D&D Encounters DM Report — Running a Chase & The Road to Elturel Part II (Conclusion)

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Last night as I was setting up my table for the night’s game, I began to receive some fun and interesting comments about my 3D creation for running the second-half of my mini-adventure, The Road to Elturel. Our game night coordinator, Topher, continues to call me an over-achiever. I can live with that. I’ve always tried to push myself to give my players a memorable game; when I was younger, I would create props and sketches to hand out at different points in a game. Now that I’m a bit older and wiser (and have a debit card), I’m finding I have even more fun and interesting ideas to toss at my players… such as the situation where my players found themselves tonight.

If you’ve read my four-part post series on creating a random dungeon or adventure using the new Dungeon Master’s Guide, then you know how impressed I am with the DMG and the tables and charts it provides for helping DMs create unique adventures. During my initial read of the DMG, there was one really AWESOME section in Chapter 8: Running the Game titled “Chases” (page 252). There were so many ideas running through my head when I was creating that random adventure using the DMG charts, and I had to be careful not to take them all and squeeze them in. Chases were one of the ideas I considered but ultimately passed on. Not this time, however. When Topher offered to let me DM for eight weeks and I figured out I would need to create some custom mini-adventures… I just KNEW I needed to stick a chase scene in somewhere. There are some custom rules (such as giving players a set number of Dash actions) and even custom tables for generating random encounters that can slow down, interrupt, or even help the players and NPCs involved in a chase. Think about an Indiana Jones-style coal cart chase through a mine, and you should get the idea.

Now that the mini-adventure is over, I can share some details about the two-part adventure I created for last week and this week’s Encounters event. I did most of my draft writing in Evernote, keeping everything together in a single Notebook. Below you can see a snapshot of how I accessed my information as the game progressed (and grayed out areas from last week’s post are now visible).

Evernote

I created custom maps for Orwerd’s Cemetery and the Supply/Preparation Room (Areas 1 and 4) using photocopies of 1″ grid square mat. While I’m not against drawing out a map in real-time in front of the players, by creating the maps ahead of time I didn’t sacrifice game time and was able to provide much more detail in the maps than I would have done if I were drawing them on-the-fly.

So… the story. The players are on their way to Elturel to find and deliver information on the cultists to Leosin, the monk encountered in Chapter 2 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. On the road, the players encounter a group of retired guardsmen at a journeyman cemetery. The guardsmen have been robbed, and the culprit(s) have run and taken cover in an unlocked crypt. These men are part of a separate group of cultists who were sent to check on a dragon egg that was hidden (six months earlier) in a cavern beneath this crypt. The egg has since hatched and a cultist cleric and a bunch of her goons are performing a ritual to strengthen the dragon’s armor and give it more stamina. (Higher AC and HP!) The cavern and its contents (including a storage room and a circular wooden ramp down to the cavern’s floor) were part of a smuggling operation that is no longer operational. Barrels, crates, and more are scattered everywhere. The players encounter a guard group of cultists in a storage room before proceeding, discovering a four-level circular wooden ramp that leads down to the ritual that is in progress. If the players are lucky, they’ll discover a secret room with some useful items as well as some explosive devices that may be used to bring down the wooden ramp.

Note: I’ve scanned in two maps at full scale and in color — feel free to take them and print out in color or black and white. Here’s the link to Orwerd’s Cemetery (6MB PDF) and the link to the Storage Room (4MB PDF). For the crypt in the cemetery, I cut out a small square of white paper to cover the crypt’s interior until the players positioned themselves for a view inside.

Last week, the players encountered the guardsmen, entered the crypt, fought four cultists and a drake, captured and interrogated a cultist who provided some details about the ritual and its participants, and the players found the two healing potions and one invisibility potion (plus some gold). One player found six explosive devices, but accidentally dropped one — it went off and he took some damage. The players exited the supply room, discovered the ramp, and through some careful and quiet observations, spotted a number of drakes, cultists, and other creatures on the cavern floor. The two dwarves in the party were able to determine that the explosives could be used to bring down the entire ramp, but they would have to proceed down the ramp and examine the wooden scaffolding and beams to find the best places to set off the explosives. And that’s where Part I ended…

Last night, the conclusion of The Road to Elturel began with the players moving down the ramp and trying to figure out what they were facing below…

The Ramp

The ramps were staggered, with stairs breaking each half-circle portion and leading down to the next level. (Stairs were treated as 30 feet or six 1″ squares.) Scattered all over the walkways were barrels and crates that might possibly come into play as the players moved around.

Note: I’ve had some questions about creating the ramps. It’s really not all that difficult. I cut 4″x3″ lengths of PVC tube and 12″x6″ lengths. Hot glued the 4″x3″ tubes to one ring and that one goes on the bottom. Glue 4 remaining 6″ tubes to the three remaining rings. Stack one of those on top of the 3″ ring, and place the other two rings on top of each other about 6″ apart. Feel free to add paper stairs, but I left it to my players’ imaginations.

