Sandboxing for Beginners - The City of Prophecy I'm detailing an adventure for an experienced player on the blog, but I thought it would be fun to recap some recent sessions for a group of new players in the same setting. In this case, when this whole self-isolation stuff started I knew I would need to keep my youngest occupied, so I scheduled a regular three hour Wednesday afternoon online D&D game for him and his 6 friends. I gave them all pregen characters of 3-4th level to start, as the thought of character generation online made me dizzy.
The crew is the following:
D'Kell Massar - 3rd lv Ranger - https://www.deviantart.com/teresenielsen
Roggen Tulwane - 4th lv Fighter - https://www.deviantart.com/tvvist/art/Second-son-691071174
Dornas Culg - 5th lv thief
Taun Elos - 4th lv Illusionist - https://www.paravia.com/DonMaitz/website/MythLegend/index.html
Ormann the Crimson - 4th lv Warlock - https://www.deviantart.com/sirhanselot/art/Hyperion-412458349
Jaal the Blue - 4th/3rd lv Thief/warlock - https://www.waynereynolds.com/
Kallas Ionnu - 4th lv Priest of Zeus - https://www.deviantart.com/grandanvil/art/Radiant-Cleric-of-Pelor-93201476
Their first adventure (three sessions ago) had them arriving at the city as caravan guards, they were paid for their services and were free in the city. They asked the Caravan Master for work recommendations, and he sent them to Kamerli the Ivory, a city warlock who he had done business with
Art by wen-m - https://www.deviantart.com/wen-m
They went to Kamerli’s house (it has no doors, you say your name, and a stone arm appears, offers it’s hand, if you take it then you are safely pulled through the stone wall). They sat in a white marble room on marble benches and were asked to help Kamerli with a task
They were to retrieve the dead body of one of the apprentices of Kamerli the Ivory, a warlock at House Himmenghost. Kamerli needed the body of his apprentice, Fon Jallor, and his ring, returned to him. Jallor had disappeared when out with a House hunting party.
The deal was this, they could keep anything they found on or around Jallor, but they had to retrieve the body and the ring and bring it back to him. They would each be given 500 gp for their trouble if the body was brought back successfully with the ring, as well as two scrolls of spells.
They went to the docklands and found the guide who had taken Jallor and the Himmenghost hunting party out, they went to the drop off point and the party ranger picked up the trail that was at this point 3 days old and there had been one strong rainfall. So that gave him a 55% chance of success.
They found the trail, and eventually found the body, were attacked by a marsh dragon (home brew creature) and managed to kill it with a combination of the reverse of an Enlarge spell to shrink it then a paralysis spell from the party illusionist to finish it off
Jallor’s body had gold, a pair of scrolls and a potion, which were claimed by various party members. The ranger was a leatherworker as his secondary skill, so he rolled to see if he could skin the dragon well enough to sell the skin. He had the skills, but it took 2 hours and I rolled for random encounters during the process.
So with a dead body rolled up in dragon scale hide the party returned to the city. They had to convince the guards at the gate that they were sent out to find the body, that required some smooth talking and a good encounter reaction roll. They then went to meet their patron
When they were a few blocks away from their patron’s home they were ambushed by a warlock named Faul Tasker and three needlemen. Tasker wanted one of the scrolls the party took off of Jallor’s body. He was a confidante of Jallor and knew he had the scroll.
The party weren’t having any of that, the party illusionist hypnotized Tasker and told him to shove off, which he did. They took the body back to Kamerli the Ivory, and he paid them out, giving them their scroll spells and gold. The party left and decided to head back to the inn to rest
They got up the next day and decided they would spend some time taking care of individual things, the party ranger needed more arrows, the party thief needed rope, the party illusionist needed material components, so we dealt with that. Two days in-game went by.
Then one of the party members was met by Jokal, a stone giant who works for Kamerli (all prominent House warlocks in the setting have stone giant companion). He tells them that Kamerli has been accused of murdering a wealthy merchant named Quillor Mas.
Kamerli told Jokal that he suspects it is another warlock in House Himmenghost who is framing him, so he instructed Jokal to find the party, as the others in House Himmenghost do not know them, and task them with finding who killed the merchant to clear his name.
The group discussed this for a while, and decided they were keen on a warlock owing them a favor, so they agreed. Yesterday’s session started with them breaking in to house of the murder victim, Quillor Mas, to find clues as to who killed him.
They came to the house, the Dornas opened the lock on the window, and started looking around. They checked out one room then realized there were three guards in the house, ostensibly there to keep looters from trying to rob Mas’ home after his death.
