Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lost Mine of Phandelver, Session 4 – Party Time

Lost Mine of Phandelver, Session 4 – Party Time

Our Heroes
Atticus Digby: Half-Elf Bard/Wizard
Bramble: Green Gnome Arcane Trickster
Kokiri: Wood Elf Assassin
Roan Vines: Human Hunter
Skeld: Mountain Dwarf Cleric of Wotan
Vandalar: Silver Dragonborn Paladin

Our heroes head back into town after clearing the ruins of Tresendar Manor of the villainous Redbrands. They have three Redbrands and the traitorous wizard Iarno Albrecht as their prisoners. They also have three former prisoners of the Redbrands (Mirna Dendrar and her children Nars and Nilsa) with them, as well as the cowardly goblin semi-henchman Droop. Bringing a free goblin into town will cause trouble, so Bramble uses her formidable disguise talents to make Droop look like a gnome. He's not very convincing (he doesn't speak Gnomish, for one) but all the gnomes in Phandalin are Rock Gnomes, so they just assume Droop is one of those backwards, foolish Green Gnomes.

Sildar Hall escorts the Dendrars back to their home, while the PCs take their prisoners to Town Hall and the makeshift jail—where they unwittingly left their previous prisoners under the watch of a Doppleganger disguised as their henchman Pete. Once they enter the hall, they immediately smell the scent of death. Bramble runs down to the cellar and discovers the cells open. Bruno the Redbrand captain and the three Cragmaw goblins have had their heads bashed in, as though by a mace, hammer, or something with a slam attack.

Upstairs, the rest of the party hears someone calling from inside Mayor Wester's office.

“Who's out there? Hall? Skeld?” The mayor has barricaded himself in his office. There's a heavy scraping of furniture, and the mayor lets the heroes in. “He went crazy, that halfling! He killed them! He killed them all and ran south. Probably towards those orcs near Basilisk Spur. If you hurry you might catch him!”

The. Heroes. Aren't. Buying. It.

With a couple well-made perception rolls they notice splatters of blood on Wester's collar (the mayor is not wounded). They also notice a couple small drops of blood near the unusually large steamer trunk at the back of the office. As Bramble goes to open the trunk, the “mayor” makes his move.

Skeld has his sword drawn, and Wester takes a swing at him. The mayor's flesh ripples as mass shifts down his arm and into his fist. His knuckes grow hard and horned as his fist slams the dwarf twice with the force of a mace.

The battle is on. The mayor's head shifts to that of Pete's smiling halfling face. “Hey buddy!” he taunts. “He fought so hard, your friend. He wanted so badly not to disappoint you. But in the end he died like a child—crying for his mother and shitting his pants.”

The PCs are enraged. The Doppleganger is tough, but they outnumber him. The battle is short and brutal. Soon the monstrosity lies dead on the ground, its gray putty flesh oozing black oily blood. The team opens the steamer trunk. Inside lies the fat, naked corpse of mayor Wester, along with poor dead Pete's armor gear. In Pete's backpack, along with his extra shirts, they find a letter to Pete's parents.

The feels!

The town hall is full of dead bodies now, and the heroes aren't sure what to do next. They go outside to try and find Sildar, but as soon as they take a step outside, they are accosted by a large group townsfolk.

“Hey!” shouts a burly farmer. “Are you they ones that killed all the Redbrands?”

“Ummm... yeah.” Replies Digby.

The farmer smiles and the crowd cheers! Before the team can do or say anything about the bodies of the prisoners, the doppleganger, or the mayor, the PCs are drug into the street, hoisted onto shoulders, and paraded about town as heroes! A massive celebration is quickly organized.

While the party is underway, Digby manages to sneak away and talk to Rom, the dwarven priest of Death Itself who serves as town undertaker and gravedigger. He arranges for the priest and his associates to discretely “clean” the town hall. The town is happy and celebrating. The team will break the news about the mayor's murder in the morning.

At the party, there's drinking and dancing a'plenty. Even since the PCs came to town, the PCs have been too busy to mingle. The party gives them an opportunity to finally meet all the important and interesting people in town.

