TactiCon 2012 Recap: Fiasco, Ashes of Athas, Chaos & Alchemy and impromptu D&D

Labor Day weekend has been a lot of fun for me the past three years, as I’ve been attending TactiCon. This is the smaller of the two conventions put on by the Denver Gamers Association each year (the bigger one is Genghis Con over Presidents’ Day weekend in February), but the 2010 edition was the first gaming convention I ever attended, so it always has a place in my heart.

I’ve done the “Marathon GM” thing in the past, where I run a D&D game in all nine of the convention’s four-hour slots over the weekend, but I was taking it a little easier this time – only being signed up for seven. Yes, I’m still nuts.


Thursday night, I had signed up to run a session of Fiasco. I had only played once before, but I think it’s a cool system and one that I want to get more comfortable with. I’ve been playing around with creating a playset of my own, but since it wasn’t ready in time I just brought the four sets from the base Fiasco book, plus the D&D-themed set, the rock band set and the set played on Tabletop a couple of months ago. My players, two of whom had never played before, opted for the Antarctica set. Since there were four other players plus myself, I decided not to participate as a player, instead just helping them along. I think Fiasco plays best with four.

The players had a good time, setting up a web of relationships and secrets. Things were going swimmingly until the radioactive penguins started growing tentacles at the end of Act One. Amazingly, the players all rolled pretty well by Fiasco standards at the end of the game, so none of them ended up dead and one ended up coming out smelling like roses. We finished in under two hours, too, which was great – I still had a little prep for the rest of the weekend’s games to finish.


Friday was Ashes of Athas Day One. I was running the three adventures from Chapter Three of the Dark Sun-set organized play campaign. I was delighted to discover that three of the guys whom I’d run Ashes of Athas for back at Genghis Con had returned, and they were stoked to play at my table again! They really made it fun for me last time.

This time was no different. With my projector setup running (and attracting lots of admiration from passers-by, as usual), we kept the fun flowing all day long. I felt bad for my core three players when they were bumped to another DM’s table for the middle session, but the reason was that we had a group of new-to-D&D players and the organizer knows that I love running games for new players (and that they tend to keep coming back after they’ve been at my table). I did love the new folks, too. Something about new players just gets my energy up.

My core three players were back at my table for the final adventure of the day, and it was mostly a big, two-part combat encounter. The second part had a very interesting environmental effect: Any PC starting or ending a turn in a zone of evil ashes had to make a death saving throw. This was in the Athasian plane of death, so it made sense. The cool thing about this was that it made it possible for a PC to die while still at full hit points, but not randomly out of nowhere as in a pure “save or die” effect. It really affected player tactics once they found out about it, and made things tense when they otherwise might not have been.


Saturday was going to be an interesting one. I was signed up to run Ashes of Athas from 9:00 to 1:00, from 2:00 to 6:00 and from 7:00 to 11:00. However, I was also signed up to run demos of Chaos & Alchemy in the board and card game room from noon to 3:00. I had asked the D&D organizer ahead of time if maybe I could bow out of some of my Ashes of Athas games, but he told me that he was really short on DMs.

Fortunately for me, he was wrong. Saturday morning, we had three DMs and three players. Easy solution: I would bow out, one of the DMs would play and the other DM would run a table of four! This let me get some much-needed coffee, check out the vendor hall, and then start showing people how to play Chaos & Alchemy.

Chaos & Alchemy cover art by Chris Rallis – Logo by Bree Heiss

My lovely wife came to join me in the demos at noon, and she was very eye-catching (like I said, she’s lovely). We had two tables of demos running non-stop, with lots of folks deciding to buy a copy of the game. One guy started telling all of his friends that they needed to come try this game, and I believe four of them bought copies. One of THOSE people also sent another buyer my way! Players are teaching one another to play the game.

