Guest playtest report! The Trail of the Bronze Phoenix, part two
As with last session’s report, I’ll add my own comments in italics.
Bored of the inane conversations of the courtiers in the wedding party, Arutha eagerly offered to accompany the dwarven warrior and elven archer in their advance scouting. Though he didn’t have one of the magical steeds the heroes rode there were plenty of spares amongst the knight’s mounts to spare.
As they rode he quietly revealed to his new companions that he was more than a simple wedding guest, having a meagre skill in the larcenous arts, and that he was in fact a tallfellow Halfling, not a human youth. His companions barely raised an eyebrow, obviously having seen stranger things of late and readily accepted his company.
They soon approached what appeared to be an abandoned farmhouse. Kalavan, the dwarven warrior, noted how little cover there was and what good ambush point it may prove. Eager to prove his worth to such stalwart heroes, Arutha volunteered to sneak ahead and see if the dwarves concerns bore true.
As his companions slowed their approach and deliberately discussed their “fallen comrades”, Arutha used his size and nimbleness to skirt the building, coming up at the side and sneaking around to peek through one of the hastily boarded windows. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom within he could make out the forms of a pair of orc’s seated at a table while another form lay beneath a bearskin on a makeshift cot. Of the small dwellings other chamber he couldn’t tell, unable to get a clear view from his vantage point.
Moving carefully back to where his companions could see him he held up three fingers and pointed back into the room containing the orc’s, just as the side door he had passed creaked open and heavy footsteps approached his hiding point.
Kalavan called out to see if anyone in the farmhouse could help him, keeping his voice jovial as if he hadn’t noticed the orc. As the greenskin raised his hand to shield his eyes against the glare of the sun Arutha sprinted forward, digging his shortsword deep into the surprised orc’s back, its blade slipping between the ribs and finding its black heart. As he pulled the blade free he tried to guide the body to the ground so as not to make too much noise, almost burying himself beneath the foul smelling creature.
Unaware that their companion was dead one of the orc’s within called out, attempting to disguise its voice as that of an elderly woman (badly) and called for the horsemen to come inside and share her meagre hospitality. Kalavan and Tuor approached at a slow pace as Arutha snuck back towards the door the orc had come out of.
Taking another sneaky peek he could see that one orc stood beside the front door, a huge axe in its gnarly hands while the one pretending to be the crone [complete with tasseled nightcap! – G.] had sat up on the cot, still draped in the bearskin but now pointing a wicked looking crossbow at the doorway. Hearing his companions outside the front door Arutha decided to cause a distraction, diving into the room to strike at the crossbow-orc and shouting “Why granny, let me help you with that heavy looking crossbow!”. His blade hit true but the grizzly orc still had fight in it.
Kalavan smashed the door open to confront the orcs within as Tuor fired arrows expertly into the room. The fight was surprisingly swift as the seasoned warriors quickly dealt with the pair of orc’s. After a quick inspection it became apparent that Kalavan’s assessment was correct, the orcs had been using the farmhouse to ambush unwary travellers (a set of nobles clothing thrown in the cupboard of the adjoining room from a previous victim). Eager to prevent others doing the same, the dwarf and elf tear down the wooden shutters and burn the reminder of the hovel to the ground. Arutha uses some chalk to leave markings for the remainder of the party to show which way they had continued.
Night drew in as they began to ascend a path into the mountains; the sharp-eyed elf spied a cave ahead, not wanting more surprises Arutha once again crept forward to investigate. The cave would suffice as overnight shelter but unfortunately it was already occupied. Using all the stealth he could muster Arutha returned to his companions and advised of the huge cave bear sleeping soundly ahead. Using strips from the clothing recovered at the farmhouse to muffle their mounts hooves on the stony path they slowly made their way past the sleeping bear, until the rags on one of Kalavan’s came loose, its iron shod hoof striking loudly and waking the ursine beast from its slumbers.
With surprising speed it rose up beside the dwarven rider, knocking him from his mount as its sharp claws raked into the horseflesh. Tuor’s and Arutha’s mounts began to panic as they tried to bring them under control. Tuor’s elven heritage served him well, quickly calming his mount and bringing his bow up to send a quivering shaft into the furry monster. Arutha leapt from his prancing mount onto the stony wall and scuttled up and past the enraged bear as Kalavan regained his feet and faced the bear, his weapon began to lower as he spoke in calming tones to the beast. Amazingly it seemed to be listening to the dwarf and actually looked like it was about to amble off, then Tuor fired another arrow, straight through the bear’s jugular, its shaft quickly disappearing in the torrent of blood that gushed forth before the beast fell lifeless to the ground.
