The D&D Next adventures – so far

The Caves of Chaos (playtest packet, October 2012)
A revised version of the dungeons in Keep on the Borderlands. The Caves of Chaos are filled with several different humanoid groups (kobolds, orcs, goblins and worse) and the adventurers have to kill them all.

An adventure for levels 1-3. Features a lot of dungeons.

Isle of Dread (playtest packet, October 2012)
A revised version of the original D&D Expert adventure. The party find a treasure map to a tropical island, where many prehistoric monsters live, as well as strange creatures from the dawn of time and much treasure. Call of Cthulhu meets The Lost World.

An adventure for levels 3-7. Features a lot of wilderness adventuring and some dungeons.

Reclaiming Blingdenstone (playtest packet, October 2012)
The gnomes of Blingdenstone want their city back! The heroes attempt to get it back for them by completing six short adventures, each playable in 1-2 hours.

No suggested levels given, but presumably levels 1-3. Features role-playing and dungeon-crawling.

Mines of Madness (playtest packet, April 2013)
A completely unfair funhouse dungeon, where the players attempt to find the Forever Stone. Written for players at PAX East 2013.

An adventure for four level 3 adventurers. Features dungeon-crawling and all that entails (traps, puzzles, combat and very little role-playing).

The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb (playtest packet, April 2013)
A revised version of the adventure from Dungeon #37. A deadly dungeon crawl in a dungeon inspired by Tomb of Horrors.

An adventure for four level 14 adventurers. Features dungeon-crawling, in the same way as Mines of Madness.

Dungeons of Dread (playtest packet, April 2013)
Conversion notes for the AD&D adventures Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, recently reprinted in a hardcover collation.

Tomb of Horrors sees the group delving into the Tomb of the lich, Acererak, and has little combat but a lot of very deadly traps and tricks. An adventure for levels 10-14.

White Plume Mountain is the archetypal funhouse dungeon. The group have to recover three stolen magical weapons from a dungeon with traps, tricks, combat and a little roleplaying. An adventure for levels 5-10.

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks sees the adventurers exploring a crashed spaceship with robots and many alien monsters. (D&D meets Metamorphosis Alpha). An adventure for levels 8-12.

The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth delves into a dungeon that was once the lair of the witch, Iggwilv. Contains many monsters that were brand new at the time and several traps and tricks. An adventure for levels 6-10.

The conversion notes gives only the monster statistics; other details must be converted by the DM. Suggested levels may be inaccurate.

Against the Slave Lords (playtest packet, June 2013)
Conversion notes for the AD&D adventures Slave Pits of the Undercity, Secrets of the Slavers Stockade, Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords and In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords recently reprinted in a hardcover collation.

The group are hired to find the leaders of the slavers plaguing the lands and kill them. The adventures were original tournament dungeon crawls, and feature some unusual creatures. The final adventure sees the group captured and without equipment trying to escape from some caverns whilst a volcano explodes around them. A lot of dungeon-crawling and some role-playing. The main adventures are for levels 4-7.

The compilation also includes the new adventure Danger at Darkshelf Quarry for levels 1-3 by Skip Williams, a prequel to the Slave Lords adventures. More dungeon-crawling and some role-playing.

Tomb of Horrors (DUNGEON magazine #213)
There’s a tomb. It’s got horrors in it. You won’t survive! This is a conversion of the classic adventure by Gary Gygax.

Unlike the conversion document for Dungeons of Dread, this is the full adventure and completely converted to the version of D&D Next that was current at the time.

An adventure for levels 10-14. Features dungeon-crawling with only a few combats and a lot of deadly traps and tricks.

The Battle of Emridy Meadows (DUNGEON magazine #221)
A key event in Greyhawk’s history, this is the battle of the Forces of Good against the Horde of Elemental Evil. The heroes take on three key missions in the preparations for the battle, before the battle itself overwhelms everyone. The missions range from the simple (kill some gnolls) to more complex (infiltrate Nulb and recover a stolen book). 

An adventure for levels 5-7. Town-based, wilderness and dungeon-crawling, with evil cultists and a big battle (the players play smaller missions during the battle).

Against the Cult of Chaos (D&D Encounters season 12; 4E with playtest conversion notes)
A mash-up of Keep on the Borderlands, The Village of Hommlet and Against the Cult of the Reptile God. The adventures arrive in Hommel Lane to find the town in the grip of a dark cult. The heroes need to rescue allies from the cultists and find three items that will allow them to stop an ancient ritual.

