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The Final Hurdle of The Bibliophile: The Puppetmasters

During my Monday Night Modules games I recently (last night) finished running The Bibliophile.

The Bibliophile is a set of 4 quests from the D&D module book "Four From Cormyr", published in 1997. The book contains 4 modules set in the kingdom of Cormyr. While the original module is designed for 2nd edition, I have converted it to 5th edition for my Monday Night Modules games here in Toronto.

When converting modules I try to stay true to the original module as much as possible, but have determined that 5th Edition abilities allow lower level characters to compete with higher level 2nd edition equivalents. The Bibliophile in Four From Cormyr is meant for level 9 characters, but I ran the adventure with levels 2 to 4 characters and made only minor adjustments to the challenge ratings of monsters. eg. At one point I changed a stone golem to a lesser stone golem.

I have also generally speaking kept the loot "as is", with the only adjustments being for items that don't convert well to 5th edition. In the adventure below this means that the party gained a ridiculous amount of gold and didn't know how to carry it all, and this becomes an important piece of the last part of the adventure - The Final Hurdle.

SPOILERS AHEAD - Session XIV

The Bibliophile starts off simple. An old dead man in an alleyway, with a map and a letter on him. According to the letter, addressed to his daughter, the old man has found a great treasure and he is looking for honourable warriors to help him to fetch the treasure.

Unfortunately it appears he ran into the dishonourable kind. The party witnesses the old man being murdered in an alleyway and the murderers get away.

The party reports the incident to the city guards, the guards believe the letter and map are suspicious but allow the party to keep the two items.

The party then presumably travels to the location.

In the module there is supposed to be random encounters, but I replaced this with an encounter with a dwarf prospector who is being chased by orcs at a ford.

The dwarf is trying to get his wagon and draft horse across the river when the orcs, led by an orc chieftain. The party helps fight off the orcs and the dwarf rewards them with a few old pickaxes and shovels, because he is poor and has little else to give.

The pickaxes and shovels turn out to be handy later in the quest.

When the party arrives at Barrenstone it is literally just a huge flat rock - the result of a wizard casting Rock to Mud on the dirt and then casting Mud to Rock again, creating a nice flat rock surface.

The party then proceeded to look for a hollow point in the rock but hitting it and listening to see if it sounded hollow. They eventually do find it, right in the very middle of the rock.

They then dig into the rock using pickaxes (how convenient) and shovels and find a spiral staircase going down.

After briefly exploring the dungeon that was the end of Session XIV. We resume below with Session XV.

I shall spare the details of all the monsters in the quest. Done in the correct order, what is encountered within the dungeon is fairly easy. The pickaxes and shovels are useful again for removing some rubble in a hallway and the party is eventually rewarded with a large sum of gold, platinum, diamonds and magical items by the undead librarian who rules the place.

After the librarian leaves, the party is left with:

100 small diamonds (valued at 100 gp each)
2,000 platinum pieces
24,000 gold pieces
+ Various magical items found

And a problem. How do they carry over 2610 lbs of loot back to the city of Arabel?

And that was how Session XVI of my Forgotten Realms game ended. At the time the party thought they were done, but I had to point out that they faced more problems. #1 being how to get all that gold back to Arabel.

Session XVI Synopsis + Session Post Script

Reinforcements from Arabel arrive, but the party faces a logistical problem: How to carry over 2600 lbs of gold, platinum and diamonds back to Arabel. Even with the reinforcements, each person would be trying to carry over 200 lbs of loot.

The party decides to leave behind 3 Henchmen (Hughbear, Estrel and Miior) and party members who are not present (Fargrim and others) to guard half the treasure. The party will take half the treasure back to Arabel, buy horses and a wagon, etc and return for the rest of the party in 4 days.

As they are leaving however the party is attacked by the Puppetmasters - 5 miscreants who duped the party into visiting the haunted library at Barrenstone in the first place. The Puppetmasters staged the whole murder in the alleyway using a Feign Death spell. The letter was fake, but the map was real. They wanted a different party to do the hard work of clearing the dungeon for them and then they could kill the survivors who are hopefully injured.

