The Most Skilled Man in the (D&D) World

There are a lot of discussions out there about character optimization, but I got curious about how much I could optimize a character based on skills.  Most normal builds get a pretty limited selection of skills, so you have to go to some weird lengths to really get a big array of skills.

 

Here are all of the possible sources of skill/tool proficiencies that I’ve been able to find:

Races

Dwarf – Choice of Smith’s Tools, Brewer’s Supplies, or Mason’s Tools.

Elf (High) – Perception.

Human (Variant) – One skill of your choice. One feat of your choice (see below).

Gnome (Rock) – Expertise in some History checks.

Half-Elf – Two skills of your choice.

Half-Orc – Intimidation.

 

Classes

Barbarian – Two from Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival.

Bard (Lore) – Any three skills, any three musical instruments.  College of Lore (any 3 skills) at Level 3.  Expertise at levels 3 and 10.

Cleric (Knowledge) – Two from History, Insight, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion.  Two languages of your choice.  Two from Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion (with expertise).

Druid – Herbalism Kit.  Two from Arcana, Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Religion, and Survival.

Fighter – Two from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival. Champion gets Remarkable Athlete and 7.  Battle Master gets Student of War at 3.

Monk – Two from Acrobatics, Athletics, History, Insight, Religion, and Stealth.  One artisan’s tools or musical instrument.

Paladin – Two from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, MEdicine, Persuasion, and Religion.

Ranger – Three from Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.

Rogue (Assassin)– Four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, Stealth.  Thieves Tools.  Expertise at 1st and 6th levels.  Poisoner’s kit and disguise kit at 3rd level.

Sorcerer – Two from Arcana, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Religion.

Warlock – Two from Arcana, Deception, History, Intimidation, Investigation, Nature, and Religion.

Wizard – Two from Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion.

 

Multiclassing

Most classes don’t grant you additional skill/tool proficiencies when you multiclass into them.  These are the few that do.

Bard – One skill of your choice.  One musical instrument of your choice.

Ranger – One skill from the class’s skill list.

Rogue – One skill from the class’s skill list.  Thieves tools.

Cleric (Knowledge) – You don’t get any skills for multiclassing into Cleric, but if you choose the Knowledge domain you still get your choice of two from Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion (with expertise) as a domain feature.

 

Backgrounds

All the backgrounds are designed to give you a combination of four languages, tool proficiencies, and skill proficiencies.  Backgrounds with no languages will provide more skill proficiencies.

Acolyte – Two languages.  Insight, Religion.

Charlatan – Deception, Slight of Hand.  Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit.

Criminal – Deception, Stealth.  One gaming set, thieves tools.

Entertainer – Acrobatics, Performance.  Disguise Kit, one musical instrument.

Folk Hero – Animal Handling, Survival.  One artisan’s tools, Vehicles (Land).

Guild Artisan – Insight, Persuasion.  One artisan’s tools.  One language.

Hermit – Medicine, Religion.  Herbalism Kit.  One language.

Noble – History, Persuasion.  One type of gaming set.  One language.

Outlander – Athletics, Survival.  One musical instrument.  One language.

Sage – Arcana, History.  Two languages.

Sailor – Athletics, Perception.  Navigator’s tools, Vehicles (water).

Soldier – Athletics, Intimidation.  One type of gaming set, Vehicles (land).

Urchin – Sleight of Hand, Stealth.  Disguise Kit, Thieves’ Tools.

 

Feats

Many feats give you circumstantial bonuses to certain skill checks, but only one gives you flat-out proficiency in additional skills.

Skilled – Three skills or tools of your choice.

 

 

Given all of those options, this is the best skill-master that I’ve been able to come up with.  You could probably tweak the state placements and choice of expertise skills depending on your personal preferences, but I think that this is a good starting point for a highly skilled PC.

1st Level – Human (Variant) Rogue 1: Proficiency in 10 skills, Expertise in 2 skills, Proficiency in 3 tools

3rd Level – Human (Variant) Rogue 1, Bard 1, Cleric (Knowledge) 1: Proficiency in 14 skills, Expertise in 4 skills, Proficiency in 3 tools and 1 musical instrument.  Access to the Guidance cantrip.

5th Level – Human (Variant) Rogue 1, Bard 3, Cleric (Knowledge) 1: 16 skills, Expertise in 6 skills, Proficiency in 3 tools and 1 musical instrument.  Access to the Guidance cantrip.

Here’s an example of the “Most Skilled Man in the World” at Level 5.

Raider’s Camp – The Personal Journal of Pry Loreweaver

I continue to gather more and more information about the movement and plans of the dragon cult. While searching the countryside of Greenest I came across a group that fell behind from the primary force. I found a good place to hide and tried to observe the group. I was hoping to find out why Greenest was looted, what they needed with all the funds, and where they were headed next.

