I’m running all seven Wilderland Adventures for Adventures in Middle-Earth with my group of 7 players and writing about the experience. You can also read reviews of other AiME products on this blog (and other D&D stuff). These adventure blog-posts are part review and part suggestions for Loremasters on how to run or adjust the adventure, based on my experience of running it. And to provide context for those two things, I will also describe what happened during our play-through of the adventure. Art is copyright Cubicle 7 and pulled from their material.
It took us four sessions of mostly great gaming to finish the sixth adventure in the Wilderland Adventures-series, so this is obviously a fairly long read. It is also the adventure with the longest page count in the book, with 25 versus mostly below 20 pages.
The adventure begins during the Gathering of the Five armies to celebrate the victory over the goblins following the death of Smaug. During the celebration all the soldiers of Dale, as well as many visiting dwarves, are poisoned which leaves the realm defenseless when the Gibbet King attacks with his army. The heroes have to rush off to defend the Crossing of the Celduin river, to buy enough time for King Bard to gather enough forces to stop the orcs. The longer the heroes can defend the small village next to the only bridge over Celduin, the less costly the victory over the orcs will be.
So far, it is probably adventure we’ve had the most fun with overall, but I did spend a little more time adjusting it. I also spent more time preparing props and minis and I made some terrain. It all factored in to make for some very memorable game sessions.
The mood is great, there are many opportunities for fun role-playing, the heroes can really build their legend, and it fits well with the heroes moving from Tier 1 to Tier 2, going from local to regional heroes. The final battle is difficult and epic – if adapted to fit your player’s characters and play style.
Mechanically, it works really well that there are no long rests available, until before the final encounter. However, I needed to do quite a bit of modification to make the last part of the adventure fit a more tactical game. The conversion from the One Ring RPG seems to fall short of actually adjusting the adventure to a D&D-reality.
The middle part of the adventure has a few problems, I think in large part because it presents itself to the players – at that point – as an investigation and intrigue adventure, but it is really not. The poisoning is just a plot point to force the characters to the main part of the story – defending the crossing of the Celduin.
How it played out
As mentioned, it took us four whole sessions of about 3½ hours to play the adventure with 5-7 players. We spent the entire first session just arriving in Dale, role-playing andd meeting NPCs and with the archery contest. The second took us through the middle part, and the third and fourth sessions were tactical combat in Celduin, with the final encounter taking up the entire last session.
Session 1: Baldor’s trouble and the Masked Ball
To have a real hook or two, I added two things (see the links to handouts below):
- Baldor (from the first adventure) invited them to stay during the celebration, and he also had a personal favour to ask. Letter from Baldor
- The hobbit emissary of the group was asked by the Mayor of Mikkel’s Delving to represent the Hobbits, as they didn’t know where Bilbo was, as they felt it was unseemly that the big folk should have that party without any hobbits being present. Letter to the Hobbit Emissary
The player’s seemed to really like those hooks and went readily to Dale. They arrived at Baldor’s new home. He had regained much of his wealth, but it wasn’t a happy house, and Belgo was in trouble and had started skulking from his tutor, stealing little things with his friends who were bad company. They waited up for him and he came home drunk (even though he was 12 years old). We had some great roleplaying with their ‘talk’ with him and the outcome was that he became a squire to the Dunedaín.
The two hobbits, one of them the emissary, went to Bard’s court and talked their way into being introduced to the court, where they met Bombur and others. Very evocative of the setting, and it used the backgrounds to good effect.
The next day I introduced all the suggested games and contests outlined in the adventure, and we had fun doing riddles, the dwarf Warden won the song contest, and rolled ridiculously at the party in the evening, so that really established him as a person of renown.
For the evening’s celebration I pulled in some additional characters to avoid having only NPC’s important to the plot at hand detailed (see link below). Also, I have many players, and each one needed someone they could engage with. I’m not running the Mirkwood Campaign after this, but I used a couple of characters from there, and they would work well for foreshadowing, if I did.
Read my notes for the Masked Ball and Baldor’s Request here: Notes for Crossing of Celduin
One of the hobbits spoke with Gandalf, so I had him invite them directly to his quarters instead of sending a note (which I also had prepared as a handout with the G rune).
The Dunedaín used his Foresight of their Kindred ability to see that there was something about a bridge and a storm in their future, and Lockman was a foreboding character (unfortunately, he kind of forgot that for the next session).
