Madness at Gardmore Abbey: Session One

At Christmas 2010, my wife’s brother and his wife came to visit us for a couple of weeks. During that time, I introduced them to Dungeons and Dragons, and they were hooked right away.

We started off with a Living Forgotten Realms module I had run at my friendly local game store, and they wanted to know what came next. So, I spent the next day crafting an LFR-style adventure that was the sequel (I really should post about my LURU 2-3 sequel one of these days – Deeper Into the Crypts). I ran it that night, and they loved it. I ran them through two or three more adventures that week before they had to go home. Good times.

Once they were back in Texas, they wanted to keep playing. No problem – MapTool to the rescue! I had heard such good things about Reavers of Harkenwold that I decided to run them through it next, followed by Cairn of the Winter King.

Now that we’re on the standard post-Essentials adventure path, I figured I might as well go with the next adventure: Madness at Gardmore Abbey. I got the box months ago, read through the first two books, and started building monsters in MapTool. Once we figured out when we’d actually be able to play again, I re-read the books, formatted the maps from WotC to fit to a 50 pixel grid, and put a few more monsters together. I randomly determined the positions of the cards from the Deck of Many Things and all of the consequences of those positions. And now, off we go!


Session one began with the party in Fallcrest, relaxing after their voyage to the Cairn of the Winter King. A messenger from Winterhaven rode to town, seeking the adventurers whose reputation was growing as problem solvers. Her name was Elaine (though no one asked). She knew the party by name: Sora the dragonborn swordmage (played by my wife), Homer the drow hunter (played by my wife’s brother) and Stasi the half-elf warpriest (played by my sister-in-law). The messenger explained that Lord Padraig of Winterhaven had a bit of an orc problem that needed solving, and his regular troops weren’t up to the task. He’d heard good things about the adventurers, and decided to send the messenger to hire them.

Being the easygoing, “Where’s the next fight?” group that they are, they eagerly agreed to travel with Elaine to Winterhaven. Lord Padraig had arranged for the party to be put up at Wrafton’s Inn at no charge during their time helping the town. They tried to catch a whiff of rumor about the orcs from the patrons who were there in the early afternoon (Rond Kelfem, Valthrun the Prescient, a few peasants and of course Salvana Wrafton), but their Streetwise was lousy. So, they waited for Padraig to show up.

The Lord came to the Inn around dinner time, and waved for Salvana to bring him his regular mug of ale. He bowed slightly to the party with a few words of flattery and asked to sit with them. He explained the orc problem and what he wanted the group to do (the Scout the Abbey quest from page 8 of book 2). Again, they readily agreed.

After Padraig left, the group tried to pick up some more information, which they got from Valthrun and Eilian the Old at a corner table. They learned about the sacking of Gardmore Abbey 150 years prior and the orcs who lived there ever since. Eilian had seen the ruins as a boy, but never ventured too close. Valthrun expressed interest in the grounds – surely there must be some intriguing mysteries within. He asked the party to let him know if they found anything mysterious.

And with that, they set off to Gardmore Abbey. After three days’ travel, they arrived at the place where a path left the King’s Road to head up to the wall around the abbey’s hill. Their keen eyes spotted some orcs manning (well, orcing) the guard towers by the main gate, so they decided to head south, where trees could be seen on the opposite side of the wall. Finding a gap in the wall, they decided to head on through.

At this point, I decided they needed a fight, so I tossed them into encounter 9 against the spiders (even though they weren’t coming at the Feygrove via the village). The three of them fought off five deathjump spiders without trouble.

During a short rest after the battle, the adventurers noticed an armor-clad skeleton tangled up in some webs in the trees. Armor might mean treasure, so they climbed up and cut the body down. They were able to figure out that this was the body of a paladin of Bahamut, and in addition to a faint magic aura from the paladin’s sword, they also discovered a thin plate of ivory, about the size of the palm of a hand, blank on one side, and with an etched image of key on the other side (which I described as being similar to scrimshaw). Stasi, the Arcana-trained warpriest, was able to figure out that this was a card from the Deck of Many Things, a legendary artifact known as a force for chaos in the universe. She was also able to determine what effect the Key card would have in battle. Intrigued, she decided to hang onto the card.

And thus ends session one. I’m excited about how things have gone so far. It didn’t take much encouragement for my group to decide to check out the Abbey, and now they’ve found one of the cards of the Deck of Many Things. They’re in the Abbey to scout the orcs, but have taken a circuitous route to get there – and that’s okay! Madness at Gardmore Abbey allows for a lot of freedom, which I appreciate.

Now I need to put some more encounters together – I only have 1 through 14 done!

Next session: Session two

6 thoughts on “Madness at Gardmore Abbey: Session One

  1. I also intend for my group to play Madness, but they are just now coming into the final stretch of Reavers.

    Considering that they will probably play through an interim flashback campaign [1] (using some adventures coming next year that im anxious to go into, but would take too long to get to), they will probably only get there a year from now 😛

    That didnt stop me from setting a few ideas on paper on how to integrate the adventure into my campaign, and fill the card placement form; with those, i had a specific plot, so i went with a specific card that the players will find at the end of Reavers, as well as setting a few cards not randomly, although most were, which gave interesting combos and situations.

    So many adventures, so little time.

    [1] – link where i discuss the idea:,_has_anyone_done_that

    • Interesting. Personally, I wouldn’t want to run my players through a separate flashback campaign as an alternate party from the past, then resume the original campaign. I’d just make them two totally unrelated campaigns. But that’s just me. Good luck with it if you go this approach – I’d be interested to hear how it turns out!

    • I’m glad you liked it! I’m going to try to post session by session recaps of this campaign, since I know a lot of folks are interested in Madness at Gardmore Abbey. The next session is scheduled for Saturday morning, so I hope to do a Christmas Eve update.

  2. Im thinking of doing it because the themes are related, and because one of the adventures i want to run is Epic Tier; i have my doubts my group will get that far on my current campaign (which i intend to stick with as long as i can), so that setup is a good compromise, IMHO; if the players will want to do it is another matter altogether.

    Will post more on it if it pans out (but its still at least a couple of months away anyway).

    On a more related note, im also very interested in your reports of that adventure, as well as a bit more on how you handled the attack on Iron Keep, from Reavers, as they are getting to that next; im thinking of taking a different approach, even more combat oriented than the proposed ones, going so far as creating char sheets for the resistance leaders which the players will get to play with as well, alongside their own, on a kind of tag team system, which will allow for more deadly combats and necessary resource management.


      When I ran Reavers, the party approached Iron Keep via the front gate. They decided to claim that the half-elf in the party was the sister of an Iron Keep soldier who had died in battle, and she was coming to collect his personal effects. Some good bluffing got them into the Keep with an armed guard following them closely. He took them into the barracks, at which point they closed the door and jumped the guy.

      From there, they snuck through the dining and met the sympathetic servants in the kitchen, who pointed them toward the main tower where the baron was being held. They climbed up to the drawbridge and started the fight; one of them got stuck outside dealing with archers while the others handled the inside. They went upstairs after that and dealt with the big bad, then finished in the prison and freed the baron (the remaining bad guys down there had low morale, and one surrendered without a fight when they showed the big bad’s dead body).

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