A Monster Review: Volo’s Guide and Tome of Beasts

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You can find Tome of Beasts here: Kobold Press store

I recently acquired two monster books: Volo’s Guide to Monsters from Wizards of the Coast and Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press. The Tome of Beasts turned out to be the most expensive monster book I ever bought. It was sold out in my local game store, and they didn’t have any copies on Amazon, so I decided to buy it from Kobold Press in the U.S. When you included shipping, it was already pricey. Then they picked it up in customs, and added a fee. Then the tax man came and added his value-added tax of 25% to the customs fee (yes, crazy, I know). Ultimately, I paid more than 150 USD for Tome of Beasts and another 50, plus shipping, for Volo’s Guide. Was it worth it? So far, yes.

 

I – obviously! – haven’t read them cover to cover. Who does that with monster manuals? I’ve flipped through them several times and I’ve used monsters from both – and will use the fearsome Neothelid in my next session, and can see many more that I’m likely to use.

500 monsters

The two books are quite different. Volo’s Guide is not just a collection of monsters, but contains lore to a lot of the classical monsters (goblinoids, beholders, gnolls, giants, beholders etc.), several new playable races, 7 cool lair maps and a collection of around 100 monsters. Tome of Beasts has more than 400 monsters and some lore for each, with special Midgard lore in boxes for many of them. All of it in full color.

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The most dangerous gnoll – who are now all demon spawn. Get the book at Wizards: Wizard’s products

Both books have a lot of cool and useful monsters. My favorites include the gnoll variants and all the illithid creatures in Volo’s Guide, but there are many classics, like the Cave fisher or Tanarukks. In Tome of Beasts some of my favourites are the Clockwork creatures, Rotting Wind and Mordant Snare.

Tome of Beasts significantly expands the fey portfolio, which is useful for my campaign, and also has plenty of undead, which are almost always useful.

Ultimately, the monsters in Tome of Beasts are better suited for my home brew campaign, but I will be using the various beholders and illithids from Volo’s as well. Most of the lore in Volo’s isn’t useful in my current campaign, which also reduces its usefulness.

The negative – too low CR

One of the reasons I will by using more from the Tome of Beasts is the – to me – relatively low CR of most of the creatures. This touches the core issue for me with both books. Too many of the monsters that are likely to be the focus of a story or session, and mostly meant to be met as single creatures, are too low Challenge Rating. And there are not enough creatures which characters of mid to high level might meet in groups. One example is the Clockwork creatures. They range from CR ½ to 6. If am to use them with my group, which is already level 7-8, and has seven characters, I will need to buff them significantly.

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The not quite mighty enough Ulitharid… 

For the original Monster Manual it makes sense that the selection of creatures is skewed towards the lower CRs, but why make the Cave Fisher CR 3 with 58 hit points, or the very rare master mind Ulitharid CR 9?

But all in all, they are two great products with great value for years and years of D&D campaigns, which is good, given how much I ended up paying 🙂

Why should I especially buy Tome of Beasts?

  • If you just love having a ton of monsters
  • If you need a lot of Fey creatures
  • If you run a desert campaign
  • If you use a lot of undead
  • If you run the Midgard campaign setting from Kobold Press.

Why should I especially buy Volo’s Guide?

  • If you want more character races
  • If you use a lot of humanoids in your campaigns
  • If you like to have quick drop in content
  • If you want more lore for many of the classic D&D monsters
  • If you like beholders and mindflayers

Session 22 & 23: The Crystal Pinnacle

These were two relatively encounter heavy session, where the characters enter the lair of the (buffed) hag Arasekha, but sessions, where they sacrifice important things to gain knowledge that will move the plot forward.

Sacrifices for Oracle

We began the session by the well, where Xarzon, whom the paladin identifies as being a celestial, still sits waiting for them to leave, so he can use the oracle himself.

There are seven players present, so when the player of Korrick, the dwarf fighter/bard, asks Xarzon, what you must sacrifice to learn something, not everyone hears. That becomes important.