The following morning the contests began, and as I have a ranged-heavy group, most of them participated in the archery contest. The Dunedaín won with an incredible roll. He reached 35 on his to hit check. That obviously gained him much renown as well.
Session 2: Contests and the Feast
The contest continued. The dwarf slayer won the wrestling contest (spending one rage) and lost in the finale in the riding contest. He also won much renown and was a favourite among the dwarves.
In the grand melee, the dwarf slayer participated with the woodman wanderer of the group, but no one else wished to participate. They made it through the two initial rounds and then it was a grudge match against the mighty Gerold the Beorning, whom the dwarf had defeated in the wrestling match.
We roll initiative every round in combat, and for this duel style combat that is especially important to add drama and avoid a slug fest. The dwarf slayer won initiative the first round and opened up with a reckless attack. To the player’s horror, Gerold followed up with three attacks and won the initiative the following round, which meant he had six attacks on the dwarf with advantage. Despite alone against two characters, Gerold manages to knock out the dwarf, but is beaten by the wanderer, who goes on to the finale to fight Elstan, first captain of Dale. They have an epic sword fight, but the player loses. Which I narrated as the best outcome, according to the crowd. The people of Dale saw a great fight, but their hero won at the end, so ultimately the Woodman also gained much renown for his effort against their great captain.
For the feast I had a large part of the group at the place of honour, which was great, as it puts them up front at the center of the action. The players of course began suspecting something was off, and the slayer tried to kind of intervene, but I just plowed on with “Lockman”, as that felt appropriate, because the jester would try and play his part and avoid being distracted by ‘the audience’. But I’m also railroading a bit, because I know that the poisoning needs to happen. I did not mention that the ale had an aftertaste, as suggested in the adventure, because my players would immediately catch that as ‘plot-slang’ for poison, and cancel the whole feast.
What has to happen happens, and everyone gets poisoned, and then the characters start looking for the responsible, they have the gates closed and ring the alarm bells, as they fear an imminent attack. They question the guards and hear about the group leaving with a chest, but they are long gone. They go to Lockman’s house etc.
So, this is where the adventure – I think – has the appearance of a classic investigation adventure. But it isn’t, and I think my players were confused, and probably feeling a bit useless, until I moved them on to the next thing.
We move quickly on to the consequences, and, as the dwarf Warden has the Ravens of the Mountain virtue, the raven comes to him with the message of the advancing army.
They go to meet King Bard the next morning, and as they did so well in the contests, and with an emissary among them, it seemed very fitting that he would look to them as heroes, and they didn’t need any prodding to help with a plan.
We then play the journey to Celduin. I forgot to put in Lockman as an option to pursue, but I actually think it is for the best (because I will use him in the final adventure). I added four goblin archers to the Raiders encounter for my five characters, and they easily defeated them in an ambush.
As seen before, the DC of perception tests are so low that the characters have no chance of failure. Of course, the designated Lookout has at least +0 to his perception, so there is zero chance the orcs will catch them by surprise…
They then reach Celduin, and has to treat with Erik, the town Master, which was great fun. They really didn’t like that guy. And we ended with them preparing for battle.
Session 3: The Battle Begins
This session took us through part 7 of the adventure and the beginning of part 8. We run a tactical game, and I had wolf rider minis ready. The players made a plan, where two characters would hide on the far side of the bridge, to cut off the retreat of the outriders.
This sort of worked. One of the characters one the other side was the Slayer, who was now really feeling the fact that he had spent two rages and most of his Hit Dice recovering from the Grand Melee and the encounter with the orcs in the previous session (which was great!).
The outriders attack (I skipped the orc chief coming to threaten them to surrender, as my players open fire at maximum range), and they had a very tough fight, as they hadn’t planned for the wolf riders being able to jump into the river and get past the tower (taking some damage in the process from the submerged spikes, placed there by the characters).
I did add three goblin archers on wolves who stopped on the far side of the bridge, and an extra regular orc warrior on wolf to the encounter. But because I hadn’t expected the players to fight on both sides of the bridge, the extra wolves added quite a bit of difficulty to the encounter.
Ultimately, the players won a very hard-fought battle, and because none of the orcs or wolves escaped on the west side of the bridge, I allowed them to replenish the Preparation Dice they had spent.