Returning for the night were the same six players from the previous week:

Essie – Human Fighter
Chi Tan – Human Fighter
Oenn – Dwarf Cleric
Rolann – Elf Ranger
Edaliu – Gnome Bard
Borax – Dwarf Cleric

Adele continued to be her sneaky self and led the way down the circular ramps — she was the first to discover that the creature in the center of the ritual room on the cavern’s floor was a young black dragon. She’d also spotted the single cultist who had stolen the helmets and gold/gems from the guardsmen — his body lay at the bottom of the last staircase near a large pile of equipment, weapons, and other items that belonged to the five cultists surrounding the dragon. Circling the five cultists were five drakes… pets, obviously. And a single woman, a cultist cleric, was leading the other five men in a chant spell to strengthen the dragon for its trip to find and join the cultist army heading north.

I explained how the explosives worked. I provided them with five small wooden cubes numbered like d6 dice. When they placed an explosive, they would have to set the fuse, so to speak, and pick a number that would count down at the end each round — with six players, five drakes, six cultists, and one dragon, I needed a way to make this move FAST. Well… as fast as possible. I gave each player a set number of Dash actions equal to 1+ their Constitution modifier. Cultists and drakes also had three Dash actions each. A few players began moving down the ramps, the dwarves examining specific areas (Wisdom checks) for weak spots. A few other players remained high above to keep watch.

Through the night, I was having some HORRIBLE rolls. And my players were having some AMAZING rolls. I could NOT trigger the chase scene, no matter what I did. How to trigger the chase scene? I developed my own Chase Complications table based on the ones in the DMG — you can see mine below.

Chase Complications

Here’s how it worked. Every time two or more players gathered or crossed within 10′ of each other, I would ask them to roll a Dexterity check. On a failure, I would then roll a d20 and consult the chart above. As you can see, a roll of 9-20 would produce no complication. First, the players were rolling great Dexterity checks… but even when they failed, I was rolling in the teens. If a complication was triggered, there would be a chance that a drake or cultist below would be alerted. A few complications (player falling into a crack in the floor, etc., gnome failing a Stealth check) didn’t trigger a drake or cultist. The two dwarves were rolling high on their Wisdom checks and figuring out pretty quick where to place their explosives. The way things were looking, they were going to set off the explosives and get away without being noticed.

Edaliu made it to the very bottom of the walkways and got nervous about being so close to the drakes and cultists… she cast an Invisibility spell on herself which allowed her to retrieve the stolen helmet and the bag of coins and gems. She also dug into the pile of equipment and found the red snakeskin quiver (with six arrows). She grabbed it and began to head back up. Meanwhile, one of the players did trigger an event… a crate caught on fire. With all six cultists and drakes getting Perception rolls, I knew the chase was ready to start…

Sure enough, a single cultist saw the light from the fire and moved to the stairs to investigate. As he neared, he spotted the players and gave a yell of alert. The ritual had ended, and drakes and cultists began moving towards the stairs. The dragon, however, had wings…

To run the chase sequence, I made some pre-game preparations that really helped keep the game moving forward and the tension level high. Before the game began, I had all players roll for Initiative — this was simply to order the players for when the chase began. I automatically gave the players surprise, so they would all be moving first before the cultists and drakes at the bottom of the cavern. Below you’ll find a small spreadsheet that I created and printed out. I had it in hand once the cultists/drakes were alerted, and I used it to keep track of who was moving. (I also wrote down the number of Dash actions they had to the left of their name and crossed them out as they used them.)

Chase Sequence

As you can see, players would move, followed by drakes, then cultists and then the dragon. The Bombs listing was my reminder to reduce the bomb “fuse” countdown by 1 before starting over again at the top of the list. An X in the grid was all I needed to make sure everyone’s turn was accounted for, and I kept damage to creatures recorded in the grids as well.

I’ll have to take a poll of my players, but I’m pretty sure they’d report that during the chase tension was super high. Once the chase began, players quickly used up their Dash actions (except for Chi and Essie who were at the very top of the ramps).

At one point, Edaliu cast a Shatter spell on a staircase on a lower level. I allowed her to roll for damage, but, to keep tension high, I couldn’t allow her to totally destroy the stairs. Instead, I allowed the stairs to now become an obstacle where Dexterity rolls for drakes and cultists must occur. Who could have guessed that the first three drakes and first two cultists would fail and fall back down to ground level (taking damage, too)? Only one cultist made the stairs. But more cultists and drakes were close behind.

A few other interesting things happened:

* The young black dragon continued to rise higher and higher and seemed particularly interested (based on random rolls) in the elf ranger, Rolan. He was hit by the breath weapon (acid) but made his save roll, taking 11 damage instead of 22. From that point forward, I never could get a successful recharge roll for the dragon (rolling a 5 or 6 on a d6). I rolled this in front of the players to be fair… argh.

* It was pretty obvious at one point that Borax and Edaliu weren’t going to make it up to the next level before the explosions occurred. Here’s where a DM must make some tough choices — allow the players to die or ratchet up the tension? I choose the latter whenever possible — unless a player willingly jumps off a cliff or walks up and slaps a dragon, I prefer to always give players a fighting chance. For this reason, I allowed both players to roll a d20 — roll UNDER your Constitution value and you find the strength for one last Dash action. Borax made his roll… Edaliu failed. Borax insisted his Strength would allow him to carry and dash WITH Edaliu over his shoulder. Okay. Roll a d20 and roll UNDER your Strength value. He nailed it, picked her up, and rushed up another level. But… at this point, it was time to check out the bombs.

