Monday, January 28, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #18: Beating Out Some Answers

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 4.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 4.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 4; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes left Gorza's Well and continued on to the Burburan Oasis, where they sold their spoils of battle, sought out more information on the Ghost Fist Clan, and looked for odd jobs to earn a little extra money. Their two lines of inquiry dovetailed when they learned that the Ghost Fists had attacked a number of caravans travelling to and from The Stairs, and that a kobold merchant's caravan was looking for additional muscle for their journey north through that region. Despite Edel's intense dislike of kobolds due to their invasion of his homeland, the opportunity to get paid to go into Ghost Fist territory, and the prospect of seeing the forests of Fendorlis again, were too compelling to resist. His friends all desired to fight more death cultists, so readily agreed to sign on with the caravan.

After a day to prepare, the party joined the kobolds as they decamped. Tyrrentyg introduced them to their employer, Vartoranax, a coppery-scaled kobold a few inches taller than any of his fellows. The merchant wore no armor, just desert garb of fancier make, and some jewelry. When Jumari used her inquisitor senses, she detected fair evil and law in Vartoranax's aura. Meanwhile, Fatou used detect magic to scan the kobolds to try to get a better idea of how much help they might provide in a fight. She determined that Vartoranax wore a magic amulet, Tyrrentyg wore a magic cloak, and a handful of kobolds carried small, faint magic auras in their belt pouches (probably potions?). The merchant noticed her spellcasting, and seemed to recognize what she was doing, but did not comment.

Among the kobolds, only the merchant and his herald seemed to speak Common, but Tyrrentyg still made a point of introducing the new hires to Nylrynn, the caravan's guide. (Jumari tried to speak with her about desert lore, but Nylrynn knew no Orcish, either.) She had very dull-colored scales, and seemed far more comfortable in her desert robes than the other reptile people. The rest of the caravan consisted of 20 other kobolds, equipped with light armor, spears, and slings (a couple had crossbows instead). ZhaZha thought the foot soldiers were rather cute in their tiny little outfits--she is roughly three times their height. The caravan also included a half-dozen monitor lizards: three serving as mounts for Vartoranax, Tyrrentyg, and Nylrynn, and the others to carry food and tents. (All of Vartoranax's esoteric trade goods were small and lightweight, so required no additional bearers.)

The caravan set out shortly before dusk, both because of the cooler temperatures at night, but also because kobolds are sensitive to bright light. That suited the heroes just fine, for they also preferred to travel at night. Nylrynn led the way, some distance ahead of the main group, while the rest of the kobolds flanked the merchant and herald on foot. From time to time, the guide made signs to the caravan to inform them of the conditions and direction of the path ahead.

By now, Edel, Fatou, and Jumari had noticed that Vartoranax and Tyrrentyg wore small silver dragon pendants, which they recognized as symbols of Vadnizala, the Scintillating Dragon, goddess of chromatic dragons, and the primary god of the kobolds. This did not sit well with Edel (who rightfully blames dragons for the current state of his homeland) or Jumari (who distrusts all dragon-related cults besides her own).

The travelers were told to expect a trip of 4 days to reach The Stairs--the easiest passage up the face of the Shalash Escarpment. During this time, Fatou attempted to be frtiendly with the kobolds so she could learn more about them, and regularly refilled waterskins and canteens using create water. None of the kobolds were very talkative around the larger races, except for Tyrrentyg, who gladly listened to new stories. Edel tried to tell some of his funny stories in Draconic, but his jokes didn't translate well. He also asked the herald where she expected them to run into trouble on this journey. Tyrrentyg replied that, based on reports from other caravans, she expected the most danger near The Stairs--which the elf already knew was where the Ghost Fist Clan was active.

The first couple nights' travel was uneventful. During the day, the heroes took turns on watch. There were always a handful of kobolds on sentry duty, too, though it was very clear they hated the bright sun.

Most of the way through the third night of travel, Nylrynn discovered half a broken javelin partly buried in a dune, and brought it back to the caravan to show to her employer and the PCs. She suspected it was of Orcish make, and Edel was able to identify the shape of the head, wicked barbs, and markings on the shaft as matching those of the Ghost Fists they had fought near Spine Hollow. He briefly summarized his experiences fighting those orc and half-orc death-cultists.

