Time to pick up the campaign journal, with the game already in the middle of The Fingers of Derende. If you want to catch up on the other installments of this campaign journal, you can find them here:
Returning to The Fingers of Derende
When last we left our heroes, Isobel (our bearfolk barbarian), Hrothgardt (our bearfolk cleric), Gurralt (our bearfolk warden), and Scarlett (our halfling warlock) were up in the early morning hours, in the town of Pilzfanger, facing down the Trollkin berserker Drom and his friend, the Fang of the Great Wolf, Ilgarm.
Quick refresher—Drom was an orc in the original adventure, but I wanted it to be a bit more Midgard specific, so I changed him to a Trollkin. The camp had multiple worgs, but I consolidated them into one monster, and used the Fang of the Great wolf for Ilgarm.
For those of you doing math at home, you may say, but Jared, this is a Deadly encounter. To you I say . . . no, not really. I can’t back it up with mathemagical equations, but it didn’t feel like it was going to be deadly.
But, before we get to the fight, what about poor Gahl, our gearforged warlord? Since his player was back, I didn’t just want to drop him straight into the fight, so we bounced back and forth a few times. We started the night with Ghal being urged to heroically help his friends by the villagers of Levoca, who were totally worried about the rest of our heroes and were not tired of Gahl’s superiority complex.
After being encouraged to be heroic elsewhere, Gahl made an endurance check for his travel to find his friends, to see if he gained a level of exhaustion, and to simulate the week he spent on the road, about a day behind his allies.
Play the Encounter Music
Much like she had done with the troll in the previous encounter, Scarlett locked down Drom’s ability to heal with a chill touch early in the fight. Drom and Isobel raced to see who could be reckless first, and Ilgarm had to spend his action getting large. After Hrothgardt and Gurralt tore into Drom, he was in pretty bad shape early in the fight.
Then we cut back to Gahl, who has come to the same crossroads as the PCs did the previous day. I explained that the fight at Pilzfanger wasn’t going on at the same time as Gahl’s travels, with it still being very early morning for Gahl (although I think I initially explained this backward during the session—the players got it, we were playing with the timescale to condense Gahl’s journey).
Gahl ran into a wounded owlbear that seemed to want him to go down one path, so Gahl went down the other, discovering the clearing with The Fingers of Derende. He saw the goat guards, the rope bridges, and the altar way at the top of the tallest tree, and decided to backtrack to find his friends.
Scarlett locked down Drom’s healing again, and the party made short work of the berserker. I appreciated that Hrothgardt was suitably impressed with Ilgarm taunted them, not expecting even a really big wolf to talk. Unfortunately (for Ilgarm), with decent armor and the warden’s natural ability to make themselves harder to hit, Ilgarm wasn’t getting a bite on Gurralt.
Gahl wandered for an hour, rolled to see if he got lost or had another encounter, and managed to find the village of Pilzfanger, in time to join in the fight at the end of the next round.
Ilgarm was rolling average, which wasn’t good enough to hit the warden, and everyone else was playing it safe. Eventually Ilgarm grappled the warden, but before any swallowing shenanigans could happen, everyone, including Gahl, got in on the fight and brought the wolf down.
No one was badly hurt, but they did use up some resources, so they decided to spend the morning in Pilzfanger before heading to the Fingers to finish off the threat to the town. While Drom looking for a new “mother” for the Family Starless partially conveyed that the remaining family members may not be all in agreement with one another, I wanted to reinforce the theme a little bit more.
The party decided that Pilzfanger needed to be more careful about their logging, and more respectful of the forest. If Levoca was too cautious in their observances, Pilzfanger was too reckless. Since Arnuff, the woodcutter that recruited them, was de facto leader, they decided to address two issues at once.
They called all of the townsfolk to the square, including Svetla (the mutated woman who had spent time in the Fingers before the Family Starless arrived). They convinced the town to listen to Svetla as their leader. Arnuff wasn’t power hungry or upset, he just couldn’t see why you can’t just seize things you find by force in life. The party made a group check to sway the town. Everyone rolled persuasion except for Scarlett, who decided to scare the shit out of everyone by invoking Baba Yaga’s name, and the group check succeeded. Svetla was now the town representative.
