I'm putting the series about Creating the Final Battle on hold for this post as I discuss our gaming session from Saturday. This session was a lot of fun but it was also a reminder of the reasons that I am looking for some new gaming experiences in the near future.
The best thing about this session was that every player was able to attend. We caught those who were absent up on the events from the last session and they began exploring the monastery. Two of the players were convinced that there was "loot" in the well from the tentacle monster that had attacked them in the last session. I had forgotten about this conviction when planning for the session so while they discussed amongst themselves how to get down the well, I hunted for some magic items to put in a pile. As they explored I improvised a magic device that held a water elemental in place to pump water up from the water table up into the well shaft. They eventually decided not to pursue the contents of the well after encountering the water elemental's power (I'm not really sure why) but by the time they had gotten that far, I had already planned to have a water troll guarding the player created loot pile.
The players seemed to enjoy the search process. Which makes that part of the session a success in my mind. However, this is the kind of thing that doesn't really make GMing a lot of fun for me. Generating loot, figuring out how much to allow without unbalancing the party for their level, finding an encounter that they can tackle. Too many of these are calculations or looking up tables. D&D lends itself to this kind of thinking for the players and the GM. Because the balance of these elements is so precarious, you can't really tinker with them without risking major consequences to what would otherwise be some of the more useful aspects of that game like Encounter Level calculations.
Later in the session, the players successfully avoided being led into a trap. Some warforged scouts were set up near the monastery the players were hiding in. If the players had approached the scouting party straight on the scouts would have run and pursuing PCs would have been led into an encounter with a Cadaver Collector. This CR12 monster is far beyond the capabilities of the party so the marker for success for the encounter was escaping alive. The players were smart and looped around to approach the trap from the north instead. This meant their ranger who was scouting ahead spotted the Cadaver Collector first and had ample opportunity to warn the party (the wizard was able to identify it) and they swiftly used every means of running away they could. I debated having the party encounter the warforged scouts first even though the PCs came from the north. However, I decided to let them experience an easier encounter because they had planned well.
This was one experience where I felt that I had really done a good job of managing the game well. As the party split into 3 groups (Dimension Door and two people flying in opposite directions) to get away from the Cadaver Collector, plus managing where the Cadaver Collector was on the ground, where each of the warforged scouts was on the ground, and who might be able to see whom from where, I created a small excel spreadsheet which provided each group of characters an (x,y) grid with the point from which the PCs started being (0,0). Then I just marked for each set of moves how many squares north or south and how many east or west. It ended up being fairly easy.
These two encounters were the whole of the roleplaying (or is that rollplaying in this case?) for the evening and we spent the next 3 hours with the players leveling up their character to level seven and acquiring the magic items to complete the final mission. Though now that I think about it, I realize that at the group's regular pace, we may have more than one session left.
The process of acquiring magic items stunk for me. It required many metagame conversations with the players to explain things that I had given in game reasons for. I also had to repeat myself several times about why I was letting them acquire items now and how much they could acquire. I also had to say "no" several times which I tend not to enjoy as a GM. A couple of the players were asking for magic items that would be very unbalancing for every remaining encounter (like weapons with the bane versus warforged special ability). These metagame discussions bog me down. As I said to one of the players that gave me a ride home, "Those aren't the kind of conversations that I'm most interested in as a GM."
All that remains in the campaign is a short dungeon crawl through tunnels, an encounter with an NPC that I anticipate will be fun, and the Final Battle.