February 2011

I ran Save Versus Death’s Revenge of the Iron Lich dungeon delve yesterday at the game store. I had wanted to get started at noon and told players that we’d have a hardstart at 12, but by 12 there were only 4 players and I wanted to get a full group. So we waited a bit and 3 more people showed up. 1 of the players had made his own 16th level character so I let him use that and we rolled with 7 PC’s. The extra PC was an elf hunter, similar to the character that the player is playing in my Friday night game (Break the Iron Circle).

I was excited that we had a full table but unsure of how it was going to go down. Everyone at the table was new to 4th edition, including me. Some had only played at D&D Encounters for a few weeks while others had only played a single game of 4th edition before. As for myself this was the 2nd session of 4th edition I’d be running but that turned out not to be a problem, as I’d read the delve plenty and figured out what the monsters and such were going to do.

I’ll explain more of what happened below, but I’ll say here that they did not complete the delve. They succumbed to the time limit without even facing the Iron Lich himself. It was an intense four hours of gaming but they all seemed to enjoy it.


The rest of this entry will have spoilers  so if you plan on playing the delve I recommend you stop reading now.



Still with me? Allright.

This delve is really big for 4 hours of gaming. The path my players followed was Entry Room, Hallway, Souldriver Golem Room, Dismal Descent, Area K, Battle with the Necrolith.

By the time they finished the traps in Dismal Descent there was 40 minutes left and I knew that if I teleported them to Area J like it says to they would never have made it to the last fight in time. I wanted them to at least die fighting the last bosses so I had the portal take them to Area K instead, right in front of the spectral stairs. They messed around in the area for a bit but didn’t the secret door to take them to Area L and they didn’t investigate the hallways on either side. They knew they were almost out of time and figured that they needed to get up the stairs. They didn’t have the steelsun amulet, so I let the cleric make a Religion check to know that the stairs were insubstantial. From the previous battle with the Wraith Captain he knew that radiant damage made insubstantial things solid, so he used some powers that dealt radiant damage and I had the stairs become solid. From there they climbed the stairs and entered the room to the last battle.

I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me go back to the start before I tell the details of how it all ended.

I started the game with a character draft, each player rolling a d20 and the highest number choosing a character first, then the second highest number, and so on until all the characters had been chosen. I gave them 10 minutes to familiarize themselves with the characters and then started.

The session almost ended in a TPK in the first room. They discovered the deck of mortals and the mage made her check to realize what they were. But instead of trusting to blind luck the cleric used his Hand of Fate ritual to aid them in choosing cards. I figured that was clever and allowed it and had the hand pantomime whichever action was most beneficial in response to the question the cleric asked (“should someone pick up the top card?”). I drew the first card and looked at it; it was the gain 30 HP card, so that hand made a motion to pick up the card. The thief picked it up and was very happy.

The cleric asked again and I looked at the second card. It was the “A Balor appears and attacks the party” card. The hand made a motion of shrinking away from the deck so the party stopped drawing. The skeleton vanished and they moved into the hallway. If they hadn’t used that ritual they probably would have all been killed by the Balor, as they were encouraged by the first card, they probably would have chosen the second one. This delve is lethal, but it’s most lethal to greedy players. Players that act safe will most likely not succumb to the instant death traps, which brings me to the first character death.

The thief found the first 2 pits in the hallway but stumbled into the 3rd and he fell in. Good thing the party had tied a rope around him so he only feel 10ft before they pulled him out. My players were inexperienced with 4th edition but they definitely know how to go through a dungeon crawl. 🙂

They started exploring the Hall of the Iron Golem and triggered the encounter. No PC deaths and only one PC got hit by the falling balconies. So they are exploring the rest of the room when the Bard gets it in his head to stand in the unstable ritual circle, AFTER the mage made her Arcana check and told the part that random things would happen to people standing in there. The first roll he got a mundane item card. Then the thief stepped in. The thief got a Rumor and the Bard lost training in one skill. At this point the thief left the circle, but the Bard stayed even though all the players were telling him he should get out. He should have listened as the next roll was the death ring of fire. He failed his saving throw and was burned up.

