This is an obvious starting point for the free-from missions. However, there is an inherent problem with the setup of this episode which revolves around the need to establish a credible way to leave a besieged keep.
To keep the tension high you need to play up the idea that that characters can’t now slip in and out of the keep at will. They are in effect trapped.
The existence of the old tunnel overcomes this, allowing a useful means of slipping in and out under the cloak of darkness.
However, the need in the adventure guide for a succesful DC10 Dexterity check means they can fail this mission and make everyones life difficult later on. Rogue lite parties will have a big issue here. As DM and Party you will then need to invent a range of escape methods. Rope ladders, diversion etc which will can be fun , but also take a lot of play time, without actually moving the drama forwards.. Its worth bearing in mind as the DM what you want to have been resolved by the end of the Episode.
You want the PCs to know
- The antagonists are called the Cult of the Dragon.
- They are attacking many communities to collect treasure.
- They are shipping this to a camp nearby.
Other considerations like the Cult identifying the PCs as enemies or the Half-Dragon fight are side issues and bonus material.
It’s hard to do this from the keep, so frequent trips outside are needed.
From a DMing point of view try to arrange for them not to fail. One of the advantages of non-affiliated play is you can adapt the material to suit you, which is what I did here.
I had the players make a series of DC10 Dexterity (Steath) checks. Each player made four checks as they progressed along the dark tunnel. I use this as a good oppourtunity to play up the inematic aspects of creeping along a dark, damp and narrow tunnel. Lots of desriptions of scratching ti the walls, particularly when 2 or more playes failed their checks. However there was no immidiate consequence other than playing up a builting tension and sense of dread. However, I tracked each failures.
As part of the set up during the conversation with Escobert, I’d also set up a portculis trap at the door. Escobert had given them verbal instructions for disarming the trap which he last used as a “Wee Laddy” (200 years ago).
As the players approached the door I laid down a stretch of narrow set of 2×8 dungeon tiles. (Not needed but my players like using them). The length was determined by the number of missed stealth checks. I used 10 ft of tunnel (2 squares) per failed attempt. The rogue heavy group failed just 6 roles giving them a final stretch of 60 feet or 15 squares.
When they got to that point from the trapped door I sprung the Rat Swarms. I played up the fact that the rats seemed to strech back as far as the player could see, and kind of encouraged a chase. I used a timer to advance the hoarde every ten seconds as the players tried to remember what the instruction where, and sort out there turns. The rogues flew through this very quickly, and escaped with minimal damage.
The trap involved a narrow mesh portculis which stopped the rats advancing any further. But the group will still need to find a way past the Swarm on the way back up the tunnel
The rogue lite party did not do so well, with 11 failures leaving them with a daunting 110 foot chase. I bumped the swarm speed to 35 feet so It became clear that the party would be overwhelmed unless they faced off. I also played up the narrowness of the tunnel to force only two players to engage the swarms, and stop them like a cork, while the rest raced for the door. They ultimately worked out a way to switch attackers and destroy the swarm. They took more damage but they now have a clear way into the keep.
Played right this is a real highlight mission. Try to punish PC’s who fail the dexterity checks with some damage rather than a total fail. Climbing down rope ladders to get out of the keep is a possibility but it stretch credibility a bit. Avoid this by adapting the mission to suit. I use the milestone XP technique so I seldom worry about totting up xp earned.