Jumari and ZhaZha investigated the place where Nylrynn had found the weapon, and could find few additional clues; the javelin had likely been here for some time, and they found no tracks besides those of some small desert fauna. Vartoranax ordered the caravan to continue on but to stay alert, and gave Nylrynn permission to stop before dawn if she found decent shelter before then. With Jumari's help, she did so only half an hour later.

That day, during the last watch, Edel spotted a plume of smoke in the distance, perhaps a mile or away. He woke ZhaZha, who judged it was only half a mile away at most. One of the kobold sentries woke Nylrynn, who barely glanced in the smoke's direction before reporting to her superiors. A moment later, Tyrrentyg ordered her to wake the other big folk and help them investigate. The group rode their lizard and camels in that direction, trying to be stealthy.

Beyond a small rocky ridge, the scouting party spotted a small campsite, with half a dozen orcs around a campfire that was close to going out. Three were half-orcs, with the white skulls of the Ghost Fists painted on their faces. The heroes dismounted--excluding ZhaZha--and the group moved closer. ZhaZha had just enough time to move around the ridge to a clear charge path before the orcs noticed her and her companions. She readied her lance and charged, spearing one of the half-orcs but not killing him. Edel began an informative lecture on orcs [his naturalist ability] as soon as the humanoids spotted the party, and started shooting arrows into their midst. Jumari used expeditious retreat to reach the camp more quickly. Meanwhile, Fatou sent her familiar Nochaesh flying ahead, loaded with a spell; the owl suffered an attack of opportunity, but inflicted a heavy wound with shocking grasp. Nylrynn shot the same Ghost Fist with her crossbow.

Jumari circled around to engage one of the full-blooded orcs, and downed him with a single strike of her falchion. ZhaZha dropped her lance and switched to pick, and dealt one Ghost Fist a staggering blow. By this time, Fatou was close enough to the fight that an orc attacked her and missed; she stepped back and channeled healing. (She managed to place herself so that she would heal her allies--especially ZhaZha, who was quite bloody now--and only one unwounded orc.)

The three Ghost Fist barbarians continued to focus on ZhaZha, and one landed a critical hit with its falchion. This knocked the cavalier unconscious, but she managed to stay in her military saddle. Edel and Fatou administered healing magic to ZhaZha, which brought her back to consciousness before she bled out. She drew her longsword and cut down the last orc with a critical hit of her own.

Most of the enemy were dead from their wounds, but the barbarian who had been staggered was barely alive, so they stabilized him for questioning later. Three of the orcs carried potions of bull's strength that they did not have time to drink before they were attacked, and pots of black fester (an orcish weapon poison that inhibits magical healing). After some debate, the heroes decided to keep the black fester, because it could prove useful as a poor man's version of Selective Channel [which Fatou lacks sufficient Charisma to made useful].

The heroes returned to their own camp, carrying the unconscious Ghost Fist with them. Fatou asked Vartoranax if they could sleep in to recover the spells they'd used, but the merchant pointed out that it would take a full 8 hours to regain any spells used in the past 8 hours, and he felt it unwise to spend much longer here.

First, however, they had an interrogation to conduct. Rather than wasting her magic on the prisoner, Fatou used mundane healing to treat his wounds, then Jumari cast a single spell that brought him barely back to consciousness. Jumari then started asking questions, with the other PCs aiding her intimidation check. The half-orc, scared out of his wits [by a final result over 30!], readily began babbling answers.


[I ended the session there, and promised to give the players replies to their questions over email. That information is summarized below.]