Korrick decides to sacrifice his new Ring of Protection +1 to the spirit in the well, and the huge spirit emerges from the well and answers Korricks question on the nature of the curse that afflicts his clan (more on that later).

A little later, the gnome rogue, who together with the group’s wizard stole some sort of item from the monastery the wizard grew up in, decides to do the same, but choses to sacrifice 30 silver and some blood. Obviously, 30 silver is far from enough, so the spirit snatches some of the offered life force and the gnome is deducted 5 hit points – permanently.

Both characters got some relevant information that potentially will change the future decisions they might make.

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The green hag of the MM was too weak. Arasekha was a 10th level diviner, with extra HP and Lair Actions. Her older sister is worse.

The lair of Arasekha

The group then continues and find the exit to the lair of Arasekha, and when they pass through the portal, they emerge on a platform suspended more than 100 feet above the crystal forest on the side of a huge crystal spire (300 feet high). They are immediately attacked by a group of flying crystalline creatures, and they take some punishment. They dare a short rest, hoping that the witch hasn’t set an alarm, and succeed.

Exploring the pinnacle, which is a maze of hard to navigate crystal halls and corridors with multiple reflections of everything, they first find a garden of crystal plants with an elven caretaker. He is pruning the plants with a mithral dagger. They engage him in conversation, and he stalls until “his” minions arrive. Three groups of crystallized centaurs and hobgoblins charge towards the room. The elf turns out to be some form of simulacra and he shatters when hit, and the minions are engaged with fireballs and other potent magic, and fall before the group.

They push on and enter a large room where a group of crystallized hobgoblins are experimenting with the crystal. And we end session 22, ready to roll initiative.

Session 23

The following session the group fights the hobgoblin laboratory workers and a crystallized deranged hill giant. They defeat them without too much trouble and find hobgoblins immersed in a solution, which seems to expedite the growth of crystal, and an elven prisoner, who is mostly infected with the crystal, which seems to be spreading like an infection. She begs them to kill her and find her imprisoned brother.

The leader Jarn decides to try and find the prisoner, before they deal with the witch. They succeed and locate him together with two centaurs. After the jailers attack, and are defeated they make for the tip of the pinnacle.

At the top they find Arasekha, who is guarded by a couple of crystalline elves in a small throne room. A battle begins, and she summons simulacra of herself to divert their attention, while casting wall of fire and other spells. The group responds with all they have, using summoned panthers to attack the simulacra, to locate her true self. After a fierce struggle they defeat her, loot her sanctum of spells, her Staff of the Seer and a few other items, including a very finely made mechanical beetle.

The spire begins to collapse, and when they reach the portal, it collapses. The Warlock use his feather fall spell to let them escape, without having to brave the collapsing spire. When the session (and 2016) ends, the group find themselves in a crystal forest 100s of miles from their settlement.

What went well:

  • The crystal spire was an evocative setting, and with five major rooms/encounters it also had the right size.
  • The final battle with Araskeha was fun and had good features, lair actions and odd surprises in it.
  • The use of the oracle helped propel the plot forward based on player actions.

What could I have done differently:

  • I should have used Arasekhas ability to speak and act through the crystal even more to make her even more evocative and interesting.
  • Her minions at the final battle should have been just a bit tougher to make the encounter a little more challenging.

 

 

 

Planar travel for dummies – session 21

In this session, my players wander into the planes for the first time, and therefore I will write something on how I see the planes in D&D and how I’ve changed it for my home brew world, in addition to the normal session recap.

A couple of the issues I have with the planes in D&D are that there are so many of them, that the facts concerning the planes are ‘true’ and that most of them are infinite.

The problem with the fact that there are so many is that most characters – and thus players – will so rarely visit the same ones that they never gain any familiarity with them. The planes fail to become an integral part of the game world. In a typical campaign you will maybe visit one plane, so unless a campaign is centered around one of them – invasion by the City of Brass or the intrigues of the unseelie courts – they don’t play a big role.

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Sigil is probably the most interesting city Wizards or TSR ever made, and it doesn’t exist in the prime material plane. 

