Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Lost Library of Bael Turath, Session 1

Just picked up the fifth edition Player's Handbook yesterday (using gaming club funding, no less!) and I got the chance to continue my ongoing D&D game! I'm very excited so I decided to write up the session.

Game Background: Beginning a year ago, my game originally ran using D&D 4E, primarily the Essentials sourcebooks, and set in 4E's native setting, the Nentir Vale. I ran my players through Kobold Hall (the DMG "starter" dungeon) before moving on to an adventure of my own design - fighting the River Rats, a thieves' guild in Fallcrest.
We finished up the year playing through a heavily adapted version of the Siege of Bordrin's Watch adventure published in Dungeon Magazine. The players took things off rails quite a bit, leading an expedition into the orcs' territory to spy on their leader and learn their plans. This paid off when they were able to activate the Nexus, an ancient dwarven device, to flood the tunnels below the Dawnforge Mountains with boiling water and destroy the orc horde moving through them.
In this last adventure, the players found a map indicating that the dwarves had discovered the location of the Library of Bael Turath, a relic of the ancient civilization which treated with devils and brought Tieflings into the world. Being adventurers, they resolved to quest there and uncover the library's secrets.

Character Creation: My group resolved to switch to Fifth Edition at the end of last year. Personally, I enjoyed 4E but took the point that the combats were rather grind-y and the characters lacked some definition beyond their role in combat. One of my players, however, hated 4E and was happy to see it go.
Re-creating (and creating - our play group had switched around since the end of last year) characters took longer than expected - about an hour and a half. The group had made it to fifth level, but I think most of the confusion centered around moving to a new edition and learning the ins and outs of their new classes. Only having one Player's Handbook slowed things down, but we were able to use the Basic Rules PDF for things like equipment to mitigate this.
We ended up with the following characters:

  • Vel'Krathis, played by Ryen. A Tiefling Avenger in 4E, Ryen felt that a Paladin of Vengeance fit this character's mechanical niche very well, even though the main stats swapped around quite a bit (Dexterity -> Strength, Wisdom -> Charisma). A combination of the Acolyte and Urchin backgrounds helped fill out Vel's backstory, which was previously somewhat undefined. Ryen decided that his parents were cultists of Asmodeus slain by paladins until he was taken in by the church of Erathis.
  • Rolf, played by Ben. Rolf's status as a Dwarven Fighter has never changed, and a Battlemaster Fighter ended up replicating this character from 4E with nearly the same abilities ("Marking," trip attacks, etc). Rolf's goal in the campaign is to reclaim his usurped kingdom, but he has journeyed overseas to gather forces and spent a lot of time working as a mercenary. The Soldier background with Noble skills ended up working perfectly here, and I feel like Rolf will continue to be a great contribution to the game.
  • Ghravos Wolfsbane, played by Colby. Colby previously played Horros Wolfsbane, a half-elf Druid, but decided to switch out this soft-spoken character for his boisterous Tempest Cleric brother. Ghravos is a Folk Hero who worships Kord, and seems poised to become one of the group's front-line fighters.
  • Merla "The Decanter" Trill, played by Leah. Leah's joining the game this year with a Halfling Shadow Monk, but with a backstory twist. Turns out Merla was the alchemist supplying drugs to the Redbrands in the group's past adventures - but thanks to an experiment gone wrong, an inadvertent trip to the Shadowfell, and a change of heart, Merla's looking to reform. It's going to be interesting to see how she fares with the very lawful Vel'Krathis at the head of the party.
  • Ashryn, played by Katie. Ashryn's player is also new to our group, and fairly new to D&D in general, but she's a big fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender - so when I flipped through the PHB and pointed out the Way of the Four Elements monk, she said "I want to play that!" Ashryn ended up as a half-elf Hermit who ran away from her family to seek enlightenment and master her new spiritual powers, but hasn't been successful so far.

Actual Play: I decided to start the adventure with a series of vignettes showing off each character's abilities and concept to get everyone into the game.

We open in the southern town of Therund. After (literally) handing in her resignation letter to the local crime boss, Merla Trill is packing up her alchemist's lab when her alarm spell (Ritual Caster feat) goes off in her head and she hears the sound of thugs running up the stairs.
She calmly finishes packing, then jumps out the window when the thugs burst into the room. Running along the rooftops, she catches a crossbow bolt aimed at her, then jumps down and hides, casting pass without trace and melding into shadow to avoid an ambush set for her at the docks. She takes a running leap onto a boat, which has cast off and is heading upriver, and makes it!

Snow had just begun to fall on the small fishing village of Nenlast when the first of the barbarians strode out of the forest, riding a saber-toothed tiger. Good thing Ghravos has organized a militia and is here to stop them from sacking the town! He gives an inspiring speech and rolls a natural 20, which I ruled gave the militia advantage on all of their attack rolls for the turn. (Normally, this would be an incredibly unbalancing effect, but given the nature of this scene I wasn't too worried.)
Each of the other players takes on the role of a militia member (using Guard stats) dueling a barbarian warrior, while Ghravos gets ready to fight the leader and his tiger. Fortunately, call lighting takes out the leader on its first shot, then proceeds to roast the rest of the raiders. Gharos stabilizes some of the commoners with more clerical magic, then looks up - a wyvern descends from the sky with his brother riding it (Horros tamed one in the last adventure). Turns out he's got an offer to join a dangerous expedition...

