Saturday, October 2, 2010

Northern Reaches Campaign Underway: The First After-Action Report

Some of my readers may recall that in April of last year I started drumming up interest in playing a regular Old School D&D game using B/X-LL+AEC. The majority of the group are guys in their early 20s who played 3.5, took 4E for a test-drive and disliked it, and then either returned to 3.5 or Patherfinder (who could blame them?).

They were keen to learn about the history of the game and early editions so it was a natural fit for me to DM. We had a good turnout but because it was the end of the Canadian university school year there was only so far it could go with people headed home for the summer. I played with two of these guys during the summer, but nothing major. Just enough to get accustomed to the mechanic and style of play.

So we re-booted Red Box Niagara as a home game setup through a mailing group. We hope to play about twice a month but it might average out to every three weeks. Time will tell.

About a week before our first session last Thursday night, I emailed the following background to the players. I do need to cite my friend Cr0m of Red Box Vancouver and Meatshields! fame and the Red Box New York group for providing inspiration for the background of the Northern Reaches. I have effectively borrowed the basic idea and shuffled the deck.

Five years ago, Lord Stephen reclaimed a remote portion of his northern kingdom overrun by the Dragon Army. The Northern Reaches, as they are called, were once a prosperous region and home to a great dwarven kingdom as well as the human settlement of Threshold. The coming of the Dragon Army scattered the peaceful people of the area and the dwarven kingdom was abandoned. For years the goblins, orcs, ogres, and giants that swelled the Army's ranks held sway in the region until Lord Stephen and his men-at-arms scattered the evil horde. Slowly, the humans, dwarves, halflings, and others returned to Threshold, but many of these were mere ruffians, seedy cutthroats, and lowly adventurers intent on making a few quick pieces of gold.

At this time, only half of Threshold is habitable, the other half remains completely destroyed, a legacy of the battles to take and retake the small northern city. Lord Stephen has placed Belrain the Elven, his brother-in-law, as Castellan of the city and Cardinal Ludwig oversees the re-establishment of the Church of Law. Despite efforts to establish order, the region is far from safe. The Dragon Army wasn't defeated outright and blood-thirsty monsters openly travel the region, destroy hamlets, and waylay merchants and travellers. Only the desperate, or the foolhardy, knowingly travel to The Northern Reaches.

You find yourself in Threshold, the former capital of The Northern Reaches, with little but the shirt on your back and the sword at your waist. The rumours heard around the only tavern, The Flaming Troll, say that Mikko the Dwarven Hero and local Blacksmith is interested in a few strong sword arms to head west. Some say he pays for the recovery of dwarven artifacts. You've also heard that Cardinal Ludwig wants to investigate the ruins of a monastery to the east. Finally, there are the constant reports of monstrous humanoids in the hills to the north. Some say Castellan Belrain pays 5 gold pieces for every goblin or orc head brought to the city gates.

Do you want to talk to Mikko the Dwarven Hero, Cardinal Ludwig, or visit with Castellan Belrain?

Player's Hex-Crawl Starter Map:

Player's Hex-Crawl Exploration Map: Session 1

The group consisted of two players each playing 1 character + hirelings. I also ran a character (effectively an NPC with a hireling). We use homebrew level titles, some of which reflect TSR material but most don't.

Sweargen the Swordsman, Hu F1, Str:9, Int:9, Wis:11, Dex:8, Con:7, Cha:16; Battle axe & Chain
Along with:
Colmar, M@A, Hand axe & Leather
Corgax, M@A, Light Crossbow & Leather (these two hirelings are brothers)

Vith'Aria Illiscuna, El Mu1, Str:11, Int:15, Wis:9, Dex:12, Con: 10, Cha:14; No armour and Sling
Along with:
Untag the Useless, Torch-Bearer
Hilgax, M@A, Club, Shield, and Leather

Binford the Acolyte, Hu Cl1, Str:8, Int:9, Wis:17, Dex:11, Con:12, Cha:10; Chain, Shield, and Mace
Along with:
Murgar the Ill-Tempered, Dw M@A, Leather, Shield, and Hand Axe

After using their meager remaining funds to scrape together some weak-kneed and morally wanting courageous hirelings, the party sought out Belrain to learn more about the bounty on orcs and goblins. Instead of heading north, as Belrain suggested, they instead turned to Cardinal Ludwig. Ludwig desired a group of explorers to head east and investigate the recent destruction of the Monastery of the Iron God. Apparently, a great storm destroyed keep and nothing has been heard of the monks within. Locals would take their dead to be entombed in the monastery and so Ludwig wanted answers (and most importantly would pay gold).

