In our last session – we infiltrated a stronghold of devils, automatons, and strange plant-based drow.Â During our stay we found a new ally in our quest to close the rifts and save the realms – but it was discovered that he intended to do the deed by using imprisoned souls.Â Upon returning to the guild to pass along this news, we were even more surprised that our leaders agreed to his plan.
We set out for a small errand of a quest in an attempt at escape, but now return to face our fate.
A moral choice
Upon our return, we are greeted by Rothgar.Â He informs us that all is as we feared, the guild will proceed to gather souls for the new plan.Â His mind is much like ours – and he does not want these souls gathered any more than we do, but he must comply with the guilds wishes.
Astalda storms off into the library and locks himself in, muttering about souls and poor choices.Â He’ll not be seen for days, and the party knows that he’s best left alone when he’s gotten like this.
The rest of us sit around a table in the main hall, deciding how best to proceed.Â We quickly agree that we cannot do as the guild wishes directly – even trying to fill the gems with animal souls would be cruel based on what we know of them.Â However, if there were some other entity that had a similar energy to be tapped it may suffice.
After some hours of discussing, we agree that the best thing to attempt to fill these gems with first would be spectral undead.Â They are typically the souls of living creatures, but twisted and trapped in their own prison already – so being put into the gem will make little difference except to remove them from those they might otherwise harm.
Once resolved to seek out ghosts, we consider what areas nearby are most likely to be haunted.Â There are not many rumors of such places, but there are old battlefields and we are in the season that battles would be waged.Â If there were any spirits still lingering, we’d likely find them in the mists of night around the battlegrounds where they fell.
That night we make our way out to the battlefields, where we intend to linger until we come upon ghosts – or until half a week pass us by.Â The first night passes without an incident, and we sleep with a watch through the day, but by the second night we draw unwanted attention.
Some ogres approach us early in the night, seeing the shine of Erick.Â We attempt to reason with them, but it is fruitless.Â We attempt to bribe them away, but that too is fruitless – they only want more money regardless of what is offered.Â When we tell them we have little to begin with, they attack.
It is a foolish move for them, though they nearly get the best of us when one of them is revealed as an oni.Â Despite his devastating cone of cold, which nearly kills Dahlia; and a near escape by taking on the form of mist, the party does not allow these ogres to escape alive.
The rest of our half-week goes incredibly uneventfully – and we nearly leave early for lack of any signs of the spirits we seek.Â However, the final night is one shrouded in mist.Â We can feel some presence in the area, and we feel as though we are watched.Â Soon, we are approached by three horsemen – in a spread formation.
The horsemen do not step into the light, but address us from afar.
Who goes there, shining lights in the night?Â Be ye friends or foe to the king?
We greet the men as friends, and bid them step into the light that we may see them.Â They do not approach.Â Instead, begin to question our place in the coming battle.Â This reveals them to us as souls of the departed.
Dahlia exclaims that we are of the kings men, and approaches to greet them as a friend in the fashion of the men of old – taking ones hand as they offer it.Â Though she could not see them clearly, she could feel the hand – which was unlike what she expected.Â Sensing her surprise – the man, now revealed to be a wight, seized her!
Seeing the danger and acting quickly, the others bolt to action.Â Each of the wights are dealt fatal blows by the few enchanted daggers we carried, siphoning their souls into the gems – and as the last of the fell creatures were slain the mists began to clear away.
A new dawn for ghost hunting
Having seen our new methods of gathering souls successfully employed, we made haste to return to the guild.Â Once we arranged, we informed Rothgar of our findings – that at least some of the undead can be used to fill the gems.Â With his help, we put out a bounty for information regarding the undead.Â Any information that leads to successful capture of sentient undead will be rewarded in gold.
Once the bounty has been set, and messengers dispatched to the local towns and villages, we make haste towards the underground fortress occupied by Brason and his creations.Â We are greeted upon our arrival by one of his Edwins, and give him the three gems we’ve filled.
He is not displeased with the gems, but he is concerned that it is taking far too long to gather them.Â The enemy is upon us, but we have only a scarce few gems to power the army he’s built to fight them.Â To speed our progress, he grants us access to a plethora of soul sucking weapons that he has crafted.Â We take as many as we can carry back to the guild so that they can disperse them amongst the other adventuring parties – and more of the undead can be set to work.
Upon our return, Rothgar is glad to take in the influx of magical weapons to equip the guild.Â We are about to set out for another rumor of ghosts, when we hear a clamor coming from the library…
Previously, we had adventured long through the Halls of the hunting axe and surrounding caves.Â A Duergar was found and returned to the Underdark through a rift, which was later sealed.Â Of interest to us now was the devil that had been stalking him and the other Duergar, and we had tracked it back to where we supposed it came from.
Our party was waiting in a small alcove, discussing their plans for assailing the devil forces…
The falls of lava
From our vantage point at the bottom of a large cascade of lava, we could see only one chain devil – but from the sounds we could hear over the roar of the falls it was obvious there were more.Â Further, we could determine from the ringing of many hammers against metal that they were set to watch over Duergar prisoners that had been made to work.
Many plans were set forth, but eventually we came to the conclusion that we had best sneak around them as best we could so as to get into a more advantageous position.Â Dahlia was able to carry each member of the party to an upper ledge, where they could sneak in undetected.Â It was far enough off, and the light from the lava so great, that even Erick was undetected.
Parley with a devil
After a short time wandering through twisting cavern paths, Azark came to a wide open room which contained a spined devil.Â Quickly dodging back into the passage, he informed the others of what he’d seen.Â Erick was intrigued.
The party sat and discussed what to do at great length, until at last they had become embroiled in a bitter dispute.Â Erick desired to speak with the creature, to learn of its master, and eventually – to persuade it against its evil ways.Â The others, rightly, thought this was a foolhardy plan with little chance of any favorable outcome.
Nonetheless, Erick could not be dissuaded.Â He strode out to meet the devil, and greeted it in friendly fashion.
To everyone’s shock, the devil was just as surprised as they were about Erick enacting his plan.Â Through Erick’s natural charisma, a lot of luck, and perhaps some divine intervention – his plan succeeded.
The devil called upon its master with a telepathic bond, and after some time a familiar male drow came to take Erick elsewhere in the caves for “Brunch”.Â This drow was identical to two others he’d seen before – he was certain he wasn’t imagining it.Â The drow seemed stranger than the devil – and Erick was not one to leave his party behind, so with permission from the drow he asked them to come out and join.
The strangely familiar drow, who they found was named Edwin, took them back deep into the caves – past the falls of lava and many other sights.Â Eventually, they came to a room that had been fashioned into a main hall that seemed to serve as a central workplace for the organization this drow belonged to.
The sights here were strange indeed, at least 20 male drow – all nearly identical to Edwin!Â The Edwin they had been following led them to where a dwarf was looking over plans, the same dwarf smith they’d seen in Amtvil.Â Surprised to see visitors of any sort, let alone the friendly sort, he quickly put his plans aside to greet them.
He greeted them as Brason Cragjaw, and bid them ask any questions that they have.Â He had not time for idle chatter, but if they could assist in his plans he was glad for their company.Â The party questioned what his plans were, surrounded by so many devils and drow, and his answer was simple:
I’m going to save the world.
After Brason’s short introduction, and the beginnings of brunch, the party began to question him about the goings on here.Â He explained rather openly that the various Edwins, of which there were at least 60 by our count now, were actually a type of plant that a druid associate of his had crafted and grown.Â He also had a gnome informant of some kind in the Underdark, and he was here creating a means to stop a terrible tragedy from befalling the surface world.
He explained that the rifts that had been seen recently were known to him.Â His informant had told him that they were caused by a dispute amongst the demon council of the Underdark.Â One or more members were attempting to use an argument that they were embroiled in to seize control of the surface lands while the others were distracted.Â Essentially, these lords had declared war upon the surface lands – and were sending their minions to seize control.
After brunch, he showed the party to where his weapons were being stored – so that they could see what weapons he had been crafting to seal away the darkness spreading across the lands.Â He had been busy crafting, and throughout the complex there were many shield guardians armored with new equipment – at least a dozen we spotted wandering the halls.Â But they were a trifle, only meant to watch the halls and alert him against any threats.
The real weapons were stored in a lower hall.Â Hundreds of statues, meticulously crafted of metal and stone.Â Apparently, once activated they would serve as an army against the denizens of other planes.Â They would be dispatched to towns and cities as guards against the hordes – and as armies to fight them back to their own planes.
After he explained what he was doing, and how he planned to do it, we questioned why he had not brought this to the attention of the guild – we were also working to contain the rifts, and could use his assistance.
He responded shyly – that he did not think the guild would appreciate his methods.Â Apparently, the only way to power these automatons properly was with a filled soul gem.Â He had given such a prototype design of the dagger and a gem to the duke of Cornbury, who was funding some of his research at the time.Â He explained that he had thought the duke was on the side of good, and he didn’t know that he intended to obtain the soul through murder.
At this point, the party is concerned.Â They’re growing weary that Branson is a silver tounged villain – and the beginnings of their suspicion start to show through.Â Branson, expecting this, has prepared for their concerns.Â He bids them to listen further, as the soul gems need not be filled with the souls of humans – or even necessarily the living.Â Any soul will do, beast or demon – even the souls of the damned.
The party cautiously takes his word, gathers some parcels from him and promises to bring them before the guild, and makes their way off.
Heroes of light..?