A guy who owns a very new game retail store bought a copy and asked about carrying Chaos & Alchemy in his store. Two guys turned out to be involved with the organization of Denver Comic Con and wanted to talk to me about having a table at next year’s convention, with a “local game designer” angle on it. There was a lot of enthusiasm, and I ended the weekend with just 25 copies from my original 125 copy print run on hand. It’s off to a really good start!

As you might guess from all of that, I was able to spend most of the afternoon running Chaos & Alchemy, in part because there were only two tables worth of players for Ashes of Athas and the other two DMs ran the games. However, when the evening time slot came around, we had two tables of players but one of the other DMs was nowhere to be found, so I set up the projector and ran the adventure.

The players for Saturday night were the same six I’d had for Friday night. The adventure was the conclusion of Ashes of Athas Chapter Four, and it was my least favorite of the Ashes of Athas adventures I’ve run so far. It was really long, with too many skill challenges and combats for a standard convention time slot, and one of the combats ended up wiping out the other table of players (my table had a very hard time with it). We still had fun at the table, though. The party didn’t mind when I switched to some brief narration rather than actually running through some skill challenges, and they rolled with the bizarre “desert peyote trip” ending of the adventure.

This adventure also gave me my favorite gaming moment of the convention, when a new player who was running a spear-toting Ardent was trying desperately to figure out what she could to to help her allies while she was standing on a bridge and the gargoyle menacing them was 20 feet below her. Answer: Jump off the bridge, spear pointing down, and hope for the best. I gave her a +1 bonus for charging (sort of) and a +2 bonus for combat advantage (the gargoyle did NOT see this one coming!), and ruled that if she hit with the attack, it would count as an automatic critical hit.

Boom – gargoyle pieces everywhere! What a great ride.


I had nothing scheduled on Sunday, which was a first for me. I decided to sleep in, have an early lunch and get to the convention around 11:15. I got in on a game of Smash Up, which I knew had been a big deal at GenCon. I love the theme of the game – you play with a 40-card deck that’s made up of two 20-card decks smashed together to give you something like Alien Dinosaurs, Ninja Tricksters, Zombie Pirates or Robot Wizards. The mechanics of piling up minions and playing actions to take down some shared bases, with points awarded based on who contributed the most to breaking the base, were pretty good. The balance seemed fine, too, with the final score being 15-11-11-8 (I was one of the 11s).

However, I just didn’t have that much fun during the actual gameplay. The Robot Wizards, for instance, had really long, involved turns. The Ninja Tricksters got to do interesting things at unexpected times. The Zombie Pirates both had things popping out of the discard pile. The Dinosaur Aliens… were big. And they could return things to players’ hands. My turns were short and a little boring. It’s a game with lots of potential, but it didn’t quite do it for me.

I ran a couple more demos of Chaos & Alchemy, then headed over to the D&D area to see if maybe I could play in a game in the last time slot at 2:00. The organizer asked if I could run something instead. I didn’t have my laptop with me, even though the projector and rig were in the car, but since I’d never tried running module cold, I agreed to go for it.

I was loaned a wet-erase mat and marker and was seated at a table that was mostly empty, since the players (mostly kids who were friends and family of one another, with one adult) were apparently in their rooms leveling up their characters. Once I realized that they didn’t care what module they played, I decided I’d run one that I wrote – The Stolen Staff. I downloaded it from my blog to my iPad. I used the backs of business cards for initiative trackers. I wrote down monster hit points on a sheet of paper. I borrowed some minis from one of the players to represent the monsters.

And we had a rollicking good time! I soon realized that these kids really just wanted to fight stuff, so I gave them plenty of interesting things to kill. We had gotten off to a really late start, but we still fit in three fights and some role-playing, finishing on time. I did have a weird moment afterward when one of the kids asked me, “So who did the best?” I didn’t understand the question, so he clarified, “Who did the most damage and killed the most monsters? Who was the best?” I told him that my favorite moment was when one of his friends had his character jump off a tower to land on a minion (I guess I have a thing for PCs throwing themselves off of stuff). Maybe he’ll get the message that D&D is about creativity, not just numbers. Here’s hoping. It was a very min-maxed party, so I’m guessing I won’t change any opinions, but so it goes.


