A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

D&D Session 4: Under a Red Moon

The players assembled, and we recalled how the characters had defeated the spiders in the cave, and were very near to the surface, even able to smell the scent of fresh air. They pressed on, and left the cave, finding themselves under a dark night sky, the moon hanging low overhead, as red as blood. They made camp, glad to see the surface again.

They woke in the morning to see a plume of smoke on the horizon. Without delay, they began to make their way in that direction. They crossed miles, heading closer to the smoke, eventually coming to burned farmsteads, and soon, to a village surrounded by a trench and palisade. From outside the village, they could see the tale of destruction. The gate of the palisade was battered down, and bodies, both goblin and human, lay where they’d fallen. As they crossed the threshold into the village, they saw, before the village stronghouse, a child and a woman, hanging by their wrists from a hastily erected beam and supports. Jerry and Andrew, the cleric and thief, respectively, charged through the village toward the woman and child, not knowing if they were alive or dead. As they approached, they noticed the smell of pitch, and the dampness of the earth beneath their feet. Two goblins burst from a small building nearby, each with a ceramic throwing bomb, lit. The goblin ambush was sprung, and they launched their bombs, one striking the thief, and igniting a huge space in the center of the village, engulfing the thief and the cleric, as well as the woman and child. More goblins emerged from hiding, and the rest of the party charged into the fray.

This was a tiny bit of a glitch for me. As soon as the players noticed the woman and child, Jerry and Andrew charged right in, while the rest of the party began to check out the barns and structures close to the entrance of the village. When the trap sprang, most of the party was way back away from the fight, and so it took folks a turn or two to even get up to the action.

When the other goblins emerged, one of them was a Hexer, and put a hex on the cleric, so that he would take a goodly amount of damage if he moved. So it was a rock and a hard place. He was standing in the midst of a conflagration, and needed to exit, but faced damage if he moved. He chose to move, and he and the thief both ran from the flames, using their hands to extinguish their clothing.

Sometimes DMs get to be a little choosy about how nasty to be. This was one of those times. I briefly considered having Jerry and Andrew remain on fire, and make saves at the end of their turns, or take a standard action to eliminate the flames. But it seemed that they had their hands quite full, I think that Jerry’s cleric was already bloodied. So fortune smiled on them, and their clothes didn’t catch fire. This was also the case when I told the players that they could move through the flames, and would not take damage unless they ended their movement within the fire.

John’s warlord ran straight in and bulldozed the support for the beam from which the woman and child were hanging. They’d been engulfed in the flames, and had screamed and twisted. He hit it and we made a strength check to see if he could knock it over. He did, and it toppled over, carrying the warlord, and the woman and child out of the flames. The party all closed in on the action – they were somewhat restricted, due to the layout of the village and where the fire was. There was basically a narrow corridor for them to pass from where they were bunched up to where the action was, on one side was the raging inferno, and on the other, a fenced and muddy pigpen, which would have been difficult terrain. A couple of goblin blades met them in this narrow corridor, and they all tied up, while Krissi’s ranger dashed across the flames to fight against two goblin javelin hurlers. The fight got nastier when the Hexer threw a cloud onto the lot of them that gave the party negatives to attack, and gave concealment to the goblins, plus, a goblin skullcleaver joined the melee, laying out huge amounts of damage with his axe. John’s warlord ran after the goblin hexer, grabbed him, and dragged him into the fire – having promised the hexer that he would burn as well, even as the hexer tried to blind Jason’s fighter.

Soon the party had dropped the two goblin blades, but the skullcleaver still stood, a serious threat. The two javelin-hurlers were keeping Krissi’s ranger, and later Jerry’s cleric, tied up, with their constant moving about. They were doing a pretty good job of sticking javelins in the ranger. Devlin held the hexer in the flames, both of them taking damage, until the hexer broke free from his grasp and ran from the flames. John’s warlord chased him to the steps of the stronghouse and threw him back into the fire. Meanwhile, they’d finally taken down the skullcleaver, and soon the two javelin hurlers went down as well.

The child, who was bound to the wooden beam, was still alive but barely, and the most that they could do was to make him comfortable. He told them, through burned lips, that the goblins had taken the rest of the people of the village north as slaves. And our Raven Queen paladin sent him gently on to the great sleep.

The party rested briefly after finding a magic belt and two healing potions. Andrew, playing a thief, wanted to steal one of the healing potions. I was a little against the idea, but he is playing a thief, and I don’t want to keep telling him “No you can’t do that.” It’s a healing potion, and none of the other players seemed to be upset at him doing so, so I let him roll his thievery check, then a bluff check. He beat the rest of the party on both, so the healing potion was his. It worked out in the end anyway, since he used it on the cleric later.

They headed with all speed north. They soon found a body, that of a villager, probably too old or sick or tired to keep up. So the goblins had killed him, and left him there for the carrion feeders. Knowing that they were on the right track, the party continued. After traveling some hours, they caught up to the slaving goblins, and could see most of them ahead cresting a ridge, as the goblins sent a party of hobgoblins back to deal with their pursuers.