The money-grubbing thieves brave adventurers headed east for a day and camped at the base of a mountain; they planned to ascend the next morning. After their climb they surveyed the destroyed ground level before find a staircase descending into the dark.

The Party Approached the First Room with Caution:

The party investigated a statue of the Iron God in the main chamber. They encountered a strange goblin head and determined that the statue contained some sort of tube or chute. They decided to head through the door on the east wall. The group failed to bring a 10 foot pole and didn't search the floor for recent disturbances did a great job given they're newbie old school gamers.

Despite No 10ft Pole, They Successfully Negotiated a Pit Trap:

Continuing north they entered a room with a door on the opposite wall. Murgar managed to make out the unmistakable sound of goblins on the other side of the door. They considered many options before deciding on Vith reading a sleep spell in concert with combo of Murgar throwing oil and Hilgax throwing a torch. This was quite bold and daring painfully ineffective. Rather than dowsing the floor, Murgar was instructed to hit a goblin, which he did. However, Hilgax missed with the torch. Facing seven goblins, they then decided to cast sleep, but Vith rolled snake-eyes and only two goblins were influenced by the spell. They then decided to close the door.

For Some Reason the Adventurers Decided to Engage the Blood-Thirsty Goblins in Open Combat!:

Having closed the door, the remaining goblins but one opened the same door and attacked. The other raised the alarm to his nine goblin buddies who summarily ran around behind the party and attacked from behind (no, they didn't even have the common courtesy for a reach-around).

The Ol' Attack from Behind!:

The battle raged. In short, Hilgax was reduced below zero hit points (from friendly-fire on a critical miss - gee, thanks Corgax) but made his save versus death or die. Sweargen critical missed and hit himself with his battle axe. He then proceeded to fail his save versus dex for half damage and rolled 9 hit points of damage. Fortunately the Fates were with him and he made his save versus death or die (by one). As you can see maximum carnage was enjoyed by all.

The Battle Raged!:

This battle actually took a long time to resolve because everyone kept missing, but eventually the PCs got hot with the dice, looted the goblins and high-tailed it out of there back to Threshold.

All in all a very fun session. There were numerous laughs as we had a few of those "Ok Hireling B go open the door...the rest of the party stand over here" moments. One of my favorites was "Ok, who has the ten foot pole? Hmm, ok we didn't bring one. We need to improvise. Well, let's tie a rope around a hireling and make him go first!" Hehe.

Oh, and they forgot the goblin heads, and missed out on 5 gps per! Too funny.

Also, this was my first time using my Hirst Arts dungeon and I was VERY pleased with my build and it certainly engaged the players. Add in the Otherworld and Citadel miniatures and it was, by far, the most aesthetically pleasing D&D game I've ever played.

We hope to get two sessions in during October.

PCs Killed: 0
Hirelings Killed: 0
Goblins Killed: 13
Plundered Goods: 745 gps of value
TPKs: 0
Look on their face when attacked from behind: Priceless


  1. That was an awesome session write-up! I loved it. You had text, maps and photos. Everything!

    I'm glad that everyone survived the gobbo fight. It couldn't have been easy fighting on both flanks.

  2. Thanks Christian. I'm going to keep the pictures coming, maps I'll update if they decide to give up on the Iron God and go somewhere else.

    Wry humour is certainly a part of early D&D so I've tried to keep the recap in that spirit. I think it's more entertaining than simple reportage. Folks can sound off if they think otherwise.

  3. Yea, I don't know how we forgot that 10 ft. pole. I still think a torch bearer with a rope tied around him would suffice though