Saturday, 28 March 2020

Belswick 16: free that Hydra before it burns us to a crisp

Let's try something else for this Belswick session report. My very short summary is below, and some of my players give their personal highlights for the session.


  • Tilly, human knowledge priest of the Authority and fervent maker of deals with warlock spirits, lich-priests, ghouls and more
  • Mike, human druid with mild psychic powers after a nightmarish cult sacrificed his entire village to raise their star-god
  • Shams, dwarf fighter/arcane knight from the Principality of Stone, opening a trade route with Belswick now that there's war brewing with Arrayne
  • Mr. Lomin Mor / Lady Olga, Elf from southern kingdom Arrayne who is impersonating the (deceased) Lady Olga of the fief one over
  • Guy, human diviner wizard with mild psychic powers after a nightmare-filled youth as heir to a lord in Arrayne
  • Aju, sharkling barbarian: formerly a shark from an underwater kingdom, now under a fading spell that turned him into a person for about a year


Last session:

  • Group came up from the Tomb of Umtak Ktharl bearing gifts and scars.
  • Players met local Sir Justin who asked them to escort a baron (the king in disguise, back from a final failed peace negotiation). Also a bishop (Lomin's long-lost brother Urael) and the vampire saint Cascarrion.
  • Party ends up in a 'save the maiden' scenario when The One Hydra Coruscon kidnaps the king's shieldmaiden Rosaly, who was carrying the King's Spear.

Gorgeous Hydra mini courtesy of Lomin Mor's player. Terrain all Dwarven Forge: dungeon bridge, stairs and cavern elevation blocks as a quicky cave entrance. (The actual cave entrance piece was already part of another build.)


  • Hydra retreats to huge cave with underground lakelet, stone cliff, altar. Party follows and finds devil Count Naberius holding Rosaly and the King's Spear, demanding a life for a life. 
  • Tilly offers service, backstabs devil. Exactly no-one is surprised. Fight erupts, Naberius and two spined devils flee, Tilly goes invisible and steals the King's Spear.
  • Naberius summons Hydra to fight party with fire and fang. Party spots iron chain around the hydra's necks, controlling it. Shams and Mike hack and shapeshift to sunder chain. Hydra fights back, takes off Mike's entire left arm. Titanic monster, it took minor damage - the group was too focused on recovering the King's Spear and trying to free the beast from it's magic binding.
  • Tilly kills Naberius mid-reinforcement summons, intimidates two spined devils into serving him for a year, rushes out a contract.
  • Hydra, freed, jumps into lakelet and swims down deep tunnel. Mike follows, comes to an understanding, finds shiny necklace on way back and gives it to Shams.
  • Tilly harvests Naberius' magic whip, skull and horns for later use.
  • Party returns the King's Spear to its owner.
Overview of this session's terrain. Inspired by Critical Role sessions 39 (Hydra!) and 55 (cave), this took one set each of Dwarven Forge Mountain Cliff, Mountain Elevation and (old) Cavern Set, with some minor pieces like dungeon floors and sewer walls to fill out the floor and make the entrance tunnel. I'd completely run out of "unworked stone" pieces by that point, but this stuff works together beautifully. Dwarven Forge sure is expensive and I pick carefully what to buy, but it's very useful to make a location come to life!


Mr Lomin Mor was reminded that giving a druid a pat on the back is not always a good idea, especially when said druid has recently lost his left arm. Luckily for him the resulting heat metal punisment only means he has to get a new scabbard for his mighty magical longsword.

Shams the dwarf heroically climbed the Hydra and hacked through the iron binding chain. Then she spotted Tilly making a deal with two spined devils in a side room. Wonder what she'll do with that info?

As usual Tilly offered his service to a mighty devil. And after doing something mildly heroic by grabbing the spear (although invisible at the time, so we have no idea ;), he was knocked down by a thunderwave spell and flew a couple of feet down and that hurt...probably the last time he'll do anything heroic ;)

Mike: from trying to poison a devil (immune) to thinking it was an even better idea to jump on a flaming Hydra, we can safely say there have been better days for the druid. Especially after losing his left arm to the Hydra! Then again, resquing the Hydra from magic bindings and even talking to it afterwards made the Mike's day. And to be honest making Lomin the elf sweat a bit with a heat metal spell was icing on the cake.