An adventure for levels 1-3. Features town-based adventuring, intrigue, cultists, and some dungeon-crawling.

Storm Over Neverwinter (D&D Encounters season 13; 4E with playtest conversion notes)
Madness and murders overcome Neverwinter as a massive storm hits the city. Magic runs wild, causing odd effects. The heroes eventually end up at an asylum hunting down the perpetrators.

Entirely city-based, with exploration of one of the structures. Cultists and Mad Wizards feature. Set in Neverwinter in the Forgotten Realms. The Neverwinter Campaign Setting adds a lot more to the adventure.

An adventure for levels 4-6.

Vault of the Dracolich (Game Day event; 4E with playtest conversion notes)
Several groups of adventurers work together to steal the Diamond Staff from a Dracolich. This is a big dungeon crawl with a lot of varied encounters, but the exciting bit is that you can run it with 24 players and 5 DMs – four adventuring groups each with a DM, and a co-ordinating DM as well. We ran it that way during the Game Day and it was one of the best D&D experiences of my life. The groups can join up, pass messages, trade party members, before all coming together for the end fight with the Dracolich.

An adventure for level 4 characters. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

Search for the Diamond Staff (D&D Encounters season 14; 4E with playtest conversion notes)
Follows on from Vault of the Dracolich. The Diamond Staff – an elven artefact – is stolen in a raid by the Zhentarim, and the group need to get it back. Several factions are attempting to gain the Staff, and the group will be opposed by each of them, but the plans of their opponents don’t always go as they want them to; there’s a moderate amount of double-crossing going on here.

A lot of overland travel, with some town adventures. Ends with dungeon-crawling. Set in the Dalelands of the Forgotten Realms.

An adventure for levels 4-6. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

Murder in Baldur’s Gate (D&D Encounters season 15, available in print; D&D Next, 4E and 3.5E stats online)
After the assassination of the Duke of Baldur’s Gate, three factions strive to control the city. The players have the choice of which faction to aid, and may switch sides during the adventure. However, with all three factions influenced by an evil god, there may be no right choices. Moderate level of sandbox.

Entirely city-based, with sewer exploration dungeon segments and a lot of missions. Very role-playing heavy, and requires a lot of the DM. Great when it works. Set in Baldur’s Gate in the Forgotten Realms.

An adventure for levels 1-3. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

Legacy of the Crystal Shard (D&D Encounters season 16, available in print; D&D Next, 4E and 3.5E stats online)
The power of Auril lies heavily on the Ten Towns: Barbarian attacks, ice monsters, and the Arcane Brotherhood all disrupting life. There are three evil factions, all whose plans progress as the heroes try to stop them – and it’s unlikely the group can stop all three. Moderate level of sandbox. The adventure has a number of adventure sites to explore, wilderness encounters, and an over-arching plot (or three plots!)

Town-based adventure, wilderness adventure, and dungeon-crawling. Set in the Ten Towns region of the Forgotten Realms, and follows up on some ideas from the Crystal Shard.

An adventure for levels 1-3. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (GenCon 2013 adventure; available on
Four related adventures, with the Red Wizards of Thay causing trouble for Daggerford. The group must aid Sir Isteval in stopping the Red Wizards from opening a portal.

A wide variety of adventures, although mostly dungeon-based.

Prequel to the Dreams of the Red Wizards duology.

An adventure for levels 1-10. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Encounters season 17, available on
Refugees from humanoid raids are beginning to reach Daggerford, and an ex-Purple Knight of Cormyr calls out for adventurers to aid him, but he may already be betrayed by cultists in the town! There are six main adventure sites, but the group may approach them in any order. A moderate level of sandboxness. Good NPCs and excellent locations.

Town-based, wilderness and dungeon-crawling.

First part of the Dreams of the Red Wizards duology.

An adventure for levels 2-4. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

Dead in Thay (D&D Encounters season 18, available on
The adventures must destroy the portal known as the Bloodgate. They’ll have to make their way through a big dungeon to get there – possibly with the aid of other adventuring groups at the same time. (See Vault of the Dracolich).

Final part of the Dreams of the Red Wizards duology.

Possibly an adventure for levels 5-7. Set in the Forgotten Realms.

