ある夜、ある海

ある夜、3隻の船がカシマネ島へ行った。数時間離れたが同じ船団だった。

  • 「怪しい目撃者」:船団の重要船、乗客が乗っている船
  • 「突然の道徳的クライシス」:数時間後ろに追って、宝物や金を持っていた
  • 「倫理的な分離」:船団の尾、小麦を持っていた

波を突く「怪しい目撃者」に乗る乗客の中、4人のPCがいた:

  • 烏龍:銀龍血派のエルフソーサラー。昔々、銀龍がカシマネ島にいたから、龍の骨を探しに行った
  • フノートラップ:ドワーフ光領域のクレリック。ある夜、「光」領域の仲間が輝いていた流れ星を見て、落ちた場所はカシマネ島だと推測したからフノートラップハ流れ星の欠片を探しに行った
  • トバル:ハーフエルフパラディン。トバルのパラディン軍のリーダーは夢を見て、カシマネ島で古代の悪が起きると分かった。トバルはその悪を調べに行った
  • ブッキ:ハーフリング戦領域のクレリック。自分の親戚がカシマネ島に住んでいるから、警鐘をもらいに行った

全員、お互いまだ知らない。全員、レベル3だ。

この世の3つの月が重い雲の裏に隠されて、海が真っ暗だった。嵐の影響で海が不安定だから乗客の全員が甲板で時間を過ごしていた。一週間の旅の最後の夜で、明日到着期待していた。甲板でゆっくりしながら、船員の活動を見ていて、キャラクター全員は船長は心配していたことに気がついた。心配している顔を見せながら、船員に激しい声で指示をしていた。

キャラクターが心配の理由を聞く前に、数人の船員が急に仕事を止めて、静かになってゾンビーみたいに船の側までに歩いていた。人りが側に着いたら直接飛んで、海に潜った。キャルクター達が船の前まで走りに行って、キレイな曲を聞いた。ハーピー!3人が曲の魔法を抵抗したがトバルが曲の影響で船の側を向かった。そして、ハーピーが戦った!

船員がパニックをしたがキャラクター達が怯えずに反撃した。呪文と武器で戦って、ハーピーの一匹をすぐ倒したが、残り一匹が逃げられた。戦闘の後の状態を調べたら、船員の5人くらいが亡くなって、どうかブッキが失敗してクロスボウで船長のお尻に大怪我しちゃった。船員の数が足りないため、船のコントロールが難しくなった上、船長によるとこの区域の灯台は消えちゃったそうから海湾の状態がわからなかった。強風が吹いて、船が容赦なくビーチまで押された。数時間たつと「怪しい目撃者」が座礁し、壊した。キャラクター達が生存したが船が消失しちゃった。

キャラクター達がビーチで休憩したときに船長が現れて、お願いした。灯台の光を再火しないと後追う「突然の道徳的クライシス」もここでもがき進んで、宝物が失われるから、キャラクターが崖を登って灯台をさ再火して欲しいと願った。船長は自分でしたかったがトバルのせいでお尻の大怪我されちゃったから無理そうで、代わりにキャラクター達がしてほしいということを表した。

威圧を使用して、再火の代わりに「突然の道徳的クライシス」が持っている宝物の中から1個の魔法アイテムを貰ったらするという交渉をした。その約束を確保して、崖を登り始めた。

針ネズミの仲間?

崖の上に着いたら灯台が見えた。林を通ったらすぐ着く状態だったから進んだ。灯台の門が鍵しめたからフノートラップがピッキングをしようとしたが無理だった。全員が一緒に筋力を使ってドアを押して開けたが大きい音が聞かれて、林から変なものが現れた。「ニードルブライト」という植物系のクリーチャー五匹が戦った。戦闘がすぐ終わったが、また怪我されて全員が少し疲れた。

再火!

灯台の1階に入って、小さい部屋を調べた。誰もいなかったから階段を登って光所まで進んだ。光所も鍵しめて、ここもフノートラップがピッキングしないといけなかった。しに行ったら、あのキレイな曲をまた聞こえて、ハーピーの魔法に掛かられた!光所の後ろまで向けて、ハーピーの豪食になる!

その状態でブッキが「小奇跡」を唱えて、大きい拍手の音が響き、フノートラップにかかった魔法を邪魔してフノートラップが起きた。その瞬間に2匹の起こっているハーピーが光所の上を飛んで戦ったが、フノートラップが神性伝導を呼び出して、光所の真ん中に「曙光」を唱えた。輝く瞬間に量匹のハーピーが大怪我を受け、全員に戦われたら一匹がすぐ死んだ。残りの一匹が逃げちゃったがトバルの上手なジャヴリンで死んで海まで落ちた。

そういうことで灯台が安全になって再火されたが一体、なぜハーピーがここにいたし、なぜ灯台の面倒員がいなかったのか?全員が階段に下がって、調べに行った。。。

Our heroes have captured a goblin, Droop, who was some kind of dogsbody in a room full of Bugbears. Having killed the bugbears and slaughtered a large number of the redbrands at the tavern where they gather, our heroes were fairly sure that there was little left to kill down here in the dark, but just in case they gave this goblin a stern interrogation, and he immediately spilled all the beans. Glasstaff lived in a room north of this room, which should be protected by guards but the four off-duty guards had gone to the tavern to watch the town, and the men they were replacing hadn’t returned yet – probably carousing with the others, Droop surmised, and the PCs did not bother correcting his error. They let him go, and picked their way northward. First they passed through an empty guard room, where the guards they had slain at the inn would have returned had they been able. From there they crept across a narrow corridor into a wizard’s workroom, a typical assortment of rough-hewn furniture, badly pickled animal parts and pungent herbs. They set about carefully searching the room but stopped after Mouse heard a noise in the next room. They burst through a door into an empty bedroom, just in time to see a secret door swinging closed in one corner. With reckless disregard for his own safety Mouse leapt through the door, and was hit by a fusillade of magic darts from the far end of the corridor. The wizard was trying to flee! They chased him and cut him down in a small store room, his life’s blood ebbing away amongst a pile of cooking implements. They searched his body and found his glass staff and some notes to the Black Spider, which confirmed their suspicion that the redbrands had been working for whichever foul creature lived in the mysterious Cragmaw Castle. For now they left his body and moved on.

Droop had told them about the last few rooms in the complex, where a group of skeletons lay waiting for passing adventurers, but would let through anyone who wore red cloaks. They walked through this room to a door on its east side, where they knew the remaining guards stood watch over some kidnapped villagers. Their plan was simple. Mouse placed an illusion on himself to look like Glasstaff, through open the door and demanded that the three of them follow him to deal with intruders. The guards fell for his deception and walked out with him. When they entered the room Mostly Smithson slammed the door shut and d’Cantrus used his prestidigitation spell to make the guards’ cloaks fall off. They stood back and watched as the skeletons attacked the unready redbrands, beating down the last one after he managed to slay the last skeleton for them. It was harsh, but they had triumphed at both adventuring and irony.

They freed the prisoners and dragged Glasstaff’s body into town. Here Sildar Hallwinter told them, in shocked disgust, that Glasstaff was actually Iarno Albrek, the wizard he had been sent to Phandalin to find. The townmaster signed over the rights to the old ruined manor, and they repaired to the tavern for a much-needed bath. Over the next few days they caroused with the locals, toasted their newfound freedom, muttered ominous warnings about taxation, and picked up tidbits of information about possible adventures they could undertake once they became bored of the adulation.