The party returns to the guild with 120 empty soul gems, two daggers of soul stealing, and a spell scroll of soul snare to study.Â Greeting Rothgar, we tell him what we have discovered, and he makes haste to gather the elder members of the guild.
They are as follows:
Rahzad, a human cleric of Kelemvor.
Klarg, a half-orc fighter of immense strength.
Tristan Redstaff, a genasi wizard with a mastery of the planes.
Maria Pavaliir, a swift and nimble spear wielder
After a lengthy debate, they emerge from the meeting hall.Â To the surprise of all, they have decided to proceed with gathering the souls required for the plan.
Heroes for now
Still reeling from the turn of events at the guild hall, our heroes make their way to the quest board.Â Searching for an issue that can be resolved without violence – or soul stealing.
Sifting through what remains of calls unanswered, they come upon one request from the village of Cornbury.Â In the absence of their duke, the local orcs have become restless.Â Typically the tribe deals with the duke, trading furs and what spoils they will part with for grain to last them through the winter.Â With the duke arrested, they see the town having no strong leadership – and have put themselves up in it to replace him.
We quickly head off to the town to deal with the orcs, peacefully.Â The orcs have their own customs, are understandably troubled, and have not been overly malicious – though perhaps they’ve taken advantage of the locals weakness in the last few weeks.Â Astalda takes charge, by seeking out those among the locals who would lead – and after a short while comes up with a council of three who would serve well.
Once he has assembled them we confront the orcs.Â It requires a small show of force, which Erick provides by wrestling their chief into submission with ease.Â Once that small matter is settled, the orcs agree to deal with the council as they had dealt with the duke.Â To the town, we are heroes – having given them back their homes.Â To the orcs, we are respected as bringers of stability – again setting right the balance of power in the town.
And all too soon, what may be our last adventure as true heroes is over.Â We must return to the guild, as assignments for the collection of souls will be posted soon.Â With this in mind, we decide for the first time to walk along our return.
Previously, our adventurers had discovered that not only were creatures from the Underdark appearing in the world at large – but other creatures as well.Â Undead, demons, and devils were all appearing throughout the lands in greater numbers.Â It was discovered that this was due to the appearance of rifts, through which these creatures could pass.
Our group set out to seal a rift that was spewing undead nearby a local town, and managed to seal it with a great mound of dirt – but many more are yet to be sealed, and not all will be so easily dealt with.
Halls of the hunting axe
After we could confirm that the dead were safely sealed away we returned to the guild with haste, hardly stopping to tell of our exploits at the nearby town.Â Once we’d arrived Rothgar was excited that we had been able to seal away the dead, even if it was only a temporary reprieve.Â The other adventurers had not been so lucky, and continued to watch their posts.
Searching for another rift, he sent us after another that had been reported that we might be able to seal.Â It was rumored that in the nearby hills a great city of dwarfkind lay hidden within – and it was once called the Halls of the hunting axe.Â Long ago it had been made by dwarves as a safe haven for huntsman and traders – but it had long lay abandoned, or so the story went.
We set off immediately, and arrived as night was falling.Â A chill was in the air, and we dared not tarry in the lands about – for they were said to be haunted.Â Making our way inside a grand archway, it seemed not a city – but a tomb.Â The small and blank room held only stone statues of fallen heroes and held a patterned floor – as if it were some sort of mausoleum with no bodies of the dead to keep.
After some searching, Erick found a stone slab that could be easily moved.Â Quickly he moved it aside, as he did not wish to stay in a mausoleum of these haunted lands for any longer than need be.Â The stairs beyond descended in a twisted spiral down some hundred feet, finally exiting out into a moderately sized room that held a single sarcophagus – clearly meant as a mark for some fallen warrior of old.
The room also contained works of art, reliefs in the stone, and more of the statues as the mausoleum above.Â Erick, having seen this sort of thing prior – knew immediately that this was simply a ploy to keep unknowing passerby from entering the underground portion of the city.Â The dwarves would have created it as a secret passage to their personal portion of the city, which was likely not meant for huntsmen and traders.
With a swift pull he freed the lid from the sarcophagus before any words of warning could be spoken by his fellows.Â Immediately, their fears were realized as the statues sprang to life and began to assail the party.
Most fled back to the stairs, or took up a defensive stance, but Erick stayed his ground and fought the guardians.Â It was a prolonged battle for him, but one surprisingly easily handled with the aid of the others.Â When a moment of respite could be had, they discovered that the sarcophagus had indeed concealed a secret stair that led yet further down!
Astalda spoke in a harsh tounge to Erick, regarding his recklessness:
Just because you’re right about this – doesn’t make you right.
Once the group had reached the bottom of this second stair, it let out into a large dwarven foyer, some hundreds of feet wide and deep, and at least 50 tall.Â Light carried well, and the dimly lit outlines of city doors could be seen on the far wall.
Cautiously the group approached, with Astalda checking frequently for disturbances in the settled dust.Â It was not long before he found tracks that could not be more than a few days old in the dust, and following them through the city doors he located a dwarf of the deep – a Duergar.
The duergar was disturbed, and through muttered words and suspicion we found that they had come to set up a smithy and township here – but something else had followed them.Â Some sort of creature had been taking the Duergar away, and he believed he was the last that remained.
The city around was in ruins – but with a select few buildings showing signs of recent work.Â Clearly there had been many Duergar here recently to work what had been done, though we could not see nor hear signs of them now.
After convincing the Duergar that we will assist him in returning home, we venture further into the ruins to find the rift to return him through.Â Soon we begin to hear chains rattling in the dark.
It isn’t long before we are introduced to the source.Â A chain devil is walking the ruins on daily patrol to ensure all the Duergar have been gathered for his master.Â For a moment – Astalda tricks the Duergar into running towards the creature in jest, and the others into running away in the same action, but the error is quickly rectified when the Duergar cries out at the sight of the thing coming around a corner.
Astalda binds him with an earthen hand, and Erick tries to convince the devil to mend his ways – but he will have none of it.Â Regrettably, to Erick, the devil must be banished forcibly by the others.
Once the devil is banished, we make our way to the rift and find it set into well made dwarven doors.Â After saying our parting words, which imply to the Duergar that Erick is an Angel – and that they had best not return lest they face both his wrath and the devils, the Duergar is returned to whence he came.
We form a great pile of dirt and stone around the door that will take them some effort to mine through, should they decide to do so, and consider that perhaps all that can be done here has been.Â However… before we leave we consider that the devil must also have come from somewhere.Â Concerned that there may be a second rift nearby, we begin to explore the nearby caves.
After half a days search, we find pathways leading off that seem suspicious, there are marks of metal and streaks of blood to be followed.Â The pathways lead down, and it becomes hotter as we descend until we come upon a great number of lava filled chambers and flows.Â Still we continue on, presuming this lava is coming from a rift nearby we trace it to its source.
At the source, our concerns seem justified, for we spot many of the captured Duergar along with their devil masters.Â We skulk back and spend some time to formulate a plan…
With the festival of fall past, the year has begun winding down.Â Still most of fall is ahead, and the guild still had a few missions that needed done before winter set in and the year was ended.Â We made off for the High forest to investigate invasive species, while Rothgar set off tracking the Duke’s daughter.
We arrived in the high forest just in time to see the caster who was causing this mischief killed swiftly by a passing adventurer of great strength, and made haste back to the guild to report our findings.Â From the remains of the hideout we gathered a few trinkets and spellbooks, but the news of such powerful adventurers about is much more concerning than any evil we found therein.
Against the darkness
A few days passed after we returned from the High forest and told Rothgar of our encounter, but the guild did not seem at ease.Â People of all sorts were coming and going at all hours, and after a time Rothgar returned to us to explain.
Based on our previous reports, and especially our recent encounter with the drow who had corrupted the high forest, the guild leaders had become concerned that an invasion from below may be in the works.Â He had received news from the guilds scouts that other strange things had been happening nearby, and the other adventurers in the guild had encountered similar foes over the last few months.Â With this news, he was thus sending out adventurers on missions for the guild.
For the remainder of the adventuring season, and perhaps beyond it, we were to seek out the source of this darkness and do what we could to put an end to it.Â The scouts had recently come back reporting some strange goings-on to the north.Â The rest of the adventurers were being dispatched more locally to defend and patrol the cities – and we were chosen for this as our party could move the swiftest.Â We agreed this was of great importance, and set out immediately.
Rothgar warned us that we would most likely encounter resistance from creatures of the Underdark sooner or later, and bid us to send them back to whence they came – or destroy them.Â It would be sooner than even he had thought, for before we even left the lands of Triboar we found a gathering of Kuo-Toa.
We set down the buggy and approached the Kuo-Toa peacefully, and to our surprise the creatures were not hostile towards us.Â We gathered that they had come to the surface world to seek new opportunities for trade.Â As we did not know much of the creatures, other than that they came from the Underdark, it seemed reasonable.Â Nevertheless – Leon insisted that they return to the Underdark.Â He attempted to persuade them that they would not find other surface dwellers so understanding as we are – that they were in danger here and must return.
Unfortunately, they were not persuaded.Â We decided to bargain with them, as they seemed harmless enough.Â Within a short time we struck a deal, they would take us back to the way they came to the surface world for a small amount of surface money – and we would advise them on where best to go to ply their trade safely.Â They agreed and sent one of their number with us to act as guide towards the opening they used to leave the Underdark.
