As we began, Bregan our illustrious human ranger was overlooking a goblin camp. Nothing like starting a campaign in the middle of an adventure. He's posted up on a hill stealthily looking down at around twenty five goblin warriors. They are travelling light, just bedrolls, weapons and armor, a mixed band of what seems to be raiders. They are fairly close to the sparse ring of civilization surrounding the southern border of Lendos Berkshire and the country of Goland. We all knew goblins lived south of the mountain range. It is even listed on the big map (here), but in general it is a relatively large force for the area.
Now as a relatively inexperienced DM but dramatically long time player, I should have expected my player to test me out here. I know better than rushing down the hill and slicing into twenty goblins at first level. Everyone does. D&D Next (I hate the term 5e) looks pretty good for hammering lots of monsters even at low level, but solo and without anyone to help I was barely prepared for what my intrepid player tried next.
"Okay, so I am going to look for a slightly more defensible position. Somewhere where the slope is pretty steep or there are some rock outcroppings to duck behind, funnel the goblins toward me, I am going to take my rope and set up a trip line," he smiled at me while I drew a rough spot on a piece of paper. It wasn't a map or hex grid. It was more like, a 'C' on the paper to represent a valley. The goblins were scattered in several piles (squares)in the bottom to represent groups sleeping close together. I had labeled a few sentries with big 'X's on the map as well.
Bregan circled within close range of his long bow and dropped a goblin. A few more shots into the camp and the stirring goblins began to move forward.
"So there are these four who move up to about 100ft and take shots," I said as I made some rolls with disadvantage on the short bows, "Another ten are moving up faster like a double move."
Bregan ducked behind a rock near his trip line and drew his melee weapons. The first pair to cross the rope stumbled. One was cut down and the second moved in close. As the next few goblins piled in our ranger hero went down from their blows. My first time running D&D Next and definitely my first time running any sort of game in years was over really fast. I had never expected him to literally assault the camp. I knew he couldn't simply outrun the goblins, I was confident in a straight up fight he would be dead by the sheer number of three hit point little buggers, and there was a story in place that would grant him some advantages for being patient. Too much of the recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons have relied on the formula of encounter design. Characters know the next room in the dungeon is a challenge they can overcome. Four players equal this many monsters, wash, rinse, repeat, level. I know there are roleplaying aspects and things like that, but this entire first session was alert my player about an increased goblin presence in the area.
Well, we pulled that off. He woke up bound and stripped of his gear. They were no longer in the same location and from his knowledge of the area he knew there were several farms nearby. None of the goblins were speaking Common and our hero didn't know their tongue, but he was fairly certain they were planning to raid the farms. He saw his gear across the camp, but it wasn't particularly close. Once again we had a moment where I was semi-hoping he would bide his time and wait for the camp to clear out. Some of the goblins would be forced to stay and guard him. The rest would set out and launch an assault on the farms.
"I am going to try and work the ropes off of me," dice in hand he was prepared for Dexterity check.
"Yeah, you can make a test," I said, "But make a stealth roll too to do it without getting noticed. That will be an opposed roll."
He didn't slip free of the bonds and his stealth roll wasn't great despite adding his proficiency bonus. The goblin nearest him went over and spit some guttural language at him to threaten his course of action.
"I am going to head butt him," as I asked for a roll we watched the twenty-sided twist and turn ending up on the face with number twenty. Our first critical of the game!
His strength bonus is enough to take out a goblin, so rather than just ending with a critical I let him bust the ropes as well. It just would have been stupid to say you crash into the goblin and clearly knock him out. Now, make me another check to free yourself of the ropes while the ten nearest goblins pile in and beat him back into submission.
The next decision we needed to make was what now. He was free of his bonds and headed to retrieve his gear. I allowed him so freedom here but required he make a Strength check opposed by two separate goblins to shove them out of the way and grab his stuff. I was assuming the entire camp wouldn't be prepared to attack him the moment he sprung into action and honestly the game should be about having fun instead of a mechanical system. If he delayed his escape then we weren't going to have much of a chance to move forward. He couldn't best the rolls of the two goblins and decided to break away in a full sprint from the camp. While I made some rolls for missile weapons he was winged by an arrow, but outpaced them for a moment.
