Tabletop for one: the social pillar

With things at the Cragmaw hideout having gone swimmingly for Jindra the dwarf shield fighter, she (and i, by extension) was feeling pretty good about a career as a solo adventurer. Using stealth, patience, tactics and a few tricks, the tough ex-soldier was still alive, brokered a deal between a goblin tribe and a growing village and had a pocket full of gold coins. She’d hit 2nd level and spent some time in Phandalin.

Phandalin

Hanging out in the common room of the Stonehill Inn, she learned from gossipy barmaid Elsa that the town’s orchard keeper, Daran Edermath, is a former adventurer. It occurs to me that maybe he might have a clearer idea where Cragmaw Castle is located, where Jindra’s friend Gundren was taken captive. Adventurers get around and know stuff, after all. Knowing that it’s “20 miles northeast” is pretty vague, so any chance to narrow down the specifics would be helpful.

An old farmer at the inn, Narth, overhears this conversation and mentions someone named Sister Garaele, who oversees the Shrine of Luck here in Phandalin. She recently took a trip and returned to town wounded – maybe she was ambushed by these Cragmaw goblins? Again, a possibility of nailing down some more information.

Closer to the townsfolk’s concerns, however, are these Redbrands thungs. Innkeeper Tolben Stonehill’s wife tells Elsa that if Daran were any sort of adventurer worth his weight in gold, he’d do something about these ruffians terrorizing the locals. It seems that a woodcarver who recently stood up to the Redbrands when they leered at his wife had come back later and murdered him! They took his body and kidnapped his wife and daughter right in front of witnesses. WTF?!

As a player, this part really bothered me, as i’m sure it’s meant to. Up until this point, the Redbrands are spoken ill of by the people in Phandalin, but it doesn’t come across in the text as anything quite so dire. They’re mean, nasty, intimidating and so forth, but here we have a blatant murder and kidnapping. So it would seem this gang is quite powerful and confident that no one around here can challenge them. Clearly, Townmaster Harbin Wester is at the very least an unwitting accomplice, being too scared to do anything about it including put out word to any larger governing bodies for help.

Toblen’s young son Pip piles on the Redbrand hate, mentioning that they nearly caught his friend (another child) recently after said friend, named Carp, stumbled upon a secret tunnel in the woods where he saw several Redbrands emerging. Carp is the son of Qelline Alderleaf, a farmer. This gang is despicable!

It seems the only business in town that hasn’t been harassed by the gang is the miner’s exchange. Hmm…that bears investigating.

The interesting part of this portion of play was trying to accomplish the social pillar of D&D 5E on my own. It was definitely different than a typical situation at the game table, even if it were a single player and a DM. But, like several other situations so far, it had the advantage of no time limit or possibility of other players getting bored while all of this took place (in the imagination of course). In some ways, it actually made more sense to me in the context of there being a single adventurer there in the common room. Consider this: a full party of armed and dangerous PCs all mingling about an small local tavern, prying information from scared townsfolk who no doubt look at the group as potential saviors, could also be a little awkward. But it’s unlikely that a single person would be expected to boldly confront this powerful gang and run them out of town. Further, the conversation between the character and the townsfolk present felt more natural. Often in game groups in this scenario, everyone would gravitate towards different people at the inn and strike up their own conversations. That always came across a little weird to me. In the adventure text, there are other people present with additional information, but i didn’t feel like it would come out naturally, so i didn’t include them as participants. That felt realistic to me – they had some problems, burying their concerns in ale by themselves, and overhearing all the talk of the Redbrands probably would not rouse them from their introspection.

At the end of this segment, Jindra was torn. On the one hand, her friend Gundren was in trouble. Rescuing him is her primary motivation and goal. He is in immediate danger, being the captive of a tribe of violent goblins. But on the other hand, we have terrified townsfolk under the thumb of a despicable gang of murderers who kidnap women and children without relative. i imagine Gundren, being a goodly dwarf, would probably be more upset if these people’s plight were ignored in favor of rescuing him. Besides, he’s a fellow dwarf and he’d be damned if a bunch of goblins would break his spirit! So it’s decided to see what can be done about the Redbrands first.

