The Death of Zod

I was planning to write about more advanced MapTool macros that I’ve created for player characters today, but my plans changed after our in-person D&D game.  This is the first time our group has been able to get together in almost a month, and we decided to use the Memorial Day holiday as an opportunity to barbecue,  hang out and do some adventuring.  The food was great, if I do say so myself (I did the cooking).  Barbecue ribs with sauce from Sonny’s Barbecue (a chain that we know from Florida), plus burgers, grilled veggies, baked sweet potatoes – good times!

As for the gaming, the last time we played was when we fought the infamous down-leveled Troll Vinespeaker that nearly destroyed us.  Fortunately, we finished that guy off at the end of our last session.  Our group returned to the rebel camp that we were assisting, rested, and helped the rebels relocate their camp (since the bad guys now knew where the old one was).  My wizard, Zod, used a ritual for the first time ever to conjure Tenser’s Floating Disk in order to carry some of the wounded rebels.  The rest of the party carried supplies, helped navigate through the woods, and inspired the camp onward, with great success.  We then set off to a nearby cave that the rebels were hoping to dig into in order to create a secret tunnel into the city that they were rebelling against – but which had been discovered to contain a cave troll.  Fire supplies at the ready, we ventured into the cave.

The troll’s lair was interesting – it was a giant lake with a narrow path running around it.  The troll was tall enough to stand and walk in the lake, with the goal of grabbing adventurers, using them as weapons against one another, and dragging them underwater from time to time.  The water made our use of fire a little more difficult.  If the troll was under the water, for instance, Zod’s flaming sphere couldn’t hit him.  Still, with good tactics (and some crazy-awesome dice rolling from Barbara’s ranger, Violet), we finally defeated the cave troll and got some good loot.  Most of us had used up our daily powers and action points, but we still had plenty of healing surges left and we figured that the troll was probably the nastiest thing we would encounter, so we decided to explore a little further.  After all, if the rebels were going to be digging a tunnel in this cave, we should let them know what to expect up ahead.

A short while later, our party came to a small waterfall, behind which was an area that looked like still water.  We spotted an amulet in that area, but Zod’s Mage Hand wasn’t able to penetrate the surface.  Our warden recognized the “still water” as some type of slime creature, so I cast a fire burst at it, and the battle was on.

We were fighting a whole bunch of slimes – a big yellow one, two nasty green ones that liked to engulf us, four gray ones that sucked our Fortitude defenses down, and something like 15 slime minions that slid us two squares every time they hit us.  Bree’s defender was soon slid to the far side of the chamber and was unable to get back.  Zod tried to take out multiple monsters with Thunderwaves, but with mixed success.  Eventually we were surrounded and found ourselves in trouble.  We ended up with Kyle’s bard alive and the other three of us unconscious.  Barbara’s ranger made a miraculous natural 20 on her death save, which helped immensely.  The bard healed the warden, who was planning to come administer a potion to my wizard, Zod – when the yellow slide decided to attack Zod while he was unconscious.  That, friends, is called a Coup de Grace, and it’s an automatic critical hit – and a dead wizard.  Oops!  I didn’t feel that badly about it, honestly.  These things happen.

The rest of the party was able to escape the slime cave, and I headed to the computer to print out a character sheet for a Warlord I had rolled up a couple of weeks back (we needed more healing).  In a few minutes, though, the rest of the gang called me back into the room.  They had decided to call this an end point – not just for our session today, but for the campaign.  I was worried at first that somehow my letting Zod get killed caused the party to collapse, but it turned out that Barbara and Kyle were both rather unhappy with how they had built their characters from the start (Kyle because he was brand-new to Fourth Edition and really wanted a Monk, not a Bard, and Barbara because I had interfered too much when she was creating her character and it never really felt like HER character), Bree wanted to try her hand at DMing, and Nate was itching to play rather than DM.  So, we called it a campaign.  Bree will probably start us up again in three weeks with a pre-published adventure to get us going anew.

What lessons did I learn?  Well, first I learned that the death of a character is not catastrophic.  I’ll admit that I’m not great at role playing yet, so I probably wasn’t as attached to Zod as I could have been, but the thought of bringing in a brand-new character didn’t sound so bad to me, honestly.

Second, I think that character death is more acceptable when it feels fair.  The cave troll we fought was challenging (mostly because of the water) but fair.  The slimes were very numerous but fair.  Dying there didn’t seem like anything went horribly wrong – some bad luck, some tough monsters, maybe a questionable decision to push on without daily powers.  Had we ended up dying to the troll druid from our previous session, I would have been bitter, as I felt that monster was unintentionally overpowered.

Third, I’ll have to think about how I feel as a DM about the possibility of the campaign ending, perhaps abruptly.  While our DM, Nate, was happy for the chance to play instead of DM, he seemed to take the decision to end the campaign after this battle somewhat hard, as if it were his fault.  We were having fun with the campaign itself, but having two players with characters that they didn’t like all that much was a problem.  The notion of me rolling up a new character when Zod died basically got them thinking, “You know, a new character might be fun!” and things went from there.  It wasn’t Nate’s fault.  I think he worried that the encounters he put together were overpowered for our party, and maybe they were a little bit, but that’s because he used to work at Wizards of the Coast and was used to playing with people who ran super-optimized characters that would blow through any encounter equal to their level or even a little higher.  Did he make things too hard today?  No, I don’t think so.  Sometimes it’s right to flee, and we didn’t do that soon enough in the slime battle.  So it goes.

I had fun with my first real D&D campaign, and I’m glad that I’ll get the chance to hang out with this same group of friends to adventure together.  I find the idea of a new character, new DM and new campaign to be exciting, not depressing.  The only down side is that now I won’t get to play any D&D at all for several more weeks – but that’s mainly because I have some business travel coming up the weekend after next.  After that, game on!

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