A tear in the world
What we found upon arriving we did not expect – there was a hole in the world.Â A rift had formed, connecting the surface to the Underdark directly.Â With our concerns now turned away from the Kuo-Toa, we sent him off so that we could focus on the rift.
Unfortunately, no answer came that night, nor the night after, nor would it come for quite some time.Â We stayed by the portal and guarded it, throwing any Underdark creatures that wandered through back into it, but we were unable to think up a way to close the tear.
After some time, the tear produced some humans that were on the run from drow.Â We decided that the guilds orders did not apply here, and seeing no way to close the rift, we set up some warning signs nearby and left to return them to the guild.
An errand for the guild master
Back at the guild hall, Rothgar was receiving similar reports from the other adventurers.Â Many of these rifts had opened and none had been closed.Â He took in the slaves we brought back to question them on anything they had seen that may prove useful.Â In the meantime, he tasked us to run a quick errand for Rahzad – the guild master.
Rahzad tasked us to dig up some facts on the dagger of soul stealing that we had confiscated from Baron Fusestrider.Â He sent us with a detailed drawing of the dagger, and gave us a few leads that we had been able to divine.Â He suggests that we start with interviewing the Baron in an attempt to get any more information that we can out of him.
With the information gathered, we make for the prison where he is being kept to see what more we can glean.Â The Baron is not well liked here, and the guards know us; we have no trouble getting to see him – and being left alone during the interview.
Azark takes up the questioning, and Astalda probes his mind in secret during the questioning.Â He does not posses the willpower to last long against such methods – and quickly gives us the information we seek.
We find that he got the plans from the dagger from someone at the mage’s guild – and that he had the town blacksmith make the dagger from those plans.
We make for Amtvil, a local hub of magic where the mage’s guild makes their home.Â After some digging we determine that many townsfolk here are members of the guild – including a local smith.Â We inquire about the dagger to determine if he’d seen it before, and at first he seemed to be a concerned citizen – but quickly our suspicions arose.
After speaking with him, we left Leon behind to tail him – and Leon followed him to a gem shop.Â After the gem shop he returned to his own.Â Once we heard back from Leon, Azark and Astalda stepped in to interview the gem shop keeper.
Meanwhile…Erick had begun to form a crowd in the middle of town.Â He was espousing the virtues of his order by feeding the poor and downtrodden, all the while teaching them of the goodness of the truth.Â As the day passed, several members of the crowd became quite convinced to change their lifestyle – and began spreading the word even further.
Over the course of the next day, the majority of the party remained watchful over the smith – who they now suspected of being heavily involved.Â But as tensions grew from Erick’s teachings, they were forced to make a move.Â The people had grown restless nearby the smiths shop and knew he was keeping secrets from them – they had broken in and were roughing up his clerk when Astalda entered.
He quickly put an end to their mob with a verbal lashing, for he knew Erick’s teachings espoused peace above nearly all else.Â Once they began to clear from the room, he spotted the clerk – and though he couldn’t tell for certain it seemed as though he recognized him.Â He was almost certain that this was the same drow he’d seen killed in the High forest – but that could not be.Â He asked if the drow had met him before, or been to the high forest recently, but he responded no on both accounts.Â With some suspicion still he let the matter go and asked where he might find the smith.
The drow said that he was in the back, and had been working for some time, but upon investigation the party found that he was long gone – and the fires had grown cold in his absence.
With the smith escaped, the party was near certain he was the culprit.Â They all made for the mage’s college, the headquarters of the mage’s guild, to report the offender.Â Once properly reported, and with no other leads, we returned to the guild and reported our findings to the Rothgar.
In the days since we’ve been gone, several more parties have reported rifts opening in nearby areas – and the guild has been mobilized to deal with these threats.Â Rothgar assigns us to defend the nearby town of Beliard from the undead, who are pouring forth from a rift unseen somewhere in the nearby hills.
Upon arriving, we speak with a local cleric who has been aiding the town guard in protecting the citizens from the threat of undead.Â Fortunately, there have been minimal casualties so far – as he has been able to ward off most of the undead through his divine magic.Â He tells us that they mostly come at night, and that they’ve been coming from a particular direction, and so we head off in search of the source.
Once we venture out of town, we make our way to a hilltop and spot a patch of disturbed soil in a valley below.Â By the time we make our way to the valley, the sun is setting, and we begin to hear noises coming from below.
Astalda begins using magic to move the earth out of the way, and discovers the rift is in the ground – zombies begin pouring forth.
Normally, zombies are not much threat to adventurers such as ourselves – but these are numerous beyond count.Â We are not concerned for ourselves, but for the townsfolk – now that the stopper has been removed.
Erick wades into the fields of the dead, making a lure of himself – while Astalda forms a barrier of dirt through which the undead horde will have a difficult time escaping.Â Azark, Dahlia, and Leon set up a perimeter and begin picking off any undead they can – so as to spare the town guard the trouble.
After some time, enough dirt has been moved to contain the horde, and Astalda can move to reinforcing it.Â He works throughout the night to ensure this stopper will never be so carelessly removed – building aÂ ziggurat of mounded dirt to stem the tide of undead.
At our table, we typically run quite a bit of combat.Â I’ll be first to admit that it’s probably more of the play than some players would like.Â We do still run some combat-free sessions and even pacifist campaigns from time to time, but combat is where we have a lot of fun.
One of the things we’ve noticed is that combat can be pretty drab if someone isn’t into describing it, and there aren’t really any systems built into DnD that help out with that.Â Sure there are spells, special abilities, and items that make great moments – but it’s often the description of an event that really makes it fun.Â It’s much more fun, and impactful on the story, to say “I set my sword in the notch in my shield and thrust out at the enemy – aiming for the eyes!” than it is to say “I’ll attack him again.”
As a storytelling game, I think it is part of the players job to tell an interesting story – but often times they don’t bother without a benefit to themselves, or at least some systemic guidance.Â That’s why we’ve been playing around with some combat improvements for the last few years.
Here’s the ones that have really helped out in making stuff interesting.Â Some of them are still a work in progress, but that just means they’re closer than we’ve ever been before to getting it right.
Before 5th edition, when two allies are adjacent to an enemy they would get a bonus to attacking that enemy.Â Sometimes just being adjacent was enough, sometimes you had to be on opposite sides, in either case some sort of advantage could be gained through careful positioning.Â If you weren’t careful you could end up exposing yourself to danger in seeking it, and if you were crafty you could use tactics to take down foes much easier.
5th edition seems to have done away with these flanking rules as part of their combat simplification.Â This was needed at the time, as it isn’t good to make a lot of exceptions to specific rules when speedy play is necessary (such as in combat).Â However, we felt the loss of flanking was a bit much.Â Without it there isn’t much reason to care about positioning in combat – just make sure your squishy targets are protected.
To bring back some spice to combat, we brought back flanking.Â However, since 5e is built around not having it, we quickly found that it can’t just be “When two allies are adjacent” anymore.Â If it is, then several class abilities are made worthless – and rogues gain a significant boost in power.Â Instead, we opted for the following…
Â Each character must be facing a particular direction.Â On a square grid this is either straight at an edge or at a corner
There are three vision “Zones” based on your facing.Â Directly in front of you (Zone 1) you are fully aware of, and can easily defend. To your sides (Zone 2) is your peripheral, which you are aware of but cannot defend easily.Â Directly behind you (Zone 3) is your blind spot, which you are not aware of and cannot defend
If you are attacked from Zone 3, the attack has advantage
If you are attacked from Zone 2, and you are defending from more than one foe, the attack has advantage
If you are attacked from Zone 2, and you are defending from only that foe, the attack does not gain advantage
If you are attacked from Zone 1, the attack does not gain advantage
So to summarize:
Green zone never gains advantage, Yellow gains advantage if you’re being threatened by someone else, and Red always gains advantage.
The last bit for this one is a small change that prevents people from abusing the protection of the green zone.Â Changing your facing by one costs 5 feet of movement, but you can change it for free once per square you move.Â We tried without it for a short period, and had multiple people abuse the free rotation to essentially make themselves into a whirling dervish who was always looking at everyone.
Exhaustion seems to be an oft-underused mechanic, and throughout the years we’ve come to see it as another resource in the players arsenal.Â By pushing themselves harder than they should, the characters might make it through a tough fight only to find themselves thoroughly exhausted and incapable of proceeding on their quest without some decent rest.Â The standard 5th edition exhaustion is a little to harsh to allow for much usage as a resource, as you receive harsh negatives right away and die quickly after – so we’ve adapted it to a 10 step system instead.
As of right now, here’s the steps.Â We still don’t have it memorized – but it’s easy enough to keep on the DM screen and we have it available in our shared rules documents.
You’re a bit exerted
You canât maintain concentration
Disadvantage on all attack rolls, ability checks, and saves
Character move speed is halved, and when casting a spell you must succeed a DC 8+Spell level constitution check or the spell fizzles (the spell slot is still expended)
Move speed is reduced to one quarter normal, if you attempt to walk/fly you must make a DC 10 constitution check or fall prone. Your hitpoint maximum is 50% of your total.
All of your speeds are reduced to 0, you may take only one action per turn regardless of other abilities. Your hitpoint maximum is 25% of your total.
You are unconscious. Your maximum hitpoint value is 0.
You are dead
As you can see, there are no mechanical penalties until 4 levels of exhaustion have been acquired.Â Even then, it is only casters who are affected, which effectively gives non-casters an additional resource to expend to keep relevant and interesting.
