DDEX1-6 The Scroll Thief GM notes and discussion

Ricochet

Explorer
Originally posted by AlHazred:


Hi,

(Please note if you are a player in expeditions, this thread is not for you)

I was waiting for Tyranthraxus to make more threads for more Expeditions modules, but then it occurred to me I could just do it.

This thread is for discussion of the sixth Expeditions adventure, The Scroll Thief. I see it as a forum topic for us to talk what has gone right and wrong within the adventure, the combat tactics we use, the embelishments we made, the props we use and so on.

If you find links to maps, diagrams etc that you found useful when preparing to run this, please share them.

Please keep in mind this thread isn't for players' tales (unless one of your players broke open the scenario for you). They are purely for DM inspiration and discussion.

The reason they are in here, and not in the Dungeon Masters' area of the forum is that, we really just want discussion here from AL DMs as we have a certain toolkit to work with which other Dungeon Masters do not.




Originally posted by RCanine:


Here's what I think could be valuable in this thread. Note that I've yet to read through the module, but this is what I took away from having played it this weekend.


  • We ended up halfway through the adventure having (we believed) succeeding on everything but still required the deus ex machina ambush to move the plot along. Tips as to what information the players need, and ways to keep things moving if they fail to get it would be great.
  • It seemed like you needed to be familiar with a 25-year-old video game or novel to understand what was going on, so tips for DMs on how to engage players who weren't even born yet would be great too. It read the novel a decade ago, and was still completely confused.
  • We had a vague sense of time pressure, but it wasn't exactly clear. It seemed like all we needed to do was just talk to everything with a name. So tips on establishing tension would be great.
  • My party was totally unprepared for the final encounter, and my character was deleted from the fight before he acted despite being the top initiative. Tips on preparing players for this encounter (especially level 1 players, since IMHO level 1 is already not fun) would be valuable.
  • I see this adventure as having problematic treasure like LFR's AGLA1-1: Lost Temple of the Fey Gods that every single player runs at 1st level because the rewards are way overbudget. Guidance on fair ways to split the treasure would be awesome, because someone is going to walk away with an item they might keep for the rest of their adventuring career.

My DM was a good friend and I know him to be top-notch, so I'm guessing it's fairly challenging to run this well. I'm not overly critical because I think authors of a new system need some time to get acclimated to it. I'm concerned that this adventure will be confusing and frustrating to a group of new D&D players, especially first level ones, while also being run over and over again by power gamers.




Originally posted by sigfile:


I've played this (second level) and read through with intent to run.


  • The investigation is well-suited to AL play. It is a bit of a railroad, sure, but the NPCs are mostly helpful and the stakes escalate as the investigation proceeds. With one exception the party ought not run in to a point where the players are at a loss for what to do next.
  • The investigation makes no sense once the party talks with Master Opanrael. He's concerned because two scribes failed to report for duty... and the only place to look for them is the Archives, which is where they'd be if they'd reported for duty. I'll be changing that up so that Ellison is the apprentice to Greenleaf. Ellison hasn't reported for duty for days - perhaps Greenleaf (in the archives) has some information as to his location or recent activities.
  • The ambush doesn't set the tone well for the rest of the combats. It's a bit too simple. It's necessary to move things along, sure, but I caution DMs against using that encounter to gauge party strength. Accidentally mis-adjusting the Secret Cache combat for a strong party (or, heaven forbid, very strong) is going to result in character deaths.
  • The Secret Cache combat is utterly brutal, even at standard difficulty. First level characters need not apply. A party that clears this combat without loss of life may very well qualify to drop a "party strength" level for the upcoming combats.
  • A party, depleted of resources after this fight, potentially cursed, in possession of two-thirds (give or take a few pages) of the missing books and possessing treasure wizards in the group would probably kill each other to obtain, doesn't have a lot of incentive to carry on past this point. The investigation changed from a simple series of thefts to a murder investigation as of Blood and Books. The murderer still has a scroll of fireball and the party (potentially) knows it. I'd recommend making it obvious via an explosion in the distance and wave of heat moving up the hole in the wall that the scroll is no longer in play. I'd also prefer to see Greenleaf knocked unconscious in Blood and Books rather than killed; the scope of the crime doesn't change dramatically that way, and the party isn't given a reason to re-engage the Black Fist. It's consistent with Ellison's later combat behavior and it makes him a more sympathetic character, which might be vital to the party's survival in the final encounter.
  • If a first level party ("very weak") magically makes it to Rythnax, that party is going to die. If a second level ("weak") party makes it to Rythnax, unless that party is very, very clever, it's going to die. I'd bump the lair actions all down one notch - very weak and weak parties effectively face Rythnax outside his lair, standard parties deal with limited lair actions, strong parties face the full set of lair actions, and very strong parties get to deal with that and buffed enemies. As mentioned above, I'd like to remove some of the incentive to attack Ellison; he's built up a number of comical pity-points, but it's easy to toss away pity given that he sicced an ambush on the party and murdered a scribe.





