What Do I Know About My Campaign? Tales of the Old Margreve Campaign Journal #5
The next session is in the bag, I’ve taken some notes, so let’s dive in to how I got from there to here, what the prep looked like, and how the session turned out. Last session we had just wrapped up the Fingers of Derende section, and now we are about to embark on The Honey Queen.
Campaign Journal #1
Campaign Journal #2
Campaign Journal #3
Campaign Journal #4
If I would have given it more thought, I would have likely run The Honey Queen first, and then done the Fingers of Derende, given that I was already modifying the encounter area a bit, but as it stands, I’ve got 3rd level characters and a 2nd level adventure, so I started off doing some prep and modifications.
My first step was to reread the adventure, and write up a simplified outline of what happens in the adventure, so I don’t have to do quite as much flipping through the book. In the outline, I’ll note things like what information NPCs have to convey for later story developments.
I also noticed that the adventure is assuming three days travel, and there are preset encounters. This is explicitly noted as being done so that the adventure can introduce a “fairytale” theme of the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden being encountered on the way. Because of this, I decided I didn’t want random encounters for those first three days.
Since each of those days is based around a very specific encounter, with no random ones occurring, and I have higher level PCs, I decided to make the challenges a little beefier. Since I have plenty of 5e sources now, I looked up a spider from the Adventures in Middle-Earth Loremaster’s Guide that was CR5, and a harder hitting ogre from Nord Game’s Revenge of the Horde supplement.
For later encounters, I swapped out the giant boar for a Storm Boar from the Tales of the Old Margreve monster section, and noted that any other NPC was going to get their hit points maxed out.
As far as ongoing campaign developments, I still had a downtime complication I needed to introduce from the warden’s acorn armor, so I decided to add in a former enemy that is looking for the old wearer of the armor, a minotaur druid that retired to the Margreve after a life as a mercenary in the Seven Cities.
Here is where I made a potentially huge mistake. I made the old enemy a Deathwisp. It does a lot of damage, enough to drop some of the PCs in one shot, but it only gets one attack per round. I thought that would be a good trade off, except, for some reason, it didn’t click that as an undead creature, if it does take someone to 0 hit points in one round, that’s not incapacitation, it’s instant death. More on this later!
I drew up a “point crawl” version of the dungeon map in the adventure. In other words, not a scale map, just a set of lines showing how the different encounter areas connect to one another, so in any instance where I needed relative position more than exact distances, I could look at the point crawl map in my notes instead of flipping pages.
I referenced the Midgard World Book to see what time of year we should be at, using the Midgard “Time Flies” rule for downtime (downtime between adventures equals x2 the real number of days between sessions). This put us at The Rites of Spring, the transition between Spring and Summer in the setting. I put down a few notes on how to introduce this after downtime, gathered the pawns I was using for miniatures, and was ready to go.
Two hiccups struck at the beginning of the actual session. Our gearforged warlord player got his weekends mixed up, meaning we were short a player, and our bearfolk warden was running late. Since we were resolving downtime, we started with that to begin with.
Scarlett, the halfling warlock, spent time researching at Baba Yaga’s Hut, had a dagger made from the worg’s tooth, gambled for a few week’s worth of downtime, and then worked the rest of the time. I’m trying to keep a lot of Scarlett’s interaction with Baba Yaga through the more enigmatic dentures that she sees from time to time.
Hrothgardt, the bearfolk cleric, spent most of his time working, in this case, gathering honey to sell in town. The irony is that Hrothgardt is wise and intelligent, but doesn’t quite understand civilized notions of monetary compensation, being more accustomed to barter. So eventually Hrothgardt ends up buying back a lot of what he worked to gather and sell in the first place. As well as fish.
Isobel, the bearfolk barbarian, ended up pit fighting. The party is staying in Levoca, which is a small border town on the edge of the forest. I decided that in order to allow for pit fighting as a downtime activity, Isobel could enlist Shandor, their Kariv contact, to help promote the fights.
