Dateline – Storm Point


I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.


Sunday before last ((Yep, I’m falling behind. Work stuff.)), we got together and finished off the first stage of The Tomb of Horrors ((The way the adventure is constructed, there are a few different stages, and they don’t run one right after the other. You space them out with some other adventures between them.)).

Considering the track record for this group getting through encounters, and the fact that this was the first game I was running in about five weeks, I wasn’t too confident of getting through the two encounters that were necessary to wrap up the adventure, but the gang really pulled together, and we were able get to the ending.

I was leery about running the encounter with the game tables, which is essentially an extended skill challenge, in large part because the write-up for the encounter had only one combination of skills that could be used to win, and each of those three skills would need to be used to win. This is, I believe, a real flaw in a skill challenge, so I disregarded it, and went with my default style of running skill challenges, which is to let the player pitch a skill and why it should be usable, and then set the DC based on how convincing the pitch is.

They got through the challenge, but sucked up some nasty psychic damage in the process. This, coupled with the way I was playing up the energy-sapping nature of the Garden of Graves ((Basically, every time the group took an extended rest, they recovered one fewer healing surge. So, after two extended rests in the Garden, they were starting their adventuring day two healing surges down.)), they were somewhat wary of running into the last encounter.

And that last encounter was a doozy. I had them all bloodied at one point or another, and dropped the Warlord at one point. Everyone else found themselves down in single-digit hit points during the fight, I believe, but they pulled it together, and killed the various zombies and the plant monster. Then, it was on to dismantling the arcane engine at the heart of the graveyard, and heading back to the mortal world, which we just glossed over.

I awarded the group a few more experience points than the adventure called for, simply to get them all up to 11th level, so we could start Paragon Tier play with their arrival at the city-state of Belys. This means all my players are trying to decide on which Paragon Path they want to pursue.

I’m making some meta-game changes to the way I do things at this point, too. I’ve found that the planned treasure/magic item distribution that is the default of D&D is a real drain on my time, so I’m ditching it in favour of the random distribution set out in the Essentials books. That means I’m ditching the magic item wish list system I’ve been using for the players, and adjusting the magic item economy to make selling unwanted items more profitable. Thus, by giving the group slightly more magic items, and letting them sell them for 80% list price, the group will still get the magic items their characters want ((Some say, “Need,” but I think it’s just pure avarice.)), but the work is offloaded from the GM to the players. Which I like.

I’m also letting the group swap out their current magic items, but I haven’t figured out exactly how that’s going to work, yet. I’ve got a little while yet to think about it.

Dateline – Storm Point


I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.


This past Storm Point game was pretty short. One of the players – the one who owns the space we pay at – developed a migraine, and we called it a night early.

We did get through the rest of the encounter, however. It was a tough slog, indeed, with the closely-matched antagonists. Of course, as with all battles, once one of the monsters dropped, the rest sort of cascaded as the characters were better able to concentrate their attacks. Some crappy rolls to distinguish friend from foe caused a few problems, but in the end, they made it through, and proceeded to take an extended rest.

So, that’s really all there is to say about that.

Dateline – Storm Point


I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.


The last Storm Point session was pretty much a wash. We hadn’t played in almost two months, summer scheduling being what it is, and spent most of the evening socializing rather than playing. We even had to stop the combat partway through when we wrapped for the evening.

The group made it through the secret door and into another oddly-shaped room. They entered carefully, mindful of traps, and everything went dark for a second. When the lights came back up, there was a duplicate of each of the characters standing near them. And, of course, the duplicates attacked.

The fight is tough. The monsters that are being used as the duplicates ((I’m not going to say what they are, yet, because the fight is ongoing, and at least three of my players read my blog.)) are well-chosen, and quite effective, even when I forget one of the powers. The mechanics for seeing if players attack their intended target or an ally have caused a couple of bad moments for the group ((And if they didn’t know that this adventure was The Tomb of Horrors, they would have been calling me out for such a dick move. Because they know what the adventure is, they take the boning almost in good humour.)), but I’ve been a little less stringent with that than I might, because it is a nasty thing to do to the players.

