‘D&D’ Encounters DM Report — ‘Sholla’s Dream’ Part II

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

Last week at the Encounters event at Titan Games & Comics, we had a very full house. It looked like every table was full–that means one DM and at least six players per table. I think a few tables may have actually squeezed in an extra chair or two. It’s great to see such a renewed interest in D&D, and, with Wizards of the Coast’s recent news about a new campaign to start up in late March or early April, I believe WotC can look forward to many more months of solid numbers turning out for the large number of scheduled events that includes Encounters (typically two-hour sessions for both novices and veterans) and Expeditions (5-6 hour one-day events).

I continue to enjoy my return to the DM’s chair, and I hope my players are enjoying the custom adventures I’ve been developing to hold them over until the new campaign starts up in a few more months. Last week, my six players found themselves on the water. They are on a mission to intercept a caravan of cultists that will be arriving in Baldur’s Gate a few days after they are scheduled to arrive via the River Chiontharr that runs between Elturel and Baldur’s Gate. First, a small abandoned raft (with cargo still in place) was investigated–the party was attacked by a single ghoul and two zombies. The mystery starts. The next evening, the sloop almost collided with a large cargo ship anchored in the middle of the river. An investigation of the cargo ship provided some clues to a larger mystery yet to reveal itself. We wrapped up last Wednesday night’s event with the players fighting a wave of ghasts and ghouls on the top deck. While victorious, a few of the players were injured… and there were still two lower decks to investigate.

Great minds think alike, and it was quite a surprise to find another table with a similar ship adventure. DM Claude picked up my thrown gauntlet from a few weeks prior that involved a 3D ramp and a break-neck chase scene at the end. Sitting in the middle of DM Claude’s table was a three-level ship, complete with stands so the players could move up and down between decks.

DM Claude Ship

My own three-deck ship hadn’t yet been completely revealed by the end of Part I of my Sholla’s Dream mini-adventure–and it might not have been if my players had decided to high-tail it back to the sloop and forget they ever saw Sholla’s Dream. No worries, however… their curiosity pushed them forward (and down, in this case).

Below you’ll find a summary of the conclusion to Sholla’s Dream–if you think you might like to have your DM run this adventure, I highly encourage you to stop reading before the SPOILER warning. If you are a DM and think you might like to toss this adventure in front of your players, I will include the resources I created throughout the remainder of this writeup that you can download–this includes maps, a PDF document of the various areas and their descriptions, and handouts.

NOTE: One final bit of bookkeeping–next week’s DM Report should be avoided by players if at all possible. Let me explain. Next week I’ll be starting another two-part mini-adventure for my players, and I’m going to go ahead and tell you now that it’s about 90% written and I think it’s got to the one of my absolute favorite to create and write. Just trust me–you’re going to want to ask your DM to check it out AND avoid reading it. I’ll be making all my notes and handouts available for download, but players who do not wish to have any surprises ruined for them should stay as far away from next week’s DM Report as possible. (And I’ll be sure to include another warning in next week’s DM Report.)

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

The players were down by one this week–Essie was MIA, leaving our party with only one fighter, Chi. And at the end of last week’s play, he was extremely injured (11 hit points). The five players this week included:

Chi Tan – Human Fighter
Rolann – Elf Ranger
Edaliu – Gnome Bard
Borax – Dwarf Cleric
Aramel — Human Warlock (last week I had some fun with the Part I post because no one could get this character’s name right–every mention last week I had a different spelling. Sorry… was just having some fun. Not this week–it’s Caramel without the C.)

The Decks
Three decks — Top, Middle, Lower (left to right)

So, picking up where Part I left off, the party had just dispatched a group of attacking ghasts and ghouls, and the top deck was quiet as could be. The players were actually considering abandoning ship and moving on, but I tossed in a *crash* below deck that I was hoping they’d just have to investigate.