Shandor helped bring in Kariv travelers and canton dwarves to the town to watch the fights and enter their bets. Yes, it did drift into being a prototypical professional wrestling promotion. Isobel wrestled Kariv and Canton dwarf challengers, but rolled a complication and badly injured a Canton dwarf. This made people wary of the fights, until Shandor convinced a famous pit fighter from Zobeck to participate.
This gave me the chance to reintroduce a bearfolk pit fighter from the last Midgard campaign, a bearfolk fighter who was on the run from the shadow fey, and thought dyeing his fur would disguise him, so at different points in the campaign he would be different colors. Tonight, he was red.
As part of the complication, I ruled that instead of rolling 2d10 and adding it to 5 for Isobel’s difficulty, the Zobeck fighter would get to roll 3d10 and take the best two. Win or lose, people would have more confidence in the fights again. Isobel ended up losing this round, but won the bearfolk’s respect.
While neither the gearforged or the warden were present, we decided that the PCs could bargain with Hugo Gunnacksen, a Canton dwarf merchant, to trade the magical scythe from the first adventure for a “proper weapon.” Hugo initially offered them a hewing weapon (one that does extra damage to plant creatures), but the party, rightly, guessed that the Margreve may not like those weapons.
I used a modified version of the “buying a magic weapon” table, and had the PCs make a charisma (persuasion) check. Hugo only took a slight brokers fee to look for an even trade for a different +1 weapon (which we haven’t determined yet, because we’re waiting for the warlord and the warden to decide who is getting the item).
Time Marches On
We moved forward to the Rites of Spring. I determined that Brother Arkadi would ask the PCs to show the locals how to make new Wood Wards for the coming season, to replace the ones animated by the Hollow Man. I got to play up the local reverence for customs, as well as the ongoing “the bearfolk are nature spirits here to help us” angle.
Everyone made tool checks with an appropriate toolkit, if they had one. Gurralt’s player arrived, so the bearfolk warden got to attempt to make one as well. Hrothgardt’s was passable, and Scarlett’s was a work of art. Both Isobel’s and Gurralt’s fell apart promptly after creation. Then the mother and daughter that the PCs saved brought them gifts of flower necklaces, which ended up being more like crowns. I wanted to acknowledge what the PCs have already done for the town, and remind them that they have some ties here now.
This is the point at which I really almost made a horrible mistake. As night fell, I had the Deathwisp show up to challenge the bearfolk warden, accusing him of hiding his identity, even though the deathwisp tracked him down by his distinctive armor.
Long story short, I averted disaster (i.e. killing off the PCs and turning them undead) because my dice decided that they didn’t want to roll higher than a 6 for most of the night. The Deathwisp didn’t do much before being vanquished, but the barbarian showed off her new shadow chewer abilities, and the warden used his supernatural ability to shake the earth, which reinforced to the villagers that, of course, they are nature spirits.
I’m going to look for more hints at the life and adventures of Arjak, the minotaur druid and retired mercenary, to sprinkle into the campaign as background. The PCs partied on into the night, and passed out in the town square, and a good time was had by all.
The Job Offer
In the morning, I introduced the “hook” from the book to start the adventure. Terelsa Garlook, a Canton dwarf agent from Zobeck, is looking to hire some adventurers to negotiate with the Honey Queen for magical, life prolonging honey that is usually only traded with the fey. To tie this in more directly to the party, Garlook is an agent of the family Graymark in Zobeck, the gearforged’s relatives.
Isobel isn’t particularly sold that some human needs to get their hands on magical honey meant for the fey. Thankfully, I knew there was more of a hook coming up, and I wanted to hint at it early, so I had the dentures tell Scarlett that this job could humble a monarch that needed to learn her place, and that the job may just be a means to an end.
With Scarlett on board, Isobel was more likely to join in, and they received a magic ring to barter with, and a map to the location three days away from Levoca.
As I mentioned during prep, I didn’t want to have random encounters happening in this section, since the adventure mentioned the “fairy tale” purpose of the encounters for the next three days. Early on, I had them encounter Baba Migori. The PCs were tipped off to meeting her by the dentures, so they treated her reverently from the start (not that I thought they wouldn’t have done so).