You might be wondering – Now that we have more exhaustion to use, what can we use it for?Â In the core rulebook, we see only a few uses:
Going without food
Effects of traps, hazards, and monsters may grant exhaustion
However, with the pool of exhaustion expanded we can use it for some more interesting things as well:
Fuel for powerful feats, items, or spells
As the simplest of the new uses for our expanded exhaustion, let’s cover this first.Â This is a mechanic to empower description.Â It rewards players for describing their actions vividly, which makes the game more fun!
Whenever a player describes something well, they can choose to “Push themselves” to gain a mechanical bonus for their description to have a better chance of success.Â The DM will then determine if it will certainly cause exhaustion, or if there is a check they can make (typically constitution) to keep from being exhausted.Â This is by nature a very free form rule, but here are some examples for your benefit:
Hruugh the Orc barbarian is fighting many puny kobolds and wants to swing his greataxe through groups of them instead of targeting individual kobolds.Â He pushes himself, and instead of attacking one kobold he makes an attack against the group as a whole, then spreads his damage among them evenly.Â The DM decides that one attack isn’t worth a full exhaustion, so he allows a DC 10 Constitution check to avoid taking exhaustion.
Timaa the Elvish assassin wants to run just a little faster as her recently botched assassination has brought the wrath of King Argondas’ guards down upon her.Â She pushes herself to gain an extra 5ft of movement speed, and becomes exhausted after a minute of running – having just barely managed to evade capture by hiding in a crate the guards didn’t see her get into.Â The DM decides that this is worth a full exhaustion, as the kings guards gave a good chase for several minutes.
Grundar the Dwarven cavalier isn’t adjacent to his ally when an arrow whizzes towards her – he wants to dive to block it with his shield but he doesn’t have any ability that would allow him to do so.Â He pushes himself to heft his heavy body into the path of the arrow, forcing the attack to re-target him instead.Â Â The DM decides that as Grundar is 328 pounds, wearing full plate, and carrying a lot of equipment, this is certainly worth a full exhaustion.
Essentially, anything that might be a feat or ability of the players later on, they might be able to do early by pushing themselves.Â This can extend to things that aren’t covered by rules as well, and the DM should feel free to have them make checks to succeed or even charge multiple exhaustion if it’s really outlandish.
Surprisingly, we added wounds as a means to keep characters alive.Â We had a problem with people not getting invested into characters, just letting them die in combat because they would be replaced by whatever the flavor of the week was next time.Â This was really detrimental to storytelling, as you can’t build a story very easily with characters coming in and out all the time.
The problem we identified, was that character death wasn’t a real punishment for these players.Â If they died, they just came back next time with roughly the same amount of equipment and at full health (since they never survived long enough to accumulate anything else).Â They didn’t care about each character, so the death of one didn’t really matter.
Enter wounds.Â This is a wounds system meant to keep players alive – especially at low levels where life as an adventurer can be pretty brutal already.Â Instead of characters accumulating wounds through normal combat and loss of HP, we altered what happens at 0 hp.
Instead of falling unconscious at 0 automatically, you’ve instead just now run out of whatever power was keeping you from harm.Â Some call it luck, stamina, combat charisma, arcane protections, whatever it was – it’s gone now.Â If you get hit and don’t have any HP to absorb the damage, your body will.
Wounds are grouped into four categories:
SuperficialÂ (1 damage)
LightÂ (2-6 damage)
Moderate (7-24 damage)
Grievous (25-50 damage)
If you take over 50 damage, you start all over and end up with two wounds.
Here’s the bad stuff they cause:
Superficial – you are visibly struck by the blow, but there is no lasting damage.
Light – You gain one permanent exhaustion, and you roll 1d6 for the injury
Moderate – You gain two permanent exhaustion, and you roll 2d6 for the injury
Grievous – You gain four permanent exhaustion, and you roll 3d6 for the injury
1d6 Bleed, minor impairment
1d8 Bleed, medium impairment
2d6 Bleed, major impairment
2d12 Bleed, removal of limb/organ
The impairments are chosen by the DM so that they match the description of the wound, I’ve provided a list of examples below that I use frequently.
Blinded for 1d4 turns
Deafened for 1d6 turns
Stunned for 1 turn
Blinded for duration of wound
Deafened for duration of wound
Paralyzed for duration of wound
Disadvantage with struck limb for duration of wound
Struck limb is crippled, disabled for duration of wound
Blinded permanently, can only be healed by Heal, Wish, or Miracle
Deafened permanently, can only be healed by Heal, Wish, or Miracle
Paralyzed permanently, can only be healed by Heal, Wish, or Miracle
Some wounds, abilities, and spells can cause a character to gain “Bleed”.Â Each bleed is represented by a red token, handed to the player as a reminder of their condition.
At the end of your turn, you lose HP equal to the number of bleed tokens you have.Â If you have no remaining HP, bleeding will cause additional wounds.
Bleed can be fairly lethal without a way to pause it.Â Fortunately that’s what healers kit’s are for!Â A successful medicine check of 10+Bleed will stop the bleeding, but will not heal it.Â If the bleeding character takes any strenuous action the wound will open again and immediately begin causing them to lose HP again.
Bleed can be healed through any ability that would restore lost hit points.Â For every four HP you gain while you are bleeding, you remove one bleed token instead of gaining the HP.Â If a spell or ability would heal “All damage” (such as the spell Heal), it also removes all bleed tokens.
Now that we’ve covered how wounds work in combat, lets go over how we can get rid of them.Â Originally we had thought that healing magic should get rid of them – but we found that in any world with clerics available it invalidated the system pretty quickly.Â It’s there to keep players alive, but also to give out punishments that are “worse than death” for our troublemakers so that they will double-down on the character’s survival and become invested after one or two “close calls” that would have been deaths otherwise.
So instead of simply allowing magic to heal them flat out, magic can only staunch the bleeding and grant them HP back.Â The rest of the healing process needs to be done the old fashioned way – with an extended rest and medical treatment.
Wounds heal one at a time, with the most serious needing healed first.Â For healing to take place the character must rest in a safe and comfortable location, be given ample food and water, and receive appropriate long term medical care.Â If they are not treated with medical care, the wounds take twice as long to heal, leave visible scars, and may not heal fully (a broken arm might not have the same range of motion after healing, and other flavorful effects).Â If you are forced into strenuous action while in recovery, the wounds re-open and your healing must begin anew.
The DC for long term care is as follows, and only needs to be made once per week of the recovery:
Superficial:Â DC 5
Light:Â DC 11
Moderate:Â DC 13
Grievous:Â DC 18
A failure by more than 5 inflicts an additional light wound.Â A failure by less than five means that the character does not receive the benefits of medical treatment that week.
The duration required to heal the wounds also increases with their severity (given here with successful medical treatment, food, and rest):
Superficial: 3 days
Light:Â 10 days
Moderate: 20 days
Grievous: 40 days
NPC’s and wounds
It’s important to note that standard NPC’s do not use the wounds system.Â It’s a very intensive thing to keep track of, and it uses too much time for it to work for an encounter of 6-10 goblins, bandits, or other weak or unimportant NPCs.
The exception that should be made is for Villains, Heroes, and other important NPC’s.Â If you want a particular enemy to survive, use wounds – if you could care less, skip it.
There are some feats, even in the core book, that we’ve found a bit too powerful.Â Others, we’ve found just don’t have enough flavor.Â And others, we’ve felt needed added.Â I won’t go over all the feats we’ve added in our homebrew rules, but I will go over the major ones that see the most play.
You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible. You gain the following benefits.
Attacking at long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls, however your max range does not change.
You ranged weapon attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.
Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon you are proficient with,Â you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll once per round. If the attack hits you may choose one of the following benefits:
Powershot: You may roll your weapon damage twice, instead of once. This does not apply on-hit effects twice but it is effected by critical.
Split the tree: Choose two targets within 15′ of each other. If either target is hit by the original attack roll; roll damage once and apply it to all targets hit by the ranged attack.
Thread the Needle: You may hit a target in full cover or at 3x the weapons maximum range.
Great Weapon Fighting
You’ve learned to put the weight of a weapon to your advantage, letting it’s momentum empower your strikes. You gain the following benefits:
On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.
When attempting sunder checks you may double your proficiency bonus if using a weapon with the Heavy, Oversized, or Two-Handed properties.
Before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll once per round. If the attack hits you may choose one of the following benefits:
Power attack: You may roll your weapon damage twice, instead of once. This does not apply on-hit effects twice but it is effected by critical.
Greater Cleave: You may choose another creature within your melee weapons threat range; apply the same attack roll against the creatures AC and on hit apply the same weapon damage to the creature.
Battery: The target is knocked prone.
As written, but you also are not affected by temperatures between either 0 to 32 (F) or 90-105 (F).Â You can travel in the chosen temperatures without ill effect.
The first two times each day that you would gain a level of exhaustion, instead – you don’t.
This is a new feat, purely for flavor – but with some interesting effects on gameplay.Â You choose a “Flavor” for your caster, and all your spells become flavored as such.Â For example, you might be a wizard who specializes in Fire.Â All of your damaging spells now do Fire damage, and spells like “Fog cloud” become “Smoke cloud”, “Misty step” might become “Brimstone step”, and “Mending” might become “Reforging”.
Since I mentioned it in the last Heroes of light session, what better time to introduce the Festival cards homebrew rule.Â This one’s pretty simple, and people seem to enjoy it quite a bit.