The players all gasped and were a little shocked at the instant death. It shook them up a bit and instead of using the red gem that they took from the golem and putting it into the northern door, they went down the west corridor and the thief opened the book without hesitating. Boom. Lose your rituals, skill training and the book vanishes. The players were nervous but knew that time was running out so they went into the Dismal Descent.

This encounter actually went very well for the players, all things considered. They failed to challenge the captain to single combat, even though I all but spelled it out for them that that might be a good idea.  During the fight they got sandwiched between the captain floating on one side and the legionaries on the other side. It was going badly until the cleric turned the captain, making him lose the insubstantial trait, and after that they really put the hurt on him. By this time about half of the walls had popped out so when they defeated him they had seen the keys inside and someone had gotten down to the northern door and they had put the 2 together. They raced to search the areas behind the walls for the keys and got them all into the door just before the last wall pushed out. So…that meant they had 2 rounds to get to the top of the stairs and jump onto the statues hand before the walls slid back in. Here’s where they improvised again.

Only one player attempted (and made) the jump check to get across the chasm to the giant hand. The rest of them raced up the stairs and out of the room, and then waited 10 minutes while the mage used her Floating Disk ritual. Then she simply ferried everyone across and jumped through the portal, which takes us back to before, with the party briefly exploring Area K  before climbing the spectral stairs.

They had 40 minutes left when they started the fight with the Necrolith and I knew they had no chance to defeat him. All through the dungeon the mage hadn’t been able to affect the big monsters (Souldriver & Wraith Captain) with her attacks, so she was relegated to minion and other creature duty. Unfortunately there weren’t other creatures in this fight, until the Congregation showed up and started owning the mage, cleric, and thief. It teleported in between them so that all 3 were adjacent and it kept them locked down while the 2 rangers shot uselessly at the Necrolith and the Fighter went toe to toe with it.

The party found 2 of the soul orbs in that chamber and attacked both of them from range, not bothering to get close enough to see who was inside. They were afraid that the Nercolith was going to draw power from the orbs like the Souldriver did, so they shot them first. The first orb attacked the Necrolith while the second one attacked the party. After a few rounds of fight the Congregation was finally bloodied but the Necrolith wasn’t anywhere close. At that point we reached 4 hours and everyone died.

When I was reading over the delve before hand I didn’t think it was that big, but from actually running it I don’t know how a party can get all the pieces they need to destroy the Iron Lich and defeat him in combat in 4 hours. To get the required items you have to find secret doors, which takes you off the main path of the dungeon. Following the main path is time consuming enough, so a party would have to be working together almost perfectly, in game and out of game, in order to get the items they need, navigate the dungeon, and finish the final battle. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying that it can’t be done with inexperienced players.

In order to beat this dungeon your players are going to have to be at least 2 things: Experienced RPG’s, in that they understand the concept of a dungeon and have a general idea of how to act in a dungeon run. They also need to be comfortable with 4th edition rules. If they are novices to 4e, the powers and rules will trip them up, while if they are novices to dungeon runs, the actions they take will get them killed.

From a DM’s perspective, the delve was easy to run. I read it through twice, printed everything out and cut out the cards and such and had my tiles and whiteboard ready for the game. I paused the game when I was drawing out the map or placing tiles because I didn’t want those DM administrative actions taking away from their ability to complete the dungeon. I want to reiterate that this was my 2nd 4e session that I’ve DM’d. After reading the delve and figuring out what went where, actually running it was very smooth, at least from my side of the table. I’m not a novice DM so that should be taken into consideration, but I think it’s a credit to the makers of the dungeon that a DM new to 4e can run the dungeon, albeit after careful prep time.

