Our heroes descend into the Glitterhame, the roster changes again, and we attempt to subdue a classic old school monster.
When last we left our heroes, what started out as a creative plan to sneak through an orc stronghold turned to utter anarchy when one player did something deliberately stupid and the entire orc tribe descended upon them en mass. What should have turned into a Total Party Kill was averted by the player’s legitimate tactical planning (a rarity for these guys), and a little DM fudgery. The players thought that they had cheated death once again, all on their own, and I didn’t want to ruin their joyous celebration with the truth.
But they didn’t escape unscathed. The dwarven cleric was unconscious and everyone else was severely wounded and exhausted (narratively, not mechanically). Even worse, we had to say goodbye to another player. Owen, who plays the knocked-out dwarf, had to leave the group and won’t be able to continue our adventures together. For right now, his future with our group is uncertain, so I said that he still unconscious and nothing can revive him. Too bad he was your only cleric. But we do have a back-up.
Between sessions, Andrew really wanted to try his hand at running a game but he didn’t want the pressure of a campaign. So, he ran a one-shot. He recruited another friend, Nick, to join our nonsense. We all (including me, who finally got to play for once) played as 5th level bards. Would that be called a band of bards? On saxophone we had the half-elf, Boberta, played by Jack. The dragonborn, Swiftus Seducius, (that’s me) was on the bass cello. On bongos, we had Unga-Bunga, (Nick) the half-orc. And Gnomio the gnome is on the kazoo (James). To give everyone a fair chance at some unique magic, we drew our spells randomly from a deck of bard spell cards we had lying around. Plus, everyone had Vicious Mockery, naturally.
The adventure was awesome! We had barely entered town before we seduced a waitress, knocked out an innkeeper, stole from the shopkeep, and got attacked by assassins. Then we got blamed for the murder of the local noble and culminated in an epic fight between the true assassin (and his ring of fireballs), 20 angry guards and a freaking hydra! Gary Gygax would have been proud of this dungeon design. We used every spell and song in our repertoire until a lethal combination of stinking cloud and vicious mockery caused all 12(!) heads to retch and gag, giving us the opportunity to hammer away at the beast (and throws a few fireballs) until the duodenary wyrm lay dead. It was a truly epic tale, now if only we could find a bard to tell it.
But back to the Forge of Fury! Nick loved his half-orc, Unga-Bunga, and wanted to keep playing him, but we did change his character to a 3rd level Barbarian, which was more in line with his play-style: Hulk Smash! We just need to get the pesky new character introductions out of the way.
While the main party is searching the recently cleared orc stronghold, they discover a stake hammered into the ground. Tied to the stake is a rope that snakes off, down one of the hallways, and the rope was wriggling. Following the writhing rope, it winds down the hall, turns a corner, and enters an open doorway into a new room. Inside the room is a half-orc wearing a dog collar with the other end of the rope tied to it. He is sweeping the floor while muttering to himself.
If this were a more “experienced” group, they would have ruined the whole thing by insisting on pretending that the clearly new party member is a potential threat, forcing a ridiculous role-playing encounter with themselves until the new person can convince the others that he is not the enemy. Thankfully, my group is less savvy than all that and just said, “Hey, you wanna join our group and kill some monsters?” And just like that, the Saviors of Phandalin have reformed yet again. With only two original Saviors in the group, I’m gonna have to get some new titles for these guys.
Moving on, the group continues looking for the entrance to the next level of the dungeon. It is hidden behind a secret door which leads to another orc encounter. After last week’s orc debacle, I am sick of orcs. So, I altered the dungeon, removing the orcs in this room, and leaving the secret door ajar. I decreed that, last session, the orcs in this room heard the alarm, ran out of the room leaving the door open, and perished along with their tribe. Always feel free to alter anything in any dungeon. You are under no obligation to play the adventure as written. It is your game and your players will never know the difference.
Plus, this group really needs a long rest. Sometimes it is fun to test the party’s endurance and deny them the ability to sleep and recuperate (that is, regain hit points and spell slots). This is not one of those times. Thus far, we have played a light-hearted, epic game with high stakes but low consequences. The enemies are serious, but the heroes are going to win (I just don’t know how) and it is unlikely that any heroes will die. To change up the playstyle in the middle on a whim just to “make it real” is mean. For an example of this, see last week’s miserable slog of session.
That’s not to say you can’t change the conditions during a campaign to mix things up, but you should give your player’s fair warning first. For example, when these players continue on with Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, once they enter the Cassalanter’s Villa, they will have no time to rest and regroup or hundreds of people will die. When they go through The Lost Shrine of Tamoachan, I will run that like the original tournament module, where the players have 1 hour to escape the lower level or succumb to the poison gas. And I will run The Tomb of Horrors like the meat-grinder it is intended to be. But in each case, the players will know what they are getting into before they start wasting all of their resources. Be fair.