But at the end of the evening, we’d only got through three rounds of combat, and none of the enemy had been dropped, yet. I took a picture of the battlemap, and we called it a night.

I’m hoping for one more session before my Ireland trip, which should finish this encounter. After that, I expect one or two more sessions to wrap up the adventure. Then it’s on to the city-state of Belys.

Dateline – Storm Point


I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.


Yeah, I broke down and told the group what adventure we were playing. The combat this past session was extremely frustrating, with dazing auras and devastating attacks from the monsters, and one of the players commented that the punishment for failing to solve the puzzle on the first try – the monsters appearing – was really kind of out of proportion.

So I told them that they were playing the new Tomb of Horrors, and suddenly they understood. Punishment in this adventure is always going to be out of proportion to the infraction.

We picked up the game after an extended rest, and the party investigated the sundial and brazier. They had no idea what it was for, and eventually decided to move on. The way led outside, and across a bridge, into another large, strangely shaped building. This one, in addition to the runes, had a number of tapestries hanging on the walls.

Now, one of these tapestries was important, and described in detail, and had an illustration. The others were sort of glossed over. I didn’t like the idea of zeroing the players in on this one tapestry right off the hop, so I didn’t show them the illustration right away, and I made up a descriptions of each of the other tapestries that they looked at. This had mixed results; it made them have to work a little more to find the tapestry that was actually important, but it also made them pay a lot of extra attention to the other tapestries.

They discovered the important tapestry by going around the walls, ripping down tapestries, and the enchanted one wouldn’t come down. That’s when they got the illustration, and they pretty quickly figured out that puzzle, using the platinum key they had discovered earlier. They also discovered the two secret doors in the room, but were unable to open them.

Then it was into the other half of the room, with a tall torch and numbers arranged on the walls. They figured out that they needed to cast a shadow on a number, but got distracted by the tapestries, and picked a number that seemed to indicate a time represented in the tapestries. This got them a heaping helping of mad wraiths and a rather brutal combat.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with puzzles like this in games. When they’re fun, they can be a lot of fun, but eventually, they stop being fun and just become frustrating. As a GM, I find myself having to watch the players carefully, and judge when the puzzle is starting to shift from interesting to annoying. At that point, it’s best to give little clues and nudge the characters in the right direction. I mis-timed this one, and wound up having to be much more explicit than I would have liked in order to head off the frustration and annoyance.

Still, the fact that they party had to go back and play with the sundial to find the right number to cast the shadow on should – I hope – illustrate the fact that the solution to a given puzzle is not always immediately present in the room where the puzzle is. We’ll see.

That’s where we left it that evening, after the revelation about the adventure’s identity. There was more exploration and problem-solving this game than combat, which is certainly something I want to encourage, but the combat was pretty long and brutal. The fact that we were down two players also slowed things somewhat.

But it was fun, and we’re looking forward to the next one.

Dateline – Storm Point


Two things.

First, I’m using a published adventure for this leg of the campaign, but the group doesn’t know what that adventure is. Please don’t tell them if you recognize it.

Second, because this is a published adventure, my accounts are going to have spoilers in them. If you start to recognize this as the adventure you’re playing – or going to play – you may want to avoid reading on.


Last night was the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign. Once again, I had a full house of players ((I’m starting to get spoiled, having everyone show up to every game! This makes all three of the restarted campaign.)), and once again, I’m pretty happy with the progress we made through the adventure. We did, however, wind up going later than we normally do.

We rejoined our valiant heroes as they were standing on a rickety rope bridge. The crossing was somewhat challenging, and a couple of them failed their checks and began to fall. I was rolling falling damage when Milo, the swordmage, decided to use Lightning Lure to snag his plummeting team mate and pull him back to the bridge, figuring a little lightning scorch is better than falling sixty feet. They all looked at me as if they expected me to say no to this idea, but I said, “Hell, yeah! That’s cool!”