Although d’Cantrus could have run for months on the vague plaudits of a couple of drunk old men the rest of the party grew bored after a few days, and they headed North. They had picked up two adventures and one treasure mission:

  • The townmaster had heard tell of Orcs in Wyvern Tor, and wanted the PCs to hunt them down and kill them
  • The local elven priestess, Sister Gaerele, wanted the PCs to find a banshee called Agatha and ask her a question about a spellbook
  • Mirna Dendrar, one of the captives they freed, told them of an ancient heirloom in a ruined town called Thundertree, which they were welcome to keep as their own if they were willing to risk the journey there to take it.

They decided first to kill the Orcs in Wyvern Tor, and then consider the banshee. They left the next day.

On the road to the Triboar trail they were attacked by an Owlbear, which they made short work of. Mostly Smithson and Tyge Trip spent some hours plucking out its feathers, which can be used to produce +1 arrows, and Mouser prepared a couple as they worked. The rest of the feathers they stored for future use when they met a fletcher.

He speaks three languages!

Wyvern Tor

They traveled north on the Triboar trail for two days, until they reached a point where a large valley opened to their east. This valley would lead them to Wyvern Tor. Here the weather was grim and grey, with chill sheets of fine rain drifting off the mountains and rolling over them towards a broad, shadowed line of forest to the west. That forest did not look inviting, and at night strange sounds came out of it. They did not want to spend another night in the open, with that menacing forest on their western flank, but fortunately ahead they saw the ruins of an old inn. As they approached they were confronted by mercenaries, but after assuring them they were no threat they were welcomed into a small compound where a wagon train had taken refuge. Here they found a fletcher who made them a few more arrows, and the mercenaries told them of rumours of evil happenings at Old Owl Well, an old well and ruined town on the northern side of the valley from Wyvern Tor. They were also given some information about Coneytown, a town a day’s travel to the north where they could maybe base themselves while they searched for Agatha.

The next morning they set out for Wyvern Tor. They entered the valley to the east of the ruined tavern and traveled east for the whole day, stopping for an uneventful but cold and unpleasant night in the lee of a moss-covered outcrop of boulders. The next day they began to search the Tor, a large and sprawling hill that rose above the surrounding hillocks to a commanding height, atop which the fragmented ruins of an ancient tower could just be seen. By midday they had found what they were looking for: over a ridge and in a shallow incline was a large cave mouth, guarded by a single bored-looking Orc.

Bored-looking Orcs are Mouse’s stock-in-trade. While the rest of the party moved away to take up ambush positions in a tree-clogged ravine Mouse threw on a quick goblin disguise and ran out to the cave. The Orc approached him with the typical bullying menace that the green-skinned thugs hold over their weaker cousins, and in a short but brutal conversation Mouse managed to convince it that he and a few of his mates had captured a human treasure, but that his mates had driven him away and now he wanted to join the Orc tribe if they would help him get back his treasure (and share it, of course). This plan appealed to the Orc’s humanitarian instincts – who doesn’t want to help out a weaker cousin in their hour of need – and, grabbing Mouse by his goblin collar, the Orc dragged him into the cave to meet his warboss. Mouse’s heart sank as he was dragged into a large cave, where five filthy Orcs lounged around their savage and nasty-looking warboss, Brughor Axe-biter. Six orcs and a warboss did not disturb Mouse overmuch – but the huge ogre lurking in the shadows behind the warboss’s loathsome sleeping furs did. Ogres are trouble. But it was too late to go back on the plan now, so Mouse put a little more squeak in his voice, and after a convincing display of cowardly bloodlust the entire gang decided to roll out and smash his goblin mates.

Their surprise when they were ambushed by Mouse’s friends was almost comical in its completeness. Sadly the comedy was washed away in a sea of orc blood, and even the Ogre did not last more than a couple of swings of his oversized club before he was brought smashing down, struck so hard in the end by Tyge’s greatsword that his enraged charge was stopped dead, and he was thrown back with the force of the blow. Beside him Brughor, with his last breath, shamed himself and his clan by speaking to Mouse in goblin rather than Orc: “C’est un piège!”

Indeed.

They returned to the Orc cave and searched it thoroughly, uncovering a little treasure and some disgusting Orc food and trash. They found no evidence that the Orcs were connected to Cragmaw castle or the Black Spider. Finally as night settled in they cleaned out the cave as best they could and slept by the Orcs’ dying fire.

The stones find their voice

Secrets of the stones

Before they slept Mouse took them up to the top of Wyvern Tor, to the ruined fragment of tower at the top. He had a feeling that there were secrets buried here, and he had heard the stories of its destruction. Many years ago the Tor had been the home of some dark wizard, who had surrounded himself with wyverns and ruled the area around him with an iron fist. But some obscure texts suggested it was dragons, not wyverns, that roosted here, and the wizard was their slave. Eventually a force of elves and humans had attacked the tower and put down its power at great cost, destroying all but a few shards of the innermost tower and killing the wyverns that defended it. Battles leave treasure, and heroes when they fall sometimes lose their magic items in the blood and mud and shit of the mundane world. Perhaps the stones had a story to tell.

Mouse had recently discovered that stones could talk to him. Perhaps it was too long in d’Cantrus’s lab, stirring strange reagents and sampling new potions; perhaps it was his parents’ legacy – after all he had never known them, so perhaps they were more special than the whispers in the alleys of his childhood had suggested; perhaps it was some wilder power, handed to him by fate or some capricious god. In any case Mouse believed in it, and so at sunset he trudged with his friends up the long, tussocked path to the flat top of the Tor, picking his way through ancient lightning-shattered stones to the broken and crumbling fragments of wall standing in the centre of the open hilltop. To the southwest the sharp, awe-inspiring Icespire peak stood out of the jumbled grey teeth of the sword mountains, glowing pink in the setting sun. Somewhere on its slopes a flash of blue lightning rippled, perhaps a frost giant’s anger or maybe just some strange natural phenomenon of its constantly storm-tossed stone ligaments. To the west and the north, as they watched Mouse approach the shell of the tower, the PCs could see the last red light of sunset fading across a wide vista of forests, plains and river. Tyge even fancied her half-elven sight could pick out the distant line of the sea, luminous in the magic hour, calling to her even from this distance with that strange mystical voice that it reserves only for the fickle souls of elves and their kin. They drank it all in and then turned to watch Mouse as he leaned his face against the chill stones.

Mouse laid his young brow against the stone, and for a moment all he felt was the tug of lichen on skin, and all he could smell was the musty talc of the stone. But then his vision faded, into a maelstrom of war and violence, dark shapes rushing and huge shadows, fire and sudden tugging violence. Vast forces flowed past him, huge shapes surged over the stones, and magic lashed and rippled in the air. He smelled blood, lots of blood, and the acrid smell of damp air in the wake of lightning and storms. Somewhere voices cried in unison and he felt the earth plunge. With the stones he fell down a huge distance into darkness and emptiness, the light closing above him. A flash of purest scarlet, a sudden pure, clear view of the sun rising over high mountains, and the vision was gone. Mouse came to, sweating against the cold stone, the last comforting rays of the setting sun gone and the night’s wind chill upon him. In the aftermath of the vision he knew – knew, with the certainty that only magic can make you feel – that there was a treasure down there. Beneath the Tor there had been a complex of tunnels, and it had been sealed in. Perhaps the denizens of the tunnels were still sealed in there. And somewhere on the east side of the Tor there was a way in.

