We had our full compliment of players last weekend, bringing the party size up to a lofty 7 players. The two new players each decided to bring a warlock to the table. Joining the party was a Drow Warlock named Seldron Subarashi, and a Tiefling Warlock named Flesh. Seldron comes from the underworld beneath distant Asia and serves a mythic fiend he's calling Chu-Jung the Heavenly Executioner. He's come to the Greek world to see if the rumors are true, that there is actually another underworld and a pretender deity. I don't know too much about the Tiefling's background, other than it's a she, and she looks skeletal and gaunt beneath her warlock robes. The players' insistence on playing mostly mutant non-Greek loners in my "Mythic Greece" campaign continues unabated. Long live "The Outlanders"!
Also, some of the previous characters leveled up. Our cast of characters for this week appear like so:
Modred: Dragonborn Bard, L2
Etor: Spartan Fighter, L2
Gati: Halfling Rogue, L2
Aldrian: Wood Elf Druid, L2
Stompy the Angry Dwarf, Fighter, L1
Seldron, Drow Warlock, L1
Flesh, Tiefling Warlock, L1
One of my "house rules" about the Taenarum campaign and dungeon is that every adventure needs to start and end back in town, to support drop-in attendance. The delves are small enough that the party should be able to completely finish one in a single night if they don’t mess around or draw too many wandering monsters. (This makes the whole "short rest" question a little more challenging for the players, since a short rest refills my grip with punishing wandering monster dice checks. Muhaha.)
Gaming resumed with the party at the Adventurers Guild Hall, meeting the new recruits and confirming their membership in The Outlanders. The players learned this week what can happen if you don't finish a quest. While they were discussing what delve to explore this week, there was a heartfelt reunion on the other side of the tavern; the Big Gold Hunters (BGH), one of the haughty rival adventuring parties on the Scoreboard, had rescued a Spartan soldier who was imprisoned by a cave dryad (and reunited him with a grateful wife, earning a fair reward). This was a dungeon area the players started last week, clearing most of it but not finishing it. The players could overhear BGH, "Yeah, it's like someone cleared out half the area, there were dead snakes everywhere - it was easy for us to "convince" the dryad to let Barasidas go."
Now, I get there could be differences of opinion on how I'm such a mean ref - the players clear half a lair, then some other group of knuckleheads comes along, finishes the job, and gets the treasure. Let's be clear - the players are not precious snow flakes, they're part of the same compost heap as all the other adventuring groups trying to get ahead by looting Taenarum. Or at least, that's how I want them to feel! If they don't like the Big Gold Hunters jumping their claim, they can arrange an 'accident' to happen to the Big Gold Hunters. You can be sure the NPC groups are going to be looking for chances to knock The Outlanders off the Scoreboard - permanently. This also demonstrates the world isn't static, and things are going to continue happening while the players are out of the dungeon resting. The ulterior motive is to make sure the players explore with a sense of purpose, avoid wandering monsters, and work hard at finishing the whole lair (or at least getting away with the treasure before they quit for the night). If they leave a lair weakened and half explored, someone else may come along and finish the job.
With that sorry news, the players decided to follow up on their next lead - a dungeon deeper along the great road, where 'torches of ever burning green flame' denoted a "Hades dungeon". They knew that these types of areas were considered 'challenging' but they'd have the chance to get a rare item from the vaults of Pluto. Off they went.
I'm going to skip a lot of the play by play, as it makes dry reading. The new members demonstrated their worth early and often, using various blast spells to get past a wandering monster problem (giant centipedes) and really carrying the day at one of the tougher fights. The party was in a room where swarms of flesh-eating scarab beetles were stripping some corpses down to naked bone, while a couple of skeleton hoplites oversaw the process. The battle ended up being the characters fighting the insect swarms, while the skeletons ran over to where there were huge clay amphorae along the wall (filled with more scarabs) and they knocked them over, creating more flesh-eating swarms. All told, it was a fairly intense battle, with 5-6 flesh eating scarab swarms and a couple of loose skeletons. Between multiple thunder waves, a burning hands spell, and lots of eldritch blasts, the new-look Outlanders handled the combat really well - swarms are dangerous.
Other encounters in the lair included a couple of "trick" rooms with lots of frozen skeletal hoplites, waiting for a trigger to spring into action (the players adroitly avoided triggering them). They dealt with the Arch of Greed, a magical hazard that compelled its victims to wallow in a nearby treasure, while undergoing attacks from some nearby skeletons waiting in ambush. But the capstone of the evening was the boss fight against the Lord of Bones, the skeletal eidolon and servant of Hades. I have this whole mechanism (in my BRAIN) where there is a pecking order amongst the eidolons , a hierarchy; if you kill enough adventurers, you get promoted to the next level up the chain, and mutate into a higher form of undead boss - from the Lord of Bones to the Zombie Lord to the Ghoul King and so on. Meanwhile, when the Lord of Bones is destroyed, a new larva is spawned from the Underworld (extruded somewhere) and quickly forms into a new Lord of Bones. These are the things I think about in between meetings and conference calls.
The Lord of Bones sat across a broad chamber on a throne surrounded by green fire braziers. A handful of minions assembled themselves from discarded bone parts and shambled towards the party - misshapen skeletons with a blend of animal and monster parts - a bull's head or a cow skull, an ogre hand, and so forth. Meanwhile, the front rank of players triggered a pit trap, dropping their tank-like dwarf fighter into a deep hole. There were a few small side tunnels leading out of the pit, revealing a warren of tunnels beneath the room.
While the party surged around the pit to engage the Lord of Bones' misshapen minions, the eidolon itself opened a trap door next to the throne, and entered the warrens, stalking the dwarf! The dwarf could hear it calling out to him in the dark tunnels, "I'm going to flay you and make you a skeleton!". The dwarf backed up into the pit and went into 'defensive fighting mode' to keep from being flayed alive - the Lord of Bones had razor sharp claws and is capable of reducing a humanoid to a skeleton minion in minutes!
Despite this challenging set up, the new-look Outlanders handled the fight really well. The dumped their remaining resources into defeating the Lord of Bones from above the pit (daily spells like Hexes and Witch Bolts) while keeping the dwarf on his feet with Healing Word(s) and second wind. Tying down the boss with a hard-to-crack tank fighter, while peppering the boss with powerful ranged strikes, is a tried and true formula to success. Outlanders win, flawless victory! Finish him.
Before he died, the Eidolon relinquished his key, and then withered away to oblivion. The players found the nearby Hades Mystery Box, a one-use chest that allows a random roll on the magic item table. One of the players obliged with the 'Legend of Zelda' opening-a-chest music, and away we went. Emerging from the glowing void was a Wand of the War Mage +1, wahoo. It was late - I need to get better at improvising setting appropriate names - maybe it's actually a Hyperborean Cylinder, an Atlantean Boom Stick, or one of Hecate's Scepters. Dunno.
Anyway, that was Game 3. Much fun, although in hindsight I could have upsized a few of the encounters even further than I did, to account for 7 players - I didn't fully account for the force multiplier of jumping from 4-5 players to 7 (which would increase the monster budget by about 25%, a pretty sizeable jump). There are guidelines on encounter building in the 5E DMG (page 56 of the free rules) but you also need to account for the experience and tactical skill of the players. Adding a tank and some blasters and some tactics has increased the party's threat capability a lot - much more than when they were a bunch of happy go lucky squishy guys that just ran headlong into combat.