Last Friday my group finished Act 1 of the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure. They’ve done very well so far, enlisting the aid of the riverboat halfling clan, the farmers of Tors hold and the forest elves in their quest to rid the Harkenwold of the Iron Circle menace. They’ve suffered only 1 PC death ( paladin of the Raven Queen) and he was brought back as a Revenant.

Act 2 opens with a massive pitched battle between a hundred Iron Circle mercenaries & the rebel alliance at town of Albridge. The adventure book calls for 3 separate fights for the PC’s during this battle, each taking place away from the main fighting. I’ve talked on here about my plans to play out the battle itself using homebrew wargaming rules instead of doing the 3 fights. My players are onboard for this and I’ve run two playtests of the battle. Its a hard fight and both times the rebels lost, mainly due to improper troop placement before the battle. It’s a deceptive fight because the players naturally want to setup defenses on the north side of the rivet spanning bridge and force the Iron Circle to cross the bridge, but the Iron Circle has better ranged attack units and in each playtest have drawn the rebels south across the bridge where they were slaughtered to the last man. So if the players hope to win they have to position their troops south of the bridge.

One of the players was in one of the playtests and really wants to tell the group what they should do, based on his playtest experience. Thankfully he asked me first and I told him no. That’s direct meta-gaming, but I do want to feed the players some clues, in-game, about how they might best position themselves. I’m thinking a skill challenge type structure, using History and Nature to determine what kind of advice or plans I’ll give the players.

We were planning to do the battle this Friday but one of the players is going to be at an anime convention (MTAC), so we’ll push the battle to next week. Which means that this week I need something for them to do that isn’t covered in the adventure book.

I don’t know the statistics on whether DM’s prefer their own adventures or published adventures, but I usually run with my own adventures. This is actually the first time I’ve used a published adventure and I mainly choose to do so this time because I’m still new to 4th edition and wanted to run something that I assumed would be balanced as my first major foray in the 4th edition. I like making up my own stories and adventures though and I recently started a bi-weekly Sunday night game set in my own homebrew world. So I don’t mind gaming outside the published adventure lines, to borrow a metaphor.

What I decided to do is to have the session be an extended RP session with th PC’s organizing the town’s defenses over the course of 2 or 3 days before the big battle. The group likes to RP and we’ve had limited time for that recently so I think they’ll enjoy an extended RP session. But at its heart D&D is a combat RPG so I want to have them fight something during the session as well. There’s been talk on various D&D blogs lately about ignoring the XP budget when designing encounters and instead building them more for aesthetic  and story purposes. Theres merits and drawbacks for both ways of doing it, but I do use the the XP budget when designing encounters. If I’m pulling together a random encounter with monsters from the Monster Vault I’ll check the budget and pick ones that fit both with the story and the budget.

But if I’m custom making the monster, as I did for this Friday’s session, I generally ignore it and just make something that’s cool and fits the story. For example, this is the monster I made for the game Friday, the dreaded Vampire. He’s a level 5 solo brute that can dominate and drain healing surges in a single turn (The PC’s are 3rd level, by the way). The vampire will sneak into the town during the night, killing a few rebel pickets to get to the PC’s house and then try to kill each of them in their sleep. Realistically it won’t kill anyone in their sleep but it will start the combat with biting the PC while their sleeping in bed. A great opportunity to give them the heebie jeebies, and they’ll probably be fighting in the combat without their heavy armor on (since it’ll be attacking in the middle of the night). The PC’s might set a watch, but their sleeping in town with the whole rebel alliance guarding the town. They’re not that paranoid. Yet.

In other gaming news, one of my players is an old friend of Robert Schwalb and encouraged me to start using Robert’s forum as a place for OOC chatter and IC RP’ing when we’re not at the table. Though I’m an experienced PbP’er, I haven’t done much with on this forum aside from setting up the OOC thread. One of the players has started an IC thread as a continuation of the RP that we ended with last session.

