This scenario features my seven-year-old boy’s character, who plays Elec the 4th-level rock gnome rogue arcane trickster, and my four-year-old daughter’s character, playing Lektra the 4th-level halfling ranger who wields a lance and rides a pony named Tablehead. Also, by the end of the first adventure in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, Elec is now a kobold with a half-black/half-green dragon hatchling named Bomber that follows him around. My character, Tobias Hyrthstone, a 4th-level dwarf cleric, rounds out the party.
Having rescued Reidoth and successfully returned to Phandelin, the old druid invited the heroes to his tower and shared information about the Red Wizards’ plans to use four altars to unlock the secrets of the Elemental Princes of Evil. He believed one of those secrets might be buried beneath Tresendar Manor, which was orignially owned by the Amberguls. Elec was particularly concerned about this as he never really addressed the Nothic still lurking down there. He wanted the manor to be safe, but that would require exploring the manor proper.
Their second go-round beneath Tresendar Manor involved searching the ancient crypts on the back of the property. There they found a secret door leading down to a crypt — and were ambushed by grave robbers. The heroes made quick work of them and journeyed onward. After pushing a stone block to reveal an entryway into the crypts, they opened one and discovered a spell book and an iron medallion.
I should mention that Minecraft is the primary gateway by which my son engages with fantasy tropes. Almost everything he learned, he learned from Minecraft, which sometimes backfires. In this case, he thought picking up the bones of a skeleton would allow him to turn a wolf into a dog (this works in Minecraft). Instead, it summoned a ghost.
Ghosts in 5th Edition are tough customers: failing a Wisdom save sent all three party members screaming and aged each of them by 10 years. This turned my kids’ characters into adults, which did not go over well with them. Worse, Tobias failed to turn the ghost.
It was at this point that Elec made an Intelligence check and realized that the ghost was somehow affiliated with the mirrors in its crypt. When it subsequently possessed Tobias, its pleas reinforced to Elec that the mirrors were key. He proceeded to smash all of them before the ghost could interfere, and it was finally put to rest.
At this point Elec wanted out; he was worried about Tobias, who had aged more than they. Using the wand Reidoth gave them, they discovered a secret door that led to an antechamber. There, they met the lich Alicia Ambergul. Alicia bartered for her phylactery (the iron medallion) and spell book in exchange for curing the party of their aging and curses. Additionally, she gave them the gift of a clockwork cat. Understanding that Elec planned to move in “upstairs” they worked out a deal — she would keep the monsters in the crypt under control if Elec and his friends ejected the remaining crypt robbers. Charmed by the little gnome, she insisted Elec call her “Auntie Alicia” and agreed to create more clockworks for him if he promised to return every so often and share stories of his adventures.
After resting up, they journeyed to a room where the heroes were challenged by a series of pools. At the Blue Silver pool Elec managed to break a magical staff while trying to retrieve it. They (thankfully) discovered nothing at the bottom of the Blue Metal pool. They removed a chest from the Pool of Ordinary Water, triggering a life-and-death battle with a water elemental. The only reason they were able to defeat it was thanks to Elec’s cold chromatic orb — it slowed the elemental down enough that they were able to fire at it from a distance, eventually defeating it. Elec also beat the Pool of Fools and Flame by answering the riddle in one guess, which made him rich. Lektra braved the Elemental Admixture pool, made it to the bottom, and retrieved the battle aspergillum of exorcism, a weapon Tobias intended to put to good use against the undead. Drained of their resources, the party rested again before moving on.
They made their way through double doors, only to encounter two angry minotaurs — the aforementioned looters Auntie Alicia mentioned. One minotaur lifted the intervening portcullis while the other charged under it, but the first minotaur had a predicament — he couldn’t lower the portcullis to engage because Lektra’s lance kept him at a distance. Tobias tried no less than four times to command the minotaur to drop the portcullis, but it stubbornly resisted. His companions made quick work of the first minotaur and used ranged attacks on the second, defeating them both. Lesson learned: minotaurs are terrifying combatants — just one nearly took them out. Depleted of resources yet again, the party rested.
They continued down the corridor, only to be ambushed by a trapper. Elec’s hideous laughter spell once again saved the day, causing the trapper to convulse so much it released them. They were immediately ambushed by a lurker above but it missed its attack. Lektra charged ahead and used her lance to smash open the double doors at the far end. The party ran headlong into a demonic summoning chamber guarded by three gargoyles.
Tobias deduced that one of the gargoyles was chanting a summoning spell. Elec, astride Bomber, flew up and broke the chains holding the summoning circle, plunging the lone gargoyle into a rushing underground river. Curious as to where it went and not interested in fighting the other two gargoyles, Elec and Bomber jumped into the river. Tobias and Lektra were forced to deal with the other two gargoyles while Lektra tried to convince her pony to dive headlong into the river. After a few rounds of struggling with the reins and more attacks by the two remaining gargoyles, Lektra finally managed to convince Tablehead to dive in. Tobias followed soon after and the gargoyles, far too heavy to swim, were not interested in pursuing.
Elec nearly drowned as he was battered by the strong current, but Bomber’s semi-aquatic gave him an advantage underwater and he dragged Elect to shore. Elec’s companions followed soon after. But the commotion alerted more minotaurs — three of them.
The minotaurs charged into the fray, knocking out Bomber. Tobias was hard pressed to heal the party and keep them up even as they concentrated all their attacks on one of the minotaurs. Elec’s spells kept failing and things looked grim…until a noisy, naked dwarf named Thord arrived to distracted them. The party rallied, dropping one minotaur and then the other two soon after. The tally left three minotaurs dead, Bomber and Thord unconscious, and our heroes battered but alive. They had driven off the grave robbers and, after finding a tunnel back to the surface, returned to Tresendar Manor.
Overall this scenario was much closer in spirit to a traditional dungeon crawl of yesteryear. I’m confident that fighting any of the big bads (Alicia, her daughter Olivine the medusa) would have been well beyond the party’s capabilities even though they’re 4th level. This is likely in part due to the conversion of the rules — the water elemental from the playtest is significantly weaker than Monster Manual version, as are the minotaurs. Minotaurs, like hobgoblins, have a devastating attack that lets them add extra damage to their massive 2d12+4 if they attack first. Also, a trapper and a lurker above in the same room is just plain cruel. And yet the quirky lich and the back stories behind the various entombed Amberguls was entertaining, and my kids enjoyed the challenges of the pools.
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