Here’s the second instalment of our single player D&D campaign following the Elf, Valthana, as she explores the world around Phandalin in the Dragon of Icespire Peak Adventure.
You can read the first part HERE
Note: Spoilers – If you intend to play through the Dragon of Icespire Peak, then it’s probably best you don’t go any further!
Having returned to Phandalin I decided that now would be a good time for her to level up (The adventure is quest driven, and characters level up as they complete a certain amount of quests rather than by Xp earned). As the character had been created on D&D Beyond this was an easy task, with the spell choice the only thing that took any time.
She added the spells Thunderwave and Magic Missile, all good choices, as she really needed the offensive capabilities. Unfortunately, she didn’t prepare them, electing to go with Burning Hands, Detect Magic, Identify, Mage Armour, and Sleep – a decision she may rue later on.
Before we started I made sure that I had re-read the Essentials Kit rulebook again, but I think I’m getting old, as it just isn’t staying in! The book really suffers for a lack of an index; last time I found play coming to a halt, as I tried to find some annoying rule that I knew existed in there somewhere.
I also wanted to add something of my own into the adventure, as well as reduce the number of sidekicks down to just one. So, I gave Yasmin a note, saying that this is the note left by her friend when she died (See part 1), and is the question that Valthana has been searching an answer to.
They plant themselves in positions of power, apparently searching for that which is lost.
What does the all-seeing-eye seek?
You’ll see how this develops shortly, and I’ll add more detail at the end. But now, it’s time for adventure…
Back in Phandalin
Where someone goes missing, an Elf stands in a chest, and Valthana makes a grown man cry!
Returning to Phandalin after their successful quest to the Dwarven Excavation, Valthana, Quinn, and Galandro arrive at the Stonewall Inn in the middle of the night. They knock up the landlord, who’s none too happy, and pay for three rooms for the night.
The following morning Valthana rises afresh, and joins Quinn for breakfast in the Inn’s main room. Time passes and eventually Valthana sends Quinn to knock up Galandro. Imagine his surprise when he finds the room empty, with a note left on the bed addressed to Valthana.
Sorry, had to leave in a hurry, family business.
The note didn’t strike Valthana as being genuine, as Galandro was a Bard, and had a way with words, he also wouldn’t have just left without saying something. So, a search of the room began.
She stepped into the small wardrobe and inspected all it’s sides (Yasmin’s a fan of Narnia and knows what can be found at the back of wardrobes!). She then opened up the chest at the bottom of the bed, peered inside, and finding it empty stepped into it. She gave it a kick, and even jumped up and down in it, but this strangely revealed nothing at all!
She was just about to give it up as a bad job when the obvious finally occurred and she looked under the bed. Guess what, she found something – Galandro’s fiddle. Remarking that Galandro would never leave behind his most precious possession, she feared the worst.
She gave the fiddle a good looking at, and then a vigorous shake – strange, it sounded as if there was something inside. She then managed to prise out a note that had been stuck to the inside, and must have come loose with her shaking.
This note I have written some time gone, and if you are now reading, then they have me.
The Cult of The All-Seeing-Eye, an evil and despicable cult, have vowed vengeance upon me.
I fear I may now be passed, for they have little reason to keep me alive, so I leave it to you to seek the truth behind these people and right the wrongs.
Remember our friend – THEY were responsible – follow her lead.
Valthana was not a Happy Elf. How could someone possibly abduct one of her friends from right under their nose? Someone had to be in on it.
Valthana went on the warpath and first in her sights was the innkeeper himself, Toblen Stonehill. After grilling him about whether he heard or saw anything during the night, and receiving a good bit of sarcasm back about being woken up at stupid o’clock, she lived up to her charismatic self (charisma 7) and gave him a piece of her mind regarding his security measures.
“A pig farm has better security than your inn!”
This led Toblen to give her a piece of his boot, as he kicked them both out!
After a short argument with Quinn (played by me for a moment), she went back, with her tail between her legs, and apologised. Toblen, forever the businessman, accepted her apology, but said she will now have to pay ‘troublemaker rates for rooms’, which will mean an extra 2sp a night!
Having learnt a valuable lesson, Valthana was far more respectful as she went around the small town, asking anyone and everyone if they had seen or heard anything suspicious in the early hours. Most people were tucked up soon after dark, but even those who weren’t had nothing they could tell.
She did find someone willing to help her though, and that was the guild master of the miner’s exchange, Halia Thornton. They’d struck up a conversation last time Valthana had visited, and for once it seemed that Valthana actually liked someone. Halia agreed to ask her contacts about The All-Seeing-Eye, but it would take a Ten-Day or so before the answers started coming in, she’d let her know.
