Tuesday, September 2, 2014

WdH1: The Fire-Breathing Elephant Expedition (Campaign Summary)

This is the third in a series of posts that collectively define an adventure module for the new (5th) edition of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) called "The Fire-Breathing Elephant Expedition".  The module is set in Wanderhaven, the homebrew campaign setting in which my kids and I play and in which I set my book, Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki.  It's meant to bridge the gap from "The Lost Mine of Phandelver" in the D&D Starter Set to the forthcoming adventure The Rise of Tiamat.  As such, it's a short campaign, taking the Player-Characters (PCs) from mid-5th to 7th level.

This post makes use of the following previous posts:
Today we go through the Campaign Summary.


Campaign Summary

The “ideal” campaign story for The Fire-Breathing Elephant Expedition is summarized below.  If this project was a novella, its plot would follow this outline.  However, your game may turn out differently than this, and that’s okay.

Act 1

The Fire-Breathing Elephant
The PCs go see Duke Wallace, having been recommended to the duke by someone that they know and respect.  If one of the PCs has the “Noble” background, this encounter represents a substantial social opportunity/obligation since the duke is such a rich and important figure.  They meet, the duke proposes his hunt, and the party has an opportunity to dicker over terms.  Assuming they accept, the duke proposes to leave a fortnight hence, giving the PCs time to purchase or acquire whatever specialized equipment they might need for a campaign to a remote jungle island and/or to research fire elves, a rare and secretive race about which the PCs will likely know very little.
Branch Point: If you wish to shorten the campaign or to simply pick up a little closer to the action, you can skip this scene and pick up onboard the duke’s ship, with the PC’s agreement to the quest implied or agreed out-of-character.
The voyage south from Wanderhaven follows well-established trade-routes.  It is long but uneventful.  Once the party gets close to the Fire Islands, this changes.  The ship’s captain sights several vessels that he believes may be pirates, and eventually the party’s ship is attacked by fire elf raiders in a trio of lightning-fast ocean-going catamarans.  The party chases off the pirates, but the ship is damaged before the party can make landfall.  If any of the pirates escape, word of the PC’s presence in the Fire Islands spreads, increasing their odds of a fight in the coming days.
Branch Point: If the PCs are very successful in the defense of their ship, it is possible that the ship itself is not damaged.  This simplifies their escape later.
Branch Point: If the party is unsuccessful defending their ship from the pirates, the pirates do not kill them.  Instead, the PCs awake in a fire elf dungeon (see below).
The party’s ship lands in a deserted cove deep in the heart of the Fire Islands.  Trackless jungle spreads before them while active volcanoes rise smoking in the distance.

Act 2

The party heads into the jungle with Duke Wallace while the ship and its crew stay behind to get started on repairs.  The jungle has many dangers, so the odds of a random encounter are high.  Additionally, the fire elves are looking for them, so they must be careful in the way they divide responsibilities during their overland march.  Navigation, tracking, stealth, and survival are critical skills, with a failure in any one area leading to either an ambush by fire elf trackers, a surprise attack by wandering monsters, or else to the party’s getting lost in the jungle or beginning to succumb to exhaustion.  Eventually, the party finds a small herd of Fire-Breathing Elephants, and the hunt itself is launched.  The actual hunt is a challenging encounter, and it is followed immediately by another challenging encounter with a band of fire elves who were secretly observing the herd.  The succession of difficult encounters is tough, and the party may be overwhelmed and captured.
Primary Branch: The party not only succeeds in the hunt, it also beats off the fire elves.  This proves to be a mixed blessing, because it leads the fire elves of House N’Haume to consider the party a serious threat and to dispatch resources accordingly.  
Branch Point: If any of the fire elf pirates from Act 1 escaped, then House N’Haume has had time to do detailed reconnaissance of their shoreline.  They find the party’s ship, burn it to the waterline, capture the crew, and have an army ready and waiting when the PCs return from their hunt.  This leads to a very difficult encounter against the leader of House N’Haume and his army in which only very experienced Players will have a legitimate chance of prevailing.
Branch Point: If none of the fire elf pirates from Act 1 reported back, then House N’Haume knows it has intruders on its lands—it is now missing both a reinforced catamaran patrol and a jungle patrol—but it does not know where.  It dispatches its fleet to look for the PCs, and unless the party’s ship was undamaged in the initial encounter, the PCs are found before they can set sail.  
Branch Point: If the party’s ship was undamaged, and no pirates reported back at the end of Act 1, the party may make it off the islands unscathed.  They will fight one big sea battle with the House N’Haume fleet and then escape with their prize.
Assuming that the party is captured at some point by the elves of House N’Haume, the PCs awake in a fire elf dungeon.  They soon learn that the fire elves intend to sacrifice them to Hephaestus by throwing them into the mouth of a living volcano!  

Act 3

The PCs must escape, recover their weapons, find Duke Wallace (who is being held for ransom rather than sacrifice), free their ship’s crew, and fight their way down to the local port.  From there they can steal a ship and head back to Wanderhaven.  This plays out as a dungeon-crawl through the bowels of House N’Haume, followed by a short set of encounters on the streets of the N’Haume’s port town.
Branch Point: Depending on how the escape goes and how many times the PCs rest, House N’Haume may have time to launch elements of its fleet in pursuit of the escaped party’s ship.  In this case, the adventure ends with a sea battle against the surviving leadership of House N’Haume and more of the fast catamarans from Act 1.

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