I originally posted this to General but, since I would like to keep a record of the campaign going, it seems logical to repost here and add to the thread as the adventures unfold.
For any of you who have been following my posts, this new DM had his very first group session with my players this past Friday. We’re going to be playing ToEE, set about 5 years before the Wars (I've set this date loosely just so I can pull the War into the story if I want). Here's how it went.
Before the first meeting each player had a chance to meet with me alone and complete a prologue quest. Xavian the Gallant was in voluntary exile from Veluna City, heading to Hommlett at the direction of his master, Sir Raxley, to investigate reports of a stirring evil. Knaak the Prestidigitator had just graduated from the Academy in Greyhawk and was tasked by his mentor Radishan to journey with a colleague south to Hommlett and give aid to the town against the rising bandit attacks. Tuk the Rogue thought he was just performing a simple robbery, but a mysterious egg-sized emerald, gilded with platinum and faintly glinting inside, has him on the run. He caught a free ride with a tradesman heading south from Verbobonc and is trying to lay low. Janath the Ranger of the Gnarley Forest was ambushed and he and his fellow rangers found themselves captives of towering bugbears and strangely cloaked humans. They were rescued by Bron the werebear and his brother werebears, who promised to tend to the other wounded rangers but pressed Janath to move on to Hommlett and inform the druid Jaroo of all he had learned during his capture.
I have to say, the prologues worked really well. As we sat down for the first time together, each player had a sense of his character, his motives and interests. Each player was given a small piece of some larger plots and I watched as eyebrows rose when one character heard part of his story from another character - "Sir Raxley you say? I've heard of him..." And all these trails ended at a small campsite along the Low Road, a day's ride north of Hommlett.
The campsite was occupied by Xavian and his horse Clydeswift, a covered wagon carrying Knaak and his colleague Loucke, another group consisting of a trader and his two passengers - Tuk and a cleric of Pelor and finally another group formed by the teamster, Markley, his son Doof, their three hired guards and a train of horses bound for Hommlett. Janath watched from hiding in the woods across the road from the camp. Knaak's companion Loucke quickly turned out to be an arrogant, self-important boob - flaunting his superiority over Knaak by sending him to set up camp while he talked to the other members of the camp. He quickly headed off to bed however, taking a small chest from the wagon with him to his tent. "You can sleep in the wagon tonight Knaak" were the last words we hear from him. I invited my players to feel free and talk to each other, but no one took me up on it until I suggested we go around the room and let each player tell me what his character is doing.
After some general chitchat and an interesting aside where Knaak accidentally came across Janath hiding in the woods while taking a leak (and almost getting an arrow in his chest for his troubles – Janath is a bit skittish), the party settled down to bed for the evening. One of the hired guards volunteered to take the first watch, promising to wake Xavian when it was time to rotate duty.
The party awakens suddenly, shaken from slumber by a loud screeching noise. They notice three things at once – someone is driving the horses quickly out of the camp, several armed men are chasing after the thieves calling for them to wait and an armed man is standing by Loucke’s tent holding a screaming box. Everyone has to roll for surprise. Knaak is completely stunned and has to sit the round out. The party loses initiative and the encounter begins. What has happened is, and the party eventually figures this out, that a gang of bandits has entered the camp to steal the horses. They have killed the guard on watch and were about to get out cleanly when one of their numbers decided to poke around Loucke’s tent. He takes the small chest, killing Loucke in the process, and was heading back to the horses when he discovered that the box was unlocked and opened it, setting off Loucke’s Alarm spell. Furthermore, after killing the guard, the young Doof wakes up to take a leak, heading over to check on the horses after finishing his business. On finding the fallen guard, he is knocked out by the bandits, and rather than killed, he is taken with the horses.
Only 5 bandits are left in the campsite. As their comrades ride off with the horses and the party stirs awake, they realize the only way out is through the campers and turn to do battle. It took me awhile to get the hang of the Combat & Tactics style of initiative phases, but after a couple of rounds I got a handle on it. Despite their scattered organization, the party quickly came together and, assisted by the 2 remaining hired guards, soundly dispatched the bandits They even managed to keep 4 bandits alive (well – mostly) and interrogate one of them. Hence, the party learns all the information lain out above – as far as the bandits know.