That said, I do have some criticisms of the dungeon. Even with multiple readings before the game, I was still flipping through the pages to see where this door went or what was beyond that chamber, etc. Having clearer entry and exit notes for areas would have been helpful, such as a text box for each area with a brief listing of where the exits go.

I also noticed some odd sentences.  Pg 5: “Tattered banners bearing the symbol of a dangle from the walls on rusted chains.” Just a missing word, but it tripped me up the first couple of times I read it, and I assumed that it was a symbol related to Stormhold, as that’s what the History check revealed.

While not a criticism, I found that I didn’t use the Tiefling Ghost at all. I had planned on making it a halfling ghost for greater comedic value, but by the time the party was in the hallway checking the pit traps I had completely forgot about him. Each area and encounter has enough going on that without a little reminder box on the encounter page I forgot all about the Ghost until the dungeon was over.

There were only a few things I noticed about the pre-generated characters. I think each player stuck to 1 or 2 of the powers and used them for the entire dungeon. I can probably attribute that to them being new players and once they found something that they knew how it worked they stuck with it. The other thing I noticed was the mage not being to really affect the big monsters, as I wrote earlier. In addition, the ranger didn’t use any of his practices, and the Hand of Fate and Floating Disk were the only ritual the Cleric and Mage used.

There’s a lot in this dungeon. If there wasn’t a time limit and the party could work it over multiple sessions it would be awesome to drop into a regular campaign. But I recognize that wasn’t the intent of the dungeon. It’s fourthcore and it’s designed to be challenging and unforgiving, requiring knowledge of character abilities and how to work together. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not for DM’s that like to fudge things to make it easier for the party. Before I ran it I considered making a number of changes that would make it easier, but I decided in the end to run it as is to truly test it and see how far the players could get (not withstanding the change in teleport location, but that was just sympathy for them so that they could at least have the fun of dying while fighting the last bosses).

I would run this dungeon again and I hope to someday, but I’ll make sure that I have a group of 4e gamers that have a firm grasp on the rules. And I’ll remember to remember the Halfling Ghost. That would have been very funny.


Tonight’s session went really well. Almost everyone showed up early and ready to play. We had to make some quick additions to the characters as no one had picked magic items. That one was my fault. We started at 2nd level so they should have had level appropriate magic items and gear, but they assumed they wouldn’t have any. No problems though, we leafed through the books real quick and picked out some basic items.

After character and adventure introductions we started the session with the first encounter in the book – the brigands and the farmhouse that I talked about a few posts ago. I was a little worried that the implementation of the non-skill challenge in combat was going to be clunky but it worked out pretty well. The mage went over to put out the fire right out the gate, except of scooping buckets from the well he used Prestidigation to put out portions of the fire. I figured that was equivalent, if not better, than single buckets of water, so after 4 rounds of him doing that I said the fire had been put out.

While he was putting out the fire he kept trying to convince the NPC to come out of the house and run to safety. Through dialogue with her he picked up that she wanted the brigands to be far away from the house before she would leave, so the party worked on pushing the brigands away from the house. After a few rounds the path was clear and I had her and her sons run out and hop over the fence to safety.

So without much prodding and very little OOC talk about the situation the party managed to accomplish both of the tasks and I rewarded them with some extra XP. They also prevented the escaping brigands from getting away in a climatic running battle. I considered pulling the DM card and just saying that he got away but I felt that it should be played out, so they ran him down and got him.

The highlight of the battle for me was when I got to push one of the PC’s into the well. It was pretty funny, and the ranger got up out of the well the next round, dripping like a wet elf.

The NPC interaction later and the second battle at the tavern went good as well. That battle was a cakewalk for the party so I think I’m going to have to beef up the encounters to make it more challenging. The party composition was: Elf Knight, Eladrin Enchanter, Elf Hunter, Half-Orc Paladin, & the Halfling Cleric. There was a mix between Essentials and regular 4e characters, but I didn’t notice a power difference.

