain reacts, it actually does generate new questions to ask, new NPCs to talk to, or new places to look for clues.

Which is why Sherlock Holmes is probably a poor model for mystery solving in RPGs. In the popular imagination at least, Holmes is a guy who finds some ash from pipe tobacco on the ground, tastes the ashes, then calls on his voluminous memory of varieties of tobacco and where each type is sold across town and combines that with his vast experience with licking ashtrays to produce a list of tobacconist shops the villain must be a regular at. His shtick is that stuff that you'd normally need a crime lab for, he can do in his head.

But that's not how mystery solving goes at the RPG table. For obvious reasons, the players can't analyze the clues that way in their own heads. What they can do is ask the gamemaster "hey, would my character know which shop sold the tobacco that produced this ash?" But that's not nearly as interesting as getting the same answer by finding the genius perfumer who can discern the tasting notes by sniffing the ashes, then taking their findings to the blustering and self-important tobacco sommelier who knows all the shops in the city. In both cases, the players ask the gamemaster a question and get an answer, but it's so much more interesting if the answer comes out of the mouth of a fascinating NPC than if the GM simply states "sure, your character's a chain-smoker with pica, here's the address." In a game that's not about solving mysteries, maybe it makes sense to do a skill check, get the information, and move on, but if your purpose for being there at the game table is to enjoy the process of the investigation, then I think Trey's right, Holmes isn't a very good model for how that should go.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Player Art - Two Self-Portraits - Jimbo Chirrup and Crow

I wanted to share a couple of players' portraits of their characters.

First, we have Jimbo Chirrup, the Grasshopperfolk Garden Wizard, drawn by Josh Burnett. Jimbo has appeared in my GLOG Wizard City campaign, which you can read about here and here.

Next, here's Crow, the Tabaxi Rogue, drawn by Lindsey M. Crow has appeared in my 5e Undermountain campaign. You can read about Crow's first adventure here, and an earlier adventure in the same campaign without her here. Lindsey also drew some monsters for me earlier, which you can see here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Actual Play - GLOG Wizard City - Sophomore Year

Wizard Grad School 2nd Year Dungeon Exams

My GLOG campaign set in Goodberry Monthly's Wizard City campaign setting continues!

(I've also joined Oblidisideryptch's online GLOG game, exploring The Tomb of the Serpent Kings as a cannoneer, so I'm getting the opportunity to see these rules from both sides of the table.)

In this campaign, Josh and Peter and I are playing wizard graduate students who have yearly exams going into the dungeons Under Gallax Hall, with visits to the Wizard City Hexcrawl for "downtime" over summer break and the winter holiday.

(Josh has pointed out that a different ruleset could encourage more intra-party drama. It also occurred to me that you could set something like this up with shorter delves that happen at midterms and finals every semester, with "downtime" for drama in between.)

By coincidence, statues will be a recurring theme of these sessions. 

Jimbo Chirrup, a grasshopperfolk and 2nd level garden wizard, played by Josh
Deeringer, a deerling and 2nd level drowned wizard, played by Peter
Lunai Lovegood, a lunai and 2nd level orthodox wizard, played by me

Monica Doom was eager to recruit the team.
Session 4 : Summer Break

After attending a very lovely funeral for the beloved Arivaderchi Zeucchini (who is still alive, although trapped on the 2nd level of the dungeon), the three surviving grad students decided to follow up on the note they found hidden in Professor Klaus's office: "If you've managed to steal this, then I have need of your services. Ask the bartender at the Wandering Monster for a feline on the rocks."

On a humid summer night, the group went to the famous Wandering Monster bar near the student ghetto, where Deeringer, clearly at home in this film noir scenario, took the lead by ordering the drink, and was soon introduced to the femme fatale, a black cat in a wizard hat lapping up a Brandy Alexander from a saucer at the end of the bar.

