Grisly Eye Games

Agenda-Based Adventures

Recently I ran a new mission for my playtest campaign Black Griffin. In this particular mission, the party have been commanded to patrol their camp for a few nights (as a sort of punishment).

On reflection, not the most exciting adventure. So, to spice things up I decided there would multiple factions at play:

  • A group of bailiff’s searching for wanted spies (whose description suspiciously matches the party),
  • A cell of spies operating within the camp, and
  • An advance party of orcish saboteurs looking to weaken the camp defences.

Writing an adventure around these various threads seemed tricky, but it got me thinking about the agenda design I've been doing with NPC stat blocks. Taking that I came up with an agenda-based adventure designed. Basically it's like an event-based adventure (from the Dungeon Master’s Guide) but for multiple threats.

Huh?

In agenda-based adventures I give a bunch of enemy factions (which I will now call threats) their own agendas organised into an agenda ladder and start throwing them at the party one at a time.

For example, the agenda ladder I used for the orcs was as follows:

  • Sabotage Camp. Goblins sabotage the towers and barricades on the North-West side of camp.
  • Kill Patrols. Goblin assassins starts killing members of patrols.
  • Clan Attacks. Orcs attack the camp en-masse.

Then you just start the ball rolling! For each in-game day or night I do the following:

  1. Randomly select a threat and check off one event. This is the foreground event and it directly involves the party.
  2. Randomly select another threat and check off one event. This is the background event and it occurs while the party are elsewhere.

I repeat the above until all the threats are thwarted or one reaches its final goal. All final agenda items are foreground events. This is normally some direct attack the party must thwart. The stuff of climactic, final scenes.

To make randomly choosing threat events easier I used index cards to make some improvised “threat cards”:

Photo of threat index cards

Additionally, every time the party move to a new location I rolled a d20. On an 18 or higher, a random clue is waiting for them in the area.

Design

I think it's fairly obvious to mention this design is heavily influenced by fronts from Dungeon World. The design here is a bit less narrative to fit with the Dungeons & Dragons style of play, but many of the principles are the same.

I used a pyramid structure for pacing. The first tier has three checkboxes (slow as the threat starts to feel its feet) then two, and the final tier (when the true stakes are finally revealed) has only one.

Running some of the agenda events in the background makes the world seem more alive. Things happen even if the party aren’t about to witness them. They aren’t the sole protagonists!

Lastly, the idea of checking off encounters is based on bullet campaigns from Redmark Adventures Volume I (an excellent campaign book that unfortunately never got a sequel).

Where Things Need Work

Overall, it worked well. What could’ve been a routine traipse across the camp map actually turned into rich sessions which the players (seemed to) enjoy. But some areas of improvement include:

I messed up with the clues. Firstly, rolling for clues every time the party “reached a new area” doesn’t make much sense unless you’re on a dungeon crawl. If you’re just mooching about an open map (as the party were) I’d skip over frequently visited locations and often struggled to figure out when to roll.

An alternative might’ve been to place clues in specific locations rather than randomly scatter them around. I think this has problems too: players could all to easily sweep the camp and collect all the clues in one go. And it makes things too static: clues dynamically appearing makes the world seem more alive. Perhaps a more detailed map might’ve helped here, making it more noodly to stumble upon a clue?

Also, the probability of encountering a clue (the same as for random encounters) needed to be higher. Perhaps it could even increase as the threat agenda burns down. Maybe using some kind of usage die mechanic? There is a clue in any scene on a roll of 1 of the clue die. The clue die starts at something like d10 and counts down to d8 → d6 → d4 per day.

I really like the idea of threats: it worked well in play and it's easy to devise new threats. The interaction with multiple agendas kept the flow of the game going without requiring massive prep and unduly railroading the players.

It also has a lot of potential: you could easily bundle up a bunch of encounters, locations and agendas into one threat block. I’ve already started thinking about campaign threats where each checkbox could be an entire adventure.

I was worried the pyramid structure of the agenda ladder would risk throwing samey encounters at the party. This didn’t happen in play, and if you keep the agendas general enough there is plenty of leeway to change things up.

The main problem is that, with three threats, the agenda ladder had too many events (18 in total). I had to cut things short, even when the party took one threat out of action early on. So I think a smaller ladder perhaps with two just minor events, one medium and one final event might move things along faster.

Lastly, making cards to shuffle and deal when drawing background and foreground events didn’t work that well. There were just too few cards to shuffle effectively so I’m not sure how random my choices were. Again, some kind of usage die mechanic might be more effective here.

Black Griffin 36 - The Chasm Nearer

In the seventh instalment of Black Griffin the party find themselves attending a war council and a new enemy makes their presence felt...

This campaign diary taken from the in-character chat channel from session 36 of my playtest campaign, lightly polished and annotated.

Black Griffin is a play-by-chat game that runs every week on Roll20. The party are mercenaries in the employ of the infamous Company of the Black Griffin. Lowly even for sellswords, they have been placed on punishment duty as company fetches: bounty hunters charged with capture of deserters for trial.

Black Griffin Encampment Map Preview
Scene VII: Night 2 Continued...

As you may recall, our band of barbaric arms-bearers not only uncovered and killed foul orcish saboteurs, but managed to prove their existence to a disbelieving Agata.

Now, summoned to her tent in the Griffin Encampment, a war council of sorts is being convened...

Agata

Private, corporals. It appears we have a new adversary...

Creatures thought... long dead prevail still. The so-called orcs, or night folk, not only appear to dwell amongst us, but wish us ill.

Biron
stands tall and silent, a dark look upon his face.
Agata

We must protect the camp at all costs! And this includes keeping the existence of these creatures from the rank-and-file. For nothing can kill a company faster than desertion!

And that is the one thing we are mandated to prevent!

With this in mind, I am giving you command of a unit of light infantry.

She nods towards the private standing to attention, who salutes in return.