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D&D Encounters: Scourge of the Sword Coast session 9

The ninth session of our Scourge of the Sword Coast campaign saw us down a DM: Paul is on holiday, and his replacement (which we’d organised weeks ago) couldn’t make it. Thankfully, we were able to run just the two tables, with six players on each table. Strangely enough, seven of the players had played most of their sessions on my table, but as Harry has missed a lot of this campaign due to other commitments, it was easy to shuffle him onto Ben’s table.

On my table were Tait (rogue), Sondra (ranger), Troy (fighter), Danielle (rogue), Josh (bard) and Lily (mage).

Last session we’d cleared out most of the gnolls in Phylund Lodge. This session saw the group continuing to explore the lodge for any further gnolls that might be hidden somewhere. And the crypts below the lodge.

They spent a fair bit of time exploring the rest of the upper levels. The gnolls had left some traps on the exterior doors that weren’t so difficult when reached from inside, and so Tait and Danielle were able to disarm those. The general run-down nature of the lodge was readily apparent, as were the changes the gnolls had made to make it fit for their habitation: bookcases with the shelves knocked out and filled with fur and grass proved a handy bed for gnolls! More refined touches were proof of their human master – the Red Wizard of Thay, who had been slain at the end of the last session.

His bedchamber proved the most interesting of the lot, and Lily went straight to his spellbook. Unfortunately, she didn’t detect the presence of magic (or, more correctly, magical traps) first, and so was caught by the Explosive Runes spell he’d scribed on the first page; Lily threw herself to the ground and survived, but the book was incinerated, along with all the clues it gave to the plans of the Red Wizards! Surviving the blast was a bowl and a magical lodestone, although none of the characters could work out what they were for. They were happy to find a few baubles to add to their loot.

No more enemies were left on the upper levels, but a staircase in the northern building led down to the wine cellar and crypts. There, they met a gnoll chieftain, possessed by the same type of flame entity that both the hobgoblin shaman in Julkoun and the elf woman in the Floshin Manor was possessed by. It had the ability to cause fear at will in addition to attacking each turn, and soon enough three of the party were fleeing. The gnoll had two wolves aiding him, but Sondra used her magic to charm one of the wolves, although it proved reluctant to attack its former master.

Eventually the group rallied and slew the gnoll; its body exploding in a flash of fire. For once, no-one was standing in the blast. Tunnels led away from the gnolls chamber, which, the group discovered, led to various crypts. The first ones they discovered were empty with no sign of the lords who once were buried there. Heading southwards, the group discovered a pair of secret chambers. The first held a fine bronze bowl filled with holy water, which the group were happy to take. The second held a magically-trapped skull, which shot flame at the group as they attempted to enter. Troy rushed in and destroyed the skull with a pair of good blows. For his trouble, the group found a potion of mind reading and a strangely-shaped incense burner.

Continuing south, the group reached a shrine to Tempus, god of war. There, three dread warriors, made from the corpses of the Phylund lords, awaited them. The party made short work of them, although they were quite concerned that the statue of Tempus was about to come alive and attack them! They retrieved a magical longsword from the undead, and then discovered a secret door behind the statue.

It led to another shrine, this one to Malar, an evil deity dedicated to the savage aspects of the hunt. While interesting to devotees of Realms lore, it didn’t really pertain to the quest.

We were now out of time, and upon scanning the rest of the crypts, I noted some rats and a few skeletons, but nothing more of import, so I informed the group that they found nothing more of interest. Back to Daggerford they went, where they hoped that Sir Isteval had discovered where the prisoners from Julkoun had been taken.

The pacing in this session felt wrong to me; all the big combats happened last week, and there was only one “important” combat (against the gnoll) which happened at the beginning of their trek into the crypts, not at the end. I’m not entirely sure what the dread warriors were doing in the shrine, either. So I came away from the session feeling slightly disappointed, although the interactions between the players were a real highlight of the game.

We’re approaching the end of the adventure now. Due to the way the scheduling works for us, we’ve got three more weeks before Dead In Thay begins, that adventure continuing on from this one. Ben’s group has been moving faster than mine, so they should get through all of the adventure sites; I’ll leave out Harpshield Castle unless the unthinkable occurs and we get through Firehammer Hold in a single session!

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The Siege of Cair Andros report – The Lord of the Rings: the Card Game

The third scenario of the Heirs of Numenor expansion is extremely unusual: it’s the first scenario that really, really wants you to build a single-sphere deck to complete it with. And that sphere would be Battle.