Once all was said and done, I still wasn’t quite finished. A couple came up to me as I was packing up from my last game and asked if I was Michael (I am) and if I could teach them about Fiasco. Apparently they had bought the game and weren’t confident in jumping in, and they had seen my name in the program as someone who had run Fiasco. So, after the GM appreciate ceremony, I met up with the two of them and taught them about Fiasco before heading home.

Yay for more new gamers!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

My players are smarter than I am – lucky me!

As a relatively new dungeon master, I take the approach that I still have much to learn.  This education can even come at the hands of my players.

Now, I’m not talking about rules knowledge or information about D&D canon – I might have some gaps there, but those are no big deal.  I’m talking about knowledge of what makes an adventure fun.  When I get a great idea from my players, I’m proud to say that I quash my ego and run with the idea (or I try to).

This came up most recently on Saturday, when I was running my in-person campaign through my home brew world.  The adventurers are currently exploring an underground complex that they’ve learned is populated with duergar.  I’m actually taking the Second Edition module “The Gates of Firestorm Peak” as a source of inspiration here.

The first time the party encountered the duergar, it was in a guard room.  The room had a 20-foot ceiling and was about 30 feet square.  Running right across the middle of the chamber was a 10-foot wall made of rocks held together with some kind of mortar, and liberally spiked with shards of glass, pointy sticks, etc.  It could be climbed over without cutting one’s self to ribbons, though it wouldn’t be easy.  There was also a door hidden in the wall, though the latch was trapped.

The party found the door but not the trap, and combat began when our monk tried to open the door and found his hand nearly taken off by a bear trap.  At this point, the four duergar guards on the far side of the wall Enlarged themselves to become 12 feet tall (something that I gather was much more common in 2nd Edition than 4e, but I ran with it).  Now they could swing their warhammers or toss their throwing hammers over the wall.

In the first round of combat, the PCs threw some ranged attacks at the duergar while the two melee characters positioned themselves closer to the wall, perhaps in an attempt to try a climb or jump or another shot at the door in the next round.  One of my players said something interesting at the end of this round:

“Man, I hope they don’t push the wall over on us.”

Hmm… they weren’t going to, but only because I hadn’t thought of it before!  But now that I had three gigantic dark dwarves lined up along the non-spiky side of the wall, ready to take their turn… heave!

I had the duergar make some strength checks to push on the wall, which I was glad I had described as being somewhat makeshift.  No problem – over it goes!  I had the debris make attacks against the two PCs who were near the wall, going against Reflex (they could try to dodge out of the way), and I hit both of them.  I decided that this should deal some pretty significant damage (I believe I went with 3d6+7 for these 6th-level characters) and knock the PCs prone.  It also created a zone of difficult terrain where the wall fell.

I wrestled a bit with whether to tell the players that I was doing this on the fly thanks to their suggestion but ultimately decided not to bother.  On the one hand, they might have gotten a good feeling from having come up with a creative idea that I used.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t want them to hold back from sharing this kind of idea in the future!  So, I let them believe that this was all part of my grand plan.  Of course, if they read this post that illusion is gone, but I’ll live. 🙂

What do you think? Do you ever incorporate your players’ ideas for what terrible things might befall them on the fly?  If so, do you credit them for thinking of it, or act like it was all part of the plan?

Putting some role-playing in my dungeon mastering

I’ve been running D&D 4th Edition games for about four months now, and I feel like I’m to the point that I can run combat pretty well.  I generally know what the bad guys can do in combat, and I know how they want to approach the player characters.  I’m getting better at using interesting terrain, putting some movement into the battles and so on.