Orin
looks incredulous.
Agata
You will double patrols with these forces to prevent further sabotage until we can understand the nature of what we're up against.
Biron
looks over to the private and snorts.
Agata
Any questions?
Ba'Raknul

coughs

softly Are we entirely certain that these creatures aren’t working with our enemies?

Biron
gives a sideways glance at Ba and growls.
Agata

Corporal Ba, the very question itself in insensible. Do I think the Commonwealth is working with foul beastmen to undermine the Royalist cause? Anything is possible, which is exactly why I have no idea if that is true or not.

What do you think?

Ba'Raknul
pauses and thinks hard for a moment.
Orin
it's awful convenient if they aren't.
Ba’Raknul

I think the common folk see and hear way more than we do... Everywhere I have gone on missions the commoners, whether enemy or bystander, knew of strange creatures or ‘myths’. I wouldn’t put it past someone like Sparrow to even trick these creatures into working for them.

A well placed lie or false information leaves us a target, which is good for them however you slice it.

Biron

growls.

The beasts die like any man. We kill them and move on.

Orin
rolling their eyes Of course that's your opinion, Biron.
Biron

snarls at Orin.

We have been given a job. Lets move on with it.

He returns to his upright, face forward position.

Orin
Yeah, except the job wasn't 'go kill', it was 'protect'.
Ba'Raknul
I wouldn’t get into the difference there with Biron.
Biron
rolls his eyes at Orin’s naivety.
Orin
I don't suppose he knows it.
Agata

Enough squabbling!

The dying of them is not what concerns me. The ones that remain do. Legends speaks of vast hordes of these creatures. Do such numbers remain? And if so, why have we not seen them before.

And why are we seeing them now?

Ba'Raknul
shudders as his mind flashes back to the warrens.
Orin
fidgets with the cork on their wineskin.
Ba’Raknul
I would speculate we are seeing them now because they’re nearly ready to do something big. Big enough that revealing themselves is no longer an issue.
Biron

looks at the book Agata was reading.

What do we know of them?

Agata

nods.

A concerning proposition, Corporal Ba.

Orin
They? As in those squealing pig-things that couldn't speak a word?
Biron
It’s possible.
Ba'Raknul
>They may speak a way we don’t hear. You remember Old Spit?
Biron

thinks for a moment.

It’s possible they might have been forced from hiding. Whether directly or indirectly.

Orin

appraises Biron.

Exactly. They don't strike me as intelligent enough for machinations.

Ba'Raknul
You don’t need to be intelligent to form a plan or be wise enough to lead... Maybe a new leader has risen. Someone that has the ability to gather and organise these things.
Orin

Those...

They swallow hard.

...rats... they were smart, you could see it in the way they fought us.

Biron
Beasts fight to their habitat. These creatures knew to run and hide to try to get by us. They used distraction.
Orin
Or they were just squealing cowards.
Ba'Raknul
That’s not it Orin. It listened to our words. They’re not as dumb as you are thinking.
Biron
steps towards the light infantry private, looking him over, ignoring the child like rambling of Orin.
Orin

Maybe. Maybe they have an intelligent caste... maybe they fart fairy dust. This is all just speculation anyway.

They kick at the dirt floor.

Ba'Raknul

sighs.

He gives the new man a solid looking over.

In any case we should get moving... I would like to talk to these guys before we start... learn their skill and how best to deploy.

Biron

looks back at Agata.

We will get this done.

Ba'Raknul
Agata, if that is all?
Agata
One more thing: we need another of these... things. Alive. So we might... question them. Or at least, examine them.
Orin
glances sideways at Biron.
Ba'Raknul

Do you have some shackles? They’re slippery creatures.

Agata

hastily scrawls a writ on a peace of paper.

Take this to the commissary, they'll give you what shackles you desire.

Ba'Raknul

nods.

Thank you, ser.

Agata
Good luck and... be careful out there. Dismissed!
Orin
nods at Agata and walks out.
Ba'Raknul
salutes and leaves.
Biron
gives single nod and grunt, then follows.

Outside, the private leads the party to the unit they have been given command over. The six light infantry stand to attention and like most mercenaries, they’re a bit shabby round the edges and green in the tooth (one woman cannot be older than 16 summers), but they are armed and trained.

Biron

growls at them.

Let’s see what they can do.

He steps towards the group.

Orin
whispers to Ba This isn't going to go well for us. Someone's going to find out, and Agata will blame us.
Biron
snarls and walks up and down the ragged bunch. Leering at them closely.

One man visibly recoils in fear at the vicious scar on Biron's face.

Ba'Raknul
whispers back Don’t worry, just a quick thing then we’ll go.
Orin
guffaws at the sight of Biron and takes a large swig from their wineskin.
Biron
snarling and shouting Who out of you is the strongest?!

They look amongst themselves and exchange a couple of sharp whispers.

Biron
Call out, now!
Orin
raises an eyebrow at Ba.

One of them is a black-haired lass with a layer of fat covering thick, ropey muscles. She steps forward and raises her hand.

Ba'Raknul

rolls his eyes and heads towards commissary.

calls over his shoulder Wrap it up Biron, or we’ll be late. I need to collect these shackles.

Biron

glares at Ba, then back to the infantry.

pointing at the woman You. Hit me once.

The soldier
looks confused.
Biron

stands legs slightly apart and arms out.

Are you deaf?

The soldier
It's a court martial offence to hit an officer, ser!
Biron

rolls eyes.

This is an order. Try to hit me once. Come on! Full throttle!

Orin

chuckles, moving to stand at a distance.

You better do it or you'll likely wish you'd just been courtmartialed.

They watch, amused.

Biron
stares at the recruit.
The soldier

swings a punch at Biron, quick as a whip, before he can even think, cracking him hard in the cheekbone. She instantly looks mortified!

I'm... sorry ser!

Biron

wipes his face at the side where he was just punched and surprisingly… smiles.

Good. This is what a soldier does. They listen to instruction. If you do as you are told, the result will be what is needed!

Orin

Are you done now?

