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Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle: Adventure 1 - Fane of the Sun Swallower

Our heroes clean out the lizardfolk and wisely ignore the fire beetles swarming the altar.
Our heroes clean out the lizardfolk and wisely ignore the fire beetles swarming the altar.
Michael Tresca

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle: Adventure 1 - Fane of the Sun Swallower


Fane of the Sun Swallower was tested by my seven-year-old son, playing Elec the 4th-level gnome rogue, and my four-year-old daughter, playing Lektra the 4th-level halfling ranger (wielding a lance atop a pony named Tablehead). Accompanying them in my character, Tobias Hyrthstone, a 4th-level dwarf cleric. I converted this playtest version to 5th Edition, in which our heroes face down diseased lizardfolk, make an unexpected ally, and plunder a dragon's horde!

This adventure took place immediately after Lost Mine of Phandelver (see the previous reviews here). The villain known as the Black Spider was brought to justice in Daggerford, where he was hanged for his crimes. Shortly thereafter they discovered that Phandelver was attacked yet again by Venomfang, and hurried back to deal with him. They set out to find his lair at the behest of Isteval, a knight with a checkered past. Their guide, Maechen, led them through the swamp to Venomfang's supposed new lair (Venomfang seems to be having difficulty finding a new home, we last saw him trying to take over the village of Thundertree, then Tresendar Manor in Phandelver).

Along the way they encountered half-orc/half-dwarf bumpkins known as the Clotskulls in the swamp, led by Mama Booga. This led to an exchange in which Mama Booga and her deformed children unintentionally gave away the fact they had a dragon egg. My kids thought it was hilarious when Mama would smack one of her kids and shout, "Shaddup ya idjit, y'ell give away th' dragon egg!" After a few minutes of this role-playing, Elec got fed up and (true to his pyromaniacal nature) threw an alchemist fire at Mama in the middle of negotiations. A massive brawl erupted between the half-orcs and giant lizards. The Clotskulls were slaughtered, but not without significant damage to our party -- Lektra's wolf died in the fracas. This is the first encounter for an adventure that's supposedly for 1st-level characters!

Elec began exploring the ruins, rooting around for the dragon egg. Sure enough, he found it just as it cracked open, and the baby dragon immediately imprinted on him. Elec was now the proud papa of a half-black/half-green dragon that he named "Bomber." Elec beamed with pride at his new minion, who was prone to spitting acid at everyone but him. Lektra, meanwhile, decided that pet wolves weren't all they were cracked up to be and replaced the wolf with a pony that Maechen gave her. She named it Tablehead. Equipped with a lance, the pint-sized halfling planned to joust her way through dungeons.

Maechen led the party on to the lair proper. Venomfang's lair was in an abandoned temple to Amaunator. Maechen and her men stayed outside to wait while the heroes investigated. They immediately blundered into a lizardfolk trap, a vicious battle of eight lizardfolk vs. the party of five (counting Tablehead and Bomber). Making short work of them, they also encountered many stirges before finding a throne room guarded by two giant lizards. Lektra attacked -- her lance attack, so long as she wins initiative, is devastating. With the lizards defeated, a friendly lizardfolk known as Wrecan slunk forth to parley. Bomber wasn't interested; he immediately pounced on Vethka, eating him. Lektra was surprisingly indifferent to this (at one point I had Vethka yell, "I can help you!" and my daughter insisted, "nope, Bomber EATS HIM."). Lektra picked up a shield that from the throne hoard that produces a tasty magical apple of healing once a day.

Journeying downward into the crypt level of the temple, Elec led the party through a series of tombs filled with sarcophagi. He took on ancient curses and moldy mummies before discovering a mace named Dragonthumper. Bomber hissed at it as the mace lit up with a magical radiance. Lektra realized that the mace was something that might come in handy later; as a ranger, she is an expert on dragons.

They made their way to the tunnels that Venomfang burrowed out of the crypt, but not before being ambushed by a gray ooze. No one managed to detect it and it rolled high for initiative. In the surprise round it attacked Elec, damaging his armor and nearly dropping him with single-digit hit points. On the first round it rolled a critical hit against Elektra, inflicting over 20 points of damage and knocking her clean off Tablehead. The adventurers rallied after that: Elec used his bow, Tobias healed everyone with a prayer of healing, and Lektra, once she got to her feet, fired her bow as well. Defeated, the ooze melted away into the ground.

The heroes journeyed onward into a cave area near a roaring waterfall. They were surprised when seven lizardfolk ambush them from the nearby pool, and a pitched battle ensued. Tobias used up nearly all of his healing spells to keep the party alive, but they proved victorious. It was thanks to the dwarf that they discovered a secret door behind a nearby dragon statue. Following it, they discovered two dragon eggs sitting before an evil altar. Bomber sniffed at the eggs and hissed at them in dismay. That's all the proof Elec needed. Mourning the loss of the dragons (Elec is very fond of dragons), he smashed both eggs, which dripped blackish-green ichor.

Another ambush ensued as Vethka the diseased lizard queen rose out of the water to attack. Enraged by the desecration, she charged into battle, only to be put down by Elec and Bomber. They turned their focus again to the altar. Tobias sensed that the altar was evil, which encouraged Elec to smash it open. This turned out to be a big mistake, as an angry water elemental seeped out and attacks!

Tobias was laid low in the fight, but at that point he had used up all his spells. Using the combined force of Elec firing alchemist arrows, Bomber's acid breath, and Lektra's attacks with her lance atop Tablehead, they barely managed to take the elemental out. The elemental turned into a ball of water, which in turn transformed into a ball of ice when Elec touched it.

That's when Maechen arrived, mirror images up and flying in the air. "I'll take that," she said, and with a wave of her hand casts a series of hold spells. Incapacitated, our heroes unwillingly gave up the orb, vowing revenge. Maechen disappeared with the orb.

They tended to their wounds and fed a healing potion to Tobias. The dwarf realized that there must be treasure nearby, and opined aloud as to where Venomfang was. They discovered what they thought was Venomfang's treasure (it's not, it's his mate Cheleen's). Of particular note was green scale male armor that Elec decided to try on. It turned him into a kobold!

Elec, now in kobold form, with a dragon in tow, was ready to face the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. They returned to Phandelver just in time to discover that it is under attack by a vengeful Venomfang!

Overall this adventure has lots of great ideas (the awesome apple shield, dragonthumper, the marital spat between the two dragons) marred by what can only be described as overkill. There's no way 1st-level characters would make it through the dungeon -- a party of five 4th-level characters squeaked by. Of course, some of this is due to the fact that my young players have no concept of stealth and blunder right through most traps. That said, it's not unusual for 1st-level characters to do precisely that. This is an old school-style adventure for advanced players.

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