Everyone had a good time and was eager to interrogate the Iron Circle brigand they kept alive, but I called it there for the night because the game store was closing, and it was past our stop time anyway. Overall it was a very successful first session and a very pleasant first time experience in DM’ing 4th edition. After years of DM’ing 3rd edition it was great that I didn’t have to find ways to make sure certain classes were able to contribute. The system works right out of the box. I’m not saying there aren’t flaws or rough spots, but for a group of 2nd level characters it worked great.

Tomorrow: Revenge of the Iron Lich. Anyone want to place bets on how long the PC’s last? 🙂


Good gaming!

I’m about to head out to the first session of my Break the Iron Circle game (Reavers of Harkenwold adventure) and I wanted to share with you how badly I need to start keeping a day planner.

I had planned for two D&D games on Saturday; running the Revenge of the Iron Lich and playing in my weekly Dark Sun game. What I failed to remember is that Saturday is also my and Bre’s 1st anniversary of when we started dating. I didn’t realize this until last night and when I talked to her about it (So….I just realized something…) she nodded her head and was wondering if I had remembered. Because she had remembered for sure and was slightly curious about why I had not 1, but 2 D&D sessions scheduled for our anniversary.

Insert panic face here.

But she’s awesome. I agreed to not go to the weekly Dark Sun game and let them know about it, but still run the Revenge game at the store. I don’t have all the contact info for the players that are coming tomorrow so I’d have no way of telling them that the game was cancelled.

In return we are getting a kitten. It’s okay, I like pets. I’ve just put off agreeing to a cat because I don’t like taking care of them. Bre, however, is definitely a cat person and I knew it was only a matter of time before we got one. And she just texted me a picture of a kitten she found, and the dang thing is really cute.

So, to recap: I almost had a critical fail for anniversaries, my fiancee is awesome, and we’re getting a kitten. Off to the game store! I’ll post some updates during the game to my twitter (@ericnsamuels). Wait for character deaths in real time! I’m kidding. Mostly.

Good gaming!

Good moring, gamers! I’ve got a busy next two days of gaming ahead. Friday night is the first session of my Break the Iron Circle game at the Roll the Dice. I’m running the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure that came in the Dungeon Master’s Kit and I feel I’m ready for it. The first session will probably get through 2 or 3 encounters at the most, since it will be the start-up session which usually entails extra RP between the characters and the NPC’s in order to get the players immersed in the world. I think it will go well.

Saturday is a big day. I’m running Revenge of the Iron Lich at noon at the store and that’s the game that I’m a little nervous about. The players that I’ve gathered up for it seem to be excited to play it, but they are all relatively new to the 4th edition. I’m worried that they won’t complete the adventure in the time limit simply because they don’t have a lot of experience with how 4th edition works.

So to help speed the game up I’m considering changing the way damage rolls work. Instead of rolling for damage with each attack, I’m thinking that each attack that has random damage will instead do average damage + half their level.  Monsters would just get the average damage, no half-level bump. If the attack deals a static number of points of damage, it deals that number + half their level. I’m going to go over the pre-gens and mark down ahead of time what those numbers total out for every attack and write them on each power card.

It’s a small measure, but nearly every power the pre-gens have will be new to the players so any attempt to reduce the math and change it to a quick visual check (okay, I hit with that so I do X damage) I feel will help speed the game. So the dwarf fighters melee basic is now +21 atk, 27 dmg while a sample enemies attack would deal 24 damage. The favor is to the PC’s, but I think they will need the help.

Critical hits still deal max damage, as they should.


Good gaming!

Encounters went very well tonight. The material finally arrived so we were able to start the story line and 12 people showed up to play, including my friancee Bre. It was her first time playing 4th edition and we converted her old 3.5 druid over to the Essentials druid.  The two DM’s ran two separate groups of six each and it ran for about an hour and a half.

