Today I officially became not only an online dungeon master but also an in-person dungeon master. I finally ran a Living Forgotten Realms game at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds (spoiler alert: I ended up killing one of the PCs). I started preparing for this game (and talking about it on the blog) almost a month ago, and I already ran this same adventure for my online group last week, so it’s fair to say that I was well-prepared!
The module was WATE1-1: Heirloom, a Living Forgotten Realms adventure for a party of four to six players of levels one to four. There will be some spoilers for this particular adventure ahead, just so you know.
The game was scheduled to start at 9:00 AM. I got to the store around 8:45 to get ready – and then realized at 8:50 that I had forgotten the handouts for the players (they explain the laws of Waterdeep, show a map of Waterdeep, and show a list of stolen items that was provided to the City Watch in the story). Fortunately, I live within walking distance of home, so it took me only two minutes to drive back, two minutes two print the handouts and two minutes to get back to the store.
We were fortunate to be allowed to play on Enchanted Grounds’ fancy new gaming table, which has an inset in the middle for the battle map and a special pull-out tray with a built-in screen for the game master. There were four players at game time, and two more were on their way but running late. We waited about 25 minutes before starting – and naturally the two latecomers showed up just as we got going. No harm done!
Since this blog is meant to be educational, I think it’s worth talking about what I did to prepare for running this adventure:
- Read the adventure at least twice, paying special attention to the point of the story and, on later read-throughs, the details of combat tactics from the enemies
- Create the maps in MapTool, convert them to posters with PosteRazor, print them out in color and tape them together
- Get monster minis together – I used self-made tokens. I wish I had also brought some generic non-combatant NPC tokens, but that was a minor oversight.
- Get some way of keeping track of conditions such as bloodied, slowed, marked, etc. I went with little rubber bands from Target that are intended to be hair bands for girls. I believe my wife Barbara found a big container of them for $3. I sorted them by color and stored them on twist-ties.
- Get dice. Lots of dice. No, a few more than that. Yeah, that’s the ticket! (Note the awesome d12s that have Roman numerals for 1 to 4 printed three times – actually rollable d4s! I got them from Dicepool.)
- Write the name of each type of monster on a half index card and roll initiative for it. Write that number on the half index card.
- Get blank half index cards for each player character. Write the character’s name (along with race and class, maybe the player’s name and a description of the mini so you know who it is – all optional, but nice) at the top of the card. As the players roll initiative for a battle, write the character’s initiative on the card, crossing out any old initiative number that’s on it. You can then order the cards (PCs and bad guys) by initiative and use this to keep track of who’s up and who’s next – plus it’s easy if someone delays or readies an action to put them in a new position.
- Get a blank piece of paper for each battle. Write the name of each monster on a line, treating multiple monsters of the same type separately (so Guard Drake 1 has a line, as does Guard Drake 2). Write in parentheses next to the monster its bloodied value, followed by a colon and the starting hit points. As the monster takes damage, cross off the rightmost number and replace it with the new HP total. Check it against the bloodied value to see if the monster is bloodied yet.
- When you’re at the table, write down each player’s name, their character’s name, their race and class, their passive Insight and Perception scores and their initiative modifier
With that, we were off and running. The adventure begins with a long skill challenge to find the thief who stole the title heirloom. As with my online game, I never said that we were in a skill challenge. Instead I said, “Okay, what do you want to do now?” Someone decided to ask around the pub for information on where they might be able to find stolen goods – “Give me a Streetwise roll.” That pointed them to another tavern, where they looked around to see if they could find anyone matching the description of the information broker they had been given – “All right, Perception.” And so on.
In the middle of the long skill challenge, we had a quick-hit combat encounter with some drunken sailors. There was some fun role playing, as one of the PCs tried to hit on the damsel in distress (she wasn’t interested, and I played her as such). There was some great bluffing of the City Watch, too – “Honest, officers, these men just fell down drunk. We didn’t attack them…”
Once the thief was located in his lair, the battle became more interesting. I had ramped up the difficulty level of the battle a little bit, based on past experience, and I’m glad I did. Lots of players ended up severely bloodied, but nobody dropped. Our assassin got a little cocky after teleporting in behind a bandit and basically destroying him in one shot, so he ended up trying to take on a couple of halfling thieves by himself. Bad idea – those guys love to get combat advantage and deal extra damage!
The players did defeat the thief and successfully interrogated him about the stolen heirloom. He told them where to find the person who hired him to steal it. I then asked the players what they wanted to do with the thief and his gang. After a short discussion, they decided to execute them. I had a bloodthirsty table! But so it goes. Had this been a home game, I would have made sure that there would be consequences from this in the future, but for a one-shot I decided to just move on.
The final battle against the gnome factor and his allies in an inn room was pretty cool. Our assassin and our monk were stealthy about getting into position, seeing some gnomes in their room at the end of a hall and successfully hiding from the gnomes. Our fighter tried to be stealthy but failed, making too much noise while coming up the steps. The gnomes looked up, and our bard, thinking quickly, walked up the stairs and past the hallway, whistling merrily – so I had him make a Bluff check, which he totally rocked. Thus, with surprise preserved, the party was able to charge down the hall in a surprise round before the battle began.
Our strikers jumped right into the thick of things, dealing tons of damage but leaving themselves exposed – especially the monk. The gnomes spread the hurt around a little bit, but the two dumb guard drakes attacked the closest thing that was threatening their master, which was our monk. The monk did get an opportunity attack on one drake as the drake moved into position between the monk and the gnomes, but then both drakes took big bites out of the monk. Guard drakes, as it turns out, do tons of damage when they’re near allies, and the two big chomps put the monk at exactly his negative bloodied value. He was dead – that is, dead dead, not just “I’m lying on the ground but I’ll be fine later” dead. I felt a little bad, but that’s what happens when a relatively squishy striker charges into battle without waiting for defender support (a lesson I learned myself the first time I played an avenger).
Pretty soon the gnomes were all bloodied, facing our wizard’s Flaming Sphere, and several of them were invisible due to their fade away power. When the gnome leader’s turn came up, with his invisibility in place, I had him open the window of the room, fey step down to the street below and start running. Of course, all the player characters could see was a window opening. They were left with a tough choice – attack the empty space where they had last seen the gnome leader, or try to go after him in case he ran.
The bard attacked the empty square and rolled well enough that I told him that he didn’t feel like there was anything there to hit. So the wizard decided to run back down the stairs and into the alley leading to the front of the inn – where he spotted the gnome! Meanwhile, back in the room, the fighter and psion took care of the guard drakes, the other gnomes jumped out the window (one killing himself) and the bard decided to take a flying leap after everyone. He made his Acrobatics check, landed on his feet, saw the gnome leader and pegged him with two arrows (smart use of an action point). Mission accomplished!
This was a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, and I know the players had fun, too. Interestingly, the person whose player I killed, Jason, had played this adventure once before (in the same party as me when I had played it), and during the course of the adventure he said, “Wow, this is way cooler than the last time!” That’s what I love to hear. Even though his character died, he still role-played the things that his spirit was doing, cheering on the rest of the party. The two players at the table who were new to fourth edition had a good time and learned a lot about how the game works. Fun was had by all.
I’m learning that I really like being a dungeon master, whether in person or online. I’ve also learned that I need to feel prepared in order to do well. (In my next post I’ll talk about my experience running my online group through the beginning of the War of the Burning Sky while not being as prepared as I’d like.) I think I’d like to do some more DMing for Living Forgotten Realms in the future.