"We found your note," Deeringer said, placing the folded slip of paper onto the bartop. The cat explained she was Monica Doom, a fellow Gallax University grad student, but she'd gotten herself into trouble gambling at the Manticore. She was a cat wizard who'd wagered her ability to turn back into her human form and lost; to buy it back, she needed the Eleventh Hourglass, which was hidden away in the vault in the southeast corner of the Old Gallax building, on the 3rd level of the dungeon.

The group agreed to help her retrieve the magic hourglass in exchange for directions to the vault, where they'd keep anything else they found. Monica also agreed to fence any more textbooks they found at a better price. They declined the chance to go gamble at the Manticore themselves.

The statues concluded their war with violent finality.
Session 4 : Winter Holiday

A semester of study and preparations passes as though in an eye blink, and soon the winter holidays were upon them. Jimbo, Deeringer, and Lunai ventured out into town again to enjoy the festivities and snow, but unfortunately, a roll on the random encounter table indicated that a civil war had erupted among the city's statues! Led by statues of the university's founders, four armies of stone and bronze figures began amassing and conducting commando raids on the edges of each other's territories. The city's wizard residents mostly stayed indoors, only popping outside long enough to literally run to their destination.

The three friends tried to intervene, with Deeringer again taking the lead. On the second day of the war, using his decrepit and badly maintained spy network, Deeringer managed to sow dissension between the statues, turning the two-on-two standoff into a four-way free-for-all.

On the third day, Gallax University's bursar's office was destroyed in the fighting! "Oh no," said Jimbo, "the student debt records. All destroyed. Whatever will we do."

On the fourth day, a statue was accused of treachery by its faction and was taken to the the Manticore to be bitten in half by the statue of St Mantis, the patron saint of grasshopperfolk in Wizard City.

On the fifth day, the Wizard Police came out and made everything worse, bludgeoning undergraduates in the streets for no reason, shooting people's familiars and daemons, tossing spell grenades through windows, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

On the sixth day, a gang of kuo-toa from out of town arrived and declared themselves the new bosses of the Drain neighborhood that bordered the Gallax University Campus. Seeing them as representatives of the hated ocean and everything it represents, Deeringer vowed to rededicate his efforts toward kicking the kuo-toa back out of town.

On the seventh day, a week after hostilities had begun, all of Deeringer's efforts and machinations came to fruition. Three of the founder statues reached an agreement and sicced their respective armies on the fourth and all his followers. Clouds of marble dust billowed through the streets, mingling with the light falling snow, as a quarter of all the statues in the city were pulverized and shattered by their enemies. The kuo-toa were also wiped out during the fighting, and to celebrate both New Year's Day and the end of the Seven Days' Statue War, the Krill Shop gave out free fish soup to all the hungry students who could finally emerge from their dorms and ghettos.

Deeringer was prepared for even further mischief.
Sessions 5-8 : Second Year Final Exams

Spring semester passed just as quickly as the fall had. Jimbo's many visits to Student Health paid off with a cure for his travel blindness, although he still had a drinking problem and more work to do in therapy next year. Fortunately, he was sober (and thus temporarily illiterate) in his Wizard History class on the day when the professor accidentally wrote a cursed glyph on the board and drove all the other students in the class insane.

Deeringer was being harassed by student loan officers kept chasing after him trying to collect his rusty Atlantean coins. "But I'm not even a student!" he protested, but the loan officers produced a folder filled with obviously fake loan documents. It seemed that in the wake of the destruction of the bursar's office, the University was resorting falsifying and robo-signing paperwork to replenish the school's coffers.

On exam day, the three friends passed by Professor Sitch's office and left the Bones Lounge unopened. They continued up the hallway, past the lecture auditorium, until they encountered some yellow maintenance signs. Always concerned about a wet floor, Deeringer looked closer and saw that they were warning of "GRABBY FLOOR! PLEASE USE CAUTION!" No one liked the sound of that, so they entered a classroom, looking for a way around. The room appeared to have been recently cleaned. All the furniture was stacked up into three extremely precarious looking towers, which the group all tip-toed around. In the next room, they found a classroom covered in blood-spatter and gore, and a custodian carefully cleaning up one corner of the devastation. They asked for help with the hall and instead got yelled at about the mess, so they left, deliberately knocking over the furniture behind them on the way out, the sound of distant swearing just audible over the tumult of falling chairs as they shut the door behind them.