Where I’m not so great yet is role playing.  Role playing as a dungeon master is a very different experience from role playing as a player.  When you’re a player, you have a single character whom you know inside and out, whom you’ve built up from nothing, who has a personality and desires and fears that are intimately familiar to you.

When you’re a dungeon master, you’re playing a host of different characters every session.  Sure, you might have some recurring NPCs or some characters that accompany the party for many sessions, but that’s not always going to be the case – and besides, you don’t want an NPC to take too much of the spotlight anyway.  Most of the time, you’re playing monsters.

A great dungeon master can make these throw-away characters come to life – not to the degree that a great player character will come to life, but enough to make the bad guy memorable before it falls beneath the attacks of your party.  Below are some thoughts on how to become a better role-player as a DM (which I’m still trying to put into practice myself!).

Think like the character

This goes for any role-playing, but it’s easy to forget about it when it comes to a monster.  An intelligent NPC should certainly be thinking, and you should get into their heads, but that’s obvious.  What about a beast or an undead creature or an aberration?  Do they act on instinct alone?  Are they following commands from another creature?  Do they act randomly?

Once you know how the character acts and why, show it!  You can say, “The rat whips its head around, looking for the nearest piece of flesh.  It sees the meaty-looking cleric and charges in with fangs bared!”  Or, “The zombie hears the necromancer command it to attack the paladin, and it mindlessly obeys, shambling over with its arms raised in preparation for a smashing blow.”  “The aberration swerves erratically, paying no heed to the avenger standing next to it as it randomly heads toward the wizard.  Avenger, you can take an attack of opportunity…”

Talk like the character

No, you don’t have to channel your inner thespian too much here.  Some bad guys bellow.  Others sneer.  You might find some that hiss.  And of course lots of them don’t speak at all, but that doesn’t mean they’re silent.  Have your NPCs taunt the party, bellow in rage when hit, whimper pathetically when nearly destroyed.

On a related note, have the monsters talk to one another when appropriate.  A leader may yell commands to his troops (and here’s a possible area where you can reward the player who took language training in Goblin or Giant – they may be the only one who can understand the command).  A great suggestion that I received recently was to have one creature complain about the skill of another, especially when the other is a minion. “You useless pile of bones!  You’re not worth the necromantic energy the Dark Lord spent to animate you!”  Evil creatures don’t always get along with one another – play this up!

Act like the character

Might your NPCs and monsters have any interesting mannerisms?  Run with them!  Lots of dungeon master books talk about behavioral quirks that NPCs might have, but this can apply to monsters, too.  A bad guy might do a little dance of joy when he hits a player.  The monster might cower after being hit.  I played in a game with one DM who essentially described a poor little kobold as having pooped himself upon seeing a PC obliterate some other kobolds.  Yeah, it’s a poop joke, but it worked!


Just because you’re the DM doesn’t mean you don’t get to role-play.  You have a huge influence on how much your players will role-play and how immersed they get in the game world.  The more you can think, talk and act as your characters would (even when they’re just monsters), the more your players will buy into the game and the more fun everyone will have.

Online campaign session 4: Through the caverns

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!

Online campaign – What a rush!

It’s amazing that I have the energy to write tonight, given that I just spent four and a half hours running a D&D adventure online for EIGHT PLAYERS, but it was such a rush.  I can’t believe how well it all went!  Seven of the players were already logged in before the scheduled start time, and the eighth ran about 10-15 minutes late (no big deal).

Starting Screen

We started off with everyone being able to see their tokens on a small map (with an image of the map of Waterdeep on the page), and I explained how MapTool worked.  As a player, the only things they really needed to know were how to move their token (click and drag), how to move around the map (right click and drag; zoom with the mouse wheel) and how to deal with their macros (just click them).  That went pretty easily.