Having appeared to have hit a dead end as far as her friend was concerned, she decided to turn back to the task at hand, and visited the Townmaster’s Hall looking for the Townmaster, as she was due a reward for completing the Dwarven Excavation Quest.
The Hall was all locked up, so she took the opportunity to glance at the noticeboard to see if more quests had been put up. I then asked for a Wisdom perception check, which she passed, and told her that a small symbol had recently been calved into the edge of the notice board.
She immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was somehow tied into the disappearance of her friend, and went back to speak to Halia. Halia agreed to add it to the message she was sending out to her contacts.
Valthana and Quinn then went to visit the townmaster, Harbin Wester, at his home. Knocking on the door they eventually heard the voice of Wester asking who they were. After exchanging pleasantries through the door, it became obvious that Wester wasn’t going to open up. He claimed to be too scared of the Dragon, and wasn’t coming out until it had gone away, even though the Dragon was nowhere to be seen.
After convincing the Townmaster that they had fulfilled the Dwarven Excavation quest, by pushing the note the Dwarves had given them under the door, they received their reward of 50gp; piece by piece, slid under the very same door. Having pocketed the reward, Valthana now went to town (pun intended) on Harbin’s lack of moral fibre and total disregard for the people who needed his guidance and leadership.
Harbin argued that the Dragon could come back at anytime, and that he was better off staying where he was safe. This only led the Elf to up the ante and really gave him the verbals – not doing the job he was elected to do, neglecting the town, and letting everyone, including himself down. In the end they left him quietly blubbing away to himself behind the door, and once again Valthana had made friends and influenced people!
There’s no place like Gnome(ngarde)!
Where someone turns blue, Quinn gets into a sticky situation, and Valthana comes up with operation Gnome sacrifice!
They made the journey to Gnomengarde without any mishaps, arriving in the late afternoon. Valthana paid no heed to the waterfall, or the small islands full of large mushrooms, and made like a homing pigeon right up the slope and into the caves.
Letting the Halfling lead the way, they made their way through the dining room, and after inspecting the small chairs, dining tables and just about everything else in the room, they made their way to the kitchen. Here they had their first encounter with the Rock Gnomes, who were a cheery bunch, though very busy preparing a whole host of mushroom based food and beverages.
Valthana chose to speak to the one making the mushroom wine, who also appeared to be chief taster too, as she was a little worse for wear. The Gnomes had little to say, other than they should speak to Fibblestib and Dabbledob (who comes up with these names?), who were Gnomes in the know and could be found in the workshop.
Receiving some general directions, off they went, and unfortunately they walked right by the room containing the crab barrels, which I was quite looking forward to. Basically, a couple of mechanical crabs made by the Gnomes out of barrels – I thought this would create some comedy moments, as she tried to get to grips with operating them, but, as we shall see, comedy comes in all shapes and sizes!
As they rounded a corner, Quinn still leading, they suddenly came face to face with a giant crossbow, well, four of them actually, on a rotating platform! Sitting in the middle of the contraption was Facktore, a Gnome whose brainpower far outweighed her sanity!
“WoooHooo! Strangers!” And with that she let fly a rather large crossbow bolt. Fortunately, a natural 1 was rolled, and the bolt hit the wall after travelling between Quinn and Valthana’s heads. It hit just on the sweet spot to send it ricocheting back to where it came from, and wedging itself into the cogs of the contraption.
Quinn ducked down one corridor and Valthana the other, with just their heads peeking around. Whilst Facktore tugged at the bolt, trying to free the auto rotate and load mechanism, the intrepid heroes tried to catch her attention by waving at her… yes, I did say waving, though they also tried calling out that they were actually quite friendly.
They caught her attention all right, just as she freed the bolt and the platform swung-around to present another loaded crossbow.
“YIPPEE! Practice time!” And she fired again.
Being undercover the bolt rattled by with no harm done, but Valthana had had enough and cast sleep at the deranged Gnome. (I forgot about the effects of wild magic here, but make up for it later.)
As they sneaked past the slumbering Gnome Quinn grabbed a handful of cogs from the machine, with the hope of rendering it useless. They then entered a room containing a lot of barrels, four on each of the North, East and South walls.
She went along those on the South wall, checking to see what was in them – mushroom wine, obviously – and then along the East wall, reaching the same conclusion. I the had to supress a smile, though, as they about turned and left without checking the barrels along the North wall – One of these held a little surprise, as we shall see a little later.