He retreated from the stones, shaken by the power of his vision, and returned to his friends. Showing uncharacteristic grace and kindness, d’Cantrus wrapped a filthy Orc fur around his shoulders, and Mostly Smithson offered him a sip of the hot rice brew that he carried with him. They picked their way down the hillside, their footsteps lit by deCantrus’s chill magic light, the night slowly closing in around them, and returned to the Orc cave to rest. Somewhere beneath them treasures undisturbed by time lay silently waiting for them.

But what guarded those treasures? For now, they put that task aside, and turned their gaze north…

A flash of red …

Old Owl Well

Old Owl Well was across the valley from the Tor, and took them half a day to travel to. This day was warmer than the last few and bright, so they found themselves easily able to make out the well as they approached. The story of this well was that it was once a small but thriving settlement that provided fresh water and rest to the trappers of the region, but at some point the trapping business declined and the well fell into disrepair, or was destroyed by raiding orcs. Now it was abandoned, but until recently trappers had continued to use it as a place to stop and rest and gather fresh water. Recently, however, something had been making them stay clear of the place. Trappers being a taciturn lot, no one was quite sure what. But now the characters had a chance to find out, so their first action was to turn away from the ruined walls of the well and head up to a hillside to watch the compound.

The well was little more than a square of crumbling walls around a central tower, a squat little thing with its upper levels crumbling. To the north of the tower was the well itself, surrounded now with low bushes and tangled with ivy. Beyond the walls on all sides but the south were rough, scrub-covered hills with steep sides, from which it was easy for spies like our heroes to watch the well. From their vantage point they could see, on the eastern side of the tower, a large red tent, its canopy daubed with black symbols of some kind. Bemused, they sat on the hill for a few hours watching, but nobody emerged and nothing moved. Sensing daylight fading, they decided to return to the well and investigate.

They waited outside the main gates and sent Mouse in. He passed through the gate, moving as stealthily as he could, and first avoiding the tent moved to the broken tower. As he approached he smelled something foul and unusual, a smell he had never experienced before. Disgusted and uncertain, he crept up to the gaping entry of the tower and peered in, only to recoil in shock. A pile of bodies lay in the centre of the old tower, rotting and silent. No wonder he had never experienced the smell before – he had never experienced a charnel house before. Nor, now, would he ever forget. Disgusted, he turned and crept back towards his friends, to warn them that there was murder done here.

Halfway across the open ground to the gateway though something in his senses tingled. He looked around uncomfortably, and there behind him he saw all those dead bodies walking silently towards him, their mouths open in unmistakable blood lust. Shocked, he stumbled, and they were on him. He slipped between the legs of a particularly large and unruly one, and fled to his friends, yelling in terror.

Battle was joined. The PCs formed a line just back from the gate outside the well and prepared to fight 12 – 12! – of the most pitiful zombies the world has ever seen. Mostly Smithson’s divine grace drove 5 of them away but they still had to fight 7. As they fought a red-robed figure appeared at the doorway and threw a spell at one of them, freezing Mostly Smithson in place, but disappeared from view when Mouse fired a crossbow bolt at him and disrupted the spell. Tyge’s greatsword, Helmsmasher, hummed and sang its holy joy, and she hacked great glowing swathes through the undead, sending rotten flesh flying across the hillside. Finally they defeated the zombies, though not after taking some injuries, and pursued the red-robed wizard. He succumbed easily to their combined might, and soon they were able to interrogate him.

Mostly Smithson, with his unique skill and experience in tattoos, was soon able to recognize the man as a Red Wizard of Thay, a necromancer to whit, and with that knowledge all kindness left the crew. They forced him to tell him what he would, and soon discovered he had been raising this army from local villagers and tin miners, to support him while he researched at Owl Well. Satisfied he had nothing useful to tell him, they finally decided to make the world a better place, and Tyge killed him with a single strike of her sword.

They had pacified the lands east of the Triboar trail. Where next? A chill wind drew their attention to the distant Tor, and they thought about their next steps …

Our heroes have killed the changing of the guard, and now they descend into the Redbrand lair. From the ruined manor a flight of stairs leads down to a heavy wooden door, which they pushed aside to reveal a dim cellar. They descended the stairs into a large stone chamber dominated by a huge cistern, filled with cold pure water. The room was large, their lantern light barely reaching to the walls, which were lined with barrels. As Mouser dug around in the barrels looking for signs of traps or treasure a door in the northwest wall opened and a trio of redbrand thugs came charging out to attack them. They dealt with them in short order, beating them down into the flagstones in the doorway of their room. They searched the rooms further, finding a few trinkets and what looked like a package of emergency supplies hidden in the waters of the cistern. Whoever had secreted this escape package in the cistern was going to get an unpleasant surprise if they tried to flee and found their secret stash already looted; but the PCs doubted that anyone was going to escape from here.

They searched some more, and found a secret door in the southern wall of the room. From here they walked carefully through to a large, natural cave cold and smelling vaguely of rot. They immediately guessed that this must be where the strange eye-beast lived. A tunnel from the south they guessed connected the large cave to the secret entrance the halfling child had reported finding on the edge of the village – a useful escape, if that were their plan. A narrow chasm split the tunnel in two, and a bridge linked the two sides of the cave. Mouser crept into the room and headed north on the near side of the chasm, seeing nothing interesting. As he returned to the group he was struck by a strange series of visions, of falling into the chasm and rotting suddenly away, and an intense sense of hunger. Disgusted and confused, he crept back to the group. They moved to the edge of the cave and Mouser and Imoto chan headed back into the cave, Imoto chan tying a rope to the bridge and dropping it into the chasm as Mouser crept north to explore some more.

As Imoto chan finished tying the rope to the bridge she was suddenly struck by some strange magic that caused her body to rot and well up in stench and disgusting, noisome ruin. Somewhere over the chasm, the eye-beast was attacking them. Tyge rushed across the bridge, which collapsed under weight and dumped her into the chasm. Imoto chan leapt across the chasm to find the eye-beast, while Mouser took cover behind a pillar, firing arrows, and Mostly Smithson charged north to cross a bridge on the northern end of the cave, and Raymond deCantrus let loose spells across the chasm. The eye-beast was well hidden but they were able to drive it out of cover and cut it down without suffering too much damage.

In the chasm they found the body of Thel Dendrar, the woodcarver who had gone missing after he confronted the redbrands, and a chest containing some small trinkets and some potions. The chasm was haunted by a strange, weak magic that froze both space and time, rendering it chilly and making all movement in the chasm difficult and slow. As a result Thel’s corpse was still fresh, and strangely lifelike even though it had been ripped open by the Nothic and half eaten. Disgusted, Tyge climbed out and they resumed their quest.

From the cave a tunnel headed west and back into the more regular hallways of the cellar. A set of steps led down to a hallway, with a door at the base of the steps. Mouser opened the doorway, and was attacked by three bugbears who had been waiting quietly for them in the room. Pushed back mostly by disgust at the stench of their foul dog-like bodies, Mouser was shocked to see one hurl a spear straight into Mostly Smithson so hard that it went clean through his chest, knocking him down. The battle that followed was fast and brutal, and for pressed moments they thought they were all going to die before Tyge was able to cut a bloody, vicious path through the bugbear leader and start scattering bugbear hair and flesh like confetti in some horrid underdark wedding. Mouser took the chance to revive Mostly Smithson, and ultimately they prevailed through steel, lightning and hard, nasty work.

