We gathered at our place today for what is becoming a Monday holiday tradition – grilling and gaming! Since we all had the day off for the Fourth of July holiday, just as we did a month ago for Memorial day, we decided to grill some burgers, ribs and veggies and play some D&D. This was our third session in the Chaos Scar. (Sessions number one and number two are at those links).
Our party had just finished fighting bullywugs (frog people) on the first level of a ruined keep last time, and we began the day today by heading down a trap door into the next level. Amazingly enough, our minotaur on a horse had no problem squeezing through the trap door. 🙂
We played through three battles today – some random bullywugs in a muddy chamber, some bullywugs and giant frogs in a big laboratory and some mud men in a vault. The first battle was pretty good – nice and balanced – though my character ended up spending the entire battle stuck in the mud. Fortunately, my Avenger, Kern, does have an at-will ranged attack, so I wasn’t TOTALLY useless! Still, the mud that attacked at the beginning of my turn to immobilize me (save ends) was pretty annoying, but at least it only hit me and not the rest of the gang.
The third battle against the mud men was also easy, and we squeaked through the skill challenge that followed with success. The real story of the day was the second encounter. We fought three Giant Frogs (the link only works if you’re a DDI subscriber). There were some other bad guys in the room, but this battle was all about the Giant Frogs. These guys have an at-will power that lets them swallow a PC on a hit. A swallowed PC is stunned (save ends). That means that the character doesn’t get to do anything on their turn except take five damage (from the frog’s digestive acids, presumably) and make a saving throw. If they fail the save, they don’t get to do anything next turn, either.
This was a miserable encounter for Nate, whose minotaur fighter was swallowed for pretty much the whole battle. He didn’t get to take a single action until the battle was almost over (something like five rounds). It was touch and go for the party (Nate and I both had our characters swallowed at least once), but Barbara used the healing abilities of her runepriest very wisely, which let us pull through.
This was a fun adventure on the whole, and we ended with enough experience points to move up to second level, which we’re all looking forward to. Bree, our DM, did something I thought was really cool at the end of the session – she asked for our feedback on what was fun, what was not fun, and how to make the game more fun for us. This leads naturally to some DM lessons.
- The stun ability needs to be used very, very sparingly, if at all. Certainly I wouldn’t recommend using a creature with an at-will ability that can stun (save ends). If it’s once per encounter, okay. If it can only stun for one turn and it is a recharge power, that’s probably all right. But stun (save ends) at will is just too unfun for the players.
- Similarly, monsters that daze or dominate should be used very sparingly as well. Anything that keeps the players from doing stuff on their turns is not a lot of fun.
- Adjusting the challenge level of encounters for a strong party is tricky. Adding an extra monster with a stun (save ends) ability was not the way to do it in this case. Consider increasing the damage dealt by the monsters and increasing their hit points. MAYBE consider increasing their defenses, but don’t overdo it (having the PCs missing with all of their attacks is not fun either).
- Flexibility is good, especially when the pre-packaged material just doesn’t work. We faced a skill challenge that required Arcana and Nature as primary skills. None of us are trained in either of those (except our Shaman, who was absent today). Our DM rewarded creative uses of Athletics and Acrobatics on the fly, which made the challenge way more fun.
- Think carefully before allowing a character a mount. This hasn’t been a problem in our campaign so far, but we have one character with a mount, which seems really, really useful. More speed, saving throws from being knocked prone, etc. It’s all upside, and it seems to be pretty significant upside. As a DM, I would make mounts an all or none proposition – either the players are all on foot, or they’re all on mounts.
Bree is doing a good job as a DM, and it’s clear that she really cares about getting better and making the game fun. I think that’s the most important thing – a DM who is focused on fun for the whole party. If you’ve got that, you’ve got a very important ingredient for a good game.
A nice little addendum – Bree ended up using some of my monster tokens for minions today. They worked great! I’m looking forward to using them in my LFR game (which Nate has said he wants to play in – cool!).