We also spent a little time talking about the future of the group.  We’re going to split in two – one with me as the DM playing at level 1 and one with another person from the group as the DM, playing at some higher level in order to get to paragon tier faster.  But since I had put everything together for this evening with the plan of having eight players, we would still play the adventure together.  (It was the Living Forgotten Realm module that I’ll be running in my local store next Saturday – WATE1-1 Heirloom.)

I should also point out that, in addition to having MapTool open with everyone impersonating their characters in order to talk in-character (way cool), we also had Skype open for voice chat.  Let me give a huge shout-out to Skype – this software is awesome.  We had excellent call quality with eight active lines (two of the players were together at one computer), no lag – it was just fantastic.

Anyway, I used audio to communicate with my players most of the time, and they used a mixture of audio and text.  The adventure started off with a lengthy skill challenge to track down a thief who had stolen a family heirloom (hence the title of the module, “Heirloom”).  Mixed in the middle was a quickie combat encounter with some drunken sailors, which ended in one action – the party’s invoker walking up and unleashing an encounter power that just about wiped them out (whereupon the sailors that were still up surrendered and staggered away).

At the end of the skill challenge, the party confronted the thief and his cronies in their underground lair.  This battle was much more interesting, with some good movement, creative use of marks, and SO many conditions to keep track of!  It’s easier in MapTool than in real life – I can’t imagine running this encounter with eight PCs around a real table.

We took a five-minute break before diving into the final encounter, where the party faced the person who had hired the thief to steal the heirloom.  The party did a good job of achieving surprise, and it became clear that I could either have the bad guys fight smart – keeping their guard drakes in front of the door to the room and making it hard for the party to do anything – or have them fight fun – letting the drakes shift back into the room so the melee fighters had something interesting to do.  I went with fun, and I’m glad I did.

The best part of the evening was the very end of this encounter.  I had some bad guys, who were hidden at the time, go out the window of the room they were in, trying to escape.  Hilarity ensued as the party tried to go after them.  Lots of falling out windows, landing on people who had already fallen (dealing improvised damage – why not?), and so on.

Looking back, it was clear that the encounters were not all that challenging for the party, since no one ever ended up making death saving throws.  But you know what?  For a party of eight, that’s okay.  The encounters were long enough already, and making them tougher would have made them take longer.

The most important thing was that everyone legitimately seemed to have a great time.  A couple of people who were planning to go play in the high-level game reached out to me to say that they were having so much fun that they were considering staying low-level.  That’s really gratifying to hear – “I’m having so much fun that I want to keep playing in your game.”  Is there a better feeling as a DM?  Not to mention the fact that one of the players is an Englishman playing in his first-ever tabletop RPG, and he played with us from 1:00 AM to 5:30 AM his time.  How’s that for dedication!

It will be a little sad to break up the group, but I honestly don’t have the energy for an eight-PC campaign.  I can handle four or five, but beyond that I think it’s just a little too much.  Still, just to run a game this big one time was worthwhile.  It was, quite frankly, an unqualified success, and I can’t imagine it having gone any better.  This is what I live for as an online dungeon master!

Advice I’ve received for my LFR session

For my last several posts, I’ve been talking about my decision to plunge into dungeon mastering a Living Forgotten Realms game at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds.  That game will be three weeks from today.  I’ve already put the maps and minis together, so all that remains is for me to get comfortable with the adventure itself and then to run it well.

To that end, I’ve been seeking advice from other DMs, both here on my blog and over on EN World.  Here is the advice that I’ll be trying to keep in mind as I get ready to run my first adventure in public:

  • Be enthusiastic!  Enthusiasm from the DM means enthusiasm and fun for the players.
  • Make sure to really know the story of the adventure, not just the monster stats and skill challenge mechanics.
  • Get a feel for the personalities of the NPCs, especially in skill challenges.  Try to make them memorable and act as they would act.
  • At the table, set up a sheet that reminds me of who the PCs are:
    • Name
    • Class and race (optional, but it helps me for roleplaying)
    • Passive perception and insight
    • Defenses, including non-asset class defenses
    • Initiative modifiers
  • Have a flexible method of keeping track of initiative.  I’ve seen some DMs with little tags that they move around, or I’ve seen people using index cards.  I’ve also seen a dry-erase board, or ultimately D&D 4e Combat Manager (which I love, but not for this particular session).
  • When announcing whose turn it is, also announce who will be after that so that the next person can be thinking about what they plan to do.
  • Look for opportunities for bad guys to do cool or unexpected things – grabbing an item a PC drops, trying a stunt, etc.  This may encourage the players to think creatively, too!  Just make sure I’m ready to handle the rules for cool stuff.
  • Have the bad guys taunt the PCs or otherwise talk or yell or whatever during combat.  Make them characters, not just stat blocks with weapons.
  • When the battle is over except for a meaningless minion or two, just call it.  Don’t take the time to make the PCs hunt down that last little dude who can’t really hurt them.  Have him surrender, or just say that the PCs eventually finish him.

Naturally, these tips apply to dungeon mastering in general, not specifically for Living Forgotten Realms.  What other suggestions do you have in order for me to make this fun for myself and, more importantly, for my players?  Have I forgotten anything obvious?

Treasure from the past

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I had tried playing a little bit of D&D years ago, under Third Edition (3e) rules.  My wife and I bought the 3e starter kit and later the core books (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual).  We played through some of the starter kit dungeons (I was the DM, she ran several characters) and had a good time.  One of the people she worked with was a regular D&D player, as was his girlfriend, and they were interested in playing with us.  We set up a session where I would DM and the three of them would play.

I remembered that I had run them through a pre-packaged module where they had quickly taken it off the rails, and I was unprepared as a first-time DM to deal with it, so that ended badly.  They also fudged their dice rolls to get extra crits, which I also didn’t know how to deal with.  That turned us off of D&D for years until we picked it up again in early 2010.

Now that I’m running my Fourth Edition party through the Keep on the Shadowfell I’m having a better time keeping my wits about me when the unexpected happens (and no one is fudging their dice, either, which helps).  I’ll admit that I’m starting to get a little tired of the Keep, though, and I’m thinking ahead to what might come next.  I had come up with lots of neat little ideas, trying not to put too much effort into any of them because I don’t know what direction things will go.  And then I remembered something:

Didn’t I do some prep work for my own Third Edition adventure way back when?

I found my old manila folders for D&D 3e stuff.  There was a folder full of character sheets for characters that both Barbara and I had rolled up.  I learned two things here:

  • Wow, we sure rolled up a lot of characters, especially without Character Builder!
  • I think the old way of rolling ability scores must have been overpowered – those characters had some amazing stats.

That was a nice trip down memory lane (ah yes, Barbara’s elf Druid named Lyssiah Stormwhisper!  I remember her…), but what I really wanted was in the next folder:

  • The printout of the ill-fated pre-packaged adventure that I ran
  • A map for a world of my own creation that I had drawn in colored pencils (two drafts, one on graph paper)
  • An arena dungeon with multiple levels that I had created myself (two drafts, one on graph paper)
  • A cavern-style dungeon with even more levels that I created myself (again two drafts, one on graph paper)
  • A typed, four-page write-up of a full-on adventure through the cavern-style dungeon, complete with monsters, traps, difficulty classes to find doors and so on, read-aloud text…

I was blown away by the amount of time I must have put into creating this stuff – and I never used any of it!  None!  The full adventure write-up amazed me.  It’s not quite up to the quality of a professional module, of course, but it’s not completely amateurish, either.  I remember devising this dungeon and the back story now that I’ve re-read it, and I remember that I thought hard about verisimilitude when I crafted the dungeons.  For instance, I thought about why these creatures would be living where they did, why secret doors would be hidden, where the creatures slept and spent their awake time, and so on.