One last thing before we descend further. Last week, Riandon the mage blew his nightcaller whistle which he obtained during The Sunless Citadel adventure, allowing him to reanimate one corpse that will become his zombie or skeleton minion for one day. The player James has never abused this ability (this is only his 2nd use) and I envision a moment in the end game scenario, where he will be able to summon an army of undead.
So, I tweaked the power of the item. I allow it to cast animate dead at the max spell level of the caster, giving him more undead to control. But I screwed up the math and gave him more zombies than he should, which was a pain to manage. I am still working out the kinks of this item. The lesson learned is to be free to modify, improve, diminish any aspect of the game, even going against previous rulings. If a player complains when you reduce the powers or abilities of something, just explain that the previous use was overpowered and unbalanced. Tell the player that he is “playtesting” this new aspect of the game. That should make him happy. And if the “character” really needs an in-game excuse to get over it, just say there was an unknown wild magic surge that caused the fluctuation.
But for the rest of the session just realize that we also have 6 headless orc zombies following us around. (The heads were chopped off to collect a bounty and currently roll around in Eragon’s portable hole with 3 dozen other heads.) Moving on, for real this time. I want the new player Nick to experience the zaniness that is D&D right out of the gate. The last room on this level has a fire trapped door with several burnt orc corpses in front as a clue to the dangers of the room. Jack’s Eragon is the most death-adverse character of the group and he’s no dummy, so he obviously checks for traps. Jack is also the worst dice roller of the group, so he does discover the trap. By triggering it!
Panic ensued. Heroes were diving out of the way. Many took damage from liquid fire. Screaming occurred. Eight low-level, but surprising effective, bat-like Stirges flew up to investigate. Said stirges attacked. Combat ensued. Initiatives were rolled. One zombie fell into the stairwell and tumbled down the stairs. Another headless zombie rolled a Nat 1 and clobbered a different headless zombie. That zombie soon died when a stirge sucked its blood and then the stirge turned into a zombie stirge. Yes, my zombies are the Walking Dead kind, but my players have yet to witness this phenomenon first hand until now. (There is a saving throw involved; the stirge failed.) When it was over, the new player said, “This is awesome!” Quick, reel him in, we got a live one.
Finally, our heroes delve into the most expansive and easy to bypass section of the dungeon, The Glitterhame. There are numerous routes to the same end of the level stairwell. In fact, my group ignored the southern pathways through the troglodyte lair and completely avoided all those encounters. Instead, they headed north, took out more stirges, then stumbled into a lone troglodyte checkpoint. (Labeled as Orc Tunnel in that section of the dungeon) As usual, I doubled the number of trogs in this room and I had them all be prepared for the party and hiding using their chameleon ability. Let’s see how they like being on the receiving end of the much-abused sneak attack.
They didn’t like it one bit. Tee Hee. The players got slapped around a little, one of them got poisoned by the stench (an easily overlooked troglodyte ability), and another headless zombie died (I can’t get rid of these things fast enough). Since I’m a DM that loves to make a bad situation worse, I had one of the trogs sneak away and release the Grizzly Bear in the next room (which is just a maxed-out cave bear, in my adjustment). I didn’t increase the number of bears because I only have one bear mini.
But in the end, this motley group of assorted monsters is no match for my band of bad-ass boy scouts. I was surprised that my son, James, didn’t try to capture the bear. His reply? “Every zoo has bears! I only want the cool monsters. My zoo is a cryptozoological zoo.” I never should have taken the kid to that Bigfoot Museum. Heading south, they ignore the gated cage that the bear was held in (for now) and luckily chose the path that leads to the cool encounter which means I didn’t have to fabricate some excuse to compel them there.
The primary hook for this adventure has the players searching for magical weapons crafted by dwarves a millennia ago. But there are only two such weapons to be found in the whole dungeon. One in the dragon horde at the end and the other in this random room. Originally, the scimitar carried by the Ogre on the first level also carries the Durgeddin mark but this was dropped in the Yawning Portal reprint. Regardless, there is no rhyme or reason to the placement of these weapons and incredibly there are none in Foundry Level where one would expect to find them. As such, you want to be certain that your players find this room, and that might require you to alter the adventure in a new and different way; monkeying with the map.
As I’ve said before, you are completely free to change everything in every adventure. I’ve added monsters, removed monsters, changed their stats, and swapped them out for completely new monsters. I’ve changed NPC occupations, personalities, motivations, and story hooks. And I’ve altered doors, traps, treasures, whole rooms, and even entire dungeons. There are times when you want the players to explore every inch of a dungeon, such as I did when I made my players search for puzzle pieces in The Lost Mine of Phandelver. Then there are times you just want them to get to the good stuff, without missing anything important.