Much to my surprise a band of adventures showed up. They seemed to discuss their plans for quite a bit. They split up and took cover in the trees surrounding the straggler camp. I was a little concerned that their plan was to kill everyone. That really isn’t the best way to gather information. You should always try and leave a survivor. I was uncertain if their planned surprise attack would work, but I knew I would be in for a good show.

I was surprised to see most of the kobolds drift off to sleep. This was looking like one of my plans. Then the arrows started flying. The stragglers started dropping. A few started to head towards to adventures. I thought it best to help them out and killed a few myself. I remained in hiding to keep a watchful eye on the situation. I didn’t what to show myself just in case I needed to run away or attack the adventures if they were on their way to kill everyone. I wasn’t entirely sure that they were good or not.

Luckily the arrows stopped and one of the cultists surrendered. Beyond that they didn’t kill him were he stood. It turned out better than I thought. Then they started to question the cultist with demands, threats, and insults. Adventures and their demands. It never works and people just end up dead and nobody learned anything new. So, what the hell, let’s go meet some new people.

The adventures seemed quite alarmed when I came out of the trees and started talking to the cultist. The turned their questioning to me. I’m not the cultist here. The guy tied up is. It was really quite rude. They were asking who I was, why I was here, what I was doing in the woods, was I in the town, etc. None of it was relevant to the situation. Eyes on the prize people. After a brief bit of awkwardness we were all able to get back on task. For a little bit anyways. Eventually the questions turned back to me. They were easily distracted though and didn’t really need to know my secrets.

From the cultist we found out where the cultist camp was located and that an ambush waited on the way to the camp. The cultist showed good judgment in sharing his information and agreed to change his ways and not join a cult again. I was about to give him his weapons back and send him on his way when the rotund tavern smelling dwarf decided it would be best if the cultist was naked. I understand the cultist was not a good guy, but nobody should be left defenseless. Even if the cultist turned to his evil ways again my network would be sure to keep an eye on him. He already showed himself to freely give up information. Not a bad person to have as your enemy. You just capture him again, get all the new information, and send him back on his way.

After brief discussion I found out the adventurers were looking for their friend who was captured by the cultists. The name Leocin sounded familiar for some reason. I happen to be heading the same direction so we decided to work together. We started our journey towards the ambush. In hindsight who walks into an ambush?

To get past the ambush the adventures decided to disguise themselves as cultist and pretend the half-orc was their prisoner. Something about a fight, that turned out to be a disgraceful beating. If all didn’t go well I could have just pretend to be a cultist pretending to be an adventurer that was pretending to be a cultist. It didn’t come to that though. It actually worked out really well They laughed at the half-orc, we laughed at the half-orc, then they let us through. I kind of like these guys. Quick side note at this point. There is another adventure with us. I think he is a cleric. He could also be a less intelligent individual they found on the side of the road and dressed him as a cleric. I will definitely need to figure this out. So, we are walking on the path between the ambush and guy dressed as cleric says “He guys, look at all the traps!” He may look up to a box of rocks for inspiration, but he is perceptive. I will keep a close eye on this one. Maybe just to make sure he doesn’t get lost. Anyways…

We made it to the camp of the cult. Hundreds of cultists and kobolds roamed the camp all celebrating their recent plunder. Our disguises continued to hold up. We had a brief confrontation with a kobold. Get prepared to run like hell…and…the group intimidated the kobold and he backed away. That was close. We all continued towards the back of the camp. We started with the mercenaries. We joined them for some drinks and found out the prisoners were going to be executed. That put some urgency around our quest. With some digging we determined where the prisoners were being kept. So, speaking of digging, some of our group decided it would be a good idea to mouth off to the cultist in black robes. So off they went to dig latrines. I feel like this may be a trend. You know a little flattery can go a long ways. You don’t have to mean it.

Eventually we ended up back together. Some of us smelled better than others. Why do the latrine diggers look slightly vindicated? Note to self what type of person looks happy after digging poop trenches? Wait a second…Where did the guy in black robes go? Hmm, additional note to self. Anyways…

We found Leocin tied up behind the red robe camp. Now I know why I know that name. I need to find out what he learned. Now was not a good time to find out. It was becoming more and more critical to get out of here. We needed a plan to get everyone out safely. To our rescue, the rotund tavern smelling dwarf. One thing dwarfs are good at is drinking. Even better than that it is a drinking game. A few moments later the dwarf comes back with red robes to dress Leocin in and a passed out cultist to tie up in his place. This also goes very well. The pretty half-orc and I start carrying Leocin out of the camp. Oh, did I mention the orc thinks he is pretty. Yet another note to self. Pretty half-orc, funny.

As we head out I notice the rest of the group freeing the other prisoners. While the adventures are a little unpolished they have good hearts and seem to care about those that are in need. It is good I met them. As night falls the kobolds are beginning to wake. I venture off to the hunters portion of the camp to leave little surprise. Then we all charm our way past the kobolds. As the camp fades into the distance alarms start to sound, then the camp catches on fire…Surprise! We venture a ways south and camp in a cave a mile or so off the path back to Greenest. In the morning we head back to Greenest.