The question now is, what do I do with this?  I don’t think I’d use the “published adventure” that I wrote as-is since it was customized for the characters who were in the party at the time.  I could totally see myself using the dungeon maps, though, just with new monsters and even the same general logic of what types of monsters can be found where.  They still seem like pretty cool encounter areas.

What do you think?  Is something like this worth re-using?  To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve put the world map that I drew below (click to enlarge).  If you’re interested in seeing the other maps and the adventure I had written, let me know.

Ervallen Map

Hotel room Dungeons and Dragons part 2

I’m hoping to get up two posts today, as I’ve had two different sessions of D&D in the last two days.  I’ll start with Wednesday evening, when Barbara and I in our hotel room in Boston got online with Lane and Zach from their home in Florida to continue our adventures in the Keep on the Shadowfell.  In our first session in the Keep this past Sunday, we had to improvise in a hurry as we learned that we wouldn’t be able to use Gametable due to networking issues in the hotel, and I switched things over to OpenRPG in a rush.  This time, I was prepared – I had already converted the maps over to OpenRPG and was ready to go (the OpenRPG map of the first level of the Keep is available here or on the downloads page – but my players shouldn’t go poking through it just yet!).  We called each other on Skype, connected to the appropriate room on an OpenRPG server, and we were gaming!

We started with some back story.  When we first began playing together, it was a big rush and no one had any ideas on back story for their characters, why they were adventuring together, etc.  I had thought about this over the past few days and filled in the party (since they were willing to hear my thoughts).  All of the characters are female, so I explained that they had all been approached when they were younger girls (the human equivalent of 10-12 years old) by a Deva named Juni Lamplighter (or one of her allies) to come to the Academy of Adventure.  Juni, being a Deva, remembered times when the world was not so dark and chaotic and wanted to bring some light and order to the world, so she decided to set up a place where individuals with talent, primarily girls who felt like outcasts, could train to become adventurers and work to do good in the world.  The PCs were all pupils at the Academy, and Juni had sent them to Winterhaven after they finished the main body of their training as a way to get started in making a difference.  Yes, it’s a bit Hogwarts-esque, but that’s not a problem.  The players seemed fine with this, and it provides both a reason for adventuring as well as some future plot hooks, so we’ll run with it.

At the end of the previous session, the party had just cleared out the goblin torture chamber and decided to rescue Splug, a goblin prisoner who had been put in a cell for cheating (or as he called it, “being good at playing cards against”) the other goblins.  He offered to serve as a porter for the party and tell them what he knows of the Keep if they would free him.  They let him out, and he told them about the excavation where goblins were digging for some unspecified treasure (but hadn’t found anything), the stairs that lead down to some caves, the main door and the secret door to the chamber of the goblin leader, and the door that led to the deeper part of the Keep, where Splug had never been.

Balgron the Fat

Balgron the Fat

The PCs decided to use the secret door to sneak into the sleeping quarters of the goblin boss, Balgron the Fat, to surprise him while he was asleep.  Zach’s rogue rolled great on her Stealth checks to get into the bedchamber, and they decided to try to tie up Balgron while he slept in order to interrogate him about the rest of the Keep.  This was awesome – the players were thinking outside the box!  They had rope in their packs, so I ruled that this would require a Dexterity check (figuring that Balgron would probably wake up while being tied).  Well, the dexterity roll was crazy high, so I ruled that they succeeded in tying up Balgron, but he woke up as they finished.  Balgron was confused for a moment, but as soon as they started asking him questions, he yelled for his guards and we rolled initiative.

There was only one other goblin in the room with Balgron, and I had that guy poke his head into the curtained area that surrounded Balgron’s bed, see the situation, and run for the door to get the other troops.  The door was locked, so it took him a little time, during which time the PCs attacked him to try to stop him.  Lane’s character had been hanging back, keeping an eye on Splug, but when the battle began and Lane’s character ran into the fray, Splug skedaddled.  The party wasn’t able to stop the goblin guard before he opened the door and raised the alarm.  A bunch of other guards came running down the hall, and the party decided to try to close and re-lock the door rather than just fighting (creative!).

