Session 23: Chasing the Owlbear

Welcome wanderer, I see you hath returned for more tales of adventure. In the case of my players, this was usually an adventure full of affliction and self-inflicted misfortune. Nevertheless, welcome to another D&D blog post where I take a deep dive into the previous sessions I ran as a dungeon master. Exploring the various elements of the story narrative as well as dissecting any encounter mechanics as and when they happen. Writing these recaps continues to be a great way for me to assess and evaluate any aspects of my dungeon mastering that I may need to improve upon. I hope that in reading them you will also find some of the advice helpful to utilise in your home games or simply find them a fun read each month. If you are reading this right now then I am truly thankful for your continued loyalty and support for my work. Without your support, I would not have the motivation I hold today. Despite this overwhelming support, anything you can do to spread the word about my Patreon and maps would be vastly appreciated. Whatever it takes to make your voices heard, burst into your local game store and tell a games master or dungeon master, tell a random follower online, tell a random follower in the street, the list goes onE280A6 Anyway, I could ramble on about support all day but I should move on to the topic at hand, session twenty-three. If you are new to my blogs; I suggest clicking here to read all the previous posts, although I’d recommend getting much more comfortable if you plan to do that as well.

To recap from the last session and post, which can be read here, the adventuring party found themselves stumbling upon a very oddly placed shop called Snotbone and Toadwarts, aptly named due to the two goblins Snotbone and, yes you guessed it, Toadwart who ran the establishment. These goblins had made what they believed to be a rather lucrative business. Collecting adventuring gear from any perished dungeon explorers to sell on to the next dungeon explorer, whose items may eventually end up back in the goblinE28099s possession to sell on to the next perishable adventurer. It was, what they considered, a pretty profitable enterprise. Other than the adventuring gear, the goblin merchandise was mostly junk of little to no interest to the players, except the bard of course. Eventually, the party bid the goblins a temporary farewell, heading back past the fire room and arriving at a room that looked very similar in style. However, what they found instead of coloured vials of sand, were algae-covered vents and many keys intertwined in damp vines very similar in description to a journal entry Reita had purchased moments earlier from their goblin friends. This is where we started session twenty-three, even if the players wouldnE28099t have much time to ponder this puzzle as the session would very quickly take a surprise turnE280A6

If you havenE28099t guessed already by the title of this blog post, the unexpected turn of events involved their rangerE28099s baby owlbear companion. Unbeknownst to the group, Mr Flufflebutt had been continuously learning some rather bad habits from its master. Peaches Firebeard, our hill dwarf ranger, had by now developed quite a reputation for her tendency to run off without warning. The player playing her had put this down to a character trait and characteristic as part of her family lineage. According to their backstory, the Firebeard clan had quite a well-known reputation for diving into most situations without any thought towards the consequences; it was definitely a stab first, ask questions later kind of family. Our rangerE28099s baby owlbear companion was an extension of the Firebeard family so naturally, it would pick up these same characteristics from Peaches, being as this was whom it had spent the most time with. It was with this in mind that I proceeded with what would go on to be their first chase encounter. Before I go into the encounter mechanics, I will first set the scene. I started the session, as suspicious as it always sounds when a dungeon master asks the question out of the blue, by asking them all to make a perception check. I also kept in mind a feature that was part of FurinE28099s paladin class. Outside the usual sight and hearing of everyone else in the party, Furin could also detect certain types of creatures using a feature called Divine Sense. It would require an action to activate, but I asked the player if they had used it on this occasion and thankfully, he got the subtle hint. This meant until the end of his next turn, Furin knew the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of him that was not behind total cover. Any characters who rolled high suddenly witnessed some sort of creature dash past the opening of the room they were in, this included Mr Flufflebutt. Furin saw this too, but unlike the others, in the split second this creature revealed itself and wasnE28099t behind the total cover of the dungeon walls, he sensed this creature to be a fiend of some kind. However, before he had had a chance to react, the baby owlbear had sped out of the room and gone after the creature, initiating the chase encounter. It was now up to the players as to how they would react to this sudden change of pace.