Stuff that happened at the party:
  • Tim and Tam, the Copperheel brothers strike up their gnomish fiddles and fill the night with lively music. Digby joins them for a few songs with his ukelele (a gnomish instrument of repute).
  • Mirna thanks the PCs for rescuing her family. She tells them about a valuable family heirloom they left in Thundertree when she was a girl. She still hopes to find her dead husband's body.
  • Digby dances with Mairn'as 18 year old daughter and they have a nice moonlit walk around the orchards.
  • Young Nars asks Vandalar stupid questions. “So you're a dragon or something, huh?” “So what's a paladin do, anyway?” “Oh wow, tell me everything you know about Bahamut!”
  • Tuck and Qelina Alderleaf introduce themselves as the heads of the local farmers collective. Tuck tells some long rambling stories about the strange demon-monster that's been killing sheep. Several farmers have seen it, but exact descriptions vary.
  • Halia Thornton introduces herself as the leader of the local miner's exchange. She tells Kokiri that “ even though Sildar wants to take Iarno to Horizon to stand trial, many people think the wizard is too dangerous to keep alive. If something should happen to him before he reaches Horizon, certain parties would be grateful.” Kokiri, hoever, is very drunk and may or may not pick up on Halia's meaning.
  • Sister Graele thanks the heroes for showing mercy and restraint by taking at least some of the Redbrands alive.
  • Toblin Stonehill introduces himself and offers the heroes free room and board for the extent of their stay in Phandalin.
  • They meet Yor Peaceforge, the town blacksmith and the only Orcbrood (half-orc) in Phandalin. He gets angry when the team asks him if he can make weapons or armor. “NO! I will never again make the tools of war!”
  • Linene Graywind walks up to Bramble, holding Mouser and Fafhrd, Bramble's horrible, filthy alley cats. "Are these yours?" she asks angrily. When Brambles confirms that they are, Linene drops them in the Gnome's lap. "Keep those horrible creatures out of my store!" she shouts and walks away, muttering under her breath. 
Towards the end of the night, the celebration suddenly grows quiet. The crowd parts at scarred, crippled, old Daran Edermath walks into the town square, wearing his old elven chainmail with his sword at his belt. He carries a case of his fine apple brandy under one arm. Whispering the crowd tell the heroes that Daran hasn't worn his armor in many years.

Daran looks to the PCs. “Come see me when you have a free moment. But for now, drinks are on me.” He sets the bottles on a table, smiles slightly, and limps back home.

After a few more hours, the party winds down, and the heroes go to see Daran in his home. His living room, once cluttered, is now empty except for a large fire in the hearth, a ceramic jug and several clay mugs. Daran stands in the room, a boar-skin cloak over his shoulders and holding an elaborately carved oaken cudgel.

“You have proven yourselves, young heroes. You are ready now to be fully sworn into the House of Hrothgar. In doing so, you will dedicate yourself to actively stand against evil and protect the weak. If you cannot swear this, leave no. None will think the less of you.”

Bramble leaves, unsure if she can make such a pledge. Thus is the path of the Neutral.

The rest each place one hand on the cudgel and swear the Oath of Hrothgar:

That my strength
Shall shield the weak,
That none shall suffer tyranny
Beneath my watch,
Lest my arms grow weak
And my eyes grow dim,
I so swear.

Then they all drink a mug of mead and toss the clay mug into the fire. The heroes have achieved the rank of “Blooded!”

Thus the session ends. The heroes still have several quests to follow up on, and poor Gundren Rockseeker is still missing. Digby and Skeld also want to return to the Three Boar Trail and find Pete's body for proper burial (or maybe resurrection?).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Flaamff for Far Away Land

Flaamff (1)
"It's me, Barney the Flaamff!"
Archetype: Monster
Size: Small (0)

Flaamffs are rubbery floating jellyfish who worship the Cosmic Wanderer. These good natured creatures live in dungeons, ruins, and other out-of-the-way locations where adventurers tend to frequent. Small cloisters of flaamffs patrol dangerous rooms, passages, and chambers looking for wounded heroes to heal with magic and medicinal fungus. If attacked, these peaceful creatures defend themselves with their stink spray and try to flee. They only lash out with their tentacle spikes as a last resort.