Note - In the original module from 1997 it gives the stats and everything for the Puppetmasters, including their arsenal of really nice magical items. However I have determined by this point that the party has already received a ridiculous amount of loot from this module and now is their chance to really earn it. So I had to strip them down to the bare necessities, and gave them 1 scroll of Wall of Fire and 2 healing potions. But on the plus side, they gained 5th edition class abilities and feats. I also gave Brenna a warhorse, a lance and the Mounted Combatant feat. The various Puppetmasters got suitable abilities.

The Puppetmasters led by Brenna on horseback demand the party throw down all their loot. The party refuses. Firewall. Fighting ensues. Darkness spell. Bruk the evoker runs off, as does the creepy puppeteer Dorenn. Brenna on horseback gets dismounted and her horse dies. Golias and Brenna fight to the death. Party captures the half-elf cleric Zeran.

On Brenna the party finds a letter from Ruathgrym (the villain from the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar):
Greetings old friend!

    A band of adventurers should be arriving in Arabel shortly or may have already arrived. Please get rid of them. They have inadvertently interfered with our plans for Tilverton. Kill them in whatever manner you deem suitable, but make sure none survive. The leader is a dwarven paladin named Fargrim. He will be accompanied by a human archer named Wrathgar and two women spellslingers named, Miior and Estrel. We do not know the names of the others in their band. After you kill them meet us in the caves near Tilverton. Don't forget to bring the book from Irongard.
- Ruathgrym

The party then treks back to Arabel for two days, still following the original plan.

After the party returns to Arabel the Captain of the City Guard hunts down the party and has several questions about the old man's body missing from the guard tower.

Wrathgar explains that the party was duped with the letter and map found on the body, which the Captain at the time had believed to be fakes, into investigating the place known as Barrenstone. After defeating the undead within the old library, and gathering up all the treasure that had been hoarded by the ancient librarian, the party was just leaving Barrenstone when they were waylaid by bandits known as the Puppetmasters (Wrathgar shows their Adventuring Charter as evidence).

Two of the Puppetmasters ran off during the fight, two were slain, and the 5th (Zeran the Half-Elf Cleric of Leira) was captured. Wrathgar hands over Zeran as a captured bandit, who immediately tries to lie her way out of this predicament but when that fails she uses her Cloak of Shadows ability to turn invisible and tries to escape...

Fortunately the party manacled Zeran and she doesn't get far before the guards recapture her. Once recaptured, she confesses to the crime of banditry and she laughs about how easily the Puppetmasters had tricked these fools into clearing out the haunted library for them.

Wrathgar also shows the captain of the guard the letter from Ruathgrym - a man who is wanted by the Purple Dragon Knights. The letter upsets the Captain of the Guard who writes down a copy of the letter and then leaves to go speak to the Purple Dragon Knights.

The party sells their loot from the Puppetmasters, buys horses and a wagon. They trek back to Barrenstone for two days to get the rest of the party and loot, then Trek back to Arabel for two more days.

The party then has a long rest for 3 days, during which Taurus levels up to 3rd level.

By the time we resume for the next session 9 days have gone by, everyone is fully healed and well rested.

The Loot from Session XVI

Puppetmaster Items and Values

Rusty Human Splintmail 50 gp
Rusty Dwarf Splintmail 50 gp
Chain Shirt 25 gp
Shield x3 15 gp
Longsword 7.5 gp
Lance 5 gp
Shortbow 12.5 gp
Mace 2.5 gp
Dwarven Warhammer 7.5 gp
Throwing Hammers x2 2 gp

Total Sale Value 177 gp

The 24 arrows are kept to replenish the party's arrow supply (mostly to Wrathgar and Kilo).

The party buys two draft horses (50 gp each) and 1 wagon for 35 gp. 2 Bits and bridles + feed for 10 days = 10 gp.

Total Expenditures 145 gp

32 gold left over. Each party member gets 3 gold and 2 silver.

Taurus and Donally donate 2000 gp each of their earnings (6750 gp) to the 4 new party members for their help in taking the loot back to Arabel, so that those 4 party members (Trev, Kilo, Carric and Sparklegem) also get another 1000 gp.

The next session is on March 27th.

5th Edition Stats for the Puppetmasters

My version of the Puppetmasters is that they are quite poor and down on their luck. They rely on tricking other parties to do their dirty work and then rob/kill the foolish parties who fall for their trickery.