Because it was, y’see.

And that kind of thinking is what I want to encourage in the game – using powers outside of combat, going for the cinematic approach. I always want to say yes to those kinds of ideas, as long as they’re not stupid ((Sometimes even if they are. Enough cool will outweigh stupid on the scales of GM Judgment.)). If it would look cool in a movie action scene, odds are I’ll say yes.

He managed to catch everyone that fell ((Though he almost missed Thrun; that dwarf has an extremely high Fortitude.)), doing around 10 points of damage to each of them, rather than the 33 points that an average 60-foot fall will do. Everyone was singed but grateful.

Once across the bridge, they entered an oddly-shaped building that contained a diorama of the site. They were able to identify the building they were currently in, and the little garden area below the cliffs where they first entered, but the rest of the structures were completely changed. Galvanys recognized the layout of the diorama as a graveyard for the high eladrin ((“So, we’re in a desecrated graveyard in the Feywild. Great. Is there anywhere worse we could be?” “Dude, shut up! The DM can hear you!”)), being eladrin himself.

Finding nothing else of interest here, they went out the other doorway of the building, across another rope bridge ((Couple more falls, couple more Lightning Lures)), and into the oddly-shaped structure on the other side. This building was more obviously constructed of several smaller buildings that had been cannibalized for building materials, and the inside was covered in deeply-carved runes. Investigation showed them similar to the ones that the group had found on the bodies of the harpies and dryads who had attacked them. Again, they seemed to be catching the energy of death, and channeling it somewhere nearby. Milo and Faran realized that this was definitely something bad, as the death energy should be flowing to the Raven Queen, the goddess of death, but was instead being siphoned off for other purposes.

The next room they entered had an overflowing pool with a key in the bottom ((“Does 4E have water weirds?” “I don’t think so.”)). Reaching into the pool for the key caused the water to rear up in the form of a serpent and strike at Galvanys, who had tried to take the key ((“See? Water weird!” “Actually, no. It’s just a magical effect.”)), teleporting him out into the nearby river right near the top of the falls. He managed to swim to shore, and made it back into the room inside a couple of minutes.

After some trial and error (and a few more dips in the river), the group teamed up to distract the trap while Ssudai, the dragonborn monk, snatched the key and ran for the door. Once he was past the doorway, the serpent collapsed back into the pool, and everyone cheered.

In the next chamber, they found a brazier hanging above a sundial, more of the strange runes, and a captive eladrin woman, who turned out to be a lamia.

This was a tough fight, made tougher by two things: first of all, the group didn’t have a controller, so very few close and area attacks. Second, I didn’t read the encounter closely enough, and dropped in both scarab swarms at the start of combat, instead of waiting until the lamia was bloodied to bring the second one in. The first point meant that, by and large, the group was doing half-damage to the lamia and the swarms, and the second point meant that they had more fronts to fight on, splitting attacks and damage more.

Still, though the fight was long and grueling ((And the first part pretty boring for Thrun, who spent the first three or four rounds alternately dazed and stunned.)), they managed to survive and triumph. Ssudai dumped burning coals from the brazier on some of the scarabs, and Faran dropped his blade barrier in a narrow point so that everyone could just keep hitting the lamia and pushing her back into the zone for more damage.

At that point, it was ten o’clock, which is about an hour later than we usually game on a Sunday evening, so I wrapped it up before letting them explore the room. That’s where we’ll pick it up next time. No one minded, because I told them they’d each get enough experience points to go up to tenth level.

But we got through two combat-ish encounters, and a total of five encounter areas, so I think we did pretty good for one evening. I like this quicker pace.

We’ll see if we can keep it up.

Dateline – Storm Point


Two things.

First, I’m using a published adventure for this leg of the campaign, but the group doesn’t know what that adventure is. Please don’t tell them if you recognize it.