Standing in the stench of bloody dog-hair, shivering in rage and reaction, they looked around the dimly lit hallway, back at the room of half-eaten stored corpses and scattered vitreous nothic goo, and decided it might be best if they took a rest. Shuddering at the stench and iniquity, they pushed the door of the bugbear lair closed, and settled down to sleep.

Which was when they saw the goblin. With a sigh, and a shared sideways look of tired resignation, deCantrus asked it, “What is your name, little wretch?”

“Droop,” he replied, and so his fate was sealed …

Klorg sleep now!

Our heroes have successfully infiltrated the first half of the Cragmaw Hideout, and they now know that ahead of them lies a water trap of some kind, and a Bugbear leader. After they allowed cook Yelmick to leave they moved back down the tunnel they had entered by, passing the scree-scattered scarp they had hauled themselves up to get here, and moving on along the tunnel to the bridge that overlooked the lower tunnel that lead to the entrance. The bridge was rickety but held their weight, and they crossed it safely. On the far side Mouse moved ahead, sneaking along one goblin piss-stained wall towards a larger room that roared with the sound of falling water. This room was larger than the previous caves, and had a refreshing breeze drifting through it. The tunnel opened into a large flat area of slick stone, which overlooked a wide pair of pools, that had obviously been created by damming the stream that had made these caverns. On the far side of the room a waterfall fell into the higher pool, bringing welcome fresh air into the stuffy and stinking confines of the lair. A huge tree trunk hung in the air, held up against the cave wall by a series of ropes connected by a rickety and makeshift-looking apparatus to a lever on the floor near the pool. This was obviously the source of the water trap that the party had just avoided. There were no goblins in the room, but from the southern side a dim light glowed from a connected cave. A single exit ran out of the north side of the room, following the line of the stream back down under the bridge towards the cave entrance.

Mouse brought the others forward and moved ahead again, to check the light source. He found a set of rough-hewn stairs leading up to a large cave, where the light was revealed to be a firepit in the middle of what must be the leader’s cavern. Crates and supplies lined the far wall of the cavern, and in one corner a human sat naked, tied to a barrel of some kind by tight ropes that had cut many burns and marks into his pale skin. A single goblin sat in front of the fire, spitting and cursing that he had to stay in the cave while the rest of the tribe got all the fun and treasure.

It took but a moment to subdue this pathetic beast, and it soon told them all they wanted to know. A goblin had been hiding on the bridge and had seen them as they entered the cave. It had called down to the cave with the ponds, and the goblins had released the first of two water traps. The goblin on the bridge had seen the light stone that Mouse cast into the flood, sweeping away down the stream, and had assumed the party had all been swept outside. Klorg had taken all the goblins except this pathetic beast and gone down the stream to find the PCs and slaughter them. They would no doubt be coming back soon. The PCs freed the human, Sildar, gave him the goblin’s sword, killed the goblin, and rushed back to the bridge to set their trap. Tyge went down to the lower tunnel under the bridge while Sildar and Mostly Simpson waited by the pond, and deCantrus and Mouse took the bridge. The goblins soon returned, marching up the tunnel with no regard for safety, spitting and cursing at each other the way goblins do when they have no one else around to hurt. Klorg marched in the middle, accompanied by a fat, mangy wolf.

They released the trap. Two of the goblins were swept away, though Klorg and his wolf stood their ground next to one goblin, and two goblins escaped the deluge, though the characters did not immediately know they had ducked and hidden. deCantrus cast a sleep spell that knocked Klorg and his wolf, while the remaining goblin opened fire on them. After a short moment a goblin returned from the cave mouth, and deCantrus tried to hit it with a flame bolt that only succeeded in setting the bridge alight. Beneath the bridge a goblin emerged from hiding to stab Tyge, and Sildar and Mostly Simpson rushed down to help her in battle. Another goblin emerged on the bridge to attack Mouse, giving deCantrus cause to run to the other side of the bridge. The remaining goblin in the tunnel woke Klorg and the wolf, so deCantrus cast another sleep spell. The goblin on the bridge fumbled his attempt to attack Mouse, smashing a piece of burning bridge down onto the goblin below the bridge, and giving Tyge a chance to mash it into oblivion. The battle was soon over, and Klorg slept through the whole thing, never to wake. If only the goblins were as good at resisting their traps as they were at making them …

They looted what they could, though the reward for their risks was paltry. In the cavern they found a stash of supplies that had been looted from another caravan on its way to Phandalin, and resolved to return it to its owners (for a reward, of course). They also spoke to Sildar, and he told them:

  • Gundren Rockseeker and his brothers had found the lost Wave Echo Cave, a location of some fabulous treasures
  • Klorg had orders to capture Gundren, given to him by some nefarious figure called the Black Spider
  • Gundren had a map to the cave, but it was sent to the goblins, probably at Cragmaw Castle
  • Sildar has his own contact in Phandalin, a wizard called Iarno, but has not heard from him for two months. Having lost contact, he was heading himself to Phandalin to see what was going on

They decided to travel together to Phandalin, rest there, find out the location of Cragmaw Castle, and free Gundren before he became useless to this mysterious Black Spider. Since all goblins look the same to the party they could not easily tell if Yelmick had been in the group of goblins they killed, but Tyge seemed to remember he had a big hairy wart under his left nostril, above a rudimentary tusk that protruded through an infected piercing in his cheek, and which she could not keep her eyes off when they were talking to him; looking at the goblins in the cavern they guessed he wasn’t there based on this hideous telltale, and decided to assume they now had a plant in Cragmaw Castle, though not the most reliable kind. They decided to return to Phandalin, and see what they could learn.

At Phandalin they secured accomodation and returned the stolen trade goods in exchange for a reward of 50gps. Now they were ready to seek out the Cragmaw leader, and this mysterious Black Spider, and kill them. First a warm bath and some ales – then the world!

The party had a simple task – escorting a wagon of mining goods from Neverwinter to the small town of Phandelver. An easy job through peaceful vales for our four adventurers, who were:

  • Mostly Simpson, A human Cleric of the Storm
  • Tyge Trip, a half-elf Paladin
  • Raymond d’Cantrus, a human wizard forced into adventuring after his grant funds dried up
  • Nithren Mar, “Mouse”, a half-elf rogue

They had been hired by a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker, who dropped hints of a big find in the town of Phandelver and offered paltry pay for the group to escort his provisions in a slow wagon, while he hurried on ahead on horseback with his hired sword, Sildar Hallwinter. His fine speech gave the impression of riches and further jobs waiting to be had, so they agreed to his poor payment on the promise of future chances. Like good entrepreneurs, they hustled along the road to Phandelver, throwing caution to the wind in the hopes that they would move quickly and not burn their entire payment on provisions, and were soon within a half day’s ride of Phandelver, on the Triboar trail. It was here that the Goblins struck.