What are these cards?
They’re physical cards either written on note cards or printed off, then signed by at least two of the groups DM’s.Â They are single use bonuses or events that can be expended to gain a benefit of some sort.
What kind of stuff do they do?
Well, it varies quite a bit.Â Many will be themed by whatever event you got it from.Â For example, if you got it at the fourth of July party it may have a fireworks theme.Â Here’s the recurring ones though:
Gain an item of a set rarity
Gain a bonus to an attribute
Gain a specific item, usually themed
Gain a specific boon
Gestalt – you get to level up in two classes at the same time
Dramatic Exit – saves your character from dying so that they can return in another campaign
Dramatic Entrance – brings in a character of yours from another campaign, either as a cameo or as your character
Redline – removes one specific event from the plot
So how do I get them?
By attending events!Â We host 24-hour sessions, DND weekends, DND trips, and parties where these cards are given away as gifts or prizes.Â It’s best not to go overboard, as these can quickly make the players too powerful for the DM’s plans in campaigns – but they do make for a fun resource to expend on the characters you love!
We’ve had a few things come up with these cards, usually when a group ends up stopping a campaign for one reason or another right after the start.Â So we’ve decided to add a card-saving caveat to the ones that grant permanent bonuses to characters (most everything except Dramatic entrace/exit and Redline).Â The rule right now is that if the campaign ends due to out of game reasons within 3 sessions of using the card, the card will not be expended.Â This stops people from losing out on something cool because life happened to mess up our plans for playing DND.
The most powerful card.Â It might not seem it, but Redline is by far the most powerful card here, followed by Dramatic Entrance.Â It’s powerful and should be given out very sparingly, if at all, because it can derail an entire campaign immediately in many circumstances.Â We’ve only ever given out two – and one was used to avoid a potentially world-ending event.
The rules on these are pretty loose on purpose.Â When playing with them, all you’ll need to remember is the Rule of Cool.Â These are meant to be cool things, and as the DM you control how many of them get put into the players hands – so even if it happens to disrupt a plan, just make sure everyone is having fun with it.
In our last session, our heroes were invited to the estate of the local duke – Jalar Mihrar.Â He required our protection during his annual festival, as he suspected someone would attempt to harm him or his family during the event.Â Fortunately we were able to stop the assassin, Baron Varveg Fusestrider, before he could take the duke’s life.
From him, we retrieved several objects of great power.Â A cloak that absorbs the magic of many spells, and a dagger that steals the soul of those it kills.Â The former was kept by Astalda, and the later was confiscated by Rothgar at the guild.
A small quest to pass the time
The year is winding down, not much evil stirs during the late months and as there are no wars nearby the fall is passing peacefully as well.Â A week or so after the festival of fall, the Duke’s messenger arrives again and requests the best tracker in the guild for a mission of utmost importance.
Rothgar is dismayed.Â He is the best tracker in the guild, but doesn’t want to leave us here unattended due to our tendency to find new friends.Â He begrudgingly accepts the duke’s errand, and takes a quest from some other adventurers to send us on hoping it will keep us busy at least until his return.Â We happily accept.
On this quest we are to make for the high forest to investigate some invasive species.Â They are usually native to other climates, but have recently been spotted in a certain area of the western forest.Â We are to report to a logging camp near the affected area for further detail.
At once we make for the buggy, and Rothgar understands that his time is short if he wants to be returned before us.Â It takes us a scarce few days to make it to the logging camp, the western edge of the high forest being the closest to us.Â Once there we are greeted by several of the woodsman wood elves, and from what we can gather they’ve been seeing creatures native to both the underdark and the southern jungles nearby.Â A few druids have come to stem the spread of this disturbance, but it is spreading at an alarming rate.
Into the woods
After we’d gathered as much information as we could from the woodsman we made our way into the affected area, which quickly grew very strange.Â There were plants and animals from many parts of the world – though the trees remained the same as in the rest of the forest.Â It was as if someone had been bringing these things in from somewhere.
Some way in we encountered a huge monolithic rock, on which several large monitor lizards were sunning.Â Azark, feeling emboldened by all these wondrous things (and a bit of strong ale he’d brought along), felt he needed to ride them.Â This was an arduous task and resulted in the death of one of the monitor lizards when Astalda destroyed it to protect Azark.Â Eventually, through use of magic and food he was able to calm one down enough to ride it for some time.
Late in that day we stumbled upon a druid.Â He was busy growing a wall of wood, but it was slow going and he would surely not be able to stop the spread at this rate.Â The druid stopped his work for a moment to speak with us, and give us guidance towards to source.Â He wasn’t sure what was causing this disturbance, nor did he feel he had the power to stop it, but he gave us good information.Â In return, we promised to return to him once we had determined the source of this change so that he could do what he could to reverse it.
We continued through the forest in the direction the druid sent us on for the rest of the day, but the progress was very slow.Â The forest had become incredibly dense with plants and animals – and so our progress was likely less than a mile that day.Â With the setting of the sun we set up a camp in a small clearing we’d made, and Azark hunted for some suitable food.Â Unfortunately for us, he found only a wombat – which was fed to his new lizard friend “Skimbleshanks”.
The next day we pressed on with magical aid from Azark, and quickly found ourselves in another clearing – this one containing a stone hut.
The storm of light and feather
In the clearing with the hut we were soon greeted by an old elven man with white hair and pale purple skin.Â A drow, here? Though he was cordial to us, and Erick seemed to take him at his word, the others were not so generous.Â He claimed that this land was his garden, and that he had been improving it recently.Â Even Erick had to admit that this drow must be mad, these creatures could not survive this way for long.
As the conversation went on, the drows words somehow got under Azark’s skin.Â At first, Azark was simply rude to the man, but as he continued the effect only worsened. A few minutes in, Azark suddenly said in a commanding tone –
Skimbleshanks, consume this man.
But Skimbleshanks would not.
Azark cast a spell upon himself and repeated, in beast tounge –
Skimbleshanks, consume this man!
But Skimbleshanks began to back away slowly.
Skimbleshanks, I demand that you consume this man!
With that, Skimbleshanks began to skitter away.
Fine then!Â Come back whenever you feel like being useful!
But Skimbleshanks would never return.
Instead, once the drow had aggrivated him enough, he drank a potion which had been sold to him by a shady merchant along our travels to Neverwinter. Feeling immense power flow into his arms he punched the drow square in the jaw.
The drow stumbled back, upset at Azark but still composed.Â He clapped twice and called for “Gregory” to deal with these “Violent interlopers”.Â Immediately we could see some trees bending aside on the other side of the clearing as some massive creature came forth – made from trees and covered in stone armor.Â Quickly, before the drow could issue another command, Azark cast a spell of silence upon him.
The hulking creature came forth, ready to tear us limb from limb as his master commanded – and we did not like our chances.Â The creature stood nearly 20ft tall, and was made from strong trees and much stone, we would have a difficult time felling it if we could withstand its assault.Â The wiser among us considered fleeing then, while the others readied themselves for a difficult fight.Â Astalda tried to stop its progress with magic, but it seemed the creature would be able to withstand quite a few incantation before crumbling – hope was fading fast to dread.
Just then, we heard a bird call from the skies.
Looking up, we saw a massive bird shining bright as the sun.Â They had barely time to react before six streaks of light struck the drow.Â They could see six shuriken stuck into him, glowing faintly at first but stronger over a few seconds.Â The drow tried to run, but as the shuriken glowed bright they exploded in a fury of destruction – shredding the drow to pieces.
At this, not knowing what would befall us if we stood here any longer, we scattered.Â Leon and Erick made for the forest to take cover while Dahlia and Astalda made for the stone hut.Â Only Azark stood to fight.Â He began casting spells at the tree creature, but the spells were easily ignored by the creature as it had.
The strange bird creature swooped down and quickly dispatched the creature in a flurry of rapid blows, flashes of light, and explosions.Â In a few scarce moments the creature was gone, and with that the bird flew off – paying no heed to Azark.Â From his position in the clearing, Azark was the only one who could see and hear the creature clearly.Â He recounted to the others that it was an Aarakocra, and the only words he heard it say before leaving were “I fucking hate drow” as it made rude gestures and left.
Unbeknownst to the adventurers, but well known to the players, this aarakocra’s name was Samuel Freeborn. He had wandered through a rift in the realms as it was on its way to fulfill a very important quest.Â This is to say that it was another player character passing through, by way of a “Dramatic Entrance” festival card.Â These cards are given out rarely at our groups events, and they can be used any time to make things happen.
While Samuel and Azark had been taking care of the creature outside, Dahlia and Astalda had run into the stone hut to take cover.Â To their surprise, it was much larger on the inside – and contained some sort of magical lab.Â Hastily searching through the lab they found that there were several disturbing experiments running that seemed to be making muscles out of plant matter – and vice versa.Â Deciding that these experiments were better left unresolved, they agreed to destroy the lab after searching out any magical trinkets.
In the midst of their search, Dahlia came across a spirit that the drow had bound – it was impatiently waiting for the spell that bound it to break.Â The spirit was quite upset that it had been bound here, and Dahlia managed to find out from it that the drow had bound its service in order to spread his “garden” further.Â She knew it would be free soon, and did not want to make an enemy of it, so she wished it well on its journeys and hurried on.