Cards like The Master’s Malice (Each player chooses a sphere and then deals 3 damage to each character they control that isn’t of that sphere), Orc Arbalesters (at the start of each combat phase, deal damage equal to the number of different spheres a player’s heroes come from), and Orc Vanguard (characters who have icons that aren’t the Battle sphere can’t spend resources) made me very certain that I was playing a Battle Sphere deck only. Well, eventually. I don’t study the encounter decks before I play them, so I had no idea what I was up against.

The first couple of games I played using the deck that completed Into Ithilen, and it failed utterly.

The major objective of the game is to explore three locations, all of which start in the staging area. There are potentially five stages to the quest, but each of these locations you explore removes one of the quest stages. So, I thought that the next solution would be a Battle/Spirit/Spirit deck (Hama, Glorfindel, Eleanor) which could deploy a few Northern Trackers and clear all the stages while they were in the staging area. It proved to be far too slow – one progress token per turn isn’t fast enough when you’re looking at needing 11 to complete the most difficult location. And the aforementioned punishment cards for playing multi-sphere (and not battle) really wrecked me. One game, Orc Vanguard came out, and I was very, very fortunate to kill it – only to have another Vanguard come out and completely shut me down.

So, the solution to this was to build a battle-only deck. Gondor characters and Eagles, for the most part. The first stage is a Siege, so defence was important, and the last stage would likely be a Battle, so attack as well.

The biggest problem would be if I couldn’t clear the smallest of the locations – “The Banks”. This would mean I’d end up questing in stage 2B, which I was eminently unqualified for, with very little Willpower. My first couple of attempts with the final deck ended up there, after some horrendous draws which destroyed The Banks before I even had a chance to complete it, in the first first quest phase!

The game where I was successful played like this:

Turn 1: Play a Winged Guardian (Eagle, Defence 4) and put a Spear of the Guardian on Beregond. Quest with Winged Guardian, Boromir and Beregond, and discover a Siege Raft, which damages the Banks for 2 of its 3 wounds. This wasn’t starting well, but I travelled to the Banks, blocked the attack with an untapped Boromir – the Shadow card adds +2 strength, but I play Behind Strong Walls, so Boromir ‘only’ takes 3 damage. Attack with Boromir and Hama to almost kill it, discarding Landoval to Hama to pick up the event again.

Turn 2: Play The Eagles are Coming! to gain… almost nothing. Drop a second Winged Guardian. The Quest completes The Banks, and I travel to The Approach. Orc Rabble joins the fray, but the Siege Raft dies to Beregond’s Spear, and Boromir and Hama wipe out the Orc Rabble.

Turn 3: The quest discovers The Master’s Malice, which has no effect because all my characters are of a single Sphere. I play Eagles of the Misty Mountain, and complete and claim The Approach.

Turn 4: The Citadel is completed, and my other copy of Landroval hits the table. With all three starting Locations explored, I’ve removed stages 2, 3 and 4 of the quest. I immediately make my way to the final stage of the quest, but it flips a Lieutenant of Mordor which makes things a lot more difficult. The two monsters on the table from this turn’s draw can’t be defeated – I sacrifice a couple of Eagles to them, which end up beneath the Eagles of the Misty Mountain, making it stronger.

Turn 5: A surprise second attack kills Boromir, but Landroval saves him. I’m playing Behind Strong Walls to help Beregond defend against an Orc Vanguard and a Lieutenant, and Hama is recovering it for me. I draw a second BSW.

Turn 6: The quest stage draws another The Master’s Malice, and the stage is completed before I need to fight again.

Final Score: 92 (5 complete turns = 50, 46 threat, 2 wounds, 6 victory points = -6)

The Deck:

Boromir, Hama and Beregond

3x    Gondorian Spearman    (CS 29)
3x    Descendant of Thorondor    (SOM 75)
3x    Eagles of the Misty Mountains    (SOM 119)
2x    • Landroval    (SOM 53)
3x    Vassal of the Windlord    (SOM 98)
3x    Winged Guardian    (SOM 4)
3x    Defender of Rammas    (HON 7)
2x    • Beorn    (CS 31)
3x    • Gandalf    (CS 73)
1x    • Horn of Gondor    (CS 42)
3x    Gondorian Shield    (ATS 5)
1x    Spear of the Citadel    (HON 9)
2x    Dwarven Axe    (CS 41)
3x    Support of the Eagles    (SOM 120)
3x    Behind Strong Walls    (HON 8)
3x    The Eagles Are Coming!    (SOM 5)
3x    Gondorian Discipline    (ATS 60)
3x    Thicket of Spears    (CS 36)
3x    Feint    (CS 34)

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Into Ithilien report – The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

I’m terribly behind with my play of the Lord of the Rings LCG. My solo gaming time is way down, in any case, with LotR particularly affected. I’ve continued buying packs as they get released, however, because you get days like today when I find myself with the urge to return to the game.