As a dungeon master, this was also my first chase encounter. I had read about them and the players had narrowly avoided a chase encounter earlier in the campaign when following a Sahuagin through the marketplace during the Starfall Festival in Dundanduil. The only reason that did not happen is the players made no attempt to chase the suspicious character but rather followed the quarry from a distance. This chase encounter, however, was initiated by a non-player character which meant I felt a little bit more prepared. Ahead of them was a series of obstacles that would act as complications. As explained in the chase section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (p.252 if you want to read it), these complications should feel random for the players. At the end of their turn, each player would roll a d20 to see if a complication would affect the next player in the running order, reminding them that they could use inspiration tokens to negate the complication if they wanted to. I created complications all themed around traversing through the long winding corridors of a labyrinthine dungeon, editing and adjusting any options in the Dungeon Master’s Guide that would better suit the location. The required saving throws or ability checks would all be improvised based on what each character chose to do on their turn. For example, if they wanted to check the floor for fresh tracks they might need to make a survival or investigation check which would determine their next move2E This is exactly what Peaches could20have done, she was of course the first to chase after her animal companion. She rushed after Mr Flufflebutt but he was nowhere to be seen, this was due to a split in the corridor, not the distance. Instead of checking her surroundings or the floor for tracks, she took a complete gamble and took the southern path. Jamlamin on the other hand, who had followed shortly behind her, did check the floor, and, rolling well on an investigation check, he saw fresh prints heading north. He shouted back to Lights who pursued behind him before rushing up the north corridor, seeing glimpses of the owlbear and its quarry as he did.

The rest of the party followed the bard, except our rogue Lights, who took JamlaminE28099s advice and dashed after Peaches. Lights and Peaches then had what I can only describe as a fantastic in-game/in-character argument mostly about her going the wrong way, so much so that I had to award them both an inspiration token for their roleplay efforts. What this did do, however, was allow the owlbear and its quarry to gain even more distance over the party as they had all held back for fear of unwillingly splitting the party. Eventually, the rogue and the ranger were back on the same path as the other four and the chase could continue. If you are currently questioning the numbers, there are currently five player characters as well as the one non-player character Arwill, an air genasi who had accompanied them to the crypt; all giving chase to their only non-humanoid companion, Mr Flufflebutt.

The now tailing party of six navigated a multitude of traps, obstacles and enemies with varying degrees of failure and success. A word of advice when running a chase encounter, there is usually a lot of running involved so I’d highly recommend having a nice big list of words synonymous with the word dash to avoid any confusion should a player actually use the dash action. Replace non-dash action movement with words like rush, race, run, sprint, bolt, dart, etcE280A6 Anyway, I canE28099t recall the exact order of each complication as some were randomised but they were as follows:

Dart Trap: The target would need to make a successful DEX save to dodge a flying dart when stepping on a hidden pressure plate on the floor, this was followed by a CON save to tolerate the poisonous smog that was also released. Anyone following behind would also need to make a CON save if passing through the same poisonous cloud. On any failed CON save, a creatureE28099s speed would drop to zero and they would spend the rest of their turn reeling and gagging from the fumes

Swarm of Bats: The target would need to make a successful DEX save to dodge an opportunity attack from a swarm of bats that they have disturbed. The disturbed swarm would also kick up clouds of dust and dirt. Anyone following behind the target would need to make a CON save if passing through the same area. On a fail, any creatureE28099s movement was halved for one round.

Goblin Snare: One target would need to make a DEX save or be caught in a goblin snare trap, their speed would drop to zero unless they use an action to break free, this required either a successful strength check or the attack action to strike the snare, the attack must deal slashing damage to successfully break the snare. A passing creature can also use the same actions to release the target from the snare. Once activated, this trap will not activate again.

Pit Trap: The target would be caught off-guard by a sudden drop in the corridor, they would need to make a successful DEX save in order to navigate over the impediment without harm. On a failed save, the target falls 20ft, taking 2d6 bludgeoning damage and landing prone. The target would then need to use an action on a subsequent turn, requiring half movement to climb out unless they have a climbing speed. Anyone following behind could choose to avoid the trap by using half movement to carefully navigate around the edge or attempt to jump across, this would also require a successful DEX save to avoid the same effects and fall damage of the original target.

Gnoll Wanderer: The first target who passed an opening in the corridor would catch the attention of a lone gnoll, this gnoll would sprint towards the target and attempt to attack them with its spear. The target would need to make a successful DEX save to dodge this opportunity attack. On a subsequent turn, now alert, the Gnoll would attempt to grapple the next available target, if successful the targetE28099s movement speed would drop to zero unless they attempt to escape by succeeding on a contested STR check.