But on the other hand, the planes are infinite. They must therefore have many more interesting places and beings than the prime world, which annoys me, because the prime world should be the most interesting (Sigil is in many ways a more interesting place than Greyhawk or Waterdeep). And there are known ‘facts’ about them (you can look them up in the DMG), which makes them less mysterious.

 

The prime world is more complex and finite and therefore more manageable and interesting to explore (as it should be), but the actual interaction with these far planes should be part of the adventurer’s lives and understanding.

My approach
To improve on this (in my opinion), I’ve made some changes to my multi-verse. The key ones are below. Others I will not write here, as my players are unaware of them, and I like to keep it that way.

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In Earthdawn powerful monstrosities lurk in the Astral plane, and some even exists in both planes at once.
  • First of all, I’ve combined the Feywild, Shadowfell and the Etheral plane into one and called them the Warrens (inspired by Steven Erikson), and that plane mirrors the prime plane, like the astral plane in Earthdawn and the umbra in Werewolf the Apocalypse.

 

  • Secondly , I’ve changed several spells to fit this, so when you detect or divine you see through the Warrens and when you teleport or misty step or whatever, you actually walk through the Warrens, where time and distance works differently. As the Warrens are a mirror to the prime world, it also means you can’t teleport across an ocean, you need a vessel inside the Warrens, which would enable you to cross the ocean faster. There are also beings inside the Warrens, many of them powerful, so you have to tread carefully.
  • Thirdly, there is not one, but several explanations to what they are and how they work – just like we can discuss the nature of the divine. The two my players have heard are: Some say the Warrens are a failed version of the prime world that the first gods discarded. Others that the presence of magical essence in all things naturally creates a mirror state.

These changes have the effect that the Warrens are relevant in basically every session and that the players slowly learn more about them.

It also underscores the main theme of my campaign: exploration. The Warrens is a place you explore and it is part of exploring the prime plane.

Also, instead of simply teleporting from one place to the other they have to travel everywhere, and have to consider if the advantage of going somewhere quickly outweighs the risk of meeting something very dangerous. This also underlines the theme of the campaign.

The session:
When the characters stepped through the portal (only 3 out of 7 players were present) they were immediately set upon by vengeful animal spirits, which they relatively easily defeated but they damaged them. The portal was located inside the Warren’s version of the hollowed tree.

They then began investigating the tortured elf who was crucified nearby and concluded that he had lost his soul. Then the Horned Devil and its two henchmen (bearded devils) were summoned and another fight ensued. It appeared that it had been promised their souls.

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5th edition Horned Devil. A CR 11 monster taken out by 3 level 6 characters. Maybe I was easy on them?

To explain the presence of more characters and make they fight more appropriate, I ruled that the non-present player’s characters engage the two bearded devils. The three remaining characters then sniped away from a Fog Cloud and managed to banish the devil.

Outside of the tree, the woods of the Warrens were eerily quiet and unnatural, with no sun and with the great trees casting long shadows. Two paths had been marked through the Warrens, and they knew that to navigate the Warrens away from the path would require a stern focus (successful INT or WIS checks). One path was marked with skulls another with small crystals. They chose the crystal path north, which should lead to the middle sister.

After a few hours journeying through the Warrens they spot a corpse of an elf by an altar holding a staff with gems. They move away from the path to investigate, and when they get closer suddenly the path has disappeared, as has their four companions, and the elf turns out to be a skeleton holding nothing. At that point they are set upon by shadow bats and a weird sylvan creature with the legs of a hind and razor sharp teeth that sucks blood. They defeat them after a fierce battle and search the area as they can’t see the path anyway. In some ruins nearby they find her lair and a cloak woven from living plants and shadows and decide to rest.

They steel themselves and locate the path again, but they can’t see their companions anywhere. As the move on, they come upon a fight between a big dark skinned man wielding a beautiful great sword fighting a pack of very cunning regenerating wolves next to a mysterious dark well. They enter the battle on his side and finally slay all the wolves, which coalesce into one rangy man wearing wolf-skin.

