Lots of natural 1s on skill checks this session ...
The party decided they wanted to take a long rest, since Barnabus the Bard burned through basically all his spell slots in the Road Blockade battle. I let them, even though it was still (late) morning time. But the clock of the module keeps on ticking ...
Barnabus also understood (in Goblin) as one Hobgoblin prisoner asked the Sergeant prisoner what was keeping them from returning to Saarvith and reporting on the approaching adventurers once they were released. Barnabus therefore spent a spell slot on Suggestion to force the Sergeant to take his men south, rather than returning to Saarvith. The goblinoids decided that they would therefore rejoin the main Horde under Kharn.
They headed west into the Blackfens, finding soon that the mud made their carriages impractical. So they stowed the carriages under a particularly big tree (they rolled Survival to find a landmark, and didn't roll particularly well, with Marr the Fighter getting a natural 1 with the best Survival bonus in the party). Then they rode on their horses into the night, counting on the half the party with Darkvision to guide them. I rolled for a random encounter, but it didn't happen until the wee hours of the morning, when there was some light from the dawn ...
Spoiler: Rest In Pieces, Jeffrey
The early morning encounter was two Giant Crocodiles. The party didn't roll high enough Perception to spot the partly-submerged, still crocs using Stealth (Bitore the Cleric rolled a natural 1), so two horses got attacked by bite attacks immediately. One of them hit, and immediately killed the draft horse. It was Bitore's horse (determined by random die roll), which was immediately named Jeffrey in respect to his death. The horse who dodged a croc bite was named Samwise in honor of his surviving.
Bitore rolled Acrobatics to land on his feet, won initiative, and hit the croc threatening him with a Spiritual Weapon + Toll the Dead combo. Moxie the Barbarian attacked the other croc savagely. But the damage they both did didn't end up mattering.
Barnabus cast Speak with Animals and told the crocs they were doomed if they didn't retreat, rolling a 20 for Intimidation. I wasn't sure if that was enough to make the crocs actually retreat, but Marr the Fighter followed it up with his Dragon Fear roar, and both crocs failed their save to avoid becoming Frightened. So I did have them retreat, dragging Jeffrey's body away with one of them. There was some debate, in good humor, about whether Bitore should quickly cast Revivify on the horse as it was dragged away, but I don't think any of them were serious about it. But then Bitore's player, feeing bad, ritual-casted Augury and asked after the horse's emotional state. I told him "woe," and he felt bad some more.
Spoiler: Don't Split the Party
It was time to rest again, so Marr (the "wasteland survivor") made a Survival check to built a mud-hut for shelter. Natural 1. So Bitore attempted to one-up him using Knowledge of the Ages for proficiency. Natural 3. Moxie threw her hat in the ring with a natural 2. Finally, Barnabus, who had just been playing music for the others while they stumbled around, rolled a natural 18 and managed to cobble together a decent hut.
Bitore turned to reading, and Barnabus to playing music, but the other two wanted to go out and scout around. This was an unfortunate decision from them, because I had already decided to have them encounter the Greenspawn Razorfiend as soon as possible after they left the hut.
Marr made his Perception check to avoid being surprised by the monstrosity's attack, but Moxie did not. It rolled low against her, but still managed to hit with its bite for ok damage. But not the damage the wingblades would do, so the party did't panic and call for help yet.
Marr hit the creature 3 times out of 4 with his trademark Fighting Spirit + Action Surge combo, but it was still hearty after that. And then ...
.. then I rolled three.
19, 19, 20.
Marr was chopped down easily by the two wingblade attacks, then Moxie (who was still not raging) took another good chunk of damage from the bite. Dropping her lower than I've ever seen her, except when she was ambushed by the two Owlbears.
Moxie's player wasn't there for this part of the session, so I rolled a die to see whether she counterattacked the Razorfiend or fed Marr a potion. She elected for the potion. So Marr's yo-yo impression began.
The players all asked whether the two in the mud hut could hear Marr's screams of agony. Not wanting to kill half the party (and feeling like that was indeed a likely result), I ruled that they had encountered the Razorfiend only 150 ft or so from the hut, and the two spellcasters passed the fairly-easy Perception checks I gave them, so they jumped on horses (the third of whom received the name Jameson at this point) and approached the scene with all speed. Bitore even got within range to throw a Healing Word in Marr's direction. Barnabus rolled high on initiative and began pelting the Razorfiend with Melf's Minute Meteors.