Then the troll came, and with his movement they peppered him with arrows. He got to the gate and started smashing it. I rolled quite poorly, and they killed the troll when the portcullis had 4 hp left. With just a little luck, it doesn’t need many blows to crush the gate.
In the aftermath, the Warden sends his own raven out to look for the army, and we have a cool scene where it is the dwarf’s own raven that gets shot and speaks its last words to its master.
Finally, the Gibbet King speaks trough the dead warrior at the inn, but sadly few characters gain shadow points.
Session 4: The Final Battle
The final battle against 75 orcs and the Gibbet King took up the entire session. If you don’t run the encounter with minis you can probably shave some time off.
First, I should say, my six players managed to kill 40 orcs by the time they threw the Gibbet King into the river. And several of them had plenty of hit points left, I think. With the tower as a choke point, I think there is a chance they could have pulled off killing all 75. There are more on the far side of course, but that should still give the army pause…
Basically, I sent down dozens of orcs, who started climbing the tower using grappling hooks and just by climbing and who were shooting from across the bridge. I ruled that using a grappling hook it took two rounds to get to the top of the tower, but that it took three without them, as per the first encounter.
My group is fairly good at ranged attacks, and they stacked up a lot of kills in the about 5-6 rounds before I introduced the Gibbet King. They cut the ropes of the grappling hooks, and were ready to smite orcs that climbed independently.
The Gibbet King moved down to the gate, used his dread spells to first crush the portcullis and then to breach the repaired gate (that took two rounds, I ruled).
The hobbit emissary deployed his expensive fireworks, which blinded the archers behind them, and prevented more reinforcements from moving up for a couple of rounds.
Then the orcs streamed through the gate, but the dwarf slayer, and some of the other characters, plugged the hole, and could have held that for some time, while I brought up reinforcements.
In hindsight, if I had deployed more orc guards in the beginning, the orc killing would have been harder.
As all the characters I targeted with the Dread Spells had zero Shadow Points, the results were underwhelming (see my notes on changes below).
They shot some arrows at the Gibbet King, and could see they did damage, but ultimately, the Gondorian scholar began heroically to make his way to the King’s cart, and the Dunedaín followed (with a natural 20 athletics roll).
Together, and with a Gift Dice, they pushed the gibbet into the river, and the battle was over, with King Bard arriving to mop up.
Weirdly, they talked about preparing fire arrows before the battle, but never thought of using them against the Gibbet King.
How was the adventure?
We had a ton of fun playing the adventure. There are many great role-playing moments in the adventure, and there are opportunities for many characters to shine. It avoids having outside forces saving the characters, and there is a variety of final outcomes, depending on how well the player’s fare in the final battle, which I really like.
It is a perfect opportunity for the characters to move from being local heroes to gain renown as ‘tier two heroes’ (as per the Player’s Handbook pg 15), and show off their skills. My player’s enjoyed that a lot, it looked like.
I have previously, due to time constraints, not spent enough time tying the characters and their backstories into the adventures and the world, but when I did that effort for this adventure, it really paid off.
This is not an investigation…
As I mentioned, the middle part suffers from being a plot device to ensure that the characters are the only ones who can go to Celduin and defend the bridge. Effectively, the characters are powerless to stop Lockman from succeeding in his plot, and they have little to do – which has any effect on the story – in the aftermath.
It looks like that the possibility of discovering the plot only serves for them to capture Lockman, but that has no effect on the story either , and he dies in his cell in the next adventure, which means it is basically a waste of time for the players.
I think it is quite poor design, but I recognize that it is hard to avoid, if you need the characters to go alone to Celduin and be heroes… I felt like I rushed through that part, in part because I knew it wasn’t the focus of the adventure, and I think my players felt that. On the other hand, you want to avoid getting bogged down in ‘investigation’ if there isn’t any point to it, as that I think would frustrate them more.
The final three encounters are fun and dramatic. It can clearly develop in different ways, depending on fx whether the troll knocks down the gate.
It does shine through that the adventure was converted from a system that isn’t tactical. It is something that can be fixed, but I need to know things like, how many rounds of movement does it take for the orcs or the troll to get to the gate? And one of the Gibbet King’s abilities doesn’t even have a range to it.
To make it work tactically, and to get the right balance in the encounters, I did many small changes that I describe below.