They wander off after Ba.

Biron
Fight and be strong. Never hesitate.
The soldier
Yes, ser!
Biron

claps his hand on the woman’s shoulder.

Good hit.

The soldier
smiles nervously and salutes.
Biron
Now let me show you a maneuver or two.

Ba and Orin find their way to the commissary. This large tent is the store of food and supplies for the camp. As always, Sly Ben and his drunken cohorts hold court outside, lounging around on barrels and stools.

Sly Ben
Ba! You scabrous scoundrel!
Orin
nods at Sly's mates with familiarity.
Sly Ben
What do you want with Ben?
Ba'Raknul

nods and hands over the paper.

We need some shackles, please Ben.

Sly Ben
takes the writ, eyeing it warily before shrugging and passing it to the youngest drunk.

The boy grumbles and disappears into the large tent, pulling back the entrance to reveal large shelves filled with food, weapons and other equipment.

Sly Ben
While we wait, sit a while! Have a drink!
Orin

smiles cheerfully.

Please!

Ba'Raknul

shakes his head.

No thanks.

Sly Ben
Good old Ba! Never knowingly fun!

The joke is even weaker than the ale passed to Orin, but Ben's court laugh as though it were the funniest thing they've ever heard.

Orin

chuckles.

They lean back and drink their ale with gusto.

Ba'Raknul
waits patiently, watching Orin for any slips, knowing how sly Ben is.

Meanwhile, the boy reappears carrying manacles, which he holds out for Ba to take.

Ba'Raknul

takes the manacles.

Thanks. Let’s go, Orin.

He turns and leaves hurriedly to meet the others and make the patrol.

Orin
shrugs at Sly Ben, then downs their drink before heading off with Ba.

The rowdy sound of Ben's drunken companions disappears into the general noise of the camp as dusk approaches.

Ba'Raknul
heads straight off to find Biron and the infantry so they can go to the South Gate and take over the watch.

The party and their new unit assemble at the South Gate just as dusk falls, exactly on time for once. They’re greeted by the surly day watch.

The soldier

Day watch is over! And we didn't lose a single tower!

He laughs at his own jest, joined by his fellow day watch men and women in a cruel laugh.

Biron

growls If you did, you wouldn’t notice.

Orin
You probably never knew where they were in the first place.

This causes a small giggle to break out from the light infantry unit. The day watch slink off, caught off guard, to lick their wounds. Meanwhile, the unit the party commands stands to attention.

The soldier
What are your commands, sers?
Biron

looks to Ba.

We found the creatures first to the north.

Ba'Raknul
thinks a moment.
Biron
They attacked from the north side as well.
Ba'Raknul
That could be a ruse.
Biron
The farm was north of here, and the creatures’ tracks also came from north. It would seem to be a good place to start.
Ba'Raknul
I think we need a wider area.
Biron

grunts.

in a low voice These guys aren’t great by themselves.

Ba'Raknul
Groups of three with a twenty-foot spread... Never mind. Let’s stick together. But maybe Biron take a twenty-foot lead, and Orin try to stay hidden from apart from the main group. If we are attacked you can locate them.
Biron
growls and nods.
Orin
Sure thing.
Biron
Have Orin in back. Me, you, infantry, Orin.
Ba'Raknul
I’ll take the rear. I am the fastest to catch up if needed.
Biron
Fine, ok. So it’s me, Orin? Infantry, Ba?
Orin
You, infantry, Ba... Orin's elsewhere.
Ba'Raknul
Yes.
Biron

nods.

Let’s go east first this time.

The soldier
Er... sorry to interrupt sers, but Agata specifically commanded that we double the patrols. That is, we should take two separate patrols.
Orin

smiles.

Is that so?

Ba'Raknul
In which case we go left, you go right. We meet at north and south.
The soldier
salutes.
Ba'Raknul

Wait.

He takes out his fire prepped arrow and tells them how to signal danger.

Be safe.

Biron

growls at the men.

Remember what we trained. Stay quiet and kill quick. Signal any of the manned towers.

The soldiers
nod and salute, clearly ready to prove themselves to their northern commander.
Biron

gives a single nod and grunt.

Go.

So the groups’ night patrols begin. Everyone’s nerves are on edge, and the darkness beyond the barricades weighs on their minds. Despite the fact, the first patrol around the camp goes without mishap, putting them even more on edge. Will the creatures come again? What are they waiting for? Yet the party meets the infantry unit with nothing for either group to report.

Biron
growls and slowly listens to the night. He smells the air and holds his battleaxe in one hand.
Ba’Raknul
moves slowly in the dark, bow ready.

However, on the second patrol, as the party passes the fetch camp, they hear a rustling... coming from Ba's tent!

Biron

nods at the group.

Stay quiet and quick

Ba’Raknul
looks to the team.
Ba'Raknul
I’ll enter, you two be ready.
Biron
crouches and puts his shield up, slowly and carefully approaching.
Ba’Raknul
prepares to jump into his tent... mentally mapping out the layout so he can react quickly and grapple the sneak.
Biron
whispers gravelly Me at back of tent or front?
Orin
watches the front of the tent from the darkness, bow ready and waiting.
Ba'Raknul
makes hand gestures to indicate his team’s places. He begins to count down with his fingers... 1... 2....

On three, the party make their way towards Ba's tent, but as they do, Biron trips on a tent rope, landing noisily and taking Orin with him.

Biron

GO!

He stumbles up and across the tent.

Orin
Burn it!
Ba'Raknul
bursts into his tent ready and prepared.
Orin
raises their bow again, desperately.

Inside the tent is... empty! It's been ransacked, Ba’s papers and equipment scattered around.

Ba'Raknul

rushes back out of the tent.

It's em-

Suddenly, the team hears the telltale sound of an arrow being readied. A flurry of arrows fly out of the shadows around you, one goes for Ba’s chest, two strike Biron's arm, and one catches Orin in the flank. The source appears as cloaked figures hiding in the shadows, just out of range of Biron's lamp light.

