The session evolved around exploration of the road to the site of iron ore the players heard about from the elves. It ties in with one of my story-lines, which is the development of the settlement, from very vulnerable to a strong permanent settlement.
The game started right off the bat with initiative rolls for an encounter with two Displacer Beasts. They wounded the characters, but were overcome. I enjoyed that they met a creature they faced before. Meeting one Displacer Beast was a nasty surprise at level 2, but two were manageable at level 4-5. It demonstrates that they’ve advanced in power, which is always a nice feeling as a player. If I had rolled that four Displacer Beasts had shown up on the encounter table instead, it would have been an entirely different kettle of cats…
After some much needed rest, they continued moving south along the ancient road, and came across an ancient watch tower, surrounded by a low wall. Wisely, they decided to scout the place, and north of the ruin they found a tunnel, made by something fairly large. Whatever it was, they opted to draw it out, and using the bard’s bagpipes, the monster was drawn to attack. The monster was a homebrew creation; a large creature I named an Amoured Maw:
“It is the size and about the same shape of a rhino, but with shorter clawed legs, covered in hard, dark reflective scales, has a head that splits wide along its entire length into a teeth filled jaw, while the four fleshy tentacles growing from its back contains its sensory organs, as well as having nasty hooks on them. The Maw can burrow, but doesn’t do it fast enough for it to have a burrowing speed. It is an excellent climber though, using both its clawed feet and tentacles.”
The origins of the creature remain obscure to the characters, so it shall remain obscure here as well. It turned out to be a surprising, but not overly dangerous, battle for the group. The surprise was its reflective carapace (an ability the mighty Tarrasque has), that sent one of the Warlock’s spells back in his face, and the general toughness and damage output of the beast. The whole description and the reflected spell among the very first attacks, gave a nice ‘WTF is that?!’-moment, which I aim to have in this exploration focused campaign. But naturally, being 7 characters, they overcame a single monster, and went back to the tower, after figuring out that its lair was inside the semi-collapsed basement of the tower.
The tower itself was just a shell, but inhabited by 15 Stirges. They overcame a third of the
Stirges with a fireball and took a bit of damage while dealing with the rest. I had hope the party would go to the tower, clear it of Stirges, and camp there, setting them up for a night time encounter with the Maw, but they were smarter than that (which is good, I gues…). The players did note, how the tower is a good site for rest between the settlement and the iron deposit.
The next couple of days the kept moving south towards the site of the iron deposits, and close to the location, they discover a small lake, with a ruined villa sitting on its shore. Imagine a large more or less ancient Roman style villa left in a forest for many hundreds of years. Moving closer, they noticed some weird round areas of disturbed ground.
Tremors in the ground…
Just outside of the villa a Corpse Worm attack. A huge monstrous worm (but smaller than a Purple Worm), which smelled of rotting meat and had leathery skin, burst out of the ground. It attacked Weylin, the druid, from below and snatched him, and the next round pulled him down to its watery tunnel below. Jarn, jumped after (and rolled a crit). A chaotic battle ensued, with Jarn struggling down the collapsing hole the worm came through, trying to kill it, before it disappeared with Weylin, and the others trying to hit the beast with ranged weapons and magic, illuminating the worm with faerie fire, or helping Jarn getting back to the surface, before the shaft collapsed above him. Weylin manages to escape the jaws of the worm and activate his Staff of the Woodlands and summons a wall of thorns in the narrow water filled tunnel he is trapped in. The combined damage slays the worm, and Weylin finally grasps Jarn’s hand, who can pull him back to the surface with the aid of his companions.
Despite their wounds, they afterwards decided to search the villa, and they (surprise!) find a half-flooded cellar below. They enter the cellar, and soon Arak – the half-orc – falls through a floor into another tunnel, but his comrades manage to get him out, before anything emerges.
Next time, we will see if there are more worms? And what the iron deposit site actually looks like.
I think this session was dominated by a couple of fun and memorable encounters. As I’ve mentioned before, I try to modify and create monsters for around 2/3s of the combat encounters, because I want my seasoned group to never know what they are facing, and rarely know what they are vulnerable against or resists. Fortunately, D&D 5th is very easy to mold and change, as long as you don’t care about encounter xp and difficulty too much.
The encounter with the worm was the kind of combat encounter that I really like. A fluid scene in multiple dimensions, and not simply minis being moved tactically around the map (which also has its place, and is fun). It can be difficult as the DM to clearly give everyone a sense of what is possible, and where everyone is, but having only one opponent makes it a lot easier to manage – and combat happens quickly compared to moving minis around. I may not have followed the ‘say yes’ rule as much as I should, but I think it had tense and fun action – and a real danger to one of the characters.
The Wall of Thorns spell also showed itself as a ‘getting out of deep trouble’-spell.