Ah, I love being a dungeon master! My online group, consisting of five players whom I’ve never met in person, got together this evening for the fourth session of our ongoing campaign. The first session was a standalone Living Forgotten Realms game, and the next three have been from the War of the Burning Sky.
Tonight’s session was the first I’ve ever run that was entirely homebrewed. Yes, we’re still in the War of the Burning Sky campaign saga, but I decided to completely change the story of the party’s escape from Gate Pass. Rather than dealing with politics and masquerading as city guards, I gave the party the option of going through the city sewers and into some natural caverns. Happily, they took that option.
In our last session (two weeks ago – we took last week off), we finished with the party fighting through a crypt filled with undead dwarves. It was a tough battle, but they made it through. They also found a whole bunch of treasure in the crypt, evidently things that the ancient dwarves were buried with. This included a mysterious blue cube that the party spent quite a bit of time experimenting with. It seems mostly harmless so far…
From there, they delved into the caves. This is a skill challenge, although I’m not running it by simply asking for a skill check, marking success or failure, etc. Some parts of it have involved navigation – figuring the right path among many, or navigating through a maze of twisty little passages, all alike (the minotaur in the party is, appropriately, great at that). There have also been some physical challenges – getting down a steep slope, or crossing a narrow bridge.
I built the challenge so that failure could lead to battles. In the case of the bridge, five out of the six characters in the party (including an NPC, Torrent) made it across safely. The sixth, our swordmage, decided to just walk on across while holding onto a rope, but not tying it around herself. Naturally, she failed badly on her acrobatics check and wound up down in the pit, where she was promptly attacked by some crauds in a surprise round. Some of the crauds rolled first in the initiative order, so they got a second wave of attacks which left the poor swordmage unconscious at the bottom of a pit full of water and lobster-creatures.
It was then up to the rest of the party to rescue the swordmage. The fighter jumped on down (falling and hurting himself, but landing on a bad guy and hurting it, too) and started swinging his craghammer. The druid decided to climb rather than jump down. The others mostly stayed at the rim of the pit and attacked from range. This ended up being a surprisingly nasty battle, despite the fact that it was technically below the party’s level and despite the fact that I held back a little bit in not using one craud’s encounter power before it was killed. Go figure.
With the swordmage now at full hit points but no surges and the fighter down to his last surge, the group pressed on and took a wrong turn, ending up in a den of cave fishers. I’ve been looking forward to running this encounter ever since I saw the cave fishers in Monster Manual 3, and I have to say that it was a lot of fun. I love the way the anglers grab onto a character and pull them into the air while their young climb down to start eating the PC. And of course once the angler is dead or the PC manages to extract themselves, they have to deal with the fall from the ceiling. Good times!
I also tried to bring more of the characters’ back stories into the game this time. The minotaur druid, who has no memory of his past, is starting to get hints above some savagery within himself. He role-played the situation well, and I’ve ended up deciding to introduce an artifact into the game. I’m open to ideas: What should a totem of Melora that’s tied to a minotaur druid be like?
I had the party finish tonight’s session in the village where our fighter had grown up – technically, in the ruins of the village, which had been pillaged by orcs. It felt like a good place to wrap up the session, with the party next having to either figure out a way through the rockfall that has blocked the ruined village in, or heading back into the caves to finish navigating their way out.
I have some pretty good ideas about where the adventure is going from here – likely back onto the adventure path – but I really enjoyed writing my own skill challenge and encounters, and I think they played well. The flexibility to do what I want is fantastic, and I’m not totally comfortable at winging things when I’m working from published material. I just need to get over that!