Walking along the corridor they could see it opened out into a room, in which there were two Gnomes standing on a ledge in the far wall.
The Gnomes issued a challenge and demanded to be told who they were and why they were here. Valtahna explained that they were seeking aid from the Gnomes, and that they were hoping to acquire something to help against the invading White Dragon. She told them she wanted to speak to Fibblestib and Dabbledob, as apparently they were Gnome in the know.
“That’s all well and good, but how do we know you’re not shapeshifters?” The Guard demanded.
No matter how Valthana tried to explain that, no, they were definitely not shapeshifters, the Gnomes just kept asking her to prove it. But then she struck on an idea to turn the tables.
“But how do I know that you two are really Gnomes, maybe one of you could be a shapeshifter?”
The Gnomes, Pog and Ulla, looked at each other, “Well, we’re not!”
I bet you can guess what’s coming next?
Valthana, a smile on her face, “Prove it!” She replied smugly. (Yasmin successfully rolled a Charisma (Persuasion) check, which I gave her advantage for her excellent role-playing)
This caused the Gnomes to go into a huddle, in which there was some heated discussion, along the lines of, ‘well, she’s got a point’, ‘but what happens if they are?’ and the damning, ‘but what happens if you are?’
In the end the Gnomes allowed them past, but only after they promised that they definitely weren’t shapeshifters!
To get to the next section of Gnomengarde they had to cross a rope bridge, one that was partially obscured by the mist from the waterfall, damp to the touch, and sagged alarmingly in the middle.
Valthana, obviously confident in her dexterous abilities, strode across the bridge as if she were out for a walk in the park, at least until she slipped that is. She went, feet first, over the edge, but made an attempt to grab hold of the side, which fortunately she passed, and dangled perilously over the waterfall. Quinn came to her aid, and managed to help her back to her feet – another lesson learned!
Entering the caves once again, they were confronted by two large rapidly spinning fans, much like turnstiles, which looked alarmingly sharp. They were to low to the ground to crawl under, and to close to the wall to squeeze past, they had no means of going over them either. After a good look around the room, obviously from where they were standing, Valthana noticed a small lever on the opposite wall, near the exit.
She wasted no time and cast Mage Hand, “From wrist to finger I cast thee, a life like replica of the hand of me!” and with that she operated the lever, and the blades came to a halt. She also turned a lovely ‘Smurf’ Blue in the process, but took this in her stride and squeezed past the now still blades. (The effects of Wild Magic!)
After conscientiously switching the blades back on, they entered the workshop, where they found Fibblestib and Dabbledob deep in discussion.
Valthana introduced herself, and asked if the Gnomes could help them, but they said they had far more important things to think about at the moment, like why their King had gone, well, insane!
They explained that King Korboz had lost his mind and was keeping King Gnerkli prisoner in their Bedroom (the two kings are married to each other). Fibblestib and Dabbledob were trying to come up with a solution, and it seemed to be a toss-up between a ‘sanity ray’ and a ‘straitjacket’!
Valthana agreed to help and see if she could speak some sense into King Korboz. She was taken along to the King’s bedroom where Fibblestib knocked on the door and told the King someone would like to speak to him.
The King was in an obvious state, but eventually Valthana learnt that he’d been attacked by a Shapeshifter, which was in the form of a Chair, and that was why he’d shut himself and his beloved Gnerkli in the bedroom – he wasn’t coming out until they’d gotten rid of the thing.
Valthana agreed to help, and the King offered to reward her handsomely if she succeeded, so they retired back to the workshop to formulate a plan.
Valthana’s first idea went something like this:
Val: How many Gnomes are there in Gnomengarde?
Fibble: There are twenty-two of us left after two recently went missing, and you can guess where they went!
Val: And how many rooms are there?
Dabble: About thirteen, why?
Val: Right, if we put a Gnome in each room, shut them in, and then when one gets eaten we know that’s where the shapeshifter is! (Once again, Yasmin played her character brilliantly; this was just the kind of thing you’d expect Valthana to say. One of her flaws is, “I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others’!)
At this point, with two flabbergasted Gnomes looking on, Quinn dragged her aside and quietly explained why the plan might be slightly flawed!
So, with Operation Gnome Sacrifice put on the back burner, they elected to go with plan B, which was make it up as you go along!
They retraced their steps back to the guard post, and determined that, with the guards and the spinning blades, the creature must still be on that side of Gnomengarde.
