First actual online gaming session – it rocks!

We have a success!  Tonight my friends and I tried playing D&D online together for the first time, and it worked.  Not only did it work, but we had so much fun that everyone wants to get together again tomorrow to finish the adventure.  Huzzah!

The day started off with bad news for gaming.  The group is supposed to be six of us.  I (Michael) am the DM and my wife Barbara is playing our defender, a dragonborn swordmage.  We’re in Colorado, a bit south of Denver.  Lane and Zach, who live in Tallahassee, Florida, are a deva druid and an eladrin rogue, respectively – a controller and a striker.  Jen and Eric, who live in Bradenton, Florida, are a gnome wizard and a half-elf cleric – another controller and a leader.  However, a few hours before we were supposed to start, Jen called to say that Eric had to work late and they weren’t going to be able to play tonight.  Should we cancel?  Should we just do a technology check?

Screw that – we’re playing!  This was actually Barbara’s suggestion, which made me very happy.  Also, since we were planning on waiting until 9:00 PM Eastern time to get started in order to give Eric time to get home from work, with Eric not playing we were able to start closer to 8:30 Eastern.

In preparing for today’s session, I had to get myself a webcam so I could talk to everyone on Skype.  Well, I could have just gotten a microphone, but the webcam only cost $30 and it works just fine as a microphone, so that’s what I got.  I also had to get my maps ready.  You may recall my last post, where I put up the detailed map of the first few areas of the Keep on the Shadowfell itself, all finished and ready to go.  Well, since we were going to start with a smaller group, I decided that we should try a side quest first.  When we first played in person in Florida the night of Jen and Eric’s wedding, the group charged right through the first kobold ambush and a quick stop in Winterhaven before making a beeline for the keep, which is where we stopped, halfway through the first battle.  I missed the fact that I was supposed to send a second kobold ambush at them when they left town, and I didn’t roleplay anyone in the tavern to give them a chance to explore (I was a bit rushed as far as prep time went – that is, I had none!).  So this time, I rolled back the clock and gave them the second kobold ambush, then sent them back to town.  In town, I railroaded them a bit into a side quest to seek out the source of the kobolds.

First thing first: the kobold ambush.  Here is the map I used, with enemies displayed.

Kobold Ambush

Gametable map for a kobold ambush encounter

Okay, so this one isn’t as fancy or detailed as the Keep on the Shadowfell map I shared yesterday.  This is partly because I wasn’t using the nice, pre-created dungeon walls that come with Gametable this time and partly because I was in a hurry.  I drew this last night (after realizing that the party might want to try a side quest), but I didn’t have much time to do it.  Fortunately, it wasn’t hard.  I took the same kobold image that I used for my OpenRPG mini in an earlier post, added a green background, and used TokenTool to make a pog.  I’m still torn on the “little statue” mini versus “round pog” mini debate, but I have to admit that the round pogs look pretty good and are easy to distinguish from one another at a glance, especially if I give them different background colors.  These guys are all kobolds, so I used the same minis, but I set their names differently to distinguish them.

Combat was surprisingly interesting.  The party didn’t have much success with their Perception checks, so the kobolds got a surprise round on most of them.  Two out of the three PCs were bloodied, one getting down as low as 4 HP, but they prevailed.  My favorite moment of the night was when Lane’s character wanted to claim the holy symbol from around the Kobold Wyrmpriest’s neck.  She was into it!

After heading back to town (on rails), the party found their way to Lord Padraig to get hired to clear out the kobold home base.  Barbara’s character was savvy enough to do some negotiating, getting a little extra gold for their fee (if they succeed, of course).  They decided to sleep in the inn for the night and then headed toward the kobold lair (Paddy drew them a map).  This brought them to the next encounter:

Kobold Lair Exterior

The exterior of the kobold lair in the waterfall valley

This is, obviously, another map that I drew in a hurry last night.  I used pre-packaged trees and rocks, drew a stream and some foam at the bottom of the waterfall, and pasted in the image of the waterfall valley from the Keep on the Shadowfell PDF, just so the players could see what it looked like.  I also used a circle of stones from Dungeon Tiles (available for Masterplan via the Dungeon Tiles Yahoo group).  Quick and easy, and it worked just fine.  This time, the party tried to be stealthy and had some good success with it.  Kana, the fragile druid, managed to get herself surrounded by minions (the kobolds with no labels) but wisely used some area of effect spells to get out of trouble.  The slink got low on hit points and managed to escape into the waterfall to warn his buddies.

After this encounter, even though it was 11:30 PM Eastern time, Zach and Lane were really tempted to keep playing.  I suggested pausing until tomorrow, since we all have some free time tomorrow.  This would also give me time to put the next map together!  Very important.  So, we’re getting together online again tomorrow afternoon.

A good time was had by all tonight, and I’m excited!  I’d like to share a few things that I learned this evening.

First, a little prep time goes a long way with Gametable.  It doesn’t take too long to put together a totally serviceable map that’s way fun for play.  I wouldn’t have a problem with drawing on the fly if I had to.

Second, scaling encounters meant for five players down to three players isn’t that hard.  I simply brought the total XP of the baddies down by 40%, eliminating enemies as needed.  It worked like a charm – a good challenge, but one that the party can handle.  We’ll see how that goes with the big boss battle tomorrow – one that I’ve heard should be adjusted even with five players (it’s a level 6 encounter for level 1 characters – I plan to tone it down).

Third, if you’re missing an important role in your party (in our case, a leader to heal characters), you can get creative.  We gave our druid the cleric’s Healing Word power and changed her Wild Shape power to a free action.  Having Healing Word mattered a LOT, and I’m glad we did it.  If we continue much longer with a three-character party, we’ll have to establish a more permanent way of getting a healing feature, but this patch worked great for tonight.

Fourth, I’ve learned how to use the private map effectively – but that’s for another post.

Fifth, keeping track of initiative and hit points in an Excel spreadsheet is awesome.  I love it.  If I were DMing a game in real life, I would still want to use it.  Again, that’s a post for another day.

Sixth, the dice rolling macros in Gametable are fantastic.  That’s another topic for a post of its own.  But I’ve decided that I want to set up macros for each day’s encounters in advance – every bad guy’s attack and damage rolls – and it will make combat super-easy.

I’ll also start a Downloads page on this blog for posting my Gametable map files, dice macros, images, etc.  If there’s something you’ve seen me mention on the blog that you don’t see on that page, please let me know.  I want that page to be a good source for other DMs who want to run adventures in Gametable.  I’m loving it!

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