I am happy to have met this group of adventures and will gladly travel with them. Even though I typically go it alone. I guess that makes me an adventurer too. I wonder what secrets this group has come across. Note to self, gather information about the group of adventurers and write down names.

Off to chat with Leocin. We have some catching up to do.

Raider’s Camp – Emmerik’s Recollections

With Emmerik still reeling from his experience with death, the squad was summoned to meet with the Governor the very afternoon of the day when Dag (the half-orc) had dueled the half-dragon from the invading army.  The Governor asked that the squad follow the withdrawal of the army and scout to find any information as to the force’s motivation for the attack and what its next move may be and, secondarily, to recover any of the town’s wealth that had been looted.  The squad readily accepted the mission, especially after Dag learned that his friend – Leosin – was reportedly held as a captive of the Dragon Cult army.

Following the obvious trail that the withdrawing force had left the squad came upon a camp of stragglers, a mixed group of kobolds and cultists, with some division amongst their ranks.  Conferring quickly the squad sprung an ambush upon the camp – a mix of missile fire and a highly-effective sleeping spell from Caelum (who single-handedly struck down most of the kobolds).  One cultist survived and promptly surrendered, at which point a stranger appeared – a half-elf named Pry who spoke cryptically about information as he nonchalantly insinuated himself in the interrogation of the prisoner.

Based on the intelligence gathered from the cultist – who turned-out to be a low-ranking initiate – the squad, plus Pry, planned to use subterfuge to walk past the army’s rear guard (laying in ambush along the army’s route) and into the encampment of the Cult forces.  Dag played the role of prisoner during the encounter with the guards, and the squad, plus Pry, passed by without incident.  But time would be short in the camp, since the guards now knew that the half-orc who had lost to the half-dragon was captured and being brought to the camp as a prisoner.

When the squad reached the camp they found the Dragon Cult forces segregated – kobolds not intermixing with humans and demi-humans, the cult forces separated by color of robes, and their mercenary soldiers outside of either group.  Thus the squad, very organically, split to gain as much information as they could about the camp, the cult’s purpose and its next objective, and the location of the prisoners (chiefly Leosin).  Eventually the squad regrouped, after gaining much information, and they set forth to free Leosin from his bonds before his execution (which was to be the following day) and replaced him with a cultist who had celebrated himself into a stupor.

After freeing another two other prisoners, whom Caelum and Faurgar had met earlier in the camp, and disguising them as cultists, the squad made to leave the encampment.  Pry singlehandedly set off a diversion, lighting a few of the camp’s tents on fire, and the squad easily made off into the night during the ensuing chaos.

The squad took a quick break in a cave a few miles from the camp, giving Leosin and the prisoners time to recuperate enough to make the trek back to Greenest.  The remainder of the journey was uneventful, and the squad returned to the relative safety of the town.

Greenest in Flames – Emmerik’s Perspective

Emmerik thought it was a good plan – hold the chapel as a shelter for the civilians and defeat the cultists as they came in through the front door – but he knew that a plan was only good until the fighting started.

The battle started with a few skirmishes in the streets of Greenest, with Emmerik and his fellow traveling adventurers (although they quickly became “the squad” in Emmerik’s mind) finding civilians who needed to take shelter in the village’s keep.  Sticking to the cover and limited concealment of the buildings, as the squad and civilians advanced to the besieged keep, they struck at a few small pockets of attackers and made quick work of them.

The squad had a terse conference with the Governor of the keep and went to secure an exit from the keep’s basement so a sortie could be launched.  That was quick work, the rats’ nest not withstanding, and soon the Governor had given the next objective – rescue a large group of civilians who were holed-up in the Temple of Chauntea in the village’s east side.

The first moments of the engagement at the chapel went just according to plan. The squad had quickly dispatched the enemy who was attempting to enter through the rear entrance and accessed the interior due to some quick talking. As soon as the front doors were breached by the forces outside the pair of cultists there fell to a barrage of missiles and magic.  The kill zone they’d set up worked amazingly – funneling the kobolds straight to him where he held the choke point.  However the plan hadn’t accounted for the lead cultist turning tail and bringing reinforcements or, worse yet, the civilians panicking and the squad having to split itself in order to protect the scattered humans.

Even then the fight was close.   The kobold cannon fodder was easily felled but Emmerik and his magic-using companions could not seem to do more than scratch the cultists’ leader.  That leader, with a fanatical look in his eyes, unleashed a flurry of blows against Emmerik which soon brought Emmerik low.

Emmerik’s soul drifted and he looked down upon his body.  He noticed a strong light and people standing there, in the place where the living meet the dead. From behind him another soul flew past and joined the host in the light.  Then Emmerik felt a gentle pull, almost as if he was being shaken from a sleep, and Emmerik knew that his time to join that number in the afterlife.