Taking Fibblestib with them they began to do a search of each room they passed, starting with the mushroom wine storage area. It was here Valthana came up with a thought, ‘how do we check each barrel to se if it is the Shapeshifter? If we do find it, then we’ll be standing right next to it, and I don’t like that idea!’
First off, she cast Mage Armour, best to be prepared, and this time was slightly annoyed when tiny motes of light began to circle around her body, casting a dim light in all directions. Fibblestib, giggled, “Ah! That happens you know; it’s the Wild Magic contained in this place. Still, it could have been worse…”
She then came up with a plan, and once again cast Mage Hand (No Wild Magic effect this time). She then proceeded to prod each barrel with it until, as you’ve probably guessed, she prodded the Mimic!
Now, a Mimic is sticky, but the Mage Hand is magic, so, what to do?
I dispelled the hand and had the Mimic give large yawn, baring its large teeth and long tongue, and then its eyes opened and it looked at what had rudely awakened it.
I’d previously decided to reduce its Hp down from 58 to 40, and to make it one of the rare varieties that could carry out simple conversations. It then complained that it was comfortable and wanted to sleep, as it wasn’t hungry just now.
Valthana set to by trying to talk the Mimic into leaving Gnomengarde, and almost succeeded – missing the DC of 15 by 1 – and so the Mimic attacked. Initiative went Mimic, Valthana, Quinn, with Fibblestib not caring to stick around and legging it off down the corridor!
The mimic moved forward and attacked Quinn, but missed, and Valthana decided to put some distance between her and the thing, and backed up some. She then cast Acid Splash, unaware that the creature was immune (so far every time she’s used this spell the target has been immune to acid!). Quinn hacked away with his Long sword, doing minor damage, and only just being able to retrieve his weapon from the Mimic’s sticky hide (Strength ability check against a DC of 10 – I figured he was swinging the weapon with force so should stand a good chance of pulling it away).
Round two saw the Mimic take a small bite from Quinn, again missing, whilst Valthana realised she had little in her arsenal, magic wise, that she could currently use – they either required touch, produced an area effect that would include Quinn, or in the case of Sleep, she doubted it would be powerful enough. With only one spell slot left she decided to hold back, stowed her wand, and reached for her bow. Quinn took another chunk out of the creature, and decided to back away, in the opposite direction to Val.
Round three and the Mimic leapt forward and tried to bite Quinn, once more though, it just missed, but Quinn was now running out of space. Valthana fired her first arrow causing some minor damage, and Quinn once more disengaged to move back.
The next round saw the Mimic shoot out its tongue, connecting heavily with Quinn and doing some serious damage. It also left the battered Halfling stuck to the end of it, slowly being dragged towards those rather nasty teeth. Valthana fired an arrow, which connected solidly with the Mimic (critical hit for 8 damage), who was now down to 19 Hp.
Quinn attempted to break free of the Mimic’s tongue, but failing to win the contest, he called out desperately for help.
The Mimic then took a large bite out of the Halfling, reducing him to just 3Hp, and things were looking bleak. Valthana moved to Quinn’s side, ready to use the help action to assist him, and with Vals aid he did indeed manage to get free, but for how long?
Not long at all as it turned out. The creature pounced on him and its teeth bit deep, rendering him unconscious – time was running out. Valthana backed away to her full movement of 30ft, and fired another arrow, which found its mark and the Mimic was now down to 16Hp.
Being hit by the arrow caused the thing to turn away from Quinn, and ultimately save his life. It moved its full move but was just short of the 15ft needed to hit with its tongue. Val hit it again with another arrow causing 8 damage.
This time the Mimic did get in range and hit Val for 4 Hp (fortunately I rolled minimum damage), and she became stuck to its tongue! Unable to use her bow now, she had very few options, and decided to risk all. She dropped her bow and cast Shocking Grasp (just dropping a weapon doesn’t count as an action). She knew her hand would become stuck to the creature, but figured, hey, she was stuck to it anyway, and with her +5 spell attack she stood an excellent chance of hitting.
Shocking Grasp does 8 damage. The Mimic had 8HP. She rolled the die…
The Mimic screeched and then began to slide to the floor, returning to its original amorphous form – the 8 had duly been rolled and high fives dished out between player and DM!
Valthana administered first aid to stabilize Quinn, and a short rest returned him some sort of good health. Fibblestib returned and poked around at the dead ‘body’, wringing his hands in glee.