  • Where is the Ghost Fist Clan? The prisoner gave rough directions to their main base, in some caves a day or two west of the base of The Stairs.
  • Who's your leader? Yazdanyar, a human warrior, and champion of the Lord of Endings. He is accompanied by an elf spellcaster, Ragalash, who can create undead. (The PCs learned these names earlier, but this confirms that intel.)
  • Who are you after? What are you doing out here? The clan raids merchant caravans for food, other supplies, and slaves. This band were scouts, sent to watch for travelers who seemed easy pickings.
  • What is your great plan? Are you working with anyone? These orcs are too lowly to know the mighty Yazdanyar's plans, or whether they have any allies elsewhere. The warlord and the elf have been searching for more than plunder, but they don't know what.
  • Do you fight alongside undead? Does Ragalash turn your dead into undead? When Ragalash leads a war party, he brings some undead with him. (Only he can control them.) He usually animates dead Ghost Fists (but not all the clan's dead), and occasionally uses other creatures. 
  • How does Yazdanyar prefer to fight? He sows fear among his enemies as his scythe cuts them down!
  • Do you sell slaves or use slaves yourselves? The clan takes slaves for their own use. They have no one to sell them to.
  • How many scouting parties do you have? At least a couple more in the area, watching for potential prey. Beyond that, the prisoner didn't know.
  • How many are in the clan? He was vague on such large numbers. Probably at least 200, including women and children.
  • What is the layout of your base? The prisoner had difficulty describing it coherently. It's a cave complex with two entrances, one leading to the shrine and the other to the main barracks. The women, children, and leaders live further inside.
  • Are there any defenses other than troops? Ragalash's "pets," and sometimes a wild animal that a clan member tries to tame.
  • Are there any clan members who want out? Does anyone have issue with the rule of Yazdanyar? If any do, they do not speak of it, for fear of what the warlord might do to them. 
  • Do you ever raid past the Stairs? No. The clan has long believed that a powerful spirit lives there, one that traps and kills orcs who climb the Stairs. 
  • What can you tell me of the Lord of Endings? Does this god have a name? The prisoner knew very little about religion. However, Fatou knows the the Lord of Endings is a title for Asmolon, one commonly used by the superstitious who fear to say the name aloud. 
  • Do any of your clan have divine power besides Yazdanyar? The prisoner either didn't understand the question, or simply didn't know. 
  • What spells have you seen members of the clan cast? Ragalash can create water, create undead, summon spiders, and curse people. Yazdanyar can inflict fear or wounds with a word or a touch. 
  • Does Ragalash have a book?* All but Yazdanyar are too terrified of the elf to enter his chambers.
[* Fatou is more than a little obsessed with finding new magical writings to add to her spellbook.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Converting Death in Freeport to Fifth Edition

The Freeport Trilogy Five Year Anniversary Edition (PDF)First of all, I have a bit of a confession to make: Despite thinking and writing a great deal here about how I'd combine Freeport with D&D Fifth Edition, I haven't actually tried running such a game yet, so I haven't spent a great deal of time trying to convert Freeport adventures or monsters to the current edition. Up until now, my most ambitious project of that type has been converting the pregenerated characters from Death in Freeport to 5E (see the first four entries in the Freeport 5E Index).

However, in the thread at the Ronin Army forums where I post links to my Freeport 5E articles, I was recently asked for help in converting Death in Freeport to 5E. That is definitely the adventure that I would choose to convert first--it's the one that started the whole setting and product line, and it's for 1st level and fairly short, so should be the easiest to adapt to 5E. My reply to that query started off with the caveat above, but then I tried to make a first stab at the problem. This column will reiterate and expand upon that initial answer.

First of all, Third Edition and 5E are different enough rules sets that I would never attempt to do an exact conversion. For some encounters (such as orcs and skeletons), it's easy enough to just use the 5E Monster Manual stat block. Human foes can be represented by the MM's low-level NPC stat blocks (acolyte, bandit, commoner, cultist, guard), possibly with some small tweaks to weapons and spells to better match the original.

The serpent people are the one real challenge in converting this module. For the degenerates, I compared reptilian humanoid races in the MM, and found that the troglodyte's ability scores and hit points were a surprisingly good match to the original 3E degenerate stat block. Keep multiattack, but replace their claw attacks with a single weapon attack and a shield (+2 AC). The troglodyte's chameleon hide is a decent fit for the 3E serpent people's racial bonus to Hide, so keep it, but delete stench and sunlight sensitivity. Finally, replace the Troglodyte language with Valossan.