Marr's enthusiasm for something called a "razorfiend" hadn't waned during the week, so he was more in awe of this creature that had chopped him down, rather than being pissed at it. So he went forth with his new 12 HP (plus 5 from another Fighting Spirit and readied an action to grapple/shove the razorfiend when it approached him. He succeeded, narrowly, at beating the Razorfiend's high Athletics both times ... but it managed to bite him even with disadvantage (in spite of Cutting Words, which rolled a 1) and drop him again, escaping the grapple and standing back up. Marr's player was sad.
Moxie wailed on the Razorfiend with her turn, as usual (Barbarians sure are consistent, even without Reckless). Her flight was nice throughout this battle, incidentally, to avoid the marshy difficult terrain. Bitore revived Marr again, then passed his turn with the Dodge action; for whatever reason, his player was being conservative with spell slots all of a sudden.
Marr grappled the Razorfiend and shoved it Prone again (narrowly succeeding on both again). This time, the Razorfiend overcame its attacking disadvantage by using its breath weapon (which it should have done the previous time it was prone). Marr has advantage on saves vs. gases from his necklace, but even if he hadn't rolled low twice, he didn't quite have enough hit points to stay standing after the poison breath.
Barnabus and Moxie continued to pound away at the creature. Bitore rode forward and revived Marr yet again, this time with a Level 3 Cure Wounds. This time, Marr couldn't reach the creature, so he pulled out his Wand of Magic Missiles and pumped all 7 charges into the Razorfiend; the 30 resulting damage went a long way toward finally bringing it down. The Razorfiend slashed a couple more times at Moxie, bringing her to 3 HP even though she was raging, and then sprung too far away for her to respond with her maul. She shot it with her heavy crossbow, then Marr finally brought the creature down with a javelin, which he was careful to specify was nonlethal damage.
Spoiler: Never Predict What the PCs Will Do
At this point, things took a turn for the unusual, in what may prove to be the party's first real major deviation from the module. You see, Marr was determined to tame the Razorfiend and turn it back against its breeders.
He tied it up and dragged it back to the mud-hut. The party took a short rest (burning most of the melee combatants' Hit Dice), then as Moxie kept watch outside the hut, Bitore cast Tongues on the Razorfiend as it came to. Since this seemed to be important to the players (and since they completely hadn't noticed the dead giant owl on the map with the Razorfiend), I let this proceed without immediate interruption by the Tiri Kitor hunters.
So Marr began to talk to the creature, enhanced by Guidance spells and sometimes Bardic Inspiration. His initial Intimidation check was a 24, nice. But after a couple rounds, they realized I was still rolling d6s every round to see when the Razorfiend's breath recharged! So they started trying to convince it, first and foremost, that it shouldn't breathe on them.
Anyway, I don't remember all the details of the conversation, but was fairly well roleplayed. Marr failed one Persuasion check badly (12 after his allies' buffs), but got 22 on another Persuasion check, and also sacrificed his Potion of Superior Healing to heal the Razorfiend. And was prepared to force-feed it his Philter of Love, too, if that would help the "taming" process. He asked it whom it fought for ("Myself"), what its name was ("I have no name"), and declared that it was a spirited warrior and should have a name, even if that name was only used by others, and named it Graald. All in all, I had "Graald" respond at the end, "I do not like you, but I will work with you to fight my former captors that run my hatchery."
Spoiler: Meeting the Tiri Kitor, with a Twist
At that point I had Moxie stick her head inside and tell the others they had company.
They saw the owls land in trees all around them, and met Killiar Arrowswift. With a couple of very good persuasion checks from Barnabus, they placated Killiar's initial suspicions of them (assuring him that they were on a mission to rid the marshes of the goblinoid menace) ... and then Graald stepped out of the hut. The elves immediately drew their bows again.
The rest of the party expressed that they were working with this creature specifically as a guide and weapon against the goblins' hatchery ... while Marr didn't help matters, making speeches about how this noble warrior should become part of the new ecosystem of the area due to its sheer fearsomeness.
