Sunday, June 14, 2015

"When this day is done, I will make you bow to your new Queen."
[5e Dwimmermount]

So, the last session started with me opening up to my players about how I don't really like the 5th edition rules as a whole. I don't plan on changing the ruleset that we're using for this campaign because this started as an experiment. I wanted to GM Dwimmermount and I also wanted to try out the 5th edition rules. I'm enjoying both, but I'm not enjoying the feel of the rules as the PCs ascend in level. The crux of my complaints can be read throughout the comments at this link. I've played a little loose with the gameplay timeline so that I can highlight in this post moments where the rules hit up against my own personal preferences for gameplay.

After resting, the party interviewed the hobgoblins about the dead-but-not-dead things roaming the halls. Rigob spoke of a Zombie Lord that controlled the dead things, and Poach drew them a map which included where their guard posts were. The map was informative, and later they learned it was mostly accurate, but it added very little to what they had already explored.

They ventured to the room where the Zombie Lord could be found and in a very short time came face-to-face with him. He was dressed as an ancient Thulian guardsman and he spoke Old Thulian, surrounded by his zombie minions the Lord declared that the group were trespassers who should submit to his rule. When Sulla declared "Queen" Ilona the rightful ruler of Dwimmermount the Zombie Lord spat "I will never bow to her!" and Sulla disagreed as battle was engaged.

During this fight I got to use reaction on the monster side, which surprised one of my players when he broke through the zombie ranks. It only took them about 4 rounds to destroy the Zombie Lord and all of his zombies, with only a few injuries sustained on their side. At the time this rankled me a little bit because the Zombie Lord only got about two hits in, and he was supposed to be the "boss" of this level. He lasted longer when compared to King Rukruk, which was also a fight I felt was over too quickly.

After they defeated the Zombie Lord, Sulla used one of his spells to reanimate the corpse of the Lord as a skeleton servant and also spotted a secret door leading eastward from the room. Following the path they found another secret door which opened into a pristinely preserved temple.

Passive Perception became something I didn't like in this room. The module doesn't really give a difficulty for discovering the secret door here, but I assumed it would be pretty difficult to find. Sulla's Passive Perception is above 20 and in the moment I simply said "You've found a secret door" but in hindsight I think Passive Perception is too much like a video game mechanic. I don't want it to be an ability that just hands the players a solution to a problem. I decided that from now on when somebody's Passive Perception triggers something I will simply give hints as to what it is, whether it's noise at the end of a tunnel or an unnatural breeze inside of a closed room, but they have to make the narrative decision to engage with the environment and discover what their senses are telling them.

Horatius felt uncomfortable entering the temple, and Levity's skin burned when he tried to pass the secret door leading inside. Horatius had made it to the other side of the temple and discovered a vast crevasse in the next chamber beyond. Levity refused to enter the temple at all. There were two statues on their side of the crevasse and Horatius looked for the closest place to cross over, tied a rope around one statue and himself, then jumped across the chasm. He made it to the other side, and Braak soon crawled across the crevasse along the rope, but nobody else was willing to follow Horatius.

The party decided to split up at this point, with Braak and Horatius continuing east beyond the crevasse and the rest of the party following the northeast passage from the Zombie Lord's chamber.

I just accidentally misspelled that as Xombie. NEW MONSTER! Anyway. I rolled twice for both groups to possibly encounter a wandering monster but the dice favored the players and they didn't encounter anything.

They both found a wide hallway, and very soon met up with each other since they could see each others' lanterns.

Horatius began opening the doors in the hallway, They found a pair of huge dogs that appeared to be on fire. He quickly closed the door and announced to everybody what he had seen. They prepared to reopen the door and engage in a fight, with Sulla muttering that he didn't have many magical options for fighting creatures made of fire, and Horatius said "I thought all wizards could throw lightning bolts?!" The players frequently tabletalk about Sulla's spell list and I translate this as their characters arguing about what magic is capable of, it allows me to say things like "These orcs come barging into the room, they clearly heard you arguing about Sulla's spells."

Horatius flung the door open and the dogs were gone. They took a few cautious steps into the room and one of the dogs came running from around the corner, flame sputtering off it's sides, and it breathed out a gout of flame that engulfed most of them. Battle was engaged and soon they were surrounded by the two hounds who burst forth fiery sprays of heat from their jaws. They killed the two dogs with little trouble then decided to continue down the hall to the south.

Here is a situation where I used two monsters with intelligence and tactical aplomb, only to see it come to no avail. The hell hounds were flanking and using their breath weapons to maximum effectiveness and the party was never afraid of the danger, they cut down the hounds in literally 2 rounds of combat.

Behind another set of doors, they found some zombies and a mimic. They managed to communicate with the mimic for awhile, and Sulla tried to have his zombie servant escort the mimic back to the throne room, but it wandered off further into the dungeon. Mimics only appear in two places in Dwimmermount as written. I have decided to add mimics to Dwimmermount in copious amounts, and I've also made them intelligent, and I've also given them an agenda. Before this adventure I have never, ever used mimics before.