The group composition at our table was the first time that I’ve played in a 4th edition game where all of the roles were represented and I really got to observe and enjoy how the system of class roles works together.  We had a Hexblade, Wizard, Druid, Paladin, Slayer, and Cleric (me). In other words, 2 strikers, 2 leaders, 1 defender and 1 controller. From a tactics perspective our group worked together really well. We faced two large sized creatures and the paladin pushed one of them away from the party, then the slayer charged it. For the rest of the encounter the two of them piled on to that one until they killed it. It never escaped away from them to come back and harass the squishier party members, but they stayed close enough so that I could heal and buff them without leaving the other group.

The Hexblade, Druid, her wolf and I formed a line against the other ochre jelly with the wizard hanging back behind us. The jelly didn’t even try to get past us as we kept it busy, and the wolves aura meant that we didn’t even have to flank it in order to get combat advantage. We lined up and traded blows with the jelly until the paladin and slayer finished theirs and came over to put ours to bed. During the course of the battle I spent both of my healing words and the druid spent one of hers. None of the characters had to use their Second Wind.

There are two points that I want to draw from this combat encounter, two things that can make or break an encounter for a party.

1. Tactics. We all knew our roles in the party and used our abilities to their fullest in fulfilling those roles. To borrow from a common MMO, the paladin tanked and generated threat while the slayer pounded it. The other party members formed a solid line that the jelly couldn’t get though to reach the Wizard in the back; it would have had to go around, provoking an opportunity attack from 4 players. That would have carried serious hurt.

As an example of bad tactics I’ll use the random encounter we played the first week of Encounters when the material wasn’t there. The party started out in the bar when lizardfolk appeared outside the bar, surrounding the common square. Instead of trying to draw the lizardfolk into the bar, creating a choke point, we all rushed out into the open and charged whoever we could reach. The problem was that the enemies were in little groups of 2 and 3  and spread out in clumps in a vague semi-circle around the courtyard. From round 1 we were divided, with each character going after different clumps of enemies. I won’t relate the whole battle, but it ended in a TPK. In that battle we had a Slayer, Thief, Paladin, Hunter, and Wizard. Yep. No Leader. Which brings me to my second point.

2. Dual Leaders. There aren’t too many options for 1st level Essential characters, but I choose the options for my cleric with the design goal that all my abilities should help the other members of the party. I choose the Disciple of Light feat so that if I have to Second Heal my allies get a short buff as well, and other abilities like the at-will attack that grants a saving throw. So my cleric was designed to be the party band-aid. The druid (spring) was a mix of healing and offense. She didn’t have as many small healing abilities as my Cleric, but her two encounter uses of Healing Word, combined with the at-will that granted an ally temp HP, really helped out with the duty of keeping everyone alive. Not once did a character drop below 0 HP. I think only 2 characters even got bloodied, the paladin and the slayer.

I’m not advocating that a party should have 2 leaders. After tonight’s session I think it’s almost something of an over-heal (zing!). While the first weeks TPK showed the dire need for a Leader, tonight’s session didn’t have that, “Oh man half the party is bloodied, the fighter is unconscious and the cleric is out of heals! Drop that monster fast!” There wasn’t a point where I felt that we were going to lose. I’m not saying that every combat a party has they should feel like they’re almost about to all die, but in tonight’s encounter I barely felt a sense of danger. Sure, there’s always the danger of the uncertainty of the dice, will the strikers hit or miss, is this creature going to crit the hexblade, etc…but I didn’t feel like any of the characters were threatened. In short, it didn’t feel like a challenge, and I think a successful combat encounter should be one where the players were challenged (though not necessarily to the brink of death each time).