Interestingly enough, my players chose to bust the lock on the cargo grate on the top deck and open it… they then lowered the two boom chains (one to port and one to starboard) and Chi and Rolan used these chains to climb down to the middle deck while the remaining players stayed up top and looked down. The middle deck was eerily empty. Numerous unexplored (hidden) areas were on the deck–these turned out to be mostly stalls for horses, pigs, and other animals. All empty. It was only when they explored the bow of the ship and a hidden area there that they were attacked by two zombies. These were easily killed, but it allowed me to have the players roll some Perception checks that revealed a few observations:

Middle Deck
Middle Deck Encounter with Two Zombies

* The deck was once again completely empty of cargo.
* Whatever the crashing sound, it had NOT come from this middle deck. Nothing was disturbed or broken. The sound must have come from the lower deck.

Once again, the players chose to bust the lock on the grate covering the cargo hold and open it up to look down into the lower deck. Borax cast a Light spell on a large coin that was dropped down, and this low light didn’t reveal much. Once again, Chi and Rolan used the chains to climb down into this lower deck. And that’s when things started to get interesting.

I played this next part with very discrete time intervals–I explained to Chi and Rolan that as soon as their feet hit the deck, they had spotted something that made them freeze. I then told the players left above on the middle deck that they could perceive that their two companions had spotted something that had them concerned. A fast decision was made–two players immediately dropped down to the next deck (Aramel and Borax) while Edaliu climbed down partially and stayed holding the chain.

Lower Deck Zombies
Lower Deck Zombie Attack — Wight near bow (top of photo)

Standing at the bow of the ship in front of a small door was a tall figure with glowing red eyes. He was not making any moves towards the players. I tried to build the tension by allowing the players to discuss what to do, all while this figure just stared at them. Finally, the figure spoke…

The captain leaves his post, ignores his duties… and the vultures swoop in. My name is Holcum, and while your presence in this hold would normally mean immediate death… I’m feeling a bit generous. I’m going to let you go back up those steps and leave this ship. Now.

I almost laughed out loud. My players just didn’t know what to do here. A few were quick to realize he was standing in front of the only unexplored area of the ship and maybe… JUST maybe… something of value might lie beyond that door. The players inquired about the captain, and Holcum (a Wight) told them the captain had been punished for his insubordination. The players were still not making an immediate move to leave the cargo area, so Holcum shook his head and looked left and then right… calling forth six zombies hidden behind the various crates and boxes remaining in the cargo hold.

COMBAT!

At first, my players thought to make a run for the small staircase heading up, but the Initiative rolls were all over the place, and the zombies would have plenty of chances to intercept half the party and block their movement. Because of this, only Caramel moved to climb halfway up the stairs. Edaliu remained clinging to a chain and fired off a spell that caused the two longswords in the Wight’s hands to heat up and provide 2d8 damage each turn.

Combat

Meanwhile, the zombies moved forward. Three of them headed towards Chi–Chi spent most of the combat round taking heavy damage and then being healed either by his Second Wind feat or Borax’s spells. His HP was up and down and up and down… I really didn’t know how this was going to turn out, and I wasn’t planning on letting up on the players who had not listened to his initial warning to leave.

Still, the players managed to have some amazing rolls and after a few close calls, the zombies were all dead. (But, being zombies, quite a few made their saving throws when HP reached 0, allowing them to stand up with 1 HP.) Only when the zombies were dispatched did Holcum dash into the middle of the party and attack. He managed to do some serious damage to Chi (again), but the combined efforts of spells and bow attacks finally took him down.

The players turned their attention to the bow of the ship. Only Chi and Borax could see through the small door when Chi opened it–I held a miniature in my hand and showed only these two players. It was a coffin. I also had Borax roll a Wisdom check and he made it–I explained he could hear the wheezing and coughing of a dying man just inside and to the right of the doorway. A weak voice called out… “Who’s there?”

Chi informed the other players about the coffin. I wish I’d been able to take a photo of their faces. I was actually prepared for them to say “Nope, we are OUTTA here,” and I think they may have done so if Borax hadn’t role-played his Lawful Good cleric to the hilt and walked in to investigate the man’s voice. What he found was Captain Gollard, blood all over his clothes and a large tear in his neck. He appealed to the cleric:

You defeated, Holcum. Good… good. I believe I hated that evil creature even more than the one in that box. He held a threat of death over my wife’s head, making me do his mistress’ bidding. But my wife is gone now, and I must no longer fear for her safety. Listen carefully… I don’t have much time left. You must destroy Lyrish. Now. Use the hoists above and take her coffin to the main deck. She has fed and should not awaken, but tread lightly. When the sun appears, open that lid and end her existence. Can you do that? Will you promise to destroy her now?