The farmers see this lone figure in a full on run heading toward the fence. Then suddenly a horde of goblins close on his heels. It was like that scene from the first Indiana Jones movie except farm houses don't fly. They barred the door and prepared for the goblin assault. This is one of those moments where a more prepared DM might have tossed the player a little victory or at least helped it turn into a more balanced fight. I was sticking to my script though, and the most important part of things for me was the moral dilemma the player was in. He was incapable of defeating all of these foes. The goblins were attacking the farmhouses to grab some slaves. They were completely comfortable dragging this first level character off as well. I think if it was up to me I would have preferred he snatched a horse from the farmer and rode off for help.
The battle of the farms was another one that stacked against the player. He dropped several with arrows, but was down to about three hit points. At one point I fired several short bows at him and hit like two or three times, maybe even rolled a twenty. Once again it would have been dead/dying player character, so I took a little DM fiat and just drove him back into the building with the rolls. He stood at the door using a borrowed short sword and dropped several goblins in scale mail with great clubs. I even moved the boss in and he survived an attack from our hero. Hurrah for goblins with more than three hit points! But our player eventually succumbed to the tide of warriors and once again we would be forced to come up with an escape plan.
Mixing player knowledge and character knowledge, Bregan assumed we were going to cross the river. We had a discussion about how the goblins were most likely going to cross the river. I thought a ford would make sense and he started to come up with a plan about how to trip up the goblins with ropes. He was tied and being led through the hills with four adults and three children. Both Erik and Veon had wives and between the two of them there were three children. The more we discussed it I started to lament the idea of my goblins being small and a few even had armor. Humans riding horses through a ford I can understand, but it would have to be really shallow for goblins to walk across.
When we arrived at the river the goblins moved around and uncovered some boats they had hidden. This would be a perfect opportunity to isolate some of the characters and break up the number of goblins. The boss took the three kids and some archers in his boats. The remaining armored goblins were split up between the adults and Bregan. Some of the archers were scattered around. At one point before the game I randomly assigned treasure to entire band. The biggest goblins were the ones I chose to have the best results on the treasure tables. The bad rolls went to the typical goblins. There were six rolls that carried little or no money so these guys were going to be the scouts, etc. If Bregan had waited and sniped off a patrol or scouting party he would have picked up the least amount of treasure off the goblins who wandered from the main band. The closer he got to taking out the whole force the bigger the rewards. It didn't go that way at all, but I had some reasoning behind the random results of rolling for money.
"I turn my boat over," he said as his boat was halfway across. The first boat had Erik and his wife. They were nearly across. The second boat contained Veon. The third held Bregan. The last of the boats (I assumed each could carry six goblins for my twenty four total) contained the goblin boss and the children.
As Bregan, hands still bound tumbled into the water, he consistently failed his swim checks. So too did the pair of goblins in armor that was with him. The two archers in his boat were more successful. In order to work things out from here I knew the goblins in armor were at disadvantage on their swim checks. It wasn't a raging river, so I set the base DC at 5 to stay afloat. For Bregan I knew with his hands bound it should be harder. When he offered to swim upstream to the Goblin Boss to rescue the children I made this caveat, "You can stay afloat on DC 10 since your hands are bound, but if you are going to swim upstream toward the archers and the boss- you need to make a DC 15."
He had a good bonus with his Strength modifier and Athletics proficiency, but opted to just go with the flow downstream. He bashed a goblin and freed himself down river and was back to his feet anyway. The scene at the river crossing was just a mess. The goblins were more concerned about maintaining their prize of captured slaves than anything. The ones in the river were just trying to stay alive. Veon had turned his boat as well, but was recaptured. He and his wife were not as interested in simply leaving their children behind even if meant remaining in the custody. Their escape attempt allowed for a little distraction, so it was all good for Bregan to escape.
Battered, armored, but missing all of his possessions I honestly was afraid our hero was going to continue to harass the goblins as they moved south. His background allowed him to find food and water for himself and up to eight other people in the wilderness, so he was all good there. He eschewed the idea of pursuit to return to town and gather a group to see if he could mount a rescue attempt. We knew by the time he reached town the goblins would be pretty far ahead of him. At the very least we have a nice plot hook for our next session. He is returning to town flat broke. He lost all of his fancy weapons (which the price of metal weapons, armor, and tools in Lendos is particularly high right now 125% of the listed cost), and he isn't going to be able to afford to instantly just pick up a brand new long bow, stay in the inn for free, stuff like that. He will be able to let people know that goblins took some slaves, so we have lots to look forward as all this sorts itself out.
In all I say was a great success because we had a great time. The next session will have some better choices and few different directions we can go in. The city is fleshed out pretty well. It will be our first chance to roleplay and meet some of these NPC's. I will try to keep the blog updated with how we progress from here.