HP: 13, AC: 0, ACT: 5
BRT: 1, DEX: 1, WIT: 2

Tentacle Spikes (1): 1d3 damage, Stink Spray (1): Makes target nauseous, Magic (1): Equal to LVL, Flight

Flaamff PCs
Boons: 2
Abilities: Tentacle Spikes (1d3 damage), Stink Spray, Flight

Monday, March 23, 2015

Non-Human PCs in Far Away Land

As I’ve said before, I really like Far Away Land. The system is simple but the setting is weird and awesome and surprisingly complex. Hopefully I’ll get to play or run it soon (maybe after my Fate superheroes games is wrapped). The Far Away Land G+ community is so active, I’ve barely been able to keep up with all the posts.

In Far Away Land, the basic assumption is that the PCs are all humans. Humanity is a new and alien species in Far Away Land, with only one large city. As strangers in a strange (far away) land, this gives the (presumably human) players an immersive perspective as they explore and uncover the mysteries and strangeness of the world.

But humans are boring, right? Who wants to play a jive old human when you can play a gourd-headed Poomkin or a bear-riding Agnun? The general vibe I’ve picked up from the FAL community is “You want to play a non-human? Sure, go ahead, have fun!” That’s cool.

I’m not a big proponent of “game balance”  but I often feel like you have to tweak rules for non-humans a little to make humans at least somewhat desirable. Here, then, is my hack for how I’d allow non-humans in a Far Away Land game that I may or may not eventually run.

The basic jist of it is that special abilities replace starting boons. Joe Vanilla human gets four boons; Gump the Poomkin only gets two boons, but can regenerate ands see in the dark.

I’m not a numbers guy, but I mostly assumed that most abilities are worth one boon. Some (like better senses) are worth half a boon, while others (the Blonin’s Teleportation) are worth more.

Some of the races below also include an extra flaw, either as a further pseudo-balancing measure, or to maintain the “flavor” of the race. This flaw is required in addition to the 1d3 flaws all starting PCs take.

Here are the races from the Creature Index in the Tome of Awsome that I would allow as PCs. Use them as you will.

But seriously though, why would you play anything but an Orka? Those guys are badass. I mean Gruun, man...

Abilities: Animal Bond (Grizzle Bears), Night Sight, Telepathy (with other Agnuns)
*Note: While an Agnun PC can communicate with Grizzle Bears, she does not start play bonded to one. She will have to find and befriend the beast, who will probably want some service first before agreeing to act as her mount. Sounds like an adventure to me!

Boons: 2
Abilities: Teleportation (50’)

Boons: 3
Abilities: Night Sight, Nose for Ore, Alcoholic Strength
Extra Flaw: Mean Drunk

Boons: 3
Abilities: Better Hearing, Better Sight, Night Sight

Boons: 4
Abilities: Resistance (half damage) to Cold
Extra Flaw: Frosty

Mushroom Folk
Boons: 3
Abilities: Spore Cloud (1d3 damage, causes hallucinations for one round per point of damage inflicted), Night Sight
Extra Flaw: Primitive

Noog Noog
Boons: 4
Abilities: Claws (1d3)
Extra Flaw: Cowardly

Boons: 4
Abilities: Night Sight

Boons: 2
Abilities: Healing Factor, Regeneration, Resistance (half damage) to Poison

Boons: 3
Abilities: Night Sight, Better Smell

Boons: 3
Abilities: Water Breathing

Boons: 3
Abilities: Better Hearing, Better Smeall, Night Sight

Boons: 4
Abilities: none
Extra Flaw: Surly

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gnomes with Guns

I've always liked guns in my fantasy worlds. The guns in LotFP are gritty and dangerous and cool. My hunter in WoW used a gun. I love the mountain-man gunslinger I play in my friend's Pathfinder campaign. I even made an Artillerist playbook for Dungeon World.

What I don't like is needlessly complex rules that make firearms overly powerful while “balancing” them with clumsy complications. I'm quite happy with reskinning a crossbow and calling it a rifle. For me, fantasy firearms are more about style than trying to get an advantage. That's why I like the rules for firearms in the 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. They do slightly more damage than crossbows but have worse range and are a bit more expensive. That's it. No weird misfire or reloading rules. Perfect. Just what I want.