Second, because this is a published adventure, my accounts are going to have spoilers in them. If you start to recognize this as the adventure you’re playing – or going to play – you may want to avoid reading on.


Last Sunday ((Yes, a full week ago – I’m almost caught up now.)) was the latest session of the Storm Point campaign. Two sessions in a row with a full roster of players – I’m going to get spoiled if this keeps up ((Not a bad problem to have.)).

I’m continuing to run the published adventure for the group, and I have to say, I’m kinda liking the freedom it gives me and the players. That may seem like a kind of counter-intuitive sentiment, but it’s true. Normally, I only have time to prep a couple of encounters per session, and I then funnel the party towards them. I try to keep a pool of three or four generic encounters on hand for when the party goes completely off my map, but those often don’t fit the story as well as I might like, and prove distractions. With the published adventure, if the party goes somewhere I wasn’t ready for ((As they did this session.)), it’s still right there in the book, and I just ask for a couple of minutes to read it over and refresh my memory.

That means that, not only am I ready to game with minimal prep time, but also that I don’t have to funnel the party towards the adventure in the same way. They get to go where they want, and find the adventure waiting there for them. This may not be news to anyone else, but it’s been a long time since I’ve run a published D&D adventure that works this well ((Most of the published ones I’ve run in the past three or four years that have required almost as much prep and herding as a home-built adventure.)), so it’s a pleasant surprise.

Anyway, when we left our heroes, they had just crossed over into the Feywild. That’s where we picked up this time, and they followed the trail they found through the strange, dark woods to a ridge of dark rock. On top of the ridge was a jumble of buildings, and a cave cut into the base of the ridge. Beside the cave was a strange, taunting poem carved into the stone.

After deciphering the poem, and talking things over – all the while keeping watch for the monsters they were sure were going to pop up at any moment – they went into the cave, where they found three statues – Maiden, Mother, and Crone – blocking the route through. Each statue had a hand extended.

This prompted some more discussion – statues in dungeons almost inevitably come to life and hit you, after all – and Milo finally decided to put a silver piece in the hand of the Crone statue. Sure enough, the statues came to life, but only to step aside and allow the party to pass. The cave opened out into an overgrown garden in at the bottom of the cliffs that supported the buildings high above them.

Instead of pushing on through the garden and discovering the main way into the building complex, they scouted around and found a tunnel into the cliff face that I had overlooked when prepping for the session. It led them up to a building that I hadn’t read over since the first time I had read the whole adventure, but I asked for a bit of a pause while I quickly looked over the description of the area, and then on we went ((This is what I mean by the freedom. No extra prep for me, no false restrictions on player action.)).

The room they found themselves in was an irregular cave-like structure with walls made of the jumbled bones of thousands of creatures. There was a statue in the middle of the room ((This one didn’t come to life. Just sayin’.)), and a grey angel ((I couldn’t remember what these are supposed to look like, so I described it as looking like the death creature from Hellboy II.)). Well, the angel got the drop on the party, and then his buddy showed up. The necrotic attacks, coupled with the life-draining magic of the room, made the fight somewhat tougher than I think either side was anticipating, but they managed to defeat the evil creatures and make it out of the room to a rope bridge where they could rest a little.

And that’s where we left it.

I’ve been trying to boost the pace of these games a little, so that we get more, and more varied, things done in a single session. In that respect, I’m pretty happy with this session. There was exploration, puzzle-solving, and a combat, and we got it all in in about three and a half hours. Ideally, I’d like to speed up the pace of combat, but that would require everyone actually paying attention to the game when it’s not their turn, so I don’t think that’s terribly realistic in this group.

Still, a GM can dream…

Dateline – Storm Point


Two things.

First, I’m using a published adventure for this leg of the campaign, but he group doesn’t know what that adventure is. Please don’t tell them if you recognize it.

Second, because this is a published adventure, my accounts are going to have spoilers in them. If you start to recognize this as the adventure you’re playing – or going to play – you may want to avoid reading on.