Into Ithilien, the second scenario of the Heirs of Numenor expansion, has a reputation for being more difficult than the box suggests. I don’t follow LotR strategy, rather preferring to explore the game on my own terms, so I wasn’t aware of it as I pulled out the last deck I’d constructed – a Secrecy deck – and threw it against the scenario.

Well, that was a mistake!

The set-up for Into Ithilien has a location that basically says, “Ignore the fact you’re secret, the monsters will find you.” My Bifur and Glorfindel deck said “Oops” and died quickly. I played it again, just for the amusement value, and it died just as quickly. So, new deck time!

Glorfindel, Elrond and Denethor had a few games together, before I finally wised up to the fact that I needed more attack and defence to deal with the threats than my deck was providing. “BED” were doing well enough for me to tinker with the deck a bit, but not well enough to actually get anywhere near winning the scenario.

The final deck-build was Beregond, Boromir and Elrond, with Beregond hoping to get a shield as quickly as possible to hold off the attackers. Elrond took Vilya very quickly in the first game I played with it, and we got very close, but the biggest problem the deck has is a lack of threat management, and so despite reaching the final stage, I reached 50 threat and failed needing only one more turn.

The next game went far better. Beregond held off the enemies with ease, Elrond and Boromir quested, and the Eagles came out to play. Vassal of the Windlord is astonishingly good in this deck. Normally, the three attack for one resource is balanced by it being a one-use card: once it attacks, it gets discarded. However, given that you can Quest with it in the first stage, it makes it an invaluable card if you can get it early. Get two? You’re laughing – as long as a Mumak doesn’t arrive and start ripping you apart. 

The second part of the game was where I could have run into trouble – needing Willpower to quest is a problem. However, I’d managed to drop enough allies on the table to keep ahead of the monsters, and was able to quickly move into the final stage.

This was a siege, and so the defense of my characters was relevant. I’d dropped a Gondorian Shield on Beregond at the beginning of the game, so he was contributing 6 to the questing, but a draw from Gleowine of a second shield to place on Boromir was just delightful. I was able to complete the final stage in a single turn with a lot of allies and heroes questing.

Poisoned Stakes proved quite useful – the deck is excellent defensively, and though it potentially has a good offence, it needs to spend a lot of time using that offence to quest.

Is it the be-all and end-all of decks? Not at all, but I’m glad to have got through Into Ithilien. The next quest now beckons!

Hero (3)
Beregond (HON) x1
Boromir (TDM) x1
Elrond (SaF) x1

Ally (24)
Gleowine (Core) x2
Beorn (Core) x1
Descendant of Thorondor (THoEM) x2
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x2
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Gondorian Spearman (Core) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Snowbourn Scout (Core) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachment (13)
Poisoned Stakes (TBoG) x3
Protector of Lorien (Core) x1
Dwarven Axe (Core) x2
Spear of the Citadel (HON) x1
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x1
Vilya (SaF) x2

Event (13)
Radagast’s Cunning (Core) x3
Gondorian Discipline (EaAD) x3
Feint (Core) x3
Behind Strong Walls (HON) x3
Blade Mastery (Core) x1

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Playing an AD&D Druid

I’m not very experienced with playing or running druids in AD&D. I saw them being exploited quite a bit in 3rd edition – thanks, Dave! – but in the wilder, woollier days of AD&D, we were busy with the “standard” classes of cleric, fighter, thief and magic-user. So, having druids in the party now is something of a new experience. Brian’s druid died before it really gained any power, but Sondra has hit level 5, and as she’s also new to this whole AD&D thing, we’re learning about what it can do together. It doesn’t particularly help that a lot of the rules are locked away in the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide where only I can see them!

So, I’m writing this post for both of us, so we can discover what the druid can do.