An important part of the Puppetmasters is that each one has special rules for when they will flee combat. Brenna and Golias will fight to the death. Dorenn and Zeran will flee if half injured or if two party members are killed. Bruk will flee if he is injured even a little tiny bit.

These conditions for when they flee helps to balance the encounter and made things interesting. The Puppetmasters aren't just down on their luck, over half of them are also cowards. By the end of the fight the PCs had some genuine respect for Brenna and Golias for refusing to quit, even though the odds were against them with the other 3 party members fled or captured. (Bruk ran away in the 2nd round of combat. Dorenn later followed. Zeran was captured.)

Brenna
Human female        7 Fighter        67 hp        AC 19
Str 17, Dex 15, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 16, Chr 11.
  • Leader, no sense of humour.
  • Rusty Splintmail, Shield, Longsword, Lance, Shortbow, 24 arrows, Warhorse.
  • Longsword, +6, 1d8+5.
  • Lance, +6, 1d12+5, reach.
  • Warhorse Trample, +4, 2d6+4.
Abilities: Extra Attack, Dueling Fighting Style, Second Wind (bonus action to regain 1d10+7 hp), Action Surge (extra action + bonus action), Battle Master (5 Maneuvers, 5d8 Superiority Dice, Save DC 14), Know Your Enemy (guesses the relative strength of enemy's stats in 1 minute), Mounted Combatant (advantage vs critters smaller than mount, mount is effectively AC 19, mount has evasion).
Maneuvers:
  • Commander's Strike - Spends 1 attack plus bonus action to give ally an extra attack. Add 1d8 to damage.
  • Evasive Footwork - Adds 1d8 to AC while moving.
  • Lunging Attack - Adds 5 feet to weapon reach. Add 1d8 to damage.
  • Precision Attack - Add 1d8 to the attack roll (declared before or after the roll).
  • Trip Attack - After hitting a target, add 1d8 to damage and Str saving throw DC 14 or knocked prone.
Perception 16, Stealth +5 (Disadvantage).
Saves: Str 6, Dex 2, Con 6, Int 1, Wis 3, Chr 0.
Refuses to Give Up.

Dorenn
Human male        6 Thief            45 hp (+ Uncanny Dodge)    AC 17
Str 12, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 17, Chr 9.
  • Taunting, Lecherous - attacks the person with the lowest initiative.
  • Shortsword w Paladin Puppet, Poisoned Dagger w Tanar'ri Puppet, Throwing Daggers x3, Studded Leather Armour, 15 Thief Picks, Purple Mushroom Poison (6 doses).
  • Shortsword, +7, 1d6+4.
  • Poisoned Dagger, +7, 1d4 + Con save vs poison (1 damage + Poisoned).
  • Throwing Daggers, +7, 1d6+4.
Abilities: Expertise (Acrobatics/Deception/Performance/Stealth), Sneak Attack (+3d6 once/round), Cunning Action (bonus action to Dash, Hide or Disengage), *Uncanny Dodge (half damage reaction to any attack seen), Assassinate (advantage on anyone who has a lower initiative than himself), Dual Wielder (+1 AC, can draw 2 weapons simultaneously, may use larger weapons).
Perception 16, Stealth +10.
Saves: Str 1, Dex 7, Con 2, Int 4, Wis 3, Chr -1.
Flees if two allies are killed. Or if half injured. Uses Cunning Action to Disengage/Dash/Hide + Uncanny Dodge to reduce damage.

Zeran
Half-elf female        6  Cleric            45 hp        AC 17
Str 14, Dex 17, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 18, Chr 15.
  • Mysterious Priestess of Leira, Goddess of Illusions
  • Holy Symbol of Leira (cloudy grey triangle), Mace, Tabard of Leira, Chain Shirt, Shield, Potions of Healing x2.
  • Spells: 4 cantrips, 4 / 3 / 3 + Domain Spells
  • Cantrips - Guidance, Light, Mending, Resistance
  • 1st - Bane, Bless, Detect Magic, Cure Wounds, Charm Person, Disguise Self
  • 2nd - Hold Person, Silence x2, Mirror Image, Pass without Trace
  • 3rd - Feign Death, Glyph of Warding, Mass Healing Word, Blink, Dispel Magic
Abilities: Divine Domain Trickery, Blessing of the Trickster (ally gains adv on Stealth for 1 hour), Invoke Duplicity (Channel Divinity to create illusion of self [Project Image, spellcasting/etc], max 120 ft away), Cloak of Shadows (Channel Divinity to become invisible, 2/day).
Perception 17, Stealth +6.
Saves: Str 2, Dex 3, Con 2, Int 1, Wis 7, Chr 5.
Flees if two allies are killed. Or if half injured. Uses Cloak of Shadows and then sneaks off.

