My online party ventured into its ninth session in the War of the Burning Sky campaign last night. This session involved two skill challenges and really just one combat (though as you’ll see the dedicated fighter in the party tried to stretch that one out).
Deep in an eternally-burning forest, the party comes across a dragonborn sorceror who is studying the magical fire and trying to develop a ritual to put it out. He asks the adventurers to go to a nearby cave to get reagents for the ritual – mushrooms and flint.
Upon entering the cave, the party is greeted by screeching, howling, screaming noises coming from the small chamber at the bottom left corner of the map. The fighter nervously tiptoes in and finds that it’s coming from a small hole in a corner. There’s a gem in the hole, and the fighter breaks a bone off a nearby skeleton and pokes the gem. Nothing happens. Eventually the swordmage detects magic and figures out that it’s an Eye of Alarm ritual that’s never been deactivated, so she takes the gem and throws it out of the cave, causing the noise to stop. Cool roleplaying here.
- DM Lesson: When there’s a very loud noise, play it up. Make the characters think about it. Can they communicate effectively? Might it temporarily deafen them?
The mushrooms were clearly down in the chamber below, so three members of the party took the downward-sloping bridge at the top of the map while the others just climbed down. The mushroom and flint hunt was on, and cooperation was the word of the day as the party worked together to try to get the needed reagents. They noticed a misty tunnel in the upper left corner that seemed to get more active whenever they tried and failed to get the reagents. The skill challenge ultimately failed, which meant that monsters (fungus creatures) came out of the misty tunnel in a surprise round.
This got a little bit interesting for me as a DM. My players have generally mowed down most unmodified battles, so I had taken to upping the difficulty of most combat encounters. I did that here, too, adding a couple of monsters. After one round, I realized that this battle was way too tough – players were getting badly bloodied, and the monsters were barely scratched (they can essentially share hit points by shifting damage taken to one another). I made some modifications on the fly:
- I intentionally “forgot” to use the regeneration ability that several of the bad guys had
- I nearly halved all of their hit points
This made for a kind of weird battle in the end. Initially the monsters were nearly indestructable because of their high HP and their damage splitting ability. Once I lowered the HP (and decided not to use the regeneration), they all dropped in a hurry. Clearly my on-the-fly adjustments need some work! But the players seemed to have fun bashing the mushrooms into oblivion, so all’s well that ends well.
The best part was the end of the battle, when all of the monsters were dead. Before taking even a short rest, the fighter wanted to explore the misty cave. Okay, that’s his call. He walks into total concealment and sees some orbs that appear to be the source of the mist. He almost stumbles into a pit (heavy mist obscured it) but makes the athletics check to catch himself. He finds a ledge that he can walk around, and while standing on it gets knocked into the pit by attacks from mushroom creatures that he can’t see. The swordmage then charges in to help, fails her athletics check and falls into the pit on top of the fighter.
- DM Lesson: When one character falls on top of another, split the falling damage between the two of them (it seemed like fun).
So we have our two defenders prone at the bottom of a pit, with mushroom creatures on the far side attacking them. The creatures have made it clear that they simply don’t want any intruders and that retreat is an option. But no, the defenders start attacking (ineffectually) from the pit. Our druid came in to help, lowering a rope to the pit-bound PCs, and only very reluctantly did they decide to climb out and rest.
After the short rest… the fighter charged back in! He was immediately attacked at range by things he couldn’t see, and only when it became clear that the rest of the party was not helping did he finally back out. Honestly, I see this as great roleplaying – that fighter is stubborn and refuses to back away from a fight!
Another great bit of roleplaying came when our shaman discovered an old book while searching for flint. He flipped through it a little bit and then discarded it on the ground, since he’s not much of a book kind of guy. He never mentioned it to the rest of the party, and it was only at the end of the session that we realized the book was still lying on the ground in the mushroom cave. Heh. Good thing it’s not too important!
The second skill challenge, involving the ritual to extinguish a dryad’s burning grove, will be covered in the next post.