As they rounded a bend through a copse of trees they stumbled on two horses dead in the road, obviously shot down. Tyge moved forward to investigate, and a hail of arrows fell on them from both sides of the road. Tyge was struck down immediately, and in haste Mostly Simpson cast a fog cloud over the ground to the right side of the road, from which half the arrows had come. d’Cantrus hopped down from the wagon, and Nithren slipped into the shadows of the woods just as a harsh voice yelled “Gank the mage!” in goblin, and a second fusillade of arrows hit Mostly Simpson, felling him immediately. d’Cantrus crouched by the wagon, listening to the muttering and cursing of goblins in the fog to the far side of the road, as Nithren tried to creep up on the archers. Another volley of arrows felled d’Cantrus, leaving only Nithren upright. He ambushed one of the goblins as two others emerged onto the road and started looting the bodies, one on Mostly Simpson and one on Tyge. Mostly Simpson lay in a dire state, blood pouring from deep wounds, and his final moments fast upon him. Nithren fled deeper into the woods, drawing a goblin after him, and disappeared into the underbrush to lay another ambush.

It all looked lost, at least for Mostly Simpson, his last lifesblood draining into the mud of the road, when Tyge recovered consciousness, to find the goblin rifling her pack. It had already tried taking her greatsword but, finding it too heavy, cast it down at her side in disgust. Much obliged, Tyge hauled it around and smashed the goblin to pasty muck, rolling over and staggering to her feet to find another panicked goblin staring at her over Mostly Simpson’s paling body. The goblin, seeing her ichor-slicked sword and enraged face, panicked and ran for the brush, dropping all it had stolen. Tyge staggered over to Mostly Simpson and lay on hands, a gentle blue light suffusing him and bringing him suddenly alert. Staring around madly, he grabbed his spear and rushed to d’Cantrus’s side. Meanwhile in the bushes Nithren Mar killed a goblin, and was fast on the heels of another when the fleeing goblin came screaming past. They both turned and fled, but not fast enough – d’Cantrus struck one down with a bolt of wrathful magic, and only one escaped.

They had survived an unexpected goblin ambush, though only just. They regathered at the wagons to rest and recuperate, while Mouse inspected the horses. These horses were the same horses Gundren Rockseeker and his guard had left Neverwinter on some days before, shot down perhaps a day ago and thoroughly looted. With no sign of Gundren or his guard, the group presumed they must have been captured by the goblins. They decided to hide their wagon on the trail and follow the goblins to their lair, either to find and rescue Gundren or to take back his belongings if, as they feared, the worst fate had befallen him.

The goblin trail was easy to follow, and the traps they laid on it pathetically easy to spot and avoid. The trail led to a low cliff face with a cave entrance, obviously regularly used by goblins. A stream seeped out of the entrance, running strangely low in its banks for the end of the storm season, and a brace of bushes near the entrance contained an obvious goblin watchpoint. Mouse sneaked up to the watchpoint and lay low near its entrance. Here he heard the goblin that had fled the ambush, bragging about how he had single-handedly ambushed a party of warriors and driven them back down the road with his cunnning. As the other two goblins in the hide oohed and aahed at the brave goblin’s story, Mouse rose up behind him and cut his throat, pulling him back from the hide and into the open while grunting “No he didn’t!” as he ran.

The goblins came charging out after Mouse and straight into the trap, cut down on the river’s edge by arrows and spells. One fell immediately but the other fled into the cave. Not wanting the alarm raised, Tyge and Mostly Simpson charged in after. They stumbled in the dark, and were just orienting themselves when a ragged, starving wolf emerged from a cave mouth to their right. Mostly Simpson set his spear and the wolf impaled itself on the spear, but soon two more came charging out. Grimly beset by the river’s edge in the dark, they beat the two wolves down and killed the last goblin too. Silence fell on the caves, and blood slicked away down the torpid stream.

Though sluggish and shallow, in the narrow confines of the cave interior the stream drowned all sounds from further in the cave. Confident they had not been heard further in, they explored the cave to their right. It was a filthy, stinking kennel, where the three wolves had been confined on chains and fed scraps. Holding in their vomit, the party searched through the filth and the shit for signs of Gundren rockseeker but found no human bones or remains. At the back of the cave they found a natural chimney that carved a narrow passage up to a higher cave, from where they could hear the faint sound of voices. They opted not to climb it for a surprise attack, and returned to the main passageway. This passageway was wide enough for the stream and a narrow walkway next to it, suitable for them to walk in single file. They devised an elaborate strategy for the humans to move forward using a light spell cast on a stone, and Mouse crept ahead to investigate the tunnel. After a short time the rest of them came forward to join him. The passageway curved ahead of them, and a passageway branched off to their left from the far side of the stream. Ahead of them a very unsafe wooden bridge balanced precariously over the stream, linking passageways that crossed the tunnel they were in. As they stood their discussing which way to go, they heard a roar ahead of them and suddenly a wall of water surged around the bend of the tunnel, rushing towards them under the bridge. They dived in separate directions, Mouse for the side tunnel, de Cantrus and Tyge back to the filthy wolf cave, while Mostly Simpson just stood his ground and weathered the storm. As Mouse ducked into the side tunnel he threw the stone with the enchanted light into the swell, and it bobbed away into the darkness. After the water had passed they rejoined in the side tunnel and climbed hastily up its scree-strewn slope to a higher tunnel, hoping that any pursuit would pass them. The constant chattering of the stream hid the sound of any pursuit, and they found themselves standing in a narrow tunnel that obviously must cut back to the bridge under which the water had raged.

Mouse stalked left, away from the direction of the bridge. He had found a nest of goblins, and they needed the mage. The wizard came forward to witness a scene of goblin Hygge: Four goblins crouched around a fireplace while a fifth turned a piece of pig carcass on a spit, swigging a mixture of alcohol, oil and pepper and spitting it over the mouldering pig flesh for flavour, while a boss goblin yelled down at them from on high in a torrent of abuse and foul-mouthed suggestions for the cooking pit. Thick smoke roiled around the room and out of a narrow gap in the ceiling, and the walls were smeared with old oil fumes and smoke. One of the goblins limped to a foul pile of straw in the corner and unleashed a lurid stream of piss that steamed in the half light and seemed to cascade forever into the dank straws, while the other snarled and recommended the cook add it to the carcass to improve the flavour.

deCantrus whispered the incantation for a Sleep spell and they attacked. The battle was short and brutal – three goblins fell asleep under deCantrus’s magic, two were cut down by arrows, and the last fell to Tgye’s sword with barely a whimper. The cave was cleared. Having slaughtered his friends, deCantrus cast Charm Person on the cook, and they woke him with the intention of telling him they had saved him from the beast that struck down his friends. Unfortunately as soon as he woke up, the goblin began a terrified bleating and prostrating, a sure sign that the spell had failed. Instead they threatened him, and with barely a raised voice they convinced him to tell them everything he knew:

  • This was the Cragmaw clan
  • Their main lair was in Cragmaw castle, somewhere northeast of here
  • The boss in this cave was Klorg, a bugbear of stupendous power
  • They had been ordered by their chief in Cragmaw Castle to raid wagons to find a dwarf called Gundren and deliver him to the castle
  • They had done just that, but were keeping his guard here for food or ransom
  • There were two water traps at the end of the tunnel, but they could go over the bridge and sneak up on the people in the trap room
  • His name was Yelmick

They cut a deal with Yelmick: They would let him live if he fled straight to Cragmaw Castle and set himself up as a cook there. Then when they invaded that castle, he would be ready to give them all the help they needed. If he agreed, they would give him treasure. If he betrayed them, they would deal with him just as they were about to deal with his friends.

They weren’t his friends, he assured them – he was just the cook. He just liked to cook. He didn’t know about any of the bad stuff and was just acting on orders. He would happily go to Cragmaw Castle for them and set up as a cook, no doubt he would soon become cook to the chief himself, since he was such a great cook.