Venturing southward, the party found a room filled with wooden statues. When Levity expressed interest in one by knocking on it, one of the statues came to life and knocked him down to the ground. Before anybody could react, the wooden statue stomped Levity into unconsciousness then proceeded to stand still again. They dragged Levity away from the room and forced a potion of healing down his throat, then collectively decided "We don't go back to that room unless we plan on setting it on fire."

From this point forward, I have beefed up the monsters to make them more challenging. I also got lucky with the rolls for those attacks against Levity. The monster was a wood golem that took everybody by surprise and managed to get a critical hit in on Levity before he could act himself.

After a little more healing for Levity, they pressed onward. Horatius led the way and took the party west and away from the wide hallway. He soon found himself in an impenetrably dark room where his lantern seemed to attract the very shadows along the walls. Surrounded by shadows he felt his strength draining, and both Horatius and Ilona lashed out at the shadows futilely. Sulla's magic made quick work of the shadowy creatures, but not before they had weakened Horatius to the point where he could barely stand carrying the weight of his armor and weapons.

This combat took 4 rounds! The shadows nearly killed Horatius which seems appropriate given that they no longer have a cleric in the party, but one long rest later and Horatius is back to full HP and the effects of the Strength drain are completely gone. *shaking my head*

Retreating back to a hobgoblin guard post north along the corridor, the party decides to consolidate what they have. Both Rigob and Poach were feeling a bit confused that the Queen was exploring the ruins as if the hobgoblins weren't there and ignoring that the food supply was diminished. They demanded that they be given attention and Ilona agreed, they needed to be fed if they were going to follow her. The party decided to retreat from the second level with all of the hobgoblins for now and rest on the first level while they drew up their plans.

Ilona decided she needed to cement her control over Dwimmermount and the hobgoblins gave her the perfect opportunity to do so. Between Ilona, Sulla, and Horatius they coordinated how they would send Braak back to Muntburg to buy food, and they also needed to send a message to Tsetsig and Marius that they would need a regular supply of food to be brought to Dwimmermount.

The last hour of the game was literally just working out all of these details.

Upon returning to the first level the party turned the desecrated temple to Mavors into their base of operations, ignoring the secret door for now.

The hobgoblins would need to patrol and maintain the first level, so they showed the hobgoblins their map and explained all of the dangers of the first level. Guards would be set at the main entrance and the two stairwells leading down into Dwimmermount (but not the secret entrance or the elevator!) and both Tsetsig and Marius would need to return so that they could recognize him and give him safe passage. Ilona set about constructing a makeshift sigil for her house so that her family would also recognize the hobgoblins and not attack them when they arrived.

Braak returned to Muntburg with Poach following behind him. Having grown bored in Muntburg after the last three days, Marius was climbing up the mountain to Dwimmermount and encountered Braak along the way. All three traveled to Muntburg to acquire food then return to Dwimmermount, and the next session is set to begin with their return...

The reason the map looks like its constructed of three pieces of paper is not because I'm bad at drawing maps (though I did make one mistake when drawing one of the hallways of this level) but when I start drawing a map for a dungeon level I hand the piece of paper to one of the players and instruct them how to draw a box for the stairs, letting them place the entrance on the paper. That way, I don't purposefully reveal how the dungeon is laid out by putting the stairs on the grid paper myself.

I will likely offer this explanation every time I show off a map that looks like it was put together with scraps of paper rather than one sheet.


  1. "I decided that from now on when somebody's Passive Perception triggers something I will simply give hints as to what it is, whether it's noise at the end of a tunnel or an unnatural breeze inside of a closed room, but they have to make the narrative decision to engage with the environment and discover what their senses are telling them."

    Great idea that I am going to start using.

  2. I'm really enjoying Dwimmermount, but the last few sessions have been less challenging.

    Are you using any of the rules from the DMG for encounter creation? Judging by the XP thresholds for our party, the hell hounds were a medium encounter, while the shadows didn't even qualify as easy.

    XP thresholds for party (three 5th level, one 4th level):
    Easy = 875xp
    Medium = 1,750p
    Hard = 2,475xp
    Deadly = 3,800xp
    12,200xp per adventuring day (adjusted?)

    2 hell hounds 700xp (1,400 *1.5 = 2,100xp adjusted)
    4 shadows 100xp (400xp * 2 = 800xp adjusted)

    I don't know how much faith to put in those numbers, but they seem consistent with our experiences.

    We haven't been taking a lot of long rests, but I doubt that we've been approaching the expected xp per adventuring day. It might help if we had more tangible goals for each day, or knew more about the countdown clocks ticking away in the background. A prisoner reveals that reinforcements are arriving through a hidden entrance at dawn, and if we don't find that door and bar it, we might not be able to hold the mountain. A shadow curses one of the party, so we have a few hours to locate the ritual that will break the curse, or else we'll have no choice but to retreat to a temple in town. We acquire a small army of hobgobglins, but every time we make camp they suffer attrition, either through desertion or skirmishes. It will always be unrealistic to recover to full health after sleeping for a night on the ground, but this probably won't bother us, if we barely survived the day so as to achieve some critical objective.