This past Friday evening I ran my online group through our first session of EN World’s War of the Burning Sky campaign. It did not go as well as our session from the previous week, where I had run them through a Living Forgotten Realms adventure, and it’s my fault: I just wasn’t as prepared as I should have been, and it showed.
The session started off well, with the players talking about some back story for their characters and possible connections with one another and with the campaign setting. I really enjoyed this part of the session, and it’s given me some good ideas for the future.
Then we got into the actual adventure itself (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD). Some of this was okay and some… less so. The party begins by meeting a woman named Torrent in a tavern that has been closed by the city guards because the owner is a magic user and there’s a coming crackdown on magic (“The Scourge”). Torrent is there to bring the party into “The Resistance.” Great, no problem.
As they finish chatting, they’re ambushed by bounty hunters. Now, this is laid out as a pretty exciting encounter in the published adventure, and I totally biffed it. There’s a warning of something coming, with the sound of creaking floorboards overhead in what is supposed to be an empty building. Then some bounty hunters come barging in the front door, with the goal of forcing the party out the side door. (I was totally unable to accomplish this.)
Then a bomb hits the building and flames burst out all over the place. Then the ceiling starts collapsing in places. This would have been a good way to force the players out of the building and into the alley, but I failed to play it that way. They basically ignored the chaos and beat the crap out of the bounty hunters. I decided to have the leader of the bounty hunters (who wisely stayed outside) tell his men to retreat, but the party kept beating them on the way out (and really, who can blame them?).
We then had an interaction with the lead bounty hunter, Kathor, which, as I played it, didn’t make any sense. Kathor is supposed to be ambivalent about being a bounty hunter, and that came across okay, but it was tough for me to reasonably play it so that the players would accept his withdrawal without attacking him further. We worked it out so that the players are trying to recruit him into the resistance (a cool idea on the party’s part), but I admit that I didn’t handle this encounter very well.
We next played a few vignettes as the party made their way through the now-burning city toward their rendezvous with a gnome who is supposed to have information that they’re to take out of the city. These little scenes were a bit out of place, but the party role-played them well.
Then we had to abruptly cut off the game, as one of the players got called into work unexpectedly. I was okay with this, frankly, as it will give me more time to prepare for the next session.
After much reflection, I’ve decided that I have no interest in running a pre-packaged campaign through to completion. A pre-packaged adventure, sure, but not a whole campaign. I need to be able to wing it on the fly and change NPC motivations, all sorts of crazy things, and that’s tough with a published campaign. So, I’ll be using the published campaign for inspiration and nothing more. For one thing, I’m interested in getting the party into an underground area of some sort for some cool battles, and I don’t see anything like that in the near future for this campaign. Easy solution: Change it!
My lessons from this time around are:
- BE PREPARED! If you’re not prepared as the DM, things aren’t going to go well.
- Maintain flexibility. Unless you’re the kind of DM who can run a party closely to a script, don’t hew too closely to a published adventure path. You need to be able to adapt on the fly.
- When you’re given cool material (like the burning, collapsing building that the party is fighting inside) make the most of it! Describe it vividly, and let it affect the characters in whatever way seems most appropriate to you.
Next session is going to be better, I can already tell. I’ve already made some big changes to the next combat encounter, which will take the adventure mildly off the published path. I’m anxious to start working with my player characters’ backgrounds, too, and I have some interesting ideas on how to do that.
I’m currently running WotBS as well, and I encourage you to read ahead to get an idea of what the behind-the-scenes information is. It’s a very well-written campaign, but like all published campaigns, it’s designed to be run on rails. If your players haven’t bought into that premise, then you’ll definitely need to be on top of the improv game 🙂
My group is about to wrap up the second chapter (the burning forest) and I’m about to fundamentally change all of the assumptions behind what’s going on in the forest, based on what my players have been giving me for inspiration. Since the campaign is broken up into chapters, I can do this pretty easily without having to re-write everything that’s coming ahead. I can keep things “local” in other words.
SunRaven01 – thank you for the comment! I’m glad to hear your group has had such fun with the campaign. I agree that reading ahead will make a big difference for me – and that’s what I haven’t had the time for. Also, I don’t think I’ll be happy running on rails for more than a few sessions.
Right now I plan to run the depository as a very different encounter than written, skip a whole bunch of encounters written in Gate Pass and then move on to escaping the city (possibly as written in the encounter, but probably not – the players will decide what route to pursue).
I might use a version of the final encounter from the first adventure, and I may then pick up with the second adventure (I haven’t read it yet), but for now I’m focused on the next few encounters in Gate Pass, which I anticipate being VERY different than written (and, in my humble opinion, probably more fun). I’ll be sure to post all about it right here!
I came to that same conclusion about pre-made adventure paths. An AP assumes certain decisions are made, that there’s easy/lack of access to certain resources, and that scenes are going to flow as written. Minor changes ripple outwards until working off of the pre-made isn’t saving time because of all the tweaks and adjustments I need to make.
In fact, I’m running Paizo’s Kingmaker for my boyfriend this afternoon, but I’m probably only going to draw off of the first two modules in the path before splitting off and pursuing a different focus. There’s nothing really wrong with the other modules, but they certainly don’t take advantage of the PC’s background hooks, nor do they contain adventures that get my DM side all fired up. So really, I’ve taken the Kingmaker premise and ran off with it. 🙂
Anyway, good luck with your next session. I don’t always have the time to comment on your stuff, but I’m interested in reading it.
@shyDM – Thanks! It’s still somewhat shocking when I hear that someone reads my blog regularly. 🙂
I hope that you write up your experiences with the Kingmaker adventure path on your blog; I’m very curious now to see how other DMs handle this sort of thing. It sounds like you and I are of a similar mind on the issue.
Good luck with the campaign!