I’m most of the way through my attempt to Iron Man TactiCon (I’m running nine slots – 36 hours of games over a 72-hour period). I’ve had a lot of fun, and I’m especially pleased that the adventures I wrote myself were well-received on Friday.
This afternoon and evening (Saturday) I ran a two-slot game of SPEC 3-2 Roots of Corruption – Dark Seeds. This is a paragon-level adventure, and I ran it with a party of mostly 11th level characters and a couple of 13th level characters. They chose to run it at level 14 (so yes, they opted for extra challenge).
It was a fun and challenging adventure for the first four hours, and when we came back from our dinner break we went into the last encounter.
It was silly-hard. Spoilers follow.
In the particular path my party chose, the adventurers have to fight against a hydra and two spore demons at the end. The spore demons were mildly annoying, but not much of a real threat. The hydra was insane.
It can’t be flanked, much to the frustration of the two rogues in the party.
It makes ranged attacks without provoking attacks of opportunity.
It has threatening reach in a 2-square radius (on a Huge creature).
It gets two free attacks against any PC that ends its turn within 2 squares.
Now, the PCs had spent a lot of resources in the next-to-last encounter, and only two of the six of them had action points for the last battle. There weren’t too many daily powers left (though there definitely were some).
The party had a really hard time with this battle, and they eventually retreated and declared defeat.
My annoyance comes in that, by running the adventure as written, I made the players have a less-good time than they otherwise would have. The final battle ended in defeat, and the party got a negative story award because of it (it makes them more vulnerable to diseases in the future). It was pretty miserable at the end.
And I have to admit that part of my annoyance is that two of the six players docked me a point on the GM evaluation sheet for the question, “How much fun did you have?” I still got great scores, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about the awesome possibility of getting perfect scores while Iron Manning the con. I really wanted that, and I failed.
Ultimately, this is on me. When the adventure as written has unfun things happening, I should deviate. I should follow my own judgment, and I didn’t. I should have had the hydra spread his attacks around more, rather than focus on one PC until it drops as the adventure says it should do. I could have changed things so that the hydra’s ranged attacks at least provoked opportunity attacks, or made it so that it only got a single bite attack against PCs that end their turns near it.
But I didn’t make any of those changes, and my players had less than optimal fun because of it. This doesn’t mean that every fight has to be a victory for the party, but if something feels unfair and I have the ability to change it, I should change it! I didn’t, and my players had less fun because of it.
Lesson learned. If something seems unfun, change it.
The error was playing at AL-14.
SPEC adventures are themselves particularly difficult, and Year 3 LFR adventures are really tough; in the forums, the LFR team advise AGAINST playing up; for that party, AL 12 would have been difficult enough.
Some research on that was required and lacking as well, im afraid.
Sorry if I didn’t make this clear in the post, but the party and I both knew that. They had all played SPECs before, and I had run this particular adventure before. I told them that the party I ran before played at a higher level, and it was really hard for them (but they did succeed in the end).
The research wasn’t lacking here. The party just had a little too much hubris!
None of that changes the fact that there’s more I could have done to make the last encounter more fun. DM Empowerment lets me do that, and I should have.
The next day I ran an adventure that concluded with a pretty grindy beholder encounter, so I changed things on the fly for the players to have more fun. Lesson learned!
As some unsolicited advice: changing an encounter with DME when the players are playing up (or in this case WAY up 🙂 ) becomes a tricky proposition. They are playing for higher tier rewards, too much easing off on the encounter runs the risk of turning into money for nothing (they want their MTV…). As an alternate option you can switch to the lower AL encounter and adjust rewards accordingly. Players tend to realize when they have bitten off a little more than they can chew, and while a downgrade of the encounter might feel like somewhat of a defeat, it still beats a retreat,or worse, a TPK. And has the possibility of at least a partial victory. Additionally if they refuse such an offer they have taken full responsibility for whatever happens next (granted that won’t always mean much…)
Regardless of all that, taking measures to reduce frustration is always good and for instance a little less focus fire probably would not have hurt the encounter overly much, but these encounters are meant to be hard, and when playing up are honestly meant to be deadly.
(oh out of curiosity, the rogues lacked the stealth for sniping? Or no throw-able weaponry? If I remember correctly the terrain does allow for it.)
I wouldn’t call the advice unsolicited; I wouldn’t have posted about it on my blog if I wasn’t interested in hearing what my commenters thought!
The advice is good, and I appreciate it. I like the idea of offering the players the chance to adjust the AL mid-stream if they realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew (with the appropriate adjustment of rewards).
I’ve already decided that if I were to run this encounter again, I would change the following:
– Reduce the focus fire to perhaps half of the heads’ attacks on the chosen target
– Reduce the “end your turn near the hydra” effect to one bite instead of two
– Allow adjacent PCs to take opportunity attacks when the hydra spits
Honestly, I think that would have been enough to make the encounter still challenging but not unfair-feeling. It also would have moved things more quickly in-game.
As for the rogues, they had some ways to get combat advantage, but not many. They were definitely melee-focused. It’s not that they couldn’t attack from range, but they weren’t very good at it. And yes, they did do some hiding behind fungus-trees and then popping out for a melee attack, but they couldn’t do too much of that without provoking extra opportunity attacks.