Leaving the classroom, they took a different hall past the auditorium, and approached a statue of a pompous looking administrator and his equally dignified cat. Unfortunately, as they approached, Jimbo and Deeringer fell into a pit trap. Jimbo was alright - and managed to find a valuable looking textbook on the body of a dead undergrad. He was able to jump up out of the pit, to where Lunai has just returned with another (different, helpful) custodian. Lunai, Jimbo, and the custodian were able to haul out Deeringer, who was badly injured.

While Lunai helped Deeringer make a sling, Jimbo inspected the cat statue, and discovered that its tail could move. Tilted in one direction, the administrator's statue rotated and pointed down the hall at a statue of a unicorn. The floor around the unicorn statue was scuffed, and Jimbo was sure it was hiding a secret door, but he couldn't figure out the mechanism ... sooo, he started chipping away at the stonework behind the statue with his spade. The noise eventually attracted the attention of a group of undergrads, who started scolding him for defacing school property. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "Destroying property is cool. What're you guys, squares? Get punk, fellow kids." Thoroughly convinced, the undergrads ran down the hall, determined to toppled the administrator's statue, and all fell down the pit trap, probably to their deaths.

Eventually, Jimbo broke through, and the three friends decided to eat lunch in the secret room. It appeared to be a hidden student lounge, with the remnants of a magic circle drawn on the floor. Fully justifying the cost of their student loans, they were easily able to identify it as a ward against authority figures. "Hey, these kids are alright," Jimbo quipped as he flopped onto one of the couches. He browsed a copy of the student newspaper, The Unveiling Eye. It was a special issue about statues. The newspaper claimed that every statue had a meaning and every one hid a secret. It also claimed that the statues sometimes came to life, walked around, and traded places. "Yep, that checks out."

After lunch, with Deeringer in particular feeling much refreshed, they returned to the statue of the administrator and the cat. Jimbo noticed a loose tile and managed to pry it up. Underneath, they found a shaft leading downward, with a ladder disappearing down into the dark. They tried turning the cat's tail the other way, and the statue rotated again, pointing at a wooden wall. Again, they found no secret door mechanism, but Lunai broke down the wall with her battering beam spell, revealing the top of the old belltower, and a terribly rickety looking scaffolding leading down too. The group briefly debated their options, and chose the safer ladder over the possibly deeper scaffolding.

Despite Jimbo's fears, the steam pipes were plant free.
The ladder led down to a dead-end hallway. The ceiling overhead was a maze of pipes. The 2nd level of the dungeon was a maze of steam tunnels! Exploring a bit, the group entered a room with a blood-stained bathtub, emblazoned with the text "Leave an Offering". Deeringer was concerned about the possibility that the sinister, murderous ocean might try to get at him via the pipes of faucets. Jimbo tried leaving a small cash offering, but when nothing happened, he was unwilling to offer anything more.

The next room they entered was so filled with steam it was difficult to see. The party tried following the billowing steam clouds to their source, and soon reached a room filled with pipes and valves, where some undergraduate sorority sisters - members of Omicron Delta Theta, who maintained a clubhouse on this level - were apparently intentionally clouding up this section of the dungeon. A highly positive reaction roll suggested that the sisters might be flirting with Jimbo and Deeringer. "Look! Grad student guys!" Jimbo seemed happy to chat the girls up, while Deeringer was more stoic.

"So what are you two doing down here?" the Deeringer asked. The ODT girls showed off their pockets filled with syringes of mutagen, and explained their plan to get people lost and confused by the mist, then inject them with diseases and mutation serums. Deeringer was aghast - "Why would you do something like that?" - but Jimbo thought this all sounded pretty normal - "What're you, kidding? C'mon. This is wizard college. That's like, a Tuesday." The girls agreed and explained that they got extra credit for every person they infected. Jimbo was able to get directions to two different routes down to level 3, and one of the sisters slipped him the address for her apartment back in town. Then the girls used special syringes to turn themselves into clouds of vapor and floated away down a hallway that they'd confessed was heavily booby-trapped behind all the steam.

