Chaos Scar third session – swallowed by frogs

We gathered at our place today for what is becoming a Monday holiday tradition – grilling and gaming!  Since we all had the day off for the Fourth of July holiday, just as we did a month ago for Memorial day, we decided to grill some burgers, ribs and veggies and play some D&D.  This was our third session in the Chaos Scar.  (Sessions number one and number two are at those links).

BullywugsOur party had just finished fighting bullywugs (frog people) on the first level of a ruined keep last time, and we began the day today by heading down a trap door into the next level.  Amazingly enough, our minotaur on a horse had no problem squeezing through the trap door.  🙂

We played through three battles today – some random bullywugs in a muddy chamber, some bullywugs and giant frogs in a big laboratory and some mud men in a vault.  The first battle was pretty good – nice and balanced – though my character ended up spending the entire battle stuck in the mud.   Fortunately, my Avenger, Kern, does have an at-will ranged attack, so I wasn’t TOTALLY useless!  Still, the mud that attacked at the beginning of my turn to immobilize me (save ends) was pretty annoying, but at least it only hit me and not the rest of the gang.

The third battle against the mud men was also easy, and we squeaked through the skill challenge that followed with success.  The real story of the day was the second encounter.  We fought three Giant Frogs (the link only works if you’re a DDI subscriber).  There were some other bad guys in the room, but this battle was all about the Giant Frogs.  These guys have an at-will power that lets them swallow a PC on a hit.  A swallowed PC is stunned (save ends).  That means that the character doesn’t get to do anything on their turn except take five damage (from the frog’s digestive acids, presumably) and make a saving throw.  If they fail the save, they don’t get to do anything next turn, either.

This was a miserable encounter for Nate, whose minotaur fighter was swallowed for pretty much the whole battle.  He didn’t get to take a single action until the battle was almost over (something like five rounds).  It was touch and go for the party (Nate and I both had our characters swallowed at least once), but Barbara used the healing abilities of her runepriest very wisely, which let us pull through.

This was a fun adventure on the whole, and we ended with enough experience points to move up to second level, which we’re all looking forward to.  Bree, our DM, did something I thought was really cool at the end of the session – she asked for our feedback on what was fun, what was not fun, and how to make the game more fun for us.  This leads naturally to some DM lessons.

  • The stun ability needs to be used very, very sparingly, if at all.  Certainly I wouldn’t recommend using a creature with an at-will ability that can stun (save ends).  If it’s once per encounter, okay.  If it can only stun for one turn and it is a recharge power, that’s probably all right.  But stun (save ends) at will is just too unfun for the players.
  • Similarly, monsters that daze or dominate should be used very sparingly as well.  Anything that keeps the players from doing stuff on their turns is not a lot of fun.
  • Adjusting the challenge level of encounters for a strong party is tricky.  Adding an extra monster with a stun (save ends) ability was not the way to do it in this case.  Consider increasing the damage dealt by the monsters and increasing their hit points.  MAYBE consider increasing their defenses, but don’t overdo it (having the PCs missing with all of their attacks is not fun either).
  • Flexibility is good, especially when the pre-packaged material just doesn’t work.  We faced a skill challenge that required Arcana and Nature as primary skills.  None of us are trained in either of those (except our Shaman, who was absent today).  Our DM rewarded creative uses of Athletics and Acrobatics on the fly, which made the challenge way more fun.
  • Think carefully before allowing a character a mount.  This hasn’t been a problem in our campaign so far, but we have one character with a mount, which seems really, really useful.  More speed, saving throws from being knocked prone, etc.  It’s all upside, and it seems to be pretty significant upside.  As a DM, I would make mounts an all or none proposition – either the players are all on foot, or they’re all on mounts.

Bree is doing a good job as a DM, and it’s clear that she really cares about getting better and making the game fun.  I think that’s the most important thing – a DM who is focused on fun for the whole party.  If you’ve got that, you’ve got a very important ingredient for a good game.

A nice little addendum – Bree ended up using some of my monster tokens for minions today.  They worked great!  I’m looking forward to using them in my LFR game (which Nate has said he wants to play in – cool!).

Chaos scar campaign – Fighting mushrooms, lunatics and frogs

Our in-person D&D group gathered yesterday for our second session in the Chaos Scar (first session at this link).  I did indeed tweak Kern the Avenger a little bit so that he gave up some Dexterity for Constitution (a few more HP and surges seemed like a good idea), though I made it so the change wouldn’t go into effect until after the next extended rest.  Otherwise, it would have been too hard to figure out where my hit points should have been (okay, so I have one more surge now, and each of the eight surges I already used should have give me one more HP, but wait, I have AC that’s one lower now, so I probably would have taken some more hits…).

We also added a new player, Blaine, to the group with this session.  This brings us to five party members:

  • Kern, the githzerai Avenger played by me (Michael) – a striker
  • Zaaria, the dragonborn Runepriest played by my wife Barbara – a leader
  • Keira, the human Monk played by Kyle – another striker
  • Bullwark, the minotaur Fighter played by Nate – a defender
  • Iskander, the wilden Shaman played by Blaine – another leader

We’re doubled up on leaders and strikers and we’re without a controller.  That should be fine.  It’s worth noting that Barbara’s Runepriest is definitely a bit of a defender, not just a pure leader.  Also, Blaine’s shaman is at least trained in Arcana, which means we finally have someone who can identify magic items!  We’re not a smart party – Iskander’s intelligence of 13 leads the party, with Kern’s intelligence of 8 bringing up the rear.  Wise, yes; intelligent, no.

