The Bandoleers Session 026
DM's Log: Supplemental...Session 026
Party: The Bandoleers
- Kilomir, Minotaur Wild-Magic Barbarian
- The muscle of the group
- Trying to learn how to craft Dragonborn Plate Armor
- Faegwyn Suithrasas, High Elf School of Evocation Wizard
- Resident grumpy old man
- Trying, with varying degrees of success, to expand the Wagonline business that he inherited after the unfortunate death of the previous proprietor at the vicious claws of a flock of cockatrice
- Ollie, Tiefling Way of the Long Death Monk
- Mandatory party Edgelord
- Has the unique ability to see and speak with the Gods of Corithynn
- Mick Nichols, Rock Gnome Assassin Rogue
- Accompanied by his trusty sidekick/mount, a Giant Duck named Lumpy
Session 026 Recap
In this session, The Bandoleers began their 3-day journey to the Westerwatch, a small keep nestled in the mountains west of the city of Dmittlock 1 that recently stopped sending reports. They were joined by a cleric, Melisende, of the local deity Aelys.2
The route to the Westerwatch is along a fairly well-traveled and "safe" road, and so their first day of travel passed without incident. As nightfall approached, they reached a small hamlet, where they decided to try and find a place to stay. And so they made the acquaintance of an old one-legged Rock Gnome named Igden Umbodoben, who was sitting on his porch and enjoying the fresh air.
After some pleasantries, Igden graciously agreed to put the party up in his barn for the evening for a crisp 5 silver. He also answered some questions about their route and destination (including telling them that a patrol of 12 towns guard had passed through on their way to the keep recently, and not yet returned).
The party's resident Gnome, Mick, also had a private sidebar with Igden, connecting over the fact that they were both veterans of a recent civil war in their home city, Quarriton. There was an awkward verbal dance where they both tried to figure out which side the other fought on, until eventually Igden asked directly and it was revealed they were both Partisans.
After an evening's rest safely in the barn, the second day of the journey brought them out of the dense forest surrounding Dmittlock. Now they found themselves journeying across grasslands and sloping hills which I described to the players as having "Big Iowa Energy". And, just like driving across Iowa, this day of travel passed without anything of note occurring.
With no civilization in sight this time at the end of the day, the party decided to take their wagon off the side of the road ("31 feet", per Kilomir's player's request). At this point, the party has learned to keep a watch, and so Ollie was dutifully patrolling around the wagon when he heard ominous moaning coming from down the road.
Peering out into the darkness with his Tiefling Dark Vision, Ollie was able to detect a small group of figures shambling up the road. After waiting a beat to see what they did and realizing that they were getting closer and closer, he decided to wake the others. Unfortunately, his attempt to do so quietly was foiled when he rolled in the single digits on a Stealth check, and as a result was given away by a very squeaky hinge on the wagon's door.3
As soon as the figures heard Ollie's racket, they froze. The party gathered and readied themselves, and, as the unidentified group began moving again, Faegwyn's sharp elvish eyes (and high perception roll) immediately identified the shuffling gait of wretched Undead. With a cry to alert the others, initiative was rolled as the Zombies charged in!4
The battle was chaotic but not necessarily difficult for the party. Ollie, Mick, and Kilomir charged to the fore, while Melisende and Faegwyn stayed back by the wagon. As it transpired, the 12 zombies were joined by a Wight, who hung back and attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) to pepper Faegwyn with his longbow. The frontliners were able to clean up the Zombies without too much damage (Kilomir and Ollie came out entirely unscathed), and then chased down and dispatched the Wight when it attempted to flee.
And that's where we'll pick up next session!
DM's Post Mortem
Alright, so this session was...interesting...to try and run, because I made the mistake of trying to do it while sick.5 This meant that the session 1.) was shorter than I'd hoped, 2.) took me longer to prepare than usual, and 3.) was probably not my best work. I was determined to run, regardless of how miserable I felt, because scheduling is hard and it had already been awhile since our previous session and I didn't want to postpone again. But by the end of the night I was practically a zombie myself, and as soon as the Wight's HP hit 0 I was out.
But I did still get the opportunity to try some stuff I've been wanting to work in to the campaign, so let's talk about those things.
On Melisende and Retainers
There are many ways to run an NPC who's tagging along with a party of PCs.
- Roll up a PC and run them yourself (often frowned upon)
- Make a stat block and run them as another NPC (more work for the DM, action economy in shambles)
- The Companion Rules from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything (haven't tried them yet)
- MCDM's Retainers <--This is the one I went with
I've had MCDM's Strongholds and Followers for awhile now, but hadn't gotten a chance to use the Retainer system introduced in it just yet. This system provides an easy way to give your PCs loyal companions which the DM roleplays, but the player runs in combat. The system is suppose to enable competent, helpful, and easy to run companions who don't steal the show from the main characters: the PCs.
As it just so happens, MCDM just recently released the kickstarter for their next book, Flee, Mortals!, and with it a 26-page PDF preview. And that preview included some updated Retainer rules (most notably replacing a somewhat clunky health level system from the original), so I decided to give that a shot. I used a "Healer" Cleric retainer from the S&F book, updated with the new rules, made a little PDF handout of her stats to give to the player for reference, and that was that.
I gave combat control of her to Kilomir's player, who seemed to be able to pick up on what he could do with her with little issue and only a small amount of guidance from me as the DM. The addition of a Retainer didn't seem to slow the game down much, if at all, or terribly unbalance the encounter, which are really all you can ask for. Overall, very happy with the system so far!
From the same preview PDF, MCDM also introduced rules for Minions, in the style of 4th edition D&D, but revamped and revised for 5e. This was another thing I really wanted to try, and since I already had a zombie encounter planned and the PDF included a sample zombie minion, it seemed meant to be! These rules allow you to inundate your PCs with swarms of low-health enemies that are weak individually but dangerous in hordes.
Overall, I found the system worked pretty well, and definitely was faster than running 12 individual zombies with their own action, movement and bonus action. It has a nice system for bundling up multiple attacking minions into a single attack roll per target. The overkill mechanics are also nice.
I suspect the most challenging aspect of using these guys properly will ultimately be balancing encounters. This combat encounter wasn't meant to be brutally difficult, more just ominously foreshadowing, but I was a little surprised at how easily the party dispatched the horde. Part of that was because I made the mistake of starting the zombies too far away, giving the PCs ample time to hit them at range and thin the herd. But the other part was that I suspect the CR math overestimated the threat involved. But nobody has ever accused 5e's CR system of being infallible.
I did find the mechanics around spell saves unintuitive enough that I had to stop and look them up, which didn't feel great, but I understand the design decisions behind it and think the way it currently works is probably for the best. I imagine it'll be better once I can remember it off the cuff.
Maybe not my best session, but the players seemed to have fun and I got to try out some fun MCDM goodies I've been meaning to find an excuse to use. And hey, at least I can blame any problems that came up during the session on illness.