At this point, I had the woodcutter that had left town to join the Family Starless return. Instead of using the stats mentioned for Yidji, I used the Void Cultist from the Creature Codex, and gave Yidji a tentacle hand (as well as an extra vertical opening in their throat, which is why he can’t speak). If the party was hostile, I was just going to have Yidji fail to death on them, but if they tried to talk, I was going to give them a chance to calm him down. They opted for calm, and they brought Yidji a quill, ink, and paper.
Yidji told them that he was loyal to the “old mother,” the aridi Binia. Yidji said that Vil’opon wasn’t worthy of “ascension,” but that Sivix was ready to start a new family with her, and they would fuel their ritual with one of their bugbear servants if they couldn’t get the townsfolk.
After seeing some . . . things . . . moving under Yidji’s skin, and having Gahl mention that Yidji could just be a bunch of rats in a human sack, Gurralt ungraciously asked if Yidji wanted to keep living. Not as a threat, as a genuine question. Scarlett calmed Yidji down, and talked to Svetla, learning that Yidji might feel the effects of the void lessen if the Fingers were gone.
Hrothgardt made Svetla promise to keep Yidji safe, and the village safe from Yidji, and they would assess the situation when they got back. Gahl attempted to cover up Yidji’s extra throat hole with a scarf, which the throat hole began to devour. The group left for the Fingers.
Assault on the Fingers
To frame this properly, at this point, there isn’t any plot in the written adventure to keep driving things. It was written as an encounter zone, but the players didn’t think it made sense to leave the Family Starless in place so close to Pilzfanger, and I agreed, so from here on, I was adding elements. Vil’Opon and Sivix, the dryad and satyr members of the family, are the only ones left, and they are going to burn their bugbear guard to sacrifice him to the void to reach some kind of ascension.
I replaced the dryad stats for Vil’Opon with the Tree Skinner from the Tales of the Old Margreve monster section. As a dryad that becomes corrupted after losing its tree, it seemed like a good fit, and I also wanted a means of “ending” the threat of the Fingers themselves. I switched Sivix’s stats for a Selang, a void tainted satyr from the Tome of Beasts.
The three goats were still guarding the tallest tree, where the ritual was taking place. At first, the group was going to charge them and get it over with. Then, for old time’s sake, they decided to sneak past them again, and the goats, once again, failed to notice them. The PCs climbed a different tree, then traversed the rope bridge to get to the taller one.
Upon reaching the top of the tree and the altar, I described that Vil’Opon and Sivix were burning the bugbear, and that the bugbear appeared to be dead, but that they were waiting for it to be fully consumed. Isobel, assuming that the ritual needed to be completed a certain way, charged the basin with the burning bugbear and dumped it off the tree.
Vil’Opon merged with the tree. This was important, because once she merged with the tree, not only did she get the benefits in her stat block (better AC, new attacks), but if she drops below 15 hit points, the tree she merged with dies. So this is how I’m getting rid of the Fingers (assuming they are all linked).
Sivix confuses Hrothgardt and Gahl with his strange pipes, Isobel tries to grapple Vil’Opon to pull her away from the tree, and Vil’Opon grapples Gurralt with her vine whip. Scarlett is staying WAY back away from the fight, lobbing in eldritch blasts. Hrothgardt shakes off the confusion, then gets stabbed with Sivix’s sleep daggers and goes down. Instead of breaking away from Vil’Opon, Gurralt nudges Hrothgardt awake. At this part, the party mentioned a potential TPK and jokingly started talking about making new characters, possibly some nice erinas, so they could sneak attack from under their opponents.
Once they took out Vil’Opon, the tide turned. Isobel took Vil’Opon’s body and tossed it to the goats. Who started on lunch. The tree also stopped swaying, which Hrothgardt realized was a bad sign. Gahl shook off his confusion, and Gurralt could engage Sivix, and Sivix had a harder time hitting the warden than the other PCs. Eventually, Sivix fell . . . and the tree wasn’t far behind.
At the first sign of it coming down, Isobel dove off the 70-foot tree to the ground, survived, and ran the goats off. Hrothgardt was halfway down, on the inside of the tree, when it fell, and got bounced around. Gurralt and Scarlett rode it to the ground, and Gahl fell off halfway, getting heavily dented in the process. At this point, we had to double-check the “immediate death” rules, but Gahl was just down for the count, not an “ex-gearforged.”
Scarlett found the book that Svetla had read from years ago, and didn’t show it to the rest of the party. The rest of the fingers withered, looking almost like bones instead of trees, then crumbled into the ground in the clearing.