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Very complex fantasy series, highly influenced by Black Company, and grew out of an RPG campaign. One of my favorites. 

The man, who is named Xarzon, thanks them and they talk. It turns out the man was hunting him on behalf of a former employer, whom he has a disagreement with. He was a dangerous Dissembler – a shape shifter that can turn into multiple beasts (also stolen from Eriksons novels). He also tells them that the well has a spirit in it which serves as an oracle, if appeased correctly. He also tells them a few things about the Warrens: that they are strange beyond the vast space of the north, that the land is under some kind of curse and that the eldest of the Sisters of Sorrow dominates the trolls in her area and has made a pact with one of the Lords of the Nine Hells.

He also gives them a ring of protection as thank you, and with the loot of the Dissembler, it was a rewarding session.

Curse of Strahd – a review from a player perspective

Curse of Strahd is the best published adventure that I’ve ever played in. The atmosphere is fantastic, the locations, NPCs and villains are interesting, tragic and funny and the campaign requires you to play skillfully. And I must say, played in, not played to the end, because we TPK’ed about half-way through… I will keep the review spoiler free. Perhaps you will buy it for your DM? DM’s like that kind of sucking up (you can buy it here)!

Curse of Strahd can be improved (or modified) though, and I hope any DMs who run it will consider my perspective. As a reviewer, my challenge is that I haven’t read the campaign. I’ve only played in it, and therefore my DM’s choices, awesomeness, mistakes, additions or oversights is reflected in my opinion.

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Cover of the original 1983 module.

The sand-box campaign is a remake of the original Ravenloft module. The original mainly focused on the dungeon – the castle itself. The remake is bigger and contains Strahd’s domain of Barovia and several locations and many NPCs living there.

We played with the Rest Variant – Gritty Realism (DMG pg. 267), with the change that you could use HD to regain spell slots. I think this added a lot of tension to the whole story, and helps create a more realistic timeline.

What I really liked:

  • Lore, which is important to your survival, is scattered all over. Every time you speak to an NPC or find a new location, you have a sense that there is more pieces to recover for the grand puzzle. It made the world feel important and alive, and exploration and paying attention to detail was essential.
  • It is difficult. It is hard to judge what locations are the most dangerous, and you feel very vulnerable in the beginning. We got somewhat overconfident though, which was stupid, and partly led to our demise. It feels like Skyrim without the save functionality.
  • Loot and good equipment is scarce. The supply of goods in Barovia is limited, and stuff like armor and spell components are hard to get. It added a fun dimension that we had to struggle for items even at level 5 and 6.
  • The mood is awesome, and there are some great stories and people and sub-plots in the adventure.
  • dnd_curstrahd_tarokka
    The Tarokka cards help define the adventure, for example who you can expect to be your ally or Strahd’s weakness. But they are cryptic ofcourse.

    The card mechanic that helps define the campaign (and was in the original, I believe) adds re-play-ability, which is good for us, as we never reached the end.

What I disliked or would want changed:

  • Everyone we met, basically said that everywhere was dangerous (and it was compared to the villagers). But after you survive the first few locations that description becomes less meaningful, and led us to misjudge the location where we TPK’ed. Only one NPC hinted that one location was beyond us, until we were significantly more experienced. I would like a little more indicators as to the danger level, because let’s face it, it will be years before we try the adventure again.
  • The Curse of Strahd (and Storm King’s Thunder) use milestone XP, and we didn’t like that. We don’t find it satisfying as players to walk up to a new location and then the DM tells us we get a level, because the adventure says so. We want to earn it. But on the other hand, it seems like there isn’t enough material in the adventure to progress to the required level the old-fashioned way. Thus, the DM would have to add a few more locations and plots.
  • I would like even more minor locations and sub-plots.

We TPK’ed, after we had visited Castle Ravenloft once to steal an important item. The heist was an evening full of tension, and I wished there were more direct hints to go to a part of the castle to complete a specific task during the adventure. It seems like many save the castle to last, but that is not necessarily the right thing to do.