The group retraced their steps, attempting to locate a path to the eastern staircase. Their first effort led them to a flooded room, which Deeringer was unwilling to enter - and Jimbo and Lunai agreed with his judgment. The retreated and tried another track, aiming for the northeaster stairs instead. This time they passed through a room with a metal grate for a floor. Deeringer was sure he saw something lurking underneath, and continued to worry about flooding.

They entered a strangely symmetrical intersection of hallways, so self-similar they worried about getting lost just walking straight through. They were attacked by a towering dungeon swan, one of ODT's many experimental mutants, and after a pitched battle, they put the beast down and retreated the way they had come. They realized that somehow 4 days had passed outside while they were in the corridor. They retreated back to the steam room to sleep the night. They awoke warm and a bit damp, but with their clothing pleasantly steam-cleaned!

The next morning, the group returned to the time-bending intersection, only to be approached by the stone statue of a horse with no rider. Fearing what might happen if they fought it, the trio retreated from the statue, observing that another 2 days passed in the brief time they'd been inside the strange halls. Trying a different path, they passed through another eerily symmetrical intersection of hallways, but fortunately passed through unharmed. They quickly passed through a room where the ceiling was covered in faucets, afraid of what might drip out if they lingered.

The next room held dozens of valves, sorted and color-coded according to some unknown logic. Jimbo pressed his luck quite far indeed, trying out over half a dozen of the valves. After one, the group heard a mechanical thump and the ambient noise level decreased slightly. (This was the heating system for the entire above-ground building shutting down. The undergrads were thrown into chaos, and eventually, a custodian would have to venture here to restart the furnaces.) After another, they heard screaming coming from somewhere overhead. (This was nerve gas being released into one of the torture laboratories on the 1st level. Mission to punk those nerds in the Torture Department? Accomplished!) Fortunately for Deeringer and Lunai, Jimbo stopped testing valves before killing them all!

Eventually, they passed down a hall into a room where a whimpering body-bag hung from the ceiling. When approached, whoever was inside the bag became inconsolable and started wailing. Jimbo's spell to calm emotions had no effect. Knocking the bag down and opening it revealed that it was stuffed with wastepaper!

In the next room, they found an angry janitor, trying to mop the rust stains out of the rusted iron floor with a wet mop. He wasn't at all happy about the noise the party had made in the other room, but cheered up slightly when offered whiskey, and pointed the way to the nearby staircase.

The final obstacle was a giant door of solid black granite. It seemed to have no handle or way to open it, but feeling along the door eventually revealed a keyhole. The group tried the unregistered key they'd found in the Bones Lounge, and the door opened! Just past the door was a stairway leading down to the 3rd level of the dungeon.

Walking the halls without a hall pass, eh?
They go tough on you for that 'round these parts.
Jimbo, Deeringer, and Lunai descended the stairs and entered the Old Gallax Building, the previous college structure that the steam tunnels, basement, and current Gallax Building had all been erected atop. The exited the stair room and entered an enormous old hall, complete with hideous carpet and outdated wallpaper. An oversized statue of a knight in armor stood across from the door, its visor began glowing with red light, and it bellowed "Present hall pass!" The group bolted back behind the door, and quickly forged a hallpass on a torn-out page of spellbook. The statue proved to be not very discerning, and the glow in its visor went out when they presented the forgery. "Hall pass accepted!"