The players that are going to be in my Friday night game (which I have dubbed Break the Iron Circle)were in attendance tonight at Encounters. I chatted briefly with the players, mostly just reinforcing the starting time as we had pretty well hashed out who was playing what over e-mails. I’ve got 5 players for sure (including Bre) and 1 maybe.  I’m excited about getting the game started and am glad that I’ve been going to Encounters to get a better feel for how the mechanics of the game have changed. My DM hat isn’t too dusty (ran a short D&D 3.5 Mask of the Red Death/New Orleans game last fall) so I’m not too worried about breaking out old DM skills. But I am a little nervous about the second 4th edition game that I’m going to DM, which will be the next day (Saturday).

I’m going to run the Fourthcore delve Revenge of the Iron Lich on Saturday, starting at noon. It’s 16th level, comes with pregens, and from the talk around the internet it’s hardcore. I’d give you an example but I don’t want to ruin the adventure for those who want to play it.

To recap: On Friday night I’ll be DM’ing my first 4th edition game. The party will be 2nd level and it’s a fairly balanced adventure published by WoTC. The next day I’ll be running a hardcore adventure for 16th level characters that I’m sure will test both their wits and mine.

Nothing like the old trial by fire I suppose.


Good gaming!

Good morning, internets.

Got a relatively busy day today. Breakfast at Wall St, physical science test in my first class, then class the rest of the day. But tonight is Encounters night! Woot.

Last week I played a Cleric (warpriest) for the first time and I was really pleased with the difference from 3.5. Instead of simply using my actions to cast cure spells on the party in combat I was attacking and providing short buffs, whether it was a healing surge or boost to defenses. It was pretty cool to have the party form around the cleric, sort of like a mobile defense station. There were 8 people and 2 DM’s last week at Encounters and hopefully they’ll all be back tonight.

Should also get the chance to talk to my players more about the game Friday and get some close to final notes about what the party composition is going to be. We’ve been in e-mail contact for the past week and so far it seems that the party will consist of a Gnome Bard, a Half-Orc Paladin, Elf Druid (spring), and an Eladrin Psion. There’s another player that has expressed interest but I don’t have his e-mail so I suppose I’ll find out tonight what he’s playing. If he hasn’t decided I’m going to recommend Cleric, because while the party will have a Druid for some healing, my experience last week showed me that it’s important to have a character that is dedicated to healing. Well, I suppose I could say dedicated to a single role in order to provide the most benefits of that role to the party.

To explain that further let me talk about my weekly Dark Sun game. There’s a Human Warlord in the party that at first was built half & half, and by that I mean the player roughly divided his abilities between powers that affected other characters and powers that enhanced himself. After a few sessions of play and some retraining he changed the majority of powers to effect other characters. The difference was really noticeable and a big jump in our effectiveness. There’s no healer in the group, so the Warlord does that as a side job, but his main deal of granting attacks, and attack and damage bonuses, really turn the tide for us in battle. So while the Druid will be able to heal some, I think the party will have a better chance of surviving if they have a dedicated healer.

I’ll report back on Encounters and how the party is shaping up later tonight.

Good gaming!

One of the many new elements in 4th edition is the Skill Challenge. In the month and a half of my playing 4e I’ve participated in a few, most notably one in my weekly Dark Sun game. The PC’s were guarding a caravan and were attacked by a group of monsters, two of which were swarms. The skill challenge was that every round during combat a few of the birds would break away from the swarms and attack the caravan people that we were guarding. At the end of each round each player told the DM what their character was doing to drive the birds away from the cowering drivers and laborers. Some players used Acrobatics to jump up and swat the birds away, others used Perception to tell the drivers that the birds were coming, thereby allowing the caravaners to hide. My mul gladiator used Endurance by intentionally wounding himself so that the stray birds would be attracted by the scent of fresh blood and come back to the swarm.