This past Sunday saw our return to the Storm Point campaign, after a hiatus of five months, when I ran the Gammatoba mini-campaign. I was gratified to have a full house for this first session back, and was very pleased to get back to the game.

Anyway, the gang is almost tenth level, so I want to move them out and away from Storm Point, into the wider world and beyond. To that end, I decreed that a year and a half had gone by in the downtime, and started the session with a description of how things had changed in the area: the town of Storm Point prospering, the dwarven city of Silverfalls being resettled now that the heroes had cleansed it, and a little village growing up around the hospital the players had constructed. I emphasized the way things were pretty tame in the neighbourhood, now, and that, prosperous as the town was becoming, it still couldn’t match a larger city for the purposes of selling loot or buying stuff.

With that done, the party was primed and ready when a dwarven merchant asked them to look into missing caravans between Silverfalls and the city-state of Belys, on the far side of the Bitter Mountains. They haggled with the merchant, getting him to make them shareholders in his company and providing them with letters of introduction to merchants in Belys in return for their assistance. Then they tried to get him to give them the carts, horses, and provisions they would need to create a fake caravan to try and trap whoever was responsible, but he wasn’t having that – he was paying them to do a job, they were responsible for getting the job done.

Our heroes took that in stride, however, and outfitted their own one-wagon caravan, and set off through the mountains. The trip took them about a week to get through the pass, and then they reached the Gloaming Wood, a crescent-shaped wood that circled about half the plains that surrounded Belys. A couple of days traveling through that wood, and they could tell that the Feywild was very close. Galvanys had heard tales of the Gloaming Court, one of the minor factions of the eladrin, that he thought held sway here, but didn’t remember too much else.

About a day away from leaving the wood, they spotted some suspicious piles of leaves in a clearing by the side of the road – suspicious in that one had a bloodied arm sticking out of it. They stopped the wagon, got out, and Ssudai crept up on the piles stealthily, while the rest of the group advanced more openly. That’s when they spotted the harpies in the trees, and Thrun decided to try and scare them off.

At this point, the corpses in the piles of leaves revealed themselves as dryads, we rolled initiative. The fight had some interesting movement in it, with things being swept back and forth across the battlefield, and some tree climbing by Ssudai. It took a pretty long time to get through, though, mainly because everyone was trying to remember how to play their characters during the Gammatoba hiatus. Things got a little tense, but really there wasn’t that much danger overall.

The point at which they decided they might really be in trouble was when they killed the first dryad. Her eyes rolled back, she convulsed, her bark and wood turned grey, and mist started to rise from her eyes, mouth, and fingertips. She only stuck around for another round, getting in one more attack before crumbling to rotted wood, but the rest of the monsters followed the same pattern, which weirded the party out a bit – as it was supposed to.

After the fight, the group examined the bones and wood of their opponents and found runes carved on them, still leaking the grey mist. Milo analyzed the markings, and determined that they were necromantic sigils meant to drain off and channel the life energy of whatever the creatures killed, and Faran determined that they called on the power of old, dead gods.

At this point, it was getting a little late in the evening, and  wanted to move things on to a specific stopping point, so instead of making it a big puzzle to figure out where these fey creatures had come from, I let the party follow the grey mist rising off the remains of their foes. It led them into a glade where the trees were dark and twisted, and in the midst of it all, two ancient, half-dead oak trees had grown into a portal to the Feywild, and the next stage of the adventure.

There was a brief moment of panic on my part, as the party started talking about how they could just close the portal, and how stupid they’d have to be to pass through it. My initial response was to force them through somehow, but then I just calmed down and decided that, if they didn’t go through this one, I could get them to the party some other way, and let them decide what they were going to do. In the end, they decided to go through the portal after all, so I needn’t have worried.

And that was the point I stopped things.

