D&D Encounters DM Report — Sholla’s Dream Part I

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Wednesday nights are D&D Encounters sessions (for novice and veteran players) at Titan Games & Comics in Atlanta, GA (and at other locations around the globe), and for the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed my return to the role of Dungeon Master. Last week concluded a two-part adventure that had the players encountering a group of cultists hiding out in a cavern beneath a crypt where they were performing a dark ritual to strengthen a young black dragon. The players were successful in defeating the dragon and collapsing the only escape from the cavern after narrowly escaping a chase around a circular four-level ramp that led to the bottom of said cavern. RIP cultists.

This week, the players found themselves in the city of Elturel, hunting down Leosin, a monk who had given them an earlier mission to try and discover information on this new dragon cult. The players made their way into the city where they would need to find Leosin as well as the Order of the Gauntlet to receive the reward that was promised them when they defeated the black dragon and cultists.

This week, I had five returning characters as well as a new character:

Essie – Human Fighter
Chi Tan – Human Fighter
Rolann – Elf Ranger
Edaliu – Gnome Bard
Borax – Dwarf Cleric
Amarel — Human Warlock

This new two-part adventure began with the players entering the city of Elturel and busying themselves hunting for Leosin. Their inquiries grabbed the attention of one of the city’s guards who wanted to know the players’ business with Leosin. When the players showed the guard the letter they’d received (from the previous week’s adventure) promising a reward from the Order of the Gauntlet, the guardsman asked the players to follow him. A short and confusing walk through the city’s back alleys and a few shortcuts through some local businesses had the players dropped off outside a tavern called A Pair of Black Antlers. The players were told to go in and ask for Ontharr.

The tavern was clean and well lit… and noisy. When the players asked the barkeep to point out Ontharr, they were directed to the largest and loudest man in a crowd of similarly uniformed (and armored) men. Once again, the players provided a copy of the letter. Ontharr examined the letter, and he asked what they’d done to earn the goodwill and reward, the players mentioned the cultists. That was all it took for Ontharr to end the conversation and request the players to follow him… into a back room and then down a secret entrance to a large room beneath the tavern. The HQ of the Order of the Gauntlet!

Even better, a few minutes later the monk, Leosin, showed up. He was happy to see the players and requested the information they’d gathered on the cultists. This was handed over by the players and then given to Ontharr who provided the players with a much larger reward than what was promised in the letter. Leosin made another plea — would the players be interested in earning a larger reward for a more secret (and dangerous) mission? Ontharr explained that the cultists were shipping their stolen goods north towards Waterdeep in caravans. The Order of the Gauntlet was in need of some spies to intercept the cultists wagons in Baldur’s Gate and try to find employment as caravan guards for the trip further north. If the players left tonight, they could be on the river and in Baldur’s Gate in three days… two days ahead of the cultists. The players accepted. Ontharr allowed the players to select two weapons to have blessed — there wasn’t enough time to do more. The players made their way to the docks and restocked much needed supplies. As promised, Ontharr met them at the docks, introduced them to a half-orc named Chabberstad, the captain of a small sloop. He also handed over two weapons — Chi’s glaive  (now +1 To Hit) and Essie’s battle axe (also now +1 To Hit). The players got on the boat and began the three day trip to Baldur’s Gate.

Late into the night, as everyone slept except for Rolan and Chabberstad, an abandoned raft was spotted on the banks of the river. Chabberstad insisted the players investigate — the law of the river required it and this superstitious half-orc wasn’t going any further…

This was a fun little excursion to try and build tension and drop a few clues. The raft was quite large as you can see from the photo below. And apparently abandoned. Chi and Caramel and Borax moved onto the raft as the rest of the players stayed on the sloop. After checking out the raft, all that was left was to open the door and look inside.

Raft

COMBAT!

Out come two nasty zombies, straight at Aramak and Chi. Oh, and a really disgusting ghoul jumps onto the raft from the thick brush at the river’s edge. The smell of the ghoul was enough to cause Abalmar to double-over from nausea. (Gotta love those Constitution saves that don’t succeed!)

One of the zombie took a swipe at Chi and missed. Before the second zombie could react, however, Borax (cleric) attempted to turn them. I wasn’t rolling so hot at the moment, and both zombies failed their save. They ran to the far edge of the raft where they stopped, unable (or unwilling) to jump into the water. Rolan and Edaliu, meanwhile are hitting the Ghoul with plenty of arrows. The ghoul ran at Amalar who had recovered from the nausea. Chi swung at the Ghoul, killing it. The zombies were no match, either… they went down fast with attacks from Borax and Rolan and Abalam. Chabberstad was superstitious about the raft, so he forbade the players from taking anything from the raft. The players were somewhat confident from the two bunks inside the cabin that the two zombies must have been the owners or crew of the raft and the ghoul must have attacked (and turned) them in the night. Chabberstad insisted the players quickly return to the sloop – he left behind a note for anyone finding the raft that the Baldur’s Gate dock master would be notified and sending a crew to retrieve it.

Back on the sloop, the players were too wound up to go back to sleep. The night passed, another afternoon, and then another evening found the players preparing for sleep. Suddenly, Chabberstad yelled out a warning for the players to grab hold of anything they could. The sloop turned sharply to port — Borax was the only player who reacted too slowly, and he took some minor damage from a hard fall.

