Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 59.

1. The entire west end of the Barrowmaze is explored.
2. The adventurers hunt Bugbears setting up an alliance with one of the Barrowmaze necromancer factions.
3. OwlbearRodeo VTT comes to the rescue again.

Game Diary:
We began the session with only two rooms left to explore in the NW corner of the Barrowmaze. Both entrances to the rooms were bricked up, so the strong members began smashing them down with their sledge hammers. This attracted attention from crawling claws, but they were easily destroyed. In the last room one rogue accidentally triggered a trap and the entrance to the room was blocked by a falling rock and those inside the room had to try and find an escape route as the 20 x 20 foot room was filled with water in a mere 5 rounds from two water tubes in the ceiling! Luckily, just as they were about to begin worrying about drowning, they found a secret entrance out of the room and escape! The group picked up some nice coins and treasure for their effort and they headed back to Ironguard Motte.

Once back in town, Conwrick Pimkin, a hobbit ranger they know from some of their adventures in the nearby woods, told them of rumors he heard from his hobbit friends that a nearby group of bugbears are possibly setting up an alliance with one of the necromancer groups in the Barrowmaze. Hobbits (i.e. halfings) pay attention to bugbears since in my world bugbears are a corruption of the hobbits. All hobbits in my world are told stories that if their oversized greed for treasure gets the better of them that they could grow to into the monstrous proportion of these beasts, and the hair on their feet will spread to the rest of their body. In actual fact this takes generations of corruption to occur, but it still makes great stories to scare young hobbits with when they are children!).

Bugbear (art by CMOFFITT, ZBrushCentral)

The group decided to seek out these bugbears and stop them. One player decided to use this opportunity to bring in a new character he had created – a triple class elven cleric/wizard/archer.

This was one of those times that I was glad I use the OwlbearRodeo VTT. When I had Conwrick convey the bugbear rumor to the group, my thought was simply to lay plot down for a future game session, for we had already spent three sessions out of the Barrowmaze and I thought the group would go right back in, but, no, they decided to go bugbear hunting! So I suggested a 5 minute bio break and during that time I took a quick break, replenished my water, and then jumped to Owlbear Rodeo to design an adventure on the spot that could last the remaining 3-4 hours!

I quickly loaded a grass map on a grid, drew some green circles representing trees of various diameters, and then threw on 20 tokens to represent the bugbear ambush at night (I made the tokens invisible to the players until the monsters would begin attacking from surprise each round) . This simple and efficient setup only took a couple of minutes and was perfect for me. I refuse to spend more than 10 minutes on any VTT setup for a game, especially since in situations like this one, I need to make spontaneous and on-the-spot decisions based on what my players choose to do. Any VTT that requires elaborate pre-setup and lots of automation is a complete non-starter for me. I use as much as possible theater of mind and look up details in books only if necessary. The map was simple, but more than did the job and verbal descriptions took care of the rest.

The Owlbear Rodeo map I put together in seconds to layout the bugbear night ambush.

Conwrick led the way to the woods doing the tracking for the group, and they traveled for an entire day before needing to seek a campsite in the western woods of the Duchy of Aerik for the evening. It was during first watch that the druid saw the flickering orange campfire light illuminate the canopy of trees above them, along with the movement of some being in the shadows of the leafy branches. She alerted her friends just as a bunch of arrows descended down upon them from the trees above from bugbear archers!

Initially the group thought they were only fighting 3-5 bugbears, but as each round progressed 3-4 more bugbears would reveal themselves when a volley of arrows fell down upon them from a new set of nearby trees, either from behind trees on the ground, or in the canopy 30-70 feet above. Eventually the group realized they were fighting 20 bugbears. Gimli, the dwarven berserker who had lycanthropy, summoned Odin’s Fury and also transformed himself into a werewolf! He howled and hoped to summon any wolves in the area to aid him (he also had to make a wisdom check to be able to control his new chaotic evil werewolf personality and be able to recognize friend from foe).

The fighting was elaborate as some characters with spider climbing ability were climbing trees and running across the canopy from one tree to another, while others attacked from the ground with their melee or ranged weapons, and others were climbing trees to backstab the bugbears. There was great use of flanking, backstabs, and charges taking place. The bugbear leader had acquired some necromantic power and upon firing an arrow into Ria (the human pacer climbing the tree toward him), filled her with paralysis, and even with slippers of spider climbing, she tumbled 40 feet down the trunk of the tree – but somehow managed to survive! Another bugbear nearly took out the mystical owl companion of Belden (gnome bard), but a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks saved it from death and it managed to get healed up in future rounds.

Due to the staggered and careful attacks of the bugbears, this battle took time (in game terms), and by the time they were defeated, several minutes had passed (normally a combat is over in just a few rounds). It was as the last bugbears fell from the trees that Gimli’s wolves were arriving. He left Odin’s Fury (and had to make a Wisdom check so as to not lose a point of wisdom from the effort of his berserk state of mind), but he chose to stay in werewolf form to maintain control of his wolves and so they could remain with him through the remainder of the night and protect him.

Next time they will loot the bugbears, and…then what? Look for more bugbears? Head back to the Barrowmaze? We’ll all find out next week!