I think it’s a neat idea and I encouraged the players to log on and post whatever they want. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to keep up with the forum threads as much as I’d like to, but it’s an interesting alternative to Obsidian Portal (which I use as well and like, no complaints here) and it’ll allow the players to RP some more, as we are limited to a 4 hour time slot at the gaming store.

Good gaming!

Greetings all,

It’s been awhile since I’ve update here and there’s been a lot of gaming that’s happened in the meantime.

The Dark Sun game I play in has lost more characters, bringing the total to 5 PC deaths in almost 3 months of gaming. The party is now 5th level and a tip from the DM about tonight’s upcoming session had all of us make backup characters in case we have a TPK, which may happen. Apparently we are going to face some giant Dune-type Sand Worm that is 7 levels above the party. I’m not bothered that we all may wipe from a random encounter, which isn’t what I expected to feel. This is my first Dark Sun game and the DM has certainly made it live up to the common experiences of Dark Sun that I’ve heard about. To wit: It’s freaking deadly. There’s no easy or safe overland travel. Traveling even 2 days into the waste is dangerous enough to get you killed. It’s been an interesting change from the other D&D settings that I’ve played in over the years (Ravenloft, Rokugan, Forgotten Realms, Eberron) and I think the danger of the wastes adds to the flavor of the game.

At the same time, 3 of those character deaths have been dealt to the same player. After his first character died (a Thri-Kreen monk) he brought in a ranger, and when that died after 1 and a half sessions of play he brought in a thief. The thief also died 1 and a half sessions later. So the player has been understandably frustrated with the game, at least from a player perspective of feeling attached to a character. It’s kind of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand having these PC deaths really sends it home that this is a deadly world, but on the other hand it hasn’t been my PC dying. My fighter and another players warlord are the only remaining PC’s from the first session (though one player voluntarily retired his kreen. Said he couldn’t RP him). So while I enjoy that the game is deadly and brutal, I haven’t been on the direct receiving end of it.

I have been in the past though. When Oriental Adventures and the Rokugan setting were released for 3rd edition (back in…2001? Think so.) my gaming group at the time started a Rokugan campaign. I loved the setting then and I still do. But I was plagued with character death in that campaign. I started out as a monk, who promptly died. Replaced by a Nezumi, who died. Then I played a rogue, who died. After that I had a different monk, who lasted for just enough sessions for me to get attached to him…and then he died.

After that I played a Naga (big snake) and I really liked that character. It was cool, being a big snake thing and fighting with a glaive. I liked him so much that after he survived through the short story arc that we were in I retired him because I didn’t want him to die. By this time we were about 6th or 7th level and I was about to be on my 6th character. After the first couple of character deaths it got very discouraging, even though some of those deaths were admittedly my fault (Having my 2nd level rogue charge the Big Bad Ugly Monster…) it still was getting harder to get attached to my characters.

The last character I played in that game before it ended was a Samurai. He wasn’t a typical samurai though, as I had gone through the Rokugan book looking for something interesting and had found the lore about the Honor quest, wherein a samurai would be stripped of his name and honor and go on a year long quest, traveling the land while trying to understand what Honor really meant. I found it to be a really interesting idea and I was immediately hooked again back into the game.

I suppose the point of this rambling story is that character deaths are going to happen. Back then the key for me getting interested in the game again was finding this little bit of lore that I immediately got attached to. It may be different for other players, but I think the idea remains the same. When players have a reason to care about their characters, when they’ve invested time and energy and thought into why a character is doing something, then that’s when character death will mean something, which now lets me segue into talking about last night’s Break the Iron Circle game.

 

We had our first character death last night at the game store. We’ve had 7 sessions of play so far and the players are now 3rd level. Over the course of the campaign I’ve modified a number of monsters, some heavily, some just light revisions, but all of my changes have gone to making tougher encounters. One of the reasons for that is we play with a big group. We have 7 players, but usually average about 5 or 6 people at any given session. Most of the players are experienced enough with 4th edition to make a decently optimized character, though I don’t think we have any that over the top.

