#7 – Rusty Gates of Berlstrum – Dreadstorms Lost Campaign

The following blog post is Part 7 of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign, Dreadstorms Lost. These blogs are intended for other game masters who might want to use this campaign setting and the scenarios to inspire their own role playing games. (Free for noncommercial reuse.)


Every game master has their approach to experience points and leveling their players. I’ve left it up to the game master to decide what is an appropriate experience amount for the encounters within this campaign. The 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (page 82) discusses experience points and determining a party’s encounter threshold. For some this information will undoubtedly be very helpful. I find it kinda baffling. 

Kobold Fight Club does a nice job of calculating encounter XP based on your party member levels, monsters in the combat, environment, CR level. It’ll identify what level difficulty the encounter would be considered. Mind you, I take that with a certain grain of salt. Group dynamics vary wildly. For one group a “deadly” encounter was no challenge at all. The other group was sweating through the same fight, but I’d judge it was “hard” for them, not deadly. Kobold Fight Club will also provide random encounters based on level of difficulty your looking for. It has the feature to manage encounters and players, but I’ve yet to give it a try. 

Where are all these thugs coming from?

Thugs and bandits are flooding the town of Berlstrum. What are our heroes doing? Have they stayed at their post, guarding the South Tower and the entrance? Are the searching  for the Champions? Are they saving townsfolk from roving bands of bad guys? Are they getting drunk in a tavern?

If they players have gone into town:

They will find the mayor wrestling with 3 thugs (at the Champion’s Manor or wherever makes sense for this encounter in game) and needing their help.

If the players are still guarding the gate entrance:

Two human males and a female tiefling carrying maces charge the tower. As soon as they are in range of the guards (the players), the 3 thugs attack. They don’t even bother to talking. The mayor will approach the party shortly after this encounter.

See 5th Edition Monster Manual page 350 for general thug stats.

Thug 1, human male
To hit +4 Mace,
dmg 1d6+2 bludgeoning
HP 30
Thug 2, human maleTo hit +3 Mace,
dmg 1d6+1 bludgeoning
HP 24
Thug 3, tiefling femaleTo hit +4 handaxe,
Dmg 1d6+2 slashing
HP 35

Cobblekeep Lightdiggerson, Mayor of Berlstrum

small humanoid (lightfoot halfling)
Armor Class 13 (no armor)
Hit Points 9
Speed 25 ft.

STR 10 (+0) ♦ DEX 17 (+3) ♦ CON 13 (+1) ♦ INT 10 (+0) ♦ WIS 12 (+1) ♦ CHA 17 (+3)

Proficiencies (+2 proficiency bonus)

Saving Throws DEX +5, INT +5
Skills: Perception +5, History +2, Insight, +3, Persuasion +5, Performance +5

Halfling Traits:

Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours.
Lucky. When you roll a 1 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll.
Brave. You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
Naturally Stealthy. You can attempt to hide even when you are obscured by a
creature that is at least one size larger than you.

Berlstrum Goes into Defense Mode

After combat is done and a short rest, Mayor Cobblekeep says to the players:

The champions are missing. They haven’t been seen for days! The town is overrun with all sorts of these wretched sort … breaking into homes, looting, killing innocent people … more seem to be coming in every minute. We must close Berlstrum’s gates until the champions can be found or the Sovereign can send help. Can you lot handle closing the gates? The mechanisms are in the gatehouse walls. You just needs someone on each side pulling the big levers. Can’t miss em!

And we need all the protectors (and protectors-in-training) to stop these rampaging menaces and protect the townsfolk. Do whatever is necessary! Hurry! More of those bastards are coming every minute!

By land, the North and South Gates are the only known ways in and out of Berlstrum. The gate house consists of two portcullis gates (inner and outer vertical dropping gates), and a wide zig-zag passageway between gates (see image for details). Entrance to the main gate house is inside the round tower that mimics the exterior guard tower, but is only as tall as the city wall.

The city wall is 20 feet thick and 25 feet high, topped with crenelation for patrolling guards.

The gates haven’t been lowered in over 10 years. The gate houses [#2 & #106] have been storage space for random odds and ends, crates, rats’ nests, and numerous spider webs. The mechanisms to lower the gate seems stuck. Bad guys are approaching fast! What do you do?

SKILL CHALLENGE – Stuck Porticullis

Describe how your character uses a skill to help solve the problem of lowering the portcullis on south gatehouse [and north]. You can NOT use the same skill twice in a row and you can NOT use the same skill as the person before you. The skill used needs to make sense within the scenario. Players are encouraged to come up with plausible issues in the scenario that their skill can help with as well as aiding other players.

Roll initiative to determine action order. Action/Move/Reaction still applies each round.

The party has a total of 8 rounds
to lower both portcullises in the South entrance.

The South Gate is a 2-part challenge, reach 5 successful skill checks before 5 failures
on each gate (2 portcullises at the South town entrance). It takes 2 move/dashes and 1 move to reach the 2nd mechanism room (~150 ft).

The North entrance also has 2 portcullises. It is up to the GM if players need to take care of both entrances or only the South one.

