The characters for this session
Seck, lvl6 rogue;
Phoenix, lvl6 barbarian (in pact with his own Sea Eagle totem);
Vir, lvl6 ranger (in pact with Ulruf the Mage Slayer);
Cat, lvl6 warlock
The Long Roaders are 42xp below level 7
Through the jungle swamp!
By the time the Long Roaders reach the last well-defined point on Morchefus’ recovered map, every crevice of their gear and person is the rich deep brown of a jungle swamp. Every stitch of clothing is tea-colored. According to Vir’s knowledge and the map, they are about a mile beyond the main channel of the Woldcote river and perhaps a quarter-mile from what the map shows is an isle of some kind where Colrath dwells. Morchefus’ map notes say that their path lies through a lizardfolk village.
So far, their preparation has been perfect. They don’t even regret swinging by Thurmaster to barter for a brazier and iron rations, because that gave them a choice of two punts. They hired the larger, so all of their packs have had a comfortable ride. They themselves are lightly equipped.
This far inside the Shrieken Mire, it’s obvious that the black dragon Colrath has warped an area miles across with his draconic powers. The jungle swamp is already eerie and difficult to traverse, but now acrid fog lies heavy on the air. There is a noticeable lack of noise as if the entire jungle is on edge.
Mechanics in play
I have swiped elements of N1 Reptile God’s Dungeon Level 2 for this session. This particular leg is using the map parts that eventually lead round to the temple. Each inch now represents a full round of movement for a normal traveler. Only the clear stretches of water are visible to the players.
They have to guess which next stretch of clear water is the best one to choose. My own N1 map tells me what connects to what, of course. A wrong guess means that they have to drag their punt across wild jungle and do not find a useful stretch of water.
And time is ticking! Vir is well aware that all of the swamp’s animal life will carry tales to Colrath warning him of danger. The party has to move with speed. This is represented by a countdown pool, starting with 6d6 since this is a level 6 party. I roll each “turn” or each decision. Each time a 6 turns up it is removed. I also roll if 5 minutes real time ticks away with nothing happening.
The players have created a list of vital stuff (information and rope for example) for me to roll against on my prep pool, which leaves them 1d6.
Finally, in order that fighting across the swamp does not take long, I have an escalation d3 ready. However, using Morchefus’ map notes, I have seeded notions that Colrath is not simply guarded by concentric layers of lizardfolk and cultists. Kuiper has told Vir that the lizardfolk are law-abiding, so ideally the players will at least consider factions and alliances.
Gaining unexpected allies!
The Long Roaders only make one wasted attempt.
DC10 CON SV representing coping with acidic pools/gas and general heaving of the punt across thick jungle swamp. Phoenix and Cat pick up one level exhaustion each.
Then fortune swings their way! Although Morchefus’ margin notes point to various dangers in each pool he has marked, Cat tries raising a hand in peace when a froglike head goggles up from the insect-roiling surface of a pond.
It’s a good thing Phoenix didn’t have a chance to negotiate, because this is what the Alshon Marine calls a “bug” – some scholars call them Bullywugs.
Cat makes 10 on disadv. Persuasion, the spear-toting creature uses sign language to ask what they are doing
For a shiny gem, the strange froglike creature guides the Long Roaders in a long loop. According to the guide’s gestures, they are within striking distance of both the lizardfolk village and another possible stretch of water linking to the dragon’s lair.
The Long Roaders decide to head towards the latter; I ask for CON SV and Perception check. All manage DC10 CON SV. Cat forgets he has a level of exhaustion and makes 17 Perception.
It’s been a slog but none of them are too shattered. The punt draws up to the next stretch of jungle. The guide sinks below the level of the water and disappears.
Then their progress is interrupted as another party approaches from behind! Humanoids, with tails.
Disadvantage Persuasion, but +2 as Cat raises his hand in peaceful greeting.
At this point I ask if Cat is wearing those swamp-adder wristlets that identify them as cultists! The players did mention prepping for this but did not place it on the “vital” equipment. But it’s my duty to help them blunder into mistakes.GM
Cat’s wrist bears the black wristlet of cultists. Immediately the lizardfolk fan out, hostilely!