So I’ve been slight modifications. A little AC bump here, changing that attack to a minor action over there, and the fights have been tougher. I’ve consistently knocked the Knight down in just about every fight, but the player loves it, as she gets to feel like her character is doing her job. There’s a Warpriest in the party, and sometimes the Druid’s player comes, so there’s at least 1 healer at all times, sometimes 2. With the party composition the way it is I don’t feel bad about making the fights tougher as they have the resources to deal with it.

The general reaction I’ve received from the players about the difficulty of the encounters is that they enjoy the tougher fights. Each fight a number of characters get bloodied and at least someone uses a daily power each fight.

The character that died last night was the parties Paladin (of the Raven Queen). The group had gotten into the sanctuary of an undead mage that the neighboring elves wanted killed and after fighting some goblins and such in an outer chamber they literally broke down the door (no one was trained in Thievery) and stomped into the Lich’s room. Ok, so he’s a 3rd level Lich, but Lich nonetheless. Battle ensues, with spiked pits opening and spiders the size of large horses teleporting around and webbing people. The Lich is throwing lightning and necrotic energy around, challenging the party’s wizard to come out and face him. The cowardly wizard (not an insult, that’s how the character is played) of course declines to answer and hides among the rangers stalker mist.

As the fight is drawing to a close the Paladin finally gets past the lesser enemies and lays the smack down on the Lich. He dropped at least 1, if not 2 daily powers and did 5W damage to the Lich, totaling about 60 dmg. The Lich isn’t doing so hot, but neither is the Paladin. The Lich’s skeleton buddy stabs the Paladin in the back and drops him to 1 HP. Here’s where things got interesting.

I allow Fortune Cards at my table. Besides other reasons, one of the reasons is that since we play at the game store, I want to help the owner out. So if players are buying D&D stuff at the store I want them to be able to use it in our game.

That aside, the Paladin’s character decided to play a Fortune Card when the Skeleton hit him. He had a 50% chance to take have damage and a 50% chance to take extra damage equal to his level (3 dmg). He rolls badly and falls unconscious in a square adjacent to the aforementioned spiked pit. Experienced dungeoneers can probably see where this is going already.

The Lich’s turn rolls around. Oh, hey, look. An unconscious paladin that really wants me dead for all eternity. Let’s blast him into the netherworld. So the Lich makes an attack, auto-hits and auto-crits. It wasn’t a lot of damage though, bringing the Paladin to -17 or so (he’s got until -20). But there was another reason I had the Lich choose that low damage power over a higher damage one, and that is because the power also pushes the target 1 square. So the Paladin gets blasted by necrotic lightning and is shoved into the pit, where he falls onto the spikes and dies.

It felt very cinematic and the group was aghast. The first companion had died. They quickly finished the fight, as the Lich didn’t have much left in him after the Paladins smite. Before the ranger got a chance to loot the Paladins body I had a quick conference with the Paladin’s player. He agreed and so we went back in character and we RP’d a short vision with the Raven Queen, congratulating him on dying in such a worthy cause (fighting a lich) and asking if he would be her champion once more. The player agrees, so I describe the dead paladin’s body starting to writhe and pull itself up off the spikes. The half-orc paladin has been brought back to life, sorta. He’s a Revenant now, blessed by the Raven Queen with another opportunity to kill in her service.

It’s turning out to be an interesting game and I’ve got some big things lined up for the next couple of sessions, so I’ll be sure to keep it updated.

Good gaming!

Last night at D&D Encounters my group steamrolled through the fight. We had 2 warpriests, 1 druid, 1 hexblade, 1 thief, and a paladin. In other words, 3 leaders, 2 strikers and a defender. It didn’t even feel like a challenge. I was playing one of the warpriests and between me and the other warpriest we gave the party enough temporary HP’s, bonuses to defenses and resistance to damage that only one person in the party spent a healing surge. That was me, and the only reason I took enough damage to warrant spending my second wind was that I moved around enough provoking opportunity attacks to give my allies flanks. Of course when I spent my second wind I got temporary HP’s and my allies got some more as well  (the Disciple of Light & Disciple of Stone feats).