Gnomes with Guns
The Gray Gnomes of Pangloss have a proud tradition of gunsmithing. Each weapon is an individually crafted work of art—a deadly mix of clockwork and alchemy. Gnomish firearms use glass cartridges that contains gunpowder and a catalyst liquid. Spring-driven triggering mechanisms break the glass cartridge, allowing the propellants to mix. The resulting explosion fires the heavy metal slug through the barrel towards the target. Gnomes jealously guard the secrets of crafting gunpowder and catalyst. No other race has mastered the mechanical intricacies required to craft firearms, although the Hobgoblins have tried with limited results.

Gray Gnomes are a race of hard-bitten survivors. They long ago lost their subterannean kingdoms and their god to the forces of the Underdark. Now, their adopted island home of Gnomeria is under siege by the armies of the Ashen Queen. Gnomes have fled Gnomeria en masse, forming small communities wherever they can. Their tenacity, marksmanship, and grim humor has kept them vibrant no matter where they settle.

The Gray Gnomes of Pangloss
Gray Gnomes conform to the Rock Gnome subrace found in the Player's Handbook with one change:
  • Gnome Weapon Training (replaces Tinker): You have proficiency with the pistol and the musket.
  • (Note that you still have to purchase your gun, which won't be cheap).

The Refugee background from the Glitterdoom adventure from Goodman Games is very appropriate for many Gray Gnomes.

Other Rules
Pistols and muskets are martial weapons. A non-gnome character who has proficiency with martial weapons can become proficient with firearms by training (PHB p.187) under a gnomish tutor (250 days at 1gp a day). A character may also use the Weapon Master feat to become proficient with the Musket and the Pistol (each count as a separate weapon).

Ammunition can be readily purchased in any gnomish community, although merchants are usually reluctant to sell to non-gnomes. Any Gray Gnome proficient with alchemist's tools can craft gunpowder. Other races will have to learn the formula through research, gnomish tutelage, or other sources.

New Feat: Gunslinger
(It's just Crossbow Expert re-skinned, I won't lie....)
Thanks to extensive practice with firearms, you gain the following benefits:
• You ignore the loading quality of firearms with which you are proficient.
• Being within 5 feet o f a hostile creature doesn't impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
• When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded pistol you are holding.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pratchett's Blade

Terry Pratchett was a man of wit and compassion, of anger and insight, of reason and whimsy. He was my hero. No other writer, save maybe Douglas Adams, had such an influence on my writing and narrative and dialog style. Every bickering goblin mob, every brash and bumbling cop, every sass-mouthed cosmic entity is a thank-you note to Terry Pratchett.

His sadly-not-unexpected death has broken my heart.

Did you know that after he was knighted, Sir Terry Pratchett forged his own sword out of meteoric iron? Did you know he hid it afterwards? I can only hope it's in a trap-filled dungeon under his home.

This is my best way to honor his memory.

Pratchett's Blade
Weapon (shortsword), Legendary (requires attunement by a good-aligned character)

This legendary weapon was brought to this plane from some distant and unknown world. Pratchett's Blade was the favored weapon of a much-loved adventuring bard from Times of Old, known for his biting wit and unwavering sense of justice. The blade has passed in and out of many hands ever since, always bringing a spark of light to a darker world.

Pratchett's blade is a simple, but well-made shortsword forged of star-metal that glows with a dim octarine light in the dark. The hilt is wrapped in worn black leather, similar to bookbinding.

When attuned, the shortsword grants its wielder a +3 bonus to attack and damage. The sword also grants its wielder immunity to fear. On his or her turn, the wielder can cast Vicious Mockery as a bonus action (save DC: 13). Lastly, once per day (recharging at dawn) the wielder can cast Tasha's Hideous Laughter as a bonus action with a save DC of 15.

Phandelver Session 3 (Plus some praise for combat) -- [D&D 5th Ed Actual Play]

The session report below was written quickly and poorly, with bad sentence structure and wonky spelling. It's not glittering prose, but I think it does a decent job of hitting the important points of the session.

Before we get to the recap, though, I want to comment on how fun D&D 5th Edition combat has turned out to be. On my side, monsters have been easy to run. Each monster or NPC has a couple of tricks that make them interesting (two attacks per round for Redbrands, or the goblins' attack-and-hode routine, Bugbears' extra damage, etc.) but remain simple enough that I, the DM, can focus on creating an evocative combat environment. Thanks to the whole “bonded accuracy” thing with 5th Edition, monsters and PCs both hit a lot, keeping fights tense and exciting.

