The Battle of Stonehill Fortress! (D&D 5e)
I recently ran my first IN-PERSON game of D&D since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Before Covid, my wife and I hosted our monthly session of our Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign which had started in 2019 (9 players! Only one has dropped out so we still have 8 active players 4 years later!). However, for our first in-person game in our new-to-us house, purchased in 2021, we decided I should run a one-shot with a maximum of six players, inviting friends of ours who have expressed interest in playing D&D but whom aren't a part of our regular campaign. We put out the word and five of our friends responded and I began to prepare.
For the past few years, we (and I really mean me) have gone a bit overboard with backing Kickstarters for Skinny Minis, various lay-flat map book makers, etc. It is by no means the worlds biggest or best collection of D&D terrain (that distinction might go to my friend Jay "Lord Gosumba" Scott, twitch.tv/lordgosumba) but they were my new toys and I wanted to play with them with my friends. If you are curious about any of them, find me on Discord! (aurdraco#8038)
For the scenario, I decided the PCs would be a group of strangers who all found themselves (5e 4th level) in the town of Ethelmere in the Kingdom of Johrase in the Bandit Kingdoms of the region known as the Flanaess on the planet Oerth (i.e. Greyhawk, Gary Gygax's original campaign world) shortly before a humanoid and goblinoid army, led by clerics of Iuz (CE demi-god of lies and murder, son of Demon Lord Grazz't and Witch-Queen of Perrenland Iggwilv) attacked at night during the Greyhawk Wars in 584 CY. If you are not familiar with the Bandit Kingdoms, buy my book! :) I designed WAY too many encounters for our one-shot as I was overeager to be hosting a game again in person. After all, it was meant to be a Kobayashi Maru exercise in that we know, from Greyhawk canon, that Iuz's army successfully marched across the Kingdom of Johrase during the Greyhawk Wars. Therefore, the question wasn't whether the PCs could defeat an army, it was rather if they could slow one down.
After the PCs successfully defended a section of the fortress's wall from the first wave of goblinoid attackers, they were recruited by the garrison commander to form an elite commando unit tasked with getting behind the front lines and disrupting the enemy's siege weapons, forward camps, etc. (can you tell I was in a cavalry squadron when I was enlisted in the US Army as an E-4 13B in the 3HWB/2ACR back in '98-'00?).
Gathering their gear and slipping over the castle's walls during a lull in the fighting, the PCs attempted to sneak past the enemy forces to reach the enemy's artillery encampment. Unfortunately, however, they were detected by an enemy patrol of goblin-mounted worgs and dire boars and a difficult fight ensued.
Having dispatched the patrol, the PCs snuck up on the artillery units and had a decision to make: they could either engage the goblin war wagon and/or siege tower, or they could assault the artillery pieces. The PCs decided on the latter and engaged the orc artillery soldiers with ranged weapon attacks, spells, etc. Narrowly avoiding taking direct fire from the mangonel and trebuchet, the PCs realized they needed to rush forward and engage the enemy in closer-ranged combat. Eventually, the enemy soldiers, and their officer, were dispatched.
The PCs discovered a small forward hobgoblin base camp. While the hobgoblins had good cover from their hasty fortifications, the PCs were able to pick them off one-by-one before entering the camp. There they discovered orders indicating that the army's leader, a cleric named Aundurach (see Iuz the Evil iirc) would be performing some nefarious deed at the nearby town's cemetery on the following night.
The group then retreated to the castle, engaging (foolishly?) and defeating a lone wyvern-mounted sentry on the way.
The next night, the PCs hurried to Ethelmere's cemetery only to discover that Iuzian cultists were already engaged in raising a small army of the dead. As the cultists fled into a nearby mausoleum at their approach, the PCs were attacked by the animated skeletons who had just clawed their way out of the ground. However, luckily for our heroes, the cleric and paladin, both dedicated to Pelor, made short work of the undead.
Inside the mausoleum, the PCs discovered the cultists, led by the powerful cleric of Iuz named Aundurach, performing some sort of ritual intended to summon a powerful demon. The PCs defeated the cultist and engaged the leader, eventually prevailing. despite several near-death experiences for various PCs, and preventing the ritual of summoning from being completed.
The PCs returned to the castle to receive welcome praise and promises of rewards from Captain Briston. During their trip back, they spotted, but did not engage (out of time!) a creature that could only be described as a flying purple people eater (half-red-dragon blue slaad).
Thanks to the PCs' efforts, the townsfolk of Ethelmere had more time to evacuate before the humanoid and goblinoid host overran Stonehill Fortress completely. The fortress held out for several more days before the order to retreat was finally given and a good time was had by all!