Epiro: Episode 101

Up until recently my experiences with D&D Next have been relegated to sporadic one-shots, which was fine when there was really not a lot of content or levels going on (at least, not enough to maintain the interest of my players). As of a few packets ago this has mostly changed, what with some additional classes and refinement, but while I have wanted to start up something resembling a campaign I had been busy running other things like Dungeon World (of which I finally saw the book for at Rainy Day Games when I was going there to pick up the latest Super Dungeon Explore expansion).

Since my group lost interest in Dungeon World--Strahd gets away, again, due to apathy--I now have a clean weekend slate that, by popular demand, is to be filled with Dungeons & Dragons. Since everyone enjoyed A Sundered World, I decided to take a similar approach to planning and running (ie, minimalist and on-the-fly), but set it in a more...traditional sandbox setting, since I A) wanted to give the playtest content a chance to speak for itself, and B) have never run that sort of thing before.

The campaign starts in Epiro, a kingdom with a slight mythical Greek tone and a lot of problems: bandits are waylaying caravans and travelers, the forests are infested with giant vermin, armies are threatening to invade from the north and south, gnoll packs and orcish hordes are gathering, and more. Basically, plenty of varied opportunities for adventurers to step in and fix. Speaking of adventurers, here is the cast thus far:
  • Yllian Faraday (high elf wizard 1)
  • Randy's Druid To Be Named Later (wood elf druid 1)
  • Corvus Artmi (human ranger 1)
  • Iola Talmiel the, uh, "well-fisted" (wood elf monk 1)
  • Perseus Eurymedon (human paladin 1)
The mayor of Sidon, a farming village near the center of Epiro (just east of the Hydra River), was killed by a group of the aforementioned bandits on his return from Argos, the capitol city. Eleni, his daughter and newly appointed mayor by birthright, placed a bounty on them to the tune of 10 gold pieces per head. Good money, but the bandits are assumed to be operating out of the Tunnelwood, a forest north of Sidon that is inhabited at the least by ankhegs and giant spiders.

Thankfully both Corvus and Randy have some experience in the Tunnelwood, so the party starts by following the Hydra River, figuring that the bandits would at least want to stay relatively close to water. After several hours of following the river (and several rolls on the random encounter table as per the new Exploration rules), they find the crumbled remains of a bridge. Corvus checks the ground around the bridge, and easily finds signs of the bandits' passage. Randy, thinking that something is amiss, has his familiar scope the bridge out, and finds an ogre sleeping underneath it.

After much arguing, including Kamon's protests of wanting to try out his favored enemy class feature, they eventually decide to ignore the ogre and continue on, figuring that they will cross the bridge further north if need be. After several more hours they come across a ruined fort cresting the river, thankfully on their side. Since it is getting dark they take the time to scout out the fort, but are only able to see a few bandits patrolling the ruined walls.

They wait until nightfall to give ambush a shot. Randy opens up with a fog cloud, and they try to skirt around to the eastern wall while the bandits try and figure out what is going on. Iola and Corvus make it up the crumbling walls, but Randy and Perseus are spotted by a bandit as he stumbles out of the fog cloud's area of effect. Randy pelts him with some fire seeds, and his screams of agony are more than sufficient to draw the attention of the rest of the bandits, giving Iola and Corvus ample time to hole up in a tower before striking.

Corvus hangs back, sniping them with arrows, while Iola pummels anyone that gets too close. By the time the bandits are able to coordinate their attack, Randy and Perseus had already made it up the walls to help reinforce their position. After about a dozen or so bandits the ruins are quiet, and they are able to gather the bodies and explore the courtyard, where they find a forge with some tools and over a couple hundred pounds of copper (as well as a wagon to carry it and the bodies). They also find a locked door leading into the keep, which they try their hands at opening.

By which I mean violence.

After about half a minute of kicking and punching the door, it opens. Not from brute force, despite a +3 modifier and the Break Object skill, but from one of the bandits inside. At the same time, Randy spots something hiding just around the corner of the building, but he barely gets a warning out before one of the bandits tries to impale Perseus with a spear. Fortunately he manages to deflect it with his shield and hack him down, but unfortunately at least four more have taken up positions with crossbows behind wooden pillars.

None of the crossbow bolts hit, and both Perseus and Randy wade into the hall, hacking and mauling the bandits. Iola decides to check out whatever it was that Randy saw, and runs into a naked bugbear brandishing a club. Like, a club-club, not natural weaponry. While they duke it out, the bandits ditch their crossbows in favor of spears, while a heavily armored hobgoblin enters the fray, shouting orders in Goblin (which would be the Commander bonus). A handful of bandits close in on Perseus, but an explosion of dazzling light frightens one of them off, giving Perseus an easy opportunity to cut him down.

Enter Josh's character, Yllian Faraday, illusionist extraordinaire with a save DC of 16.

Despite Josh's character making a timely arrival, the rest of the battle was still kind of a close call, which will teach me to adhere more closely to the Dungeon Master guidelines on encounter-building: Yllian got taken out of the fight on several occasions even with the Hit Die boost to wizards, and Iola got dropped once by the bugbear. It was nice that Iola fell nearby, as it allowed Beth to heal both her and Perseus with the same action, and in the end everyone except Randy was tapped for healing magic.