Now, Jindra has two quests: find the location of Cragmaw Castle and mount of rescue operation, and take care of the Redbrands. So i made two lists, one for each of these goals with whatever information Jindra had learned about each of them.

For the Redbrands, she had a lead to the Alderleaf farm, where learning about Carp’s discovery of the secret tunnel in the woods could be very handy. There’s the miner’s exchange, which the Redbrands leave alone, that has sparked my curiosity. The home of the woodcarver who was murdered might have some useful clues. And good old Sildar might have an idea on what to do as well.

At the woodcarver’s home, nearby to the inn, there are clear signs of a struggle. There’s blood spatters from where he was killed, and a middling Investigation check (13) reveals tracks that lead out the back but a dismal Survival check (3) leaves Jindra clueless about following them anywhere.

The miner’s exchange proves a bit more promising. The woman who runs the place, Halia, comes across as stern and a bit intimidating, like there’s more to her than meets the eye. So perhaps the Redbrands are afraid of her for some reason? On the other hand, if she is powerful, she must not be all that good if she’s not doing anything about them. She explains that real power in the world comes through economic control, which she has established by exerting control over the wealth in this region through the exchange and managing real estate claims for excavations and the like. She has heard of Gundren and the rediscovered mine, and hopes to benefit greatly if it is reopened. Jindra tells her about Gundren’s capture, and Halia surmises that maybe other forces wish to control the mine for themselves. She has heard of the Cragmaw tribe, but does not know the location of their fortress. She does however mention that the Redbrands have a goblin minion who potentially has useful information in this regard. It seems like she is hiding something or holding something back, but with an Insight check (11) Jindra cannot guess what that might be. On the upside, she offers 100gp to eliminate the Redbrand leader, who calls himself Glasstaff, and bring any documents discovered in their base back to her. The gang has taken over the ruins of Tresendar Manor on the east side of town and made that into a gang stronghold apparently.

Over at the Townmaster’s Hall, Sildar is aghast to learn about the Redbrand situation. He is ashamed of Harbin for doing nothing about it and it’s pretty clear Sildar is moving towards a leadership role here in town. Playing a part in removing the Redbrand threat would go a long way towards that, and Jindra is all too happy to help make that come about. Sildar’s other concern with the Redbrands is that he thinks they may have something to do with the disappearance of a Lords Alliance colleague of his, Iarno Albrek. This Albrek fellow had come to Phandalin a while back to help the city become more secure and prosperous. He has since gone missing, too, and is perhaps a captive of the Redbrands. The plan was that Gundren would reopen the mine and the Lords Alliance could help restore Phandalin as a center of wealth and civilization in the region.

At this point, I realize that Jindra does not actually know anything about whatever mine several people have mentioned. Sildar is a trusted ally, so i figure he’s someone who will give her the skinny on it, which he proceeds to do. More than 500 years ago, clans of dwarves and gnomes entered into Phandelver’s Pact, an agreement to share a rich mine in a wondrous cavern called Wave Echo Cave. Human spellcasters, allied with the clans, channeled the cave’s natural magical energy into a great forge called the “Forge of Spells.” (Sounds pretty awesome, huh?) Phandalin grew thanks to the flow of crafted magical items, until a marauding force of orcs swept down from the north and laid waste to everything in their path. A great battle at Wave Echo Cave destroyed much of the cavern, leaving few survivors and sealing it off. Over the centuries, the location was lost…until Gundren discovered an ancient map revealing its location.

