Here’s another kinda-sorta standalone episode. The party could apparently completely skip this part if they wished, and skirt around it giving chase to the proper baddies who have already moved on to the finale. I think this is somewhat unlikely though. Mainly because there’s no way of knowing that the villains have already gone, and there’s no map support for the environs. This despite the text referring to ‘area 1’ which I certainly can’t see anywhere.
The party arrive with a pop through the portal and find themselves looking at a Hunting Lodge high in the forested mountains. Who wouldn’t want to at least check that out? There’s a mention of extra portals nearby, but they can’t be used, so I’d forget about even mentioning them if you want to get on with the game. You know what players are like. The Lodge is the home of (yet) another sub-boss for the Cult of the Dragon, this time Tanis the White. We haven’t been introduced to her as yet, so no foreshadowing or anything clever like that. The introduction mentions yet another Cult notable called Varram, and the possibility of rivalries, but he’s nowhere to be found.
The Lodge could be approached as a kill and clear, or as a chance to negotiate and build alliances. Frankly I suspect the former is going to get more table time. The concierge of the Lodge is a massive four armed hunter, a troll no less, called Trespin. He’s a demon worshipper, suitably bloodthirsty, and rather hungry for battle. He wears a soaked set of furs all the time, protecting him from fire attacks you see. Looks like he really is ready for a scrap. So much for diplomacy then.
On the other hand, inside the Lodge proper, there’s only Tanis in residence as a senior member of the cult, and all servants are expecting only friendly visitors. I guess if Trespin is dealt with fairly quietly, then there’s still a chance for the party to smile and wave their way past a lot of trouble. Actually no, there are a pair of gargoyles that attack as soon as they see drawn weapons just inside the front door. Essentially, it’s going to be a DM call as to whether or not the Lodge reacts to the parties entrance with fear, respect or hostility.
The Lodge is laid out over two floors and a basement, all keyed and inhabited by a variety of foes and challenges. Of interest, there’s some prisoners that can be found which will give the party pause. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with them, but they will be difficult to ignore, no matter the alignments in play. By the way, area 12 is unlabelled (sigh) but it’s likely to be in the top right corner of the map. There’s 24 kobolds in there so good luck tracking initiative and HP if it does all kick off.
It turns out that there are two main things for the party to learn from this episode. First, where to go next, which given the manner of their arrival here, isn’t obvious even when they learn the name of the place. Second, to get some handy ID in the form of a banner which is found in the linen room (where else?). I don’t think either of these are particularly obvious, so as DM I’d advise listening to the players closely to ensure they have a sense of plot direction at this point.
All of this can be learned from today’s Cultist in Residence, the aforementioned Tanis the White. She’s got bodyguards, dangerous stats of her own (level 9 wisdom spellcaster. They never refer to class in the statblock), and home advantage. Despite all this, the assumption is that she sees the party as potential allies (not burglars), and she waits in her office for them to come on up and parley. Again, at the risk of banging on about typical party approaches, I suspect the first thing she sees of them is when they kick in the door and seize a surprise round. I could be wrong. In fairness, she doesn’t fight to the death, and the text gives the DM plenty of info she’s more than willing to dump having surrendered, been bribed, or what have you.
I actually quite like this episode, even if the assumptions therein probably don’t line up with reality. There’s interest in most rooms, and some loot too. I think it’s unlikely every nook and cranny will be explored, but it’s a decent place for a rest up. Although presented as a side quest, or at least as optional, it offers the best chance yet to really get a grip on the cult’s plan’s and movements. It would be a shame to miss out on that. As is sadly typical by now, the poor relationship of map to text lets down the utility value of the episode. Nothing fatal, but still, an irritation.
Next: The Final Episode! Castle in the Clouds.