All of the combats ended up spaced out weirdly today. The hobgoblins came at them in a tight line formation. I started the combat spaced widely apart, since no one was surprised by the other, and could see the approach. They started, perhaps 20 or so squares away. The first two rounds was spent just closing, the hobgoblins in their tight formation, and the party charging up. This was a pretty brutal fight. The hobgoblins were all level 2 soldiers and level 1 minions. The minions dropped relatively quickly, as is their duty, while the soldiers had terribly high AC, and high to-hit rolls. This resulted in a lot of swinging wildly at the hobgoblins, while being whacked around by them. I think that it was during this fight that Jerry’s cleric, Father Kreuz, took a wicked hit and then took a bit of a dirt nap. The party responded quickly, and got him back onto his feet. Eventually, they pounded through the defenses of the hobgoblins and were victorious.

I told them that ahead they could see the remaining hobgoblins and their slaves, the slaves chained to each other at the neck. The party, desperately in need of a rest, went ahead and took a short rest to heal up and refresh their encounter powers. They then ran after their quarry. They caught up with them at the top of a hill, beside a tall cliff. Again, this combat started with the parties far away from each other. I did this so that, as the party approached, and the hobgoblins were aware of their approach, the hobgoblins could start doing Bad Things, which would just hurry the party, and reinforce the Wickedness of the hobgoblins, against the innocent and defenseless villagers. What bad guys don’t deserve a chance to kill some innocents? This combat started out a little further even than the last fight, I think. A few of the hobgoblins started pushing the villagers, all chained together, toward the cliffs edge, as another started killing villagers at the head of the chain gang. The party crossed the distance as quickly as they could, trying to get there before the whole group of villagers could be pushed over the cliff. Just as the hobgoblins were shoving them over, and one villager had already fallen, but was suspended by the chain on his neck, the party got in range and started handing out damage, killing two of the minions who were doing the shoving. I let Krissi’s ranger and Jeremy’s wizard, the two who’d gotten up there and started hitting folks, both do intimidation checks, to see if the last remaining minion was scared enough of them to turn his attention away from the pushing of the villagers. He was not, and kept up the pushing. Soon the entire party was there, and squared off against the hobgoblins and their warcaster. The warcaster used his force ability to try to push our ranger off the cliff, while our wizard helped to pull the villagers back up, and away from the cliffs edge. The party tied up with the hobgoblins, and again, it was a tough fight. These guys were soldiers as well, and so again had high AC, and high to-hit. There were fewer of them fortunately, and the party was able to overwhelm them and their warcaster.

By this time, it was 4PM, and everyone looked somewhat tired. I’d planned one additional encounter, that was somewhat optional. I addressed the group, and told them that an advanced party was coming back, having heard the fighting, and they could see a few hobgoblins and a huge orc headed their way. I asked if they wanted to meet them in combat, or try to run. I was willing to allow them to run and get away from the enemy. For the most part, the group wanted to take on the fight, but it was decided that we’d wait until next week to do so. The party is in a pretty bad way, and will not be able to do a short rest before the enemy is on them. So it promises to be a tough fight. Few or no healing surges left, daily and encounter powers expended, and already hurt.

The hobgoblins that they’d just dispatched were carrying a chest with them, which I let Andrew try to do a skill challenge to open, basically a hugely complicated lock, featuring three rotating knobs, like three combination locks. He failed, and so they’ll have to try again later to open it.

So we’ll pick up next week. Unfortunately Maddie is scheduled to work on Saturday, so we may be without our Paladin, but we’ll hope that she can be on-call.

A few times during combat this session, I felt as though it was taking ages to move around the table. Players were pacing and leaning back, and anxiously awaiting their turn. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to this aspect, and get some help from my players as well, to determine if this is something that we can help to correct.

For my part, I need to do more prep for the combats. My spreadsheet is super handy for combat, I love how simple it makes tracking initiative and monster’s hit points. It slows everything down though in the beginning of combat for me to get it set up, I think. I may set them up in advance for each combat, and just open up the combat sheet when we’re ready for it. So I don’t have to plug numbers in at the table while folks wait. The same is true for referring back to monster to-hit, damage, AC, saves, etc. I need to have a better way to work these onto my combat sheet, to minimize flipping pages in the book, etc.

Before we started play this session, I had a question for my players about treasure items. Previously I told them that they would manage handing out magic items to the party, so that it was relatively fair and everyone got stuff. When it comes to magic armor and weapons, it falls onto me to make it for specific players, or groups of players, since not everyone wants magic plate, or magic leather, or a magic scythe. I offered the idea of when they find “magic armor” to decide on the fly what kind it is, so that it can be given to whoever seems most in need of it – basically they get to decide what type of armor it is, whether plate or chain or leather, etc. The consensus though was for me to just keep tabs of what folks had, and ration it out accordingly. I’ve asked the players to give me “wish lists”, of items that they’d like. It won’t be a shopping list, but it gives me a way to have some valuable insight into what they want. I’ll also work on tracking what each player has, so that I can make sure that I’m handing things out evenly.

The party is technically level 2 now, but they’ll have to wait until next week, after they’ve taken care of this upcoming fight, and then had a chance to rest, before the benefits of the level will kick in.

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