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D&D 5E The State of the Union, a barely amusing campaign (NOW without Pics!)



Issue #000: An Introduction

The Game- This is a D&D 5e campaign, and for the majority of the players, and me (the DM), this is our first time with 5e, although we're (nearly) all veterans of previous iterations of the world's greatest yada yada... We play using Fantasy Grounds- the glorious DM (me) has an Ultimate account, so the free-loading players get to play, well... for free. For the first 50 or so sessions we used Skype for voice chat, but Discord has since taken over as our favourite. We play for 3-4 hours, most weeks- subject to the rough and tumble of family lives.

The opening scenario is WOTCs intro to the format, the Lost Mine of Phandelver, for levels 1-5 (-ish). We've actually been playing the campaign now (as I write this, 16th Oct 2017) for 2 3/4 years (or so), next Wednesday will be session 90-something. So, I've a lot to do to catch up, fear not I have excessive notes, be patient with me, we'll get there with this Story Hour.

Obviously we've finished the Lost Mine of Phandelver now, what we get up to next will becomes obvious later.

The Players- There are five players in-game, at least at the beginning- there are personnel changes (for a variety of reasons) as we go on, although three of the present players have been in action since the beginning (almost). The players are-

Pedja, a 30-something Serbian mechanical engineer- he makes the doors for the Space Shuttle, or was it for washing machines, I forget which. Pedja's a smart chap, he plays Hellwhip, although he's never played a Ranger before, and of all of the guys he has the least experience with pen & paper roleplaying games. Pedja however instigated this campaign, by e-mailing me and whining a lot, so he gets to go first in this list.

Zoki, another 30-something Serbian chap- Zoki has played in a couple of other D&D (4e) campaigns I've run- back in the day, and on Maptools previously. Zoki is in business- probably dodgy, but hey, who knows- he's always busy, that's for sure. Zoki is also a smart chap, he plays Grimm, and he does it ever-so well at times. He's certainly fond of the sound of his own voice, and has a mini-moral compass in his pocket at all times, which suits the Paladin just fine.

Bob, yet another 30-something Serb, they get everywhere. Note the three Serbs are somehow inter-related, or else firm friends- which is why in-game when one of them messes up the other two generally rip into him, with zeal. Over the years I have learnt some very graphic Serbian swear words. Bob's an entrepreneur, and an incredibly clever fellow (he paid me to write this), and the CEO of an ever-expanding company. Which means that he gets to game, sometimes, from far-flung places and at odd times of the day, very early morning, or in the middle of the night. Bob plays Ken Lee, the Wizard, he has a mean-streak a mile wide and all for setting people on fire, or else crushing them under tonnes of rock.

Christer, is a 30-something Swedish chap, he too is related by marriage to one or two of the Serbs above. Christer works as a computer programmer, I think, it's hard to understand what he's talking about when he starts up with his work-related tirades. Apologies but I believe computers to be magic boxes full of binary elves, and er... stuff. Christer, is a clever chap, and yet his accent, for some (possibly cultural- he reminds me of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets) reason makes him sound... what word to use here without insulting Christer, or else the Swedish nation as a whole. He sounds... slow, of course he's not at all- he just sounds it. I, of course, understand that all of the four guys above speak half-a-dozen more languages than me, and that their native tongue is not English. But Christer's pronunciation, and oft-times, chopped up sentences almost never fail to leave me grinning. Christer plays Zyler, the lug Battle Priest that shouts 'Tempus' a lot. He's great, every house should have one.


Simon, is a 30-something British fellow, no relation (oddly) to me or any of the other players. Simon, like Christer, works in IT (or so he says)- certainly he knows a lot about computers, like how to turn them 'off' and 'on' again. While the other four players are happy to expose their family, friends, and much of their real lives to the game (and our ridicule)- Simon, is a mystery. It is suspected that he does not sleep, only for a few hours each night he reboots and runs updates. In truth, Zalt- the Warlock (Simon's character) is equally mysterious in-game. At times it seems to me that he only suffers his fellow adventurers to be around so that they can carry things for him, and open the doors, and find traps. Zalt is an army of one.

