I think that’s what I’m calling this volume of Dungeons & Dragons adventures: The Road to Heroism. Why? Because the Via Graiae features prominently in the campaign, thus far. They are in what is supposed to be deep inside Roman territory, 50 miles or so from the border, and all their adventures have been along the road.
This particular episode for the night was The Goblin Town. Our heroes had managed to convince the prefect of Vigiles in Ariolica to take a force and root out the nearby Vandal threat. With 80 men, 2 ballistas, and the party, they left the Via Graiae and headed into the snowy forests of the Jura Mountains. Along the way, it occurred to Quintus Marcellius — our former legionnaire, that they could use more aid, and that Jurahold, the dwarven village Carrus the Ranger is from, was nearby.
They arrived in a small valley where Juraborg, the dwarven town, is situated. Jurahold is carved into the mountain face above the picturesque village, and is a refuge against attack and the harshness of winter. On approach, the guard are shocked to see Carrus, but not their leader Smaigo the Zwergifuhr (who was killed prior to the introduction of Carrus, Icio the Monk, and Calvinus the bard in media res) a few weeks ago.
The force is invited into the hold and in the great hall, Lady Fega — Smaigo’s wife and ostensibly the new ruler of the tribe — does not handle the news of her beloved’s death well. The character’s stories are consistent, but biffed charisma roles meant that they were not given the warmest welcome at the news, but things did not go terribly. Carrus, however, was not content to be the guy that lost his tribe’s leader, and convinced an equal force of Jurazwergi to join them in the attack on the Vandal village nearby. (Benefits of a crit 20…) They stayed the night in the dwarven hold, Calvinus romanced a pair of dwarven twins while he was playing for the entertainment of all, and in the morning, they were off to find the Vandals.
As they were nearing the village, they could hear wolves baying — the goblins were not going to be surprised. Carrus and a few of his dwarves slipped forward to reconnoiter the location and confirmed an old Roman village that had been abandoned ages ago was inhabited and being repaired by the goblins. They got an estimate of the numbers — maybe 500, with 200-250 of that being children, and 100-150 women. That left about 100 warriors to worry about. They also spotted an old dwarven hold in the rockface of the hillside near the town that the goblins were operating out of. While watching the town, they saw a force of 50 Vandals leave to intercept the Roman advance and retreated to warn the others.
The decision was made to have a small force of the dwarves under the party raid the subterranean hold from the back door, hoping to find and free the prisoners, while the main force under Abrecan, the prefect, met the Vandals…maybe they were looking to talk? Either way, the main force has superior numbers and training; the smaller force would most likely only encounter a similar number in the hold. (The cleric stayed with the main force, as the player was out for the night.)
After slipping into the hold from the massive doors (we established that the dwarves always seem to overbuild…they’re on average 4’8″, but all their ceilings are 18-20 feet high; their door 12 feet tall! They walked straight into a guard and the monk dispatched him with a fantastic success on his attack. The next passage had three Vandals, and a cage full of the children taken from Timo’s Ford, the village from the first adventure. They dispatched the baddies and freed the kids, then pressed in, encountering 3-4 goblins per chamber.
The bard kept taunting the Vandals with “vicious mockery” — I’d never considered the hit points were as much a mental and physical structure; and this cantrip did hit points of damage. This led, in one of the fights, to me using that notion against Carrus. In one of the chambers, there were cages of prisoners under them, with a walkway running through the room. He had fouled an acrobat roll and slipped, nutting himself on the bars and temporarily at the mercy of one of the Vandals, who was able to strike at him. For the first few adventures, the characters have been first and second level, but the sheer numbers they’ve faced has allowed the to jump to 3rd level by this week’s game; a hit from a goblin a few sessions ago would have killed the character, but in this case only did about 40% in damage…I decided that was mostly from mental trauma: the swipe of the goblin’s scimitar lopped off one of Carrus’ beautiful twins braids of red beard! There was no damage, but the indignity of having his beard shorn off in combat was a distraction for the fight.
Eventually, they reached the main chamber where most of the survivors of Timo’s Ford were being shackled for the day’s work rebuilding the town. A half dozen or more Vandals were in the cavern, and before a fight could commence, Icio — the aasimar monk — lit himself up with the radiant soul ability: suddenly, this scrawny monk burst forth with inner light, glowing wings erupting from his back, and spouting off about the judgment of God and repenting their ways.
The goblins ran for their lives.
The towns folk were so awed by him, they started to ask about this god he spoke of while they were being released.
With the townsfolk released, they now had to either escape through the back door, or hold position in the defensible caverns of the hold and wait for their friends to arrive. They chose the latter. The Vandals made a perfunctory attempt to reconnoiter the hold, but a well placed pilum (javelin) by Marcellius drove them off. Weended the night with the Vandals rolling olive-oil covered burning barrels into the cavern to confuse and harass the party and their charges… (Yay! A cliffhanger ending!)
So, some of the things I/we took away from this: 1) hit points are both physical and mental damage…it is possible to describe a hit in D&D that doesn’t have serious effect as a distraction, or a momentary bit of fear or lack of surety; it doesn’t have to be an actual physical hit. 2) Fighters are much more bad ass in 5th edition at lower levels. 3) Likewise, low-level spells — even cantrips — are have more punch in 5e. Magic users are actually formidable. 4) The features and other customizable bits are fun, but can get a bit tricky to manage. 5) Having a rules lawyer when you’re still new to the system can be handy and annoying at the same time. (One of the guys has been running 5e for a while, now.)
We’ve been steadily building out this alternate-Roman setting, and one thing that’s been changing subtly is our initial take on Christianity, as a simple cult of Judaism, has morphed into an almost Alan Christianity: where 1) Jesus was an assimar, as was John the Baptist; 2) the rest of the story is pretty much the same; 3) Jesus is considered divine or divinely inspired, but not God, per se. 4) The cult of Jesus is still growing in strength and popularity, but is behind where it was in the real world. Even so, Christianity was still building, post Emperor Constantine, so we’re not as off the map as we were initially going to be. 5) Since I’ve established the Greco-Roman and Norse pantheons and creatures exist, Christianity is locked in a fight with the other religions for believers not just in temples; these gods are trying to keep their membership rolls up. This may tie into the monk’s antagonist — a nephilim (or cursed), what they call tieflings in the Levant — and what his mission for Lucifer might be.
So for fairly simple outings — defending a caravan and a town, and then rescuing the village population — the characters get to build their game world reputations, but we are steadily building out and refining the greater world, even while remaining in an area of play that is only 50 or so square miles.