Ashryn meditates at the top of a waterfall in the Dawnforge Mountains as the sun rises. Suddenly, her view of the world shifts! She becomes aware of the coils of the World Serpent that encircle every part of the mountains and the world beyond. Rainbow scales suggest a path for her to follow out of the mountains, and a voice whispers to her "Follow the path! Protect the world."
The waterfall presents no difficulty as she dives down it (Slow Fall for the win!). After a few days of traveling, she comes across a farmhouse and hears screams - there's an ogre menacing some unconscious farmers! Ashryn springs into action and uses a Water Whip to knock the ogre prone and get its attention, then proceeds to execute a Flurry of Blows to full effect. Although she takes a hit, she's able to knock out the ogre in two rounds, then uses another Water Whip to drag it out of the house and leaves the farmers to deal with it when they wake up.

In the dwarven town of Hammerfast, Rolf heads out of his room at the inn for an evening stroll. He's stopped by an important-looking dwarf named Tordek who's backed up by warriors. Tordek, the leader of the Battlehammer Clan, has heard of Rolf's goal to reclaim his home kingdom, but wants to judge Rolf's worthiness to lead warriors into battle himself. It's a duel at sunset!
Rolf wins the initiative and goes in for a Trip Attack which successfully knocks Tordek prone. The clan leader attempts to return the blows but is stopped by Rolf's armor and shield (20 AC!), while Rolf continues to batter away at Tordek's HP. A few rounds later and Tordek is sprawled on the ground. The gathered dwarves (and the players at the table) applaud Rolf's combat prowess.

We return to Fallcrest, where Vel'Krathis is leading the hunt for a serial killer in the catacombs under the town, taking a few guards with him. They're ambushed by a group of zombies and the necromancer/killer herself, who cackles and prepares to cast a spell...
But Vel'Krathis teleports (misty step) behind her undead bodyguard and takes her out in two swings. Damn. Fifth level characters are powerful. We move forward to the trial in the Temple of Erathis, where overwhelming evidence against the necromancer points toward a death sentence. Vel delivers it himself, takes the woman outside and slits her throat. A few apprentice adventurers, arriving to join his expedition, get cold feet upon seeing this sight and run away.

Things start to come together the next day, when Vel'Krathis wakes up to a *knock-knock-knock* on his door. He opens it to reveal a young woman, dressed in the finest clothing available, who introduces herself as Westra Brightwood (NPC). She is intimidated by his appearance (menacing on the best of days) but nevertheless offers to join the expedition. He asks a standard set of questions ("Do you require any pay?" "Do you have combat experience?") to learn that she's a noble scholar who's interested in the trip for academic reasons. No combat experience, but she can contribute to the expedition's funding - Vel decides that he doesn't want her and slams the door, trying to go back to sleep....

*Knock-knock-knock!* It's Ghravos, who introduces himself as Horros's (Vel's friend and adventuring companion) brother. He offers to join the expedition, showing off his skill with weather magic, and Vel eagerly accepts, going back to his morning routine....

*Knock-knock-knock!* Tiefling twins, Amnon and Atka (NPCs), at the door - one's a Sorceror, the other's a Monk. They want to be part of a mission to rediscover the lost glories of their race, and Vel signs them on, inquires as to their place of lodging

*Knock-knock-knock!* (These were physical raps on the table, by the way.) It's Ashryn! Unfortunately, Vel's the second person she's talked to in a decade, and she bumbles out something about "following the rainbow road" and "the spirits sent me here!" Vel sighs, wearily asks his standard questions, and decides it couldn't hurt to have her along.

*Knock-knock-knock!* Vel looks outside, sees nobody, and turns back into his room only to see Merla has made her way in right under his nose. She's a senile old woman and he's about to throw her out, but when he asks "Why do you want to join the expedition?" she simply says "Redemption." He's okay with it. Merla happily accepts, then jumps out the window (this is beginning to become a theme for her).

*Knock-knock-knock!* Expecting Rolf, Vel'Krathis is instead greeted by a shifty-looking human man named Viro (NPC). Viro has a dagger hidden up his sleeve, nearly mentions an open act of thievery to Vel (the city's major law enforcer), and drops a set of thieves' tools on his way out, but Vel realizes nobody on the expedition is suited for dealing with traps and accepts his offer after some negotiation.

Finally, the party's ready to head out! Vel feels his pocketbook thinning after hiring porters and purchasing food and supplies, so when Westra Brightwood shows up again as they depart, he decides some financial backing is worth dealing with a noble twit and reconsiders having her on the expedition.

The group finally meets Rolf on the road and sets out to cross the Dawnforge Mountains to find the Library - and that's where we end the session!