  • Natural 20 = Counts as 2 successes
  • Natural 1 = Counts as 2 failures
  • Helping an ally = gives ally advantage with described aid; doesn’t count as success or failure for person providing help. (example: Stormy gives Moregor a boost up to climb to the top of the rafters. Moregor gets advantage on his Athletics check.)
  • Passing = I don’t know what to do! Doesn’t count as a success or failure

GM Note: Possible specific challenges for the players to overcome in this skill challenge:

  • Getting to the mechanism involves moving/getting through a space packed with piles of crates, broken equipment debris, etc.
  • The gears on the winch won’t move without oil. 
  • The rusty chains have come off of the pulleys.
  • There something jammed in the track that has to be forced out before the gate will drop.
  • The handle that operates the winch has weakened over time and breaks at the first pull.

There are 4 gates in total (2 in the South entrance and 2 in the North). You can decide if the first gate was too easy and increase the difficulty challenge for each following gate. If you feel one gate house is sufficient time spent on a skill challenge, you can imply that another group is handling the other entrance. 

South Gate #1 – DC 14

DC 14 = For a used skill to be successful, player must roll a 14 or higher.

Goal: As a group, reach 5 successful skill checks on Gate #1 before 5 fails.

South Tower (#106) Zoom in - Berlstrum South Gate with details

Example Skill Challenge Encounter

Player Rnd 1 – Skill Used Rnd 2 – Skill Used Rnd 3 – Skill Used
 Dorn Uses  Investigate to figure out why the machinery is not working;
Rolls 19
Success: Finds chain is off pulley
Uses Arcana to cast Prestidigitation to clean the rat’s nest covering the coiled chain;
Rolls 5
Fail: removing the rats nest so abruptly weakens the chain, causing a link to break
Feels his brilliant wizard brain shouldn’t be used for such brutish work, he heads to the secondary mechanism room to assess the situation;
Move/Dash Action
Doesn’t count toward success/fail
 Amira Uses Athletics to climb rafters to reach the pulley to fix the chain.
Rolls 1 (counts as 2 fails)
Fail; loses grip and falls onto pile of crates (possibly take damage 1d6/10 ft of fall)
Uses basic Strength skill to force the broken link back into a closed shape
Rolls 16;
Success: The link seems to be solid
Tries Athletics again to reach the chain off the pulley;
Rolls 20 (not Nat);
Success: Easily shimmies up the rigging and moves the chain into positionGroup has reached 5 success! First gate is lowered down.
 Stormy Uses Perception looking for repair tools.
Rolls 14
Success; Finds a large wrench inside the crate Amira just busted open
Offers to Help Moregore climb up to fix the chain onto the pulley
Counts as neither success or failure; gives Moregore advantage on climb check
Move/Dash Action towards the other mechanical room
 Moregor With the wrench Stormy found, he uses Tinkering proficiency to loosen up the gears.
Rolls 22
Success: Is able get the gears unstuck
Uses Athletics to climb to the top of the rigging.
Rolls w/advantage 11
Fail: Climbing has never been his thing he grumbles as he lays flat on his back from the fall
Move/Dash Action towards the other mechanical room

… and so on …

Success/Fail Totals

Round 1

Successes: 3
Fails: 2

Round 2

Successes: 1
Fails: 2

Round 3

Successes: 1

South Gate #2 – DC 16

DC 16 = For skill to be successful, player must roll a 16 or higher. (Adjust level of difficulty based on how easy/hard the first gate was for the player.)

Goal: Reach 5 successful skill checks on Gate #2 before 5 failed checks.


  1. If players lower both South gates, the Skill Challenge is complete and full experience is given.
  2. If players only succeed in lowering one of the two portcullises, the invading ruffians will eventually break through. Award half experience.
  3. If players fail to lower either gate within 8 rounds, a large band of kobolds (20 regular/5 winged) will run through the gatehouse, mostly ignoring the players to find easier, less pointy prey.

Optional Second Skill Challenge

North Gate #1 – DC 15

DC 15 = For a used skill to be successful, player must roll a 15 or higher.

Goal: As a group, reach 5 successful skill checks on gate #1, but only 4 fails this time.

North Gate #2 – DC 16

DC 16 = For skill to be successful, player must roll a 16 or higher. (Adjust level of difficulty based on how easy/hard the first gate was for the player.)

Goal: As a group, reach 5 successful skill checks on gate #1, but only 4 fails this time.


  • If players lower both North gates, the Skill Challenge is complete and full experience is given.
  • If players only succeed in lowering one portcullises, invading ruffians will eventually break through. Award half experience.
  • If players fail to lower either gate within 8 rounds, a band of 20+ goblins will run through the gatehouse, ignoring the players to find easier, less pointy prey.

North Tower

Berlstrum North Tower Map Zoom

Up Next: Time to explore the Champions’ Mansion and find some clues on what’s going on! Oh no! Looters and low-lives have already been there. #8 – Champions’ Manor – Dreadstorms Lost


  1. I’ve ran this campaign with 2 different groups. The first group split the party. The South gate went pretty smoothly, though it took a while. They cut it really close. The other half had trouble getting the North gate closed in time and ended up fighting off a bunch of kobolds. Eventually they did manage to get both gates down.

    When I ran threw the gate scenario with the other group, I cut back on some of the requirements because it felt like it dragged on too long. They actually breezed through the first gate, so I had to up the difficulty on the second gate to keep them challenged.


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