The fight lasted 4 or 5 rounds and I think during each round nearly everyone in the party had some amount of temporary HP. Everyone had boosted defenses and at least 1 person every round got the damage resistance from either mine or the other warpriests Blessing of Battle. The druid? He just attacked the enemies with his wolf. All total we had 8 different ways to heal (6 healing words, 1 resurgent strength, and the druids healing acorn)…and none of them were used.

This encounter is similar to last weeks fight at D&D Encounters in that we had stacked up heavy on 1 type of role. Last week we had 3 controllers, 1 leader, 1 defender and 2 strikers at my table. Yes, both weeks we’ve had a large number of PC’s, but that’s the same at the other table. We get between 8 and 12 people showing up every week and don’t have quite enough people for a 3rd table yet, so we stack up on the 2 tables. It’s been interesting for me as it’s a chance to observe how the roles in 4th edition are tied tightly to how an encounter runs. In last weeks fight the 3 controllers sat behind our shieldwall of the warpriest, knight, and fighter while the thief skirmished across the line and back. We destroyed the waves of zombies before they could mass a large assault, and the zones dropped in front of the shieldwall reduced the zombies effectiveness so much that it was just a mop-up.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept and execution of roles in 4th edition ever since I started playing. It’s probably the most interesting meta-aspect of the game to me and I think that the typical, balanced party would ideally consist of a controller, leader, defender, and 2 strikers. I’ve seen what happens with excess controllers, leaders, strikers and I’m imagining what would happen with excess defenders. The controllers and leaders examples are from the D&D Encounters recounted above, while the Dark Sun homegame I play in seems to be Striker heavy. Although we’ve had heavy PC attrition (4 PC deaths in 2 months) the group usually consists of a leader, hybrid striker/controller, striker, striker and my defender-in-name-only Mul gladiator fighter. I say in name only because he was the first real 4th edition character that I made and I didn’t really grasp the idea of a defender fighter, so I took the powers and abilities that make him hit harder instead of forcing enemies to attack him. He’s basically a high HP striker and more than once has been the last character standing tall after a fight thanks to his high HP and number of healing surges. But I haven’t been playing him like a defender at all, so our group is about 3/4’s strikers. We put out some serious damage but we also get hurt a lot. Did I mention that we’ve had 4 PC’s die in 2 months of play? It’s a brutal game, but it’s great fun and I think it’s maybe how dark sun should be run. I think too much safety and protection (i.e. an actual defender, an additional leader) would take away some of the great risk that we play with and enjoy in the game.

More on roles later.

—-

After the Encounters game I came home and my friend Jack came over to the house to help me test some wargame rules I came up with. Thanks to helpful D&D nerds on twitter I got pointed to a bunch of 4e wargame type material. Unfortunately the really nice stuff costs money (Soldiers of Fortune & Hard Boiled Armies to name a few) so in the time honored fashion of gaming on a budget I made up my own rules.

I took some advice from others and treated a collection of units as a single group. Using the Monster Builder I created 4 different types of groups; the Shieldwall, the Infantry, the Archers, and the Medics. There are a few differences between these stat cards and regular monsters, otherwise they run the same way. The HP value doesn’t represent Hit Points. It represents the number of units in that group. When a group gets attacked and takes damage, the damage value is how many units it loses. So if the archers shoot the shieldwall for 6 damage, the shieldwall loses 6 units.

Though it didn’t print on the cards, each unit has 1 healing surge that revives a certain number of units within that group. The healing surge value is standardized at half the bloodied value. That’s pretty much it. Other than those changes they have the stats for a 3rd level monster, with a few exceptions. I hand adjusted their Defense values and during the playtest it became obvious that some numbers needed to be changed.