The basics: Druids can wear leather armour and a wooden shield, and use a small selection of weapons, the most significant of which are the scimitar, sling, staff and spear. They can also use burning oil, which is a really good offensive weapon (if somewhat bulky to transport around). Due to their poor armour, Druids should begin their careers mostly hanging back – personally, I allow spears to strike monsters when wielded from the second rank, so that allows a druid to participate in combat even if they can’t stand toe-to-toe with the monsters. A sling is great when the monsters are at range or tower above the front rank, but firing into melee generally allows a chance to hit your friends!

Druidic spell-use is slightly more aggressive than that of a cleric. It’s an odd spell list, made even more so by the strange progression of gaining new spell levels. The first level spells are pretty weak, but a druid has 3rd level spells at 3rd level – including the really useful Neutralise Poison. However, it is a crowded 3rd level list, with some very good spells – protection from fire, stone shape and summon insects are also on the list and are pretty good.

Seventh level is where the druid gains the ability to shape change into animal form up to three times per day. (The level title is called “Initiate of the Fifth Circle”, which makes things a bit confusing when you’re reading the descriptions in the book – so Sondra has a couple more levels to gain before that ability is attained).

Once it is mastered, the restrictions are as follows:

  • Only three times per day
  • Each type of creature’s form can only be assumed once per day
  • The size of creature can be from as small as a bullfrog, bluejay or bat up to as large as a large snake, an eagle, or a black bear (about double the weight of the caster)

However, each time the druid changes, they regain 10-60% of their lost hit points, which is pretty useful.

Some typical animal abilities are as follows:

  • Ape, Gorilla: AC 6, MV 12″, HD 4+1, #AT: 3, D 1-3/1-3/1-6, SA Rending (+1d6 damage if it hits with both hand attacks)
  • Bear, Black:
    AC 7, MV 12″, HD 3+3, #AT: 3, D 1-3/1-3/1-6, SA Hugs (+2d4 damage if it rolls 18+ on a paw attack)
  • Boar:
    AC 7, MV 15″, HD 3+3, #AT 1, D 3-12
  • Hyena: AC 7, MV 12″, HD 3, #AT 1, D 2-8
  • Jackal: AC 7, MV 12″, HD ½, #AT 1, D 1-2
  • Jaguar: AC 6, MV 15″, HD 4+1, #AT 3, D 1-3/1-3/1-8, SA Rear claws for 2-5/2-5 if hits with both foreclaws, SD Surprised only on a 1.
  • Leopard: AC 6, MV 12″, HD 3+2, #AT 3, D 1-3/1-3/1-6, SA Rear claws for 1-4/-1/4, SD Surprised only on a 1
  • Wolf: AC 7, MV 18″, HD 2+2, #AT 1, D 2-5
  • Wolverine:
    AC 5, MV 12″, HD 3, #AT 3, D 1-4/1-4/2-5, SA Musk, +4 to hit in combat.

All in all, none of them is all that much better than the druid’s own attack capabilities, although sometimes the damage outstrips the druid – it really depends on what magical weapons the druid has access to. Is it a power that they should be waiting until 7th level to get? I think not. The primary use will be for travelling – either stealthily, quickly or by flying.

The really important spell for the druid is the second level spell, Animal Friendship. This allows a druid to befriend (and thus have as companions) up to 2 Hit Dice of animals per level of the druid. The druid does need to honestly want to befriend the animals – they can’t just cast casting it for creating sword-fodder, but it turns the druid into a so-so minor caster into a potential powerhouse.

At 5th level, Sondra could control five wolves, or a wolf and one polar bear (AC 5, MV 12″//9″, HD 8+8, #AT 3, D 1-10/1-10/2-12, SA Hug 3-18, will fight 2-5 rounds after being brought from 0 to -12 hit points). One can say that is an exceptionally powerful spell!

So, for the druid it seems that sending an animal companion in to take on the combat duties whilst supporting it with spell-casting would be the way to go. We’ll see how it goes in actual play – and, of course, Sondra has to find that polar bear first!

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Advanced Squad Leader report: S20 Joseph 351

Michael and I started on the Starter Kit #3 scenarios today with Joseph 351, an action from 1944, which featured some poor Germans (played by me) surrounded by Americans, Free French and Russian POWs.

I had to set up first, and I placed my men around the hill in what cover they could find; a number of troops behind (to the left) to stop the Russians from creeping up on me, and a few troops ahead to interfere with Michael’s American and Free French advance. Michael’s initial placement was a little further back with his Russians than I would have done, especially as he had first move.

