Content of the article: "Teaching players caution through orcs"
Had a fun thing happen with the DoIP Butterskull Ranch quest last session, so I thought I'd share (Aelrie, Grbakh, and Moodus, stop reading now unless you want some light though loving shade thrown your way).
Some background: my players and I are all quite new to DND (with one exception), though we all have plenty of fantasy-genre media experience. I, as DM, love it when they come up with creative approaches to problems or combat, since it gives me fun things to do in adjudicating how it turns out. Unfortunately, one of my players (who already has a kind of playful "eh, fuck it" attitude) is playing an impetuous elf wizard who loves nothing more than to run up and grab the obviously dangerous gem and get herself knocked unconscious, the guy playing our human cleric is slowly getting over thinking of everything as a video game, and the one who actually has experience with DND is playing a stone-cold-dummy dwarf fighter, and playing him well in that he typically doesn't say anything overly intelligent, such as "maybe we should investigate that statue before we touch it."
Through a combination of bravura, my own mistakes as DM, and good rolls on their part (the cleric absolutely annihilated one of the three orcs at the end of DoIP's Dwarven Excavation quest with a nat 20 Guiding Bolt as the first action of combat, making that fight rather easier), the party has thus far made it through more or less ok. Since things are about to get harder, though, and knowing that my party tends to fight first and investigate later, I arranged things for Butterskull Ranch so as to create a teachable moment.
When they reached Butterskull Ranch they had already found the ranch owner's prize cow Petunia, which our fighter tamed with a rather lucky Animal Handing check, especially after everyone rolled so terribly in the nearby abandoned town of Conyberry trying to tame some stray horses that they scared them halfway to Neverwinter. I described the farm, and told them they saw corpses in the distance and the ruins of some structures, but that didn't faze them at all, and they walked straight up to the farmhouse. Their next hint was that Petunia moved off into one of the nearby fields, since she's not dumb. I had previously decided that of the nine orcs specified by the module, three would be patrolling the grounds, three would be in the kitchen, and three would be down in the cellar with the ranch owner held hostage. Since they ignored all the obvious signs that shit had gone down, the party just decided to knock on the front door of the house, which not only alerted the orcs in the kitchen, but also the three patrolling nearby. Now my party of three third-level players has six angry orcs to deal with.
The initial round of combat looked like it was going to go well. I was a huge dummy and read the orcs' stat block wrong, so I wasn't giving them the proper plus to hit and they mostly whiffed. The wizard cast Suggestion on one of the orcs, telling him to take his buddies and go after those three horses the party scared off in Conyberry, but I ruled that the other five orcs weren't about to go running after some possibly nonexistent horses five miles away when there were three squishy humanoids right in front of them. In retrospect, I should probably have made the Suggestion spell more effective, but I decided to just have the one on which it was cast run off after the horses, leaving five orcs for the party to deal with.
By this point the party was completely surrounded, since orcs can use a bonus action to get 30 extra feet of movement, and I realized I was reading the stat block wrong, so not only did the orcs all have advantage on the party members through flanking, but they all now got their proper plus to hit. The party managed to take down another orc, but the cleric and the wizard both went down in one round, and so it was just the fighter versus four variously damaged, but no less angry orcs.
The fighter does an absolutely heroic job, taking down two more orcs and staying alive through a combination of Second Wind and his action surge. The cleric and the wizard roll extremely average on their death saving throws and both wind up with two saves and two failures. At this point, the wizard's player is wringing her hands and the cleric's player is out of his chair and pacing around my patio (we were playing outside because covid), and it's not looking good for our heroes. The fighter remembers the party has a healing potion, and I rule that he can force it down the cleric's gullet as an action, and so the cleric is up on the turn he would otherwise have rolled to decide his fate, and he quickly gets the wizard up, and they manage to slay the rest of the orcs.
They then explore the farmhouse, finding some treasure in the process, and then they decide to check the cellar, without of course healing up or taking a rest or anything. Since they just barged in, I gave them surprise on the three orcs in the cellar, and they managed to take them down, again with some unusually potent divine fire from the cleric (again in retrospect, I maybe shouldn't have given them surprise). All in all, it seemed like everyone had a blast, especially the fighter's player, since he got to be a big damn hero, but the wizard and cleric both talked about how tense the fight was and how glad they were to survive it.
Next they'll be heading to the Shrine of Savras, where RAW they'll encounter a grand total of thirteen orcs and three ogres, so I'm hoping they've learned that it can be a good idea to spend a little time investigating the area before charging into the middle of things.
TL;DR: Low-level party with a dummy DM tended to just run headfirst into everything, that got them into a fight with six orcs at once, two nearly died, important lesson learned.
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