Shaken by the ordeal Emmerik followed his companions the next few hours, although he was just above catatonic.  He saw the young wizard talk to the blue dragon.  He watched as the brash young half-orc dueled against the half-dragon warrior (thinking that it should have been him to face that foe).

“Chet” was the name of the soul, the one civilian who had died after fleeing the chapel.  It was an amazing thing – that only one of the villagers was lost, even after the plan fell apart.  Emmerik couldn’t help but wonder about Chet’s death and his life.  Why had the priest of Chauntea asked his god to let Emmerik return to the land of the living instead of Chet and why had the god agreed to such a bargain?  But Emmerik wouldn’t give-in to survivor’s grief; he’d been a soldier too long.  So he prayed for the soul of Chet alongside with the souls of all his departed companions, and he prayed for the lives of those still on earth.

Running a Level 0 Session in D&D 5E

Introduction

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is to run the first game of the campaign playing regular folks who by some turn of events are somehow thrust into the life of an adventurer.  There are a few benefits to running a Level 0 session.  First, it’s a great tool for fleshing out a character’s history in a way that will be memorable to the player down the road.  Secondly, it’s a good way to establish a long-term connection between your characters before your campaign even begins.  These people you’re fighting beside aren’t just strangers that you met in a tavern.  They’re your lifelong friends.  Finally, it sets a good tone regarding problem solving.  When you have a bunch of spells and attacks on your character sheet, it’s naturally tempting to go charging into every situation looking for a fight.  You have a hammer (sometimes literally) so therefore everything’s a nail.  By playing a Level 0 character initially, you’re hopefully forced to look for some alternative solutions to conflict.  (although some fighting will probably be inevitable)

The idea of a Level 0 game has been done before using many different systems by many different people, but it seems like an idea that’s particularly suitable to D&D 5th Edition.  With all of the focus on background and character traits along with the mechanics of bounded accuracy, we should have most of the tools that we need to run a productive Level 0 game session.

 

Character Creation

Your players probably may already a good idea of the character that they want to run once the regular campaign begins.  The idea here isn’t to force them into a choice that they wouldn’t make otherwise.  Give them the same level of background information about the campaign that they would normally have available to them (i.e. “A cult devoted to worshipping dragons is attempting to free Tiamat from the Nine Hells.  You must stop them.”) as players, have them decide on a general idea of their character concept.  You may want to discourage them from coming up with too many specifics about their final character so that they are open to being influenced by the events of your Level 0 session.

When it comes to creating characters, follow these guidelines:

  • Race: Depending on the demographics of your world, this could be simple or tricky. Do the good races all basically live together in harmony?  If so, then no special consideration is needed here.  If some or all races tend to live in isolation from one another, you’ll need to think about what has brought your likely multi-racial group together.  If there’s only one outlier, it’s easy enough to explain that they are from the only <whatever> family living in a town of primarily <whatevers>.  If your group is more diverse than that, you might want to center your adventure around a special event or place that could potentially bring different groups together.  It may not place in the hometown of any particular character, instead the group may all meet at a neutral location when they travel for a market, religious pilgrimage, etc.
  • Ability Scores: You could potentially use any of the standard methods for generating attributes. If your players are open to it, this might be a good opportunity to do some old-school rolling in order where you have little or no control over what number gets assigned to which ability score.  Remind your players that some of the best characters are defined as much by their flaws as by their strengths and that having abilities that seem “out of type” (fighter with high Charisma, a rogue with high Wisdom, etc.) can really help to create something unique and memorable.  Some players will be more open to this approach than others, so proceed at your own discretion.
  • Background: This will be the mechanical crux of your Level 0 character. Give them the skills and features associated with their background.  From a story perspective, some will be slightly easier to explain than others.  Noble, Urchin, and Outlander are all easy ones since those statuses are typically established at birth.  With others, you should assume that the character is still “in training” for their chosen background.  If they’re a soldier, they’re a recruit that is close to completing their training.  The same would go for an Acolyte.  Charlatans, Criminals, Entertainers, Guild Artisans, Sages, and Sailors could all be part of an “apprenticeship” period of their life as well.  Hermit is a bit more of a stretch, with two possible options being that the character was either raised by an isolationist family or that they literally grew up alone in the wilderness.  (i.e. “raised by wolves”)
  • Hit Points: These are individuals who are essentially fully grown but not exactly hardened adventurers. Give them one 6-sided hit die and 6 + <Constitution modifier> hit points.
  • Ideals, Bonds, Flaws: Select these as normal with some discretion. Anything referencing years of service or some dramatic event may need to be adjusted accordingly.  Consider allowing changes to these items after the Level 0 session is completed based on the outcome of the adventure.
  • Proficiencies:  +1 Proficiency bonus, skill and tool proficiencies per the character’s race and background, Simple weapons only.
  • Equipment: Per the character’s background. If you’re going to immediately dive into combat, give them some simple weapons as well.  (daggers, clubs, tools, etc.)  Otherwise, make those items available for them to find as needed.
  • Other abilities: Finally, give them a taste of what their Level 1 character might eventually be. Give them a choice between a +1 to hit on weapon attacks, proficiency in a single martial weapon, or a single cantrip. Any toned-down version of a Level 1 class ability would work here.  These people aren’t full fledged adventurers yet, but they clearly aren’t ordinary mooks either.  Give them something to set them aside from your average everyday non-adventurer.