When they heard the sounds of combat stop outside they poked outside.Â Seeing Azark still standing in the midst of the clearing they decided it was probably safe, and after taking the trinkets they left the hut after setting it aflame.Â Erick and Leon stepped out from behind cover as well, and stepped into the clearing.
We wondered for a bit about what had happened, but in the end they decided that all’s well that ends well.Â As the magic from the spirit faded, the unnatural plants began to quickly wither and die, clearing up the forest quite quickly.Â The animals remained, but quickly hurried away.
We began heading back to the druid, and the loggers camp, as best we could given our changed surroundings.Â It wasn’t long before we found the druid, and we informed him in passing what had transpired.Â He was shocked, but thankful to whoever this aarakocra was, and wished us well.Â The loggers were equally easy to locate once the foliage had cleared – to our surprise we found that we’d traveled less than two miles in the day and a half journey.Â We informed the loggers of what had gone on as well, and they were very thankful that the issue had been dealt with swiftly – even if we hadn’t really had a hand in it.
As we hadn’t had a hand in it, we declined their reward – instead deciding that the journey and story alone were reward enough for us.Â With that, we returned to the guild hall.
Rothgar was waiting for our return, and had apparently made even better time than we had. Before we could ask him how he’d beaten us back, he questioned us on why we’d returned so early.Â So we recounted for him what had happened on our journey – including the encounter with Samuel Freeborn.
Rothgar was concerned that such a powerful creature was just flying about in the nearby lands, but glad that it appeared benevolent.Â Leon remarked –
He may be benevolent for now… but seeing a man torn asunder from within is nothing I’d wish upon even an enemy of ours.
Astalda, dead in the eyes, quickly retorted –
That happens in the academy sometimes, I’ve seen it before.Â Students exploding themselves with a spell gone wrong.Â It happens sometimes, you just learn to deal with it.
A few moments of silence followed, and then Erick broke the silence – questioning Rothgar on his adventure.Â Apparently it had been a very easy mission, the Duke’s daughter Jannia had escaped – and he had been sent to bring her home.
At the mention of this, Astalda’s eyes shot over towards Dahlia.Â As Rothgar walked off to take care of some other business he questioned her fiercely –
I saw how you two were at the party, always stuck together, I’ve no doubt that you two were conspiring upon this the whole time – you conniving little….
Dahlia quickly interrupted, defending herself –
Just because womenfolk are talking doesn’t mean we’re conniving and conspiring to do something
Leon came to her assistance –
Yeah, Astalda you’re way out of line here – it’s pretty sexist to think that she was to blame for this.
But she was to blame for this, Dahlia had given the girl aid in order to make sure her escape was successful – the only failing point of their plan was what happened afterwards.Â They didn’t expect that Rothgar himself would be sent to recapture Jannia.Â Despite her plans failure, Dahlia was pleased that none of the others had believed Astalda.Â Dahlia proceeded to cackle internally with delight.
In the previous session, our brave adventurers found themselves in the realm of the god of lies and secrets.Â With their wits they were able to overcome all challenges that laid before them, and claim the prize of the goddess. The prize, once identified fully, was a cloak of great power – among other things it would tell the wearer when another creature was lying.
Once returned they set off almost immediately again to rescue a town whose citizens had gone missing suddenly.Â They found that the trouble was caused by a colony of Myconids who were attempting to gain a foothold on the surface lands.Â Once these threats were safely laid to rest, and the townsfolk were being cared for by nearby clerics, our heroes headed back to the guild for some long-overdue rest.
To their surprise, considering the quick pace of the recent months, time passed very slowly indeed during the coming weeks – and they were hardly called upon at all.Â It was not until the Festival of Fall approached that they were called upon again.
It was getting late in the year, the leaves were starting to fall from trees, and soon the final harvest would be upon us.Â The local Duke, Jalar Mihrar, who was well liked by the local farmers typically took it upon himself each year to throw a party at this time.Â The party would take place at his estate and all the locals who had any political importance were sure to attend.Â Prosperous farmers, merchants, and other lords and ladies of the local area would come from miles around to attend the party.Â Of course, as low ranking members of a guild – we were not likely to attend, which is why we were surprised to receive a personal invitation.
Jalar’s messenger arrived with the invitations several days before, and with a letter explaining the circumstances.Â The duke had grown concerned over the past few months that someone who wished ill upon him would make a move against him at the party. He wished to employ the Heroes of Light to protect him, his family, and his guests – and we were the most promising of the new recruits.Â He sought us becauseÂ we would not be known to all who would attend while still being of suitable skill for his ease of mind.
Duke Jalar was right to be concerned, his recent policies were viewed as quite unfair to the merchants who traveled in from far lands seeking to sell or trade their wares for coin and crops.Â A hefty tariff had been placed upon such things, and it was nearly impossible to sell them to the locals due to the necessary increase in price.Â The local farmers had pushed for this and won over the duke, but at great cost to others.
We set off soon after, having no other tasks to tend to, and made haste in order to prove the value of our service to the duke.
Due to our haste, we arrived at the estate with two days to spare before the event began.Â We did not waste this time, instead taking the time to create a detailed file of all who would be in attendance – especially those the family wanted an eye kept on, for good or ill.
The Duke, Jalar
The Duke’s wife, Rebecca
Their daughter Jannia and son Naser
The Duke’s rival, Varveg Fusestrider, Baron of Conyberry.Â He was passed over for dukedom and still feels entitled to it – though he is a friendly rival.
The representative of the local merchants guild, Dothoc Strovono.Â He is likely only attending the party to attempt to sway the Duke to change his policies regarding the merchants.
A long standing friend of the family, Nolra Stirsk.Â Though they have been friends for some time, Nolra and the family are not currently on speaking terms due to a heated argument.
In addition to the above, all the lesser nobles and town leaders had been invited, and they were permitted to bring a guest or two – so there would be quite a crowd.
Aside from those in attendance, the following people would be working the event:
The house maids; Nol, Xon, and Keefa
The house butler, Mr. Butler
The house chef, Hogegark – an Orc
A catering service with about 25 workers between the servers, delivery people, managers, and band
Astalda was also able to put together a list of people that were not on the official guest list, but may show up to cause trouble – through magical means.
An old gambling buddy of the duke’s who recently lost all his belongings in betting with the duke, come to seek a second chance
A debt collector coming for the duke at the party to embarrass him into paying right away, lest his debt be revealed
We spent the days leading up to the party by interviewing the house staff, familiarizing ourselves with the grounds, and stating the policies which we would be having guests adhere to when arriving at the party.Â Astalda headed off to town to investigate the locals – and found through magical means that a local blacksmith had crafted a dagger for the duke’s son Naser, a fact which he quickly shared with the remainder of the party.Â Everything at the estate went smoothly and the suggested policies were accepted gladly by the duke – they were all ordinary precautions in any case.
Dothoc Strovono had stopped by the estate early in the evening, seeking to meet with the duke’s son about some pressing business he wanted to take care of before the party.Â Azark was set to follow at a distance and observe the two, lest any trouble be stirred.Â And stir it did, for he soon saw money changing hands from Dothoc to Naser.Â Azark, sensing trouble, noted the meeting and its participants – then reported his findings back to Jalar.
Astalda, having returned to the estate, began to investigate the staff.Â He especially suspected the butler, for reasons he kept to himself.Â Probing into the butlers mind, he found that there was disdain he carried for the family – he did not approve of how improper they were as nobles.Â Using this information, Astalda began to inquire to the butler about his feelings towards the family.
The butler, at first, tried to guise his feelings on the matter.Â It wasn’t difficult for Astalda to get him to admit to being displeased, and eventually the truth came out.Â As if to make it more palpable, the butler added “But then, he’s just a fresh duke, I’m sure he’ll…”
Azark was stunned.Â He could not believe it – this opportunity had been passing by for nearly a day now unused.Â “He’s a fresh duke, you say?” Azark interjected. “Well, we’d best be sure to flush out any trouble about.” He continued.
The butler, confused, responded – “Yes, but I believe you’ve got a handle on the situation.”
Azark could barely contain himself, speedily retorting “Ah yes, of course we’ll quicklyÂ wipe away any threats.Â Would you say this fresh duke has had aÂ streak of misfortunes?”
The butler, still not understanding what the adventurer was on about, replied “Well, he’s certainly muddied the political waters…”
Still Azark pressed on, “Hmm, causing political strife in such a small area?Â He must be ratherÂ nutty.Â But don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll stick around”
The butler, thoroughly confused, took this opportunity to step away.
They claimed the funds were for a charity of sorts, helping merchants who had been unfairly impoverished by the duke’s policies – but Azark knew of some goings on in the town that suggested otherwise.Â He pressed, but they stuck to their story, claiming that the merchants guild did not wish any ill will upon the Mihrar family – Jalar was after all “Just a fresh Duke” and he had not come to know the way of things yet.
Not entirely knowing what Azark was on about, Dothoc replied “Yes, but I believe you’ve got a handle on the situation.Â Now if you’ll let us get back to doing our business…”Â Azark could barely contain his laughter, he loved these sorts of juvenile plays on words – and it was all the better that Dothoc didn’t understand what he was saying.
And this went on and on until Dothoc was quite tired of him, and Naser quite disturbed at how little Dothoc caught on – having caught on himself a short way into the charade.Â Finally, Dothoc headed off to leave the property – but not before Azark made it abundantly clear that any trouble that befell the Duke under his watch would swiftly be returned to the one who instigated it.