In the end we had enough successes that none of the caravaners were killed, though some of them had sustained injuries. We had completed the skill challenge! Huzzah! That’s been the best skill challenge I’ve had so far. The most frustrating one was in the same campaign where the party had to get past an arcane & mechanically locked door. No one in the party had either of the most useful skills (arcana or thievery), so there were long strings of failures interspersed with us getting blasted with arcane energy from the door. Needless to say we failed the challenge, the doors timer lock clicked and we were stuck. It was the end of the session anyway so we camped in the cave mouth and took an extended rest. The next game session we went back to the door and this time luck was on our side as we rolled high and quickly got the successes we needed to continue the adventure. The failure of the skill challenge completely shut us down and during it I mostly felt useless as my gladiator didn’t have much to contribute except standing in the way of the energy blasts.

The former skill challenge with the birds was far more enjoyable, as it was very well-integrated into the combat encounter, which meant that we weren’t suddenly stopping RP to mess around with a bunch of mechanics. I’m sure that this isn’t much of a surprise to most people reading this given your (presumed) greater experience with 4e, but for me it was a valuable lesson in how a skill challenge could be incorporated into the game without standing out like a sore thumb.

This is all leading somewhere, don’t worry.

I’m going to run the adventure “Reavers of Harkenwold” at the game store on Friday with a group of players that I met at Encounters the last two weeks. Yes, Encounters is actually working in bringing players together. It’s a great idea and my only gripe is that we haven’t had the material for the past two weeks. My thinking is that that’s a local issue though, not a problem with Encounters as a whole. We’ll see if the material is there tomorrow.

I’ve been reading through the adventure and I’m pretty excited about. It’ll be my first time DM’ing a 4e game, though certainly not my first time behind the screen. I don’t remember exact dates and such, but I do recall that I didn’t have my AD&D books for a year before I had conned my friends into letting me run the game. I don’t remember much about the sessions aside from the characters getting captured, thrown in jail, and the psion using some Non-PG-13 tactics to escape prison. Best not repeated, trust me. I’ve DM’d a handful of pick-up games for 3.5 for weeks when whatever group’s I was in DM took a break. I’ve also taken up ST duties and ran a Hunters: The Reckoning game for two players; that campaign was awesome, and ended sadly when the players got too cocky and went patrolling the streets, looking for vampires to beat.

Digression aside, I’ve decided to incorporate a challenge into the first encounter of the adventure. The setup is that the PC’s come upon a group of brigands with wolves that are standing outside a farmhouse with lit torches. There is a woman and her two teenage sons inside that the brigands are taunting. The adventure calls for a straight fight between the PC’s and the brigands, but I’m thinking that it’d be interesting if the brigands toss the torches onto the roof of the farmhouse before the fight starts. Now the PC’s have an immediate problem: how are they going to save the woman and her sons?

I didn’t refer to this as a skill challenge because I’m not going to run it like one. Instead think of it as a non-combat challenge set inside a combat encounter. The PC’s will have to use actions to complete the challenge instead of rolling skill checks during the fight. The woman has barred the door and shut the windows, and while the brigands are standing in front of the main door (which is where the fight will roughly take place), there is a back door that the woman could use to escape. The reason that she doesn’t just run away is that she’s afraid of being shot in the back by the brigands. Here are my notes on the challenge.

Title: The House Is On Fire!
Goal: Rescue the people stuck inside the house.
Strategy 1: Put out the fire. This allows the woman and her sons to stay inside the house in safety while the PC’s fight the brigands.

Strategy 2: Convince the people to leave the house. Ilyana and her sons will go out the back door and hide behind the farmhouse until the brigands are killed.

Strategy 3: Kill the brigands before the house burns to the ground. Once the brigands are dead Ilyana and her sons will come out and put out the fire.

Success: The fire is put out or the people leave the house before it burns with them inside it.

Failure: The fire is not put out and Ilyana escapes but her sons die.

1st Trigger: Once the brigands are dead Ilyana and her sons will leave the house if they are still alive.

2nd Trigger: Once the fire is out Ilyana and her sons open windows and shout encouragement to the characters, granting morale bonuses in combat.

