All right, now this is more like it! I got together with my online group last night for our second session in the War of the Burning Sky campaign (our third overall session as a group). The first WotBS session didn’t go all that well in part because we had to wrap up early when one player got called into work but mainly because I was underprepared and didn’t feel ready to wing it when needed.
This time, I was ready. With this session, I started intentionally deviating from the campaign as laid out in the published module, and I’m glad I did. There are some spoilers for the campaign ahead, just so you’re warned.
I started the party off in session 1 as scripted, meeting their contact, Torrest, in a closed-down inn at New Year’s Eve in the town of Gate Pass as the world was on the brink of war. I ran the bounty hunter ambush battle more or less as scripted, though I ran it badly. The players did well to think quickly and try to lure the lead bounty hunter to the Resistance – a cool idea.
I then ran some of the mini-quests as written as the party made its way from the inn to the bank tower to meet their next contact. The party helped heal a burned family, caught a panicked woman who was jumping from a burning building, and shared in the panic in the crowd as a huge winged figure swooped overhead in the night. That’s where we ended things last time.
Next, I ran the much-maligned “Animal Crossing” encounter, in which a rich man begs the party to help him find his Kiki, who, it turns out, is his pet dire weasel (see photo to the left). I had Torrent clearly be uninterested in helping, and I would have awarded XP for simply the group deciding that this was a waste of time, but the soft-hearted warlock in the party helped persuade the others that this poor man was in need of their help. So, the weasel hunt was on, and for me at least it was a ton of fun. They tracked the weasel through the streets, into a closed temple, out a side door, down an alley and into a locked sewer grate. The druid in the party used a fabulous Nature check to calm Kiki down, at which point she climbed out and snuggled into his arms for safety (I essentially role-played Kiki as one of my cats). I showed the party the picture I had made for Kiki, and the druid was sorely tempted to keep her (she IS pretty adorable, if a bit dire), but the group ultimately returned the cute little dire weasel to her rightful owner. They then spent a surprising amount of time trying to get out the box of treasure that they spotted alongside Kiki in the sewer grate, ultimately blasting the crap out of the lock on the sewer grate with a bunch of magic.
Fun aside: At one point the gnome in the party tried to squeeze through the sewer grate, which was an untrained Acrobatics check. The dwarf fighter assisted by shoving him through with a great Athletics check. Unfortunately, the gnome’s Acrobatics roll was a natural 1, so I ruled that he got his knee caught on the grate, the fighter’s shove cause him to bang up that leg, dealing him 1d6 damage. Ah, the dangers of assisting!
At this point I made my first major deviation from the published story. As published, the party encounters a character in the bank who appears to be their contact, Rivereye, but who is really a good-aligned spy from a nearby eladrin country. The spy has secretly subdued the real Rivereye and taken a potion to disguise himself as Rivereye. He has taken the case of secret information that Rivereye was supposed to be giving to Torrent (that is, the MacGuffin) and sent it with some of his eladrin allies to another part of town because the real Rivereye has convinced the spy that the case is rigged to blow up if it’s opened without the proper pass phrase. The encounter is scheduled to go like this:
- The party arrives and meets the fake Rivereye
- The fake Rivereye doesn’t realize who Torrent is and slips up in his charade
- When Torrent catches him in the slip-up, the spy flees with his wisp solon partner
- The party then has a long series of encounters helping the Resistance and tracking down the case, possibly becoming allies with the eladrin along the way
This struck me as overly complicated and, more importantly, no fun. I don’t like the “meet a bad guy and keep him from fleeing” encounter, especially since it seemed like it would be easy for him to get away. So I completely revamped it.
In MY version (available here as a PDF), the fake Rivereye is a doppelganger counter-spy from the evil empire that Rivereye has been spying on. The doppelganger and his gang of half-orc goons have been tailing Rivereye in the hopes that he’ll lead them to his contacts in the Resistance. As in the published version, the fake Rivereye tries to pass himself off as the real one and ultimately slips up. However, in this version he doesn’t HAVE the MacGuffin – it’s locked in a bank vault and he needs Torrent to get it out. When he fails in that, he and his goons attack. He ultimately tried to flee at the end of the battle, but I had him use a potion of teleportation to try to get away – which, when combined with the Burning Sky teleportation issues, fried him to a crisp. Add in the lightning trap that I had jumping around the battlefield, and it was a more fun encounter (at least for me).
I considered running the Flaganus Mortis encounter after this one, but I ultimately decided not to bother as it felt too random. I had the party go to a safe house (which I made into the Dagger’s Rest Inn from their first session, transplanted from Waterdeep) and rest for the evening. In the morning, they started their plans to escape the city. I gave them the option of trying to work with a city council member as written in the published module, but that seemed boring to me, so I presented them with another option: Escape via the sewers. Happily for me, they went with the sewers
I skipped most of the rest of Act Two, Act Three and Act Four as written, but I took the Dead Rising encounter from Act Two and said that in order to get from the sewers into the natural cave system that would take them out of the city, the party would have to fight through an ancient crypt of undead. I ran this one exactly as written (except with an exit out the back of the crypt, and the fact that the entrance came from the sewer), and it was pretty darn brutal – but the players made it in the end. I did soften the death explosion of the Dwarven Boneshard Skeletons to be 1d6+4 damage rather than 3d6+4 – they were crazy-powerful enough without dealing insane damage on death.
We called it a night as this point, as the party got ready to delve into the natural cavern system (which is not part of the published adventure at all). I’m very happy with the changes I made to the adventure, and I personally am having much more fun than I did in the first WotBS session (mainly because I feel like I know what’s going on now and am free to make changes as I see fit). I’ve already put together what I think is an interesting trek through the natural caverns, after which I will likely pick up some of the published threads of the adventure (probably using Act Five more or less as written and then moving on to the second published adventure).
What do you think of the changes I’ve made so far? Was running the weasel hunt worthwhile? Do you have any suggestions for a trek through some caverns in an effort to escape the city? I have some ideas of my own, but I’m always looking for more input!
Yah, I had fun. As I said in my email, I was a bit distracted throughout the game (which was my own fault, I should have had that done before we played), but I thought it was a lot of fun. I really like how we have small encounters and big ones now, and all of a different variety. The lightning trap really made for an anxious battle for those downstairs (I was stuck upstairs for most of it, but oh well), which I think adds to the fun factor. Especially when Faebs came up with the idea of pushing them into the lightning, even though they were unable to do that themselves. Jaks did and to great success.
I’m also flat out astounded by the amount of magic we’ve gotten. In the RL game I’m playing in, we just don’t get magic items. Period. I know you are handing them out more in accordance to the books, and I gotta say it’s really nice to have choices to say “Well, the fighter needs this” or “The druid should have this” or whatever, and not have it be this dire decision since it’ll be the ONLY thing we get for 3 levels or so.
So, thank you for running it. I am having a lot of fun.
Max and Jason – I’m glad you’re having fun! As a DM, that’s the thing I love to hear the most. I’m having fun, too. And Jason, I completely understand about GenCon – make the most of it, and come back with stories for the rest of us!
I had a blast! I wish I could play next week… but I am going to be swamped with GenCon. I also have a numerous amount of distractions when playing online! Wife, kids, dog….