It was then just a matter of wrapping things up. The King returned to his senses and rewarded them with a hat of wizardry and a wand of pyrotechnics. Fibblestib and Dabbledob took them to their treasury, which appeared to be mostly full of Gnomish gizmos, such as cogs, strips of metal and such like. They were told to help themselves to anything they could find, and laughter abounded when Val cast detect magic, as her nose grew to be a foot long and the motes lazily circled around it – another effect of the Wild Magic.
They did, however, come away with a pole of collapsing and a clockwork amulet, which Valthana let Quinn keep.
As the day was almost at an end they accepted the King’s invite to stay the night, and a party to celebrate the King’s return to sanity was thus thrown. Eventually, Valthana turned back to her normal colour, the motes dissipated, and her nose shrunk back; a good night was had by all.
DM’s wrap up.
So, why did I get rid of Galandro?
Basically, I wasn’t happy with using two sidekicks; it felt cumbersome and hindered the flow off the game. Probably because I’m a little rusty, both when it comes to running a game, and with these rules.
If I were to start the campaign again, then I might simply create a couple of full bodied NPCs and use them instead. The Sidekicks are sort of a halfway house, neither a fully-fledged NPC, with their own personality and ideas, or a powerful enough gopher to accompany a single player on their own.
Certainly, in the opening scenarios of this campaign, if one were to run them exactly as stated in the book, a single player with a sidekick is seriously out of their depth. An experienced DM will see this and adapt, but the Essentials Kit is aimed at noobs, both players and DMs.
The final encounter is a good example of this. If I hadn’t reduced the starting Hp of the Mimic, then the battle is likely to have ended disastrously for Valthana. As it was she only just scraped through.
Getting back to my original question, though, by reducing down to just one sidekick made it easier for Yasmin to understand how the game works, she wasn’t spending too much time thinking about the other two in the group. It also helped that we’d both come to understand just how to use them, and that really is as a stooge. Quinn does this, Quinn does that… let Yasmin state what she wants him to do and don’t try to play him as if he has a personality.
That’s the main difference between a sidekick and a NPC – one has a personality and therefore offers an opinion, whether it’s been asked for or not, though I did use the sidekick to help out by making suggestions if Yasmin really appeared to be stuck.
So, I sacrificed Galandro and threw in a bit of my own mystery at the same time. It all tied in nicely with her backstory, and we shall see how, and if, it develops in the future – I can’t say much more, as Yasmin will probably read this – But I have ideas for the Cult of The All-Seeing-Eye!
She role-played her character really well this time; last game she went a little over the top and I asked her to reign it in a little after the game. Valthana has a low charisma, but that doesn’t mean she can’t string a sentence together. She is very intelligent, and like many who have a high IQ, she struggles to communicate with others, especially those she deems unworthy of her time.
The ‘Gnome Sacrifice’ was a perfect example of this, and I was in stiches when she came up with it – it reminded me so much of Red Dwarf and Operation Prawn Sacrifice.
I’d also encouraged her to come up with how she casts her spells, what she says, what she does, but she started to take so long on working out what to say that I had to hurry her along – she needs to work on this outside of game time – though the Mage Hand spell was quite good, and she wrote it down.
I was quite surprised how quickly she went through this scenario, as I was fully expecting to write it up in two halves (maybe I should have, as I’m just about to pass 4,500 words!). She missed out the crab barrels, which I though would provide some entertainment, and she seemed to go straight to the heart of the matter. I did reduce some of the Charisma DCs (Difficulty Class) when she role-played the part really well; firing Pog and Ulla’s question back at them was a prime example.
The Mimic is a tough one for first-time players, as it has its difficulties. Its adhesive qualities make melee attacks dangerous, so keeping it at range is the best way to handle it, especially as it doesn’t move that quickly. Had they retreated and moved out of sight, though, I would have had the Mimic change shape and try to hide again, which would have made things more interesting. Valthana was also unaware that it was immune to acid, but we all have to learn somehow and she just needs to learn to be a little more cautious.
Playing a wizard as a first character, and accompanied by only a sidekick, was always going to prove a challenge. A couple of times now she has struggled with a lack of options when it comes to attacking with spells, but as she now progresses to third level we should see things open up, and it will be interesting to see how she continues to play Valthana.
Gnomengarde wasn’t a particularly deep or challenging scenario, but it did offer some interesting role-playing moments. The single encounter was a tough one for a single player and a sidekick but shouldn’t offer too much trouble to a group of three or four adventurers. There wasn’t a lot of suspense, or tension, other than that final battle; hopefully the next adventure will offer a little more, we shall see.
On that note, I think it is time to draw things to a close, as Valthana and Quinn head back to Phandalin to continue their adventures.
Thanks for reading, see you in part 3!