Biron
ROARS!

Three of the cloaked figures draw their swords and close in, joining each party member in melee combat.

Orin
They're out here, Ba!

Biron deftly catches the arrow and, with one flick of his wrist, sends it flying into the shoulder of one of the approaching figures. They grunt in pain, but join Ba in combat.

Biron
beats his chest.
Ba’Raknul
switches to his spear and unleashes a strike at the creature. Then, focusing his ki, he kicks out twice.

They easily sidestep Ba’s spear thrust, but his kick catches them hard in the shin and they stumble, gnashing their teeth in pain, blood pouring from the arrow wound.

Orin

agilely avoids engaging with the swordsman after them, and runs into the tents.

They turn around and launch an arrow at the one Ba damaged.

Orin narrowly misses a swipe as they easily evade the cloaked figure's opportunistic attack, sending an arrow flying. However Orin’s target is ducking and diving fast to avoid Ba's blows and the arrow goes wide.

Biron

roars with anger and beats his chest hard.

COME AT ME!

He brings up his battle-axe and slams it towards the hooded figure in front of him.

shouting to Orin Warning arrow! Then deal with the archers before...

He shouts at top of his booming voice.

DANGER!

The cloaked figure sidesteps Biron’s clumsy axe swing. A smile flashes under the hood, teeth missing.

Biron
snarls, leering towards the hooded 'face'.

The sword-bearing figures slash at Ba and Biron, and Orin's assailant closes the distance to slash at them. Clearly skilled, the fetches fend off the blows but they all get many cuts and bruises, and even a couple of slashes for their trouble.

The two archers in the back send arrows into the melee, but both miss.

Ba'Raknul
curses and strikes again.

Ba slams his spear into his assailant, piercing his chest and burying it in the ground beneath. The man dies instantly, still standing, supported by the odd angle of the strike.

Ba'Raknul
moves to help Orin, moving to another and trying to kick them.

Ba misses, landing a kick in another tent, disturbing a sleeping fetch who roars in shock.

Orin

shouts in pain as the sword hits them.

They run into the tents again, holding onto their wound tightly, to hide in the darkness.

Biron

snarls back and swings upwards from the ground with his battle-axe towards the masked figure.

He roars at them.

Biron’s slash into the guise of his assailant cuts a deep gash in their abdomen. The hood slips revealing a woman’s face... someone he recognises! A fellow mercenary, a corporal from around camp.

The cloaked figure

For the Folk!

She grunts at you before trying to strike back.

Biron
YOU!! TRAITOR!!!

The two swordsmen strike back at Ba and Biron, but the tide of battle has turned. The glint of doubt enters their eyes and their strikes become flawed and easily dodged.

Meanwhile, an arrow strikes Biron.

Ba'Raknul

swings his spear above his head, bringing the wooden handle down hard onto a pressure point on his assailant’s neck.

He attempts to strike the cloaked figure in the throat.

Ba strikes in a flurry of spear thrusts and blows, but the figure takes a step back and leans away, just missing them.

Orin
moves slowly, making their way around to aim another arrow at Biron's attacker.

In this darkness, amidst the tents, Orin just can't get a straight line on their foes. Another arrow misses, landing in a tent pole.

Orin
swears quietly, then ducks back into the shadows.
Biron
roars and leaps around the shadowy figure, trying to grab them around the neck with his arm.

Biron's corded muscles rippling, he easily overpowers his assailant. He drops to the ground, taking the struggling figure with him.

Biron

Night-night traitor!

DANGER!! TRAITORS ARE HERE!

To be continued...

The Wicked Preview

This is an excerpt from The Wicked, an upcoming monograph about all things witchy and warlocky, full of toil and trouble. This preview includes a new warlock pact for your enjoyment:

Pact of the Cauldron

Woodcut illustration of witches with cauldron.

Cooking witches illustration is public domain via Wikipedia.

Your patron gives you a magical cauldron of black iron with which you can brew potions. As an action you can use your pact cauldron to give one willing creature you can touch one of the following benefits:

  • The creature gains temporary hit points equal to your level + your Charisma modifier.
  • You end one condition afflicting the creature. The condition can be paralysed or poisoned.

The creature cannot benefit from this feature again until it has finished a short or long rest.

You also use your pact cauldron wherever you might use a herbalism kit or alchemist's supplies. This includes ability checks that require a herbalism kit or alchemist's supplies. When you do so you are considered proficient.

You can transform one magic cauldron into your pact cauldron by performing a special ritual. You perform the ritual over the course of 1 hour, which can be done during a short rest.

If you lose your cauldron, you can perform a 1-hour ceremony to receive a replacement from your patron. This ceremony can be performed during a short or long rest, and it destroys the previous cauldron. The cauldron turns to slag when you die.

The following Warlock eldritch invocations are specific to the Pact of the Cauldron feature:

Dragon’s Blood

Prerequisite: Pact of the Cauldron feature

You can use your pact cauldron to cast protection from energy using a warlock spell slot. You can't do so again until you finish a long rest.

Eerie Cure All

Prerequisite: 5th level, Pact of the Cauldron feature

You can use your pact cauldron to cast lesser restoration at will, without expending a spell slot.

The Mother's Milk

Prerequisite: Pact of the Cauldron feature

You can use your pact cauldron to cast cure wounds using a warlock spell slot. You can't do so again until you finish a long rest.

Secret of Life

Prerequisite: 15th level, Pact of the Cauldron feature

You can use your pact cauldron to cast greater restoration using a warlock spell slot. You can't do so again until you finish a long rest.

Black Griffin Campaign Diary (Session 35)

This is the sixth campaign diary for my 5th Edition D&D playtest campaign, Black Griffin. Black Griffin is a play-by-chat game that runs every week on Roll20. The party are mercenaries in the employ of the infamous Company of the Black Griffin. Lowly even for sellswords, they have been placed on punishment duty as company fetches: bounty hunters charged with capture of deserters for trial.