 

The Adventure

Rather than trying to go directly from running Level 0 characters directly into a standard campaign, run the Level 0 game as a flashback that will feed into their established concept for their character.  This will be a look into the character’s past.  It should revolve around an influential event in each character’s life that introduced them to their adventuring companions and led them down the path to becoming an adventurer.  Set it during the equivalent of the teenage years for human characters unless someone specifically prefers a character that begins their adventuring career later in life.  Starting a Level 0 PC as a younger child may push the boundaries of realism or good taste, but consider allowing it if someone has a strong concept in mind.

The adventure itself should be something simple that can be resolved during the course of a single gaming session.  Try to incorporate aspects of each character’s background to highlight each character’s pre-adventuring life.  Use some combat to keep things exciting, but go easy.  As much as my inner killer DM rebels against this point, try not to make this a lethal session.  You’re going to great lengths here to set up a good back story for these characters.  That doesn’t have nearly as much impact if only three out of five of your characters survivor until the current timeline of the campaign.  Write in some “outs” for yourself, such as enemies that are more inclined to take prisoners than to kill.  If all else fails, plan a Deus Ex Machina to use in case things go badly.  If your fledgling adventurers fail in their task, perhaps they get rescued by a group of full-grown adult adventurers.  Something like that might have a big influence on a young person and lead them to take such a path for themselves someday.

If you have any long-term PC’s in mind for your campaign, now would be a good time to sow some seeds for future adventures.  Even if it’s only a brief meeting, you’ll be able to call back to that character far down the road and it’ll be more meaningful than simply informing a player that they happen to know this person that they just met.  Set up a grudge with a long-term enemy.  Establish who the party’s allies might be.  Give them items that they will consider significant later in their careers.

 

Conclusion

Ater your Level 0 adventure is complete, have each player consider what impact those events would have on their character’s eventual career.  Have each player explain briefly what their character ended up doing as a result and how they came to gather with the same group once again at the beginning of your campaign.  Some PCs may have decided to stay together and others may have chosen to walk their own paths as they underwent additional training.  Hopefully by now there is a bond formed among the group that will make starting your campaign that much easier and more satisfying for you as a DM.

Have any more suggestions for running a Level 0 campaign?  Please leave them in the comments!

Greenest in Flames – Caelum’s Journal

This journal is being kept for posterity and as collection of my thoughts from my journey to Greenest and beyond. It’s important to note that as I recall the details of my travels that certain aspects of these events were tragic but that does not make them any less fascinating. An opportunity to learn can give any cloud a silver lining (if you’ll forgive the cliché). This is not meant to make little of any suffering that people may have endured or to ignore the heavy cost some families may have faced during these events. At times it is just difficult to suppress my excitement when presented with an opportunity to appease my academic curiosities.

Over the course of our journey I had the opportunity to get to know a few of my companions. Emmerick seemed a noble dwarf, courageous and strong. Dag, son of Nabbit, had a demeanor could easily cause someone to mistake him as a simpleton, though I suspect it would be a painful mistake. Faugar seemed to barely have control of an emerging power inside him. Then there was Starag. I had met Starag before and knew he would turn out to be a particularly, a peculiar companion. One thing was certain from the group’s countenance, we seemed to carry with us a weight, a burden if you will. Because of this we were all determined to reach Greenest.

Our desire to arrive was met with a fantastical but tragic sight. A blue dragon, a big one at that, was soaring over the town. It was splendid to see such a creature in real life. Terrifying but splendid. There was a brief discussion of what should be done. Ultimately our merry band decided we had to try and help the folk of Greenest to the best of our ability. The caravan we were travelling with stayed back and we approached the town on foot.

As we were approaching we got a better view of the town and the level of destruction this raid was causing. Dragon cultists, kobolds and mercenaries were on the ground looting, burning and killing all over town. The dragon had caused a great deal of destruction and terror as well but it looked like the bulk of the true destruction was manmade. Well man and Kobold. We saw that there was a keep on a small hill and most of the towns resistance was gathered there. The decision was made to work our way towards the keep. Along the way we met a bit of resistance. At one point we encountered a woman defending her family with a broken spear. She was bravely facing off against several Kobolds and what can only be described as a drake dog. I’m sure that there is a proper name for them but in my excitement at seeing one I seem to have lost it. The thing was incredible. Huge teeth filled it’s powerful jaws. His claws… Oh yeah, so we helped the woman fight off the vile creatures and escorted her family to the keep.