The hall appeared to contain more statues further down its length, and Monica Doom's instructions suggested the vault would be in the southeast corner of the dungeon, so there was no good reason to follow this hall leading to the west. They found a doorway branching off to the south - inside, they found the ghost of Administrator Poe, one of the university's four founders. The ghost was busy berating his miserable zombie staff about how his expansive office suite was all crooked and would need to be redone. Naturally, Deeringer, Jimbo, and Lunai pretended to be custodians, there to perform the requested repairs. Administrator Poe was extremely pleased, and left for his other office across the hall. The group quickly searched the place, discovering a valuable crystal paperweight, and a room covered in calendars with December 6th circled on every one.

Leaving the office, the group crossed another long hall. They could see statues of the founders, and the enormous University Seal cast in bronze, with the words "SEAL PERISH. UNIVERSITY" printed visibly along the side facing them. The declined to investigate that any further and continued deeper into the old building.

The next set of halls were almost maze-like. The group entered a fancy administrative washroom and stole the gold-embroidered towels. The heard the footsteps of someone wearing fancy shoes and walking with authority, and waited until the sound had passed. Jimbo suggested camping in the easily-fortified location, but Deeringer refused. "No! Are you kidding? With all these faucets? Where the ocean can get us?"

They peeked into a lounge that appeared to be the site of a terrible magical battle, the walls covered in scorch marks, the ground littered with corpses with bizarre injuries - but the battle must have been over a hundred years earlier, and all that was left were skeletons and dust. Another room housed two statues holding the shattered remains of a mirror, the wall graffitied with the "NO ESCAPE, HARGRAVE!" Jimbo and Deeringer felt certain this message wasn't for them. "It's a lucky thing we're in a college. Even the graffiti has excellent grammar." "I know! And that penmanship!"

Finally, closing in on the vault, they entered another ancient battlefield, this one in an old library. More devastation, a skeleton half-embedded in a wall, a perfectly motionless student in old-timey garb, several skeletons wearing pointy wizard hats. The group began peeking at the books, but most seemed to have been damaged or distorted by the spells from the battle. Deeringer found some old bronze coins that he though Monica Doom might be able to fence.

As they prepared to leave, the hats leapt off their corpses and began attacking the three wizards! The hats got the better of the group in a way that nothing else in the dungeon so far had - Deeringer was concussed, Jimbo's thorax got stress-fractures, and a hat bit Lunai Lovegood's arm so badly that she nearly died, and Jimbo and Deeringer were sure she'd need to have it amputated. Although they were close to their goal, the group chose to retreat. At one point on their way out they were accosted by the ghost of Administrator Gallax, who mistook them for wealthy donors, and thus was thrilled to see them. Somehow the ghost ended up with the bronze coins, but he did escort them all the way back to the dungeon entrance, where, a week after their exam began, the group finally exited the halls and set off for Student Health.

alliance with Monica Doom
invitation to meet ODT sorority sisters
textbook worth 15 gp
crystal paperweight worth 300 gp
bronze coins worth 57 gp

Lunai Lovegood received a fatal wound, needs a prosthetic arm, and might retire

group of undergrads who fell in a pit trap after talking to Jimbo
all occupants of Experimental Torture Laboratory B who died of nerve gas
ODT's pet dungeon swan
swarm of hungry hungry hats

In wizarding university, laundry sorts you!
The wandering encounter table in the Wizard City Hexcrawl definitely produces some wild results! I'll be honest, a war among the statue factions sound really cool, but I had no idea how to run it, no idea how to decide what happens next. I ended up using the "craps" mechanic from Martin O's The Manticore dungeon and kind of reinterpreting the results to be happening at the scale of the entire city. I think it worked out, actually, but I'm not sure what I would have done otherwise.

This felt like another occasion where the no-homework approach limited my ability to describe things well. Who are these four founding wizards and what do their statue armies look like? What are they fighting over and what are the sides? Hell, what are the neighborhoods the battle is raging across? I don't really know, because I don't really know the setting any better than my players do, so all those details are a blank. Don't ask questions, just, quick! roll 2d6 to see what happens next!

Between this and my collaborative-but-vague worldbuilding over in my 5e campaign, I really am longing for my own campaign setting to run adventures in, someplace that I'll know enough details about to answer really basic questions about history, and geography, and important people.