For Milos, the sole civilized serpent person in this first adventure, the obvious quick-and-dirty option is to use the cult fanatic stat block (which already has the correct 2nd-level spells!), and add darkvision, Valossan, and the doppelganger's shapechanger ability.

Converting serpent people from later adventures follows a similar process. First, find an existing NPC stat block that approximates the serpent person's class and level. (Volo's Guide to Monsters greatly expands the choices here, including many new arcane specialties for spellcasters.) For civilized serpent people, simply add darkvision, Valossan, and shapechanger, as with Milos. For more powerful degenerate serpent people, more changes will be needed due to their additional racial traits and their low Intelligence and Charisma scores. See Chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master's Guide for more guidance about adding racial traits to NPCs. Use the Troglodyte entry of the NPC Features table--with the changes given above--to modify an existing NPC stat block.

Two other concerns that I did not address in that quick reply include skill and save difficulties, and treasure.

5E was designed with bounded accuracy, meaning that modifiers to attacks, saves, and skills do not increase as rapidly, or go as high, as in 3E's open-ended structure. The DC for a skill check or saving throw will tend to be a little lower in 5E, though at 1st level, that difference is minimal (a point or two in most cases). For DCs that aren't set by a creature or PC's stat block, look for examples in the rules for appropriate DCs for the desired difficulty of the task. In 3E, DCs started to get challenging at 15; in 5E, that's probably more like a 12. A DC 20 task in 3E probably should only be a 15 in 5E, and so on. Also note that many skills have changed name between editions, and a few were dropped entirely; for example, a Gather Information check should now be a Charisma, or perhaps Charisma (Persuasion), check.

Purely monetary treasure seems to be roughly equivalent between the two editions, but 5E is designed to make magic items far rarer. Few if any assumptions are made about what gear a character will have at a given level, unlike 3E's finely-tuned "wealth by level" track. And because magic items are harder to acquire in 5E, it's also harder to simply buy them--which means that character have significantly fewer ways to spend their acquired wealth than in 3E. But keep in mind that because the Freeport setting was born during the 3E era, most past titles assume that magic is fairly common and that low-powered magic items are easy to acquire. Because of this, DMs of Freeport campaigns may want to allow the DMG's optional downtime activities related to crafting and selling magic items. Uncommon and rare items should remain scarce--and in a hive of scum and villainy like Freeport, they may quickly attract unwelcome attention from others who covet them. Death in Freeport has a number of low-level magic items in it, but in my opinion, it's not an excessive amount for a 1st-level 5E adventure. Later adventures in the setting will need a more careful vetting of magic items, as 3E's assumptions about wealth become more pronounced at higher levels.

Finally, here's a summary of my quick conversions for characters and creatures encountered in Death in Freeport:
  • Sailors: Pirates count as Bandits (MM); change weapons to clubs, and add Intimidate +2. (Note that this press-gang initially attacks to knock out characters at 0 hit points, not kill them.)
  • Egil: Acolyte (MM).
  • Orc Pirates: Orc (MM).
  • Aggro: Orc (MM) with extra hit points, or possibly an Orog (MM).
  • Captain Scarbelly: Orog (MM) with a +1 battleaxe. (For the staff of defense in his ship's hold, see New Magic Items in The Lost Mine of Phandelver, in the D&D Starter Set.)
  • Yellow Shields: Cultist (MM); add shield (+2 AC).
  • Belko: Apprentice Wizard (Volo's).
  • Rittoro: Guard (MM).
  • Enzo: Enzo is not given stats in the adventure. If needed, he is a commoner (MM).
  • Camouflage Pit Trap: Hidden Pit (setback, 1d10) (DMG).
  • Degenerate serpent people: Troglodyte (MM); remove claws, stench, and sunlight sensitivity; add a spear attack and a shield (+2 AC); change language to Valossan.
  • Skeletons: Skeleton (MM).
  • Temple Attendant: Acolyte (MM) with some spells changed.
  • Milos: Cult fanatic (MM); add darkvision, Valossan, and shapechanger (as doppelganger, MM).
  • Lucius: Apprentice Wizard (Volo's); remove spellcasting; add proficiency with Religion, calligrapher's tools, and several languages.
As mentioned above, I have already converted the four pregenerated characters (Thorgrim, Rollo, Malevir, and Alaina) to 5E. I'm still satisfied with those results.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

