Sometimes the fish just don’t bite, and that’s okay!
Suddenly having two players have to cancel right on the verge of starting a mega-dungeon crawl can seriously throw a wrench in the plans of an under-prepared DM, but I managed to wing it best I could on Friday.
The hooks were in place: a ruined elven metropolis somewhere off the road north of Alfort, rumors of a goblin war brewing in the lands to the north, and two incredibly valuable artifacts, the elfstones, which needed to be taken to Portsdam.
Beginning this session, the heroes would be on the road, the goblins would attack, the heroes pursue, and the dungeon would be found. Only it didn’t quite happen like that.
With two players gone, including the cleric, who is the party’s unofficial leader and possessor of one of the two elf-stones, the dynamic and decision making of the party was radically shifted. I made a mistake that didn’t play off too well, but I was able to fix it and resume the status quo; I didn’t want the PCs whose players weren’t there killed in a big fight with goblins, so I was going to have them ride out ahead to keep the elfstones safe. It ended up being a bit of a mess, though, and they didn’t get far ahead. In fact, they returned to help patch up the injured after the first goblin skirmish.
The party actually felt fairly sure of themselves, despite taking some heavy hits against the goblins (they only saw 8 of the dozens who were in the forests). At night after the first goblin raid, the party camped, set watch, and the fighter heard the sound of horses being slaughtered out in the woods. The fighter and thief set out to investigate while the others stayed behind and ready. They didn’t find the horses (they’d’ve found, among other things, the guy who they sent with the original letter to Laquin dead from the goblin raid), but the fighter did fall into the sinkhole to room 1 of the Nameless Dungeon. It was dark and he couldn’t see, but knew he’d discovered something. “I suppose this is the dungeon.” “Well, it’s right there in the name, this is Dungeons & Dragons, after all.” The thief fished him out with some rope, and, after another volley of arrows from goblin raiders, the two made their way back to camp.
I put the option there in front of them, but, given the circumstances, their rejection of the dungeon was to be expected. However I did not have a lot prepared should they reject this choice. The planned dungeon crawl instead became an outdoor adventure. There were no random encounters rolled, but I had a few things to keep things fun. I decided it was time that the elfstone’s make their true nature somewhat more apparent. The day following the goblin ambush, the party saw a lone human zombie shambling towards them. They took it out at range. The following day, one of the goblins they’d killed was following them. After a few missed attack rolls, they notice that the goblin wasn’t doing anything, just hanging out with them. Now, I wish that the cleric had been there, since he had an elfstone, or that I’d remembered that the monk had handed off his elfstone to the elf, but as it was, the players didn’t do or ask anything I couldn’t work around; they never outright commanded the goblin to do anything, so it hung out and followed them. They put a hood on it and bound its hands, and took it on the road to Portsdam with them.
Further down the road, they encountered a caravan taking building supplies to Alfort, and they let them know the situation with Stull. This caravan may be important later, or not. It depends on how long they hang out in Portsdam.
Once the party got to Portsdam, they stabled the horses, stashed the goblin, and delivered the letter to the Laquin company head office. The officials there were distraught and in a panic, but couldn’t really do anything for the players until they had a chance to go over everything. The players wanted a second opinion on the elfstones, and asked around at the temple of St. Cuthbert, but were told that most of the experts were in the imperial city and the players didn’t want to get too many people involved. Following this, the players finally got to meet Lord Richmond for the first time. The thief’s mind was blown by some of the opulence, as was the rest of the party by how much on-hand cash the guy had. Again, I wish that the cleric player was there for this, because he might not have been so quick to hand over the elfstones, but when a player can’t make it, you can’t always shape the game around what his character would’ve done. Richmond gave the party 2000 platinum pieces as reward for the elfstones: an amount necessitating them opening bank accounts and getting letters of credit. The party also got a bit greedy and thought they could sell their “tame” goblin to Richmond for another 1000 platinum (an insane amount, I know, I wasn’t going to to let them have it, but I wanted to have some fun with it).
The monk went back to the inn and stables to look for the goblin only to find he’d wandered off. Everyone panicked because their payday had run off. The monk tried to find some “urchins” to bribe to look for the goblin for him, but by the 8th kid, he realized that all of his money was gone and he’d been robbed (only out about 40 gold). I can’t convey how funny this ended up being, as it was one of those “you had to be there” kind of things, but the monk has lost his payday with the goblin, been robbed by street urchins, and, while griping that now he’s got to find where those kids went with his money, some charles manson type comes up and is all “You said you need someone catch kids? Where you want me bring ‘em?” Rather than hunt down some Fagin, the party decides they have to come up with some other option to track down their goblin zombie friend in a big city. Originally, they planned on hiring some guy, but the thief had the idea to wait until night, when the city streets would be clear and he might be easier to find. He cased a few rich houses on the way and didn’t see any signs of the zombie, so decided to ask one of the guards: the zombie had been taken as a drunken belligerent and been killed by the town guard after a scuffle. There went their second big payday. Still, they know that the next thing on Richmond’s wish-list is back in the mega-dungeon.
So, for next session, I need to prepare some stuff around town. Homes to rob and things to buy. Hopefully my players will help me out by letting me know ahead of time what they’re interested in doing around town.