Mouse recommended him to make contact with a traveling bard called Michelin who rates cooks, and then bade the goblin wretch be on his way. Yelmick was not even out of the room before behind him he heard the crunching, gurgling sound of his tribe mates being put to death in their sleep. Not doubting his new patrons’ power, he fled with nary a backward look.

Their grim task done, the PCs turned towards the bridge, and prepared to invest the inner depths of the hideout.

 

 

Keep slaughter in your heart. A life without it is like a sunlit garden where the flowers are blooming.

– From The Epigrams of Warboss Wilde, Alvin Redmane

The party were four in number:

  • Aurak the Unborn, Lawful Evil Half-orc monk
  • Nemeia, Chaotic Good Tiefling Witch
  • Kaylee Sparklegem, Chaotic Neutral forest gnome rogue (NPC)
  • Ufgram Ironfist, Neutral Good Dwarven cleric of life (NPC)

The four served Mistress Servaine, a retired adventurer who runs a stable of mercenaries based near Baldur’s Gate. She had been asked by an old friend, Shirlwan Hukrien, to send a team of adventurers to her home to find her son and daughter, who had gone missing some two weeks ago while exploring an old ruin known as the Sunless Citadel. The party had been chosen for this mission, which was not seen as a particularly challenging one, as an introduction to their service for Mistress Servaine.

They set off immediately, trekking the two days to nearby Oakhurst, where the Hukrien family lived. Here they introduced themselves to Shirlwan Hukrien, and discovered that though she was once a powerful wizard, recently her powers had begun to wane and she was not herself able to use them to locate her children. This strange weakness was not her unique cross to bear, she revealed, but had been noticed by other powerful wizards in the land of Faerun. Shrugging off Aurak’s suggestion that they immediately take advantage of this strange circumstance by raiding the tower of the Red Wizards of Thay, the PCs asked Shirlwan for the loan of some horses, and set off to the Sunless Citadel.

The Citadel is an old tower that had fallen into a ravine during some ancient cataclysm. The locals said variously that the ravine had swallowed the tower whole as a punishment from the gods for the evil dragon cult that occupied it, or that its collapse had been the result of a horrible magical experiment gone wrong, or that the earth is made of great plates of stone that sometimes move like scales on the back of a sleeping dragon, and in their clashing lay to ruins even the greatest achievements of mortals; in truth no one knew the real reason, but all avoided the tower and its environs. The tower was perhaps five days’ travel on foot, the far side of the Plains of Ash, and easily visible from afar because one ruined tower of the fallen citadel still stood lonely watch on the plain overlooking the cursed ravine.

They found it easily, but their approach to the shattered tower was interrupted by a strange ambush. The land leading up to the tower was rough terrain of scattered bushes and small stunted trees, all dusted with a fine silver-grey layer of dust from the nearby Plains. In the distance, a little removed from the lonely tower, they could see the occasional smoke towers from remote farms, which hereabouts primarily grew apples and some wild fruits that need much sunlight and open space to thrive. Passing through an abandoned and overgrown orchard from one of these farms, the group were attacked by a strange group of four humanoid things, composed of dried up vegetation, tangled vines and tree limbs, all bound together in some hideous mockery of humanity and animated by some vicious spark of magic. The things lurched out of the overgrowth towards the PCs, who, ever on their guard, leapt to the attack. Aurak the Unborn let fly a boomerang, which missed it tendriled target and returned true to his grey-skinned grip; Kaylee fired an arrow into one with no seeming effect on its relentless advance; and Nemeia and Ulfgram the cleric surged forward to melee, where the strange creatures of vine and stick attempted to claw them from their horses with hardened hands of stick and thorn. The beasts, though disturbing in countenance, proved little match for the four, and were soon vanquished. A brief search of their broken remains revealed nothing of interest or use.

“There is,” Aurak the Unborn observed, quoting his icon Warboss Wilde, “only one thing worse than being attacked; and that is not being attacked.” With these wise words, they moved on.

A short ride took them to the tower, empty and broken, where it overlooked the ravine. Here they found a rope knotted tightly to a rock, and dangling down to a ledge and a set of stairs that began some 20′ below. Taking this as sure sign that they were on the trail of their targets, the party were discussing how best to descend when they were attacked from behind by a trio of giant rats. Their logistical discussion briefly disturbed, they slaughtered the rats contemptuously, and descended the rope. Nemeia fell halfway, but they were only descending 20′ and she landed in a lucky position, taking little damage. From the first ledge they found functioning stairs, and descended smoothly to the ravine floor.

At the base of the ravine they found the uppermost level of the citadel itself. It truly had sunken into the valley floor, and much of it was ruined, but the top of the largest central donjon rose above the ravine floor, a single door offering entry into the tower. To their north and south the broken ground swallowed up the outhouses of the tower, but here in the centre the building looked relatively solid and safe, so they pushed open the door.

From inside more giant rats emerged to attack them, but they beat them down with ease and pushed their way inside, finding a large room with doors to the north and southwest. Four goblins had been killed in here, with one still pinned to the far wall by the spear that had killed it. They guessed that the adventurers they sought had passed successfully through here, and though they thought there was little chance of finding anything valuable, searched the stinking, grimacing corpses anyway. They found nothing, but during the search Aurak the Unborn found a secret door in the south wall. After a moment of preparation, they bid him open it.

Pushing the lever that opened the door, Aurak barely avoided a poisoned needle that nearly stuck his hand. The door slid open, revealing a small room with arrow slits that would once have overlooked the inner courtyard of the citadel, before the scales of the earth had ground together and dragged it down into hell. Four skeletons, of archers who must have once defended this room, lay in an untidy pile in the corner. As the party entered to search them these bodies twitched and rose up, drawing rusty shortswords and preparing to attack. Battle was joined, with Aurak and Kaylee fighting in melee while Ironfist and Nemeia conjured eery ghostly fists to strike at the undead from outside the room. Again they prevailed, taking only minor damage, and soon the bones were quiescent again. They found nothing especially valuable here, so they moved onward, through the door in the northern face of the main room.

Warboss Wilde says “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”

Here they found a corridor, wide enough for them to pass along two abreast, down which they walked cautiously. When they were near the end they found a door on the left-hand side of the tunnel, which they opened and entered. Here was a small 10’x10′ room, with a strange keg-like structure in one corner. Two rusted iron pipes protruded from the keg and curved around into the floor, to what purpose none of them could guess. With some effort they hauled open the top of the keg, and immediately two nasty little demon creatures sprang out of the keg and attacked them – mephits! A steam mephit and an ice mephit, part of some infernal machinery that must once have warmed the castle or powered some ingenious torture device. This fight was harder than the last, and they struggled to hit and subdue the vicious little elemental spirits. When the steam mephit died it let loose a hideous cry of rage and explosion of steam that burnt them all, leaving them stunned and hurt. Ironfist cast a healing spell on Aurak, they shut the door and rested for a half dozen hours, and then they proceeded along the corridor to the door at the end.

The door opened into a much larger square chamber, that held a huge burnt-out firepit and a large steel cage, its bars smashed and burst open on the side facing them. Doors led out of the room at several points, and from a huddle of rags on the far side of a large stone table they could hear snuffling and whimpering. Once they had assured themselves the room contained no threats Nemeia marched over to the bundle of filthy rags and tore it aside, revealing a forlorn and sniveling kobold, its little draconic nose wrinkled in that expression of conniving self-pity that is characteristic of the lowest of the evil humanoids. Aurak raised his axe to end the piteous thing, but Nemeia gestured for him to hold. She hauled the little wretch up, not ungently, and began speaking to it in Draconic, its native language.