They go into the next room to look around and one of the guards hears them and comes to investigate. As he passes a room the party priest cold-cock’s him with his mace and he’s down. Unfortunately that makes enough noise to bring the other two guards with their clubs.
The party thief crossbow shots the first guard, killing him instantly. The party illusionist throws three darts at the next guard, two hit and kill him. The guards all dead, the group moves into the bedroom of the slain merchant. I roll for passing guard patrols, but nothing comes up
In the bedroom they find a large empty cage and a smaller cage with a lizard in it. They are looking around and the party priest casts speak with animals on the lizard. The conversation is scattered as the lizard is primarily concerned with food, no one has fed him since the merchant was killed
They feed the lizard and ask questions, they find out that a man walked into the room a few days ago, talked with the merchant, then placed a hand on him and he fell down. That man left, and soon after the guards came back, saw the body, checked it, then were shouting and upset
They eventually left, and then a man came in the room, touched the merchant, he “woke”, and crept out the window into the night. The guards returned soon after and found the room empty. The party absorbed this information for a short time, I rolled again for patrols, and they planned.
So they knew at that point that the victim of a murder that has implicated their employer is faking his death. The priest feeds the lizard and gives it water and the lizard asks to come with him, he climbs up on his shoulder and joins them.
Then the ranger decides they will try to track the merchant, Rangers can urban track in the game, but it has to be interpreted, this is a huge sprawling city, and "tracking" isn't as easy as finding a bent branch or flattened grass. The city is also a riot of flowers and plants, so smells won't help unless very strong
The PHB gives him a 70% chance to track after 2 days with no heavy rain (I rolled for the rain).
As a ref I have to interpret this, how can he urban track a man who fled in the night from his house into a city of thousands?
I decided that the second, empty cage held a giant lizard, and that the party ranger, who is from the southern reaches and has leatherworker as his skill, is familiar with lizards and their skins, and he recognized some of the skin on the floor of the cage.
I told him this:
"You have hunted and skinned many creatures in the swamps, and you recognize the moulted skin from a kgral lizard in the large cage, they are silver and have raised fins of blue, their feet have distinctive webs to them.”
“ You look around the room and find marks suggesting the lizard crawled out the window, you see it's paw marks and human footprints in the soil underneath the window. So you can track the merchant’s flight by following the prints and looking for scales from the creature on the ground or on plants.
Then someone mentioned the dead bodies of the guards. What to do about them? After some chatting they decided to stash them up on the second floor. They go up and find a tree garden, the perfect hiding spot! They hauled the bodies up to the second floor and stashed them there
They then followed the 2 day old trail, I use a city map that I can zoom in on when gaming, so the party can see where they are. The section of the city for this adventure is pictured below. They are in Ward 41, the ward of House Phars, the merchant lives in an affluent park ward.
They started at the top red dot, I zoomed in to the city map and moved the cursor to show their route as they tracked. I described the beasts footprints in the nearby park then I would narrate losing the trail and picking it up in the city square where he sees a wet distinctive footprint
After a bit of this I make him roll to see if the tracking was successful, he rolls too high and loses the trail, I narrate that as a loss of trail at the bottom red dot, they make it to the canal and a dock where you pick up canal barges. They don't know which way he went, the canal can go either north or south. It is late at night so the canal is pretty much deserted.
So they scour their spell lists and items. Eventually the priest asks what augury can do
I say it tells you "weal or woe" with your next decision, they talk about it for a bit, then they come up with the question, "What will happen if we go north to find our quarry?"
They rolled and it worked, so the augury was correct, it said "weal", so they continued north and tried to pick up the trail. The ranger rolled again and failed. They lost the trail. But the augury said "weal", so I had to make the situation work out well for the party, so I asked what they were going to do
They are by the canal on a dock, the priest prays and speaks to the lizard again, thinking he may have missed something. "The man who put your master to sleep, did he come around often?"
"Yes", the lizard replied
"How often?" the priest asked
"Every day, he and two other men, they carry clubs, they don't feed me"
"Which man was he?"
"The one with the scar above his eye"
Then they all realized the man who cast the spell on the merchant to fake death was one of the three guards, the guards they had just killed. That prompted a discussion about “not killing everyone all the time”. LOL.
So they make their way back to the house, I roll for encounters and nothing comes up.
This, BTW, is the "weal", if they had gone south (which was the way the man had went) they would have no way of knowing where he got off the barge, so they would have dead ended
They get to the house, go back in the window, and go to the second floor to find the bodies still there. They find the guy, and they find a ring on his finger that looks VERY nice. The priest casts detect magic on the ring and it is a magic ring. They take the ring.
