Monday, February 10, 2014

SSoI - Session 10: Red Hand of Doom - The Battle of Skull Gorge

We begin in Vraath Keep, newly claimed domain of Baron Gravis, vassal of House Reinhardt, in the Elsir Vale, Impiltur, in Flamerule of 1450 DR. Our heroes have cleansed the ruined keep of evil and in the process discovered plans for an invasion of the vale.

Our Heroes (all newly 6th level after clearing the keep):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and his young owlbear companion, Ivan)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden (out this week)
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin (out this week)
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm
Rested and recovered, the party decides to take the old forest road north to scout out Skull Gorge Bridge, marked on the invasion map.

Moving along the old road through forest the group is making good time when they come across a strange figure made out of wood, covered in moss. It's crudely humanoid and looks like it's been here some time. The ranger recognizes it as a territorial marker used by certain hill giant tribes in the region. An old track leads off of the road and into a hilly region of the woods. The party decides that it's worth a short side trip to see if the giants are still around and if they are part of the invasion plan. They head off into the woods attempting some measure of stealth.

Soon they come to a clearing where they can see smashed remains of a massive wooden fortress, built on a larger than human scale (think of the steading from G1 smashed apart for the proper visual). In one section of the ruins is a large firepit with a large wild boar turning on a spit over it. A gnarled old hill giant sits next to the thing, seemingly oblivious to the party. The team debates on how to approach this lone creature and eventually decides to parlay with him.

As they emerge from the woods the old giant assumes a defensive stance, raising his club and warning them off. Sir Primies takes the lead here and talks the giant down. As the rest of the group joins in things relax until the whole group is sitting around the fire sharing roasted boar and swapping stories. Here, the party learns of the rest of the history of this part of the vale, and that Old Warklegnaw is the last of his kind living here. The ruins are all that remains of the steading of the Twistusk tribe. He was there during the dispute with Vraath Keep and after the mutual devastation dealt to both dwellings his tribe moved up into the mountains under his leadership. Eventually though he decided he was too old to lead and returned to this place to live out his final years. He hasn't noticed the influx of goblins but he hasn't been travelling much as of late. As our heroes share what they have found, he decides to accompany them for a spell as he is familiar with Skull Gorge and the bridge and figures a walk would do him some good. The party is happy to have a hill giant companion, figuring even an older, somewhat worn giant is better than no giant if it comes to a fight. They all rest for the night and head out the next morning.

The party approaches from this end of the bridge

Arriving early in the afternoon, our heroes and their new friend discover that the Red Hand has already taken possession of the bridge. Banners over the encampment on the north side bear the sign of the red hand while hobgoblin troops man the towers, hell hounds watch the bridge, and a green dragon patrols above.

Not daunted for a minute the party decides that action is required as based on their information the army will be crossing here - better to stall them by taking out this advance guard than to wait for the entire army. Plus if they can figure out a way to destroy the bridge it will give them time to warn Drellin's Ferry and figure out a strategy for defending the vale. There's not much point in stealth with hell hounds guarding the place and frankly they prefer a straight-up fight anyway so with a mix of battlecries they charge the southern end of the bridge, Warklegnaw right alongside them - "it's been a long time since I've fought a dragon".

Notably the ranger does not charge. Instead, he draws back his bow and begins shooting death into the opposition, first the hell hounds and then the hobgoblin archers on top of the towers. Zarra rips into one hound and slays it single-handedly while the giant, the paladin, and the warlord (and Ivan!) tear up the other.

As the hounds expire (and more hobgoblins fall from the towers with elf-arrows in their hides) the dragon swoops into the cluster of heroes on the bridge and unloads his poison breath followed by a  flurry of claws and teeth. Hurt but not dismayed the team tears into Ozyrrandion the -probably-too-overconfident-dragon, with Gravis shouting commands, Ivan watching his back, Sir Primies holding the thing's attention with sword and shield high, while Warklegnaw and Zarra rip into the beast with fang, claw, and club. As the last of the hobgoblins falls, the ranger adds his arrows to the fight and the dragon falls to a final flourish by the warlord and his little owlbear friend.
He's just a level-adjusted green dragon
With the garrison handled, the party pauses to recover from the fight (and the massive amounts of poison gas spewed out by the dragon) and realizes they're going to have to figure out how to drop this bridge if they are going to delay the army of the red hand. That's going to take a little thinking ...

