I pride myself on the detail on my research and analysis in many of my blog posts. But that takes time, and sometimes I don’t have the time to spare to go into such detail, particularly since I also have a completely unrelated full-time job. So I am experimenting with a new series of “Table Tales” – summaries of sessions of actual play at my table, along with a bit of commentary on my thinking during planning, and thoughts on how the session went.
I’m going to start with the start of my current campaign. It’s based in Akorros, on the shores of Lake Amsorak in central Darokin in the Known World of Mystara. I’ve written a fair bit about my vision of Akorros (starting here), most of it developed towards the tail end of my previous campaign which fizzled out. My Akorros is a city of about 23 thousand people, shaped in a very rough semi-circle about a mile north-south and half a mile across from the lake on the west to the bulge on the east. It’s supposed to be quite seedy, controlled by the Thieves Guild, but I don’t feel I’ve been very good at portraying that so far during play. Definitely something to work at…
The campaign started with five first-level characters, none of whom knew each other.
- Gergran, a dwarf Paladin of the church of Ixian
- Isilya, a half-elf Grave domain Cleric of the church of Khoronus, associated with the Chardastes wing of the temple
- Navarre, a high elf transmutation wizard
- Gil, a human swashbuckler
- Atlos, a human divine soul sorcerer with one arm
They all happened to be in Redcliffe Market, and I introduced with roughly the description here, before action began.
Moldain, 11th Sviftmont 998
Business in the marketplace was continuing as usual, when suddenly a horde of colourful slimy worms burst up through the ground and starting chewing through market stalls and people indiscriminately. Mass panic, but five resourceful heroes kept their heads, and started to attack the worms and stabilise the wounded. After a back and forth battle, they managed to finish off all the worms, though sadly two of the market traders had succumbed to their wounds, and several others were seriously hurt. Investigating the area the worms had come from, it appeared they had chewed their way up through the stone – there were loads of small holes leading down into the ground.
At that point a guard patrol arrived, surveyed the scene and took charge. They ordered some people to take the wounded to the Chardastes wing of the temple, then asked if there was anyone who could investigate. A small hooded person spoke up in a high-pitched voice and said they knew of a way underneath the marketplace, and they led the characters into an inn, through and down into the cellars. From there a short passage took them to a flight of steps, at which point their guide disappeared.
The party headed down the steps, discovering the chamber was flooded. Wading in, they discovered there was assorted detritus on the floor and mounded up in a corner, and something slithered against their legs. Investigating further, they saw a door, but in going to it Gergran stepped into a pit, sinking underwater and getting trapped in the weeds. With a bit of effort the others managed to get a rope to him and pull him out again, unconscious, but before he passed out down there he had noticed a gleam. On hearing this, Gil dove down and found a small gemstone.
Having returned to the dry side of the room and revived Gergran, they ventured back into the water, made their way round a side passage, and through a door, and came to some steps up onto drier land. They saw footprints in the muddy ground of a passage, and various fungi, some of them glowing in different colours; Gil harvested some of these, triggering a cloud of spores from a final one which left him glowing.
Gergran pushed through another door, which had been booby-trapped with alchemists fire – a flask fell on him and smashed, setting him on fire. Once the fire had been put out, the session ended…
The main aim of this session was to start the campaign with a bang, following Sly Flourish’s guidance in The Lazy GM, and to give the characters a reason to get to know each other. Starting with a battle gets everyone involved and engaged quickly – particularly since these are supposed to be heroic characters – and also gives them a reason to work together. I then brought in the city guard to “volunteer” them to investigate further, giving them more reason to bond as a team.
The theme of the campaign has someone or something opening portals to other planes, allowing monstrous creatures to break through into the Prime Plane, and the characters are trying to work out who and why, and to counter them (well – that’s my idea; maybe the players will see it differently…). So this encounter also needed to establish that theme.
The trouble is, apart from Dretches, demons are pretty hard-hitting, certainly too hard-hitting for squishy first-level characters. So I needed a sort of demon that was level-appropriate.
In a previous campaign I had used the Plaresh from the Creature Codex from Kobold Press – a swarm of worms which can eat through stone – but as written they are CR3. However, this seemed to fit the theme, so I took them as a starting point and came up with a weaker “Plaresh Spawn” (see end of post). I also made the plaresh spawn indiscriminate in who they attacked, so they attacked stallholders just as happily as player characters, which reduced the danger for the PCs (though resulted in a couple of stallholders dying), and they managed to dispatch them without too much difficulty, leaving time to talk with the guards and start a further investigation.
This campaign started after Covid restrictions were over, so it would have been possible to meet face-to-face again here in Edinburgh…if one of my long-term players hadn’t just moved to London. So we were online using Foundry VTT. The marketplace was one of Heroic Maps’ gorgeous artworks disguised as battlemaps, simply called The Market Square. I will go into the underground section more fully in the next Table Tales.
The small character who knew about the underground area will feature again…
I don’t follow the rules in the DMG for experience. Instead, I rate each challenge as Easy, Moderate or Hard, and use the XP Thresholds table from the DMG for the corresponding amount of XP to award to each character. Missing characters still gain the XP, so the whole party is on the same level. This means everyone levels up at the same time.
I like to encourage a style of play which doesn’t revolve around just killing monsters. This means I want to reward players for overcoming challenges in multiple ways — successfully negotiating a bargain, uncovering information they need, converting a hostile monster into an ally, etc.
I awarded the following experience: for defeating the worms they received 50XP (medium), accepting the task and getting past the flooded chamber each earned 25XP, giving a total of 100XP per character (nothing for getting caught by the alchemist’s fire).
Here’s the original plaresh from the Creature Codex:
And here are my Plaresh Spawn:
Small swarm of Tiny fiends (demon), chaotic evil
Armour Class: 12 (natural armour)
Hit Points: 15 (6d6-6)
Speed: 10’, burrow 10’, swim 10’
STR: 1 (-5) DEX: 10 (+0) CON: 8 (-1) INT: 3 (-4) WIS: 6 (-2) CHA 3 (-4)
Damage Resistances: bludgeoning and piercing
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: charmed, frightened, grappled, paralysed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Sense: blindsight 10’, tremorsense 20’
Grinding Maws: The plaresh spawn can burrow through harder substances (as Plaresh)
Swarm: The plaresh spawn can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and can move through any opening large enough for a tiny worm. The plaresh spawn can’t regain hp or gain temporary hp.
Bite. Melee weapon attack: +2 to hit, reach 0’, one creature in the swarm’s space. Hit: 7 (2d6) piercing damage, or 3 (1d6) piercing damage if the swarm has half of its hit points or fewer.
What do you think?
So, now you’ve seen my first table tale, what do you think? Is it interesting? If so, which bits? The storyline? The reasoning? My adjusted monster?
Let me know in the comments.