Tieflings. Never trust them.

After a short conversation she revealed that the kobold was one of a tribe living in the citadel, that its name was Mebo, and that it had been charged with looking after a white dragon wyrmling[1], that had been trapped in the cage behind them. Some goblins who shared the citadel with the kobold tribe had raided the room and stolen the dragon, and the kobold tribe held Mebo responsible. He was not allowed back on pain of death, unless he was bringing the dragon with him. Nemeia had asked Mebo about the adventurers they were tracking, and he said he knew nothing of any adventurers, so it was Nemeia’s guess that the adventurers had been captured by the goblins, or were in some desperate situation in the area where the goblins lived. She suggested that Mebo could take them to the kobold chieftain, and they could negotiate with the chieftain for a reward in exchange for returning the dragon. This would mean that they could pass unmolested through to the goblin area, with Mebo as a guide, and make haste to the adventurers they sought.

The rest of the party agreed with Mebo’s plan, and he took them down some corridors into a long room lined with ancient, crumbling statues. They passed through the statues into an area thronged with kobolds and reeking of their strange metallic, earthy smell, where they found the kobold chieftain. She wore a mouldering wizards cloak, cut down to size, and lounged on a throne of wood and rotting upholstery that must have been here when the castle was hurled down here by the gods. Behind her stood a platform adorned with various pointless and stupid kobold trinkets – a lizard brain, a rusted dagger, the usual kind of tawdry junk these strange fallen dragon-dogs value – but in amongst it sat a large and impressive bronze key on a special hook. That key obviously opened a treasure room somewhere in this patchwork of collapsed masonry.

They negotiated. The chieftain agreed with their suggestion, and offered them a paltry reward in exchange for returning the dragon. She agreed to let them take Mebo with them as a guide. When pushed about the key, she shrugged, and refused to give it to them because it looked pretty as an ornament behind her throne. They pushed her, and she agreed to loan it to them if they could return the dragon. A loan was all they need. They bowed appropriately, took their leave, and dragged Mebo away towards a door out of the throne room.

To the goblins, and glory!

 


fn1: an annoying recent trend in D&D modules is that they put in baby dragons for 1st level characters to kill, so we can feel like we’ve fought a dragon, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it’s not a real dragon and I want those things kept for when I can really earn the feeling of success that killing a dragon brings with it.

We’ve all been there: Your PC is up against a much weaker opponent, deploying your primary power or skill, but in the crucial moment the d20 roll comes up low for you or high for the opponent, and you once again find that your best power failed you when you were sure it would work. This happens all the time in D&D because the d20 has a flat distribution and that means that low rolls are just as likely as high ones. Although this means on average you might expect your best power to work, unless you are absolutely obliterating your opponent you can’t rely on the dice to turn up even in the ballpark of where you need them to be. This is also a problem in Cyberpunk (d10) and Warhammer 2nd Edition (d100). I have always found it really frustrating, because if use a peaked distribution we can be fairly confident that the dice will roll around about the middle of their distribution more often than the edge. I have complained about this many times, but I have never bothered to see how big a difference a peaked distribution would make to the flow of the game. So here I compare the easiest peaked distribution, 2d10, with 1d20 as a basic die structure for D&D. I have chosen 2d10 because the average roll is about the same as 1d20, and its most likely value is close to the basic DC values of D&D, which are abut 9-11.

Method

For this analysis I have conducted three basic calculations, on the assumption that a PC (the “attacker”) is in a challenged skill check with another PC or enemy (the “defender”):

  1. Comparing the probability of success for the attacker for every die roll on a 1d20 and a 2d10 basic roll
  2. Estimating the total probability of success for the attacker across a wide range of possible skill bonuses, and comparing these probabilities for 1d20 and 2d10
  3. Comparing the probability of success for a highly skilled attacker against a low-skilled attacker, across a wide range of defensive bonuses

For objective 1 I have performed the calculations for attackers with skill values of +0, +4 or +8, against a defender with a bonus of +4 or +0. The specific pairings are shown in the figures below. I chose +4 because it is the basic bonus you can expect for a 1st level character using their proficiency bonus and their best attribute, and +8 as a representative high bonus. For objective 2 I have calculated total probability of success for attackers with bonuses ranging from -2 to +10, against defenders with skill bonus of +0, +4 or +6. I chose +6 because this is the typical bonus you expect of a 5th level character who is working with their proficiency and has sunk their attribute bonus into their top attribute. For objective 3 I have compared a PC with a +6 bonus to a PC with a +0 bonus, for defense bonuses ranging from -2 to +10.

Probabilities of success for any particular die roll are easily calculated because the distributions of 1d20 and 2d10 are quite simple. Total probability of success is calculated using the law of total probability as follows:

P(success)=P(rolls a 1)*P(defender doesn’t beat 1)+P(rolls a 2)*P(defender doesn’t beat 2) +…

I have presented all results as graphs, but may refer to specific numbers where they matter. All figures can be expanded by clicking on them. Analyses were conducted in R, which is why some axis titles aren’t fully readable – you can make them bigger but then they fall off the edge of the graphics window. Stupid R!

Results

Figures 1-3 show the probability of success for every point on the die (from 2 to 20) for 1d20 vs. 2d10. In all figures the 2d10 is in red and the 1d20 in grey, and a grey vertical line has been placed where the probabilities of success are equal for the two die types.

Figure 1 shows that the 1d20 has a better chance of success for all die rolls between 2 and 15. That is, if you have a bonus of +0 and the defender has a bonus of +4, you are better off in a 1d20 system for almost all rolls. The point where the probabilities for 1d20 and 2d10 are equal is a die roll of 16. This corresponds with the defender needing a 12+, and all die rolls after this (17-20) correspond with the defender needing to get a high number on the downward peak of the 2d10 distribution. It may seem counter-intuitive that the 1d20 system rewards you for rolling low, but it is worth remembering that the comparatively low rolls – below 10 – are less likely on a 2d10, so although if you do roll one you are less likely to succeed than if you had a 1d20 system, you are also less likely to roll one. We will see how this pans out when we consider total probability of success, below.

Figure 1: Probability of success at die rolls from 2-20 for 1d20 and 2d10, where attacker has +0 bonus and defender +4

Figure 2 shows the probabilities of success for an attacker with +4 and a defender with +0. In this case we expect the attacker to win on a wider range of dice rolls, and this is exactly what we observe. Now the point where 2d10 is better for the attacker than 1d20 corresponds with dice rolls of 8 or more – in this case, dice rolls that the defender needs to get 12 or more to beat. We see the same process in action.

Figure 2: Probability of success at die rolls from 2-20 for 1d20 and 2d10, where attacker has +4 bonus and defender +0

Figure 3 shows the probabilities of success for an attacker with +8 and a defender with +0. Now we see that the 2d10 is more beneficial to the attacker than the 1d20 from rolls of 4 and above – again, the point beyond which the defender needs to roll 12 or more.