* I gave the bombs a 1-in-4 chance of being a dud. Three bombs had been placed with the same countdown value as the dwarves raced from place to place. One final bomb (near the next-to-top level was set at +1 from the other bombs. So… when the first three bombs were set to go off, I rolled the dice. One bomb didn’t detonate, but two critical ones (on opposite sides of the ramps) did.

* It was also pretty apparent that Oenn (one level down from the top) wasn’t going to make it. Chi dropped a rope on his turn, risking the dragon’s attention, and Oenn made his Strength check to climb up. Nicely done. Meanwhile Essie was firing away at the dragon and missing (very high AC!)

* Edaliu had tossed the red snakeskin quiver with six bolts inside to Rolan earlier in the chase. Rolan already had a deadly accurate To Hit, and now this. If they survived, I’d have to come clean about the benefits of the quiver, so I did. The quiver is magical and will “charge” up to 12 arrows per 24 hour period with a +2 To Hit against dragons (ONLY) and will double the modifier on damage. Nolan’s base damage was 1d8+4, so he was dealing 1d8+8 and just demolishing my baby dragon. I had upped the AC and HP on this young dragon, but it didn’t matter. Rolan was merciless as he made it to the top of the ramp and then rushed off the ramps.

* Back to Edaliu and Borax. (FYI — this is a real-life husband/wife team of players.) Forget the drakes and cultists… they’re just failing their Dexterity rolls and falling from stairs and other obstacles. The chase had really become less of a chase from the enemies and more of a “get out before this whole things collapses.” So E&B managed to make it halfway across the top circular walkway when the bomb beneath went off. Uh oh. I start by having them roll Dex saves. Above 15, and they manage to stay on the top level. Borax made his roll… Edaliu failed. She fell back down to the level beneath (which had NOT collapsed because there was no bomb placed beneath it. Borax had no time here to attempt a rescue… he ran the remaining distance to safety. But Essie and Chi had that rope. They tossed it across the open space and I asked for a Dex check from Chi (or Essie…cannot recall) and a Dex check from Edaliu to catch. They both made their rolls. Edaliu held on to the rope as she ran along the edge of the ramp and then, when she was beneath the group above, she made her Strength check. She climbed up and and she got pulled back to safety as the entire top ramp came crashing down… taking the ramp beneath it down.

* The dragon? Well, the story I had originally created had the dragon making it to the top of the cavern where it would fly out of the open crypt above (remember, the lid was off the sarcophagus, and the players never looked into it to see that it was “bottomless” — if they had capped it again, it would have trapped the dragon). The finale of the night was to be an above-ground fight with the players emerging into the cemetery and fighting a very angry dragon who had swooped down and picked up the evil cleric before leaving the cavern. That didn’t happen. There’s only so many HP you can give a baby dragon, and even with the ritual adding HP and strengthening its AC (to 19), Rolan dropped it at the very last moment. It fell to the cavern floor, trapping the cleric inside along with any surviving drakes and cultists.

Well done, players. You were awesome!

The players emerged from the crypt to a surprised group of guardsmen. I bumped up the 20 gold piece reward for each player to 50gp, and when the math was done each player received about 900XP for the adventure. Oenn took the magical helmet that is a +1 to Initiative rolls, and Rolan kept the quiver (and he leveled up from 3 to 4).

I think the players had fun. As DM, I had an absolute blast running this thing. The chase sequence was beyond tense, and I believe the players were kept on edge during the entire thing. As an extra reward for the adventure, I created a small memento for the players — I grabbed a small scroll image (using a graphic from images.google.com) and added some text that read:

Please extend all courtesies to this group of adventurers. They provided assistance to members of the Order of the Gauntlet in a most dark and dire moment on the road to Elturel.

A twenty gold piece reward should be paid to each of these brave individuals and a promise of a night’s lodging and a meal was also given.

Signed, Jaemis Florr Kelsten

I printed them out, four per sheet of card stock, and laminated them so they could be used as bookmarks or really sharp cards you can fling at people. (The cards are about 2″x3″ each.) Here’s a link to the Letter of Commendation file (500kb PDF) if you want it – four cards on a single page.

Elturel Cards

And that’s it, folks. Well, until next week’s two-parter. No dragons, I promise.

Note: Much of this adventure consisted of on-the-fly decisions made based on the players. Typical DM duties, right? That said, if you’d like to run this adventure, I’ll add in the final piece of the puzzle. This is a link to a PDF that contains my notes and Area Descriptions (both what you read to players and what you do NOT read to players.) You’ll also need to take my explanations from the above post regarding the chase scene and explosives and the Chase Complications table and pull it all together into a cohesive adventure. It’s not 100% complete — you’ll need to hunt down or create the stats for cultists, cultist cleric, and the enhanced young dragon among other things. (I added +2 to AC and increased HP by 50% FYI.) If you run it, let me know how it turns out, especially the chase.

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