When Borax made the vow, Gollard made one more request (and Borax made the promise):

If you can make one more pledge… I will reward you. The curse my ship has brought to this river… it summons all manner of evil to it. It must end. Promise me… you will burn Sholla’s Dream. Do you promise? Before you light the ship, go in the guest quarters on the top deck. The first room. Push aside the small wardrobe and remove the center plank from the deck where it rested. What you find there is yours. Now go… kill Lyrish. And burn this ship before I turn tomorrow.

The players decided to use the chains to raise the coffin to the top deck after using some ropes to secure the lid. I determined it would take four of them to move the coffin without disturbing the vampire inside. I had each of them roll a Dexterity check, telling them if two failed the coffin would fall. All four made their rolls. #@#$@#.

So, the coffin was raised to the top deck. The sun was rising. These players weren’t taking any chances and waited an additional half hour to allow the sun to fully rise above the horizon. They poured oil all over the coffin, used one of the cargo booms to move the coffin out over the water (vampires can be damaged if they enter moving water) and then Rolan hit it with a flaming arrow. Nice.

The coffin burned a bit… then began to shake. The lid burst open and Lyrish (a Vampire Spawn, actually) spotted the players on the top deck. She tried to make the jump to the deck and… I failed the roll. She slammed against the hull of the ship and burst into dust.

The players searched the guest quarters, found the treasure that included a special Ring of Critical Wound Healing for Borax, and torched the ship, jumping over to Chabberstad’s sloop. The surprised half-orc captain could only shake his head and tell the players they would have to tell him the story over the next 24 hours it would take to reach Baldur’s Gate. And the night’s adventure was over.

As a reward to the players for surviving and ending the curse of Sholla’s Dream, I provided each with a laminated card (bookmark, about 2×3″) that contained a final captain’s log entry.

Player's Reward

I hope the players had fun. It was a fun adventure to write and run, and my goal was to keep the ship as creepy as possible as they moved to the lower cargo deck. All my players were level 4, so if you (DM) think you might want to run this, you’ll definitely have to adjust the encounters, maybe even removing the Wight from the equation.

Once again, I’m making all my files available for download. Here are links to the PDFs:

Captain’s Log (used in Part I, printed full-size)
Letter Concerning Sholla’s Death (used in Part I, printed full-size)
Player’s Reward (PDF, 3 cards per page)
Sholla’s Dream Top Deck Half 1 (PDF, print full size)
Sholla’s Dream Top Deck Half 2 (PDF, print full size)
Sholla’s Dream Middle Deck Half 1 (PDF, print full size)
Sholla’s Dream Middle Deck Half 2 (PDF, print full size)
Sholla’s Dream Quarter Deck (PDF, print full size)
Sholla’s Dream Lower Deck (PDF, print full size)
Sholla’s Dream Raft (PDF, print full size)

Sholla’s Dream DM Notes and Area Descriptions

Keep in mind that as with any adventure, your DM duties will be pushed to the limit when your players don’t always head in the direction you desire. I had to improvise a number of times, and these instances are not included in the DM notes and area descriptions. You’ll have to tweak the encounters and possibly change the story a bit to fit into your campaign or the player’s current situation. Have fun.

Next week… the adventurers arrive in Baldur’s Gate. And do I have something special planned for them… <evil laugh> You’re not going to want to miss it. I want to run it NOW! But nope… see you next week.

Some other random photos and images from the adventure for you:

Props
Props for the game — Captain’s Log, Letter about Sholla’s death, Player Reward Cards
Minis for Sholla Dream
Coffin, Lyrish, Holcum and other baddies
Evernote Notes
How I organize my adventure notes using Evernote
The Game
Running Sholla’s Dream with just my laptop and some dice. Oh, and three ship decks.

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