Under New Management
At this point, I wanted to reinforce the “fey versus cosmic horror” theme I was setting up, so I had a Green Knight of the Woods (from the Creature Codex) show up. The knight asked if anyone would challenge it for the right to erect a chapel in the clearing, and no one did so. Then the knight asked the PCs what fate should befall Pilzfanger. They asked the knight to spare the town, and offered to have the town’s representative talk to the knight.
They also asked to sleep in the grove overnight, as they were all pretty banged up, and were a little concerned at running into anything at night on the way back to Pilzfanger. He granted this boon, and they slept (except for Gahl).
Each one of them was visited by a fey lord of some kind, offering a Blessing (supernatural gift from the DMG). The three bearfolk were visited by the Bear King. Scarlett was visited by a shadowy form that resembled Baba Yaga. While he was awake and under the moon, Gahl saw a spectral fragment of the Moonlit King, complaining that the “others” hadn’t invited him to get involved in the fun going on in the Margreve, and that he needed a suitable champion as well.
We’re going to examine my mistake in a moment, but at this point, the Bear King offered a choice of blessings, and Baba Yaga and the Moonlit King provided specific blessings. This was a mistake on my part, for multiple reasons—it gave one set of PCs more agency, and it added some more randomness to what was going on in the game. Had I given all of the PCs a choice of a stat boost from the blessings, I can absorb that . . . better than average stats are good, but they are a “known quantity.” Giving PCs healing or summoned creatures can be more unpredictable. I didn’t think the gifts through as well as I should, because I felt like they made sense for the fey lord rather than looking at the whole picture of the campaign. We’ll come back to this.
Scarlett waited until Isobel was asleep and read the book. Because we already encountered someone with the cerebral tendril mutation, I let her pick a different Derende Mutation, and she picked the mutation that gave her advantage on fear saves by having flowers grow from her skin and provide a calming scent. This was a fun way to reinforce her character concept, of being a dangerous spellcaster that looks like a cute little kid that no one takes too seriously. The flowers grow around her head like a crown.
The party introduced both Svetla and Arnuff to the Green Knight, who told them that he may, from time to time, speak with the forest and tell them what trees they can have, but they have to stop random woodcutting, and begin the proper observances. The Green Knight then offered to send the PCs anywhere in the Margreve they wished to go via the Shadow Roads, and they opted for Levoca.
I told the players we would have downtime at the beginning of next session. They let me know that they were interested in buying some expensive spell components of crafted metal and trying to trade the magic scythe they have for something less . . . agricultural. I decided that this sounded like a good time to come up with a Canton dwarf merchant as well as the Kariv merchants I had made up as recurring NPCs. It also tipped me off to look into how I wanted to handle spending downtime to trade a +1 for another +1 weapon.
Session +2 Days
After having some time to think about it, and because no one had the chance to use their abilities yet, I decided to send out an email asking if the group would mind if I walked back the gifts so that all of the gifts were just a stat boost, instead of the other magical effects, so that everyone was on par with one another, with the same level of choice. I’ve heard back from a few, but I still need to get a final decision. I think it’s the right way to go at this point. I was a little impulsive with “this is how the fey would do it,” without balancing, “this is a good reward that fits the story and works for the long term game.”
Looking ahead at the next adventure, it’s written for 2ndlevel characters. The Fingers of Derendewas for a range of levels, and as tough as some parts ended up being (especially with my changes), I probably should have skipped ahead, run the 2ndlevel adventure, then slotted this for when the party was 3rd level. As it is, I’ll need to bump a few threats up a notch in the next adventure, until we level out again.
What Did We Learn?
- A few observations after running this adventure:
- Be careful with rewards
- Wardens are really tough to hit as they push out against the bounded accuracy assumption with their abilities
- It’s a lot of fun to roleplay void mutations
- I like that the PCs are definitely being heroic in this campaign, especially with the grimmer aspects of the adventures
- I like that the PCs have a degree of affection for Levoca as a base of operations
- I’m glad they gave me a little bit of a head’s up on what they want to do with their downtime
- I see a lot of possibilities now that I have a third fey lord hovering around the edges of the campaign
Time to start taking notes on The Honey Queen, which should be interesting, given my three bearfolk and their favorite reward so far in the campaign.