The DM- I'm an British guy, nearly 50 years old- yeah, I should know better. A lecturer by trade, and therefore overly fond of the sound of my own voice. I eat a lot of biscuits, I used to be a soldier, I have foresworn alcohol and so need something to fill the void. D&D is my drug of choice.

This then is our game, and... oh, we call ourselves 'the Union', because we are united as one in our pursuit of... what was it again, oh that's right- 20th level.

A brief intro to the PCs follows.
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Issue #000a: The Players

In alphabetical order, are-

Grimm, Male Human Paladin of Tymora (Luck), played by Zoki.

A rough young man with cheekbones that could cut cloth, women swoon- he's a ladies man, and beautiful to behold- six feet tall, lithe and muscled with a crop of tousled sandy coloured hair. Grimm is also a bit of a drinker, and- of course- a gambler. A devotee of Lady Luck, Tymora the goddess of chance. Grimm has an opinion, on most things, and is not keen to keep his opinions secret- in short he has a big mouth and it gets him in to trouble. He likes trouble.

He's the rebel Paladin, he breaks the rules to get things done, doesn't suffer fools at all, and is all to eager to back up his words with the edge of his sword. The ladies don't stand a chance... and yet he has (of course) got a secret- once many years ago he fell in love, it happened in an instant, and when the moment was gone (and the lady departed- forever?), the world seemed... smaller, less interesting.

Grimm is at a loose end, and all the more dangerous for it- he wants to experience once more the thunder and lightening of the moment, he seeks the lady that broke his cool.

Hellwhip, Male Human Ranger, played by Pedja.

Hellwhip has had a rough existence, used by his father and then abandoned- ripped from the farm and the forest and dumped on to the dark streets of the slums of Neverwinter. He has had to fight for everything he has got, and watch his mother fade from grace and his sister die.

Hellwhip has a mean streak a mile wide, a sneering- sometimes ugly (inside and out) man, who enjoys more than he should the misfortune of others. He's out for what he can get, although not entirely without manners or calm, he can play the long game too. His job is to survive, he's very good at his job.

Ken Lee, Male High Elf Wizard, played by Bob- he first appears in Session #003.

Ken Lee an 'orphaned' High Elf foundling discovered wandering in the woods, taken in and raised as a farmers boy he watched his parents get old before he finally left home. He served his apprenticeship as a Mage in Leilon, and then after falling out with his master, he had grown too used to the easy life, was finally kicked out in to the real world. After a treacherous journey he fell in to the company of the Union- see Session #3.

Ken Lee is neat and tidy, well-mannered, civil, and very clever. He doesn't like to get his hands dirty, is unused to 'chores' and the idea of real work (like his days on the farm) he finds abhorrent. He likes power, and in particular the prospect of possessing such- a great deal of power. He has no doubts (or scruples), he knows that he would use his power wisely- to lift the yolk of toil and poverty from the poor folk that suffer constantly the inequities of life. If he has to burn a few people to get things done, then so be it.

Zalt, Male Half-Elf Warlock, played by Simon.

Zalt looks to be no more than a lad, not yet nineteen summers- he's much older of course. His mother raised him, and made him independent, and strong, and... a little broken inside. Zalt's father, a merchant, didn't stick around for long- things were difficult at home- no money, no honour, no friends and his mother's quiet rages. Zalt has lived a secret life, mostly inside his own head, for more than half of his years on Oerth.

All the while waiting for the call, eager to serve.

The voice eventually came to him out of the dark and deep (and out of fear and dread) when he was serving as a deckhand on a ship out Neverwinter, his maiden voyage. The voice made the unreal real, Zalt took his name and became a messenger of the terrors.

Zalt is always right- in everything that he says and does. Zalt can do anything. Anything he wants. The world will come to know this... soon enough.

Zyler, Male Human Cleric of Tempus (Battle), played by Christer.

Zyler is not like the others in the Union; he is big, odd, funny-looking, funny-sounding, he says odd things- all of the time, he doesn't fit in- he doesn't blend in. Zyler however is completely comfortable with who he is, what he is- and what he does, and for some unknown reason that fact allows others to like him too. He is easy to like, difficult to comprehend at times, but... y'know, alright.