The goal of the challenge is to save Ilyana, her sons, and the house. Regardless of whether the PC’s succeed or fail, Ilyana will escape but the PC’s don’t know that.

Instead of making skill checks to put out the fire or convince her to leave I’m going to tell the players that they can have their characters spend actions putting out the fire instead of fighting. There’s a well in the yard and my thoughts are that if a player spends his turn going to the well, drawing up water, going to the house and throwing it on the fire then that will take their actions for the round. There’s no check involved: either the players devote a turn to putting out the fire or they don’t. This seems to make sense in that you can’t fight and put out a fire at the same time. What I won’t tell them is that in order to put out the fire the players need a certain number of successes, to borrow the phrase from the skill challenge. Each round of characters actions putting out the fire counts as one success. If two players in a round devote their actions to putting out the fire then that’s two successes that round.

I’m going to use a number of mechanical elements to make the idea of putting out the fire attractive to the players, as their first response will likely be to try to kill the brigands before putting out the fire. They’ll learn about them as they come out in play.

1) When a player devotes his turn to putting out the fire his movements do not provoke opportunity attacks. Compare this to the idea of total defense, where the character is concentrating on evading attacks. Instead of making attacks against the enemy they are trying to move around the brigands, get to the well and put out the fire. As long as they’re not fighting the brigands, no opportunity attacks from the brigands versus those PC’s.

2) Spending an Action Point to aid in putting out the fire will count as 2 successes. So if a player devotes their turn to putting out the fire and spends an action point, they’ve contributed 3 successes that round. I figure it’s worth 2 successes because the AP action that the character would normally take would be an attack, and since it’s a limited resource it’s a highly valued action. In sacrificing the extra attack to put out the fire I feel they should get something good in return.

3) The house will burn down within a set number of rounds, so the players have a time limit within which to accomplish the task. They won’t know exactly how long that time limit is as the beginning of combat, but as the fire spreads it will be easier to tell when the house is almost consumed. Each success that the players get in putting out the fire will slow down the fire and add more rounds to the time limit. They won’t be told that directly but it’s effect should be obvious.

4) If the 2nd trigger happens (fire is out but brigands are alive), then Ilyana and her sons will open the windows to let the smoke out. They’ll stand there shouting encouragement to the characters, which will grant the characters some type of morale bonus. I think it’ll be something along the lines of a +2 to attack or defense for the duration of the encounter. It’s not a large number, but the party is 2nd level so it will have an impact and more importantly the players will see a direct result of their succeeding at the challenge.

As I’m re-reading what I just wrote I can see how this might seem over-complicated and slow combat down, but I think it will run fairly quick because the players aren’t going to be bogged down with the analysis that I’ve just written. All they have to do is tell me what they’re doing and I’ll keep track of the consequences, so from the player’s side it should run smooth, but more importantly it shouldn’t feel like a skill challenge.

I feel that pretty well covers the first strategy. The third strategy is simple: kill the brigands as fast as possible before the house burns down. The second strategy I’m not real sure about. I’m trying to think of ways for the players to convince Ilyana and her sons to escape while the PC’s are still fighting the brigands without using a skill check mechanic, but I’m having trouble thinking of actions that the players could take instead of rolling skill checks.



::two cigarette breaks later::


Got it. Ilyana is worried about the brigands attacking her and her sons if they leave the house, so for strategy #2 the players need to get the brigands away from the house. In game terms they’ll need to maneuver (push/pull/slide, etc) the brigands until all of the brigands are a certain number of squares away from the house…say…three squares away. That will give Ilyana enough confidence that she can make a safe getaway and the PC’s will have convinced her to escape.


To recap: We now have a challenge in the combat that doesn’t have to be solved by the PC’s killing the enemies or making a skill check. In the future I may try the normal rules for skill challenges in combats, but I’m curious to see how this one will play out. The game is set for Friday evening so I should have a report Friday night.


Good gaming!

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