Upon arriving at the keep we spoke with the Governor. He was a crass fellow who seemed grateful for our help in his own way. He made a request that our band secure a secret tunnel that lead out of the keep and into the city. Some of us seemed more eager to help than others but all of us understood the need to lend a hand and so we made our way into the tunnel. The only danger in the tunnel was a nest of vermin that probably took up residence due to the lack of use. Starag returned to the governor while the rest of us guarded the tunnel.

When Starag came back he indicated that there were two spots in town that could use our help. There were kobolds who appeared to be starting a fire at the mill and there was a group of townsfolk held up in a temple. We decided that grain could be replaced but people could not so we made our way to the temple. There was an odd little parade of cultists and kobolds marching near the temple and groups working on trying to force the front and back doors open. We assessed the situation and decided that the group in the back would be more vulnerable to a quick strike. Dag signaled the attack and we all struck. I must say that my companions were able to bring forth a fiercely efficient attack and seconds after the first arrow was fired four kobolds and two cultists were dead.

We convinced the townsfolk to let us into the temple and then explained the situation to them. We had also decided we wanted to attempt to capture the cultist from the group in front of the temple. So we prepared an attack for when they broke through the doors. Emmerick, who needs an honorific in my opinion, braced himself in the middle of a choke point. He prepared to meet the onslaught of kobolds and cultists while we all took up positions to await the breaking of the doors. When the doors came down Dag, Starag and Faugar dropped the two lower ranked cultists in a blink of an eye. Kobolds rushed into the room and engaged Emmerick the bold…nah that’s not it. Anyway, in the heat of battle it is often hard to remember who did what. I can tell you that several of townsfolk panicked and bolted through the back door. The lead cultist also ran. We quickly finished off the kobolds. Dag and Starag chased out the back door after the townsfolk. The rest of us pursued the lead cultist.

We caught up to the lead cultist just outside the temple and to our dismay he had already alerted the parading cultists to our presence. We were rushed by cultists, drake dogs and kobolds. A group split off to chase the townsfolk and were met by Starag and Dag. I was unable to see their combat but I know my companions were victorious. For our part Emmerick the Stalwart, yeah I like that…stalwart, charged forward to protect Faugar and me from the initial kobold attack.

Unfortunately the kobolds were able to drop Faugar with ranged attacks. I pulled him to cover and then to my surprise the priest emerged from the temple and healed him. The joy of having him return to the battle was short lived because just as we were beginning to thin the ranks of the kobolds the cultist leader slew Emmerick. There was a moment that I believed all was lost. Then the priest emerged from the temple, picked up Emmerick’s warhammer and struck the cultist down. To be honest I am certain that without the priest’s help, both healing and the final blow against the cultist, I am not sure that we would have survived.

Dag carried Emmerick’s body and we returned to the keep with the townsfolk and the captured cultist. At the keep we encountered the dragon. The beast was magnificent. He circle the keep and breathed lightning down upon us. It was the most exciting and terrifying moment of my life. Then…I spoke to it! And it spoke back! I won’t go into great details about the conversation but the gist of it was that the dragon felt what it was doing was beneath him and after our conversation he seemed even more disinterested in his task. Faugar and Starag interrogated our prisoner and found out that they were there to accumulate wealth to add to the dragon queen’s horde. Oh! I almost forgot. The priest used a scroll that had been stored at the temple to resurrect Emmerick.

Finally we understood the senselessness of this whole attack. Loot. As that knowledge settled upon us we heard another commotion from outside the keep. A half dragon, presumably the leader of this rabble, had come forth with prisoners. He demanded that our best warrior come out to face him or he would execute the townsfolk he had taken prisoner. No one from the town volunteered. They feared a certain death and looked to us to save their people. I could tell that Emmerick wanted to volunteer but alas he was still recovering from being recently dead. (Note to self, ask Emmerick what being dead is like. I am curious but not yet curious enough to try it myself) Dag ended up volunteering. He bravely faced the half dragon and for a while I thought he may prevail. In the end he was just over matched. He fought fiercely but was defeated. The half dragon stood over Dag’s unconscious form and contemplated finishing him. In the end he turned and walked away. I get the impression that this cult of the dragon is almost toying with us. I hope that someday that arrogance will be their undoing. For now I am content to have fallen in with such brave and capable companions.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen Introduction

With the conclusion of our playtest campaign and the release of 5E Player’s Handbook, we have begun a new campaign.  New characters to develop and new stories to be told.  For our first official foray into 5E I will be running Hoard of the Dragon Queen written by Kobold Press and released by Wizards of the Coast as the first official adventure module of 5E.  Having read through the module, I’m excited and curious to see how many elements of it play out.