Having a mission and a vague sense of direction certainly transformed the experience of this particular delve. Monica Doom struck a chord of sympathy with Josh and Peter, and her offer to fence their loot helped to sweeten the deal. It makes me wonder if I've run too many dungeons with just a vague "there's probably treasure in there somewhere, go find it" or "could be a monster that needs killing somewhere inside, go find it" as the only real starting point.

That works okay if you don't have any other motivation, but it makes me think I've been missing out by not really ever putting my players on meaningful quests. If your only motive is "go explore" than any door is as good as the next, whereas here, they had good reasons to pick one path over another, and reasons to ignore some areas of the dungeon in favor of finding others. If you just want to explore, seeing one spot is just as good as seeing any other. In a larger dungeon, having different missions on different delves could really help to direct your exploration each time. I suppose a good rumor table could help with that, but I suspect that real missions, where you are doing something for someone, probably so they'll do something for you in return, are more direct.

The group definitely didn't find enough treasure this time to level up under the "gold for XP" system. Since we've been playing this fairly collaboratively, I'll have to ask Josh and Peter if they want to stick with that, or go with a "one level gained per delve" system instead.

During the next "summer break", the group will probably want to follow-up with Monica Doom, and Josh might want Jimbo to check on the sorority sisters who gave him their address. (They probably ought to have names or something, right?) If they do want a way to earn more XP, T AKW from Dreams and Fevers and Velexiraptor from A Blasted Cratered Land have put out a mini wizard school dungeon The Department of Soul Studies. This could be an above-ground part of Gallax University, or a rival wizard liberal arts college located somewhere else in the city.

Unless I keep coming up with new missions, I think this campaign is moving toward a natural conclusion, or at least a natural pausing point, probably after they burgle the vault and steal the Eleventh Hourglass, although events could surprise me. I know Josh is eager to try out the free quickstart rules from the Root RPG Kickstarter,and I'm quite interested as well. On the other hand, if some new motivations to continue the campaign due pop up, I'm not going to stifle things by calling a premature end to it - it's just that right now a possible ending is in sight.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Session Report - 5e Undermountain - Cragmaw Goblins

My 5e campaign, I think, is going to have a primarily mission-based structure. There's no real sandbox here for the players to make a lot of choices about what they're going to do next, but I do want to offer them some options.

I noticed that the Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign from the 5e Starter Kit has several small dungeons, and I thought that might be a good way to give them some choices. The Cragmaw Hideout and Redbrand Hideout are kind of introductory adventure sites, and they have the possibility to lead into Cragmaw Castle and the Ruins of Thundertree, respectively.

Session 3

Cast of characters
Raku Chihuly - dragonborn guild-artificer, 2nd level artificer, played by Emily
Willowbald Hornblower - halfling noble, 2nd level bard, played by Steve
Nehryx - centaur outlander, 2nd level fighter, played by Corey

After successfully completing their first adventure, the party was ready to level up. I walked Steve and Emily through the process, and Corey volunteered to pick a different fighting style for Nehryx that's easier to use without worrying about fictional positioning. He chose Great Weapon Fighting, which helped produce some really spectacular damage rolls later on. The group also used some of their new money to buy better armor, an antidote in case of poison, and a healing potion.

At The Laughing Halfling pub, Raku, Willowbald, and Nehryx tried to enjoy a rare treat from Aunt Dinah's cellars - a rare bottle of Chateau Hornblower, produced in the brief window before Willowbald's family's lawsuit forced him to sell all future bottles as Chateau Willowbald. The wine tasted like someone had used red-wine vinegar to steep very strong black tea, had then used the brew to douse a smoldering campfire, and then bottled whatever they managed to strain from the ashes. Willowbald claimed it was an acquired taste.

Just then, old man Bassoon Hornblower appeared in the doorway to the pub, pointing a menacing finger inside. "There they are!" he shouted to an unknown figure, silhouetted behind him. "These are the ones I told you about! They're the one ... who saved my pipeweed!" The poor old man had tears in his eyes as he showed off a new green leaf, fully restored to health by the first good rain after the volcano vanished.

