Friday, 23 November 2012

D&D Encounters: The War of Everlasting Darkness - Session 3 and 4

Due to an unexpected schedule change I had to cancel one session of Encounters. So this week I ended up trying to squeeze two official sessions, 3 and 4 into one night. Sadly it didn't quite work out. When I arrived at the store I found I only had two players. So we killed fifteen minutes hoping at least one of the other regulars showed up. While killing time I overheard a young couple talking to the store owner about 4e D&D. It seems they had only recently gotten into the game and were trying to figure out what books would be most useful for their new campaign. I pounced. Withing about 15 more minutes I now had two more players. This is one of the things I love about public play.

So while grabbing some old Pre-Gen characters from past seasons of encounters and doing a quick upgrade to bring them up to 3rd level, our tardy Vampire player showed up. So now I had a group of five and I was ready to go. Sadly this was an hour into our planned playtime.

Session 3:

This session bumped the timeline a bit. I had one of the players re-cap last session and then I broke out the map and covered all of what had gone before, mostly for the sake of the two new players but also to refresh everyone's memories of key thing they may have forgotten. Basically some funky magic was making the world dark, this was Drow caused, the Drow have allied with the local orcs and war was choking the land in battle. The goal this session was to get to Mithral Hall, a Dwarven steadfast and meet with the king, passing on news that the Orcs who have allied themselves with the Drow were acting against the King of the Many Arrow Tribe.

The unused map. I really thought we would have a fight here.
When the group came upon Mithral Hall they found it under siege. After watching the Orc movements for a while the Dwarf in the group suggested that such fortifications always had secret entrances and that Mithral Hall should be no exception. I ran this as an impromptu skill challenge since the group decided to skip past the obvious hook of a big war horn that was controlling troop movements. There was much planning, sneaking, bursts of running and guard avoiding to be had before an entrance was found. The entrance led the group to The Maze.

The Maze was a rather well written skill challenge in which each character had to do something to help the group progress each hour. Success or failure determined how long the group was 'lost' in the maze as well as serving to reduce some resources. I took this as an opportunity to play with the rules mainly for the sake of the players who didn't have much 4e experience.  At first I just let people riff off each other and my rather vague descriptions not noting that any type of system was governing this. I let whoever wanted to try something do it and kept track of successes. I then presented the group with obstacles they failed to watch for (which happened to be "watching for enemies" so we had a quick fight vs. some Orc Minions. Now that the group had a feel for what was going on, I told them the actual mechanics of the challenge and let them decide who would do what. So the group split the tasks up, the Rogue Searched for Traps, the Fighter fought through obstacles, the Dwarf Cleric navigated, the Dragonborn watched for enemies. The vampire was left with "other" in which he came up with a pretty cool use for Arcana. For the last section of The Maze I twisted things around on the players. This time I let each of them narrate an obstacle that the group faced and how they planned to get past it and let them determine their own rolls to make. This proved fun and entertaining though it was obvious some of the players were not used to such narrative control. I like pushing people out of their gaming comfort zone though and I think this was a great experience for those players. Now the Maze should have gone on for at least one more round (probably two due to a few failed rolls) but I was short on time so I moved on.

After the maze we got to play out our first big 4th edition battle, on a grid with miniatures and full rules.  Up until this point we've done most combats either Theater of the Mind or very loosely on a grid. In addition most foes were there as minor obstacles meant to be taken out quickly. Here we had a big fight with baddies not going down in one hit. It proved to be very interesting and quite a bit of fun. We had markers out (I use a bunch of different Litko tokens to keep track of things like who's bloodied, and area of effect boundaries , we had miniatures, I even brought my invisible character tokens. People were pulled, there were opportunity attacks, flanking. All the stuff that makes Fourth edition a great tactical skirmish game. It was a good fight. The cleric ended up having to use all of his healing (see he's sometimes good at Cleric things Sean) two characters ended up bloodied and the Dragonborn had a real brush with death.

After the big fight, I did a quick wrap up. I would have loved to get into more roleplaying with the Dwarven King but we were already running out of time to fit in session 4, so I just passed on the needed info, gave the characters thanks and passed out a bit of treasure.  Then the group got a very odd letter from a very odd friend they hadn't yet met. This was a great moment and I enjoyed role playing the words of Axelcrantz

Session 4:

At this point we had less than an hour left before the store closed so I tried to run though things quickly while still hitting all the important beats. Three months game time had gone by since the last episode and I really wanted to do a "so what did your character do for the last three months" round table but we just didn't have time. We jumped right into the plot instead. Which had the characters at another Dwarven Fortress all the way on the other side of the map looking to talk to another Dwarven King (what's with all the meetings with Kings this season)? There was some roleplay, the group met the excentric Axelcrantz in person, there was more hilarious roleplay, the group met the King. Lots of roleplaying and poorly rolled Diplomacy and Bluff checks later the group found their way to a Haunted section of the Underdark looking for an old fortress that they needed to re-take from Duergar.

Along the way the group spent far too much time checking out some bones they had found that seemed to be from a dissolved dwarf. Not sure what I could have done differently but they just didn't want to give up and wanted to roll for every skill on their sheet to figure this out. Eventually I said something to the extent of "so you miss a minor clue, maybe you will figure it out later" to get things moving.
Dungeon Tile layout made up for one of the encounters.

There was an amusing bluff moment when the group pretended to be a patrol returning late, that quickly broke into a fight. This was another fun 4e fight for which I actually broke out the Dungeon tiles. Now I didn't expect the group to attack the Dark Dwarves and really neither did the published adventure, but hey, that's how things go some time. Thankfully I had this map prepared for a later encounter to it all worked out. So after a couple of rounds of combat the Duergar gave up. They were already demoralized and a group of adventurers busting in was just too much for them. After some questioning the group found out that the Duergar believed they were being haunted by a ghost, a ghost that had killed most of their band leaving just a pile of sticky gooey bones.

After ridding the rest of the fortress of dark Dwarves the group explored for a bit. Some clues were found but no sign of the wand they were here to find. There was the breaking of a hidden compartment in a desk and the brilliant plan to recover the item they broke inside it. Then there was the searching. Which ended with the Vampire shoving his hands into a Mimic who happened to be hiding as the tattered rug on the first floor. So that's what had been eating the Duergar and leaving sticky bones all over the place.

Fight time. Quick fight time. Store was closing in 8 minutes. This meant tossing the full 4e rules out the window. It was only one monster anyway so that wasn't an issue. This was a quick fight by necessity. Thinking back I probably should have ended the session on the cliffhanger of the Vampire getting stuck since I already knew I wasn't going to fit in everything needed for the session anyway. Oh well, what should have been a dramatic fight against a monster twice their level was a quick beat and bash. We still had fun.

Now were were completely out of time. The store was closed and we needed to get out, so I called it a night. As it stands the group still hasn't quite completed encounter number 4, but we got very close. I tossed the map and mini down for the final encounter as a sort of foreshadowing for next week. I spent a few moments inviting our two new players to join us next week or any future week, asked everyone to please have a level five version of their characters ready for next week and called it a night.

Overall we had good session, though it started an hour later than I had hoped. I tried my best to fit everything into our two hour window but it just wasn't meant to be. This I think is a good indication for how much more meat there is in each chapter this season of Encounters. I remember playing past seasons where we were done in half an hour. I also have to admit that I'm still amazed by how much we did get done. We ended up with only two hours to play and just read everything we were able to get done.

Looking forward to next week.

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