In preparation for the campaign, I provided the players with information on many of the factions as defined in the Tyranny of Dragons guide to organized play along with some basic background information on the region, the Red Wizards, and of course the Cult of the Dragon.  Each character was also assigned a campaign-specific bond or background feature to tie them directly in to the plot of the adventure.

Due to the way that this campaign is structured, I may scale back somewhat on the use of miniatures and terrain since they aren’t really necessary or constructive in several episodes.  Another thing that I’ll be doing differently is that I’m going to hand off responsibility for writing up the session summaries to my players, who will probably rotate this task among themselves.  These may go back and forth between first person and third person summaries depending on the situation, but I’m looking forward to seeing things laid out from their perspective.

We’ve started over with a new band of 1st level characters.  Our new party of heroes consists of:

Emmerik – Dwarf Fighter.  Veteran soldier and protector of the helpless, Emmerik arrived in Greenest seeking information on the whereabouts of his long lost childhood friend.

Dag – Half-Orc Ranger.  Dag good warrior.  Dag not like smelly dwarves.  Dag come to Greenest to find his friend the monk Leosin.

Faurgar – Half-elf Sorcerer.  A survivor with a soft spot for children, especially orphans.  He arrived in Greenest seeking information about a certain Cult for reasons he seems reluctant to reveal.

Caelum – Human Wizard.  A true scholar with a hazardous fascination for bizarre and dangerous creatures.  He is prone to visions and has foreseen a great catastrophe looming in the near future.  These nightmares led him to Greenest in search of further information about the impending apocalypse.

Starag – Human Cleric of Torm.  Starag disappointed his parents with his lack of arcane aptitude, but has made a life for himself in service of Torm.  His senses may be keener than his mind.  He arrived in Greenest at the behest of his mentor, the paladin Ontharr Frume.

Pry – Half-elf rogue.  A character so mysterious that he didn’t even make an appearance during the first session of the game.  (player couldn’t attend, more to come later once he enters the story)

Building the Lair of the Dragon Cult

I built this terrain setup to commemorate the final session of our group’s D&D 5E playtest campaign.  I decided to do something special for the last session and I was pretty satisfied with the results.  The module that I ran was Temple of the Dragon Cult by Goodman Games.

Here’s where the insanity begins.  I purchased 4′ x 8′ sheets of 2″ and 1/2″ polystyrene insulation from the local big box hardware store.  They nearly blew away in the parking lot before I even got them on the car, but some friendly passers by assisted me in strapping them down.

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The dungeon was a mountain lair consisting of four round levels with a central shaft passing through each of them.  I wanted to have the effect of the central shaft being open even though it made construction a good deal more difficult.  Step 1 was tracing a circle for each level then drawing out the portions that needed to be cut away.  The top level had a large cavern opening where the party would enter.

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I did most of the cutting using a drywall saw along with a hot wire foam cutter for some minor cleanup.  The drywall saw was extremely messy (see all of the little pink bits on the floor) but went quickly and allowed me to do inside cuts easily. I did a quick sanding job with some coarse sandpaper to knock off the loose bits on any cut surfaces, but overall the texture left by the saw was a pretty good approximation of rough stone.

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Once all of the pieces were cut out, I cut floors for each of them from the 1/2″ foam and lined them up.  I did a little extra trimming around the outside to make them line up as closely as possible.

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With all of the shaping and floors completed, I moved on to painting.  At this point our gaming schedule changed slightly and my timeline for the project was cut a couple weeks shorter than I had originally planned, so apologies if I missed pictures of some steps here.  I base coated all of the pieces using flat black latex paint bought by the gallon at my friendly big box hardware store.  It went pretty fast using a large paint brush.  I also did a light layer of drybrushing with grey and did some water effects using painters gloss.

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All that was left to do was add some room dressing for each level using various accessories, minis, and some Dwarven Forge doors.  Here are the final results.

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The top level had a removable floor covering the central shaft.  This was intended to represent an illusory floor trap.  It worked as intended, with one of the players taking a 50′ plunge down the center of the mountain.  Fortunately, it was the monk who happened to fall in and he was hardly worse for wear.

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I probably worked on this for about 6 weeks off and on, but I was very happy with the results and it helped make the final session of our campaign a memorable one.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunless Garden – Part 2

After returning the dryad to her home, the party continued exploring the massive cavern.  In the southwest corner they discovered strange markings unlike any other tracks that they’ve seen before.  The “tracks” led them to a concealed passage which opened into a series of smaller caves.  Within they found strange substances related to gardening, massive gardening tools, and finally a massive laboratory where they encountered the corrupted treant Nockmort.  Nockmort informed the heroes that they had come too late to stop the dragon cultists from achieving their goals and then attacked.  After he had been defeated the party explored the laboratory and found many notes related to the development of new plant species, including the “dark treant.”  The source of the mutations was identified as the purple stones embedded in the ceiling of the main cavern, which apparently fell from the sky many years ago.  They also identified the antidote for the disease which had turned the residents of Garland’s Fork into trees and secured a large supply of it.