Yesterday’s session started off with a battle against some mushroom people who kept denying our PCs standard actions on their next turns – a real pain in the butt.  Since Kern was so low on HP, I had him stand in the back and shoot Radiant Vengeance for the whole battle until the very last round, where I used my encounter power to shift into melee and finish off the last bad buy with my fullblade.

We then got to do some nice roleplaying.  We had rescued a halfling slave from the temple of Torog in the previous session, so we decided to take care of him.  Bree (our DM) had to make up a name on the spot and decided to call him George.  With a few minutes to prepare later, she determined that George had been captured along with his sister and two brothers, who didn’t survive.  He was from a nearby town, so we returned him to his father.  Maybe that will be useful in the future!

Our next adventure hook was to help a goliath sorceror recover a staff of earthen might that one of his ancestors had created in a keep.  The keep had been ruined and the staff broken when the meteor came to the Chaos Scar.  The sorceror seemed to be on the up-and-up, so we took the job for the promise of the other treasure in the ruins of the keep.

On the way to the keep, we heard a horse whinny and some people shouting.  We found a horse and cart, with the cart sinking into a hole.  There was a lunatic on top of the cart who seemed to think this was our fault, and he ordered his minions to kill us.  The battle was interesting, as some giant ants came out from under the cart (apparently the hole was the ants’ home) and attacked the minions as much as they attacked us.

Finally, we made it to the keep, where we faced off against some bullywugs – frog people.  The setting was interesting (difficult terrain and the like), but the battle again was pretty easy.  We found the trap door that leads down to the next level but haven’t gone there yet.

We had a fun session, and I’ll admit that I was pretty focused on playing and thus didn’t pay attention to a lot of DM lessons.  Here’s what I picked up:

  • I’ve heard it said before, but having a list of names on hand is a good idea – you never know when your players are going to want to get to know a throw-away NPC a little better.
  • Monsters who take away the ability of PCs to do fun stuff (stunning, dazing, taking away standard actions) should be used sparingly, and it should be a big deal when they show up.
  • Asking players for wish lists of magic items they’d like to have is a good way to make sure the items they find are useful.  From the player side, though, I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.
  • Thinking of fun in-story tie-ins on the fly is not easy, but it’s rewarding for the players (such as the story of George the halfling).  Be flexible and creative as a DM, and you’ll be rewarded for it.

My online game is on hiatus at the moment as Lane, who is a newly-minted accountant, has to spend most of her free time studying for the CPA exams.  Good thing I have in-person D&D to keep myself occupied!

Chaos Scar campaign begins

At long last, my in-person D&D group has begun its second campaign.  Last time Nate served as our DM and we began with an adventure from the Dungeon Delve book that Nate adapted to his own setting and that went into home brew territory fairly quickly.  We ended up stopping that campaign after a few months when my wizard died and the rest of the party wasn’t feeling all that enthusiastic about their characters (except for Bree, who was fine with her character but was itching to try her hand as dungeon master).

With that campaign three weeks behind us, we entered the world of the Chaos Scar, which I believe is an adventure from Dungeon magazine.  The Chaos Scar is an area where a meteor had fallen and shards of the meteor were sending out evil energy that corrupted the land and creatures around them.  Bree was great about asking us to think about how our characters might fit into this world, how they got involved with the Chaos Scar, and how they’re connected to one another.  I love that.  Even better, when we got to the table she presented us each with an honest-to-goodness hand-made map on vellum paper!

Chaos Scar Map

How cool is that?  It’s probably worth mentioning here that Bree is studying to be a professional artist.  She knows what she’s doing.

Anyway, our party trekked into a cave in the Scar to try to wipe out a cult of Torog.  The first battle involved us fighting some constructs who could use ranged at-will attacks to daze us – ouch!  We took some licks but prevailed.  The second battle involved a rope bridge across a chasm with archers on the far side and some semi-sentient mushrooms below.  The two dextrous characters (my Avenger and Kyle’s Monk) crossed the bridge while the less-dextrous characters (Barbara’s Runepriest and Nate’s Fighter) crossed the chasm below.  We prevailed there, too, but I took a lot of damage and used up all of my surges.  The final encounter of the day saw us fighting the cultists and their leader in their little temple, during which time I mainly stayed out of the way and shot my ranged at-will attack that gave me temporary hit points.  Even with that, the cult leader hit me with a ranged attack that erased my temps and dropped me from 18 to 8 (remember, no surges).  Yikes.  We finished that battle and searched the cult leader’s chamber and ended the session.  We thought we were about to take an extended rest, but Bree informed us that the mushrooms were arising now that the cult leader was dead.  This could get ugly for my Avenger!

I don’t have a lot of DM lessons to share today, except to say that Bree is clearly going to be a lot of fun as a DM!  I did take away some player lessons, though I haven’t figured them all out just yet.  At the very least, I’m certain that having my Avenger just rush headlong into melee is not the way to go, despite the fact that he really wants to fight in melee in order to use his Oath of Enmity.  I have to let the tank characters get there first, I think, which is tough when I’m so mobile.  I’ll probably lower my Dexterity a little in order to pick up more Constitution.  That will lead to slightly lower armor class but higher hit points, more surges, and a greater surge value.  Good tradeoff?  I’d like to hear your opinions and suggestions in the comments about making a more effective Avenger.