Introducing the Villain
If you’re just finding this journal, welcome! This project is my attempt to find an effective way to pass on some of the wisdom I continue to accumulate as an always-learning Dungeon Master. A new campaign was a golden opportunity for me to lay bare my personal process: what I prepare, what I focus on in that prep work, how much prep I do, and how that prep gets used in actual sessions. I’m not an “expert” DM, and I’m not trying to pretend to be. What I am is another person out there stumbling their way through this and hoping to find a way to share what I’m learning along the way with others on the same journey.
Want to start from the beginning of the journal? I’m keeping an organized page with all the journals I write along with any other related campaign materials I post right here.
Okay, so I’ve fallen a little behind on these journals. Rather than go extensively through my preparation for this session I’m going to just throw up a quick overview and move right to the session summary for this entry.
This session didn’t require a significant amount of work from my end, fortunately, so you aren’t missing much on this front. My main job this week was thinking through the specifics of how the attack on Kolinville played out, since the Bull King’s plot had gone so well. Outside of that, where the party decided to go after the crisis in town settled down felt rather open-ended. There was a good chance they would seek out the Bull King again, and that would present an excellent opportunity to properly introduce the villain to them. Otherwise, I already had my encounter list to lean on for travel through the plains, I already knew the townspeople well and could easily improvise around most situations that arose, and I knew the villain well enough to finally step into his skin for a face-to-face meeting.
Session Five: Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing
We picked up right where we left off; the party had just learned of the present danger to Kolinville but wisely decided to rest in the relative safety of the hideout rather than exhaust themselves with a night-time journey through the plains. They took shelter in the room the hobgoblins had been using as a jail – still posting watch just in case someone stumbled upon the hidden door somehow.
Not long into the night, during Dave’s watch, activity was heard outside the door. The party were awakened and went to confront what turned out to be two goblins that had managed to survive the ill-fated uprising and were now looting the hideout. The two goblins, named “Huk” and “Tuk”, begged the party to take them in. They knew they stood little chance on their own out in the plains. Given their experience with Zien’morr, the party was understandably hesitant but ultimately agreed to let them tag along. The goblins were thrilled. They wanted to know what the party’s clan was called, and Kaltog answered with his surname (Wildhorn), so they each took that name on believing that to be the party’s clan name.
Just before going to sleep, Dave received a sending from Jakob (resident wizard on the ship they’re attached to), informing them that the town was under attack and they were taking to the air until things settled down there.
The next day, and at Abram Winters insistence, they went to retrieve his cart of furs and silks. It was a little tossed around, but not much was missing fortunately. Dave and Sherlynx worked together to push the cart back to town without a horse. They left the cart, along with Abram and the goblins, at the outskirts of town, and made their way cautiously into Kolinville. As far as they were aware there was a high possibility the town was now occupied by hostile forces.
What they found was the aftermath of an attack. There were numerous dead, both townspeople and hobgoblin. After assisting the townspeople in extinguishing some fires, and later dealing with the bodies of the dead, Sherlynx sought out Cpt. Stone to get the full story about what exactly happened over the night. She was able to more or less piece together the chain of events:
Just after nightfall, there were reports of hobgoblin activity on the outskirts. Cpt. Stone sent the guard to investigate, and while they were gone the main force hit the town hard. They tore through the town, slaughtering people and setting fires. One of the guard that remained in town, Aimee Croft, attempted to stand up to the Bull King and was struck down in front of her son. The Bull King spared the son, looking him in the eye and saying “Now, we understand each other”.
The tide was turned when Lexton Ford rallied the tabaxi in town to drive the invaders out. At the first sign of real resistance, the hobgoblins departed with little contest. Magistrate Kolin, apparently, had spent the whole attack locked safely in his estate.
The party resolved to set out the next morning on another scouting mission, to understand more about this enemy and why he was emboldened to attack a settlement directly like this. Dave and Kana’ti went to retrieve the two goblins and Abram from the outskirts, where the three seem to have bonded as Dave and Kana’ti came upon Abram performing a puppet show for the delighted goblins. While the townspeople weren’t thrilled to see two goblins riding on the wagon as they returned, nobody seemed willing to say anything to the party given how much they had already done to help the town. They passed the innkeeper some extra gold to allow the goblins to stay in their rented room. He reluctantly agreed.