The below is an edited log from of our in-character chat channel. We've added annotations so you can follow what's going on. Please enjoy!

Black Griffin Encampment Map Preview
Scene V: Debrief 1

When we last saw our (mis)adventurers they had just fought off an ambush by foul swine clearly attempting to sabotage the Company's defences. Having dealt with the creatures, we join Orin and Biron as they report the night's events to Sergeant Agata.

Agata
Well, spit it out private. I don't have all day-- er night!
Orin

Err, some sort of... pig-like creature...

There were four of them. They took down the northwest tower.

It sounds mad, I know. Ba is hiding outside with their corpses... and one captive.

Biron
walks to the entrance of Agata's tent and gives a low cough before entering in behind Orin.
Ba'Raknul
creeps closer after the other two enter the tent and waits for a call.
Agata

peers at Orin.

Are you on the camp wine, private?

Orin

coughs and puts an arm in front of their wineskin.

Of course not...

Agata

turns to Biron.

Corporal, what on earth are they talking about?

Biron
Four infiltrators came. They attacked. We killed them, all but one.
Orin

steps to the tent's door and opens it a little.

whispering Come in, Ba.

Biron
Ma’am, they do not appear to be human.
Ba'Raknul
steps in and drops the three dead creatures in one pile and the unconscious one in front of Agata.
Agata
jumps back.
Biron
coughs and looks at the beast men.
Agata

WHY ARE YOU DUMPING DEAD LIVESTOCK....

What the...

Her eyes narrow as she examines the dead creatures.

Biron
holds himself up straight and waits.
Orin
It's almost like what we faced in the Dismas sewers, but those were rats...
Agata

turns to the group.

By the Bastard…

Why. Have. YOU. DRESSED. DEAD. PIGS… AS SOLDIERS??

DO YOU THINK I'M STUPID?

Orin
steps back, shocked.
Ba'Raknul

grunts.

You think so little of us, that you think we’d mess around like that?

Biron
looks a little bit baffled. He walks to the unconscious beast man and kicks him to wake him, holding on to the back of him.

The creature squeals in its unconscious state before going limp again.

Agata

sighs, sits down, and pinches the bridge of her nose.

If I'd known having you lot on patrol would be so much trouble, I'd have done it myself.

Biron
looks at Ba, disapprovingly.
Agata
You're expecting me to believe that... pigs... attacked us?
Orin

nudges Biron.

Show her your sword.

Ba'Raknul
Wait ‘til it wakes. Inspect it... they carried blades and fired arrows.
Biron

looks at Orin coldly.

She's seen it.

He stands up straight again.

Ba'Raknul
Have the physician look over the dead. If you find us to be lying, you can punish us.
Orin
The sword Biron found at the farm bears the same mark as the belt these creatures are wearing.
Agata
Mark? What are you talking about, private?
Biron
produces the sword again for Agata.
Orin
points to the belt buckle.
Agata

examines the mark and shrugs.

Indeed.

Well... wake that creature up and give it a sword!

Orin
They or some of their cohort must have killed the Livelys.
Biron

nods.

He goes to pick the pig man up and starts shaking it.

The bloodied creature soon awakens, and starts squealing and thrashing in agony, Its strange, hoof-like hands trying to reach around to grasp Biron. Its black eyes filled with inhuman malevolence.

Biron

looks at Orin.

Dagger.

Ba'Raknul
gets close to the creature.
Orin
passes a dagger over.
Ba'Raknul

Listen! You have one chance... If you can kill this man you can go free.

points at Biron and steps back.

Biron
takes his own sword out and gives dagger to pig man as was asked.
Ba'Raknul
Nod if you understand.

With desperate speed the dagger is snatched from Biron's hand. It gives no inkling it understands what you told it, but it immediately starts to move towards Biron.

Biron
jumps back and raises his sword.
Ba'Raknul
looks to Agata and motions a hand.
Orin

draws an arrow and points it at the creature, waiting.

Don't try to run or attack anyone else.

Biron
growls at the pig and punches his chest. He puts the sword away and goes to grab the pig-man.

Biron easily grapples the thrashing creature just as it was about to make a dash through everyone's legs and to the tent exit. It squeals inhuman curses at everyone.

Ba'Raknul

moves to cover any exit and prepares himself to grab the creature should Biron lose hold.

You satisfied, Agata?

Agata

has moved to the edge of the tent as far from the creature as she can, her face pale. She looks older than she's ever look before.

Mother save us!

Kill that thing!

Biron
smiles and nods.
Ba'Raknul

tries to stop Biron.

We need to find out if there are more. They are organised.

The creature wriggles out of Biron's sweaty grip, drops to the floor and, with murderous intent, makes a run for Agata, leaping onto her desk... ...but not before Ba catches it in his grip.

Agata
KILL THAT BLASTED THING!
Orin
hesitates for just a second, looking between Agata and Ba, before finally releasing their arrow.

Orin’s arrow sends the creature flying, pinning it against one of the tent’s wooden poles where is hangs limply, looking like a discarded toy.

Agata
stands very still before slowly sitting down at her desk.
Biron
goes back to full upright position and steps back again, awaiting Agata.
Agata
sits very quietly, clearly thinking hard.

The silence is deafening.

Orin
holds their bow awkwardly in front of them, trying to look anywhere but at Agata or the corpses and fiddling with the cork of their wineskin.

After a short while, she speaks, so quietly you can barely hear.

Agata

Fetch Corporal Loth.

Now.

Ba'Raknul
nods and heads out to find Loth.
Biron
follows.
Orin
stands in the tent looking helpless, staring at the ceiling.

Ba and Biron easily locate Loth who sleeps in his smaller tent close to Agata's. He looks angry at being awoken, but nods and gestures for you to lead the way.

Ba'Raknul
leads him back to Agata.
Corporal Loth
strides into the tent ahead of Biron and Ba and stops, taking in the scene.
Biron
walks alongside both men, quiet and stern looking. Back in the tent, he again holds his usual position and waits instruction.
Agata

beckons Loth over and he cautiously approaches.

