Umbrage Hill is a simple quest, which allows your players to choose between combat and conversation.
If you or your players are new to Dungeons and Dragons, you might expect to fight your way out of every situation. That’s because the typical answer to most fantasy games is to kill your enemy; D&D is different. Umbrage Hill is the perfect example of how combat could be halted if the players use their knowledge or skills wisely.
Connecting The Quest To The Players And Phandalin
The campaign suggests using a quest board to hand out adventures. In our article “Setting Up Phandalin,” we said that although this process is an easy method, it can feel a little boring. Instead, we suggested making the campaign feel more personal to the players; that way, they have a genuine reason to help out the town and not leave them to their own devices.
The original quest asked the players to find Adabra Gwynn and bring her back to Phandalin, where she would be safe (page 10 of the adventure book).
However, I felt that this type of request should come from a lover, “Come back and be safe.” But then why wouldn’t the lover find their partner themselves? Ah, maybe an ex-lover.
In “Setting Up Phandalin,” I suggested that maybe Linene the Smith is worried about Ababra’s safety, as she lives alone. But Linene cannot ask her to come back home due to their quarrel. This gives the players a human connection to link the healer to Phandalin. It also drops with a dash of a love story to provide the town with some history.
If the players don’t naturally arrive at the Lionshield Coster (page 9), you can make the quest come to them. Maybe Linene is drinking in the tavern, and Toblen tells the PCs (player characters) that she only does this when she’s anxious. Here the players have a story-like beginning to a new quest without feeling railroaded.
Developing this story-like entrance just means adding a “cut screen” moment before the players enter the Lionshielf Coster or as they enter the Tavern.
You walk into the Tavern and see Toblin cleaning down some tables. Sitting in the shadows is a stocky-looking woman. With one hand cradling her head and the other hugging her ale, you can sense a sadness surrounding her.
If the players go over, you can add in some dialogue for the PCs to bounce off of.
“Toblin said you helped him, so I hoped you could help me too” Linene tries to focus on you, but you notice her eyes are dropping a little. “Ababra doesn’t know about that Dragon flying around. She’s all alone and too stubborn to listen to me. I need her to come back. To be safe, I mean….” A slight redness colors her cheeks. “Look, if I give you 25gp, will you bring her back here, so she’s safe? Just don’t tell her I sent you.”
The players could then dive deeper into this star-crossed lover storyline, or they could accept this drunkard’s money and run. Either way, the quest is theirs now, and the history of this village is developing.
What To Expect At Umbrage Hill
The map to Umbrage Hill is small. The makers have tried to add history to the land, but as I said with my “Dwarven Excavation” guide, these historical additions are fun but unnecessary. And to new DMs (Dungeon Masters), it will just add confusion.
The unnecessary history in Umbrage Hill is the lost feud of dwarven clans. At the top of the hill, you’ll notice rocks that are acting as tombstones from this long-forgotten battle. And under U.2, you’ll see a stone house fallen to ruins. These shapes will make excellent hiding spots and cover advantages if a battle commences, but other than that, you don’t need to add a ton of history or story to them.
If any players ask, you can say that Cryovain knocked down the stone walls, putting the dragon straight into the story, or that Ababra built around an old and forgotten building.
Arriving at Umbrage Hill
When you arrive at the quest destination, you’re meant to find a Manticore clawing at the windmill’s front door as a woman leans out the window, asking for your help.
The quest tells the DM that if the players try to talk to the Manticore, give him 25 gp in treasure, or offer him meat, the monster will fly away. But the entrance doesn’t suggest to the players that this is an option.
So I suggest changing it up a bit.
After a couple hours of walking, you notice a small windmill in the distance. Its blades slowly move in the wind as it sits atop a grassy hill. A wooden fence hugs the landscape around the building.
As the blades move, you notice something large between the wooden material and the wall.
You get closer still and start to see the figure’s shape. A large body of a lion, but with the wings of a dragon. Its main has spikes as long as your arm, and they trail down to the beast’s tail.
You are close enough, now, to hear the faint scratch of claw on wood.
“Don’t be scared, human. I’m only hungry.” The deep voice of the creature travels through the wind, and its steady tone holds a hint of sadistic intent.
The window on the second door flies open. “You there! Help me!” You see a young human woman waving a cloth in your direction.
The beast hears her too and moves away from the door. In the light, you see its skinny frame with its bones visible through its skin.
It doesn’t speak, but you notice its expression holds a hint of apprehension.
What do you do?
This intro is much longer than the suggested piece, but here the players can see the creature is hungry, ready to kill, but obviously malnourished. They also learn that the Manticore can speak. This opens up the encounter to the players, allowing them to think about the possible ways that they could help Ababra and maybe even the Manticore.
Just adding a little bit of detail will give your players ideas of how to go forward. I suggest playing the Manticore as scared but willing to fight. At this point, it is outnumbered and will want to live another day, use that to create this monster’s story.