“Your god has abandoned you!” – Vert, in passable Common
Luckily Vir rescues Cat’s poor beginning. He calls over:
“We’re here to sort out the cultists!”
This is colloquial so not understood, but at least it’s not “we come in peace shoot to kill!” – Vir gets a disadvantage Persuasion check and makes an adequate score!
“You mean harm to cultists? We may have reason to make friend… with you” – Vert
Vert, sharp-eyed hunter, greenscale and bold, proves to be the only one of the four lizardfolk confronting them that admits to speaking Common. He and another like him – edgy, grasping spear tightly – are hunters, they are backed up by a hulking brute – blackscale, greatclub, savage – and a sneaky black-scale skulker.
It seems that the tribe’s idol and champion, the beauteous Kelirth, has been wooed away by the despicable Colrath the black. Her serving him like some handmaiden is intolerable! If the Long Roaders can guarantee that they will bring Kelirth back to life once she falls, these four will be their allies.
And so having sworn on various important things such as their mothers or the lives of their unborn, the Long Roaders gain strong sidekicks for the coming assault!
This has all taken quite a long time, as the Long Roaders think through what options they have to keep their oaths, and time is short. After a portage of quite a long distance, the eight launch their punt into dank, insect-heavy water. The four lizardfolk sink deep into the water, visible only by their eye-ridges and tails. Then all eight set off across to the dragon’s lair.
XP: lvl7-36, wrapping a number of elements up into one big win here
The count-down has re-set back up 1d6 to 4d6 based on the assistance their allies are providing
Brushing past the cult remnant!
The Long Roaders have gathered that the black dragon cultists have been abandoned by Colrath. What they don’t know is why, and what numbers are there, and how dangerous they are.
The isle is thickly clad in jungle foliage, scouting will be easy in one regard, but difficult in regard to sneaking right up close enough to investigate then coming away again. Hugely dominant, a low-lying mound rises above the jungle cover. This is Colrath’s lair!
Plans are discussed, taking some time: but eventually since the ground leading up to the dragon’s mound is small, all eight creep close to a frontage of two blackened, decayed columns between pilasters of sandstone forming a vast portico into the mound. Seck determines that the cultists are living in squalid lean-tos. The camp is not alert.
The final plan (which is Phoenix’s) is to split into two wings, one against the far side of the camp, the other against the closest side. The flank-march party will signal the near party.
The quieter two, each shadowed by his sidekick, swing out round the camp, but a stick breaks audibly under Seck’s foot. Cultists stick their heads out and one offers an obvious pass-phrase! The jig is up!
Initiatives: Seck, Phoenix, Vir, Cat, cultists
The fight is brief, the cultists number only six and have no special defenses. Their leader, clad in civilian gear, briefly makes a break; but Seck burns a charge on his Boots of the Skirmisher to cut him off in the entrance to the mound, and some sneak attack worth on Red Whisper to prevent spell-casting. Phoenix takes a couple of heavy cuts from the cultists’ thug, but in his raged state feels them but lightly. His Brute sidekick takes a Chill Touch. Vir also takes a heavy cut from a cultist, and a lighter one.
XP: lvl7-34, including a future 1xp for when the Duke gets the report.
Loot: The party raises the prep pool to 2d6 based on looting the camp.
Mid-roll: Treasure and Testaments
Helena has Hellebore’s spell-book and the three scrolls. In exchange:
- She relinquishes any claim on the diamond
- She makes no claim on any other magic item, though she does keep her fancy lantern
- She hands back all but two of her share of the 30 gems, leaving a tidy 7 gems per Long Roader [from this last haul – Helena has no claim on Syralth’s loot]
- She will handle the business of handing the spellbook off to the Inquisition or at least, the official Wizards Guild. Any favor or moneys received for this will be shared back with the Long Roaders
- She still gets her even share of the money, leaving 8280 silver coin worth per Long Roader after deducting trivial expenses
Phoenix is the only Long Roader with spare Attunement slots, so he takes up the Brooch of Shielding and Boots of Jungle Travel. In jungle or deep forest he retains his full speed. [The exact wording is “you ignore difficult terrain created by jungle or deep forest” so this includes totem-allocated speed.]