One of the things that was a bit mysterious to me was the fact that one of the cards we drew led us to the encounter where we TPK’ed. At 6th level we were completely outmatched. And I mean completely. We were all dead at the end of round two. We may have missed something obvious, but I’m not sure directing us there, to something that is clearly evil (and we are mainly good guys), and expecting us to come out ahead, is good design.

We only saw a small portion of Castle Ravenloft, and I assume there is a lot of interesting material in there.

We will try again…

After our wipe, we talked about picking the adventure up again after a couple of years, and perhaps starting at level 5, with the initial elements of the story completed, narrating that part together with the DM, and drawing fresh cards. I know for sure that I would like to return to Castle Ravenloft and face the Lord of Barovia.

For now, though, we’ve begun a game, where we play low level mobsters (or petty criminals who know some mobsters, really) in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in the glorious city of Luccini. It is going to be great fun!

 

 

Double feature: A dragon surprise…

So, being a dad and a DM, leaves less time for prep. And obviously, prep is more important than the recap and the blog. But I will keep at it, but the recaps of the latest two sessions will be short and to the point.

lazy_dm_cover_340wI’ve been looking into The Lazy DM (Lazy DM download), and there are some very good tips, but aren’t fully applicable to the kind of campaign I’m currently running. The kind of depth that I’m looking for in the history of the world they slowly uncover simply can’t be extrapolated from a few notes and improvisation (I can’t at least). It requires a bit more prep.

I did one thing in session 19 that I think warrants a pat on the DM-back, and that is letting go of prepared stuff, in favor of moving the plot forward.

When the PCs finished with the mine and returned to the settlement to rest, they discussed what to do next. I had already cut out the attack on the goblin tribe nearby by having the other adventuring party deal with that threat. That also reinforced the meta-theme of colonizing a new land and dealing with the natives. It is brutal, and interesting, how easy the dilemma of wanting to build something in a new land, but faced with enemies and diverging interest, leads to morally questionable choices. In any case, I had mapped the goblin lair and made a few rooms, but they were already too high level, and I would rather follow other, and more important, plot threads.

I also clearly said that the Kuo Toas could be dealt with by others as that adventure also wouldn’t push the plot(s) forward.

But back to the recaps.

Session 19:

The group explored the umber hulk lair and the tunnel from there that lead down to a natural cave, where the ancient miners had begun digging. From that cave they found the first shaft, which they entered the complex through.

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The dragon simulacra had less dangerous breath weapons and only AC 17. 

Finally, they went down to the automaton storage via the unexplored elevator. The automatons didn’t attack, and the room led to the vault. The vault was protected by a security system, including an automatic portcullis, a very intelligent magic mouth that shot frost rays from its eyes and two dragon simulacra of metal that attacked when they tried to pick the lock to the vault.

They succeeded in dispelling the worst of the trap and rapidly killed the simulacra (the damage output, when the party is lucky, is insane). Inside the vault they found their first platemail, a few magic items, including an axe made by giants, and a lot of knowledge. This included letters between two elven sisters and a story about a curse put on an elven family by giants.

Having cleared the mine, they returned to the settlement and spent a month and a half of down time. In that time, they returned to the mine with a few dwarves from the settlement and made an anvil in the mine, so they could setup their own smithy and the druid awakened a couple of beasts to help protect the settlement.

Session 20:

Of the four most interesting options: going after the remaining hags through the portal, visiting the Colourless Bridge, exploring the ruined city and exploring Fort 25, they chose the first.

Before they left, someone scried on the party, and Welk, the wizard with a weird item, knew that to be the case (for some reason).

After the harvest, they returned to the lair of Kinsira, but went a different route, and found a devil trapped in an old building with magic. They decided it would keep until they returned.

When they approached the huge tree stump, they noticed webs in the area that would warn anyone inside of their approach.

Inside the tree, there were apparently giant spiders, and something spoke to them in draconic, demand that they leave. They tried to intimidate it into submitting, but they were unaware that the creature behind the voice had been paid by the two remaining hags for protecting the area.