The stats for the Manticore can be found on page 60 of the adventure book or page 213 of the Monster Manual.
Ababra’s Choice To Stay
The adventure book suggests that Ababra would rather stay at her windmill and brace the troubles that Cryovain will bring. She will even offer a written note as proof of the conversation.
This is another fantastic way for the players to get involved with roleplay and social interaction. Will they try to trick her into coming back, persuade her by breaking their promise to Linene and explaining she is worried about her, or would they respect her decision?
There are so many things that the players could do, all of which could have a butterfly effect throughout the game.
For example, if they persuade Ababra to go back to Phandalin, maybe she will set up a herbal shop in town, allowing the players to receive potions more easily. Or if she stays, perhaps Cryovain could visit the windmill too, while the players are elsewhere, causing a new “damsel in distress” quest to appear.
Make a note of how your players deal with this situation and adapt the campaign to fit the changes.
Letting The Manticore Live
If the PCs decide to let the Manticore live, the adventure book suggests that he comes back every now and then to get more food or treasure from Ababra.
We can be a little more creative than that. Maybe the Manticore comes back and settles near Ababra, creating an unlikely alliance between humans and monsters. Or perhaps the players notice their new friend dead on the road in the lead up to Cryovain’s big fight. This character could have been popping up every now and then for fun moments in the story, and just when everything is going too well, the players see a frostbite wound on their friend’s leg. Cryovain was clearly the culprit.
Depending on how the interaction went, make a note of how the Manticore will feel about these adventures, then create an extra storyline that could pop up later in the campaign. These moments can create amazing connections for the players later on, so have fun with the domino effect taking place.
The only official treasure mentioned in this quest is a handful of Potions of Healing. These are super valuable items, but it doesn’t make sense to only have three in the whole campaign.
Depending on how the story goes, it would make sense for Ababra to make friends with the PCs after this quest. It also makes sense for her to make these potions for a living. I suggest that every time a quest has been completed, Ababra will have finished brewing one potion. She can then sell the positions for 25gp (a discounted price for saving her). This keeps the game from becoming too easy while also helping your players through tough spots.
Learning The NPCs
As there are only two Non-Player Characters in this quest, it shouldn’t be hard to understand their motives.
Depending on why the players have come to Umbrage Hill, you should develop Ababra’s backstory based on the information you have already given out.
With my suggestion, Ababra and Linene were ex-lovers who fell out, causing Ababra to start a new life in Umbrage Hill. So the question is, why did they fall out, and is the relationship mendable?
For my players, I gave them all a love triangle and said that Halia from the Miner Exchange successfully seduced Ababra as a ruse to get her herbal shop and take over the small town’s real estate. Linene found out and dumped her true love, while Ababra ran away in shame.
The players persuaded Ababra to return to Phandalin, where Linene and Ababra mended their trust.
Whatever stories you have already started, try to build a backstory for them, so you can answer any questions your players throw at you. Then try to reply as the NPC would.
The adventuring book suggests that Ababra has commoner stats, but we can play around with the flavor of her weapon. If for some reason, Ababra joins in the battle, you could turn her “club” into a chair. If the Manticore makes it into the windmill, she could pick up the chair and try to smash it over his head.
Just replace the storytelling aspect while keeping the club’s stats.
The Manticore has moved from his lands in the rocky mountains to a landscape filled with trees. His wings are not as useful in such an area, which should tell any intelligent character that something is wrong.
The adventure book suggests that the Manticore is trying to find food and a new home since Cryovain the dragon displaced him. In all honesty, his backstory doesn’t need to be much bigger than that.
It reminds the players about Cryovain and shows how the dragon needs to be stopped, as the ecosystem cannot handle the new threat.
Remember the Manicore’s stats too. He is at his most powerful when using the multi-attack, but because the creature can fly and has a ranged tail spike attack, it makes sense for the beast to fly up to the top of the windmill and fire his missiles when no one can catch him.
If you do use the tail spike, however, you need to count how many spikes get used up, as the Manticore can only grow so many in a day.
Although Cryovain is only the catalyst to this quest, we cannot forget that without him, the Manticore would not have attacked our lovely herbalist. Dripping the details of the dragon into the storyline will remind the players who the real enemy is. You only need to mention him once or twice for the players to pick up on this worry.
Umbrage Hill is a wonderful quest for first-time players and first-time DMs. You only have two NPCs to worry about, both of which can have detailed storylines that you can easily follow without getting confused.
The quest itself can be completed by the player’s choices. If they are a group that loves to battle, then the fight will be epic. If they are a group that wants to be diplomatic, then they can talk to this magical beast. Most importantly, the players will have complete control over how this quest plays out, and it will give the DM a lot of options for the future of the campaign.
My advice is to make notes throughout the session, so you can pick up on anything the NPCs might do in the session or in the future.
And remember, have fun!
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