Close-up of the fight. Check out the paper Printable Heroes mini being NOMMED by that absolutely magnificent beast.
Terrain all Dwarven Forge again, except the homemade wooden walkway inspired by the Cardboard DM.


Pretty much all of this is unknown by the other characters and sometimes even players. But we're all adults who can handle these things.

Tilly received a vision shortly before entering the Hydra cave. One of his benefactors had some information and a request. The Hydra apparently is one of several legendary creatures, dragons in fact, forming part of a seal formed a long time ago. This seal prevents certain things from progressing, and the creatures need to be killed to solve this.

Tilly promised to try, knowing he himself had no chance. And knowing this would place him in direct opposition to Mike the druid. Mike wants to save and preserve these creatures. The Hydra, but also the Basilisk concerning which the two of them have an existing deal.

Confronting the Devil Count Naberius Tilly knew he was at great risk. His main focus was getting close to the relic spear of the King, saving the shield maiden Rosaly was a nice bonus when thinking about the impression our group would make with the King and Bishop.

During the fight the only thing that kept him alive was hiding with the spear while invisible. Feeling out the spear with arcane senses during the fight gave some useful insights, especially when combined with the earlier assessment by Mike and Guy that it was fake..

Had Mike been in mortal peril sooner, he might have been able to sway the rest to kill the Hydra – but at that point everyone was dangerously hurt.

The summoning ritual performed by Naberius lured him back into danger, but allowing the devil to call in reinforcements or escape would definitely leave a bad impression. Fortunately Naberius had already been badly hurt and one strong Inflict Wounds ended his existence. For now.
Not only did Tilly collect some body parts for future use from the count, he used the defeat to cow the two Spine devil bodyguards into service. How useful they might be remains to be seen.



Loved when Tilly used Shams' familiar Ricky as a seeing eye imp in the pitch black cave.

Beautiful bit of friends-making when the party returned the King's Spear to Rosaly and gives her the honour of carrying it out of the Hydra cave and to the waiting king Cedric the Meek.

Par for the course work by Mike (save the poor Hydra!) and Tilly (devils on the loose? quick, whip up a contract with them!). Solid heroics by Shams the Dwarf, hanging onto the Hydra's iron chain while hacking away at it with their mighty greatsword in the other hand.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

5e haven turn: things to do during downtime

My players are putting down roots. No, not in the half-treant kind of way (although I wonder about our druid), but in the sense of building a place for themselves in the local community. Which means that downtime to do things around the village is just as interesting as a good adventure.

Here's a menu of options to give some more crunch to downtime. The framework is Papers & Pencils' Haven Turn, reworked for D&D 5e and my own campaign specifically. See this as a starting point, not a list that limits what is possible.


Papers and Pencils has his haven turn as one of the units of in-game time; combat round, exploration turn, wilderness travel watch, haven turn. His haven turns 'round out' the rest of the month until the next adventure.

In my view, haven turns or downtime are stretches of low-risk, time. Narratively, they work as a counterpoint to short, high-risk adventures. The players are in the driver's seat during a haven turn and can set long term plans in motion. Haven turns can morph into planning sessions and regular adventures or the other way around. They take place between more phrenetic and high-risk travel through dangerous terrain, dungeon delves, heists and so on.

As in P&P's original, players get one free haven turn for every two sessions spent adventuring (round up); they can take more haven turns, but run the risk of complications as they pay attention to their own affairs instead of to dastardly plots.


Haven turns are 'enough time to take care of some affairs'; they round out the rest of the month until the next adventure begins, disaster happens, players embark on a trip to clear out a wyvern's nest and so on.

To structure things, the DM goes around the table to ask how everyone wants to spend their haven turn; once there's a good overview, you then play out or summarize the results. Player actions can take negligble time, half a haven turn or an entire haven turn.

If the players want to take more haven actions than they have time for, they can choose to take another haven turn or break up part of their actions to be completed in a future haven turn.

Finally, if you have a background timer for war, plague or intrigue, roll an appropriate encounter.

Haven free actions
Cost negligable time during a haven turn. Basically a reminder to do your bookkeeping.