She whispers to him, he nods and starts scribbling something down on paper.

She stares at the paper for what seems like another age.

Orin

suddenly looks agitated, waving an arm over their shoulder.

muttering Shut up!

Agata

raises an eyebrow at Orin, but ignores the interruption and continues to stare intently at the paper Loth has written on.

mutters under her breath.

Witch Queens! Orcs!

She harrumphs.

Biron
tilts his head slightly at this name.
Ba'Raknul
You have to believe us. There are also rat people under Dismas.
Orin
looks confused.
Agata

Quiet, corporal!

She seems strangely stiff, formal with Ba in a way she isn't normally.

standing up Attention!

Biron
stands to attention.
Ba'Raknul
stands to attention.
Corporal Loth
stands to attention and salutes immediately.
Orin
stands taller, but is otherwise unsure of how to conduct themself.
Agata

This is how this is going to go:

First thing, no one is to mention anything about these... creatures to anyone else.

Do you all understand me?

Orin
nods dumbly.
Biron
gives solid nod.
Ba'Raknul
nods stiffly.
Agata

If anyone so much as mentions the word ‘orc’ I'll have them court-martialed and executed so fast, your shit will still be warm in your pants when they bury you!

Understand?!

And I want a ‘yes, ser’!

Orin
What's an orc?
Ba'Raknul
Yes, ser.
Biron

gives second nod.

loudly growling Yes, ser.

Orin
Er, yes ser?
Agata

glowers so hard at Orin they can almost imagine the room getting hotter.

Do not try me, private!

Orin
Couldn't imagine it, ser.
Biron
gives Orin a sharp and angry look.
Agata

Secondly, you are to strip these bodies, wrap them up in sacks and dispose of them in the lime pits.

No one, and I mean no one, is to see these bodies!

Understood?

Ba'Raknul
Yes, ser.
Orin

looks at Biron.

Errr...

Biron
Yes, ser.
Orin
gives Ba a pleading look.
Ba'Raknul
closes his eyes and nods.
Orin
Yes, ser?
Agata
Let me be clear: if word gets out that... these... things... monsters are attacking the camp, we'll have so many desertions this place will look like the king's chamber pot.
Biron
nods again.
Orin
Yes, ser.
Biron
We will be on it, right away.
Ba'Raknul
coughs awkwardly.
Biron
bows and moves toward the still hanging body of the orc.
Ba'Raknul

Ser, we need a better warning system... a bell or something. At the moment I’ve told all to use fire arrows but it’s not great. And maybe lanterns should be set up at the base of all the towers.

Biron
pauses a moment and thinks about something before carrying on with his task.
Ba'Raknul
begins stripping the bodies.
Orin
stands at 'attention' a little longer, unsure how to react, but eventually takes the others' lead and starts removing weapons and gear from the creatures.
Agata
I didn't dismiss you yet!
Ba'Raknul
stops.
Orin
drops everything in their hands and stands straight up with their hands close against their thighs.
Sergeant Agata

Corporal Ba, I'll take that into consideration but I have a lot... to think about.

After you've done that break your fast, get some rest, and report to me immediately before you start your patrol tonight.

And... good work.

Dismissed!

Ba'Raknul
bows low.
Orin
looks even more confused at the compliment.
Ba'Raknul
Thank you, ser.

Ba'Raknul continues to strip and wrap the bodies in whatever is available, revealing the strangely pale, wormlike forms beneath.

Orin
helps Ba and Biron finish up.
Ba'Raknul

hauls up as many as he can carry.

Orin, lead the way and make sure we don’t run into anyone.

Orin
pokes their head out the tent flap to look for observers.

Outside, dawn is breaking. The rest of the camp stirs, but the fetches work on a different schedule and this part of the camp is still quiet.

Orin
waves for the others to follow, then heads for the north gate using the tents for cover.
Ba'Raknul
follows Orin out once they give the signal.
Biron
remains standing at attention to Agata after Ba and Orin have left the tent.
Agata
What is it, Corporal Biron?
Biron

Ma'am, one thought I'd like to add.

The boy, from the farm… they got attacked by possibly the same creatures. It's where I found this sword. You may want to keep a watch on the boy so he doesn't spread rumours of what he saw.

It will probably be seen as confusion and imagination, but I would like this to be brought to your attention.

He bows and nods

Agata

nods.

I'll have him isolated and guarded.

Thank you, Corporal Biron.

Biron

gives a nod and leaves to follow the group.

He jogs slightly to catch up with the rest.

We need bags to wrap the bodies.

Orin

stops to think for a second.

Sacks from mess should do it.

Biron
I'll get them.
Orin
Meet us outside the north gate, in the ditch. Don't want the guards seeing.
Biron
nods as he leaves, diverting to pick up sacks from the mess.

The party smells the limepit well before they see its grim contents. As they leave the West Gate they spy a detail of privates throwing today's bodies into the foul crevasse. They all have their faces wrapped in cloth to stifle the stench and allay disease.

Ba'Raknul

whispering Let’s hide and wait.

They’ll leave.

Orin
Can we get to the wood's edge?
Ba'Raknul
looks around for somewhere to hide.

It would be easy to make it to the treeline without being seen.

Biron
grunts and nods toward the woods.
Orin

waves for the others to follow.

They duck into the treeline to hide in wait.

Biron

grunts.

Keep your guard up.

He extinguishes any torches we have before hiding in the tree line.

Ba'Raknul
follows stealthily.

The party squats amidst the trees and scrubs at the edge of Friar's Wood while the privates on lime pit duty work slowly and begrudgingly. The corporal in Ba and Biron bristle at the idea of such indiscipline but after a while they finish their work and trudge back to camp, removing their improvised face masks and grumbling to each other

The coast is soon clear!