Meanwhile, Dahlia had been taken to the duke’s daughter – Jannia.Â Just in time to see her planning an escape from the estate, bag packed and window open.Â Seems she was not keen to stay one more second in this dreary estate, nor did she intend to attend a party full of her father’s old friends, rivals, and gambling acquaintances.Â She had packed well, and even carried a rapier with which she was quite proficient – but she dare not try to sneak past a hero, especially one whose skills were so unknown to her.
Dahlia made peace with the girl, and after compelling her to abide her fathers wishes and attend the party – they began their own preparations.Â Dahlia had convinced the girl to behave by promising aid in her escape after our assignment had ended – and the girl agreed that such aid would make the escape much easier, even if she did have to wait a short while.
The Festival of Fall
The party was a slow wind up throughout the evening, with the event proper beginning at 9pm – and it would likely go until late into the night, or into the wee hours of the morning.Â The estate was a short way outside Yartar, and this was not the only celebration going on this evening.Â The sounds of merrymaking could be heard for quite some way off – and many a guest arrived already having made quite merry.Â Fortunately, none seemed to keen to cause trouble – and we didn’t have to confiscate any weapons or dangerous objects from the party-goers.Â It seemed at first that the duke had been too cautious in hiring us as guards, and that our presence alone would be deterrent enough – but that was not the case, as you’ll soon see.
Knowing that the merchants had paid Naser for something, and they had motive for harming the Duke – Azark kept close eye on Naser and Dothoc in particular.Â When he sensed that Naser was beginning to consider stirring up trouble he approached him again, and the dialogue wentÂ a little something like this…
Azark:Â Dear sir, what are you considering over here – hopefully nothing too toublesome
Naser:Â Nothing of interest to you, my business is my own in any case.Â Besides – I don’t talk politics withÂ the help.
Azark:Â Why, of course it is my business to know your business – and I already know a good deal of it.
Naser:Â You’ve been spying on me?Â You’re supposed to be protecting me!
Azark:Â I am here to protect your father’s interests.Â Weather you are one of them remains to be seen.Â Keep your business to yourself and do not let it interfere with the goings on here and we’ll have no quarrel – now be off and enjoy the party.
Disgruntled, Naser conceded and split off into the party.Â Eventually, once he was convinced that whatever trouble he was up to was put to rest and the party was in full swing, Azark moved to a position within the great chandelier – he was after all very nimble and could easily get up into such places.Â From here he could overhear a conversation, which he was sure others heard as well, between Rebecca and Naser.Â He didn’t catch the whole of it, but did pick out a choice phrase from Rebecca:
I’d have loved for this to be a more lavish occasion, but your father’s purse strings are tighter than a nun’s snatch.
From the chandelier he could see a good majority of the party.Â Erick had left the door to others and was now dancing and making merry whilst patrolling the floors.Â Astalda had taken up a secret position near the Duke.Â Leon had yet to leave the Duke’s side.Â Dahlia was nearby lady Jannia shaking her head, ashamed at Erick’s skill in dance – or lack thereof.
Just then, the Duke got up onto the balcony and called out to the partygoers – he would be making a speech.Â The hall quieted, and he cleared his throat – but the first words never came out.Â Instead a sudden tinkling of shattering glass was heard as pitch blackness consumed the hall and the torches were extinguished.
Though these moments in the dark were fleeting few, it felt as an eternity to those within.Â They could only hear what was transpiring around them.Â Shrieks of various partygoers in the dark, the sounds of arcane incantation, the striking of steel against metal, and shuffling of quick feet.Â This was the experience of nearly everyone, all but Astalda and Leon.
Astalda had a great gift, and was able to see even in this magical darkness – and Leon was so close to the duke that he could feel what was transpiring.Â Someone was making a move to assassinate the Duke!
Fortunately, as Leon was so close he was able to deflect and absorb the first strike – which would likely have been fatal to the duke.Â Astalda, seeing what was transpiring, quickly struck out with a blast of eldritch energy meant to maim or disarm the attacker – but he was dismayed as the energy was quickly absorbed into the evildoers cloak.
In the ensuing struggle, Leon managed to protect the duke while many spells slung were absorbed by the cloak.Â Finally, the culprit struck out with a lucky blow at the duke – and out of a mixture of fear for his own life and a belief that the task had been accomplished he began to flee.Â Just then, Astalda’s incantations penetrated the cloak’s magic.Â The spell that affected the assassin was a mental suggestion which forced him to sit and count to 100.
He did not make it to 100.Â Though the darkness lasted quite some while after, everyone could hear the confrontation come to an end with a heavy thud, as Astalda and Leon tackled the assassin.
Once the darkness had cleared, all could see that now all that were left on the balcony were Astalda and Leon, and they were holding down another man – Baron Varveg Fusestrider!Â According to Astalda’s later tellings of it Varveg had been close to escaping, but through quick thought and a bit of luck they had managed to secure him despite the ample magical assistance he’d had.
Fortunately for our host, he had not disappeared entirely, but rather been moved into a back hallway where a wound could be mended in quick fashion.Â He was able to return to the party, though his flair for speeches had left him for the night.Â And so the rest of the night passed peaceably, with only the occasional disturbance from a party crasher, and our heroes were able to rest well that night and leave come morning with their ample reward.
The next day, we returned after being rewarded by the duke – taking the equipment from the assassin.Â Once identified, we found that the cloak had many wonderous abilities, and the dagger was a dagger of soul stealing – which the guild promptly confiscated.
Last session we had picked up our new party members, in the process solving a mysterious curse upon the farming hamlet that one came from. After our return to the guild, we were sent out again to investigate a mysterious object that had fallen from the skies over the high forest. Upon finding the object, we entered it and were transported to a demiplane for a purpose we did not yet know.
The only clue as to the purpose of this place was written in ancient runes on the only door. Roughly translated, they read
“Welcome to the house of Lyra. Prepare your wits for challenges old – not for any but adventurers bold. Rest here not here for you’ll soon die – my prize is only for those who hold in their hearts what herein lie.”
Astalda opened the door…
The first chamber
The party entered the next room, along with the elf from the last room, it was bright white and infinitely expansive – but for all this space there stood but a few features. A thin marble pedestal with a white cloth laid over top, a silver door with no handle, and a large stone tablet that read:
“If it’s the open door you seek,
complete the puzzle without a cheat.
But be wary of your fell fate,
should you decide to peek.”
Sensing something off in this room – Astalda’s pseudodragon friend alerted him to some rather disturbing news: once we had entered this room, he had become unable to fly. Astalda tried flying with a magical cloak, which he had collected prior, but it was for naught. For some reason, flight was impossible within this room. Astalda wanted no part of whatever fate was to befall us here, and saying he would have no part of it he turned to leave – but the way we had come had vanished.
Erick was the first to approach the puzzle. Feeling through the cloth on top he determined the nature of the puzzle and pieces by pressing down on the cloth. His hands would be no good for such a nimble task, covered in gauntlets as they were, and not at all used to delicate work.
Azark was the next to approach the puzzle, believing his wit could solve it quickly. He fiddled around for nearly 20 minutes before the others could see the frustration rising – fortunately they got away before it got the better of him. From here, Dahlia took over – noting that her craft had involved subtle work with ones hands. She too struggled with the puzzle for some time before giving in to frustration and passing the opportunity on to Astalda.
Astalda was barely tall enough to reach the puzzle – let alone cheat by looking at it. He felt around for nearly twice as long as the others, seeming to be testing each of the pieces in random positions with random rotations – but then something occurred to him
“Ah, I’ve got it!” Astalda exclaimed.
When everyone turned to focus on him he clenched his hands under the cloth and, lifting the cloth, tossed puzzle pieces at everyone – forcing them to cheat with him!
Immediately, everyone began falling through what they had assumed to be the floor. With everything being so bright and white they could hardly tell that they had been suspended on an invisible field of force. Before their surprise could turn to rage, they found themselves touching down on solid ground as if they had been gliding along horizontally. As they touched down, stepping from a jog down to a slow walk, they found themselves in another similar room.
The second chamber
In this room, there was another pedestal, and another stone, and another curious door with no handle. The stone read:
Lies is all I see
Show me lies and you proceed
If coins awry – you die
Upon stepping up to the pedestal, the group could see ten coins carefully laid out, and four places for coins to go. The coins were numbered 0-9, and there were symbols between the positions that hinted there was a arithmetic solution to the problem.
Upon stepping up to the pedestal, the answer was immediately evident to Azark – and even Erick. The coins were quickly placed into their sockets.
With the placement of the final coin, the door shuddered and cracked ajar – revealing a path into the next room.
The third chamber
The third room was somewhat different than the others, although it was still wide open and spacious as the last. This room had three doors, three levers, and one stone with the expected riddle engraved upon it.
In this room, the levers three, they open the doors that you see.
One lever opens to the next room, the other two – present your doom.
Seeing no sense or reason to this riddle that could allow them to determine which lever would open the proper door, it is decided that a simple guess must suffice.
Though, if two of the doors are traps – and likely deadly ones, it would be unwise to open them in an expected manner. Astalda attempts to pull a lever with a magic hand, but is unable to cause it to budge. Azark, seeing the trouble, attaches a rope and pulls the lever at a distance using it.
With the lever pulled the corresponding door swings wide open revealing a gleaming black, and out spring several magical projectiles. They strike Azark unerringly, even at the great distance, and he is badly hurt. Were he a simple peasant the bolts surely would have killed him, but fortunately for him those days had long passed – he was likely the most experienced of the adventurers in the party.