TBT: The Orc and the Pie

Back in the early days of the Third Edition era, Monte Cook posted a joke adventure to his blog that would become a meme etched deep into the RPG collective consciousness. "The Orc and the Pie: The World's Shortest (Yet Technically Complete) Adventure: A Parody" didn't even fill a single screen of text, but it has spawned convention adventures (some run by Cook himself), "I Survived Orc and Pie!" T-shirts, and even some filk-y Firefly mash-up art.

Screencap of Cook's original adventure (archived at RPG Geek)
My own contribution was rendering the adventure into a room module for the fantasy boardgame Brickquest, in which highly modular pieces of dungeon terrain (walls, floor, doors, furniture, and other items) can be snapped together to build a dungeon complex of any size and shape (limited only by the size of your collection and building surface). I played around with Brickquest for a brief while back in 2011-12, running an adventure or two for my wife and children, but the investment of time, bricks, and storage space required to run any decent-sized dungeon was more than I was willing to commit to long-term. One of the last rooms I built for the game, and the last one that I dismantled, was based on "The Orc and the Pie": just a 10 ft. by 10 ft. room, an orc, and a pie:

Want pie? Fight me!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Book Review: Sacred Band

Joseph D Carriker Jr's debut novel Sacred Band tells the story of a young gay superhero attempting to solve the mystery of what has happened to an online acquaintance who has gone missing. Along the way, he recruits other heroes to help him, which eventually leads to the formation of a new superhero team, the Sacred Band. And the discovery of a threat far more sinister than initially guessed.

Carriker has put a lot of thought and detail into the individual and collective origin stories for his superheroes. In the world of Sacred Band, the first generation of superpowered beings  appeared in the early 1970s; these two dozen or so "Originals" remain the most powerful of their kind today, but are rarely seen. The event that created the Originals was followed by numerous Echo events: unnatural disasters that cause massive loss of life and produce a handful of superpowered individuals (not all of whom survive the process for long). These "Echoes" are carefully monitored by their governments (in the US and Europe, at least) to make sure they receive the training needed to control their powers enough to not be a threat to public safely, and to insure that none operate as vigilantes. The military has managed to produce a handful of supers through experiments attempting to replicate Echo events, but these Enhanced super-soldiers are even more tightly controlled.

The story's cast have a wide variety of powers, and the author has put a great deal of thought into how they operate and interact with each other and the world. True to the superhero genre, most characters have a number of tried and true tricks they use on a regular basis, but they can accomplish even greater stunts when they are forced to push their limits during tough fights or other crises (though often at some cost). The main characters include:

  • Rusty, AKA Gauss, is the primary point-of-view character. He is a young gay Echo with power over magnetism. 
  • Deosil (pronounced "jey-shul") is Rusty's best friend. This trans woman has elemental powers that complement her calling as a practicing witch. 
  • Sentinel is an Original with telekinetic powers who was leader of the Champions (the first superhero team) until his teammate Radiant was killed. The scandal of Sentinel's coming out after Radiant's death, combined with significant political strife within the team, ultimately led to the disbanding of the Champions and a government crackdown on all other vigilantism. 
  • Optic is a US government-created Enhanced who left military service after his own "don't ask, don't tell" scandal.. His light-based powers allow him to blind foes and fly by becoming light itself.
  • Llorona is a Latino woman whose sonic powers allow her to phase through solid objects. She is heavily involved with the Golden Cross, an international disaster relief group composed of supers.
The real triumph of this novel is its realistic and sympathetic portrayal of LGBT characters. Rusty's sexual orientation plays a major role in his decisions--he's worried enough about a gay online acquaintance to take dangerous risks to investigate his disappearance, and he keeps tripping over his intense hero-worshiping crush on Sentinel--but it's only one facet of a character who is surprisingly well-rounded for the superhero genre. Similarly, Deosil's identity as a trans woman informs much of her personality and motivation. Other characters' reactions to her range from the highly negative (vicious transphobic insults in an early scene in a gay bar) to the unconditionally positive (Rusty's constant and affectionate support throughout), and Deosil herself struggles with the prospect of being an all-too-public example to other trans people. And that's really what Carriker has accomplished here: raising up examples to be accepted, admired, and embraced by both LGBT readers and others. Representation matters!

