At the end of the previous session, check the players crept around the mill and found themselves a secluded vantage point on the top of a hill overlooking the mill. From there, the Bard’s keen eye for performance noticed that the cultists they were sent to stop were just phoning it in; they were half-heartedly waving torches in the direction of the mill, but up close, it was obvious it was just for show.
Sensing that something was up, the Cleric asked around for a torch and a light, cast Disguise Self to appear as a cultist himself, and boldly walked down the hill to where one of the acolytes was pretending to set fire to things. Recognizing a brother (in the religious sense, not fraternal), the acolyte struck up a conversation with the Cleric, who managed to convince the acolyte that he was ordered over here to provide additional fakery for the…eh…why are we here, exactly?
The acolyte spilled the beans, thinking he was talking to another cultist: they were creating a diversion in the hopes that the late-arriving adventurers would be sent out here to “deal with them”, at which point the fake fire-starters would run away, and the adventurers would be ambushed by the small army of cultists and soldiers hiding inside the mill. The Cleric doubled down on the comradeship he was forging with the acolyte and cast Charm Person. He sent his newly acquired minion around to the others to tell them that cultist reinforcements had arrived to help out, and not to get trigger happy (or sword or spell happy).
Returning to the group, the Cleric was chastised by the Ranger for not having asked about the number of people inside the barn. Relying on the adage “If you want something done, right, do it your elf”, the Ranger (who is an elf…) had the Cleric introduce him as a raider, and the Ranger grilled the hell out of the acolyte before quietly introducing his sword to his internal organs.
Meanwhile, the Bard, still in full kobold regalia, slipped down the hill to the edge of light cast by the other cultists surrounding the mill. Her disguise worked well enough to allow her to approach the nearest cultist within Prestidigitation distance, and she snuffed out his torch. This immediately set the cultist off like a car alarm at 3 AM, and he and the remaining faux-firestarter fled shouting “They’re here! They’re here!”
At this point, the session turned into “Die Hard”, but only in that there were people holed up inside a building, and there were people outside the building trying to figure out a way to get said people out of the building without having to go in to the building.
The Bard — a 3′ tall gnome — opted to open the bottom half of the dwarven door (which we call a “dutch door” here IRL) and peek inside. It was too dark to see anything, so the Bard used Prestidigitation to light a nearby crate on fire. Unfortunately, the crate was isolated enough from everything else in the room that any unseen adversaries didn’t seem worried about it, and remained hidden.
While the bulk of the force held a committee at the front of the mill, the Cleric was hanging out with the dead body of his former acolyte friend, peering into one of the windows of the mill (being one of the only people who could reach the window, it made sense). Either because he was at is wit’s end, or simply because he wanted to get a better look inside as the only member of the party without Darkvision, the Cleric smashed the window and threw his lit torch into the flour mill.
In a move that no one saw coming, the torch bounced across the floor towards the grinding stone, and promptly ignited an unseen cloud of flour dust which blew out half of the mill building into the river.
Now the party could see the raiders inside. Three of them were charcoal briquettes, but the rest of them — seven assorted guards and cultists — were sufficiently convinced that the jig was up, and started leaping from the loft. Unfortunately, the dwarven door, only open half way, could not accommodate a party of bloodthirsty adventurers, and the Cleric — who lost his eyebrows in the explosion (not kidding — he only suffered 1 HP of damage in the luckiest roll ever) — was running back and forth between the flaming wreckage and the river, filling his water-skin and dumping it on the fire in one of the most comically pathetic sketches this side of The Benny Hill Show.
And of course this would be when the reinforcements show up from the keep. A bewildered captain interrogated the Ranger, who smoothly convinced the soldier that the raiders overplayed their hand and ignited the flour dust within while the party was totaly otherwise in control of the situation like the consummate professionals that they were. The captain, rubbing his face as if somehow trying to slough the incredulity of the situation away, told the Ranger that they had to see if they couldn’t capture one of the fleeing raiders. Escobert wants to interrogate someone, and although he’d prefer a higher-up in the raider organization, this might be a decent opportunity to get anyone into custody.