The basic setup is that of the enemy warbands attacking a small town. There’s a wide river and stone bridge that crosses it and the PC’s will be the town’s defenders. Here’s the aftermath of the battle . The units on the left are the enemy archers and medics, and the enemy infantry has pushed its way through the PC’s shieldwall and decimated their infantry. The playtest was a loss for Jack who was running the PC’s side, but it did highlight a number of things that needed to be changed and things that I hadn’t thought of.

The damage values worked out okay for the most part, but the archers armor class was way too low and their damage output was too high. So I’ll adjust their damage to a flat die roll and boost their AC to 16 or 18. The shieldwall couldn’t hit anything with its attack, but it’s defenses worked out great, especially when combined with the medics aura.

As far as Jack’s tactics went, the first thing he did was to divide the 20-man shieldwall into 4 groups of 5 units each. I hadn’t planned on that but it worked out fairly well. I’m going to change the cards to have smaller unit sizes, so instead of handing the PC playing the shieldwall a single card with 20 figures in a huge block formation, the PC will get 4 cards with 5-man formations that he can move around. Breaking up the large 20 and 25 man units was a good part of Jack’s strategy and something I’ll incorporate in the next version of the cards.

Jack had 1 type of each unit, while I gave the enemy an extra archer and took away their shieldwall. The battle went pretty straightforward, with my archers focusing on his archers and then his infantry, while my infantry pushed their way across the bridge. If he had kept his shieldwall locked on the bridge instead of moving them back and let his infantry come in and fight on the bridge it would have been a different fight. As it was his infantry got shredded and my infantry pushed past them and surrounded his remaining shieldwall and medics.

The battle took a little over an hour to play, so I was real pleased with that time. I’ve got a 4 hour slot at the game store and I want the battle to take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, something that is big and exciting. A normal D&D fight that lasts that long would be tedious, but because this is basically wargame D&D I think it’ll work out pretty well.

Good morning, gamers.

::sips coffee::

Wanted to post some updates for the past week and a half’s games. Encounters is going along at a steady pace. We have about 8 to 12 people that show up each Wednesday, enough that we regularly need 2 DM’s. Thankfully we have enough DM’s in house that have experience with Encounters to handle the job. It’s really encouraging to me to see that Encounters is actually bringing people into the gaming store to play D&D. I think every week I’ve met a new gamer. This past week there were two new faces, as a dad in his late 30’s brought his 12 year old son to play. They sat at the table I was playing at and everything went fine. That was my first time playing D&D with a younger person and there weren’t any problems. Since the game is at the game store I think everyone tries to keep their language and such at a PG-13 level (or at least I do), in order to make the environment kid and family friendly, since that’s the type of place that I think the store owners want.

My Friday night game, Break the Iron Circle, had it’s second session this last Friday night and it went really well. The first session had the PC’s fight some brigands outside of town, save the farm woman and her sons, hook up with the resistance movement in the town and then ambush the brigands that were in the town bar. We actually got a decent amount of the story introduced in the first session, at least enough so that the players knew what the problem was in the area and why they should help. The two fights they had weren’t much of a challenge though.

The first fight was at a farmhouse and in fairly open terrain. The enemy consisted of 2 crossbowmen, 2 swordsmen and 2 wolves. It was a long fight, but none of the enemies had enough oomph to really put the hurt on a PC in a single hit, so the cleric was able to heal up the damage that the swordsmen were nickel and diming on the PC’s. The second fight was even less of a challenge. They knew the enemies would be in the bar, came up with a tactical plan and actually got it to work. It was simple, of course, (draw the enemies outside the bar where our ranger and mage can blast them), but the simplest plans like that are the best because they have the highest chance to actually work. So in the first round they had divided the enemies into two groups (minions outside, non-minions inside) and made quick work of all them. I think that fight took about 30 minutes, tops.

They took one of the brigands alive and that was where we ended the first session. The second session started with them taking the brigand back to the stables and interrogating him. The wizard cast his charm person equivalent and they proceeded to get a fair amount of information out of him before the ranger threw him off the second floor hayloft.