But here if the players pick the wrong path, they will have no reason to explore the other one, and they would easily miss the one thing they came here to find. If this happens to you, just move the room. In an open cave complex like this, it’s easy. Instead of a doorway on the left side of the west corridor, make it a right side doorway on the east corridor. You don’t need to alter any maps, just describe the new layout to them. They’ll never know you changed anything, and they’re probably not even drawing their own map that might reveal your alterations. Sadly, drawing your own dungeon map is one of my favorite parts of old-school D&D; one that is rarely utilized anymore. If you are using a virtual tabletop or digital map, a little photoshop can hide your behind the screen shenanigans.
Regardless of how they get there, at this point, no more help. Just present the room, making it obvious that the spores are dangerous, and wait for the ridiculously fantastic ideas to come in. Who knows how they will solve this problem? Maybe they’ll find a way to climb over there. Or fly. Or set the room on fire and wait. Or the high Constitution player might hold his breath, make a run for it and hope for the best. Or maybe they even have a poison-immune zombie minion to go over and get it. Mine did have such a zombie and still they didn’t think of it. Instead, they used Mage Hand to float over and just grab the sword.
After the fungus room comes one of the hardest rooms to properly describe in D&D; the enormous unlit cavern. A truly dark cave is a terrifying place, and I often fail to convey its bleak and claustrophobic nature. A dark hallway and even a small dungeon room still have a defined sense of space that is usually lit with torches that you can see and walls you can feel. But torches and even darkvision have limits that fail miserably against the utter black of the underworld.
Remember that a torch only lights an area 30’ across, with another 30’ of dim, spooky shadows beyond. Darkvision had a range of 60’ as well, but in an unlit cave, your vision is reduced to a drab field of grey, obscuring distances and any fine details. Beyond that range, the world is an infinite void, filled with danger and disaster with every step. And if the ability to see is removed completely, a simple cave, trapped beneath a mountain of rock, with no end in sight; is enough to drive one insane.
Such is the case with this main chamber of the Glitterhame. It is 80’ wide and over 200’ long that does not follow a standard compass direction or geometric shape. Being unable to see the farthest reaches of the cavern you can’t define the room or its dimensions and you should not even try. Depending upon which entrance they use, only describe what they can see with 30’ (if they even have a light source). The rest is swallowed up by a darkness unlike any you have ever seen before, even on a moonless night in the middle of the ocean. It’s like staring into to the abyss of utter nothingness. Do not describe any of the exits, overhangs, or outcroppings until they are directly in front of them.
Instead focus on the other senses to enhance this feeling of dread. “The air is cool and there is a whiff of dead vegetation that floats on the wisps of a breeze coming from deeper in the cave. Your footsteps echo throughout the chamber, rattling off the unseen walls that seem to go on forever in the dark. If you listen close, you can hear a constant dripping of water from somewhere beyond. Drip, drip, drip. Suddenly, you hear a new noise; a quick scraping sound that is neither your footsteps nor the dripping water. It echoes in your mind like ragged claw ripping through your brain. Instantly, the sound is gone. Drip, drip, drip. You can’t tell where it came from, but there is definitely something out there, waiting. Drip, drip, drip.”
My players have never walked so slow in any session before or since. They stopped after ever step, listening, waiting, praying that I would give them a clue as to what was stalking them in the dark. Another clacking of bone upon stone, and they froze, but they failed to determine where it came from. Was it getting closer? Maybe. They can see nothing before them, no cave walls, no drop offs, no sign of danger or hint of movement. Nothing.
The bio-luminescent fungi didn’t help at all. “You can barely discern a faith path, made by an unknown creature or creature, leading you deeper into the abyss.” Once the players reach the center of the room, looking back, they can no longer see the cave entrance. They are trapped in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by uncertainy, with no idea where the exits are or even what direction they came from. An enormous roar shatters the air above, as a huge monster drops down from the ceiling and attacks. It is the OG of old school monstrosities. The Hook Horror!
The published adventure has the party face two gricks in this area. Gricks are great and I love them, but my players have already faced one and I wanted something bigger, badder, and scarier. Plus, they’ll still fight the gricks later. The Hook Horror is a classic abomination of body horror. A Frankenstein of mashed together monster parts into one grotesque terror. Is it a bird? A bug? A lizard? Who knows? But I do know that they are big and mean and can claw your face off. And they look way more intimidating today compared to their original AD&D design.