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I liked the idea of having a quite mercenary young dragon, who ran into more dangerous adversaries. 

The spiders eventually attacked together with some ettercaps. At the worst possible moment, for the group, the young green dragon attacked, and its breath weapon drained a lot of hit points from the team (42 to be exact). Unfortunately for them, I rolled a 6 on recharge next round, and gave them another breath, but couldn’t cover them all, and it could have ended in a TPK, but the characters still standing responded with a wall of thorns and a fireball, and when the dragon failed to fell the mighty half-orc fighter the following round, it submitted to the stronger adversary.

Back on their feet, they questioned the dragon and learned a couple of things, including the facts that the eldest of the hags lives in a swamp to the south and the middle sister lives in a crystal forest to the north, and that they are called the Sisters of Sorrow. The group argued about whether to make a deal with this evil dragon about staying there as their ally, but they ended up banishing it, and hoping it will stick to their deal.

Finally, they passed the portal into the Warrens. Inside they found a tortured elf and was almost immediately attacked by animal spirits of beast that Kinsira had conducted her experiments on.

Roll initiative! 

Session 18: The Battle against Ku’ud

In the previous session, the characters burst in on the sentient automaton Ku’ud, and we began the new session, before they made a decision on whether to follow his order and show him the way out, which might disrupt the power balance in the region, or fight him.

Ku’ud was obviously dangerous, and I thought I had made a suitable challenge for a large level 5 party. As we had a couple of people who couldn’t attend, and I was worried that they might feel pressured to go with the ‘show him the way out option’, I gave them the option to run the session as a flash back, and let them go through the unexplored part of the dungeon, and before they left, flash forward to this important decision. They opted to stick with the moment.

The group talked more with Ku’ud, who was walking towards the exit, and trying to make up their minds on what to do, when Welk, the wizard of the group, began casting an identify spell to see if he could learn more. Ku’ud demanded that he stopped, but also got curious, because he knew magic. He ordered the wizard to tell him what he knew, and dragged him back to the throne, where he began questioning him.

Ultimately, Jarn, spoke with his advisor, the warlock Abbott, and made a decision. He asked about his understanding of ethics and demanded that he made a promise to learn of morale and ethics, before he could show him the way out. Ku’ud responded that nothing could compromise his decision making, which made Jarn attack.

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The damage spike of the paladin smite ability can surprise me, but in this encounter they would have been hard pressed without it… And I’m very happy that in 5 ed. the Detect ‘Evil’ has been change into detecting celestials and devils and such. 

After a short battle, they defeated Ku’ud. Single boss encounters are hard to make. I had given him a couple of henchmen, but for verisimilitude and to ease just a little bit, I let the two fighters deal with them, as their player’s weren’t present, but had been there when they entered the room. They piled on Ku’ud, and Jarn unleashed his new found Smite ability. The wizard cast a ray of enfeeblement and managed to roll so well, that I couldn’t even use Ku’uds shield spell to ward it off. In the heat of battle, I forgot his advantage on saves (magic resistance), and wasted a round casting dispel magic (which the wizard countered), and in round 4 it was over. Jarn, as their only fighter-type, was down to 2 hp in round 1, and it could easily have tipped with a lucky roll or two.

 

It turned out, that Ku’ud was semi-biological and crafted with high order magic, and very advanced. They found a bit of loot and a spell book.

umberhulk10
This Umber Hulk looks dangerous! Awesome art by Andreas Håndlykken. Better than the MM. 

After this epic battle, they went back to the middle of the mine and found an ancient shrine to the elven god of craftsmen. Inside the shrine they were attack by two Umber Hulks, and came close to a TPK. They were only four characters left, but still two CR 5 opponents were more dangerous than one CR 10 – mainly due to the incapacitating glare with a DC 15 Charisma save.

Next time, I’m confident that they will find the exit from the mine and return to the forest and begin exploring again.

I will upload the stats on Ku’ud on the blog later.