I ruled that Balgron had another copy of the key on him, and since the rogue had decided to sneak attack the crap out of him while he was tied up (not very nice, but brutally effective), Balgron decided to cooperate to save his own hide.  He told the PCs where the key was, and they locked the door.  Naturally, the goblins began trying to bash it down, and wouldn’t you know it, one of the little minions got a critical hit in throwing himself at the door, so I ruled that it broke off its hinges and was now open again.

Balgron was willing to answer some questions now, and also willing to tell his guards to go away, which they did.  The party started asking him about the Keep, who hired him (Kalarel), what he was doing there, etc., and he answered more or less honestly.  Then the party opened up his treasure chest and he started bargaining for his life.  The chest had some gold, an enchanted short sword (which Zach’s rogue coveted) and some potions of healing (which the party had none of, and I figured they could use them).  Balgron was willing to give up the potions in exchange for his life.  The rogue held out for the sword, and Balgron grew enraged, burst out of his ropes and called the guards back in.

The ensuing battle was actually not all that interesting.  Balgron was already badly bloodied, and the fact that all of the goblins were coming down a narrow passageway made them easy fodder for Barbara’s swordmage’s enlarged dragon breath.  A few got into the bedroom and Balgron did his goblin shuffle once, but that was all she wrote. There was barely any damage to any of the PCs.  They rolled really well, and used smart, creative tactics.

Next up, the party knew about the excavation going on, but they weren’t interested in taking on those goblins – they wanted to go down into the caves.  They wanted the digging goblins to leave peacefully and debated whether to charge in and fight them, try to reason with them by telling them that their leader was dead and they were free, or something else.  They decided to leave Balgron’s severed head (yuck) where the goblins would be able to see it when they left the excavation chamber, and then head into the caves, figuring that the goblins would see the head as a sign to get out of there.

Well, I had the goblins roll Perception to see if they noticed the head while they were still working, and they did.  As the adventurers started heading down the stairs, the goblins quietly moved into position and started throwing Alchemist’s Fire.  The battle was on.

Guard Drake

Guard Drake

Two guard drakes charged up to the top of the stairs, and the PCs were basically hemmed in on a stairway.  They came perilously close to backing into the caves at the bottom of the stairs, at which point they very well may have been set upon by more enemies from the back, but they just barely stayed on the staircase and thus only had to face the goblin bombardiers and guard drakes.  This battle was tougher, and Barbara’s swordmage actually fell to zero hit points before being healed by Lane’s druid.  It was a close call, but once the drakes were dead, things turned in the party’s favor.  The last goblin bargained for his life, offering a dirt-covered object that he had dug up in exchange for being allowed to leave.  The party agreed (though not before the rogue observed that they could just kill the goblin and take the item), and the goblin was escorted out of the keep.  I’ve decided that he was named Steek.  The item turned out to be an enchanted totem with some healing powers, which is useful for Lane’s druid.

At this point, we called it a night.  I have to say that this adventure is beginning to feel like a success.  The players seem to be having a good time, and the technology is pretty much transparent (though I’m feeling like the OpenRPG dice roller tends to roll on the high side quite a lot; probably my imagination).  The players are definitely thinking creatively, and I feel like I’m doing pretty well at rolling with the creativity.  They’ve now gone through four encounters with no extended rest and only using one daily power.  I’m pretty sure I need to ramp up the challenge level a little bit (though we discovered that we had been playing Zach’s rogue a little bit wrong on Sunday, letting her get combat advantage too easily with the sling), but everyone seems to be having a good time, so I don’t want to go nuts.  Zach and Lane are going on a two-week vacation soon, so it might be a while before we get to play again, but our in-person game in Denver was just canceled for Sunday, so who knows?  Maybe we can play one more time then.  I’m up for it!