While the look may have improved, the challenge rating has certainly gone down. In previous editions, these guys were deadly; capable of decimating an entire party. But these modern Horrors are wimps; just a bag of hit points and some minor piercing damage. So, I altered this thing too. In addition to its normal attack, if it hits, it immediately gets a reaction to pull the victim in for a quick 1d6+4 bite unless the victim can escape a contested grapple check. Also, with its powerful legs, it can use a bonus action to jump 30’ in any direction without triggering opportunity attacks. Don’t forget that it can use its claws to climb any surface. And I added that thanks to its armored carapace, its rear AC is 20. (Let’s see the rogue sneak attack this thing.) Now, I have this giant jumping, climbing, slashing, biting Tasmanian Devil with armor plating just tearing into this group and leaping out of melee range round after round. It was awesome.
Also, since this beast wasn’t some boring bear, this encounter sparked one of the recurring scenarios that occurs only in our campaign. While some monster is ripping the party to shreds, three players are doing their damnedest to kill it, while one player is running around trying to catch it. The usual agreement is that if the one player can incapacitate the creature before it dies, then the others will let it live in captivity.
Often the wizard/zookeeper will use Sleep to drop the creature unconscious, but he is convinced that the spell won’t be powerful enough to drop this guy. He’s not wrong. He puts all his hopes on the one new spell he got when he leveled up, Hypnotic Pattern. One failed Wisdom save later, a kaleidoscopic sphere of swirling psychedelic colors lights up the cavern like a drug-fueled sun. The Hook Horror drops to the ground, drool dripping from its beak, staring at the pretty rainbow. Drip, drip, drip.
I ask Riandon how he plans to detain this latest zoo acquisition. He is in the middle of this dungeon, nowhere near his wagon and cages, and the spell wears off after a minute. Thinking quickly, they drag the beast off to the empty bear pen and lock the gate. Technically, the spell would have worn off the second the Horror exited the sphere, but the Rule of Cool always trumps the written rule, so they get the thing inside before it comes out of its stupor.
Back in the Glitterhame, the party stumbles onto the Dwarven Sepulchers, the presumed final resting place for the Durgeddin tribe, including a lavish tomb for Durgeddin himself. However, all of the coffins are empty except three. These three died before the orc invasion and were interred properly. The rest, including Durgeddin, were killed in the Foundry level and could not be buried properly. A point I will use later in the adventure. Searching the area, the group loots the coffins (have they no sense of decency?) and decide to have a long rest; that Hook Horror tuned them up pretty good.
They set a watch but there is a palpable weirdness at the table. Andrew, the player, is up to something and he didn’t hide it well. Everyone else is suspicious. His friends don’t care, but his brother, James, does. Andrew’s fighter insists on taking first watch. James’s elven wizard is very worried about the safety of the unconscious dwarven cleric (several comments were “jokingly” made, mostly by the fighter, about killing him off). James demands to take second watch, followed by Jack’s thief and then Nick’s half-orc.
The elf only needs 4 hours of meditation to rest. He stays awake through the first two watches, keeping a close eye on the fighter. Nothing happens. On third watch, the dwarf is alive. Same for the fourth. At the end of the long rest, the dwarf is alive except that now he isn’t. There the hapless dwarf lies, his head crushed by the very warhammer they found earlier in one of the coffins. What sorcery or curse is going on here?
I pull the Half-orc player aside and explain to him that he remembers that the dwarf was alive through the whole watch, but somehow he also remembers toward the end of the watch, a spectral or ethereal figure instantly appeared over the dwarf, killed him, and vanished. During the event, the elf was meditating and both the thief and the fighter were sound asleep in their bedrolls. He doesn’t know why he didn’t wake the others at the time. It didn’t feel real; it almost felt like a dream. I used the half-orc for this bit of information because his player is new to the group and he has not been witness to some of the other curious scenes involving Andrew’s Regizar and his Zeitbrille magic goggles.
Nick explained his version of events to the other players. Despite no proof and actual evidence that Regizar was somewhere else during the murder, James’s Riandon is convinced that the fighter killed our companion. And he’s not wrong. This is another foreshadowing of Regizar’s growing powers and problems to come involving a homebrewed saga I call The Ageless One, that I’ve tried to weave into the campaign. You can read more about this storyline that began back in the Lost Mine of Phandelver starting with The Ageless One – Part 1.
Next week, we descend even deeper into the dark, get slimed, and argue about stalagmites. All while looking for a suspiciously familiar piece of humming metal.
Check out my Forge of Fury Resources Page for even more tips, advice, charts, and all the maps, props, and images I used to bring this adventure to life.
As always, The DM’s word is law, but not etched in stone. Change what you want, and Game On!
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light – Plato
5 thoughts on “D&D Diary – The Forge of Fury – Session 3”
Fantastic. I have been looking forward to the latest episode of the boys’ journey.
Will you do a proper write-up of Andrew’s one shot? It sounds like it was fun.
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