It was good to get back to Storm Point after the hiatus, but the hiatus was nice. It let me recharge my enthusiasm for the game, and to think about what’s working and what’s not. In general, I’m happy with the game, but I want to bring in more variety of play – make it less of a fight-of-the-week game. To do that, I’m looking at ways to encourage other types of adventure, more exploration, and more interaction. I’m also trying to make the fights move more quickly, but that’s an uphill battle with this group’s attention span. I’ve got some ideas in that area, though.

Still, it’s good to be back.

Dateline – Storm Point

Been a while since we visited the fellows in Storm Point. The last session, the focus just wasn’t there. I spent an hour trying to get the group to make a single Stealth check before giving up and teaching them to play Fiasco instead ((Used the Lucky Strike playset, and everyone had a great time.)). The time before that, the game was the fifth one I was running in four days, and I wimped out to run the Gamma World game day adventure for them, instead ((A mistake. I was tired and stressed and short-tempered. I should have just canceled the game.)).

This meant that it had been about two months since the previous session, and the Silverfalls adventure had gone on far longer than I had planned. I wanted to wrap it up, which meant unleashing the beholder on them.

See, I’d been carrying around the beholder ultimate tyrant miniature for the previous several sessions, and taunting my players with it. They all know by now ((Or think they do, anyway.)) that I’d never throw something like that at them at their level. Well, I was planning to do just that, but using the stats of a bloodkiss beholder. This was just the only beholder miniature I had.

The release of the Beholders Collector Set fixed that problem, and the release of Monster Vault provided a stat block for a level 9 solo beholder, so that all just worked perfectly. I bumped the level of the beholder up to 10, to take into account the fact that I’ve got six players, and went to town.

I’d never used a beholder in a game before. Honestly, I think they’re kind of silly monsters. But they are iconic, and the ones in 4E are much simpler to run than in previous editions, so I was looking forward to how it played out. For the first round, I became very afraid that I had built a TPK – most of the characters had their encounter and daily powers stripped by the central eye, and the petrify eye had locked down the main tank. Things looked grim.

But they rallied ((Most of them, anyway. The guy playing the cleric spent pretty much the entire combat either petrified or immobilized after only a single petrify ray attack. Sorry, Mark.)), and came on strong. The whole fight was about as good as it could have been, with the party pretty much terrified that they were going to die, and horrific eye rays firing off like a disco laser show. The mechanism for having an eye-ray fire at the start of each character’s turn is a great way to make the beholder feel like a whirling ball of death.

They managed to put it down without losing anyone, though there were several close calls. And then they found the bones of the dwarven ancestor they had come to retrieve, and decided to call it a day.

I didn’t like that ending, though. It lacked the sense of achievement and heroism that I thought the lengthy adventure deserved. So, I had the ghosts of the dwarven warriors appear and ask to be bound to defend the home they had died for. The group used a skill challenge to throw together an impromptu binding ritual, and I described how the ghosts of all those who had died in Silverfalls came back to drive out the drow, troglodytes, minotaurs, and their mind flayer masters ((I had a mind flayer encounter prepped and ready to go if I needed it, but it would have been really nasty to throw it at them right after the beholder fight.)).

So, now Silverfalls is cleansed of the evil invaders and open to resettlement. And the gang are even more heroic than they thought they’d be.

I call it a win.

We’re talking about running a more extended Gamma World adventure next, so it may be a while before we come back to Storm Point. But I’ve got some plans for when we do.

Dateline – Storm Point

Last Sunday was the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign, and it wound up being a bit of a frustrating throw-back for me. This was all my fault: first of all, I was late to the game, so we were kind of rushed. Secondly, I put together a pretty big fight, which I knew would take a fair bit of time, and the late start, along with the big fight, made things drag at a couple of points.

Now, I mentioned in previous posts that I was trying to use smaller combat encounters, to get through more in a single session. I deliberately used a larger one this time because I realized that, although the group had just hit 9th level, I still had not given out the bulk of the treasure for 8th level. Rather than just exacerbate that problem, I put all the treasure in a big pile and gave it some tough guardians.