On the other side of the screen, my players are good at using tactics in combat without turning D&D into a “tactical” game. The party has turned into a very effective SWAT team. The rogues and ranger use their stealth skills to slip into the shadows, where the rogues can use their powerful sneak attacks to pump out a lot of damage in the first round. The war-cleric and paladin rush into combat and draw enemy fire--not by using any special “draw aggro” power, but through pure roleplaying. “Raar raar raar! I'm a vicious iron-clad dwarf IN YOUR FACE swinging a howling sword at your boinloins! COME AT ME, YO!” With the “tanks” in the middle of the fight, the rogues can continue to use their sneak ranged attacks against any monster within arm's length of their armored allies. Meanwhile, the wizard directs his owl familiar to swoop in, use the “help” action, then fly away safely using it's “flyby” ability. This gives the next hero to attack the distracted monster advantage on their roll.

It's cool to see these tactics work even though we only use maps and minis about 50% of the time. I can't wait to come up with some scenarios that monkey-wrench this routine.

Now, onto the session report...

Our Heroes:
Bramble (Green Gnome Rogue/Charlatan)
Kokiri aka “Cookie” (Wood Elf Rogue/Sailor)
Atticus Digby (Half-Wyrd-Elf Bard/Wizard/Noble)
Roanvine (Human Ranger/Outlander)
Skeld (Hill Dwarf Cleric/Sage)

Absent Heroes:
Vandalar (Dragonborn Paladin/Noble)

NPC Buddies
Pietor “Pete” Rabbitslayer (Halfling fighter, in town guarding prisoners)

The heroes continue their assault on the Redbrand hideout. Vandalar's player couldn't make it, so we deiced that the paladin went back into to town to make sure the civilian posse got home okay. We assume she got distracted helping an old lady carry groceries or helping a cat out of a tree—y'know, paladin stuff.

Having already discovered a couple of secret passages in the bandits' base, the team investigates the Redbrand's workshop for hidden doors and finds two. Bramble sets up some bell alarms near one door, and the party continues down the other.

This passage turns out to be the Glasstaff's secret escape route. The heroes stumble into the evil wizard's bedroom, startling the Glasstaff as he sits at his desk. The team is shocked to realize that the infamous Glasstaff exactly matches the description of Sildar Hall's missing friend Iarno Albrek! Wasting no time, the team attacks quickly, beating the wizard into unconsciousness before he has a chance to cast a single spell.

The heroes roll the wizard in a curtain and tie him to the bed then search the room. Digby claims the wizard's Staff of Defense for himself while Skeld searches his desk. Among the wizard's papers, Skeld finds a letter to Albrek from the Devil Spider!
For any letters or notes the PCs find, I try and make handouts like this.
Bramble peeks under the bed and spots the wizard's rat familiar. She tries to talk to it, but the fiendish rodent tells the gnome to “Fuck off and die!” then scampers away through a crack in the wall. Digby uses Mending cantrips to seal all the rat holes he can find.

The Glasstaff's laboratory is in the adjoining room. Along with the wizard's alchemical gear, they discover his spell books and the journal of a dwarven adventurer, Urmon Fellhammer, that describes the history of the Phandelver Pact and the legendary Spellforge.

Fellhammer was a paladin on a personal crusade against the vampire Xyxor. While in Uruth, he heard stories of the mace, Lightbringer. This magical weapon was commissioned centuries ago by priests of Brahma but was lost when Wave Echo Cave and the Spellforge were destroyed. He set out to find Lightbringer with his companions—Jase Gumbleputty (a gnomish ranger and marksman) and Bolinda Plum (a human wizard).

Fellhammer's last entry indicates that his party intended to consult the “Ghost Witch of The Woods” for information.

While the team is busy looting the wizard's room, there's a sudden knock on the door. “Boss!” shouts a rough, thuggish voice, “There's something weird going on. You'd better come out for a moment!” The Redbrands must have found all the iron spikes the team has been leaving in their doors.