With the first lever ruled out, the party came down to two choices. Since the first had shot magical missiles out at Azark, Astalda volunteered to pull the following levers. He knew that his magic could protect him from such missiles with ease, but when he pulled the next lever and protected himself there were no missiles – only a brick wall behind the second door.
Dismayed, he made his way to the third lever. Pulling the lever, the door revealed an unlit path stretching on as far as the eye could see. Erick volunteered to walk down the path, as his natural glow would keep him from being lost in the dark. Although he did not know it at the time, his glow was the only thing that saved him from a miserable fate – for those dark corridors stretch on forever in the dark.
Fortunately, not so in the light! Within a few moments, Erick found himself walking back into the room from the entrance they had originally entered. The party was puzzled at first by his re-appearance, but quickly focused their attention on the second door. If entering the last did not yield the next room, nor did the first, then the second must hold the answer.
Astalda pulled the second lever again, then rushed to the door and touched the brick before the door could close again. Rather, he would have if he’d not gone straight through. Seeing this, Leon pulled the lever for each member of the party, and the elf that had followed, then rushed through himself.
The fourth chamber
The next room contained yet more riddles, and this one seemed quite devious. Four small colored stones at the floor beneath a statue of a sphinx with four outstretched arms – and a large stone that read:
At my feet lie four stones to hold dear.
The source of four gifts that no one should bear.
The keepers of secrets, the guardians of exit.
The secrets, once revealed, reveal.
After a long while pondering how to interpret the riddle it was decided that four of the five should take a stone – all at once, so that no one person was bearing a stone alone. Though they would each have one stone, and thus be bearing it alone, they thought this part of the riddle was a farce meant to make it more difficult – and right they were! Had the last person touched even one stone it would have been neigh impossible to resolve.
Through hours of troublesome puzzling, and quite a bit of their food rations, they discovered that the only means to free themselves of a stone was to have another person guess the nature of the curse it bestowed. The cursed could not speak of their curse, nor even tell someone they were cursed, and their curse had other detrimental effects to their communicating. In this way the stones forced the party to be keepers of their secrets, revealing the path ahead only when all of the secrets were revealed.
The red stone only allowed its wielder to speak when others are speaking.
The blue stone forced the wielder to begin each new sentence with the next letter of the alphabet.
The green stone would not allow the wielder to refer to it, or objects like it, in any way.
And the black stone would not allow the wielder to speak the truth.
Once their curses were guessed, and thus removed, the door shuddered and swung open – revealing the next chamber.
The fifth chamber
This chamber had but one feature, a stone arch with runes inscribed overhead that said:
Speak truth and enter
This was a place devoted to secrets and lies, however, and as they had learned these inscriptions are not entirely to be trusted. Leon understood first, and entered while referring the Azark as his lover – disappearing immediately.
Seeing this, Ericks heart sunk. He knew that Leon had lied, and that this was the answer to the riddle. All they had to do was lie and walk through, and it was simple enough for the others – a little white lie and walk on through. But Erick could not, he would not. It was a pivotal part of his Paladin code, one of the things he could not do – and it was this way for good reason. The paladins of the open arms believed that once a lie was told that it lingered in the world causing all sorts of malice to befall those around it, and their order ought not to be bringing more evil into the world.
As his friends entered one by one, speaking their little lies, Erick struggled with the thought. At last he was left alone in the room, and still no closer to an answer to this riddle that he could use. He devised that he must find something that is at the same time a truth and a lie – something he had always believed true, but was in fact false. After pondering a good while, he came to his answer, though it pained him to give it. He spoke as he passed through the archway:
“My parents love me.”
And with that, he was whisked away to join the others.
The last chamber
Finally, a room without a door. The party was relieved to see that this room had only a familiar stone tablet with an inscription, a mirror, and a chest. Not bothering to look at the other objects before they read the riddle, they made haste to the inscription.
You’re almost home free
Your gift awaits inside the reliquary
To claim it, you need only to see that which cannot be
The party spent some time investigating the chest, but it was empty. Surely this was the reliquary the riddle spoke of – and they simply could not see the prize. They felt around it, investigating for traps and hidden compartments, but there were none to be found.
Eventually, their interest moved to the mirror. They found that when looking through the mirror they could see their prize within the chest. They attempted to guide one another to where the treasure was within the chest – but to no avail. Some time of trying this and that later, frustration grew and the mirror was knocked over.
Upon investigating again, in a renewed and calmed effort, they found that the chest within the reflection no longer matched up with the chest outside. It was on its side. They found that shaking the mirror moved the chest within, as if it were its own object and not just a reflection. Seeing this, they moved and shook and tossed the mirror about until they could flip the chest within to splay its contents onto the ground.
Once it had, the contents could be seen on the ground within the chamber, and claimed! One particular piece of treasure caught Azark’s eye; a cloak, blacker than night and yet gleaming with a faint light. Upon taking the cloak, all were whisked away back to the high forest and dumped nearby the meteorite.
Explaining what had gone on, the party found they’d not been gone nearly as long as they thought. The elves were glad enough that someone had come to deal with the meteorite, and that whatever had been done inside had stopped it from absorbing everything that came near it.
With their blessings we took a bit of the meteorite, which looked to be of rare metal, and left them the rest in exchange for safe passage back through the high forest – and after a time we made our way back to the guild hall.
The abandoned town
As soon as we arrived back at the guild hall – we were immediately summoned by Rothgar. Apparently something terrible had happened to a small town nearby and he needed someone to go investigate immediately.
We made haste for the town, and arrived quickly as we rode by buggy, and we found immediately what he had described. The entire town had vanished, buildings stood unoccupied and covered in dust from lack of use, a few had burned down but most simply appeared abandoned.
During our investigation we were surprised to find one survivor, a woodsman who came into town occasionally to sell his wares – mostly charcoal. He had been off at his cottage for a few days now, but saw us ride in and came to see what we were up to. Once it was revealed that we were here to investigate at behest of the heroes guild – he became much less gruff and suspicious.
He told us that people had begun mysteriously vanishing several weeks ago, they would just walk off into the forest never to be seen again. We agreed to split up and investigate both areas to cover more ground faster. Azark and Astalda stayed back to investigate the town while Dahlia, Erick, and Leon went with the woodsman to the forest where people had been going off to.
Fortunately, Azarks’ keen senses and Astaldas’ sharp wit found out what had been happening before the same fate could befall their companions. They noticed the large quantity of dust that had settled in the town, and grew suspicious. Upon a closer look, they found that it was not dust at all – but spores from mushrooms. Astalda quickly realized that they could be in grave danger, spores like this almost always came from the Underdark.
They made haste and fortunately joined back up with the main group right as they were entering a cave they had tracked the villagers to. The cave was lit well by Erick, and sliding down a gravel path they found what they suspected – a massive cave filled with fungus native to the Underdark. And there was not only the type fungus that stays rooted where it belongs, but Myconids as well.
The Myconids took little notice of the adventurers at first, but quickly came to action once Erick made it evident that he would not shut off his light or leave without the villagers (who had become infested with spores). The Myconid colony here was working on expanding, and had planned to eventually spread onto the surface world given enough time – but that would not be allowed.
In a dazzling display, Astalda lit the fungus ablaze – and as the others captured villagers under the effects of mushrooms, he flew about like a demon – destroying Myconids by use of magical trinkets and spells, which they could not withstand even the slightest touch of. As the fight was concluding, the party destroyed some supporting columns and collapsed the cave in to seal the fungus back into the Underdark – where it belonged.
Once the villagers had been removed from the underground fungal garden, they grew weak and collapsed – but appeared to still be alive. Azark flew the buggy quickly back to the guild and retrieved as much clerical assistance as could be rendered to the village – and there the party stayed for some time to render aid before returning to the guild hall.
Lets start the food off simple. This is a quick one that doesn’t need too much explanation, and it’s easy once you’ve got it – but I see a lot of people doing hash browns wrong. If you don’t want yours under-cooked and falling apart, it’s about the method – so that’s what this is about.
Here’s the quick and dirty:
Peel potatoes (2 small/medium Idaho potatoes per hash brown patty)
Grind those potatoes up in a food processor
Dry the potatostrings as much as possible with a paper towel
Set griddle heat to 350
Once hot, apply frozen butter to the griddle in a circular pattern
Place the potatostrings on the griddle
Use a clear pan lid to group them into the desired form
Leave the pan lid on to retain moisture for cooking
Cook for about 7 minutes, or more (about 10) if you like it crunchy
Test to ensure structural integrity during flip with a test lift
Add softened butter to the top before flipping
Cover and cook for 7-10 more minutes
Salt to taste
Now for the detailed guide, with pictures
Begin by washing, cutting, and food processing enough potatoes for your meeds.
Once removed fom the food processor onto a plate lines with paper towels, squeeze out as much water as you can.
Heat your griddle to 350f, then apply butter to where you’ll be cooking. Place the potato onto the griddle.
You’ll want to make it anout half an inch thick, more or less. If you know you’ll want salt later then now is the best time to add it.
Place the lid on top of the potato, using its edges to get everything together.
Let this cook for a while covered, 7 minutes is a good minimum I’ve found. You can leave it longer for more crunch, but check it every few minutes after this point to avoid burning.
Once this side is cooked to your liking, place some assitional (softened) butter on top and flip.
Let it cook almost as long on the other side, probably while you whip up some eggs, and then enjoy!