My stack in Z1 had two LMGs and a couple of 2nd line German squads – my hope was to make the advance as painful as possible. I have real trouble setting up defensive positions in general, and even more so in the countryside. Give me a nice city, and I’ve got a far better idea of how to handle it. This terrain? Hardly a clue. I just hoped that Michael was likewise in trouble.

Michael is less aggressive a player than I am, which occasionally betrays him into not leaving enough time to claim the objective. The primary objective here was the hill – if he could claim it before Turn 4, he’d win. Alternatively, he just needed to wipe out a lot of my troops. How many? 22 VPs worth. This scenario is variable: a die roll by Michael after I set up showed how many American and Free French troops would be entering the battlefield from the right. He rolled a 6, which – unusually for ASL where low rolls generally is better – meant he had a lot of troops entering the board. And, if he didn’t take the hill, he needed to wipe out almost all of my troops.

Joseph 351 (who actually has a leader counter) and the two Russian POW troops he was with fired at my 4-4-7 in the woods, and failed to break It; they then retreated back into the woods. His Americans and Free French entered, and Michael learnt exactly how much brush protects you from fire from a hill: not at all! He made a lot of use of cover, and at the end of his turn, had very few units with LOS to my units. Yes, he’s much less aggressive a player than I am!

Of course, the flip side to that is that I’m entirely too aggressive when I need to be playing defensively – or at least, more cautiously. I managed to break one of the Russian POW units, and moved troops onto the hillside overlooking the American advance. Not all that much else to do at this stage!

One of the most terrifying things about American troops is their Assault Fire capability. This allows them to fire with enhanced effectiveness just after moving. ASL has particular cut-off points for fire: FP 1, FP 2, FP 4, FP 6, FP 8, FP 12, FP 16, FP 20. Each of those bands brings you into more effective firing. A 6-6-7 that moves would normally have a FP of 3 after moving. The Americans? FP 4. Two of them forming a firegroup can fire at FP 8, and that’s the level at which you start doing real damage. It wasn’t much of a surprise that my LMG unit in the woods was broken by their fire, but to also have a squad broken with its 7-0 leader in the house in Z1? That was bad – and my defences were looking a lot more vulnerable.

His Russians were having real trouble getting past my squads there, with Joseph 351 moving to rally the broken units that were hiding in the woods – or at least he would have if he wasn’t pinned by my fire. You could tell the Russians really didn’t want to be here.

Losing a LMG to malfunction was just adding to my defensive problems. I was, however, delighted to see that Michael’s MMG was quite happy to malfunction as well. Hooray! I was also quite happy when he moved his 9-2 leader back to rally his units; the bonus he got to fire attacks with that leader was significant, especially given his already high firepower and my poor cover.

My units on the hills were doing better, breaking the odd American and Free French unit, occasionally at very long range. Michael thought moving some units around at range 8 would protect them. Often it would have, this time it didn’t!

The orchards were quite interesting, as they were blocking Line-of-Sight from below to the hillside; the actual fire-lanes at my disposal were quite limited. Luckily, this also applied to Michael firing back!

Michael poured on the attacks into the hut at Z1, and it had the desired effect: all my units there were slain and I was left with two LMGs to remind me of them. However, I’d got one squad in the woods beside that (Z0), ready to make Michael uncomfortable if he attempted to attain the hill!

I then made a terrible blunder – I pulled the squads holding back the Russians out of position. It was such a stupid move, I can’t believe I did it. Michael was then happily able to run across and reach the woods I was defending, and my defensive advantage was gone. Argh!

Added to that, Michael was rallying his Americans and moving up on my positions. It took a couple of turns, but his fire-power was such that the units on the hills were quite exposed, and soon were fleeing back to safety. He’d taken some damage moving forward, but nowhere near enough.

What could I do now? My options to manoeuvre were sharply limited. Michael hadn’t even reached the hill by turn 4, so now he just had to eliminate a lot of my units. My basic hope was to shoot the units as they climbed up the hill, especially as they’d have no cover from my fire. Unfortunately, I also had very limited firepower. I had three squads and one half-squad at my disposal: nowhere near enough!

Make that four squads and a half-squad: I was lucky enough to have one squad self-rally. Holding off the Russians and protecting myself from the Americans! I could do it for a few more turns, surely?

Once thing was certain: Michael’s passage up the hill wasn’t going to come easily!