The heroes rush the door and beat the bandit into submission. Down the hall, they can hear the telltale sounds of men putting on armor and readying weapons. The team is once again on the move, readily falling into the commando-like tactics that have served them so well. The two rogues and the ranger slip into the shadows with their formidable stealth skills. Skeld kicks in the door to the next room, surprising the four Redbrands inside. The fierce, mail-clad, sword-swinging dwarf draws the badguys' attention while the rogues and ranger take them out with sneak attacks. Digby's owl familiar swoops in to distract enemies with its “flyby” ability—moving in, making “help” actions, then flying away. The Redbrands lie dead or unconscious before they can mount an effective counter-attack.

When the heroes return the Glasstaff's room with three more hog-tied prisoners, they find the wizard's familiar (who had slipped under the door) trying to chew through its master's bonds. Digby's Chill Touch spell quickly dispatches the fiendish rat.

Lego heroes against lead villains!
Continuing through the hideout, the party hears several rough, brutal goblinish voices and one squeaky, whiny goblinish voice. Taking up familiar positions, the party approaches the room. Bramble tests the door to see if it is locked, but botches her Stealth roll. The rattling door handle causes the voices beyond to pause for a moment. Wasting no time, Skeld tries to kick in the door... and rolls a 1. The door holds, and the voices inside fall eerily silent. Sighing in resignation, Skeld opens the door via the handle and is (not very) surprised to find a massive bugbear waiting for him, filling the entire door frame.

The battle begins! Our heroes focus fire and take out the first monster as they rush into the room. They spot a second bugbear, lurking in the shadows near a bed, while a scrawny, terrified goblin watches form the far side of the room and faints dead away. The party engages the second bugbear and are quite shocked when a third bugbear (who got a 20 on his Stealth roll) steps out from the shadows and drops Roanvine the ranger with a single sneak attack. Things are desperate, as the giant shaggy goblinoid has bypassed the designated “tank” and is among the much squishier rogues and bard. Kokiri bravely lunges at the bugbear and wounds the monster deeply but not fatally. The bugbear swings it's great morning star around and slams the elfin rogue, dropping her to 0 hp. Kokiri slams against the wall and slides down to the floor, leaving a smear of blood behind. With two PCs down and bleeding out in as many rounds, the fight turns tense. Skeld slays the Bugbear he was fighting with a natural 20, and Aces, the sword of Druuj the Slayer, starts wailing alien war hymns (which sound a lot like Motorhead). Finally, with a combination of spells and swords, the third Bugbear goes down. Healing potions revive the unconscious heroes. The team is glad they convinced Gundren Rockseeker to throw some potions in with their payment.

When the goblin (whose name is Droop) revives from his faint, he freaks out at the sight of Digby. “Oh please, most powerful wizard, do not put Droop to sleep again. You spared Droop's life once, spare it once more!”

Digby is confused. “Do I recognize this goblin?” He makes an Intelligence check, and rolls a 2. All goblins look the same to him. “When did I cast a spell on you?” the bard-wizard asks.

“On the trail, when we attacked your wagon. You killed my friends but spared me. You left me tied up with the halfling.”

A look of shock crosses Digby's face. “You're supposed to be dead!”

The goblin wails in fright once more, but the party manages to get the whole story out of the terrified goblin with a couple of Charisma rolls and a well-placed Friends spell.

When the party was exploring the lair of the Cragmaw goblins a couple of days ago, they left their goblin captive (this very goblin, Droop) under the watch of their halfling hireling, Pete. A couple of hours after the party left, “the clayskin came and killed the halfling. It took his shape, and I was able to escape. I ran here, where the Devil Spider's human minions live.”

Roanvine the ranger specializes in monstrosities and recognizes the creature the goblin is describing—a doppleganger. The party realizes that they have left a murderous monster in town, watching their prisoners.

The heroes want to get back to town quickly, but are afraid of leaving the Redbrand's base unexplored. They quickly investigate the couple of rooms they had skipped over. After battling a handful of skeletons and some Redbrand guards, they rescue a captured townswoman and her two children. They have been beaten a bit but don't seem too badly injured. They are, however, quite eager to get back home and bury their father, who was murdered by the Redbrands.