Once everyone was done cleaning up, Yllian informed them that he had been captured on his way to Argos several days ago, and they had been planning on ransoming him or selling him into slavery, since magic-using elves are not exactly anyone's major export. He mentioned that while he was imprisoned, he overheard them talking about finding something dangerous sealed in the cellar beneath the keep while they were excavating it, so of course they are going to dig it up themselves to check it out.

Next time.

Behind the Scenes
If you are a fan of my play reports for A Sundered World, for the first few sessions this is probably going to be pretty boring by comparison, or at the least less fantastical. Basically I wanted to see how Next holds up in prolonged play when using what we have, without having to spend a lot of time planning and homebrewing content. Plus, I have always wanted to run a hexcrawl.

We actually used minis for this session. It was fun to break them out again, and they were handy more for positioning than tactics. Case in point, it made it very easy to determine how many bandits Yllian could affect with color spray.

My first noteworthy on-the-fly ruling that was not a result of just not knowing the rules, was to let Josh use light to impose disadvantage on the hobgoblin's next attack. I gave her a Constitution save at a bonus, since light is not supposed to be used that way, but she still botched it so good for him.

I do not like how any of the healing magic works. I really think that the game would benefit from a wound/vitality split and less reliance on a cleric/druid. That being said, a paladin and a druid seems to hold up really well.

The druid was kind of fun to watch, though I wish the bear form had some other attack than just a claw (though 2d6 + 2 is quite a punch). I double-claw routine or some kind of grapple ability would make it more interesting.

I hate how much art objects are worth, and think that the game could benefit from more extensive art object examples and a "silver standard".

The bugbear was naked because I wanted to make it easier for them to hit, and nudity reduced its AC by 4 points.


  1. Do you have any thoughts on why your group lost interest in Dungeon World? I ask because my group similarly gave up on Dungeon World after a few sessions and clamored for a return to D&D. My best guess is that they were put off by the sheer frequency of failed and partial-success results; it was very hard for the characters to just *succeed* at anything. I didn't mind, but I (along with the GM) have spent a lot more time than the rest of the group playing games where failure is the norm.

  2. Most of them come from many years of playing D&D (mostly 4th Edition) and other RPGs where your roll determines success/failure. DW is similar, except that failures, or even partial-successes (or "yes, buts") can cause automatic results, like being hit by a monster.

    There is definitely some sort of disconnect going on, and I really cannot fault DW for that. The other issue is the severely limited character options, advancement, magic items, etc. I think they are used to meatier characters, which is not a bad thing.

    My personal issues were continuously trying to come up with satisfactory "yes, but" results that did not simply prolong encounters until they became boring. I think that when they encountered a lone zombie, and I just let them succeed that it felt like cheating (despite a 4:1 ratio).

  3. I have run Ravenloft, I have friends who have ran Ravenloft, and I read stuff from people like you who have run Ravenloft, and not a single source I can find shows a Ravenloft campaign running to its expected conclusion. Strahd always gets away! Slippery vampire lord, that one.

    Running Ravenloft with the DW system was a very interesting move; I thought the system would really be the perfect companion to the oppressive horror and despair that Ravenloft is supposed to emulate. It's too bad that your group died out with that campaign. I'm currently playing in an '80's horror RPG that uses the exact same system (only it is called 'tremulus' and is usually focused on Lovecraftian horror) and I find that it works perfectly for that sort of game, but perhaps trying to use it for stock fantasy settings isn't the best fit?

    I'm excited to continue reading your entries on Epiro. I've been keeping up with your Sundered World stuff and it's all very exciting but sometimes it's cool to start fresh and try something more classic. I enjoy that the world has a slight Greek feel to it -- that's a very interesting direction to take, is that your choice or something straight from the Next material? -- and I hope that this campaign lasts you a while! It's always a good feeling to get a campaign going again.

  4. Oh I agree, and my plan was to have him get away and wear them down over time with cat-and-mouse games before a final confrontation. Since I was not planning on revisiting the setting, the idea was to give them a good chance at defeating him (though coming back with a fresh party and confronting their vampiric former selves would have also been cool).

    Mostly my comment was aimed at how many times I have attempted to run that module without completing it.

    I had heard of Tremulus, but have not picked it up as my group does not want to devote much time to testing the waters with other games. Even so, I like cribbing material from other systems, especially ones that focus on Lovecraftian elements (like Trail of Cthulhu).

    Josh and I are gradually turning out basically preview material for A Sundered World while refining it more and more. We have some stuff on drow and a more "normalish" village in the works, at least one of which should be done this weekend.

    As for Epiro, it was pretty just that I had never run a Greek-ish campaign before, despite my childhood love for Greek mythology, same reason that I am doing it sandbox style (which is also ideal if people cannot show up: make new characters and run in a different direction).

  5. Very cool. I think I mentioned a while back that I've been working on a revisit to Ravenloft with my own group; the first campaign died out quite spectacularly (ie. with some big changes that blew the story apart) but no resolution was achieved, so I've decided to build a new campaign based on the old one, make some appropriate changes and then take a fresh party through and see what transpires. I've been updating my progress with it on my own blog, if you're interested to see what I've come up with.

    Tremulus is a great game -- our story isn't Lovecraftian horror, per sé, but it is horrific -- and the "yes, but" system works extremely well for the stories that focus on horror. It sounds like it runs identically to Dungeon World, only minus the fantasy elements.

    Very cool, I'm happy to hear that you've got some more content coming out about A Sundered World! I look forward to keeping up with it!


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