The mysterious figure behind him proved to be Black Iris, who had a business proposition for them. "That diamond was worth a lot more than Bassoon could pay for, you know," she started, before explaining that if they were going into the do-gooder business, there were a number of opportunities to do some good up in the mountains, where various gangs of bandits were making it difficult to ship anything. Iris explained that supply carriers were being intercepted by a group of goblins who kept appearing out of the forest, and by some human ruffians who seemed to be operating out of an abandoned mansion. When they expressed interest in stopping the goblins, Iris offered to pay 275 if the party could stop them, then noted that the ones she'd seen might be getting instructions from somewhere higher up in the peaks.

Following Iris's instructions, the group headed up a caravan trail into the Grosseberg Mountains, where Nehryx felt quite comfortable from his time spent living off the land both before and after he was kidnapped by the traveling circus. They spotted a footpath that seemed like it must be how the goblins were reaching the main trail, Nehryx estimated at least a dozen goblins traveled it semi-regularly. The group decided to camp a little ways off in the woods, in order to surprise the goblins by arriving in the morning. Due to a well-chosen campsite, no goblin ambush patrol found them in the night.

Rising just before dawn, the group set out on the goblin footpath, with Willowbald scouting ahead. The group moved slowly, risking a greater chance of encountering patrols for a better opportunity to avoid being ambushed by any goblins they did meet. Willowbald's careful approach seemed to pay off when he spotted a snare hidden under a pile of dead leaves, and again later when he noticed a deadfall that might have been difficult for Nehryx to climb out of.

In between the two traps, Willowbald noticed a goblin patrol coming down the footpath, and managed to duck out of their sight into the woods. As the four goblins rounded a corner to encounter Raku and Nehryx, Willowbald caught them by surprise from behind, and quickly took one down with his crossbow. Raku and Nehryx won the initiative - Raku quickly eliminated one goblin with her fire breath and Nehryx ran forward to absolutely destroy another with his great sword. The last goblin surveyed the carnage and ran off into the woods, but Nehryx gave chase and prevented it from escaping with his longbow.

When the group arrived at the mouth of the goblin's hideout cave, no alarms or warnings had alerted the inhabitants of the adventurers' arrival.

200 XP for monsters (four goblins 50/each)
250 XP for traps (snare trap 100 + pit trap 150)

Session 4

Cast of characters
Willowbald Hornblower - halfling noble, 2nd level bard, played by Steve
Nehryx - centaur outlander, 2nd level fighter, played by Corey
Demic - minotaur entertainer, 2nd level paladin, played by Ben
Crow - tabaxi acolyte of Nuula, 1st level rogue, played by Lindsey

Inspecting the entrance to the goblins' cave, the adventurers realized that they'd either have to cross a small river to reach a land entrance, or walk in the cold but slow-moving water. Nehryx invited Willowbald and the cat-woman rogue, Crow, to ride on his back across the water. (Ben hadn't arrived yet, so Demic didn't participate in this part of the session.) Hurrying across, the group got the better of a pair of inattentive goblin sentries, quickly putting them down and then dragging their bodies behind the treeline.

Listening at the mouth of the cave, they still heard no alarm, although they realized the sound of the stream would mask most quiet sounds. The cave mouth led to a tunnel with a walking path beside the stream. The tunnel ran slightly uphill while curving to the right, so their visibility was limited. They passed by a staircase where they could hear growling and rattling chains, then a steep side-path across the stream.

Continuing on, they saw a wooden bridge crossing the tunnel overhead with goblins guarding the ends. Worried that they might have been seen, the group retreated, and natural-climber Crow offered to try scrambling up the steep side-path. Halfway up the loose gravel trail, she realized that the path was trapped - an avalanche of gravel slid down around her, dumping her in the stream. Just then, a rumble came from further up the tunnel. They had been seen, and the goblins had unleashed their most dangerous trap yet - floodwaters filled the tunnel, battering everyone and washing them downstream and outside!