The session ends with our heroes, their prisoners, and rescued captives returning to town, speculating on what the dopple-Pete-ganger has been doing in their absence.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lost Mine of Phandelver - Session 2 [D&D 5th Ed Actual Play]

Wherein the team arrives in Phandalin and encounters the Redbrands...

Bramble (Green Gnome Rogue/Charlatan)
Kokiri aka “Cookie” (Wood Elf Rogue/Sailor)
Atticus Digby (Half-Wyrd-Elf Wizard/Bard/Noble)
Roanvine (Human Ranger/Outlander)
Vandalar (Dragonborn Paladin/Noble)
Skeld (Hill Dwarf Cleric of Wotan/Sage)
(NPC) Peitor "Pete" Rabbitslayer (Halfling Fighter)

Taking up from the previous session, the team interrogates their three goblin captives. Only one of the goblins speaks Common and repeatedly tries to sell out his comrades in exchange for his freedom. The heroes don't go for it. The Goblins know that Gundren Rockseeker has been taken to some place called Cragmaw Castle, though they aren't sure exactly where it is. “Supposed to be a day north and east of here, in the forest.” They also know that their chief was working for some “big bosses” that live in the castle.

As the team makes their way back to the Three Boar Trail, they meet up with their wayward companions, Skeld and Vandalar. At last the team in complete, blizzard be damned.

The reunited team arrives in Phandalin well after sundown, and most of the shops and buildings are closed for the night. Skeld and Vandalar wait at the edge of town with the goblin captives while the rest of the team tries to figure out where they are supposed to deliver Gundren's supply wagon, as well as the Lion Shield goods they recovered from the goblins' lair. Sildar Hall thanks the heroes and makes his way to the Stonehill Inn (“I need a drink... in that tavern there, right now.”) with promises to pay the team in the morning.

Several of the buildings in town display this poster...
...which the heroes note for later.

Barthen's Provisions is closed for the night, but Digby manages to talk the owner, Elmar Barthen, into seeing them. Digby buys a gnomish ukelele as his focus or his shiny new Bard level. The heroes impress the storekeeper with their pluck and manners, and he tells them about the Redbrands, a gang of ruffians that have been causing trouble in the town.

The Redbrands get their name from the angry, dagger-shaped scar they have branded on their foreheads.

Meanwhile, on the edge of town, Skeld and Vandalar run into a couple of Redbrands returning from Edermath's Orchard with an armload of stolen cider. A fight erupts. One Redbrand runs off towards the ruins of Tresender Manor while his buddy attacks the cleric and paladin. The Redbrand's two attacks per round give the two heroes a solid fight, but they eventually come out on top, knocking their foe unconscious.

The fracas (and Skeld's radiant spells) draws the attention of the townsfolk. A small mob of villagers shows up (along with the other PCs) led by Mayor Harbin Westler. Westler is a fat, pompus old man who doesn't want any trouble in his town, but some of the other villagers seem relieved that someone's here to take care of the Redbrands.

As things start to settle, Daran Edermath (the owner of the orchard) shows up, demanding to know what's going on. He's a fire-scarred old half-elf leaning on a walking stick who talks like Charlton Heston. He invites the heroes back to his home while they lock the goblins and the captured Redbrand in his woodshed. They leave Pete the possibly-homicidal halfling to guard them (with Digby's owl familiar secretly watching Pete).

Reading this module, I didn't realize how irritating the Greenwood/Forgotten Realms names would be to say constantly. If I could do it over, I would change all the NPC names.

Edermath is a retired warrior and a member of the House of Hrothgar like the PCs. His house is decorated in hand-carved woodwork and mementos of his old heroic career. A faintly-green-glowing sword hangs over the mantle, which Digby identifies as Verdikast, the sword that Daran used to slay the great white owlbear of Thistlethorn Forest. Daran tells the PCs about all the troubles in the town, while the PCs confide their own plans to the scarred old hero. After a good meal, Daran lets the PCs stay in his place for the night.

In the morning, Sildar Hall helps the heroes transport their prisoners to the makeshift jail in the town hall's basement. Sildar also tells the heroes that he can't find his friend Iarno Albrek, another member of the Bastion he was supposed to meet in Phandalin. Would the heroes please keep a lookout for him?