All in all, 80% of the adventure is some of the most fun we’ve had with Wilderland Adventures.
What did I change:
I changed a lot of small things, particularly on the mechanical side. It is important to keep in mind that I had 5 and 6 players – respectively – for the last two sessions, so I had to increase the difficulty of the encounters.
- As described in the overview of the adventure, I reintroduced Baldor and Belgo to get the group to Dale.
- I added guests to the Masked Ball to avoid having only plot relevant NPCs there.
- Lockman’s guards need some stats. I gave them 22 hp, AC 14, +4 on attack rolls and 1d8+2 in damage – but didn’t use them.
- My players sent the villagers away for safety. Remember that some villagers need to stay behind, for example young women to treat the wounded, for some of the scenes to work.
An important change – that I didn’t ultimately need – was what the orcs would do, if the group manages to destroy the bridge. According to the adventure, the army will create a ford further up the river.
There is a number of problems with that:
- First of all, that would take at least a day, thus pushing the timeline, but the characters only get two extra preparation dice.
- Secondly, if they could actually do that, the tactically best move for an advancing army is to do that in the first place, instead of trying to take a river crossing held by the enemy.
- Thirdly, if they actually cross there and arrive behind the characters, the characters are in a much, much weaker position, as the whole reason why they can hold against the army for a while. It would be a winning move, and the characters would basically be doomed.
- The orc army wouldn’t even need to bother with Celduin, if they could cross elsewhere, but go north to fight the enemy army, invalidating the character’s presence.
The solution for me is that the orcs can’t cross anywhere else, but they can try to bridge the span with wooden logs or planks. There would in effect be a new encounter where the orcs and trolls try to repair the bridge, while being protected by archers and orcs with big shields.
- I had the original map printed, but I didn’t like it for tactical movement on a grid, and it doesn’t match with the description of the bridge in the adventure. I therefore made my own. The bridge is described as being able to have two riders being able to cross at the same time. The original map has the bridge as 10 feet wide. That only leaves room for one horse. I therefore made the bridge 20 feet wide, also to avoid orcs getting completely bottle-necked.
- I ruled that the enemy could move up to 300 feet from the gate, before being out in the open.
The Warg Riders:
- My players placed wooden stakes in the river and on the river bank, which, on top of the preparation dice, damaged warg riders that jumped into the river to get around the tower.
- I added three additional goblin archers on wolves that stopped on the far side of the bridge to provide covering fire for their allies, as it seemed like a logical choice, as too many warg riders would crowd the bridge.
- Because the troll must move for several combat rounds over open terrain, under fire, I gave it resistance against non-magical weapons.
- The trolls ability to regain 3D6 hit points as an action is completely pointless if it takes more than 3D6 damage in a combat round, so I made that into a bonus action.
- I added an actual gate with hit points, when the players decided to fix it before the battle. It would be weird, I think, if it only gave them a preparation dice.
The Gibbet King
- I introduced the King after maybe six combat rounds. That was simply based on my sense of the battle, and when it was appropriate for him to arrive.
- I gave the King speed 40. You could go down to 30, if that pacing is better for you.
- The horses pulling the cart were undead, as that fit the mini I used, but you could also have orcs push it. With live horses, I think my players would have killed the horses, which would complicate things immensely for the Gibbet King…
- The Gibbet King, has to – in a tactical game – drive all the way down to the gate. If the group has two good ranged focused characters, they can do quite a bit of damage over the rounds it takes him to get there. With just fair rolls, a Wanderer with Foe of the Enemy could without problem deal 10 points of actual damage per round. That could take The Gibbet King below half hit points, before he even reaches the gate.
- I added 50% hit points, as there were six characters in the battle, and not the standard four.
- According to the adventure, he makes the iron wheels of the portcullis move, but my players had already disabled the mechanism, so he naturally ripped open the portcullis, and after that the gate. That is also more dramatic, in my view.
- Dreadful Spells:
- The spell has no range. I gave it 100 ft.
- As he needed to open two gates, and attack the characters, I didn’t adhere strictly to the recharge.
- None of the characters I targeted had any shadow points. That makes it fairly disappointing. Consider adding a small amount of force damage, or necrotic damage, as an additional effect, For example 2d4 or 2d6.
- Visions of Torment: again, my players had none or 1-3 shadow points. I increased the damage to 2d4.