Figure 3: Probability of success at die rolls from 2-20 for 1d20 and 2d10, where attacker has +0 bonus and defender +4

These results are summarized for two cases in Figure 4, which gives the odds ratio for success with a 1d20 compared to 2d10 at each die roll. The odds ratio is the odds of success with a 1d20 divided by the odds of success with a 2d10, calculated at the given dice roll point. I use the odds ratio because it is the correct numerical method for comparing two probabilities, and reflects the special upper (1) and lower (0) bounds on probabilities. The odds ratio grows rapidly as a probability heads towards 0 or 1, and reflects the fact that a 10% difference in probability is a much more meaningful difference when one probability is 10% than when one probability is 50%.

 

Odds Ratios of success for 1d20 vs. 2d10, for two attacking cases

In this case I have shown only the case of an offense of +4 and a defense of +0, and an offense of +8 vs. a defense of +0. I used only these two cases because the case of +0 vs. +4 has such huge odds ratios that it is not possible to see the detail of the other two cases. This figure shows that for an offense of +4 and a defense of 0, the 1d20 has 2-3 times the odds of success at low numbers, but also much lower odds of success at high numbers. Effectively the 2d10 smooths out the probability patterns across the die roll, so that you get less chance of success if you roll poorly, and more chance of success if you roll well, compared to a 1d20.

Figures 5 to 7 show the total probability of success for 1d20 and 2d10 in three different cases. The total probability of success is the probability that you will beat your opponent when you roll the die. This is the probability you roll a 2 multiplied by the probability your opponent rolls greater than you, plus the probability you roll a 3 multiplied by the probability your opponent rolls greater than you, up to the probability you roll a 20. I have calculated this for a range of attack bonuses from -2 to +10, against three defense scenarios: 0, +4 and +6.

Figure 5 shows the total probability for 1d20 and 2d10 when rolled against a defense bonus of 0. Probabilities of success for both 2d10 and 1d20 are quite high, crossing 50% at about an attacking bonus of +0 as we would expect. The 2d10 roll has a lower probability of success than 1d20 for bonuses below 0, and a higher probability of successes for bonuses above 0.

Figure 5: Total probability of success against defense bonus of +0

Figure 6 shows the total probability of success for 2d10 and 1d20 against a defense bonus of +4. The ability of the 2d10 system to distinguish between people weaker than the defender and stronger than the defender is clearer here. At an attack bonus of -2 (vs. defense of +4) the 2d10 system has about a 10% lower chance of success than the 1d20; conversely, at attack bonus of +10 (vs. defense of +4) it has about a 10% higher probability of success. Both systems have an approximately 50% chance of success at a bonus of +4, as we expect.

Figure 6: Total probability of success against defense bonus of +4

Figure 7 shows the total probabilities against a defense bonus of +6. Again we see that the 2d10 system slightly punishes people with a lower bonus than the defender, and slightly rewards people with a higher bonus.

Figure 7: Total probability of success against defense bonus of +6

These results are summarized as odds ratios of success for 1d20 vs. 2d10 in Figure 8. Here the odds ratios are charted for the full range of attacker bonuses, with a separate curve for defense bonus of +0, +4 or +6. Here an odds ratio over 1 indicates that the 1d20 roll has a better chance of success than the 2d10, while an odds ratio below 1 indicates the 2d10 roll has a better chance of success. From this chart you can see that for all offense bonuses lower than the defense bonus, the 1d20 system gives a higher probability of success than the 2d10 system. As the defense bonus increases this relative benefit grows larger.

Figure 8: Odds Ratio of success for 1d20 vs. 2d10 across a wide range of offense bonuses, for three defense bonuses

 

The odds ratio curves in Figure 8 raise an interesting final point about the 2d10 system vs. the 1d20 system. Since the 1d20 system has higher probabilities of success at low offense bonuses, and relatively lower probabilities of success at higher offense bonuses, it should be the case that the difference in success probability between a skilled PC and an unskilled PC will be smaller for the 1d20 system than for the 2d10. That is, if your PC has a bonus of 6 and is attempting to do something, he or she will have a higher chance of success than a person with a bonus of 0, but the relative difference in success probability will not be so great; this difference will be more pronounced for someone using 2d10. To put concrete numbers on this, in the 1d20 system a PC with a +6 bonus trying to beat a defense of +2 has a 65% chance of success, while a PC with a +0 bonus has a 39% chance of success. In contrast, using 2d10 the PC with the +6 bonus has a 72% chance of success, while the PC with the +0 bonus has a 34% chance of success. These greater relative differences are important because they encourage party diversification – if people with large bonuses have commensurately better chances of success than people with small bonuses, then there is a good reason for having distinct roles in the party, and less risk that e.g. even though someone has specialized in stealth, the chances that the non-stealthy people can pull off the same moves will be high enough that the stealth PC does not stand out.

This effect is shown in Figure 9, where I plot the odds ratio of success for a PC with +6 bonus compared to +0 bonus, against defense bonuses ranging from -2 to +10, for both dice systems. It shows that across all defense bonuses the odds ratio of success for a PC with +6 bonus is about 3 times that for a person with +0 bonus when we roll 1d20. In contrast, with 2d10 this odds ratio is closer to 6, and appears to grow larger as the defense bonus increases. That is, as the targeted task becomes increasingly difficult, the 2d10 system rewards people who are specialized in that task compared to those who are not; and at all difficulties, the difference in success chance for the specialist is greater than for the non-specialist, compared to the 1d20 system.

Figure 9: Odds ratio of success for bonus of +6 vs. +0, in both dice systems, against a wide range of defense bonuses

 

Conclusion

Rolling 2d10 for skill checks and attacks in D&D 5th Edition makes very little overall difference to the probability distribution of outcomes, but it does slightly change the distribution in three key ways:

  • It increases the chance that a high dice roll will lead to success, and reduces the chance of success on a low dice roll;
  • It lowers the probability of success for PCs targeting enemies with higher bonuses than they have, and raises the probability of success for PCs with higher bonuses;
  • It increases the gap in success chance between specialist and non-specialist PCs, rewarding diversification of skills and character choices

The 2d10 system does not change the point at which the PC has a 50% chance of success, but it does reduce the probability of criticals. It is worth noting that with a 2d10 system, the process for advantage requires rolling 4d10 and picking the best 2 (rolling 3d10 and picking the best 2 actually reduces the probability of a critical hit). Some might find this annoying, though those of us who enjoy dice pool games will be happy to be rolling 4d10. For those who find it annoying, dropping advantage altogether and replacing it with +3 will likely give the same results (see e.g. here and here). But if you like rolling lots of dice 4d10 choose 2 sounds more fun than 2d20 choose 1.

I don’t think that switching to 2d10 will massively change the way the game runs or really hugely unbalance anything but it will ensure that when you roll high you can have high confidence of success against someone of about your own power; and it will ensure that if you are the person in the party who is good at a task (like picking locks, sneaking, or influencing people) you will be consistently much more likely to do it than the rest of your group, which is nice because it makes your shine really shine. So I recommend switching to 2d10 for all task resolution in D&D.

A final note on DCs

The basic DC for a spell or special power used by a PC in D&D 5e is 8+proficiency level+attribute. This means that against someone with proficiency in the given save and the same attribute bonus as you, they have a 60% chance of avoiding your power. I think that’s very poor design – it should be 10+proficiency+attribute, so that against someone with your own power level you have a 50% chance of success, not 40%. It could be argued that 40% is reasonable since people often take half damage on a save and the full effect of a spell is quite serious, but given wizards have few spells (and most other powers are restricted in use), this doesn’t seem reasonable. So I would consider adding 2 to all save DCs in the game, regardless of whether you switch to 2d10 or stay on 1d20.