DM Notes: There was a fair amount of discussion at the beginning of this session about how to proceed. Should they go back and warn the village? Should they use the map to head out and attack the invaders? They eventually decided to go as far as the bridge and see what was happening there before returning to Drellin's Ferry.

Warklegnaw is a part of the original adventure and I wanted to keep him in there. I did change him from a forest giant to a hill giant as there aren't any forest giants in 4E and I don;t really see the need for yet another type of giant when we already have one that fits just fine. I turned the whole thing into a skill challenge once they got to him and it worked out very well. While we played without this kind of thing for decades I will say that it's nice to have a mechanic for handling non-combat situations beyond "make a skill roll" and it's really nice to have a system for them that actually awards XP and is built into the game. Plus, skill challenges play out much faster than combat usually does in 4E and help make balance out the time played to XP ratios if you're trying to plan this stuff out. The players did really well befriending him and learning more about the vale. Beginning here he ends up tagging along for the rest of the campaign! I gave the players his statblock and let them run him after this if he was present for a fight.

Once that was handled we had the big set-piece of  the Skull Gorge Bridge. This is the big climactic battle of this part of the adventure and I tried to stick to it as closely as I could. My general rule in this has been to keep the flavor of each encounter as much as possible. If the big bridge fight has hobgoblins, hell hounds, and a green dragon, then my version should have those same elements, and it did. Around this time is where I finally broke down and started subscribing to DDI for the monster catalog/tool. With 4th edition's monster level system it's a snap to add or remove a few levels to make something level-appropriate to the adventure, even if it's not "by the book". In this fight the hobgoblins were a mix of minions and regular monsters, the hounds were normal monsters, and the dragon was a solo but he was only level 5 which made him tough and gave him some interesting options in a fight but meant he was not overpowered when combined with  the other creatures.

So, some planning, some RP and a skill challenge, followed by a big fight - this was another really good session. 


Kelvin Green said...

There was a fair amount of discussion at the beginning of this session about how to proceed. Should they go back and warn the village? Should they use the map to head out and attack the invaders?

When I saw the map in your last post I thought "hang on that looks a bit sandboxy". In fact, it reminded me of Masks of Nyarlathotep in that it seemed to suggest that the machinations of the Red Hand were spread across the map and the players could tackle them in any order.

I keep being told that such an open format doesn't work in modern D&D and I've never heard of this campaign supporting such a format (but I also don't know much about it) so my question is this: if the players had decided to go back to the village or use the map to thwart the Red Hand's plans would the campaign support that or would you have to do a lot of work to twist it into that shape?

Jeremy said...

I'd never really felt like there was any particular order that the adventure went in, at least not that I've noticed. When we got the battle map at the first captain it had all kinds of scribbling and names and a kind of time line on it. So we made a lot of our initial decisions based on the places that looked like they were going to get hit first.

Then we just started picking names and heading over to where they were on the map to cross them off.

It felt less like a published adventure and more like a Mass Effect type RPG where you have 5 or 6 planets you need to go picking up allies and resources for your war effort along the way. But what order you choose to go to those planets is up to you.

Blacksteel said...

There is a timeline to the invasion in that the army progresses to certain points in a certain number of days and player actions (like destroying the bridge) can extend the time it takes as the army is forced to go the long way around.I have not emphasized this in a "numbers" kind of way as my players are pretty proactive about taking action.

That said there is a certain progression based on both the timeline and the levels of the opposition found in the scouting parties/secret bases scattered throughout the adventure. The nastiest stuff is with the main army and when it gets where it is going you're going to have to deal with that, but there are pockets of nastiness laying the groundwork and the players can hit those as they see fit.

Besides this there are clues in each location that reveal details about other locations and may influence those kinds of decisions too.

RHoD is kind of old school in surprising ways. It's very much a sandbox on one level as in "here's a map and there's some stuff on it to discover" and then you have the added invasion element on top of that which changes that situation up over time. The adventure assumes the PC's will try to stop it, but they don't have to. Heck, they could join the invasion if things went that route and it would play out quite differently. In fact if I was going to run a "monsters" campaign, I think this adventure would work pretty well in reverse.