Gathering the mounts Tuor and Kalavan returned theirs to statue-form, the wounds on the dwarves mount barely noticeable and apparently healing. Arutha brought his mount back to the cave and settled it. The heroes made a small camp, careful to conceal their meagre fire as Kalavan made use of the abundant bear meat for dinner. The remainder of the night passed quietly and as they broke camp Arutha left another chalked message for their following companions.
A few more hours travel and the Keep came into view [with airships tethered to the keep walls – G.], sitting majestically on the rocky outcropping above the rough and ready town below it, a signpost beside the road designated it as “Last Chance” and Arutha scribbled over the “a” to make it read “Lost Chance” with an impish grin.
[The Keep has expanded greatly over the years with a small town forming around the base of the hill on which the Keep stands. It has attracted many vagrants and desperate opportunists, and is well deserving of the name “Last Chance”. This is a wild west town, fantasy style. Locals even wear leather chaps and wield hand crossbows drawn from holsters. – G.]
The town was bustling with a large influx of visitors and merchants, no doubt here for the coming nuptials. Arutha left his horse with his companions once again and altered his appearance to look more like a street urchin and entered town separately. After wondering the streets for a while he began to notice the subtle signs of two separate thief-signs scattered amongst several of the buildings, obviously two rival thief gangs were active in town though none appeared to have gained dominance so far. Unable to ascertain anything further he headed back to the agreed meeting place, the town’s only Inn, also named the “Last Chance”.
As he approached he saw his companions in “discussion” with a group of guardsmen in the Barons livery, he couldn’t hear what was being said but the guards left, and taking the mount Arutha had ridden with them. Rejoining his companions he had no time to ask what had occurred as Kalavan spotted another dwarf (which could have been a family member from the uncanny resemblance) but when he shouted greeting the other dwarf took off at a run.
The trio of heroes gave chase, almost catching the dwarf before he slipped down an alleyway, Tuor inquired of a local as to the dwarves whereabouts and the “helpful citizen” pointed to a brewery loading chute leading below a neighbouring building. Kalavan was eager to talk to the dwarf so the heroes headed down the chute into the bowels of the brewery. The room looked unused and the dwarves tracks were clear in the recently disturbed dust that lay everywhere. Following quickly they discovered an underground stream and spied the dwarf punting a small barge away from them. Grabbing another nearby barge they continued to give chase, quickly gaining. Kalavan grabbed the other barge as the heroes drew level.
[For the chase scenes I used opposing dice rolls (DEX while on foot, STR while punting the barges). Winner alters (decreases if behind, increases if in front) the distance by 5′ for every point of success. It worked well, and made for a fun scene – G..]
Unfortunately Arutha didn’t travel well on water and took a few minutes to gather him, missing much of what transpired between the dwarves. When he recovered himself the other dwarf was gravely ill and Kalavan wanted to get him to safety. Dressing the dwarf in the remaining nobles clothing and using Arutha’s disguise skills to mask his appearance the heroes made their way back to the town and following Tuor’s street savvy found somewhere to lay low while they awaited their companions arrival. Kalavan used the magic of the rings he and Reninblas shared to convey their findings and advise the approaching party members of the situation.
[The dwarf, terrified (he’s not a brave soul), blurted out that Kalavan shouldn’t have come. “Your uncle Bruenor Broadstroke…… Kalavan’s father found out, that’s why he had to….. no! The Flames!…….” his eyes then began to burn, followed by his very flesh. The quick thinking party put a hole in the barge, sinking it quickly and (just) saving the dwarf’s life. He’s at 0hp and stable, but desperately needs magical and/or medical attention. – G.]
We end the session there. In just 90 minutes three heroes had fought orc bandits in a farmhouse, battled a cave bear, parleyed with knights and had a chase scene in a wild west style town. Could we have done this in any other edition of D&D? Of course – role-playing is role-playing, whatever rules you use – but I do think that D&D Next added just that extra special something to the session, and that’s all you can ask of any rules system, really.
Thanks again to Mik for writing the playtest report.
Till next time!