Originally posted by Rosebee:


These hints & tips are much appreciated as I'm running this next weekend at my FLGS. It's my first time DMing since i was a wee lass playing with siblings.


Originally posted by kilpatds:


Stupid question: what stats am I supposed to use for Ellison, should the party make it there? I couldn't find them at the table time, so picked a stat-block arbitrarily.

(Report: 3 members in the party, but 2&3rd level such that I ended up on "weak". They sniffed a rat on the ambush, and were able to be victorious even though the melee type dropped and wasn't effective. They worked around engaging the monsters in the sewers. I was rather generous in rests, and they went into the final encounter rested ... but the monster ended the consciousness of the melee PC before he had a real turn... and failed saves ended his life. (My Ellison was far to potent, and sucked up the attention on the only PC with any cure spells). But they did "win")




Originally posted by sigfile:


kilpatds wrote:Stupid question: what stats am I supposed to use for Ellison, should the party make it there? I couldn't find them at the table time, so picked a stat-block arbitrarily.
He's a Spy. I don't recall where all it's called out, but I know you'll find it in "Adjusting the encounter" for the final encounter.


Originally posted by kilpatds:


Ah, thanks. I missed that.

Uses of Spy in the pdf: a very early encounter. The "adjusting the encounter" block for the encounter in question. XP at the end, and the monster stat block at the end.

Ok, I didn't just miss it. The adventure fails to mention that except in the adjusting the encounter block.
 

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Ricochet

Explorer
Archives difficulty

Originally posted by Nevvur:

Was just running a solo play of the combats in this module in preparation for running it this Thursday for a live group. Using a party of five Level 3 characters, so "strong party." Question about adjusting the difficulty for the Archives... (spoiler)
 

Show
[sblock]Archives encounter suggests changing Shadows to Spectres for this group composition. Though my test group defeated them, the Spectres outright killed one party member, and left others with reduced max HP. The dragon fight at the end is especially perilous, then, nevermind the carrion crawlers between those two encounters. 
 
I will note that the Spectres landed two critical hits with very high damage rolls, and characters failed their con saves. Could just be the dice were against the party for my test, but I wanted to hear if anyone else ran a strong (or very strong) party through this module, and the results. 
 
My initial thought is to convert only one Shadow to a Spectre, assuming I have a strong party for the live play, or simply increase the number of Shadows to five.

[/sblock]

Originally posted by ZHDarkstar:

Show
[sblock]I had a party run through it on Very Strong a couple of weeks ago. If you don't have a magical weapon, spells against undead, or a paladin, it can be quite the headache of a fight against the spectres, carrion crawlers, and dragon. If your party needs to long rest instead of short rest after one of those hard fights in the archives, don't be afraid to oversell Ellis' plight throughout his escape plan. You're empowered to adjust the story within reason.[/sblock]

Originally posted by Nevvur:

Went back and ran the encounter in question a couple more times. I think it was really just a case of the dice hating the party on my first test run.
 
Thanks for the reminder, ZHD. I run these modules pretty close to the text, but I'll have some ideas prepped to adjust as needed.


Originally posted by Tyranthraxus:

You are lucky. I ran this on strong and I couldnt hit a THING. Not once. And the party was full of martial types doing half damage. I was sad.


Originally posted by ZHDarkstar:

Spectres are the corner case where Shilellagh/Polearm Master goes from Overly Provolone to the Gouda you can't survive without.


Originally posted by Coredump00:

Yeah, Spectres are a *lot* harder than shadows.  Luckily we turned all three spectres, and just left before they came back.
 


Originally posted by Avross:

Show
[sblock]So I finished this last night...and the party WALKED through the fights with the shadows and the dragon.   The shadows scared them, since they immediately picked up on the fact that sapping their Strength to 0 would have killed them...and most of them had Strength as a dump stat.   
But there wasn't too much challenge for them.   A large part of this was the ranger, who had the sharpshooter feat, the Hunter's Mark spell, and a magic bow.   He brought the dragon down from 33 to 5 hp with two shots.   I considered *tripling* his hit points so that he'd last a while.     If you've got any characters who have figured out how to spike against single targets, these fights won't be as much of a challenge.
 

[/sblock]

Originally posted by Ainulindalion:

When I played the module with my cleric, the dragon was monologuing... and we attacked in the middle of the speech.  The DM ruled we had surprise, I rolled first init, and then crit with a 2nd level guiding bolt for over 40 damage... The barbarian was next.  Needless to say, the dragon didn't last long.
 