Before going to sleep, Kaltog checked in with the blacksmith to collect the parts he had ordered. Viktor had managed to finish them before the attack, so they were ready to go. He set about preparing to assemble and enchant his new firearm – a process that would still take some time and access to a forge, which Viktor was more than willing to allow given Kaltog’s contributions to the town so far. Aside from that task, Kaltog also spent time customizing two matching sets of leather armor for the goblins so they could have “uniforms”. The party was concerned there might be another raid the next night, and volunteered themselves to bolster the night watch in shifts. Fortunately, no raid came.
When they returned to the room that night, they realized that it may have been a bad idea to leave two goblins unattended in the room. The curtains were torn down and made into a blanket fort which the goblins were huddled under, the wallpaper was ripped in various places, and there was a nice fresh pile of dung in one corner. Sherlynx slipped more gold to the innkeeper and requested that he not enter the room for the next few days. He was suspicious of what that meant, but took the gold without voicing his concern.
The next morning the party enacted their plan to investigate the forces of this Bull King further. Along the path seemed like a good time to throw them some combat to shake up the session a bit, so I grabbed one of my prepared encounters (two ogres arguing with each other) and slotted it in. I had the ogres arguing about whether or not they were lost; one believed they were supposed to turn a couple hours ago, the other thought they were heading the right way. The party attempted to hide, but thanks to poor stealth checks the ogres noticed their presence. The fight didn’t take long, though Kana’ti did suffer a nasty hit from one ogre’s greatclub. Searching through their belongings (always a somewhat disgusting affair with ogres), the party found tokens of the Bull King and correctly deduced that these two were in his service. The road they were talking about must be the way to the camp.
Just a little way down the road, they found the road they had heard so much about from the ogres’ argument. It was clearly a freshly blazed trail, but one that had been trodden by many feet over its short lifespan. The party proceeded carefully from here, and were fortunate enough not to run afoul of any border patrols along the way. As they drew closer they were in for an unwelcome surprise: their first real glimpse of just how many goblinoids the Bull King had rallied to his cause. There were hundreds camped in the valley.
This wasn’t a small band of raiders; this was an army.
Wanting to get closer but now even more concerned about being spotted, the party hatched a plan. Kana’ti would use his new Hat of Disguise to appear as a hobgoblin, and Kaltog would disguise himself as a bugbear using his magic. The two of them would wear the tokens of the Bull King and pretend to be recruits to gain entry to the camp and poke around.
The plan worked too well. As they approached the gate, the guards greeted them and asked their business. Once they realized they were there to “join the cause”, they led the two right to the Bull King – who liked to personally meet with all new recruits. Kana’ti and Kaltog tried not to wet themselves as they were escorted through throngs of hobgoblins on the way to the center of the camp. I described various scenes along the way to give a feel for the day-to-day flow of this camp: a boxing match with much more blood than they are accustomed to seeing, a cock fight with hobgoblins crowded around shouting and throwing bets into pots, and so on. Tension was running high already when they were shuffled into the Bull King’s tent.
They found the Bull King seated on a makeshift throne. He immediately rose and enthusiastically welcomed them to the cause. He promised that they would find vengeance for their people here, and a brighter future. I played him as very eloquent and educated. The Bull King is savvy and charismatic, and I wanted that to shine through.
In their attempts to maintain their cover, Kana’ti and Kaltog were clearly flustered and let slip more than one accidental contradiction. The Bull King quickly realized these two were not who they appeared to be but decided to see how far this would go, even taking some time to toy with them. At one point he moved to embrace one of them as a “brother”, knowing they would panic as physical touch would ruin the illusion they were maintaining. He allowed the conversation to play out right up until the two were about to leave. Then, he stopped them, getting very close and sniffing them. By now the players were losing their minds, fully believing they were about to die. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect scene.
His friendly demeanor evaporated instantly, his tone suddenly stone-cold. He passed on a message to take back with them: “Go back to your settlements, tell them what you saw here. I want all colonial settlements gone from the plains within a year. Every month I do not see efforts to this end, I will attack another settlement. Now go, you no longer amuse me.”
With that, he turned heel and returned to his throne, not caring to see their response. Kana’ti and Kaltog rushed out of the camp as quickly as they could without raising suspicion, and I called the session there.