Playtest 5: The Web of Wyneth Tower, part one

We are five sessions through playtesting D&D Next, and this time I thought it would be good to shift gears a little. Out of the Caves of Chaos, and into a whole new adventure!

Last session our heroes had successfully cleared out the Evil Temple in the Caves of Chaos, and we started this session by wrapping that up. I handed out the treasure reward I had totally forgotten about – a rather cool Snake Staff, an Oil of Etherealness and a Scroll of  Protection from Undead. Our Cleric of Pelor immediately snarfed the Snake Staff, and the other items found their way into the party’s backpacks. I’m sure they will come in useful later.

For this session, I wanted to try out a few things:

  1. How easy is it to create new adventures?
  2. Can you use monsters from earlier editions of D&D without modification?
  3. How hard is it to create new monsters?

I know it’s very early days to be asking these questions (monster design is still in the earliest stages) but I wanted to see how far I can push the current Playtest packet, and see if the bare implementation of monsters we have right now is heading in the right direction. Also, making new adventures is a part of what being GM is all about.

The party exit the Caves and return to the wedding party where they regroup, accept their reward from the Five Tribes (a Parchment guaranteeing they will not attack Human, Elf or Dwarf lands for 12 months) and return to the Bare Owl Inn.

The High Priest had revealed (shortly before he died) the possible location of another High Priest dedicated to uniting three Demons to become a new Demon Lord: Wyneth Tower.

They pool their knowledge (Lore rolls are great!) and what they know is that Wyneth Tower is a highly respected library in an isolated location that is unaffiliated with any nation, people or creed. It’s like the Switzerland of books. It is also about 250 miles to the South, and there is no way they can travel there and back before the wedding they are supposed to attend begins in 7 days time.

A gaunt elderly Wizard approaches them. He’s wearing a crooked blue Wizard’s hat. He says, “I couldn’t help overhearing. My name is Randalph the Blue. If you need to get to Wyneth Tower I have a library book that need returning.”

He explains that all books from Wyneth Tower have a Mark of Returning on them. Hold the book and say “Return to Wyneth” and it teleports the book and whoever is holding it immediately back to the Tower.

The party examine the book. It’s about cultivating Orchids, which the heroes conclude is another name for Orc children. This is one sick Wizard.

Rather than set off immediately the party rests up for the night to regain spells and full hit points. I quite like this mechanic, though think it should only work if the PCs are able to fully rest in relative comfort (such as in a tavern). In the wilderness or underdark where there are no clean sheets, maid service or full cooked breakfast, I suggest they regain hit points to take them halfway between their current hp and their max. Comfort has its rewards.

As an aside: We are playing over Google+ Hangouts and using Flockdraw for mapping. We have a lot of players for this session: three Fighters, two Clerics, a Rogue and a Wizard. Seven PCs with another gamer listening in (Hi, Matt!). We coordinated the whole think using a shiny new Google+ Event. Everything worked. Brilliant stuff.

Morning arrives, the PCs hold onto the book and chant the mystical phrase “Return to Wyneth!” and vanish. They reappear in a clearing surrounded on three sides by evergreen forest, the fourth by a majestic vista of high mountain peaks. In the centre of the clearing is what looks for all the world like a precariously-balanced pile of enormous books. At the base, carved into the spine of several of the tomes, is a stone door.

Our herbalist Cleric of Pelor picks some mushroom (when chewed it grants Advantage to saves versus Poison) and the PCs ponder how to enter until Norry the Wizard touches the book to the door, and it opens.

The door opens, revealing a large circular room. The round outer wall is entirely surrounded by bookcases filled with tomes of all shapes and sizes. The wooden floored  central area has many tables scattered around, and two staircases follow the curve of the room up to a balcony high above.

A figure stands behind a lectern directly in front of the door. It appears to be nothing more than a hooded monastic robe. No head, hands or body is visible. Similar figures are moving around the bookcases organizing the books. The heroes (with a suitable perception check) can just make out blurry half-seen figures sat at the tables.

The robes figures are my first eariler-Edition monsters. They’re Raiments from Liber Mortis (a hugely under-rated Third Edition book, in my opinion), and look something like this:

Spooky! Provided the PCs let them go about their business (and they’re not ordered to attack) they ignore the heroes entirely.

At the foot of the staircases are two creatures that look like someone has made angry origami people out of stiff card. They stand silently immobile.

They are Paper Golems (scaled up to Medium size) from Dragon #341. I have used two of Jared von Hindman’s Stupid Monsters, and it’s only the ground floor of the Tower. I am so proud.

“Ah, new visitors! So pleased to meet you,” says a man walking down the stairs. He is dressed in similar robes to the one standing in front of you behind the Lectern. He is elderly with loosely wrinkled skin, a hunched back and a sprightly step.

“The door alerts me to all newcomers so I can greet them personally. I am the Head Librarian of Wyneth Tower. What brings you to our humble fountain of knowledge?”

The heroes get right to the chase and ask about Demons and any possible demon cult activity in the Tower. There’s nothing like being subtle, and this was nothing like being subtle.

The High Librarian looks puzzled, and appears to misunderstand your question. “Demonology is on the fourth floor, and I regret that it is a restricted section.”

He then makes his excuses and leaves up one of the staircases. The PCs head up too, but he has (of course) vanished, and the heroes are now on Level 2 of the Tower.