I had told them after the first session that I was going to beef up the encounters a little because of how easy they had handled the first two and they agreed that was a good idea (ha!). The next fight was going to be a caravan ambush, where the PC’s learned of an Iron Circle mage being escorted to the town to take over as mayor. They spent the night at their ambush site and waited for the stagecoach to arrive, having one of them lay down in the middle of the road wearing the colors of one of the dead brigands. Another simple plan. The stagecoach stopped while the guards got out and approached the half-0rc laying in the road, which was when the PC’s attacked.

Surprise rounds in 4th edition seem to be super deadly to me. I don’t know exactly why that is yet. Perhaps it has something to do with my first session in the dark sun game – we got ambushed 3 times in a row, and a surprise round against 1st level characters in dark sun is brutal.

The PC’s focused fire on the mage in the first round and got him bloodied. The rest of the combat was a grudge match. I had changed the standard brigand guards into Iron Circle Knights that had plate mail, heavy shields, warhammers, and the Knight’s Defensive Aura ability, as well as a Prone & Slowed effect on their at-will attack. There were 3 of them, the driver with a crossbow, and the mage. The Knights took a ton of punishment and they had an extra effect. If they dropped to 0 HP while within 5 squares of the mage, his necrotic aura kept them alive for one more action. In effect they gained Resist All: Infinite until after their next action, at which they dropped dead. I described the effect appropriately, I think, letting the PC’s know that the Knight should be dead by all rights, but there was strange, dark lights within his eyes and so on, etc.

The mage had some chain lightning that was reflavored as chain fire bursts that also healed the mage with siphoned life energy. In addition whenever a PC spent a healing surge within 5 squares of the mage he had an immediate power that would allow him to regain the same amount of HP. It didn’t stop the PC from healing, it just created a shadow duplicate of the healing energy that the cleric was sending to the PC, and the mage redirected the shadow duplicate to himself.

There was also a clockwork construct dog that I didn’t modify. It basically just guarded the mage but didn’t do a lot.

This fight was a challenge for the PC’s. While the ranger was able to skirmish and hang in the back, everyone else got at least a couple hits on them. I think 4 of the 7 PC’s were bloodied at some point and the PC Knight took a combined total of 80+ damage, having dropped to 0 HP twice during the fight. The cleric spent both his healing words and his Cure Light Wounds on the Knight and they both used their second wind. Even the PC mage (who was crucial in this fight) got knocked to 4 HP.

This tougher fight also showed me how the roles can really shine when they do what they are supposed to do. The PC Knight took a beating, but that was her job. The cleric was on the spot with healing, the ranger was away and skirmishing, the mage was blasting people and sliding them halfway across the battlefield, and the melee ranger and paladin were in the thick of it. I didn’t count but I’m pretty sure the fight used up about 40-50% of the PC’s resources for the day (healing surges, dailies, etc).

The end of the first part of the adventure is a massive attack on the town that the PC’s have just liberated. It calls for multiple encounters that have the PC’s fighting different small skirmishes around the main battle. While this is cool I’d like to change it to have an actual mass battle. Unfortunately it’s not feasible to use the full combat rules in a mass battle like this (around 50+ enemies, similar number of defenders plus the PC’s) so I want to go back to D&D’s roots and use some wargaming rules for the battle.

My initial thoughts are to have each PC be placed in command of a small group of defenders and have them roll attacks and control movement for that group. I need to come up with some simple rules for what kinds of attacks each group can make and I plan on having the PC’s each give different bonuses to their group according to their class abilities, i.e. the Knight gives her group bonuses to Defense, the Ranger gives bonuses to ranged attack, the Paladin to melee attacks, etc.

Does anyone have some simple mass combat rules worked up for a 4e equivalent to a wargame? This encounter is probably a month away so I’ve got time to develop and plan for it and I’ll post the rules I come up with before it happens but I’d like to hear/read what others have come up with in regards to this.

Good gaming!

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.

[SPOILER ALERT]

 

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!