Zyler has trained for years (actually generations- he's his father's son alright) in the art and practice of battle, a roaring hero in the making. Which is odd really, because a decade back he swore to his dying mother (the Drow did for her) that he would never follow in his cold distant (battle-hardened) father's footsteps, and yet here he is... ready for death or glory.
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Session #1

SotU Map 1.1.jpg

The Union #001: I can make the sound of a distressed goat.

Four adventurers (see above) exit Neverwinter (A) on a supply cart full of mining equipment heading for Phandalin (B), a three day journey. Their employer, Gundren Rockseeker (Dwarf Mining Engineer) and his bodyguard Sildar Hallwinter (Human Ex-Guard Captain = Meat-Shield) have gone ahead, travelling on swift horses.

The four adventurers have not met previously, a chance to make new friends is soon thwarted when Grimm states that Hellwhip is a "f**king stupid name", relations deteriorate quickly between the pair. It rains all of the next day.

On the third day of travel the adventurers encounter the remnants of an ambush- a pair of arrow studded, fly-buzzed, dead horses in the road ahead (C). Grimm checks things out, pissing off Hellwhip the Ranger even more. Seconds later the Paladin is hit by several arrows and is left unconscious and bleeding out on the ground, it seems the ambushers are still around. Zyler, the Priest of Tempus, gets to the Paladin and saves his life. Hellwhip in the meantime manages to kill three of the Goblin ambushers with his deadly accurate bow attacks, after the fight he catches the ‘sleeping’ Paladin up with his exploits. Zalt manages to incinerate a small bush and a distracted squirrel with his Eldritch Blasts- no roll higher than a ‘5’, nice start. The last fleeing Goblin ambusher is run down by Grimm and Zyler- the para-military, heavily armoured version of the Chuckle Brothers (to me, to you).

Soon after Zyler states- “That is Gundren’s horse - I never forget horse face”, in his rich Swedish accent, sounding ever-so-slightly retarded. I laughed so loud a little bit of wee came out. In short the two dead horses belonged to Gundren Rockseeker and Sildar Hallwinter, and as Hellwhip states- “Shit! We ain’t getting paid.” “Unless…” Zalt has an idea.

The adventurers find the Goblin ambusher’s trail, actually Grimm finds it- and then after hiding the supply cart the Paladin leads the way. Grimm locates a hidden snare trap en route- this he points out repeatedly to Hellwhip, and anyone else who is listening. Grimm lets it be known that “Rangering is piss simple- it’s just looking for stuff.” Back at the snare trap Zalt states that he can make the "sound of a distressed goat, with my magic". A short while later he explains that the sound of the distressed goat will lure the Goblins to the spot- Skype goes silent for a good long while, consensus is the Warlock is a f**king loon. The adventurers continue along the trail, Grimm manages to find another trap- a pit trap this time, the hefty Paladin dives out of the collapsing hole at the last moment. He’s not so cocky now.

SotU Map 1.2.jpg

The trail leads in to a clearing with a cave opening over the far side, a fast running shallow stream exits the cavern, thick vegetation to either side of the opening (D). Zyler spots a pair of Goblin guards in the undergrowth, actually they’re playing pat-a-cake (Stealth check ‘1’). The Priest of Tempus outlines a plan of such implausible intricacy that it is instantly dismissed by all who have the misfortune to hear it. Zyler rolls a ‘1’ on his initiative, Zalt and Grimm manage to conjure higher numbers. The Warlock Eldritch Blasts one of the Goblin guards dead, while Grimm runs screaming at the last fellow and slays it. Job done.

First session complete.
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SotU Map 2.1.jpg

The Union #002: A Certificate in Woodwork.

The Union (they have a name now) head in to the cavern (A). Hellwhip spots a pair of tethered emaciated wolves in the first chamber (B)- “Target Practice”, he declares. Zalt has a whispered word with the Ranger (basically he explains what a Ranger is, and does). A few moments later the canines are figuratively (and literally) eating out of Hellwhip’s hand. The pair are set free, the last beast standing in proud salute in the clearing- eyes locked on the Ranger. The beautiful moment comes to an abrupt end when Grimm throws a stone at it and hisses for the wolf to “f**k off.”