Killiar walked up the nearby hill and investigated the dead owl Liokio, finding its jade band and accusing Graald of slaying an owl and an elf. Graald didn't help matters, stating frankly that this was in fact true. Marr started arguing that Graald had every right to follow its instincts and defend the territory that was now its, and that clearly the owl had invaded that territory by landing, since Graald can't fly. The other party members came out saying at this point that they did not agree with Marr, that they were sorry for the elf's fate and that it was not "water under the bridge," and that the Razorfiends didn't have the right to this new territory if they were a newly invasive species.
Barnabus and Bitore accepted Killiar's invitation to leave Graald behind and visit Starsong Hill. Marr declared that he would stay with the Razorfiend until his companions returned, which was fine because he wasn't winning any hospitality points from Killiar anyway. I rolled a die to see which way Moxie would go, and rolled that she would join the other two in visiting Starsong Hill -- which her player later confirmed. In fact, if Moxie's player had been there, she says she would have been protesting the Razorfiend-taming effort quite strongly all along.
Spoiler: Starsong Hill
The three cooperative party members took rides on owls to Starsong Hill. Killiar led them to Sellyria's home, where they met Sellyria and Trellara. (The players said I was really laying it on thick with the guilt over Lanikar's death when Trellara was declared to be the deceased's sister ... but hey, I was just following the module!)
Barnabus was curious whether Sellyria's crocodile bench was alive, but he rolled a nat 1 on Perception to find out. Maybe he'll find out later that yes, Relivax is in fact alive.
Barnabus explained the party's situation and good intentions very well (26 Persuasion), including Graald's role. Trellara was not placated one bit, and asked to be taken to this monster that she might slay it herself. Sellyria was convinced that the party were good allies, though, and forbid Trellara to do anything so rash.
Selllyria invited the party to stay for the funeral the next day. They were torn since they knew they're on a timetable, but eventually accepted the invitation. They therefore spent an uneventful half-day acquainting themselves with an elven village. Meanwhile, Marr declared he was "sparring" with Graald, even though the Tongues spell had worn off and he could no longer communicate verbally. I made him roll an Animal Handling check, and if he had rolled a Nat 1 I might have just declared that Graald killed him in the sparring process. But he rolled a 13 total, so I told him he was at least alive.
Barnabus volunteered to perform a flute song he wrote about Lanikar at the funeral, but he rolled pretty low and only managed a 15 even with Guidance. That was still better than poor Trellara's performance, though, even though Barnabus gave her Bardic Inspiration. I fluffed it as her breaking down crying while she sang.
And that's pretty much where we ended. We talked about the rest of the party returning to Marr and Graald, but I think we'll still play that out at the beginning of next session; the elves will give them detailed directions to the Ruins of Rhest, and they'll have to negotiate if they want an owl-lift back to Marr rather than tromping through the marsh on foot.
Spoiler: What's Next?
So there are basically two issues at this point. One is that Marr's player is kind of overplaying Marr's attachment to the Razorfiend taming idea, to the point of being quite annoying. (Not something I expected from this player.) That's already probably lost them a number of potential Alliance Points with the elves, but could also continue to be a problem as the game goes on.
I'll do my best to get Graald killed by the Red Hand at Rhest, which would help a lot to solve the problem. If that doesn't happen, though, where do I go from there? EDIT: I guess the real question is, if Graald lives, how successful should I let Marr be in teaching Graald to be a noble warrior? That seems like the kind of thing that makes a better story than having Graald turn on the party or something, but it doesn't fit very well with D&D lore, in which Dragonspawn of Tiamat are supposed to be even more innately evil than normal chromatic dragons.
The other problem is that the party is running out of time. Day 21 means the Red Hand main Horde has already close to conquering Terrelton, in other words well on its way to Brindol. The party will certainly have time to destroy Saarvith's operation and make it back to Brindol, but I kind of doubt they'll have time to make it to the Ghostlord and back -- especially without owls to ride, which I'll be surprised if they earn at this point.
So things are certainly getting more interesting ... I hope the big fight next time goes well. (Bitore's player won't be able to make it, so I'm kind of dreading having to play a Cleric on top of everything else during the battle.)