Overall, Sacred Band is highly satisfying as a gripping superhero story, and as an intelligent exploration of LGBT issues. The combination of the two is a rare achievement, and one that deserves to be applauded and widely shared. It also deserves a sequel. (Please, Joe?)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Forge of Fury #6-7: Forges & Dragons

We've had even more delays in continuing my Tales from the Yawning Portal game, but we've finally completed The Forge of Fury. We ran two sessions over the kids' school vacation. The first was at my mother's house while we visited her for a few days after Christmas. (This was the first time I've run D&D there in 30 years!) The second, much shorter session, in which they faced the final level, was run just after New Year's.

Our heroes include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 4 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 4 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 4 (wild magic, sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest-PC), male hill dwarf paladin 4 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Erky Timbers (DM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 4 (life domain, acolyte)
See The Story So Far for an index to summaries of past sessions of our Tales from the Yawning Portal adventures.

(Warning: Spoilers for The Forge of Fury follow.) 

Part 6: The Forges Found

Last time, the heroes found the great hall of Khundrukar, where they battled three duergar who were occupying the chamber. After slaying the gray dwarves, they entered a room that was once the stronghold's shrine, but had been desecrated when the place was overrun by orcs. After destroying the undead they found here, the party barricaded the door and used the shrine as a place to rest and recover. 

During this long rest, Kalitni found a secret door in the east wall, so when the party resumed their exploration, they investigated this direction. Beyond a small room (and another secret door), they found a hallway with four doors leading to a chamber with a pool. Before they could continue further, the ghost of an armored dwarf emerged from a wall and attacked. Kalitni, Erky, and Dain were frightened by the ghost, and Raven suffered a blow from its withering touch. The paladin cast protection from evil and good upon himself in order to shake off the fear. The spirit cursed in Dwarven, bewailing its failure to save its kinfolk, so Dain tried to talk with it, but it would not pay heed to him, so he was forced to destroy it. 

The hallway led to many rooms that were once barracks, storerooms, and the like, but now held nothing but demolished furnishings and occasional skeletons of the dwarves and orcs who fought here a century ago. In one of these rooms, a half dozen skeletons animated and attacked, but the doorway and the cramped bunks made it easy for the paladin and rogue to dispatch the undead one or two at a time.

At the far end of the hallway was a second chamber with a pool, and the corpses of a handful of dwarves and over a dozen orcs. Finding nothing valuable or mobile here, they backtracked to clear more side rooms. One of these was not looted or vandalized, and held a bed, desk, and beautiful rug. The heroes were paranoid about traps, so walked around the rug to search the other furniture. They found a chest full of coins and gems under the bed. However, Xuri's curiosity got the best of her and she stepped onto the rug--which animated and grappled her. She fought back with her draconic breath weapon, while the others attempted to fight it. They managed to destroy it before their friend was finished off by the rug of smothering. The rescued sorcerer, still fascinated by the construct, cut off a corner of the rug to study later.

Another seemingly empty room was an armory that held an animated armor stand, which the heroes dealt with handily. They returned to the second pool room, and a more thorough search led to the discovery of a secret door to the south. 

But first, they investigated the last remaining room in this area, which was a library. They found a human woman here, who begged them to release her from imprisonment by a wizard who lives here. The heroes were immediately suspicious of Idalla, so Dain used his divine sense--and cried, "Die, fiend!" upon determining she was one. She attempted to charm him, but he was warded by another protection spell; when Raven resisted her, Idalla swore in Abyssal. She did, however, manage to charm Kalitni, but before she could attempt to turn her against the party--or escape into the Ethereal--the heroes took her down with a divine smite from Dain, a guiding bolt from Erky, and an eldritch blast from Xuri. The dead body reverted to its true form:,a bat-winged woman with horns, claw, and a barbed tail--a succubus. With the threat gone, the heroes searched the library, and found many books of dwarven lore (including Khundrukar's history), as well a handful of spell scrolls.