When the group washed ashore, Crow wasn't breathing, but quick help from Willowbald and Demic got her back on her feet. The party retreated further downstream, then crossed into the woods to hide, rest, and regroup. After recuperating, they snuck back toward the cave in the woods, emerging in the clearing where goblin sentries were watching for threats emerging from a different direction. These two guards were also rapidly dispatched.

The group returned to the cave and quickly went up natural steps they'd bypassed before. The snarling and rattling came from a trio of wolves all chained to a stalactite, who worked together as a pack to attack the heroes at the front of the group. Ben was able to use Demic's new Protective fighting style to good effect, nullifying the wolves' advantage against one of his allies in melee each round. The vicious, starving creatures were soon put out of their misery.

A narrow passage at the back of this cave appeared to offer a way around traveling the main tunnel. Willowbald could fit through easily, and Demic volunteered to squeeze behind him. They arrived in a larger cavern, lit by a burning brazier. The walls were crowded with dozens of boxes and barrels stowed along the walls. A large, hulking and fur-covered goblin-type leader stood by the firepit with his pet wolf and two regular goblin henchmen. "Who dares disturb Klarg?!" the bugbear demanded.

Demic, drawing on his performance skills from his gladiatorial days, pretended to be a fellow monster. "I caught this one lurking around. I brought him to you to interrogate!" Klarg, not the brightest fellow, was convinced, and asked Demic to bring Willowbald forward. "Of course," said Demic, raising his voice so that Nehryx and Crow would hear him in the other cave, "just let me tie my shoe." He ducked down, and an arrow from Nehryx's bow flew through the passage and skewered Klarg. "What?!" Klarg was briefly furious, but from his crouching posture, Demic rushed forward and gored him with his horns, ending the bugbear's reign of terror.

The goblin lieutenants ran away screaming in fear, and behind them, the group heard the sound of a second rush of water pouring down the main tunnel. Klarg's loyal wolf leapt on Willowbald, knocking him to the ground and harrying him rather severely, but Crow appeared out of the shadows of the passage, and with Crow and Nehryx's help, Willowbald was soon safe.

In the background, the group heard more screaming and the sounds of goblins running away down the main tunnel. They inspected Klarg's hoard and saw that it was mostly stolen trade-goods, exactly the kind of thing Black Iris liked to deal in, and a treasure chest with Klarg's personal wealth. Inside the chest was a crude hand-drawn map that seemed to show a path between a castle and the current cave. After allowing the goblins a head start to escape, the party left the caves and returned to Alpenshire.

275 gp/each from Black Iris
57 gp in treasure (600 cp, 110 sp, silver statue worth 40 gp)
2 healing potions
600 XP from monsters (four goblins 50/each + four wolves 50/each + bugbear 200)
125/250 XP from traps (avalanche trap 50/100 + flood trap 75/150)

Running combat went more smoothly this time. Steve managed to think of the one other way to get advantage on an attack roll that I hadn't thought of - which was to take the enemy completely by surprise. The "Protective" fighting style seems to work fine, even in theater of the mind, since it's obviously meant to protect an ally standing right next to Demic, which means someone who's part of the same melee group. He used it to good effect, and I think it adds a nice way to incorporate some teamwork into the fights. Meanwhile "Great Weapon Fighting" gave Nehryx some really impressive hits with his great sword, and ended a couple of fights with a single blow.

The 5e Dungeon Master Guide recommends that you can give XP for non-combat challenges (like traps) using the "experience budget" for building combat encounters, with the amount of XP awarded based on the difficulty of the challenge and the character level. The main impact of that is that characters of different levels will get different amounts of XP for encountering traps.

By my count, at this point, Raku has 1100 XP, Willowbald and Nehryx both have 1950 XP, Demic has 1025 XP, and Crow has 725 XP. So we'll probably start the next session by leveling people up appropriately.