The staircases open up to a high balcony ledge around the whole inner wall. A 3′ wooden guardrail is the only protection against a 40′ fall. The ledge is 15′ deep, and more bookcases line the walls. A single staircase on your opposite side leads upward.

The heroes head on, and when they are halfway around, the books attack! A whole shelfload of them fly out and attack like a killer flock of seagulls. There’a good 50 or 60 books. I do love an Animated Book Swarm on a high balcony! Animated Books are a staple of D&D across all editions, but I couldn’t find stats for a whole Swarm of ’em so created one from scratch. These critters are Resistant to Slashing attacks (swishing a thin blade around is ineffective) and can only sense movement; they attack the last opponent who moved. The players figured this out pretty quickly. if only they had thought to all stand still, the books would all have returned to the shelves………

… but they didn’t. One PC (I forget which) kept being attacked and buffeted toward the balcony edge. Our Rogue used his 10′ pole to support him, and the battle was finally won with a well-placed Ray of Frost bringing the last of the books to the floor where a huge tome about The Importance of Elven Culture was put on top of them.

The problem was that the PCs had now damaged books, and that’s a big no-no in a library. The two Paper Golems were coming up the stairs!

Or at least, trying to. Both the Cleric of Pelor and one of the Dwarven Fighters had readied actions, anticipating the trouble. Radiant Lance and Warhammer versus stiff card. Yeah. No contest. The Rogue sends one back down the stairs with an acrobatic sweep of his 10′ pole and the other is similarly knocked to the foot of the stairs by his allies. Another Fighter leaps onto the stair rail and slides down, rolls a crit on his Dex check and slashes with this Longsword. I say he slides down ON HIS FEET.

Cool. As. Heck.

Moving on.

Amid the remains of the books the heroes find two things of interest: a Ring of Free Movement and a piece of fine vellum on which is written in tiny letters the message: “please help top of tower we are in the pages”. A clue, Scooby Doo!

Our heroes ascend to Level 3.

Thankfully, this level is fully floored, and books line both the walls and row upon row of bookcases. Narrow passageways between the shelves give this a maze-like appearance. There are no staircases or, it seems, ways to reach Level 4.

The bookcases around the walls are full height, while the ones in the rows are about 6′ tall, and each bookcase covers a different subject. The Wizard casts Detect Magic, and it’s  everywhere. More Raiments are milling around the bookshelves, and two more Paper Golems stand guard at opposite sides of the Level.

How to get up to Level 4? The PCs begin to search. Books occasionally leap out and cast a random spell before dropping to the floor. This is one Hazardous library. One PC is hit with a Radiant Lance and a Dwarf Fighter has Mirror Image cast upon her. There’s now three Fighters where one once stood. Shame two of them are illusory.

Of course, one PC just has  to check out the Necromancy section where I had prepared a small surprise. As soon as he touches one of the books, a Bone Rat Swarm scuttles out from underneath the bookshelves! It’s a small horde of skeletal rats which attack and try to pull the hero down to gnaw on his oh-so-tasty flesh. for the stats, I’m using a 4e Needlefang Drake Swarm, and the only modification I made was to use the Bloodied value as its total hit points and changed the type to Undead.

Thankfully it doesn’t last long, and our heroes figure out one of the ways to reach Level 4: check the Illusion section. Perhaps the way up is concealed in some way.

They’re right, and after searching they discover an Invisible Ladder (no, really). and begin to ascend.

We leave it there, after playing for about two hours.

For me as DM, the session ticked all the boxes, and even with seven players the game didn’t slow or drop pace. Due to the number of players the combats weren’t too difficult, and just for this session I didn’t mind that. This session was as much about exploration as it was about combat, and sometimes it’s good for the PCs to see that there really is Strength In Numbers. That way when they’re down to just 3 or 4 PCs they start to sweat :D

How were the monsters? Just fine. I had jotted down their game stats on a single line and assigned them AC, attack bonuses and damage in line with the creatures from the Bestiary, and adapted their special abilities with the minimum of effort. I did this in advance, but would feel comfortable using a stat block from a published adventure or earlier edition Monster Manual on the fly too.

The game continues on Sunday.

UPDATE: Here’s what happened next!

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5 Responses

  1. Great stuff, I enjoyed listening in. If you use the book swarm again I’d recommend swapping slashing resistance for bludgeoning. Everyone knows that Scissors > Paper > Rock ( > Lizard > Spock) :-)

  2. Lowly Minion says:

    Another great report.

    I’m with you on long rest healing — it jumped out at me as excessive, and my idea was very similar to yours: recover half the hit points you have lost, unless you are within 1 Hit Die of your maximum, in which case you fully recover.

  3. steeplejackuk says:

    It was a great evening, so enjoyed it.

  4. vobeskhan says:

    Yet another fantastic session, I was able to interact a lot easier now that sorted my mic issues out. Good old Norry is trying really hard to resist the urge to burn the entire library to the ground, but when that swarm of books attacked his colleague he just couldn’t help it.

    The adapted monsters from older editions worked really well, I really like the way it seems to be easy to incorporate things from previous versions and for them to still feel part of the system.

    The healing machanic hasnt been a major issue for Norry, he doesn’t need armour when there are big strapping warriors to intercede on his behalf.

    Looking forward to the next session.

  5. Kendall says:

    These are amazing to read of – and make me sad that I’ve lost that level of detail in my own DM toolkit over the years.

    Please let me know if you need any more players. :) I have you circled on G+ and would love to join or even just observe!

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