The ex-wolf chamber is empty, save for a chimney style opening which holds only darkness (C), the Union therefore follow the fast running stream further in- they don’t get far, there’s a sudden rush of noise followed by a sudden rush of water (D). A tidal wave- the Union scatter and miraculously avoid the deluge. Zalt spots a shonky wooden bridge above and ahead, with two Goblin observers (E). The stepped passage on the left climbs to a lit chamber- this needs investigating (F).

The Union reconvene in the ex-wolf chamber (B), Zalt attempts to climb the chimney there- he fails and declares the passage impassable (C). Which is all the encouragement Zyler needs, the hefty Priest of Battle scrambles up and pops his head up in to a much larger well-lit chamber (G) complete with dozens of sacks and boxes (trade goods?) and more importantly a pair of Goblins, a very big Wolf and a hefty looking Bugbear. Zyler scrambles back down before he’s seen, and reports his findings. Skype goes quiet for a while as the PCs make Monster Knowledge checks via Google, the consensus is- Bugbears are tough.

The Union head up the stepped passage in a rush (F), Zyler leads the way- he doesn’t get far as the rock beneath his feet collapses, the Priest avoids falling by putting his foot in Grimm’s face for purchase. The Paladin is less fortunate, he‘s sent sprawling back in to the stream passage, his comrades scattering to avoid him and the follow-on rock-fall. The reclining Grimm is the first to spot the second tidal wave, “F**king Tymora! Run”, remarkably Grimm and Hellwhip manage to duck back into the passage (F), Zalt is less fortunate- the Warlock is swept back out of the cavern and in to the clearing screaming (A).

A pair of hollering Goblins come rushing down the passage, with two more of the buggers on the rope bridge providing artillery support (D & F). Grimm and Zyler meet the charge and beat the Goblins down- eventually, Hellwhip snipes at the duo on the bridge. The last miscreant Goblin standing attempts to flee- its head explodes, a sodden Zalt (on 2 hp) fumes, still muttering his Dissonant Whispers spell. The Union retreat- out of the lair (A), they need to recover- and Zyler has already used all of his prayers for the day.

The adventurers hide in the bushes either side of the cavern entrance (A), and rest- thirty minutes in to their sojourn a voice comes from the darkness of the cavern- “Who are you? What do you want?” The Union are soon after in conversation with Klarg (they presume he’s the Bugbear). Klarg insists that he is "clever", stating that he has a "certificate in woodwork" to prove this. Klarg has a proposition for the Union, he has a rival for control of the Goblin bandits, a nasty bastard called Yeemik. Klarg further admits that they were responsible for ambushing and kidnapping Gundren and Sildar, the former has been taken elsewhere, while the later- Sildar, is being held by, wouldn’t you know it- Yeemik. The deal is- the Union kill Yeemik, recover Sildar, and Klarg tells them what he knows about Gundren, providing the adventurers guarantee to sod off after the deed is done.

The Union accept the deal.

Rested the adventurers head back up the rocky passage (F), and straight in to combat with Yeemik and his followers (H), two of the five Goblins there are killed in seconds, however the fight comes to a sudden halt when Yeemik (up on the ledge) drags an unconscious Sildar in to sight- then threatens to cut his throat. The Union agree to chat, oddly enough Yeemik has a proposition- basically the same as Klarg’s offer only this time Yeemik lives and the Bugbear dies. Zalt has heard enough, the Warlock spams the Dissonant Whispers button and Yeemik’s head explodes. One of the two Goblins left standing attempts to fight its way out- and is slain, the other grovels in the dirt and worships at Zalt’s feet. The Goblin’s name is Catflap (he combines the Stealth of a feline with the Agility of a bird, hence- Catflap).

Catflap further confirms that the Goblins were responsible for the ambush of the Union’s patron, and that they had help from a bunch of nasty Hobgoblins who took Gundren Rockseeker and left the lair yesterday- destination unknown.

A short while later Sildar Hallwinter is revived, he also has plenty to say-

Gundren & his brothers (Tharden & Nundro) have, he thinks, discovered Wave Echo Cave. Wave Echo Cave, centuries past, was the home to a cabal of Gnomes, Dwarves & Humans (known as the Phandelver Pact) who produced magical items, and in the process made Phandalin rich.

Wave Echo Cave was destroyed, along with large swathes of the Sword Coast, half a millennia past by a barbarian Orc horde from the far north. The location of the cave was lost, existing only as rumour, until now- perhaps.