 

Session 17: The sentient automaton

Last session the group found the magic machine that once powered the large iron mine they are exploring (and are caught in, due to a collapsing tunnel).

We began the session by rolling initiative. The magic machine is huge. Like the engine on one of the newest massive container ships. That means multiple levels of machinery, levers, crystal dials and buttons. And it was guarded by six automatons. Three medium sized ones that also could use an arm as a flame thrower, and three small spider-like automatons (similar to one of the types you can encounter in Skyrim).

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Drone from Skyrim

The small drones were able to conjure a defensive shield (as the shield spell), which made them hard to hit. We only had four players at the very beginning, but luck was on the side of the players, so they managed the battle, without anyone going down.

I think it was a fun and well balanced encounter, with both ranged and melee attacks and saves being made to avoid the flame throwers. I’ve become a fan of abilities with re-charge, because you can add quite powerful abilities, that the players are scared of, and the randomness of the recharge keeps them guessing if the monsters can use them or not.

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This is the kind of size of the machine I had in mind. 

After vanquishing the automatons they found a second elevator down and the mine path continued to what could be an exit. The group decided to try and power up the machine, and after four days of work, they succeeded (it was a DC 20 Arcana check per day). I rolled random encounters for 8 hours per day, and they got one that I waived, because it was easy, but the half-orc Arak and their range/paladin leader Jarn, ran into a Black Pudding, and Jarn’s splint mail was basically destroyed.

Players may hate that situation, but I think it adds a fun tactical dimension, and force the players to change the way the play for a while. For example, Jarn’s ability to tank monsters is significantly reduced, until he finds a new armor. It also makes a CR 4 encounter fearsome, without endangering their lives (Jarn was at 2 hp at the end, but they would have won…)

After powering up the machine, which was by systematic trial and error. They could activate the elevators. They scouted the one by the machine with the Warlock’s clairvoyance ability, and saw a large room below with many, mostly empty, storage pods for automatons, and then moved on to the one hidden inside the foundry (see previous session).  

Beneath the foundry they found a storage room for magical ingredients and a few spell scrolls. It also had a door and behind it another elevator. As they couldn’t see anything at the end of the elevator, except a tunnel, they decide to take the elevator down. Half-way they are asked for a password, and as they fail to comply, an air elemental is summoned into the confined space, and it attacks.

The air elemental can use its Whirlwind attack to throw people within its 10×10 foot space around, with damage dealt to characters hit by another character. It was not quite as dangerous as I had hoped, but with more failed saving throws, or a full party, it could have been a real mess!

At the foot of the elevator, there is a tunnel which has been collapsed on purpose. The druid figures out that he can shape shift into a giant badger and burrow a way through. Inside they find a couple of large rooms, with a 9-foot-tall automaton (golem basically) with crystal eyes and a slim elven-like rune covered metal body. The floor and walls of the room are all inscribed with text, and there are signs of a workshop. The automaton speaks to them, and tries to figure out who they are, and demands to be escorted outside, when it learns that they are able to go out.

The automaton is clearly sentient, but also not quite right in the head. It speaks to itself and has created a couple of naïve automatons itself. It also has valuable information. It tells them that the mine belonged to the Sestial family, that the Bones of Sarakhon are the enemy and that it intends to fight them. It has no sense of time, and appears to be quite bossy.

We end the session here, with three (I think) characters advancing to 6th level. The final meeting with the golem was great, because they can’t figure out what to do. Is the automaton dangerous to their settlement and future in this new land? Will it become a major threat? Or will it simply create confusion and damage their enemies? They can tell it knows things that they find valuable, but how much can they get out of it? And if they decide it is too dangerous to let out, can they actually defeat it, because it looks pretty tough? All are interesting questions. They also speculate a lot about, why it is there? Was it imprisoned and why was the mine abandoned? Does the automaton have anything to do with it? 

Next time, they will have to resolve what to do with the automaton, and perhaps explore the last of the mine. I at least except it to be the final session inside the mine. Then we can get back to exploring the great forest above, and perhaps beyond…