Haven actions
These take up half a haven turn each. A player can take an action marked * twice a haven turn to make faster progress in training/crafting.
  • buy basic gear, spells and potion recipes
  • training (see below) in a new skill/language/tool *
  • work on creating items such as potions and potions (see below) *
  • gather information by talking to NPCs
  • recruit NPCs for an adventure

Haven extended activities

These activities take up a full haven turn or more. Activities can be spread out over multiple haven turns if players want to also spend time on other activities.
Training a new ability generally takes time, a trainer and money to pay them. You can train two abilities simultaneously by splitting your time.
  • write a spell you have access to into your spellbook: (50 gp + 2 hours) * spell level
    (here for completeness' sake)
  • language or tool proficiency: 250 gp and 1.5 full haven turns
  • skill: 500 gp and 1.5 full haven turns
  • saving throw proficiency: 1500 gp and 2 full haven turns 
  • ability score: increase an ability score by 1, up to 20: (new score) x 100 gp and 1.5 haven turns
  • feat: 1500 gp and 3 full haven turns
 Crafting items 
You're creating a magic item or an alchemical potion, or crafting a regular item. The item's cost in raw materials is half its sale value.
  • Crafting a magic item takes a fullhalf haven turn per category of rareness. You need a minimum caster level to craft a magic item or potion, given in the table below.
  • Crafting weapons or regular items takes a full haven turn. (5e PHB p149-150)
  • Crafting light or medium armor takes a full haven turn, heavy armor takes 2 full haven turns.
Buying or commissioning a magic is a matter of finding the right person and paying them for their time - in coins, gems, art or most likely all that and favors. The price is the sale value plus or minus a few percent for haggling or insulting the master crafter. The crafter may not have the item in stock, lack ingredients, require a favor, etc. etc.

 Magic items
item sale value (gp)
very rare
5000 - 50000


potion value (gp)

very rare


Spend too much time away from your troubles, and they will multiply and seek you out. The first haven turn per two sessions (round up) is free of hassle, but take extra haven turns and you can expect complications.

  1. War or plague brewing, or worse? Roll an appropriate encounter. (war, plague)
  2. Check for haven complications on the table below.
Haven complications (d4)
  1. natural disaster strikes
  2. spree of crime and violence
  3. relieve an ongoing condition
  4. you hear a rumor
Where? (d8)
1-3) home town
4-6) barony   
7-8) duchy

Who? (d8)
1) religious
2-3) nobility
4-6) commoner
7) wizards
8) monster

1) Natural disaster strikes (d10)
Conditions with an * are ongoing until relieved by a roll on the haven complication table or resolved by the players. Dermine the where and who with the tables above.
  1. drought * - crops and livestock hit, rationing, tax on well use, drinking waste water, disease
  2. earthquake - buildings wrecked, landmarks altered, roads broken up
  3. famine * - crop failure or supply issues drive up prices. Looting, raiding, starvation, death
  4. fire - injury and death, landmark buildings and town quarters wrecked, forests or fields burned
  5. flood - river overflows or lake rises, sweeps away travelers, buildings, roads, food and drink
  6. monster rampage * - a plague of many or rampage of one; hides well or is plain unbeatable
  7. pestilence * - a minor pestilence, can grow into a real plague if unchecked for 4 haven turns
  8. storm - lightning, blizzard, gale force winds whip the sea, land, travelers, buildings
  9. dread omen - everyone saw the comet, eclipse, mass bird death or mirage, speculation is rife
  10. unsettling prophecy - a creepy prediction is making the rounds, but none know its meaning

2) Spree of crime and violence (d8)
  1. burglary streak * - a ruthlessly clever gang is taking on well-guarded marks
  2. high profile assassination - person of power and influence is murdered - why, and who's next?
  3. arson - someone with a deep love of fire is burning down property left and right
  4. robber band * - violent and with undeniable panache, always a step ahead of the lord's men
  5. serial murders * - with a signature move, hunting tax men, spiderlings, whores or sailors
  6. insurrection * - peasant uprising, guild protests, merchant embargo or mercenary troubles
  7. inquisition * - the Order of the Ivory Candle investigates rumors of heresy and apostasy
  8. warlockry * - a dangerous warlock or necromancer walks the land and none are safe

3) Relieve an ongoing condition
An ongoing natural disaster or crime spree ends.

4) You hear a rumor (d4)
  1. Travelers or a bard bring useful news. Ask the DM for a rumor about anything you like.
  2. The bard has information about a cool dungeon. Co-create it.
  3. There is talk of a magic item auction - perhaps the ghouls or fairies know more.
  4. You meet a group of people willing to follow you into danger in return for pay.