There was some fun roleplaying as the party decided what to do next. Markley, the teamster, was of course panicked and distraught at the abduction of his son. Xavian, Janath and the cleric, Melthor, were immediately ready to head after the bandits and retrieve the boy, but Tuk and Knaak were hesitant. Knaak especially was preoccupied with the contents of Loucke's chest. More heroic heads prevailed, however, and the team was soon following the ranger as he tracked the bandits through the forest. One of the guards, Moxley, accompanied them, while the remaining campers made immediate tracks for Hommlett, taking the captured bandits and Xavian’s horse, Clydeswift, with them.
The trail was very clear – it had rained the previous night, so a train of 2 dozen horses traveling over soft ground in half moon light wasn't too hard to track. I made Janath make a couple of rolls, but they were simply so he didn't feel too confident – the results were predestined. After several hours, the wide trail began to narrow as the valley plunged back into deep forest. It became a single file trail of horses, and Janath noted that the last horse was the heaviest, and that it was falling behind the main group. As they approached the canopy of the forest, they arranged their marching order.
Shortly after entering the darkness of the forest they came across a body lying on the trail. Janath, having been ambushed days before by a similar ploy, was extremely wary. He and Tuk, the rogue, quietly scouted the surrounding area before approaching the body. To their surprise and delight they found it was the unconscious body of the boy, Doof – alive and unharmed. The cleric revived him and they learned that in his haste, the bandit who had captured him had mounted an older draft horse to make his escape. The horse was stubborn to begin with, and once Doof saw that they had fallen behind the rest of the group, he gave it a kick and used the resulting bucking to roll off the horse. The fall knocked him out however, and he can only assume that the bandit rode off without him.
The party is ready to return to the Low road and bring Doof back to his father, but Doof has a desperate plea for them. He tells them that his father is on the edge of ruin, having lost a number of teams of horses recently, and this train of livestock put them in considerable debt to the trader in Hommlett. If it is lost then they will lose their house and stables and become destitute. He claims his father would never ask the party because of his pride, but Doof assures them that without the horses life as they know it would come to an end.
At this point it was nearly 1:00 am – we had started, albeit slowly, at around 9pm. I brought it up to the group, but they were fired up to keep going. The good aligned characters, Xavian, Janath and Melthor, decided to attempt to retrieve the horses from the bandit camp. Knaak and Tuk were dubious – Knaak even remarked “There better be some good rewards for these horses” (he's going to be mildly disappointed...). Moxley the hired guard volunteered to escort young Doof back to Hommlett – he is a local of these woods and knows several hidden trails that will get him home quickly. So the party headed forward, dreams of heroic deed dancing in their eyes.
I decided to throw them a fastball. I hadn't really expected the session to go this late, and although I had the bandits all sketched out with a good map for reference, I expected that encounter to take much longer than the night allowed. So, RANDOM ENCOUNTER! As the party trekked along the road they were suddenly beset by Bugbears. I wanted this fight to be difficult. In fact, since I'm using the Death's Door rule, I literally wanted to kill a couple of them. Since the Bugbears were a couple HD higher than the party, I decided to give them even chances to start, 5 on 5. This battle went much more deliberately than the first, with each player getting a better feel for positioning, facing, movement and actions. Several character made charging attacks, the thief got in a good backstab, the ranger pulled enemies so that the cleric could flank them. I ended up throwing two more bugbears into the fray, just to increase the challenge, and sure enough Janath ended up lying on Death's Door, felled by a mighty blow. The paladin stayed entrenched in battle with at least 2 bugbears at all times. And the misses – dear God there was a whirlwind coming from that section of the map. I must have rolled at least 5 critical misses during the course of the fight.
My favorite scene in the night came from Knaak. After the seventh bugbear charged into the fray, things looked grim. The cleric had just used his last spell to revive Janath, the paladin was missing chronically, only 2 bugbears were down and he was out of spells himself. Tuk and he had thrown all the daggers they could spare and were now both in hand to hand with these 7 foot tall snarling humaniods. It's at this point that Knaak's player asked me “can anyone charge?”. “Of course” I answered. So off he went – the Charge of the Prestidigitator – dagger in hand, his robes flapping behind him and around his thin, pasty legs – it was priceless. He did 3 points of damage. The bugbear had 17.
Eventually the team finished off the attackers. It was then 3am. I was spent, but elated. It had gone much better than I had hoped, and I had gained the confidence that with the proper preparation and a good dose of ad-libbing, I could do this thing. I really couldn't have done it without all of the great advice and feedback I got on Canonfire! Thanks again and tune in next time! _________________ No place is safe, only safer.
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