As luck would have it, the Bard’s earlier decision to open the gnome-part of the door paid off: one panicked cultist saw the light from the doorway and ran towards it at full speed, without realizing that it was only half the door that was opened, and that the half that was closed was where his face needed to pass through. The Fighter (a dwarf) ducked into the doorway and dragged the unconscious soldier out into the open air and turned him over to the keep militia.
With the mill in partial flames, the militia captain tasked the players with taking the captive back to Escobert for questioning while he and his men held down the fort (what was left of it).
Next Week: The players escort a captive back to the keep.
* * *
The first phase of the session went well. The Cleric’s Disguise Self ruse went off without a hitch (there was no reason for it to fail, as he specifically said he wanted to appear as any cultist they ran into earlier for potential familiarity purposes), but he didn’t ask enough questions for a full picture, which brought the Ranger into the conversation to get the rest of the intel.
The second phase was rather difficult. The players successfully short-circuited the raider’s plans, but the raiders were counting on the player’s reticence to actually burn down the mill. After all, their plan counted on the players wanting to save the mill, and then jumping them when they entered the building. The players were wary of putting themselves into harms way, knowing that there were 10 unseen enemies in strategic positions inside the mill, so a standoff ensued. I really had no idea how to move this forward. The raiders were technically safe in the mill, knowing the players weren’t going to do anything stupid (on purpose), so they could have stayed in there all night. They had no idea about the reinforcements on the way, though, so I guess it would have ended badly for them eventually.
I actually didn’t come up with the idea of blowing the thing up until maybe 10 minutes or so into this standoff. The image I had for the mill showed a pile of flour sacks in the lower right corner of the building. Then the Bard wanted to “set something on fire”. I was hoping she’d opt to try and set the flour stock on fire, but because she didn’t want to venture too far onto the mill floor, that wasn’t going to happen. The raiders certainly weren’t going to set the mill on fire with themselves inside, and they weren’t going to leave with the party camping the only viable exit.
Enter the Cleric, the only guy without Darkvision. I think his intent was merely to smash the window, shout something inside, and throw the torch in as a threat, but that was really all that was needed to put the flour plan into action.
When the reinforcements showed up, the Captain had no idea whether or not the players were telling the truth about the raiders having done the deed. Hell, they’re cultists; they’re supposed to be all about the martyrdom, so why wouldn’t they blow up the building in an otherwise un-winnable situation? At least half the building was left standing, and they had scored a captive for interrogation.
The night was ended with a discussion over appointing a leader for the group. Up to this point, there hasn’t been a lot of need for a leader, as the encounters have been relatively straight-forward, but during this session, the party was divided as the Cleric and Ranger were interrogating the acolyte, the Bard was attempting to shut down the two other cultists outside, and the Fighter and the Monk (the party has a Monk, remember) were holding down the fort on the hill overlooking the mill without opportunity to take meaningful action for most of the night.
Essentially, it was as the Bard said during the discussion: everyone is so used to being responsible for themselves through years of online gaming that the concept of reaching a consensus in a free-form environment has atrophied. While everyone was working towards “the goal”, the party has relied on individual strengths, individually, rather than coming up with ideas on how they can work together towards a single strategy. Part of it has to do with years of online gaming, but I think part of it also has to do with no one wanting to diminish anyone else’s potential contributions or ideas. Everyone is really respectful of each other’s approaches, but almost to a fault. We talked a bit about how Episode 1 could be considered to be the “tutorial” chapter, and going forward things are going to get messier and more difficult, and will require greater team work and communication.
In the end, the Ranger accepted the mantle of leadership (which is a good choice, as he’s also DM’s his own 5E sessions, which provides a useful perspective). It was suggested that maybe in between this session and the next that the party get together OOC and discuss how they can work together, either via Roll20 or via the forums on Anook. Of course, once the party starts to organize, that means I’m going to have to work much harder to ensure that they’re challenged.