Last weekend I was able to run some games for new players to DnD and Trail of Cthulhu. For Dungeons and Dragons 5E I ran Curse of the Silver Moon, which was a campaign based around the re-emergence of an old enemy in Thrane: Lycanthropes. In history terms for Eberron – where I set the game – there was a major outbreak of especially violent and evil Lycanthropes who spread their disease rapidly to anyone they bit. The creatures became a plague and the Church of the Silver Flame stepped up and basically launched a counter crusade against them. The subsequent Lycanthrope Purge, which also counted among its victims a lot of innocent shifters (a race of people who can change between a more humanoid and bestial form, but aren’t Lycanthropes)
Of course this wasn’t an actual campaign or similar, but rather it was a one shot adventure so it puts numerous challenges on how you can design things. For one, I needed to ensure that the plot and story moved along at a sufficient pace that everything would safely resolve within about 4 hours (which was the time I allotted to this). Secondly, because it was aimed at new players I wanted some fights to be interesting – but not inherently too tricky. A careful balancing act was required and so I decided to move forward with that old chestnut of a plot: You come into town and there is a horrible murder, which naturally becomes the players problem.
Beginning this I started with the players being mercenaries guarding a wagon of goods through the town of Rakellor in southern Thrane. I picked this place mostly because it was close enough to a forest and because it was a nice small village, which seemed like a good place for Werewolves to start a vicious war of revenge. Good thing about using an established campaign setting like this, other than the potential history providing adventure ideas, is that it is easy to grab things like maps and resources to quickly show players what is going on. Visual references are always very handy and can really help move the story along quicker.
I also made several pregens for this adventure at level 4, making sure to this time describe all of the relevant spells that the casters had (Wizards pregens do not, making them awfully difficult to use). The party was a level 4 Sorcerer, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric – which were given to the players who came mostly at random.
Initially there is some commotion outside of the local inn until there is basically a panicked stampede, waking the characters up from their slumber. Going to investigate, the characters discovered that the mayor of the village had been butchered, strung up by the flagpole outside his residence and his throat torn out. This caused some tension between many in the village and the town guard, which exploded to a head once a druid (who had been seen shifting into her wildshape form) arrived. This quickly started a fight between the druid and the town guard, led by the idiotic Yoris who – wanting to show some authority – decided to arrest the Druid based on the other villagers accusations.
Here was a battle that was fairly innocuous as an introduction, but was actually essential to the plot and storyline. The players actions and general sense of what is right and wrong is somewhat put to the test. It’s very obvious that the woman in question is not a lycanthrope and could not possibly have inflicted the injuries seen on the mayor as she is, so stepping forward to defend her is the best course of action (Yoris, the head guard is also clearly in above his head here). After some debate, the characters sided with the druid and decided to incapacitate – but not kill – the guards. Another important decision.
An important part of the design of this scenario and to keep time down, was to ensure combat encounters could be won faster or ended by me when I wanted. In this case, I decided that if the characters took out the majority of the town guards or disabled Yorik, the actual head of the guard Irazel would arrive to end things early. Alternatively, if the players were having fun beating some of them up and time was going well I would just let it run its course. This let me manage the time I had effectively and ensure I could control combat length in a non-artificial feeling manner to the players side of the table (even if it kind of is).
Of course, the druid Mirianda was not done simply with Yoris and soon launched into a tirade against Irazel about him “Attacking them with arrows” and hurting her partner, who were trying to help stop the werewolves. Cue a second argument escalating into another potential fight – this time with far more guards than the first time – but the characters soon realized that wouldn’t be a good idea. Using some deft diplomacy and flashing a symbol of the Silver Flame around (Cleric was of that faith, which is the predominant one in Thrane) the situation was back under control. Mirianda went elsewhere to continue her investigation and the characters were able to explore more of the crime scene: The mansion.
Here in the mansion I had a bit of an investigative part where the players were able to gather some information on the mayors last moments. Notably that he seemed to have been torn apart by wolves, that one was especially huge (a dire wolf) and that there were two sets of human footprints – one feminine. This led the characters upstairs and to where Annaste had barricaded herself into the wardrobe (indicated by some of her dress being stuck within it).
This was of course part of the small “twist” to the adventure, where Annaste was actually the main lycanthrope who had got close to the mayor, a prominent descendant of a paladin who partook into the Lycanthrope purge many years ago, to get revenge upon him for what she views as an atrocity. During her murdering of the mayor, she was interrupted by Mirianda’s partner Jorastein and in the battle she bit him (driving him somewhat mad from the lycanthrope curse) and he cursed her. She and her pack could no longer transform, but the druid had become crazed and unable to control his bestial nature or side anymore – prompting him to finish off the mayor to her delight and luck.
Half-mad and not in control, he fled the manor and went down the river to seek sanctuary somewhere else to try and recover. Annaste then snuck out, strung up the body and then re-hid herself in the closet, putting on a new dress after licking off the blood on her. She then waited for whatever poor saps opened the door and would try to sell them a sob story about how she witnessed the attacks, pointing the characters helpfully towards where the druid had gone. After all, if they did her dirty work for her then there was much less risk to her lycanthropes, as the druid had enchanted his own jaws and his allied wolf pack with a magic fang like spell (so they could actually kill the werewolves in a fight).
Characters who noticed she was suspicious – which really, she was – would get a story about how she was having an affair with the mayor, so she didn’t want anyone to know about them. Extremely crafty and given she didn’t need to make the killing bite on the mayor, her story holds up even if the players are probably completely unsurprised as to the twist to come later in the story.