There is a lot of talk, and they decide he must have cast the spell on the merchant from this ring. That was true, it was a ring of spell storing with feign death and dispel magic. Now, in the last adventure the group had received two scrolls.
One of the scrolls had speak with dead on it, the party cleric was too low a level to cast it by prayer, but from a scroll he could. So there was a 5% chance of failure, and if it failed a 5% chance of harm, when the player asked what a "harmful" effect would be for a failed "speak with dead"...
... I casually said that it was "up to the DM", and maybe "you are now cursed to only be able to speak to the dead, all others hear infernal wailing when you speak". We let that sit. He made the roll, they had two questions, they came up with: why did you cast this spell on the merchant and where did the merchant go?
The first question was answered: "So that Kamerli the Ivory could be accused of murdering the merchant". The second question: “the merchant went to the home of Ghon Mord of House Himmenghost” So now the group knew that the merchant was not dead, and in league with Ghon Mord of House Himmenghost
So now they had to determine what to do, to go directly to Ghon Mord's home to find Quillor, or to do something else. After a lot of conversation they decide that they will go to Ghon's home and case it for a while.
They are learning.
They go to the stone giant and get the information on Ghon's home, he is a warlock of House Himmenghost so he is easy to find. They go to the ward and his home fronts on a park with a pond, and there is a park behind the home as well. There are exits in front and behind the home.
The party sets themselves up in the two parks, and they wait. They wait until 7pm that night when Ghon emerges and walks through the streets, they follow him as he meets up with a large ogre a few blocks away from his home. They clearly know each other, and walk on together.
Ghon Mord - https://www.deviantart.com/scebiqu - image by Scebiqu
They end up at the arena and bet on a fight between Warlock Ngai Eyona of House Murgin and a five headed Hydra. Ngai had her courage publicly questioned recently so she demanded a fight to prove her mettle, she drew a 5 headed pyrohydra, she shows up on her giant eagle
Ngai Eyona - https://blog.cristinabencina.com/
There are House Murgin banners, a Black Tiger with Red Stripes on a grey field, flying alongside banners for House Griathon – an Orange sun on a grey background. The insult came from a Lord of House Griathon. His choice of the pyrohydra was another insult, not facing her in person is considered to be saying, "you are beneath me, I won't even show up to answer your challenge"
When I run these things I assign players to roll for the combatants, and sometimes I direct one of them, sometimes I don’t. In this case I ran Eyona but the players did all the rolling. Eyona has a ring of fire resistance and has cast a fire shield spell on her giant eagle as her first action after one of he players rolled her winning initiative
So the key for the hydra to win is to get her down low enough to attack with a bite, because the fire is unlikely to harm her or her mount. The player running the hydra starts with fire breath, and three heads breathe on her, she emerges unscathed.
She then uses her wand of wonder, the players rolled for that and got the fireball result and rolled almost max damage, ouch, did enough damage to finish off the pyrohydra. Short fight! When Ghon gets up to leave, the party warlock and thief approach him, and ask him what he knows about what happened Quillor Mas.
Mord takes offense to this, in Bhavisyavani House warlocks are arrogant and concerned with appearances, being accused of this publically is very offensive, so he calls over the guards at the arena, and tells them he wants to formally challenge the two party members
The guards grant him permission, and he formally challenges the two party members. Then we roll for initiative. The first to react is the party thief, Dornas, he takes out his short sword, and when the ogre is swinging his club around Dornas rolls a 20, gets a crit, rolls a disarming strike
So I narrate it, “You see the ogre’s club swinging in an arc off his back, when his arm is at full extension you slice to the left and lunge right, you blade slices through the ogre’s hand and the club flies through the air.”
Then the party warlock’s spell, levitation, goes off, but it doesn’t work, the ogre makes the save. Then some of the rest of the party joins in, but this was not everyone’s challenge, so that’s going to be dealt with soon too. We stopped there, with an honor duel in progress.
The players are digging the setting, they find the customs and the flair as much fun as the adventuring, and so far they have had a good mix of successes and failures, so it’s been challenging but not overwhelming. They are all new to D&D as well, which is always good fun.
It is interesting to watch new players interact with all of this, as the setting and the mechanics are new to them, both equally strange. That sense of wonder really drives the game forward organically. We'll see where they go with this, but our sessions are 3 hours long and they are finding their rhythm, so it could be a lot of fun.