Ba'Raknul
whispering We should cover our faces.
Biron
gives a single nod and pulls up a cloth to put around his face.
Ba'Raknul
pulls up his bandana.
Orin
I lost my spare shirt to the boy's arm...
Biron

rolls his eyes and shakes his head, not even looking at Orin.

We move.

Orin
pulls up their shirt from under their leather armour, getting it only just over their nose.
Ba'Raknul
begins slowly moving to the pit.
Biron
steps forwards with two of the bodies in a bag then moves quietly and quickly to the lime pit.

As the party approaches the lip of the pit, the sight that befalls them is like something from hell itself. A jumble of human bodies, squirming yet still. A dismembered hand pokes out from under a face here.

Biron
looks at the bodies and just grunts and shrugs the bodies off.
Orin
falters at the sight.

The sacks drop onto the mess, make a squelching sound that makes everyone shudder. And with that they join the still masses in the pit below.

Orin
Should we... I dunno... cover them with something?
Ba'Raknul

I don’t know if it’s needed at this point.

He bows his head.

This is no way to go.

Biron

thinks for a moment and steps next to Orin.

Good idea.

He goes to push Orin in.

Orin

ducks sharply and scrambles away from the edge on all fours.

They look at Biron with the utmost horror.

Biron
gives out a chuckle which sounds like a coughing cat and walks away.
Ba'Raknul

begins moving stealthy back to camp.

Let’s go.

Orin

remains sitting on the ground, panting loudly.

Just a... just a moment...

Ba'Raknul
stops but keeps an eye out.
Orin

takes a few moments then swallows and stands up, looking anywhere but at the pit.

Okay.

It's been a long night and everyone’s feet feel like lead as they make their weary way back to mess. The party mutely eats their meal and then retires to their tents where they instantly fall into a dark, dreamless sleep...

Orin
sleeps aided by the contents of their wineskin.
Scene VI: Ba's Test
Ba'Raknul
fights off the waves of tiredness as he makes his way towards Der Vynge’s tent. Passing a bucket of water, he dunks his head and moves quickly on.

Ba finds Der Vynge sitting outside his tent over a bucket of water. He carefully trims the strange goatee beard he sports. He doesn't seem to acknowledge Ba’s arrival at all.

Ba'Raknul
salutes as he arrives and stands to attention, waiting.

After a while he finishes, puts on his tunic and leather jerkin and turns to Ba.

Der Vynge
Musket?
Ba'Raknul

looks nervous.

My apologies, ser. I do not have one.

Der Vynge

scratches his chin and sighs, softly.

He goes into his tent and comes out bearing his own musket, a simple item with bronze inlay that has turned green with age.

He hands it to Ba.

Ba'Raknul

bows low.

Thank you, ser.

Der Vynge

points to a tower on the East wall, maybe 100 feet away. Upon it perches a crow.

Shoot.

Ba'Raknul

carefully takes a look at the gun.

He takes a deep breath, and brings the gun up to aim at the crow. He aims carefully for a second, trying to focus his ki.

At first Ba thinks he misses... but then a breath later the crow disappears in a cloud of feathers.

Der Vynge
nods. I teach.
Ba'Raknul

feels his body hum with the vibrations of the rifle he bows again.

It would be my honour to be your student.

Der Vynge

Yes. First…

He takes his musket off Ba.

Musket. You.

Ba'Raknul
nods I will get one.

Without another word the enigmatic rifleman walks off, clearly having said everything on the matter.

Ba'Raknul
thinks longs for a minute before heading off to bed, racking his brains for anywhere he might get a rifle.
Scene VII: Night 2

The party awakes that evening from a dark sleep, not feeling exactly refreshed, but certainly ready. The calls are going out for last meal of the day from the mess.

Biron
rolls out from his bed and stretches with a mighty yawn. It almost sounds like a deep bark. He gets ready and heads to the food hall.
Ba'Raknul

sits meditating and slowly eating some rations.

He eventually heads out to the food hall, eyes about for rifles or someone that might have access.

Ba looks around for stray muskets but, given their value, the only ones he sees are sported by the musketeers, who always carry them around and never let them leave their sight. Each one is distinctive as well, so not easily missed and even more easily recognised.

Biron arrives at the mess hall. The usual suspects are gathered in their various cliques: infantrymen here, fetches there, clerks, musketeers, and Hyde’s fetches all alone.

Biron
gets a plate of food and goes to sit in a back corner, alone as normal, and eats glaring out across the mess quietly.

The mess is all a murmur about the fallen tower. A group of infantrymen speculate as to who night have felled it. A young woman mentions something about pigs, but the rest laugh it off, much to the lass' humiliation.

Biron
stares at them all suspiciously. He thinks to himself... One of them, maybe more, is a traitor.
Ba'Raknul
heads in and sits by Biron.
Biron
eats his food in silence, doesn’t even acknowledge Ba.
Orin

doesn’t immediately go to mess after waking up.

The breakfast bell causes them to roll over on their camp bed, groaning. As they do their arm falls over their pack and they are suddenly reminded about the strange weapons they took from the pig men.

They reach for the sword strapped to their bag and remove it, looking it over while laying on their cot.

Like Biron's sword, it’s made of a strange steel. At first Orin thinks it is covered in soot, but if it has been blackened by flame, its somehow now part of the steel.

Orin
holds the shortsword in their hand and gives it a few swings to feel its weight.

It feels much like any shortsword, though the blade is wicked and Orin nearly cut themselves swishing it. If they didn't know better they'd say it... hated Orin?

Orin
gives it a perplexed look, but sits up, sets the sword down, and picks up the bow.

It seems much like any shortbow, although made of the same metal, but it appears to have the suppleness of your own, wooden bows. Very strange.

Orin
gives the bow's string a tug.

The string itself seems made of metal, but springs as easily as any freshly strung bow. Otherwise, you feel no abnormal effects.

Orin

frowns at the bow and tosses it across the tent.

As they get dressed they carefully replace the rapier in their belt with the strange shortsword, hoping it will prove itself to be as useful as Biron's new weapon.