The party interrogates the Redbrand (who is named Hugo) and discover that the gang's boss (a wizard known as The Glasstaff) is working for a mysterious figure known as the Devil Spider. They have a hideout in the basement of the ruins of Tresender Manor. There is a secret entrance to the basement in the woods.

During the interrogation, Vandalar steps out to get food. While in the streets, she sees a group of six Redbrands heading towards the town hall. She runs back to warn the rest of the team. The Redbrands (led by a man named Jasper) line up in the street outside the town hall and call out the heroes in classic Western fashion.

A fight erupts! Digby's sleep spell takes out Jasper. Roanvine and Kokiri pepper the bandits with arrows. Bramble sneaks out and around, shanking bandits with sneak attacks, using her innate illusion power to make Batman-esque smoke clouds to help make Hide actions. Vandalar and Skeld bash villains with melee attacks and keep their friends up with healing magic. When the dust clears, the bad guys are all dead. The villagers are elated, but justifiably concerned about Redbrand retaliation.

As the heroes loot the Redbrand bodies, Sister Graelle, the priestess at the local shrine of Chalice (goddess of healing, suffering, and mercy) approaches them. She laments that such violence has come to her town, but heals the heroes' wounds regardless. The good sister also gives last rights over the dead Redbrands, praying they will find redemption in the afterworld.

Sister Graelle is a member of the Tome and Compass society, a organization of explorers. The PCs ask if she knows where Cragmaw Castle is. She doesn't, but she might be able to find out if they do her a favor. She wants the PCs to find the spirit of an ancient elf diviner named Agatha and ask her where the famous explorer Cutter Tork's lost map case is. She has an old silver comb of Agatha's they can use to bargain with the spirit. Another quest!

But first, the team decides they need to take out the Redbrands NOW! They have a plan. Vandalr and Skeld will round up a posse of villagers to cause a ruckus and distraction at the main entrance of the Redbrand's base. When the Redbrands come running out, the townsfolk will scatter and the cleric and paladin will engage the villains. Meanwhile, the other, sneakier heroes will come up through the secret entrance, hitting the Redbrand's from behind.

The heroes seem to think the Redbrands' base is one large chamber. It is not.

As the PCs leave with their posse, they are approached by Linene Greywind, the woman that runs Lionshield Coster. “You're taking these boys with you?” she says, indicating the posse. “These people are my friends. You're going to get them killed.” The heroes assure her that no harm will come to the villagers. Linene doesn't seem quite so sure.

Cut to the ruins of Tresender manor. Skeld, Vandalar and the posse bash on their shields and hoot and holler calling the Redbrands out. They do not come. The heroes send the villagers back to town with booze money and enter the basement themselves. In the cellar, they are confronted by a trio of Redbrands trying to sneak up on them. It's a tense fight in a crowded area, but between the dragonborn's breath attack and Skeld's magic they are able to take out the bad guys.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hideout, near the secret entrance, Bramble, Digby, Kokiri, and Roanvine encounter a strange, one-eyed monster crawling out of a misty, cold chasm. The thing cackles and gambols about, speaking secrets about the characters that no one else should know.

“You! Your father wears the yellow robes!” it hisses into Digby's head, indicating his father's alliance with the Yellow Warlocks of K'Narth.

“Lost Princess!” it hisses at Bramble, indicating it knows about her past as an exiled noble.

Fed up, the PCs attack the monster (a Nothic, my favorite new monster). It blasts Digby with its entropic gaze, but the wizard-bard makes his save.

“The monster's eye flares with black-light energy, and your flesh doesn't rot from your bones!”
“I love it when that doesn't happen!”

The monster is killed in short order. Thanks to some secret passages that both Bramble and Skeld find, the two strike teams soon reunite.

Digby's Detect Magic spell indicates that the chasm has some weird low-level Necromatic magic. There's also the glow of something else magical glowing underneath one of the bridges spanning the chasm.

Lowering Bramble with a rope, they find a chest full of coins stashed in a cubby hole as well as a magical sword that Digby recognizes as Aces, the sword of Druuj the Slayer. Skeld claims the sword, hoping its dubious legacy won't offend Wotan.

As the session closes, the heroes lock themselves in a store room and take a short rest to regain some Hit Points and other resources.