The secret door led to a passage with two branches. The first one led to a secret door into the closet of a once-fine bedroom. The room seemed empty, but Kalitni heard a scraping noise, and warned her companions. Xuri used her wand of entangle, which revealed something large but unseen which resisted the spell. Dain stabbed at the space with his glaive, and hit something. Then the invisible foe revealed herself--an enlarged duergar struck Dain with her greatsword, but it was surprisingly weak blow. She took a witchbolt from Xuri and an arrow from Kalitni, and struck the paladin another feeble blow. Dain scoffed at her as he struck the killing blow. [The duergar's damage was 4d6+2 while enlarged, but I rolled only a few points above minimum damage for her both times.]

Besides her sword and armor, the gray dwarf had only a couple satchels of mundane supplies (food, clothing, etc.). The party tried to take a short rest here, but were interrupted by another duergar coming to the room. They heard the heavily-armored dwarf coming, and killed him very quickly. They pulled him into the bedroom, and investigated the audience chamber beyond. After using a scroll of alarm on the door on the far side of that room, the party resumed their rest in the bedroom. This time, they were undisturbed for the full hour.

The party then checked out the other branch of the secret passage, which led to a small ledge overlooking a chasm in which a waterfall poured down into darkness. A chain ladder was bolted to the edge of the cliff, going down. Xuri lit a torch and dropped it down next to the ladder, which let her see that the chasm went down about 120 feet to rock next to the waterfall; at the base, the water appeared to flow north, out of sight. The heroes decided to finish exploring this level before risking the climb down, so returned to the audience chamber. 

That room's exit opened into the great hall. They could no longer hear the sound of hammering to the south, so decided to explore that direction next. The southeastern door opened into Durgeddin's old bladeworks. A narrowed stream flowed through the room, with two bridges over it. On the far side, three duergar stood near a glowing forge. Two of these dwarves moved to block the bridges, while the third cast hold person on the hill dwarf paladin. Raven leaped over the stream and scored a critical hit on the caster. Xuri used an elixir of healing to free Dain, who then followed the tiefling to flank the duergar spellcaster. The other two duergar enlarged themselves and moved to flank the paladin and rogue, but Raven downed the wizard with a sneak attack before they could reap the benefits of that tactic. (The wizard's rat familiar, which was hiding behind one of the cold forges, fled when its master died.) Xuri cast twinned witchbolts on the remaining duergar, and hit them both. Dain hit one, and it turned invisible to try to escape. The other hit Raven hard [for maximum damage], and laughed evilly, but the ranger's arrow and rogue's rapier finished him. Xuri's still-active witchbolt took down the other, who became visible--and smaller again--in death.

They stripped the duergar of their gear, and found their stash of coins, jewelry, and a potion [which they later identified as hill giant strength]. Beyond the bladeworks, the stream continued a short ways to a waterfall into the chasm they had seen from the other side. 

They returned to the great hall, where only one door remained to investigate. This led to a kitchen, where an animated table attacked them. When Dain realized it was ignoring him to attack Xuri behind him, he yelled at it to stop--and it did. The sorcerer concluded that it had been placed here as a guardian but would not attack dwarves, but she doubted that Dain could command it to do anything but stop attacking. While the paladin watched the table, the others searched the kitchen and pantry, but found nothing of value here. They departed, Dain going last, and left the table here, behind a closed door. They returned to the bedroom--which had obviously been Durgeddin's in life--to take advantage of the alarm spell to take a long rest.

[They now just have the final level to explore.]


Part 7: The Dragon at the End of the Dungeon

After their long rest and other preparations (such as Erky's habitual casting of aid on the melee types), the heroes returned to the chain ladder and descended it, one at a time. At the bottom of the chasm, the waterfall filled a pool that flowed out to join an underground river to the north. The muddy edge of the pool held some tracks of a Large four-footed reptile, which faded away when the tracks reached the harder stone near the river.