It’s worth pointing out here that most of this session has been social interaction with NPCs and roleplaying, which is where i thought i’d encounter the most challenge playing a solo game. Surprisingly, it has not only not been that difficult, but instead a great bit of fun. Divorcing what i know from what the character Jindra knows is really not all that hard. In fact, working with the character’s extremely limited knowledge in comparison to my own has made the noncombat parts of playing more enjoyable and realistic. As i touched on in a earlier post, as i’ve gotten older, the practical part of adventuring has become more interesting to me. For example, what i mentioned about the scenario at the inn, or how the common occurrence of an adventuring party walking 20 miles through the wilderness fully armored and armed is no big deal, and perhaps most especially how the common devolution of adventurers to murderhobos really bothers me from a realistic and roleplaying perspective.

Murderhobo

Little did they know this man was the richest in the kingdom

“Murderhobos is a term used (orignially pejoratively, but occasionally affectionately) for player characters in RPGs, both in video games and tabletop games. The term arises due to the fact that most adventuring characters and parties are technically homeless vagrants, generally living on the road and sometimes in temporary accommodation, and the default solution to problems faced by the typical adventurer boils down to killing things until the problem is solved or treasure is acquired.

In many games (especially older pure hack and slash-types of the type that Gary Gygax despised) killing things and taking their stuff is simply the order of the day, all morally acceptable and proper, either because that’s all the players are interested in doing or all the GM can come up with. In more nuanced settings, “Murderhobo(s)” is used especially to refer to characters (or entire parties) of looser morals who tend to regard massive collateral damage as an inevitable and unremarkable consequence of their actions, or who are quite happy to slaughter otherwise friendly NPCs at slight provocation or the prospect of financial gain (basically, munchkins).

Although it is a fantasy standard that adventuring parties are welcomed into towns and villages and hailed as saviors, there is a small trend for this to be inverted in some games and stories (usually for comedy’s sake) and have the protagonists be treated as the homeless serial killers they actually are, either by having them rejected from civilized society or by having the NPCs/minor characters respond with pants-shitting fear whenever the heroes present themselves. Murderhobos left to their own devices are bad news for the region they occupy, so they are often dealt with by giving them quests that take them to dangerous places in distant locations, where they can kill some other monsters (or at least some foreigners).”

— from 1d4chan.org

The final piece of intel to look into is the Alderleaf farm, where the young boy Carp might have some useful knowledge to drop on Jindra. Qelline Alderleaf is a wise female halfling farmer, whose 10-year-old son Carp dreams of becoming an adventurer someday. It seems that, while playing out in the woods near their farm, he found a secret tunnel near the ruins of Tresendar Manor. Some “big ugly bandits” wearing red cloaks emerged from the tunnel while he was there, and he narrowly avoided getting spotted. He offers to take Jindra to the spot, but there is no way she would bring a child anywhere near a dangerous situation like that. Frankly, as a player i’m surprised that is even an option or that it doesn’t say his mother would protest such a thing. Directions would be more than helpful.

Qelline tells Jindra that if she wants to learn more about the surrounding lands, a visit to her good friend Reidoth would be beneficial. Reidoth is a druid who “knows every inch of these parts.” By “these parts” i wonder if that extends, oh, say 20 miles northeast of here?

Before dashing off to check out this tunnel, however, Jindra wants to make a stop by Barthen’s Provisions and see if anything strikes her as potentially useful for what she’s planning to do, which is basically single-handedly infiltrate a murderous gang’s stronghold to dismantle the operation. Wow, writing that now in retrospect sounds incredibly stupid!

On her way from the farm to the shop, however, she is confronted in the street by three ruffians wearing grimy red cloaks.

They demand she hand over all her valuables and then get the hell out of Phandalin. Seems they’ve learned about her presence in town and asking questions about the Redbrands, and they’re trying to scare her off.

But Jindra is a proud dwarf and tough former solider.

“That’s funny – i was just on my way to tell you the same thing!”

And you know what that means: time to roll initiative.

Next time, we’ll find out how Jindra fared in her main street standoff and how the infiltration of the Redbrands’ base turned out. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already picked up on that.

In the meantime, how do you typically handle social interaction between players and NPCs in your games? Do you have any insights into what makes for a memorable social encounter?

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