Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Modular Preparation: In Action part 2

Almost 2 months between games. We played last at the beginning of June and then again at the end of July. In between sessions, the players interrogated a captive warforged by email and began exploring the acid trap (point B on the map described in this post). It took them two and a half hours to complete the acid trap at the beginning of the session. I'm definitely going to take note of the conversion from my primary play tester, my six year old, to my players. As I mentioned in my last post, my 6 year old got through the trap in 5 minutes. My players took 3.5 hours plus email time between sessions.

The PCs also took an extra day to heal the rogue of her disease and ability drain from the previous session.

After the acid trap, my players moved on to room D, one sorceror and 2 warforged titans. This room was a McGuffin. If you've read Ender's Game then you know that the enemy's gate is down. The players approached this room through a 5 ft. wide hallway and the exit to the room was 5 ft. wide as well. The Warforged Titans on the other hand are 15x15 ft. huge creatures. The easiest way through this combat was to focus combat attacks against the artificer while using superior mobility to get to the exit and avoid the titans entirely (win by getting to the enemy gate). Instead of taking this approach, the rogue snuck up once to scan the room and got away with it. She reported back to the party and tried to scout again but the second time she spotted and was spotted by the artificer. The artificer then set up one of the titans close enough to the door to be in striking range if the PCs approached the door way again. The rogue then stealthily approached the doorway a third time and got whacked pretty hard (titans do 2d8+9 damage) plus she drew the artificer into casting a lightning bolt down the hallway. While the PCs rearranged themselves in the hallway, the artificer cast a second lightning bolt into the hallway. Each bolt hit every one of the PCs to devastating effect. They didn't leave him alive long after that.

The PC warforged took up front position in the hallway and was trying to attack the titans but instead set himself up for taking full attacks and one charge. The charge was deadly because titans have the Powerful Charge feat (+3d6 damage on a successful attack). Slowly, the PCs ratcheted up the warforge's AC with buff spells from the cleric and combat expertise. Meanwhile, the wizard kept casting fireballs from the back ranks. The PCs defeated the titans eventually but had spent themselves through most of their magical resources. They took a day to rest after this combat which could have just been a passing bit of scenery.

The next encounter after the warforged was originally encounter F, a skull watch spell from the Spell Compendium. When the enemy warforged rogue escaped, last session, he notified the defenders of the tunnels that the PCs were approaching from that direction. So, the warforged necromancer ambush at point E switched to point F. In the tunnel, the PCs were walking by piles of dead bodies at random intervals along tunnel path. The rogue began doing her job, searching every pile. I had fun making up descriptions of the piles to the macabre enjoyment of all. I was just about the push the GM-fast-forward button to get the to pile where the rogue would find the ambush. Unfortunately, the other players began telling her to stop searching every pile. Her next comment was hilarious, "But don't you know that the first pile I don't search will be the one with undead in it?" It wasn't but it felt like it to the PCs because I did fast forward then. They walked along the tunnel ignoring the piles of bodies. I had them show me their marching order and roll spot checks. The only one who spotted the first pile with undead in it was the cleric, in the middle of the line up. He saw the eyes of the zombie ogre on top of the pile move to track him. But then, to my shock, he decided to keep walking! He didn't alert the party of the zombie until the next turn which put them right inside the jaws of the ambush. The necromancer shouted "Now!" and we rolled initiative.

Long story short, the necromancer, blinded two members of the party, they escaped from the ambush, killed the necromancer, destroyed the undead, and took a lot of damage from a gray render zombie. They scurried down the tunnels together, away from an small band of reinforcements and into the safety of Chiron's secret tunnels. They got pretty excited because now they know that the final battle is all the remains.

My Reactions to the Session
First. the good side. I think that all the time I spent to consider all the elements of every encounter in these tunnels really paid off. Because of all the details, I knew how PC actions in one part would affect the encounter in another part. This led to an easy flow in my own mind about what to narrate and how the combatants might fight.

Another thing that was a strong point in this session was that every character had something to do. The rogue did a lot of sneaking and scouting which balances the fact that since they're fighting warforged, she isn't as effective in combat. The cleric was imbued with the power of his god a couple of times and able to convert spells to conjuration [healing] despite being in the Mournlands. He played this up and tried to commune with his god during one of the rest periods to learn more about when he could expect this. The ranger, though blind, kept firing his arrows guided by the wizard and ended up stealing a kill from the PC fighter. He reported later this was one of his favorite parts. The wizard had plenty of opportunity to do some blasting and continued his role in the group as kill-stealing vulture, repeatedly killing high hit point targets with magic missile. The warforged tank was the only one who could go toe to toe with either the titans or the gray render zombie and both encounters encouraged him to do just that.

Second, on the bad side, The encounters in this session were very challenging. In itself this would be fine and appropriate for the approach to a campaign end. One thing that I'm a little dissatisfied with though was that the encounters required healing despite the PCs being in the Mournlands. For example, during the combat with the titans, the warforged PC was reduced to something like 11 hit points, given the damage the titans were dishing per round, that was easily death in one round. At that point I told the cleric that as promised by his god, the cleric's healing powers were with him now when he really needed it. I allowed one opportunity to convert a spell before that effect dissipated but still it felt a bit too Deus Ex Machina for my tastes. After the encounter with the necromancer, the two blinded PCs required Remove Blindness/Deafness. The only way they are going to get that is through the power of the cleric's God again, miraculously granting the cleric two of those spells before preparing his spells for the final battle. I had considered making Chiron level 5 instead of level 4 (therefore able to cast 3rd level spells) when the PCs encountered him and giving his this ability. However, that would violate the GM rule to not let an NPC outshine a PC. Still it left a bad taste in my mouth to use this Dues Ex Machina effect not once but twice to make sure they have the combat capacities they need for the final combat.

Next Session
Before we ended the session, I showed the PCs the dais upon which the final battle will take place because Chiron described it to them. This was an awesome moment and showing them the scene created a great cliff hanger. They oohed and ahed appropriately as I put the pieces together but when I put the quarters in for the stairs and showed them how the leads balance on the quarters, they were dumbfounded. That was an awesome GM moment. They also started asking questions about the Lord of the Blades and his combat abilities. A few truths and a few red herrings later and they were really scared. This campaign will be finished in the next session. Then I get a little break.

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