D&D 5E: Scouting and Deception

by mshrm

Since last session, the kids’ schedules diverged a bit, so we ended up having a couple of sessions with varying numbers of players. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate the whole “short rest/long rest” recovery scheme, to both players and DM.

I’ve got this nefarious scheme where I’m trying to leverage D&D for educational purposes. (Hey, it worked on me.) As a part of that, I’ve rejected the seductive path of milestone leveling. When the PCs overcome an obstacle, I award XP, the players do the math, and we see if anybody levels up. I was worried that might slow down the game too badly, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I keep an eye on their XP totals, so I know when they’re getting close to a new level. I try to pace it out so that they level when it’s about time to wrap up for the day.

Reminder, we’re using the adventure, Gauntlet of Spiragos, if only loosely. From this point on, you will surely encounter spoilers. (One thing I did change: the original module has the local goblins being variants with six arms, among other mutations. I left it at just spidery eyes and a poisonous bite. I figured that would emphasize the monstrous nature of… well, you’ll see.)

What Happened

Reaper and RH settled down in a concealed location near the Chasm, keeping watch and eating sandwiches. Styx and Necro went to reconnoiter, approaching the Chasm more closely than before. They discovered that it was a deep, sheer pit. How deep, they could not tell, because a canopy of webs hanging dozens of feet below obscured the view. There were a couple of crude rope bridges, woven from giant spider web, leading from the edge of the pit to a couple of odd stone pillars in the hole’s center.

Taking care to be quiet, the two crossed over the nearest bridge to one of the columns. As they approached, they realized that the column’s surface was riddled with holes, some large enough for a goblin to slip through. Being a slender elf, Styx had no trouble doing the same.

Styx discovered two things. First, upon getting a close look at the column’s surface and interior, her alchemical training allowed her to notice that it was no normal stone, but fossilized bone!

Marveling at the thought of such a large piece of bone, she made her second discovery: the column contained an interior hollow space, dark and thickly coated in cobwebs, that formed a kind of descending spiral staircase. She called to Necro, who was able to squeeze inside with some difficulty. Without keen elven eyes, Necro wasn’t able to see as well in the darkness, so he summoned dancing lights.

They had only descended a short way before they heard something. It sounded like exhausted whimpering, perhaps a wounded creature of some kind. Looking around, they noticed movement a few feet below, behind sheets of webs. A humanoid form?

While they were distracted, the giant puppeteer spider struck! It grabbed Necro around his waist, but wasn’t able to secure Styx. The battle that followed was tense and desperate, fought at close quarters, but in hindsight, the outcome was inevitable. Being grappled by the spider, Necro was an enemy of the spider, within five feet of it, and not incapacitated… which meant Styx could lay down a sneak attack on her every turn. She took it apart.

It turned out the “humanoid form” was really a crude puppet made of webs wrapped around a humanoid skeleton. The spider had worked it like a marionette.

After a shiver at this grisly encounter, the two carried on, taking occasional peeks outside the column to see how they were getting on. Having descended some way, they decided to check the webs outside the column to see if they could support a person’s weight.

As it turns out, Necro is a rather poor climber. Seconds after leaving the inside of the column, he slipped and fell!

The good news was, the webs could support a person, so they quickly stopped his fall. The bad news was, at least some of them were sticky, so he was trapped until he could extricate himself. The further bad news came in the form of a swarm of spiders the size of house cats, looking to see what tasty morsel had fallen into their webs!

Unnoticed on her perch above, Styx reached into her pack and pulled out her lunch. She tossed it in a direction far away from Necro, who held very still. Feeling the impacts on the webs, the spiders were spoofed, and ran off to investigate. While they were out of the picture, Styx quickly climbed down to lend a hand. Working together, they were able to free Necro and return to the dubious safety of the column before the spiders returned.

Descending further, they came to where they could see the bottom of the column’s internal shaft. It opened out onto a makeshift platform, more-or-less filling the entire area of the Chasm. Around the edges of the platform, Styx’s keen eyes could just make out that the Chasm’s walls, at this level, were lined with some kind of metal wall with huts atop it.

Having seen enough, the two quickly and quietly returned to camp. There, they related everything they had seen. The entire party settled down in a concealed camp for the night.

(Overnight, both Necro and Styx leveled up.)

The next morning, the party welcomed back Angus, their dwarven driver, upon his return. Leaving him in charge of the camp, they crept back up to the edge of the Chasm, where Styx and Necro pointed out all that they had seen the day before. Their plan was to retrace their steps, crossing the bridge to the same column, then descending to the bottom of the internal stairway. They set out to follow this plan.

Reaper and RH didn’t care for that plan. Having heard about Necro’s close call, they decided to take the quicker, easier route. They jumped from the edge of the Chasm, trusting the webs would cushion their fall. Reaper insisted that, as a drow, he was good with spiders.

As it happened, he wasn’t all that good with spiders.

The web did catch them, but they hadn’t counted on the stickiness. Reaper isn’t really the athletic sort, so he was quite hampered by it. RH was able to free himself, though, and made his way to the outside wall of the Chasm. The spiders came out to threaten Reaper, who attempted to use drow secrets of spider training, to no avail. In the end, they had to use the same trick as the day before, throwing food as a tasty distraction while they fled.