Sitting in the middle of the river was a large cargo ship; painted on the bow was Sholla’s Dream. No lights. No responses to an angry Chabberstad yelling for the captain. Once again, Chabbertad insisted the players must accompany him (after anchoring and tying up to the larger ship) to investigate. On the top deck, players found warm lanterns that had recently run out of oil. The deck was empty — no cargo. Chabberstad instructed two players to weigh anchor as he attempted to bring power back to the large ship. No luck. He instructed the players to drop anchor again and heturned to his sloop and used its gnome-built engine to push the ship so it moved closer to the shoreline and out of the middle of the river where it could cause another impact. In doing so, some damage was taken by the sloop, and Chabberstad stayed with his ship to make repairs…

Cargo Ship

Aft were a double-door and a single door. Chi decided an investigation was in order and opened the single door. A dark hallway and a few closed doors were seen. Little by little, he moved through the hallways with Essie and Borax… each of the three doors encountered opened to small rooms, all identical and very nice in decoration. Possibly guest quarters for paying travelers. (The cabins were exposed by removing a covering that contained the quarterdeck.)

Cabins

Next up was the double-door. Essie and Chi entered, with Amabar guarding the entry and the remaining players spread out on the deck and keeping their eyes open. Inside, the players found the captain’s cabin. A map of the river hung above a bed, and a small desk was near the rear of the room. On the desk was a log book. Essie opened to the last entry and found the following (given to the players as a full-sized printout on card stock):

Captain's Log

Next, Essie searched the desk and found a stack of letters. Most of the letters were records of cargo transfers and purchases, crew communications, and supply lists. But tucked into the pile was a letter (provided to players as another full-size printout) that caught Essie’s interest because of the date:

Sholla's Death

The letter and log were shared with the rest of the players outside the captain’s cabin. Their best guess was that the captain must be named Gollard, and his wife (or daughter?) named Sholla was killed. They were also confident that some sort of threat must have been made on Sholla and was being used against the captain. Chabberstad wasn’t aware of the Ylliar’s Last Stand mentioned in the logbook, but when Amalab carried the map hanging in the captain’s cabin (that had Ylliar’s Last Stand written on it among other location names) down to Chabberstad, the half-orc was able to use some measurements and verify that the spot where the ship was anchored was indeed Ylliar’s Last Stand. Chabberstad informed the warlock that meeting spots along the river were frequently given nicknames. Ambulam prepared to return to the cargo ship but…

COMBAT!

As the players took in the empty deck and considered their options, a familiar stench caught the players by surprise. A ghast and two ghouls clambered over the ship’s starboard side and attacked.

The Ghast rushed in and immediately began attacking Chi. Essie was still in the captain’s cabin when she heard the player’s yell an alert. Amatar also heard the yell and began climbing quickly back up to the top deck. This left Borax, Rolan, Edaliu and Chi to take the first wave of attackers. Chi took some serious damage from the Ghast. Roland and Edaliu seriously wounded the ghast while Borax injured one of the ghouls. Essie and Amajar finally entered the battle. As one of the ghouls got too close to Borax, he doubled over in pain. The stench from the ghoul was just too much for him. Meanwhile the rest of the party managed to kill the ghast. In its dying screams, it summoned another hidden ghast that was hiding over the starboard side of the ship. The two ghouls went down fast, but Chi continued to be the focus of most of the attacks. In the end, the second ghast and the two ghouls were killed. But a few of the players were seriously injured, and they hadn’t even yet inspected the lower decks.

Prior to the game, I had warned my players that with a bunch of level 4 players (six in all), the risks were going to start ramping up. I don’t like to kill characters, but we’re fast approaching adventures where the creatures that they will encounter will have special powers and damages that are on par with many of the players’ feats and skills. Things can and likely will go south for one or more players…

Next week, the conclusion to Sholla’s Dream will be played out and I’ll make my notes, area descriptions, and other details available to any DMs out there who might like to take the adventure and run it. As you can see below, I’ve got about a dozen area descriptions and another dozen or so creature and surprise notes (labeled X in the figure) — most of them, however, I’m not able to share at this point. Spoilers, you know?

Shell's Dream Evernote Notes

FYI — Wizards of the Coast also had a major announcement this week. From the press release, here’s the part that deals with the D&D Encounters (tabletop RPG) event:

Coming off of the biggest and most exciting year yet for Dungeons & Dragons, the Elemental Evil storyline starts in March and runs through mid-summer. During that time, heroes are needed in the Forgotten Realms to discover and defeat secret cults that threaten to annihilate the Sword Coast by harnessing the powers of the elements of fire, water, air, and earth.
Characters in the D&D tabletop roleplaying game can help prevent devastation to the lands and people of the Forgotten Realms in the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure by Wizards of the Coast and Sasquatch Game Studio. Princes of the Apocalypse is available on April 7, 2015 and includes an epic adventure for characters levels 1 – 15 as well as new elemental spells and the element-touched genasi as a new playable race. In addition, a free download will be available in mid-March that includes more new races plus the player content available in Princes of the Apocalypse, just in time for the start of the Elemental Evil season of the D&D Adventurers League.
If you’re not familiar with the Temple of Elemental Evil, an old school adventure from one of D&D’s creators, Gary Gyax, you’ll want to do some research. I have fond memories of that adventure — it was one of the few that I actually got to play and didn’t have to act as Dungeon Master. It definitely has a reputation among fans as one of the all-time great adventures.
Fun times ahead. That is, of course, if my players survive next week…

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