Baba Migori mentioned that the Honey Queen needs to set free the young girl she took into her home, explained that the way the honey prolongs life is through extended magical hibernation, and mentioned that the Honey Queen should be humbled, but not killed. She also dropped the “Lyla’s name opens the path” line.
The PCs were wary of swearing oaths, because Scarlett knew that they have special power in the Margreve, but Hrothgardt did, steadfastly wanting to help a little girl be free, and I had Baba Migori give him a scroll of Revivify for swearing the oath.
The next day, the party met Elsee, a bearfolk mother whose child was stuck up a tree. The group agreed to help, and Isobel ran into the spider that was hiding halfway up.
The spider I used had a fear effect, as well as a bite and a separate stinger (I’m still trying to figure that one out, but it was a spider in the CR range I was looking for, and I liked the fear effect). Isobel grabbed the child, but ended up keeping the child safe at the top of the tree, away from the spider, for most of the encounter.
The warden used one of his abilities to pull the spider out of the tree, and Hrothgardt, Scarlett, and Gurralt managed to dispatch it, and Isobel climbed down safely with the child. The group stayed the night at the cottage, and Gurralt started to court Elsee as a potential love interest.
For the final day of travel, the PCs encountered an alseid girl named Frauleen from an ogre. The ogre that I used for this encounter is the Ogre Charger, which, when moving through other creature’s spaces, causes them to make a save or take damage and fall over. Instead of highlighting this ability, the warden got initiative on it, used one of his powers to make it fall over, and the PCs proceeded to beat it mercilessly until it gave up all its hit points.
As I said earlier, I was having a really hard time rolling above a six on my d20 all session.
Fraulene mentioned that she could guide them through the Effildawnan flowers to the caves they are looking for. Since the PCs chose to rest for the night, I finally had them roll an encounter. In this case, they rolled a prophetic dream where they all get advantage on an attack the next day. Ominous but not dangerous.
A Note on The Trip
I gave the PCs a map, but after the first day, had them make wisdom (survival) checks to notice something. The warden made the check, and realized that without looking at the map, they were just travelling in the right direction, as if something were pulling them. The adventure hints at this, but I wanted to make it explicit, and it also let me reinforce why Frualene’s help was important, because after they encounter her, they no longer feel this pull to the right location.
Stop and Smell the Flowers
The flowers in the field leading to the Honey Queen’s lair are hallucinogenic, and everyone made their save except for Hrothgardt, who was poisoned and hallucinating. We initially rolled the result “you’re sure you aren’t wearing pants,” but we decided this may be less impactful on a bearfolk, so with the reroll, Hrothgardt saw red rain falling from the sky when no one else could see it.
Following Fraulene, they reached a stream, and saw an angry boar like creature, crackling with electricity. We ended the night about to start the encounter with the Storm Boar, and even though we ended a little early, I thought it would be a good stopping point since the Storm Boar likes to eat metal, and I would love for the gearforged to be on hand for this.
Takeaways for the Night
- Downtime is continuing to provide some nice backstory and connective tissue to the campaign
- The warden’s abilities continue to be really useful, and I’m interested to see if the feeling levels out once we’re past what feel like the “front loaded” abilities
- I looked beyond just CR to see a monsters number of attacks and how likely it was to hit an armor class, but totally missed a “game changing” rule that made 0 hit points more deadly, and that was a big mistake on my part that could have been much worse
- Why the heck is there such a huge gap between spider monster CRs?
- Rolling low for a significant portion of the night really shades the story in a game that relies on a wide range of probabilities like the d20
- From a “battlemat” perspective, I’m getting a lot of millage in this campaign from using the Kobold Press pawns, the D&D Adventure Grid, and the Tabletop Tokens for Trees and Rocks and Town Market sets in this campaign
- I set up an open ended google form for player feedback, and got one response so far, but I wanted to make it available
Hope you are enjoying these campaign journals, and let me know what you think!
These are fantastic. Thx for sharing – am running Tales myself – just about to get into Fingers (did Honey Queen last week). I appreciate reading how you ran it!