The party descended in two groups, with Reaper and RH climbing the outside wall while Styx and Necro climbed down the goblin staircase. They hadn’t gone far at all before they realized that the commotion with the spiders above had drawn unwanted attention from below. Inside the column, two small goblins followed by one big goblin were climbing up from below, silently, knives in their teeth! At the same moment, RH and Reaper noticed a goblin climber coming up the outside wall, as well!

RH displayed an unexpected prowess with climbing, moving to defend Reaper, who split his time between harassing the goblin with spells and hanging on for dear life. After taking a few hits, RH used his shield to batter the goblin until it fell.

Inside the column, Necro used dancing lights to light up the vertical battlefield. The goblins engaged with darts, so the PCs advanced to melee. After a short duel featuring several attempts to hide and multiple sneak attacks, the goblins were slain.

Now seeing that splitting up the party has its down side, all four PCs regrouped inside the column. RH helped Reaper as they picked their way across the Chasm on the web.

Reaper took a close, hard look at the body of the larger, “boss” goblin. Reaper is a warlock, who knows Mask of Many Faces, which allows him to cast disguise self at will. While this is his favorite party trick, it hadn’t done him much good thus far, because he can only vary his height by a foot either way. The goblins were too short to imitate. But now that he had a big goblin…

When the party came to the bottom of the stairs, they boldly walked out onto the patchwork platform with Reaper in the lead, disguised as the boss goblin who had just gone up the stairs. They had guessed that the huts around the perimeter were guard posts, so he waved an “all clear” and led the party that way. They had guessed right: a goblin poked its head around the door with a questioning look on its face.

By luck, most of the party speaks the language of the goblins, including Reaper. He explained that he had run into these guys (points at the PCs) who had come to join up with the goblins, since they all worshiped the same titan. This being a religious matter, he had to take it to the matriarch.

The guard saw how this all made sense – or at least enough sense for its pay grade and challenge rating – and so the party was waved towards a big trap door. They slid down on ropes made from webs, descending through open air to a pile of rubble. The elves could see evidence of four tunnels off the main chamber along one wall, and a larger, barricaded tunnel to one side.

They were challenged by a gang of goblins, but again, Reaper went through his “it’s a religion thing” story and again, the goblins bought it. They waved the party through to the barricaded tunnel, escorting them into the presence of the tribe’s champion, a mutated, multi-armed giant of a goblin! Again, Reaper did his song and dance, and again, it worked, at least for a short time.

The tribal champion took the party into the matriarch’s chambers. There, under her questioning, the story started to ravel a bit at the edges. The champion finally put two and two together, moving to attack while shouting a warning at the matriarch. Before she could do much of anything to defend herself, she was charmed, and stood confused while the party dog-piled the champion, quickly silencing him.

Reaper settled down to have a nice conversation with his new best friend. With the keys to the city, so to speak, it didn’t take long for them to get what they wanted. She showed them the goblins’ treasure room, containing several hundred gold pieces’ worth of miscellaneous coin, gems, and jewelry. Then she showed them the tribe’s real treasure, two relics of the titan Spiragos: a dagger and a ring! (No gauntlet, though, even though it had been expected.) Finally, she showed them her secret back door that could be used to escape the Chasm without going back through the entire goblin tribe again.

The party collected the magic items and about 60% of the treasure. (They didn’t want to take all the treasure and leave the whole goblin village destitute.) They then took quick advantage of the matriarch’s secret tunnel, emerging some distance away from the Chasm, and then walking some distance to return to camp. Angus was happy to get on the road immediately, and so they returned to town after three days on the road.

While on the road, RH leveled up, and the party inspected the magic items. It was discovered that the dagger was a +1 weapon with some special poison-related powers, and the ring offered some spider-related spells and powers to warlocks. It was decided that Styx should have the dagger and Reaper should get the ring.

After reflection and research back in town, the party realized…

… (spoiler space, no, don’t look)…

… the entire Chasm had been the gauntlet! The story goes, Spiragos and another giant-sized titan had fought on the site hundreds of years before. At one point, Spiragos fell, plunging one of his hands deep into the earth, where it was momentarily trapped. The other titan took advantage of Spiragos’ situation to cut off the titan’s trapped arm, leaving behind the gauntlet on that hand, the ring on one of the hand’s fingers, and the dagger that the hand had held. Over time, once they were out of contact with their owner’s flesh, the ring and the dagger shrank to human size. The gauntlet remained in contact with the titan’s bones, though, and stayed mega-sized.

Future Plans

Styx wants to go back, take the rest of the treasure, evict all the goblins, excavate all the giant titan bones, and return the gauntlet to human size. It is acknowledged that this might be a higher-level quest.

Everybody wants familiars. Styx wants a pseudodragon, and Reaper wants to research how to befriend a flameskull. (He first wanted a crawling claw, but I guess a skull wreathed in flame is more metal.) Once they get to town and can buy the right incense, though, they’re going to settle for spiders and bats.