There’s a lot of creativity required from the Dungeon Master when running this stage of the adventure, which is aided by preparation. I’ve been a bit distracted of late, so I haven’t been able to prepare as much as I really should be doing. Thus, for this session, I kept things fairly simple as the adventurers continued to accompany the cultist’s wagon up the Sword Coast towards Waterdeep.
It doesn’t help that running enjoyable wilderness adventures is hard. The typical way of presenting one – as is done in this adventure – is to provide a random encounter table and a few set encounters. However, rolling on random encounter tables for each day of travel (the adventure actually notes that rolling every hour is overkill) tends to not give the most memorable game experiences. These days, I find it better to select encounters with an eye for building excitement and pacing.
What happened this session? I rolled a few random encounters.
The session was elevated by the players, in particular by Lewis, who was back after being absent last week. We determined that his ranger had been hired as a bodyguard of one of the other merchants in the caravan, and he quickly set about destroying the relationship between the two of them. Merchants, when they hire bodyguards, rather want their hirelings to follow their orders (and protect them). It gets a lot more difficult when the bodyguard is a player character doing exactly what he wants to.
The first random encounter was an attack by spiders and ettercaps. In a random forest. Which wasn’t on the map before this encounter, and probably won’t be there ever again. It’s actually a perfectly fine encounter, but as someone who thinks of the Forgotten Realms as an incredibly detailed setting, that kind of hand-waving details feels wrong to me. (It isn’t; it’s totally reasonable; it just feels wrong). We’re not using miniatures at the moment, so I wasn’t faced with the problem of setting up a path through a dark, tangled forest with spiders and ettercaps coming out of the foliage. All I had to do was describe it. I had the attack come from both sides of the path, although some of the players thought it was all coming from the one side. (I’m not sure if that was me describing it badly, or the players not paying attention). In any case, what we got was a tough, entertaining fight. Both Tim and Michael got webbed, Paul’s rogue spent his time running from one side of the caravan to the other, taking advantage of the cover to sneak attack the spiders, and Josh discovering that he was being attacked by all the remaining monsters after Danielle used misty step to get out of there and Tim created a globe of darkness centred on himself and ran off. Thankfully, Josh has a really high AC, so he was able to withstand their attacks.
During the attack, Lewis had his panther accompany his merchant towards safety. Lewis has a completely different view of the intelligence of his panther than my own. In Lewis’s world, the panther is probably more intelligent than most of the other party members. (This, it must be said, is probably not that high a bar to reach). Meanwhile, in my world, Lewis’s panther is an animal that knows a few tricks. At some point, I probably should work out exactly what it can do, which would include reading the rules, but it hadn’t previously been that important. This looks like it is changing.
Anyway, with the ettercaps dead, Lewis and Paul went on a scouting trip to discover their lair and get any loot from it. This they were able to do, but they discovered even more ettercaps and spiders in the lair. So they came back, and the players had a short discussion about clearing it out, eventually deciding not to abandon the caravan. Just as well!
And then Lewis returned to his employer, who was furious with him for abandoning her. Lewis tried to explain that he’d left the panther, but she wasn’t having any of that. Why hadn’t he asked permission before he walked off into the forest? This was the moment when I expected Lewis to apologise to his employer. He didn’t. Instead, he tried to intimidate her. This didn’t work very well; she ended up sacking him. Every so often, it’s nice to have a few NPCs that will stand up to the players!
This led Lewis without an employer in the caravan. Paul came up with the answer: he’d hire him as an extra guard for the cultists. Cultist Bob was fine with this, continuing on with the relaxed relationship between the cultists and the adventurers. The group considered whether or not Lewis would be known to the cultists, but as his ranger had been absent for the session where they infiltrated the camp, it was reasonable to use him as a guard.
A couple of days later in the journey, the group got attacked by Perytons. The Peryton is a strange beast, and one that I’m not really familiar with. Which, of course, led to a fairly forgettable encounter as basically Jesse spotted the Perytons as they were still airborne, then everyone used ranged attacks to take most them down before they reached the group.
It wasn’t completely forgettable though, thanks to Danielle using ray of frost to slow down one of the Perytons so that only one actually made it to attack Jesse (and then missed him). After that, the last one tried to get away, only to discover that long bows have an astonishing range, especially when you’ve got a longbow-wielding ranger wielding one. That’s Lewis, by the way.
After the Perytons were dead, Lewis wanted to track them back to their lair. I’m beginning to detect a theme here. Unfortunately, flying stag-birds don’t leave much in the way of tracks. (And Lewis realised that leaving the caravan for a day or more might be a bad idea). There are lots of times when tracking monsters back to their lair is a really, really good idea, but those times haven’t come yet in this adventure.
The last encounter of the session was a role-playing one, when the group met a gnome that wanted to join the caravan when they reached a wayside inn. This is actually one of the set encounters in the adventure, but it was slightly complicated by my having lent the book to another DM who hasn’t been able to get a full copy of the adventure yet. So, though I knew there was a gnome joining the group, little unimportant things like his name were sadly forgotten.
That said, I have a lot of trouble with names in any case. There are reasons I’m referring to everyone by their actual names rather than their PC names. (Even that is often an achievement. Just ask Sondra how long it was before I managed to get her name right!)
So, I managed to run an encounter where the gnome completely failed to introduce himself to the party. He did buy drinks for everyone, allowing us to have some amusing role-playing. Lewis was pretty active here, but the bulk of my attention was taken with Josh and Danielle.
Danielle is playing a tiefling sorcerer, as far as I remember, but her previous character was a gnome rogue. And, for some reason (probably related to character names), I have continued to think she is a gnome rogue, despite the fact that she casts spells and stuff. Thus, the gnome talking to her as a fellow gnome doesn’t make all that much sense in retrospect.
However, he did manage to ingratiate him with the PCs. (It’s amazing how players like their characters being bought alcohol, even when there’s no “real” drinking going on). So, for next session I’ll find out what his name is and have him properly introduce himself. He’s proving a lot more memorable to role-play than the rest of the NPCs on this trip, let me tell you!
So far, the journey has encompassed about 12 days of the 60 days it’s meant to take. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll need to up the pace before the group lose track of what the real storyline is.