The trouble was that there were far more of his units than there were of mine. Even if I was effective in breaking some – and I was – I couldn’t deal with all of them. His advancing fire worked a treat: breaking one of my units, causing the other to be pinned. And then there was the close combat with that pinned unit, which eliminated it. Things were now very bad for me.

However, there was still that basic problem: Michael had to nearly wipe me out to win. I had a total of 28 VPs of units at the beginning of the game. The units on the left – facing the Russians – were worth enough that even if the hill completely fell to Michael, he couldn’t win the game.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take him long to take the hill. One turn. Which left him one turn to come down the other side and deal with my remaining units.

Michael moved extremely aggressively now to attack my positions: he needed to. Surrounding my units, he was ready to go into Close Combat.

My unit in EE4 surrended meekly. The units in FF6? Not so easily. DD5 was safe. And Michael hadn’t quite been able to destroy a broken half-squad cowering behind a hill.

The maths was simple: If I lost even a half squad, Michael would win. If Michael couldn’t take me, I’d lose.

What I needed to do about it wasn’t so simple. Attack the melee with my units in DD5? It seemed too risky. I decided to move DD5 into the melee and hope for a miracle.

I didn’t get one. Michael rolled poorly… but just enough to kill a half-squad. (He rolled a 10!) The game was over, and Michael had won!

Down to the last roll – it doesn’t get much closer than that. I’d felt in control at the beginning, but slowly that had slipped away. Joseph 351 ended the game hiding in the forest; the game taken by the firepower of the American cardboard soldiers!

Posted in Advanced Squad Leader, Session Report, Wargames | Leave a comment

AD&D: Into the Wilderness!

Sondra, who is new to all of this D&D madness, now has a 5th level druid, whose role has mostly been in combat to cast Faerie Fire and then hang back – not entirely the stuff of legends. I’m working on a big article about how druids work so that she has something to go on. My knowledge of druids is a bit lacking, so it’s an interesting research project. I thought she’d be able to turn into an animal by now, but apparently “Initiate of the 5th Circle” actually refers to 7th level. My mistake. Not that the animals the druid can turn into in AD&D are that much to write home about. They’re great for running and scouting, but poor for actual combat.

However, actually using the animal friendship spell seems far more interesting. And, given this is a Viking-inspired campaign, with them all being Frost Barbarians, the animal that really jumped out as a companion? The polar bear.

I could just allow Sondra to get a polar bear, but as the group aren’t really up to bearding the Overking of the Great Kingdom in his lair – he holds the final key to the Bifrost Bridge – instead it looks like the next session or two will be The Hunt for the Polar Bear!

Of course, are Norse Druids known for Polar Bears? Heck, are polar bears known anywhere in Scandinavia? Not really. But that’s the fun of D&D, you can change things to suit yourself. Eventually, this isn’t our world, this is the World of Greyhawk – and more correctly, it’s my version of that world, so I can do what I like with it.

Still, I’m happy to do some research to find out what I’m ignoring. The animals that *do* exist in Scandinavia? Brown bears, Wolves, Arctic Foxes, Weasels and Lynxes seem the main ones a druid would command. Polar bears live nowhere near Norway, although there’s a remote archipelago that “belongs” to Norway where they live. (It’s called Svalbard – look it up!)

Wilderness adventuring in AD&D is a funny business. Original D&D used the Outdoor Survival map to handle unplanned jaunts into the wilderness. I finally have that map, but something tells me it’s completely unsuitable for travelling in the lands of the Frost Barbarians. So, instead, I really should draw up a map myself, and stock it with interesting encounters, and let them at it. Oh, and use a lot of random wilderness encounters along the way. The thing is that whilst AD&D gives a lot of ideas for adventuring in the dungeon, the ideas for wilderness encounters aren’t as detailed. The most interesting it gets is “there’s a castle – ruined or inhabited”.

It may well be worth taking a look at Frostburn, one of the 3rd edition books on the subject. I rather enjoyed the wilderness books of that era of 3.5e; lots of good ideas. I don’t think 1E’s Wilderness Survival Guide has much to recommend it, but I have a copy so I might as well check.

And this might be just the time to reintroduce the Frost Queen, who was a significant presence in the first few sessions, and has completely gone by the wayside in the last two years.

The campaign has reached 75 sessions, as best I can make it. I’m so pleased!

Posted in AD&D, D&D | 1 Comment