So yeah, rolling well versus rolling poorly can really change the modules up.


Originally posted by Coredump00:

The Shadows weren't a problem, the *spectres* were the problem. ( I have played it twice)
 
The dragon wasn't a problem either time
 

Ricochet

Explorer
Whisperer?

Originally posted by Afetbinttuzani:

Hello. 
This is a DM question that contains spoilers. Players: you have been warned.
 
I have just begun to DM for Adventurer's League, so I haven't run any of the other adventures in this series. 
 
On page 14 of "The Scroll Thief", the players find a note on one of their ambushers that reads:
 
  • "Just get it done, Soares. If they find me, then the last four months have been a total waste. Ensure that the Whisperer's faith in us was not ill-placed.  B"
Who is the Whisperer and what is their role in all of this? Given that Berenger, the writer of the note, works for the cult of the Dragon, I would assume the Whisperer is a higher up in that organization. But I can find no reference beyond a female gnome named Seranolla the Whisperer who is part of the Emerald Enclave (DDEX13 p. 10, DDEX112 p. 8).  I'm confused.
 
Any help would be appreciated.
 
Cheers,
Afet.
 


Originally posted by TheBreen:

"Whisperer" in this case refers to someone who is in possession of one of the Dragon Masks (items introduced in Horde of the Dragon Queen). Those people, who are high-ranking members of the Cult of the Dragon, are referred to as "Dragon Whisperers." For example, the holder of the Green Dragon Mask would be called the Green Dragon Whisperer (an NPC named Neronvain at that time, incidentally).
 
In the note, Ellison Berenger is reminding Soares that their superiors have entrusted them with an important task, and urging Soares to hurry with his part in it.


Originally posted by Afetbinttuzani:

TheBreen wrote:"Whisperer" in this case refers to someone who is in possession of one of the Dragon Masks (items introduced in Horde of the Dragon Queen). Those people, who are high-ranking members of the Cult of the Dragon, are referred to as "Dragon Whisperers." For example, the holder of the Green Dragon Mask would be called the Green Dragon Whisperer (an NPC named Neronvain at that time, incidentally).
 
In the note, Ellison Berenger is reminding Soares that their superiors have entrusted them with an important task, and urging Soares to hurry with his part in it.
 
Thank you. That helps.  The PCs, however, have naturally assumed that it refers to Seranolla the Whisperer, and are prepared to seek her out and confront her
slant.gif
     I suppose I could retcon the note and say it reads  "the Whisperers' faith" as apposed to the "the Whisperer's faith".  


Originally posted by Zarton:

Well you could retconn when if the party reports the messages to one of the key people who might know, and elaborate on it.


Originally posted by Afetbinttuzani:

I looked this up, and Hoard of the Dragon Queen refers to possesors of the masks as Wyrmspeakers.  I can't find Dragon Whisperer anywhere, but it's not a stretch to think they refer to the same thing. It's a bit odd, though, that they would use a different term in the Adventurer's league Phlan adventures.


Originally posted by ZHDarkstar:

When I ran this, I also had no idea who the Whisperer was. I wish that the Expedition pdfs would have reference links to the lore for DMs who are new to running FR material. It'd be nice to have a way to answer off-script questions, instead of having to rely on my soundboard app to let players know they're barking up the wrong tree.


Originally posted by TheBreen:

In the adventure Corruption in Kryptgarden, the PCs capture a scroll tube containing a letter signed, "Neronvain, The Green Dragon Whisperer." I'm pretty sure I remember seeing Severin referred to as The Red Dragon Whisperer, but I can't find the source at the moment. Sorry for any confusion.
 

Leroipell

First Post
I am a new DM and maybe I am complicating things to myself but I have some questions here.

I have some problems on how to integrate some of the faction assignement.

Especially the Lords' Alliance. How can I make it clear for my player who is in the LA that once they discover the false nobility, he must report it to the Lords Alliance.

And the Order of the Gauntlet. If one of my player is in the OotG but another one spars and impress Marten, should I still give the extra renown to the player in the OotG? If no, how would you make it clear that the one in the OotG should take the challenge and that still feels natural?

Also, The Harpers. How does the PC know that you should copy the notes in the books he find to then send it to the Harpers?

Thank you very much,
 

Ricochet

Explorer
I introduced a bunch of NPCs that were recurring for the factions (some from the modules and some of my own), giving missions here and there.

Then again, I didn't use the reknown system at all, as we had trouble using it. I sort of homebrewed a lot for the scenarios to make it all fit together etc.
 

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