Either way the characters were soon heading off down the river, checking an abandoned bloody farmhouse for bodies along the way. Here I implied by the notable presence of mutilated farm animals, but no human corpses that there were additional lycanthropes around. Eventually the party reached an old abandoned monastery at the edge of the woods nearby and found the trail led straight into it. The surrounding wall was actually a pretty interesting obstacle for the characters at this point, because it presented a choice.
You could climb over it or navigate the old twisted gate, which formed a sort of spiky ‘passage’ through to the other side. Going over the wall was just an athletics check and getting through the narrow tunnel was acrobatics. If a character failed, they could choose to just force themselves over/through taking 2d6 damage in the process. This was important, because the way I wrote this encounter the undead in the courtyard – this place had a seriously bad reputation and that was made clear to the players initially – would come out to attack as soon as more than 2 characters were in there.
One thing I wanted to avoid was someone rolling poorly and getting “stuck” on the other side while everyone else had all the fun with the undead action. The damage option was basically to ensure everyone could get into the fight if they wanted and to also ensure the party didn’t get artificially split too badly. Like previous fights, the wight, his zombie servants and the ghoul in the stable were on a timer. If I felt like I needed to end the fight earlier, I could imply the wight was controlling the zombies and that his elimination would destroy them instantly – helping to remove monsters faster and bringing the fight to a speedier close (again, I only have 4 hours to run the entire scenario).
Thankfully this wasn’t required as the characters instantly latched onto killing the wight as a priority and soon dispatched the ghoul with plenty of time to spare. This led to them besieging the inner sanctum of the monastery – which was still consecrated preventing the undead from entering (and the Druid knew that) – with a very efficient plan. Although not covered under the rules, my players came up with a brilliant plan to boot the door down and then immediately illuminate the room like a 4th of July Celebration with a light spell. After thinking about it, I thought it was a terrific idea and ruled that the characters would achieve total surprise on the wolf and druid inside due to – effectively – blinding them that turn.
It worked brilliantly and the wounded druid barely even got an attack off before he was unconscious and ready to be interrogated. Well, until a deftly aimed arrow from Annaste finished him off once and for all, allowing the other werewolves to now transform into their bestial forms. This twist actually worked better than I expected and the players reacted pretty positively, but I did annoy the wizards player by having Annaste and two other werewolves immediately run off. In reality, this was because I didn’t want the players focusing too much on enemies they couldn’t hurt much or do anything about, because I had souped up the werewolves from the MM for this fight.
In this game, Werewolves were really only “vulnerable” to silver, being basically required to stop them regenerating ridiculously every turn (I decided it would be about 20 HP a round). This classic weakness was exacerbated by a slight twist on vulnerability rules, where if a character rolls the maximum damage for their die against a werewolf they could roll it again, adding it to the total. They could keep doing this as long as they kept rolling the maximum! Unfortunately for the players at this point, none of them had any silver and thus this meant the battle here could be extremely difficult indeed.
This fight had only one real objective: The first was to show how dangerous the werewolves are and really sell these guys on “Hey, you should be totally scared of them”. Secondly, it was to inflict lycanthropy on at least 2 of the characters in order to give Annaste something to do with her bonus action (which is to make a character afflicted with lycanthrope attack a nearby ally). This worked extremely well, with the werewolves regeneration making them nigh invincible (albeit, the players did eventually kill one simply through sheer weight of spells and attacks). Like other encounters, this is a very self limiting fight as the moment I hit that “two lycanthrope” moment Mirianda comes back in, smashing through the gate on a giant elk (yes, a Hobbit tribute) and then driving the Werewolves off with a powerful protection from evil spell.
Of course one werewolf was stuck there due to ray of frost and Mirianda, who did have a silver weapon, helpfully finished it off. I actually decided to reward the players for their insistence here by removing that werewolf from the final battle entirely. Due to their treatment of Mirianda earlier, I had her hand over a staff of healing, some greater healing potions and some helpful advice to raid the blacksmith of all his silver: It’s the only thing that can stop these terrible things. She then went to take Jorastein’s body and bury him, effectively removing her from any further requirement (but if things were going really badly at the end, I could always have the option of bringing her back in).
Racing back to Rakellor, the characters soon could see the fire and then hear the terrified screams as the villagers were now under severe threat from the werewolves under Annaste’s command. Here they raided the blacksmith for his silver weapons and then headed to where Annaste had rounded up many of the villagers – the Mayor’s house (which is actually one of the most easily fortified and secured buildings in the area). Like most other fights, this was all about killing Annaste, who is a slightly more powerful werewolf, as quickly as possible. Given that she has 4 (normally 5, but they killed one) other werewolves with her at this point, it is only a matter of time before the characters are overwhelmed if they don’t.
The fight was pretty dramatic and worked extremely well, with the silver vulnerability proving useful several times and naturally stopping her regeneration. It started to get extremely hairy towards the last round, with the cleric going down, multiple hits on the fighter and most of the players having lycanthropy at least, it finally ended when the Wizard successfully plunged a sword (yes, a sword) into the vile lycanthrope and the curse was broken. Her minions scattering to the winds or collapsing into inert piles of fur at her death, ending the scenario with a pretty tense victory for the PCs.
Overall this worked pretty well given some of the constraints that running a one shot gave me. The best thing about running it before I decided to publish anything up on here (I intend to release this on here in the next week or so) was being able to see where I needed to shore up the design a bit. There are a few areas I will change and address specifically for new DMs especially, such as not having Annaste turn up at the monastery at all and giving the potential chance for Jorastein to survive that encounter (being knocked unconscious will be sufficient to break the spell he put on Annaste instead of death). Look for it soon (hopefully!).