We managed to get in another D&D session last night, and a new player finally managed to attend (he’s been trying for weeks). Introducing new characters to a campaign in progress is always a challenge, but the circumstances affect just how much of a challenge. Earlier in the campaign, for instance, while the party was still in a major city, I could have introduced the new character, Bowman, quite easily. Alas, the party has now journeyed far from civilization, eliminating the option of having Bowman forced onto the party by an intimidating crime boss.
When we left off, the party had split, with Nerogon, Sylvia, and Lucretia going back to camp to get the wagon (and Machaon and Reya) while Lainis stayed in the kobold keep to watch over the loot. This seemed as good a time as any to throw Bowman into the mix. A few hours had passed, and Bowman came by the keep, noticing that the door (which had always been closed on prior sightings) was standing open. Taking the hint, he went in to investigate.
Naturally, this began a series of sneak checks and listen checks as Bowman carefully prowled through the keep and Lainis tried to figure out who was sneaking around in there (aided by her faithful wolf companion, Cazhmere). It is inevitable in such situations that the players will turn the paranoia of their characters up to eleven, pushing the encounter to the brink of open combat. I’m surprised that Darths & Droids hasn’t dedicated a strip to such situations yet.
I arranged for the rest of the party to conveniently return to the castle at that point, and after a bit more suspicious bickering (and a few hints of “find a way to get along so the adventure can proceed”), they agreed to work together and continue the quest. It’s convenient that Brother Machaon, in his perpetually inebriated state, has no qualms about telling anyone and everyone they meet about the quest. Machaon even showed Bowman his map and asked for directions.
Bowman didn’t provide any directions, but Lainis was able to find the path with her kick-ass Survival skill, which led the party toward the old shrine of Dionysus where the Goblet was last reported to be. Getting close to the place marked on the map, they heard sounds of clacking wood from ahead.
Nerogon volunteered to go ahead and try talking to whatever was making the sound. Lainis and Bowman sneaked up behind him to provide cover if he got into trouble. Lucy and Sylvia were only a little farther back.
I suppose I might mention at this point that Reya’s player was not able to attend. In such situations, the character of the non-present player tends to find something to do that keeps them out of the combat area, like staying with the wagon while the rest of the group goes ahead to see what danger lurks. This is a convenient solution for the DM, especially when there isn’t a copy of the missing player’s character sheet handy.
Back on topic, Nerogon walked ahead and came within sight of the shrine, which was pretty obviously abandoned and overgrown with vines. The field before it was somewhat trampled down, however, and there was a wooden post standing in the field. The clacking had stopped as Nerogon approached, and now there was a small, green-skinned person watching Nerogon approach and leaning on a wooden sword that was covered in wicked-looking thorns (this little critter is a Thorn from the Monster Manual III, if you’re interested).
Some verbal sparring ensued. The Thorn asked Nerogon’s business; Nerogon explained a need to get into the shrine; the Thorn said “no way”; Nerogon said it was the object of his quest; the Thorn said “too bad”. Basically “none shall pass”. Lucy and Sylvia approached during the conversation, and Lucy finally interrupted by saying they should just kill him. Cue the fight scene.
A Thorn may not look like much, but they actually have 6 hit dice, a high attack bonus, and an impressive armor class of 19. Coupled with his tendency to say “the green knights always triumph” and “only a flesh wound” on the rare occasions that he was hit, he was pretty darned annoying. Despite his bravado, however, he was not invulnerable, and he was soon surrounded by Nerogon, Lucy, Lainis, and Cazhmere in a configuration that allowed all of them to get a flanking bonus. With the additional bonus from Sylvia’s bard song, the Thorn’s supply of 31 hit points dwindled with surprising speed. When he finally succumbed to the persistent pummeling, Lucy finished him off with extreme prejudice.
With the guardian dispatched, the looting could commence. The Thorn himself only had his armor and weapons, so the group started searching the shrine. The main room had an algae-fied pool and a statue of Dionysus himself. A room off to the left proved to be a library, but they found nothing left of value. A room on the other side, however, turned out to be a winery that had been well maintained and was obviously in use, as there were two large tubs of fermenting berries. A knowledge check from Sylvia determined that the berries came from an assassin vine, indicating that the wine being made would be wildly expensive. A glance through an outside door of this room revealed a trellised assassin vine growing next to the shrine, and the group decided that messing with it would probably be unwise. A trapdoor in the room lead down to a wine cellar, where Lucy found a couple of interesting trinkets.
Behind the statue in the main room of the shrine were doors leading to bed chambers. All of the furniture was in poor condition, and most of it ended up in fragments as the party broke things up looking for hidden treasure. Nerogon found a scroll hidden in a bed post that provided a clue to where the Goblet had been sent from the shrine.