The heavies of the party are not equipping their medium armor. Vir brings his longbow and a quiver (as equipped at Kuiper’s) and other than that, only Seck has a missile weapon, Maelsauga.
At this point we also playtest my Sidekick houserules, or at least the mechanics side, not the requirements side. The lizardfolk are much, much stronger than normal sidekicks, but follow the same action rules. They are all warrior types, who move with their character, and either offer the help action, or at remote distance add 2 to an attack.
Rescuing the princess! (kind of)
Creeping through a succession of large, muddy and abandoned chambers the party comes to heavy bronze double doors. The going is soft [reducing speed by 5′]. There’s a side-passage right, but both the passage they are using, and the double doors directly ahead, show rub-marks indicating that Colrath uses them.
A fine Perception check from Vir getting past 25 reveals this useful information
On the very last d6 of the count-down…
Initiatives: Phoenix/Vir, Cat, Colrath/Kelirth, Seck
Round 1: Phoenix and brute heave open the bronze doors and pull off to the side-passage. Cat’s lantern-light reveals Colrath, an adult black dragon; and Kelirth, a lizardfolk champion! Their chamber is surprisingly bare, at least to human eyes. Vir and Vert rush Kelirth: Vir bonus actions to throw Hunter’s Mark on her, deals 21 regular damage and 34 radiant damage as Ulruf discharges his Mage-slayer’s Smite Corruption feature! She makes her CHR SV! (And with an Inspiration Seck makes a fine Perception check to figure out where Vir is in relation to Kelirth.) Reaction! Seck uses the final two charges on his Boots and appears behind Kelirth, using 3 Red Whisper sneak-d6 to silence Kelirth! His cut goes deep but Kelirth is still on her feet! Vir hammers at her again but the blow glances off! Legendary Action! Kelirth chooses to succeed on her SV against Red Whisper! Legendary Action! Colrath beats his wings, knocking Vert prone – but Vir keeps his feet!
Cat steps to line of sight: Repelling Blast! Colrath is knocked away from Kelirth, though being four-footed and bearing a tail, he is in no danger of falling.
Colrath simply returns to the melee and his huge jaw bites down on Vir and his claws strike deep! Vir falls! Kelirth is a natural spellcaster: uses Bog Cloud on all but the skulker! Cat drops to three levels of exhaustion! Kelirth fails to recharge, but seizes a potion…
Seck slogs in, finding the chamber better going than the passage: hurls Maelsauga and Kelirth falls before she can swig the potion. “She’s down!” Seck calls, summoning Maelsauga back. He uses his Cunning Action to race back out and down the side-passage. He finds a barred-off area, humans penned in, and a curious stone mounted on the bars above their reach.
Round 2: Escalation +1! Phoenix rages, charges in and tries Great Weapon Master on Colrath, but the fearsome creature’s scales are tough and the first swing bounces off. Mocair’s return stroke penetrates.
Colrath is angered! Legendary Action: A 15′ cone of acid breath spreads out, reducing Vir’s armor by 1. Vir stirs, coming out of his daze. Vert races over, grabs Vir’s last potion and administers it to Vir! Cat, feeling the worse for wear, moves into the chamber, uses his bonus action to Misty Step next to Kelirth, casts Spare the Dying, and removes himself rapidly from Colrath’s reach! “Talker! We’ve spared her from death! Watch that the dragon doesn’t stomp her!” Cat’s sidekick fails his morale and does not rush in to help.
Enemies of the black dragon!
Colrath bites Phoenix and claws at him: Phoenix’s Brooch shields him from the claw but the dragon fangs sink deep.
Seck calls “with me!” – zips back along the muddy prison passage to the throne chamber, and finds the area well lit by Cat’s torch. He hurls Maelsauga, which sinks deep. Then Seck uses Cunning Action to bail out of an Area of Effect! “That’s why I’m a mobile fighter,” Phoenix comments wryly.