Falling Boulders: The target would need to make a successful DEX save to successfully pass through part of the corridor as it started to collapse. On a failed save, the target would still pass through but would take 2d6 bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone, ending the rest of their movement for that turn. Any creature trailing behind the target would need to use an action to move the boulders in order to navigate through. This would require a successful strength check but only one successful strength check by any creature would be required to clear the path ahead for all creatures.

So, as you can see, all of the above complications were related to either hindering movement or wasting an action with the chance of taking damage each time. I havenE28099t included any save DCs as each complication could be easily adjusted should you wish to use or simply take inspiration from them. It’s always worth remembering that the lower the DC, the easier it will be for your adventurers to navigate. I would recommend varying the DC from complication to complication to avoid it becoming tedious or repetitive. I also only used each complication once and gave the players a summary of their overall position in the quarry after each round. In general, the chase encounter went really well and I would make very few adjustments if I were to run it again. Towards the end of the chase, the player druid Reita decided to play to her strengths and used her action to wildshape into a panther. This significantly increased her movement and thereafter, despite losing sight of the owlbear, this meant she was the first to arrive in the next area. The chase was over, yet, they were now faced with a new problem, a gang of enemies waiting in ambush for the characters to appear.

Reita quickly worked out she had looped back around to the entrance where they had entered the crypt many sessions earlier. The baby owlbear companion was nowhere to be seen but she had little time to search as she was verbally greeted by a fiendish, huge gnoll surrounded by a horde of hyenas. The intimidating greeting was not a language she understood, but the player had rolled high using a straight intelligence check so I said she at least recognised it to possibly be abyssal. The brutish creature in front of her was called a flind, which is basically a buffed up gnoll and one of few gnoll creatures classified as a fiend. This was why Furin sensed its brief presence earlier before the chase encounter began. I had designed this encounter to act as a mini-boss prior to a further gnoll boss you will be briefly introduced to later in another room, however, players will always surprise you. They have this unparalleled talent of absolutely destroying the more difficult encounters but then throw a random bear at them and they almost all die. Ultimately, players are the real reason the challenge rating system often goes out the window and no amount of planning can prepare you for the randomness of their actions, but, it wouldnE28099t be much fun if everything was predictable now, would it?

No sooner had Reita arrived than when she was closely followed into the room by Peaches. The dwarf ranger made a quick decision in the heat of the moment, finally using an item she had taken from the Grung inside the Grungan Swamps many many sessions ago. The item was a Grungan War Horn and it basically imitated the Mesmerizing Chirr ability of a Grung Elite Warrior. Using an action to blow the war horn, each humanoid or beast that is within 15 feet of the user and able to hear it must succeed on a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw or be stunned until the end of the userE28099s next turn. Without hesitation, Peaches ran into the middle of the horde of enemies and used the war horn, executing with huge success. Most of the hyenas and the flind failed their saving throws and were now stunned. By this point, the remaining party members had also arrived in the room, and, because the majority of these creatures were stunned, the players could attack with advantage. This was music to the ears of the player rogue, who immediately attacked the flind. To top this, he then got a critical hit, doubling all his damage dice. This was followed by attacks from everyone else, with advantage of course. So, barely one round into combat and my mini-boss was hanging on by a slither of health. One round later and my players had despatched and obliterated the flind and all the hyenas, it was incredibly impressive how quickly they got through this combat encounter.

With the fight over, Peaches was desperate to find Mr Flufflebutt, and, being a ranger, I pointed out she could use her expertise in tracking beasts to help locate her owlbear companion. Yes, I know an adult owlbear is classified as a monstrosity but IE28099d already homebrewed a baby owlbear for her to use as her beast companion so for the purpose of this campaign I had re-classified owlbears as beasts. She rolled well several times, subsequently able to lead the group through a series of twists and turns leading mostly north. The party grouped together when they heard the familiar sounds of gnolls in a room ahead. Remaining hidden and slightly ahead of the group, Peaches sneakily peered around the next corner in the room beyond. Inside she spotted her baby owlbear companion, unfortunately, he was surrounded by gnolls. The owlbear was heavily injured and was being cruelly prodded and tortured for fun by gnolls with spears. These gnolls appeared to be doing it for the entertainment of what looked like some sort of gnoll leader sitting on a makeshift throne. He was laughing and cackling along with the other gnolls as Mr Flufflebutt shivered and cowered in fear. This is where I ended the session, leaving my players to contemplate a rescue attempt and plan their next move. Whatever they decided to do, they would need to hurryE280A6

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