Sildar overheard the Hobgoblins who were part of the ambush talking, it seems they are working for someone or something called the ‘Black Spider’.

Last bit, Sildar is a member of the Lords Alliance- an honourable faction that seeks to consolidate and/or expand civilisation in to the wild lands. Furthermore the ex-Guard Captain needs to get to Phandalin in a rush- today if possible, and is willing to pay.

The Union have questions but soon after are convinced- Sildar truly believes that Phandalin’s best hope is Gundren, the Dwarf must be rescued, a task he believes the Union are ideally suited.

At which point the second session draws to a close.
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Session #3a

Cragmaw Goblins Lair 03.jpg

The Union #003a: Klarg Kill NOW!!!

Questions for Sildar & Catflap concluded, and with several members of the Union injured once more it’s time to retreat (A). Things do not go to plan- Zalt spots a very large Wolf (Ripper) parked at the bottom of the passage the adventurer’s climbed to get here (B). Zyler spies a trio (at least) of Goblins further along the only other passage that exits the chamber (C). A voice booms out- “Klarg not stoopid! Klarg Kill NOW!!!”. The Union are trapped, and in need of a saviour…

About a week ago, in Leilon, Ken Lee receives his Doctorate of Magicology during a short ceremony conducted by his master and witnessed by Mrs Irene Bradshaw (the cleaner), it’s official- he’s a Wizard. Little changes, every day chores and study- Ken Lee is living the comfortable life. That is until three days later when at 4 AM the neophyte spellcaster is woken by his master in his bedchamber, screaming at him- ‘idle’ this and ‘good for nothing’ that. Ken Lee pays little attention to the tirade, he’s more concerned that all of his possessions seem to have been packed in to one lumpy-looking backpack parked in the centre of his room.

Six hours later Ken Lee is riding a cantankerous mule called ‘Abigail’, and is last in line on a trade caravan heading for Neverwinter. He’s been kicked out.

The countryside is… meh. His arse hurts, there are flies- it’s too hot and he’s hungry. It gets worse (of course), the next day Ken Lee departs the caravan heading to Phandelin on the Triboar Trail, he must meet a fellow there called… Daran-something.

Things get much worse, three hours later Ken Lee (and Abigail) arrive at a scene of utter devastation- a trio of dead Goblins, a pair of dead horses and two desperate looking Wolves making a meal of the fallen. That is until the fresh meat turns up.

Moments later Abigail is braying, and kicking, and heading in one direction while the recently unsaddled Ken Lee is running as fast as he can in the opposite direction. Tymora favours the High Elf, he hurtles along a dusty trail, chased by the Wolf pair, and luckily locates a handily placed snare trap. A moment later a semi-conscious Ken Lee is dangling upside down ten or so feet in the air while the Wolves leap, snap and snarl inches from his face. The wannabe Gandalf loses control of his bladder and in the face of absolute terror- feints.

A short while later Ken Lee regains consciousness, the Wolves have gone, he cuts himself free.

A short while later Ken Lee regains consciousness again and picks himself up off the hard-packed earth. At which point he discovers all of his possessions (including his spellbook) are still on the ornery bastard of a mule- Abigail. The air turns blue for a while.

Later he trudges off back down the track towards the Triboar Trail, en route he has to skirt an open pit- which is odd, he doesn’t remember passing it when the Wolves were chasing him. A short while later the Wizard emerges in a clearing, opposite a cavern entrance with a fast flowing shallow stream exiting it. Damn! He’s gone the wrong way.

Hungry and more than a little pissed off, Ken Lee takes a drink from the stream and noses around the entrance to the cavern (D), there’s something in there- his eyes adjust to the dim light, the something is a Wolf (another one), this creature however is a very big Wolf, in fact Klarg’s Wolf- Ripper, who is aptly named (B).

Ripper chases Ken Lee, Wolves clearly have a thing for Wizards. Ken Lee runs, not out of the cavern but in to the first chamber (E), and then for anywhere else to go- up the dark chimney passage (his Athletics check fuelled by terror). The High Elf Wizard emerges in a very recently abandoned chamber (F) and then with a burning brand grabbed from the fire pit, fends off Ripper- who is having problems getting up the chimney. The Wolf flees. Ken Lee takes a moment to look around, there’s a pile of merchant’s goods in the rough cavern, the remnants of a meal and a fair scattering of coin and precious things.