Moving onward, the group located a profane chapel.  Inside they fought a dire wolverine guarding before finding a hidden staircase leading down into another complex.  Further explorations led to an encounter with a pit trap and a brief battle with some hobgoblin guards followed by the discovery of a sealed room full of ghouls.  The heroes wisely decided to unseal the room and the the ghouls loose so that they could be eliminated for the sake of any future explorers.  Having reached a dead end, the party then backtracked towards the stairs and on their way discovered a secret door that had previously gone undetected.

The secret passageway led to a guard station where the guards had clearly been alerted and taken up defensive positions, but a fireball made quick work of most of them.  Continuing onward, the group discovered a very long straight stairway leading downward into darkness.  Stepping on it unleashed a huge torrent of water, washing some of the heroes down towards the bottom.  A series of miscommunications led to the trap being triggered an additional two times, but eventually the entire group ended up safely in the lower level.  Near the drain they found some flopping fish and the drowned corpse of a gnome wearing a ring of swimming.

After an encounter with a sea hag posing as a corpse, the party eventually entered an elaborate bedchamber with a small corridor leading to an enjoining room.  The sounds of some sort of ritual emanated from the back room.  Trying to go down the corridor triggered a series of both magical and physical traps that the party had to fight through.  Eventually, the druid was able to take the form of a small animal and navigate the series of traps.  He found two cultists, one of which had just completed a ritual involving a glowing glass orb and a massive dragon skull hanging on the wall.

As the characters fought with the cultists, the skull began to levitate and glow.  The ghostly image of a skeleton appeared at first and it gradually grew more and more substantial.  As the last cultist was slain, the dragon’s corpse let loose an earth shaking roar and tore through the ceiling.  The heroes had arrived too late.  Pyraxus had been reborn.

The Sunless Garden – Part 1

The party reunited at the town of Blessings Be with the conspicuous absence of a certain bard.  Fischer stayed behind in Hadler’s Gap to work on a project with the town blacksmith to help him compensate for his recently acquired handicap.  After sharing the tale of what had occurred at the sanctuary with Reliff and Natyet, the group decided to hit the road towards Garland’s Fork in search of the dragon cultists.

The group wisely sent Natyet ahead in animal form to scout out the road.  Not far outside of Garland’s Fork, the halfling turned cat detected a patch of road that appeared to be concealing some sort of pit trap.  Natyet alerted the rest of his allies and they were able to thwart a cultist ambush.  Several cultists were killed, with one of the leaders nearly escaping.  It appeared that he had been trying to reach a large hill nearby, so the party headed in that direction to investigate.

Upon getting closer to the hill, it was apparent that some sort of camp had been established there at the base of a massive tree stump.  The camp guards did not detect the group as they approached and they were quickly cut down when the party sprung an ambush of their own.  The camp seemed to be equipped for about 20 people.  There was a larger tent constructed up against the base of the stump.  Inside was a chest full of valuables and a large empty shipping crate.  The packing material inside the crate appeared to have recently held a large heavy spherical object of unknown origin.

Not wanting to go down into the earth unprepared, the party opted to make camp and proceed once they were well rested.  After a good night’s sleep they made their way down into the cavern below the stump.  They found it to be filled with a dull purple glow originating from chunks of purple stone embedded in the ceiling.  Within the cavern they found various plateaus where strange and wonderful plant life grew.  They kept their distance from both of it and eventually discovered a garden shed.

Within the shed, they found a variety of garden tools.  In a small locked area they freed several prisoners who identified themselves as soldiers of the nearby kingdom of Thire.  They had been in the area recruiting scouts and woodsman to help fight the dragon cult when they were captured.  The soldiers provided some information including the fact that the cultists were only visitors to this site and that the leader here was a corrupted treant by the name of Nockmort.  They also warned the characters that there was a large contingent of hobgoblins that were subservient to Nockmort.  Despite their weakened condition, the soldiers had no desire to remain underground any longer and insisted on departing immediately to rejoin their unit.

Further down the cavern, the party found a well constructed locked door.  They played a clever ruse and managed to trick the hobgoblin guards on the other side into opening the door and allowing them to storm what they found to be a small prison complex.  Further into the prison they fought and defeated an ettin guard.

Within the jail cells they found one nervous looking hobgoblin and a small treant who had been tortured cruelly with metal spikes.  The treant informed the party that Nockmort was using the power of the purple stones to create new and sinister forms of plant life and that he intended to corrupt more treants.The party eventually negotiated with the hobgoblin for his release.  In exchange for his life, he told them that the cultists had gone through the chapel and down below.  He made a hasty departure as soon as he was able.

Further exploration revealed a wooden crate from which a dryad was released.  The heroes escorted her back to her tree which had been transplanted into the center of the underground garden.