Round 3: Escalation+2! Phoenix and his brute sidekick team up again, and this time Phoenix decides not to use Great Weapon Master. Two strokes of Mocair sink home! Colrath swells with rage, blood oozing out of his several deep wounds! “Hey, bignose!” Phoenix taunts. Vir rises on the other side of Colrath, regains his grasp on Ulruf, and checks that all his body parts are intact! Yep! Vir’s first swing is clumsy, then he slams Ulruf into Colrath’s flank, using Hunter’s Mark and Colossus Slayer! Although Ulruf’s Smite Corruption does not activate – the dragon is still young and has no spells – the hammer-blow is still massive.
Legendary Action: Colrath beats his wings in order to get clear, but the surrounding four move not at all! Colrath won’t be easily able to target Cat.
The lizardfolk are howling and bellowing, in great excitement, and the brute beats his chest with his greatclub.
Vir gets an Inspiration as his alliance diplomacy pays off
Cat’s sidekick rushes in, dragging Kelirth’s body a few feet clear. Cat hurls Repelling Blast again and shifts Colrath back. Colrath is looking staggered but again, simply returns to the attack. Vir’s Sentinel activates, he slams a heavy blow into Colrath’s flank. Colrath, staggering, bites at Phoenix! The Brooch staves it off! Phoenix takes a claw as Seck maneuvers right round using Cunning Action, then sneak attacks with Red Whisper! Colrath falls!
Loot: Secreted beyond the throne chamber, down a water-filled escape shaft, lies Colrath’s cache. 8lb copper, 60lb silver, 24lb gold, 10 platinum pieces, 7 nice average gems (50-gold quality), 3 vesper books of the acolytes, 1 potion of water breathing, and 1 potion of superior healing.
Special: mysterious stone that Colrath was using
Reputation: The Long Roaders gain Enemy of the black dragon, and Favor of the faithful
We must hurry!
The lizardfolk and Long Roaders rescue three acolytes – pilgrims to Argerport – and a couple of guides from the prison. The stone seems to have siphoned off their power, but they are not in the know about what else it may do.
The expedition repairs to the lizardfolk village. It’s pretty clear that Vert’s faction acted without the shaman’s approval (Vert implied as much, earlier) but since they have brought the beauteous champion Kelirth back, all is forgiven. Somewhat grudgingly the village allows the Long Roaders to take a
Colrath’s regional effects will not fade immediately, but at least they know the way back to the Woldcote. Once there, it’s a simple trip down to the eeling traps and smoke-house near Thurmaster, where the punt is returned with thanks.
Thurmaster is in the early stages of repair. Families are crowded into the Hound and Tails and the Long Roaders settle for a space under a thatched roof. More copper is donated. The brazier is returned.
Most of the village talk is around cooperating in the ever-present summer tasks, and home-building. The other news of the day is the disappearance of Count Warcrown and the strange sighting of a great golden stag. Crazier tales state that on the same day the stag was sighted, Warcrown’s gilded armor disappeared. But more level heads conclude the Count has gone a-hunting up on the moors, probably bringing his armor with him in case he should meet the dreaded Hound of the moors.
From Thurmaster the Long Roaders hire the riverboat down to Milborne. The boatmen are apologetic about taking payment, for they know well that it was the Long Roaders cleared the river-bandits away. But factor Pomfrat will have his silver.
Cat sees Titania once again as he sits comfortably on the boat riding westward. The others, those awake and alert, see only lights, perhaps a will-o-wisp luring travelers or most likely merely fireflies at play.
Titania’s hair is decorated with a garland of fey glimmering. She is seated tall and graceful, sidesaddle-style upon a great golden stag. Fey lights drape its spreading rack as well, echoing her garland. Strange creatures gambol about its hooves as little boys do about a bridal-party. She waves, and calls across:
“Hurry, little Cat! Already the bavan-shee rides the fool a-galloping south across the trackless moor! Time here runs swift! Be underground! Be brief about it! And… ‘ware bogles and their glamors!”