They then head to mess for the evening meal, joining Biron and Ba.

Tonight's meal is grey gruel, described as ‘rabbit stew’. It tastes of anything but. A meal only the hungry would eat. The group reluctantly gulps it down and leave the mess.

Ba'Raknul
We need to head in for patrol.
Biron
growls and, again without words, goes back to his tent. He has started thinking about some javelins he picked up on a previous mission.
Ba'Raknul
stands and heads out to collect his stuff for watch.
Orin

Of course. I'll meet you at Agata's... there's just one more thing I need to do.

They head back with a thoughtful look on their face, to their tent where they pick up the shortbow again and inspect it’s crafting.

Orin has an idea about how to make similar, metallic strings that never need restringing, but they’ll need fletcher’s tools and access to a smithy.

Orin

leaves the bow behind again, satisfied with what they learnt, and goes to find a familiar face at the fetches' fire. They makes a secret exchange with them, replacing one of their skins with another that looks considerably more full.

They then go to meet the others at Agata's tent.

Biron
gets back to his tent and looks around to some of his ‘trophies’.
Ba'Raknul
gets his stuff and heads to Agata’s.
Biron

searches for and finds some javelins from the journey his and Ba's group took a while ago. He remembers these were used by the beast men back then, like his new sword.

He picks one up.

They are made of the same, strange blackened metal as the unsettling sword.

Biron
steps out with his Javelin. He feels the weight of it, then launches it at a clear area.

The javelin aims true and lands with a dull and ominous twang. Several heads turn, some shaking, but otherwise nothing abnormal happens.

Biron

shrugs and goes to pick it up, seeming a little disappointed, but keeps the javelin, and the others from his tent, for a fight if needed.

He then heads to Agata's tent.

Without his usual contempt, Loth shows the into the warm, smoke-filled interior Agata's tent. She stands with her back turned to the group, smoking her pipe. A young man stands in the corner, a private.

Biron
stands in silence and to attention.
Ba'Raknul
comes in, salutes, and stands to attention.
Orin
fondles the cork of their wineskin, standing awkwardly.
Agata
turns around Private, corporals. It appears we have a new adversary...

To be continued...

NPC Block (Version 4)

This is an update as I continue to iterate on my design for a non-player character stat block format for. As previously discussed a few times. Here we have Lyrum, stated up in version 4 of my NPC stat block:

Example NPC block version 4.0

Header

As with the monster stat block, the header contains the name and a brief summary of the NPC:

Example NPC block header, version 4.0

Race and alignment are pretty self-explanatory. The NPC header also adds the stat block (in bold) and starting attitude (in brackets) of the character.

The stat block references the monster stat block the NPC would use in combat. This would normally be a NPC stat block from Appendix B in the Monster Manual. Here, Lyrum uses the statistics for the archmage. While roleplaying him use the NPC block above. If the party decide to attack him, use the archmage stat block for combat.

Keeping combat and roleplaying statistics separate here means we can keep the NPC block short. I'm a big fan of having all the information about an NPC in one place. But stat blocks containing both combat and roleplaying statistics quickly become unwieldy.

The NPC starting attitude is a reference to the social interaction rules from chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. I use a lot in my own campaigns. You could argue this duplicates the information in alignment. Evil characters would be hostile to good characters, and vice versa. While neutral characters would always be indifferent, and so forth.

Description

After the header follows a block of read-aloud text describing the NPC as they might appear to the PCs:

Example NPC block description, version 4.0

This section should also include the all-important distinctive features of your NPC. These are the memorable, visual cues that separate them from the (many) other characters in your campaign. This allows your players to place them even if they forget their name (as they often do).

Characteristics

Following the description are the NPC's personal characteristics:

Example NPC block characteristics, version 4.0

Personality traits serve two purposes. Firstly, they tell you how to roleplay the character. They can also act as secondary distinctive features (my players never forgot the old wizard who sneezed all the time).

The bond is important because it tells you the role the NPC will play in your campaign. For most NPCs this is their day job. Is the NPC a simple town guard, constantly raining on the party's parade? Or, in the case of Lyrum, a ruthless manipulator the party can't quite trust?

Ideals and flaws give you something to tell your players when they Insight an NPC. Again, in the rules for social interaction in the DMG in-sighting a flaw or ideal can give you advantage on a Charisma check. Or disadvantage, if you get it wrong.

(It's worth noting a few optional rules in the DMG refer to personal characteristics, like the rules for Morale)

I also preface each personal characteristic with a short, descriptive names so that DMs can get a rough idea of an NPC at a glance.

Secrets

After the personal characteristics is the Secrets section:

Example NPC block secrets, version 4.0

All good NPCs have something to hide. Secrets are the mysterious elements of an NPC: the hidden agendas, shady pasts and foul allegiances. They give an NPC depth and highlight to a DM how they could be used beyond simple interactions.

At first secrets might seem to duplicate characteristics. NPCs might closely guard their flaws, ideals and even bonds. However, you don't want your players knowing somethings about your NPC simply because they rolled well on an Insight check.

Some secrets have a tell: something about the NPC only perceptive or knowledgeable characters might notice. Other secrets may only be uncovered through play.

Activities

Lastly, is the Activities section:

Example NPC block activities, version 4.0

Activities are the everyday things an NPC might be doing when the party encounters them. For example, the first time the party encounter Lyrum he's having difficulty picking papers off the floor. The party might step in to help, only to irritate him even more. Next time, they find him wandering alone at night, sore with insomnia.

This is the section I'm least sure about. You could argue personality traits would cover this. It's a remnant of the agenda section from the version 3 stat block. Long-term agendas didn't really work for individual NPCs. In 5E a lone NPC can be resolved with a single combat or ability check, so I moved them to a new concept called fronts (more on that later).

Summary

I hope you found this useful, please feel free to steal any and all of the ideas here. All I ask is you let me know how you used them, and what did and did not work.