Bruk
Human male        7 Invoker        51 hp        AC 15 + Blur
Str 7, Dex 15, Con 16, Int 18, Wis 14, Chr 12. (82)
  • Brilliant but Cowardly Zhentil wizard.
  • Staff, Robes. Scroll of Wall of Fire.
  • Spells: 4 cantrips, 4 / 3 / 3 / 1
  • Cantrips - Acid Splash*, Friends, Poison Spray*, Ray of Frost.
  • 1st - Burning Hands, Expeditious Retreat, Grease, Mage Armour.
  • 2nd - Blur, Darkness, Melf's Acid Arrow.
  • 3rd - Fireball x 2, Lightning Bolt.
  • 4th - Dimension Door + Scroll of Wall of Fire.
Abilities: Arcane Recovery 4, Sculpt Spells (1 + spell level Allies unaffected by evocation spells), Potent Cantrips (enemies saving vs damaging cantrips take 1/2 damage instead of no damage).
Perception 15, Stealth +5.
Saves: Str -2, Dex 2, Con 3, Int 7, Wis 5, Chr 1.
Flees if injured even a little bit, using Dimension Door and Expeditious Retreat.

Golias
Hill dwarf male        6 Fighter        70 hp (DR3)    AC 20
Str 18, Dex 10, Con 18, Int 9, Wis 12, Chr 8.
  • Stubborn, unyielding.
  • Dwarven-made Warhammer, Throwing Hammers, Rusty Dwarf-sized Splintmail, Shield.
  • Warhammer, +7, 1d8+4.
  • Shield, +7 athletics vs athletics/acrobatics, to knock prone or shove 5 feet.
  • Throwing Hammers, +3, 1d4+4, 20/60.
Abilities: Extra Attack, Defense Fighting Style, Second Wind (bonus action to regain 1d10+6 hp), Action Surge (extra action + bonus action), Improved Critical 19, Extra Attack, Heavy Armour Master (DR3/magical), Shield Master (bonus shield shove, shield bonus on Dex saves, no damage on successful Dex saving throws).
Perception 14, Stealth +3 (Disadvantage), Athletics +7.
Saves: Str 7, Dex (2), Con 7, Int -1, Wis 1, Chr -1.
No Retreat, No Surrender.


In the module only Bruk is allied with the Zhentarim, but I have expanded that to Brenna since she was the leader and made her the one who was in contact with Ruathgrym. Because Bruk and Dorenn got away they might see these two again in the future in the company of other Zhentarim.

Also since Zeran is alive and can turn invisible/project image on a regular basis, she might eventually escape prison.

So that is three of the Puppetmasters who the party might get to see again - and see them run away again since their rules for when they flee remain unchanged.

Future Quests

The obvious one is the dungeon mentioned in the letter from Ruathgrym: Irongard, a module from Dungeon Magazine #18 and written by Ed Greenwood.

Normally Irongard has a different quest hook, but I find the whole magic disease / elderly wizard concept to be a little lame. Sorry Ed Greenwood, but it is. I am not using that quest hook.

But getting the party to go there to fetch a strange book and prevent Ruathgrym from getting his hands on it (or perhaps accidentally delivering it to him) makes for a much more interesting plot because it follows the kind of trickery that the Puppetmasters were known for. Getting other people to do their work for them.

Perhaps when the party leaves Irongard the Puppetmasters will be waiting for them again, with more warriors this time. Or not. I might end up using them elsewhere in the future. They are essentially a poor trickster group and I could use them again to steal items from the party and reduce how much stuff they are carrying. The party would then feel motivated to try and kill the thieves that have annoyed them so much in the past.

Oh, what if the Puppetmasters tricked a 2nd group of NPCs to do their dirty work, and it is those NPCs who are waiting for the party outside of Irongard. Yep. That could work. So many options...

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