Dan had been kind of cut out of our last set of adventures due to the fact that it was a module from Dungeon that he had already read, so he was hankering for a “bonus” session outside of our normal monthly game, in preparation for the big kick-off for his Sidrea campaign we’ll be starting next month. So this module was set in Sidrea as a one-off, with GM pre-generated characters.
We were a group of Paladins: Justicars, the Knights of the Lance, servants of Heironeous, elite warriors charged with, like, doing good and protecting stuff. This was actually a party along the lines of an idea I had when we were talking about characters for the Krandia series, trying to come up with interesting but totally non-standard D&D party concepts. Something like all-Rogue or all-Paladin or all-Monk. In this case our characters were all multi-classed Paladins, so we had some versatility: Antun was a Rog2/Rng2/Pal3, Emma was a Src2/Pal5, and Oswin was a Ftr2/Pal5.
We were told there was a critical fort (Fort Creed) that was in danger of falling to an unexpected attack from the south, on the less-well defended border of Ephedia. We were tasked with accompanying a small force of 150 men to the fort, and holding it long enough for reinforcement to arrive – expected to be only a day or two.
On the way there, we ran into a village ravaged by raiding lizard-men. After killing or driving off a few stragglers, we find a villager who has been mauled and nailed up to a wall in a somewhat gory sequence. Our attempts to heal him fail as he has been wounded by some sort of corrupted spear, so we are faced with the difficult choice of letting him live out the last few hours of his life in agony or ending his suffering, which he is requesting. Our Paladin moral training hasn’t covered this situation, so Emma decides to end his suffering.
After another minor skirmish we end up at the fort, where night is falling. The garrison seems neither particularly numerous nor particularly competent, so it’s a good thing we got here when we did. Our men get some rest and wait for the onslaught.
It comes in the middle of the night, with an escalade against the walls, which wipes out the initial ranks of defenders. We rush to fill in the gap, to find several shock troops over the walls and more lizard men ascending. Emma’s Cleave feat proves useful as she hacks her way through bad guys. Antun gets mauled as his agile, get-past-their-flanks combat style isn’t particularly effective in knock-down, drag-out siege warfare, so he sticks with pushing down ladders (after his period of lying on the ground bleeding).
After repulsing this attack, we are then summoned to the gate of the fort, where some kind of lizard Shaman summons an Earth Elemental to rip down the gate. Emma rushes in while Oswyn, the mounted combat specialist, summons his horse, readies his lance, and charges. Antun figures his 1d6+2 damage short sword isn’t going to do a lot to a creature that ignores the first 5 points of damage, so he runs up to the walls to start taking pot-shots at the Lizard men outside who are ready to rush the gate as soon as it falls.
Earth Elementals, though, seem to have a lot of hit points. After a couple of charges doing 20-30 hp of damage each, and with Emma hacking on it all the while, it’s still around … but it soon goes down, albeit after having done damage to our heroes and substantial damage to the gate. At that point, a second elemental shows up and finishes off the gate, letting a hoard of lizard men through. Emma is overwhelmed and incapacitated while Oswyn is backed into a corner, fighting desperately. Seeing the developing situation, Antun decides to take the 30 foot jump down to Oswyn’s aid (falls never seem to do as much damage as you’d expect – only 4 hp in this case, despite the heavy chainmail). Things start to look up when the summoned Earth Elemental’s time expires and he leaves, leaving our badly battered crew to face down a substantially reduced but still dangerous contingent of lizard men … but at this juncture the relieving forces arrive and the remaining attackers flee.
This was a pretty pure combat adventure, and as such it was pretty good – with no Wizard to fall back on, we had to actually battle the hordes of flunkies, which was made interesting by the fact they had lots of reach weapons (long spears and such). The battles at the fort had interesting and dangerous opponents. And it was the right length (i.e., not too long) for such things and moved along nicely.
The only thing which didn’t quite work for me was the “moral choice” of how to deal with the crucified and unhealable villager in the first scene. Somehow, it felt too ambiguous (a compelling case could be made either way) and without consequence in the end for the characters. Getting real, difficult choices like this into D&D adventures is tough, I think. For example, a tougher choice might have been after clearing out the one raided village, we had seen in the distance another village in the process of being pillaged. Do we continue on our mission, to relieve the fort, or try to intervene to save the villagers? Or split our forces? Either way has consequences, but it’s hard to figure them into a one-off adventure. Even in this example, most game-players are not going to be so easily diverted from their mission – there would have needed to be some more ambiguity out how critical it really was to get to the fort, which would have required the GM to basically fully design two different adventures. As I say, presenting the players with really tough decisions which actually have some moral punch, and aren’t just a multiple choice pop-quiz on ethics, is going to be difficult and only possible in a fairly deep ongoing campaign world, I think, where a difficult choice might produce subtle but lasting consequences.
One thing I came away from this adventure with was that the Paladin as a class is fairly weak compared to Fighters or other core classes. Their Smite Evil ability is marginal, their spells kick in too late, and the “lay on hands” feature is of negligible value unless your charisma is huge. The Paladin’s Mount is cool, but compared to the every-other-level bonus feat of the Fighter, Paladins seem to get the short end of the stick. If only they got more skill points to actually put into their slightly broader range of class skills (including Diplomacy, an always-useful one), but at a base rate of a paltry 2 skill points per level and a premium on Strength, Constitution, and Charisma leaving little left over for Intelligence (and so bonus skill points), this doesn’t add up to much.