Ken Lee knows where he is- he’s in trouble.

The Wizard hears raised voices, cautiously he investigates- sneaking through a large cavern chamber which contains two breached reservoirs fed by a swift underground stream- most odd (G). Then on, hidden in the shadows, to a swaying rope bridge which bisects the high-ceilinged entrance passage. On the other side of the bridge is a Bugbear (Klarg), the Bugbear has its back to Ken Lee (H). The Wizard sucks up all his fears and casts a spell- determined to be a hero, his most powerful spell- SLEEP.

Klarg barely notices, scratches his arse, and then suddenly screams “Nooooooooooooooooooooo!” in a faintly dramatic way and rushes off down the corridor- away from Ken Lee, who is fairly certain that his spell has not worked. He decides to hide and wait things out, possibly the best decision he has made for some time.

Back in Yeemik’s former abode (A) the adventurers make short work of their attackers- Zalt is in Ripper’s mind with his trademark Dissonant Whispers (Ripper save ‘1’), the beast flees the lair, causing the onlooking Klarg to “Nooooooooooooooooooooo!” and then rush in to action. Less than twenty seconds later and all three Goblins are dead, and Klarg is sat on his arse and pleading for his life. The Bugbear’s prayers are successful, the Union have questions that need answering, however not right now it seems, as a dishevelled looking Elven Wizard (the hat’s a give-away) steps out of the shadows ahead and declares, “Hello! I’m Ken Lee and I’m magic!”.

Ken Lee (played by Bob) has arrived. There follows the sternest interrogation the Union have ever conducted, Ken Lee’s story (as outlined above) proves hard to swallow. Eventually, grudgingly Ken Lee is allowed to stick along for the ride. Grimm and Hellwhip even manage to agree on something- “Wizards are not to be trusted”, the Wizard is “on probation”, Zalt concludes.

Back to Klarg the Bugbear, and the Union’s questions, over the course of the next fifteen minutes the adventurers learn-

a) Gundren (the Union’s Dwarven patron) left the lair yesterday with the Hobgoblins that helped with the ambush, the group is led by Targor Bloodseeker who seems to be a formidable Hobgoblin Boss, and in the employ of King Grol, Lord of the Cragmaw Goblins.

b) Targor mentioned something about the ‘Black Spider’, but Klarg- bless him, thought he was referring to a… wait for it, a… black spider. Which, of course, could actually prove to be true.

That, alas, is all Klarg knows, or else the Union can extract. Zalt is extremely unimpressed, he has many more questions, particularly where has Targor taken Gundren? Klarg’s best guess is King Grol’s lair, located somewhere in the Neverwinter Forest. Zalt rants a while but to no effect, he concludes that Klarg is somewhere near the bottom of the organisational structure.

The Union check out Klarg’s lair (F), find spending money and a pair of Healing Potions- Grimm uncorks the first and swigs it down, and then puts the second in his belt pouch- “F**k you! I’m in charge”, the Paladin matter-of-factly states- that’s the division of spoils dealt with. Zalt notes that the pile of merchant’s goods here mostly bare the symbol of the Lionshield Coster, a Sword Coast mercantile concern- the Warlock searches out the smallest item and takes it with him, as evidence- there might, he reasons, be “a representative of the organisation in Phandalin, and a reward for their return”. Simon (who plays Zalt) has clearly read the module.

A short while later the Union exit the Cragmaw Goblin’s lair- Catflap, the Goblin, is given his freedom and told to “bugger off” by Grimm, the foul humanoid runs- not fast enough however to avoid Zalt’s Eldritch Blast. Catflap is reduced to red paste and body parts. The Paladin fumes but the Warlock is having none of it, Zalt simply states- “loose lips sink ships”, and then leaves Grimm to his fuming while Hellwhip grins in the background.

A little later, with Sildar in tow, and Klarg in chains the group recover their cart (and ox), and even locate Abigail, Ken Lee’s tetchy mule. Then on to Phandalin… they arrive late in the evening.

But that’s for the next section (although still part of this session of play).

More to follow...
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