Monday, January 6, 2020

What Do I Know About My Campaign? Tales from the Old Margreve Campaign Journal #11


With the holidays and juggling schedules, it has been a little bit since we updated the campaign journal, so let’s look in on what our adventurers have been doing for our last session of our Tales of the Old Margreve game. This time around, there wasn’t much prep to do, because we finished up halfway through our adventure.

If you want to get caught up on the campaign journal, you can check it out here:

Where We Left Off

Our heroes were hired by a cat that used to be the griffon queen of the Margreve, to save her eggs from bandits by sneaking into an abandoned tower. Also, she really doesn’t want her babies imprinting on anyone else. Our heroes just infiltrated the tower through an underground stream, up through a well in the basement of the tower.

We’re still short a player, so we have the following PCs active for this session:

  • Gurralt, Bearfolk Warden
  • Isobel, Bearfolk Barbarian
  • Hrothgardt, Bearfolk Cleric
  • Scarlett, Halfling Warlock/Sorcerer


Through the Tower

The group started to navigate the tower and found a secret passage. In the passage, they found a library with a collapse wall at the back, and two statues. Nothing to see here. When Hrothgardt wandered into the library, the statues animated (what?!?), and they looked Hrothgardt up and down, looking for . . . something.

Hrothgardt back out of the room, and the statues didn’t follow. Hrothgardt related to the group that they may want to look for some kind of badge of symbol, since the statues appeared to be looking for something.

Slightly Modified Procedure

The adventure itself gives you the check numbers for all the bugbears outside of the tower, so that you can make a check as the PCs travel through the tower to see if any of the bugbear bandits enter the tower.

Instead of rolling for the bugbears, I used their check number to create a static DC, and instead of having the bugbears burst in if any of the PCs failed the check, I made the stealth check into a group check.

This may have made it less likely that the bugbears break in, but I also don’t like adventures that are set up at least partially assuming stealth, knowing that most parties have at least one character that isn’t going to be particularly good at stealth.

Going Up

The party traveled upwards, eventually learning that this tower was likely used for divination, and that it sets on the crossroads of various ley lines. The group also found a tabard with the symbol of the griffon patrol that once inhabited the tower. Gurralt peek into the next level, climbing up a ladder, and saw three ogres, who didn’t notice him.

Isobel decided that they may want to climb up the side of the tower, but when she looked outside, she noticed that “some” bandits was an army of about thirty hundred bugbears camped outside. Well, she would have noticed that, except your humble DM accidentally said “300” instead of “30.”

Because the ogres were bad at noticing anything, they started playing “throw something sharp” with one another as the PCs crept into the room behind them (this is even with imposing disadvantage on the check, with multiple characters with heavy armor).

Giant Mishaps

Not only did the ogres not notice the adventurers creeping up on them, but the ogres (i.e. me) were rolling terribly through the whole fight. One of the ogres managed to get a critical hit . . . oh no, what will happen to our adventurers?

Not much, it turns out. I rolled 2s on every die when the crit happened, and the ogre did less damage with their crit than with their average damage.

The corrupted ogre chief heard the ruckus and came down to help her guards. This could have been very bad for the group, except that they had largely killed or incapacitated the ogres by the time she climbed down the ladder.

The corrupted ogre chief was dangerous, but since the group hadn’t been heavily damaged by the other ogres, she did go down quickly. Because she was corrupted, I wanted to play up the overall theme of the adventure anthology, with the creeping cosmic horror elements. Since Isobel decapitated the ogre, I took the opportunity to explain the internal organs of the ogre and how mutated and alien the organs were.

Babysitting

The group found the griffon eggs and covered up the box with a sack to help keep the griffon chicks from imprinting, as the eggs began to hatch.

The group decided that they needed to find a new way out, because they couldn’t use the underground stream to escape. The went back to the library room with the tabard, and one by one, they gained access to the room.

This is where I had modified the adventure a bit. The library was mainly there to hand out some arcane treasure, but the way the crumbled wall was described at the back of the room, it felt less like a bookshelf that was collapse and more that something should exist in that space.

Because the group was really invested in saving children (it’s been a party theme for the whole campaign), I wanted to let them check for a secret door, which they managed to find. Essentially, I didn’t want them to try and sneak past the bugbears, because it’s likely being that close to the bugbears, they would have drawn attention.

For each griffon that hatched, I rolled a check to see if the chick managed to sneak out from under the blanket, and Isobel would notice and reach her hand under the blanket and shove the chick back into the box. She was also chewing up rations and feeding them to the chicks so they could eat.

The group crept out to a cave, waiting out the night, and making checks to notice chicks sneaking out of the sack. I also rolled for encounters through the night, but the only encounter that happened was a non-combat encounter, and the chicks were safe through the night.

Finishing Up The Job

The griffon queen shows up, saved from her curse, and collects her chick. Because none of the chicks died or were imprinted, the group got a massive bonus to their check, so the griffon queen is going to grant them favors for the next year.

Some Critiques

I liked this adventure. I had fun roleplaying the griffon queen. That said, I feel like I made the adventure a little too easy, but I also feel like if I ran it straight, it would have been too hard. There isn’t much in the adventure that gives you a middle ground between “all of the bugbears are altered,” and “some bugbears complicate things.”

There is a sidebar that says that there are static DCs for the bugbears, but then the adventure frames all the checks as a static check. Additionally, the sidebar says that the descriptions of the rooms would tell you the DCs and what bandits are making the check. There were several places where the difficulty of the checks is mentioned, but not a specific subgroup of bugbears.

If I were to run this again, I think I would have a patrol wandering the tower, and I would also have a set number of bugbears that show up for each failed stealth check, as well as a set a number of failed stealth checks that would rouse the entire camp (probably three).

The other thing that was odd to me is that the adventure assumes that the griffon halflings are assumed to be in danger. First off, I’m not overly comfortable with this, especially after talking with their mother. Even beyond this, unless the PC carrying them gets hurt or killed, I’m not sure how the hatchlings were intended to come to immediate harm.

There is a lot of fun atmosphere in the adventure, and I like the initial phases, I just wish there was a little more structure to the ongoing threats in the tower, and maybe a different structure for determining the threat to the griffon chicks that had less to do with tracking if they died or not, and more about random shenanigans that they might get up to while the PCs are doing their job.

Takeaways


  • Sometimes your best ideas for how to modify an adventure come to you after you have run it
  • Respect the things your players have communicated that their players care about
  • More 5e adventures sure really use group checks as an assumed part of the game
  • No one is ever fooled by giant statues

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