A low stone bridge crossed the river, and a second one re-crossed the water a short ways further upsteam. Kalitni's sharp eyes spotted a problem with the second bridge: it had settled some, and was pitted by acid. Dain's dwarven stonecunning told him that it would not hold his weight (and that of his heavy armor), but would hold the others if they crossed one at a time. Once they did so, he jumped the distance safely.

The bridges led to a ledge along the edge of a large underground lake. Just as they came to a place where the ledge devolved into a series of stepping stones, most of the party noticed a serpentine shape swimming towards them under the water's surface. They had time for Dain to ready his glaive and Erky to cast bless before a black dragon's head and neck rose from the water and the beast spit a line of acid at them. This breath weapon hit Raven and Kalitni (whose saves allowed them to take reduced damage). The tiefling's hellish rebuke scored the first damage on the monster, but then the severely wounded rogue drank a potion of invisibility and ran for cover. Xuri spat her own (much weaker) electrical breath weapon at the dragon, and demanded "What is your problem?!" in Draconic.

Erky summoned a spiritual weapon (which failed to strike the dragon, but followed it for a few rounds), and healed the ranger. (He saved his Channel Divinity healing power because he did not know where Raven was now.) Dain leaped across the stepping in order to reach the dragon with his glaive, and delivered a divine smite. The dragon cursed in pain, and Xuri replied, "That's a terrible thing to call your mother" (which greatly amused Kalitni, who also knew Draconic).

The dragon disengaged, and took cover under the water while its breath weapon recharged. This gave the heroes a moment to rearrange themselves and ready attacks for its return--and for Raven to drink a potion of healing. When the dragon resurfaced, Kaltni and Xuri shot it, but it breathed acid on the paladin and sorcerer. (As a hill dwarf with a martial class, Dain can absorb far more damage than Xuri, who was reduced to single digit HP, just as Raven had been.) Raven used her invisibility to sneak attack the dragon with her bow, then Kalitni shot it, Erky hit with a guiding bolt, and Dain hurled a javelin--while insulting the big lizard's ancestry--all of which wounded the dragon enough that it submerged and fled. It swam past a small island at the edge of Dain and Raven's darkvision, and was never seen again.

[The young black dragon had been dropped to 22 of its 127 HP. That's close enough to death that it abandoned its lair and hoard.]

The small island turned out to have the dragon's hoard piled atop it. This consisted of several thousand coins and a number of magic items: a wand of magic missiles, a +2 greataxe with Durgeddin's smith-mark, a +1 shield, and two potions. The party took a considerable amount of time removing the treasure from the cave, and carting it (and their previous loot from this adventure) back to town.


After selling the various nonmagical gear, goods, and jewels from Khundrukar, each PC ended up with over 2,000 gp--not counting the magical items they had already divided between themselves. They now plan to use some down time to learn new languages (Xuri now has a small library of Dwarven lore books she can't yet read), and get the orog's plate armor resized for Dain. The paladin has claimed the dwarven greataxe for himself, but his player is torn between using it and retaining the ability to protect allies with a shield. (I will probably allow him to retrain his fighting style, rather then rain on the fun of having a rare magic weapon forged by a master smith of his own race.) 

Our heroes ended about 1,000 XP short of 5th level, but the next adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal is designed for 5th-level characters. While I could just say that they advance to 5th level, I will probably run a short adventure to get them there instead (perhaps one from the Mini-Dungeon Tome, for which I backed the Kickstarter). That would also give Raven an opportunity to find better armor (she would love some elven chain), and for Kalitni to seek out a magic bow. However, I will have some time to figure all that out, because we won't be continuing the campaign right away. Now that my kids are regularly involved in Pathfinder Society, and my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign is active again, it's much harder to make time for D&D. But my family is still very interested in continuing with these characters.

This concludes The Forge of Fury

(L-R): The dwarf ghost; Idalla (in human form); Idalla (succubus)

Nightscale, the dragon at the end of the dungeon