The game-reason I came up with for the encounter is that, though Silverfalls had been taken by invaders centuries ago, and looted at that time, there were still periodic scavenging parties going through the many, many mansions, tunnels, and buildings. This one party had accumulated a pretty good haul, and were gathering it at a staging point to carry it down deeper into the dwarven ruins.

So, the party is not all that stealthy. The bad guys figured out pretty quickly that there were interlopers, and set up a bit of an ambush. Our heroes found the pile of booty, guarded by a gang of troglodytes and a single drow. Once they were engaged, a few more drow popped out of the scummy pool of water where they had been hiding, and a drider dropped out of the shadows to join the fun ((7 troglodyte maulers, 1 drow cleric of Lolth, 3 drow adventurers, 1 drider fanglord – 3725 xp, an 11th-level encounter for 6 characters.)).

I could tell early in the game that the fight was going to stretch longer than I had anticipated, so I ignored some of the more complex ((And, unfortunately, more interesting.)) abilities of some of the combatants – the drows’ darkfire, for instance. Still, it went on longer than I really wanted it to.

But we got through it, and now the gang is looking at pressing into the Lower City, still searching for the bones of Thrun’s ancestor, which should lie where he fell defending the evacuees.

And what could go wrong with that, right?

Dateline – Storm Point

Yesterday we had the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign. I’ve been working on fitting more into each session of play with this game, because I was unsatisfied with the way it was turning into the fight-a-week club, too similar to the D&D Encounters format. There have been a few specific challenges to that strategy, though:

  • Fights have been too tough. This is sort of a feedback loop: I want a challenge for the characters, so I build a tough encounter, but that means that we only get through one encounter in a session, so I want to make sure that encounter is memorable and challenging, so I build a tough encounter…
  • The actual setting of the adventure is not optimal for highlighting things like NPC interaction and roleplaying encounters. They’re in a ruined dwarven city, looking to repatriate the bones of one of the character’s ancestors, so the place is pretty empty, except for the foul creatures that drove the dwarves out in the first place.
  • Focus is tough in this group. In previous posts, it may have seemed like I was bemoaning this fact and blaming the players, but that’s not the true story. The real story is that we have all been friends for years, but as time has gone on, we see each other less and less outside of the game. So a large part of the enjoyment that we all have in the game is the socializing, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

This session, I worked to address the first two points, and wound up doing some work on the third one, as well.

After the interesting combat last session on the crumbling stairs over the lava, the party had found its way down to two different ways into the dwarf city: worked mines and natural caverns. I explained that both would probably lead to the city, but that the mines might be easier to navigate, though more heavily patrolled. The caverns might have less-organized monsters, but would be tougher to find their way through. The group chose the mines.

I built almost identical skill challenges for each path, shifting the DCs as I felt appropriate. The idea was that they needed 12 successes to get through the mines before 3 failures. Every time they made four successes without a failure, they found some raw amethyst in the mine, giving them some interest in the actual skill challenge. Every time they rolled a failure, they would run into a patrol of bad guys. If they had any successes with the Stealth skill, they would have a chance to evade or surprise the patrol; otherwise, they’d have to fight. Twelve successes would see them into the upper city of Silverfalls, while three failures would mean that they had wandered into the caverns and had to get through that skill challenge next.

They made it through the skill challenge with two failures, giving them two combats, and letting them find one cache of amethysts. I threw in an extra cache of amethysts for completing the skill challenge, and because I had pushed the players pretty hard on the final combat.

See, the combats were less of a challenge than I usually make. The group is 8th level – 9th level, after this session – and the first combat was a level 7 encounter, while the second one was level 8. The third, if they had triggered it, was level 10. Usually, I make the encounters a couple of levels higher than the party to make sure it’s a good challenge. The party can handle it, but it means we get through one encounter per session, and the players usually want to take an extended rest after about two encounters, meaning they’re not getting any of the rewards for passing milestones.

We made it through both combats and completed the skill challenge this session, and I was very pleased. We started the last combat about an hour before the time we normally look at stopping for the evening, so I told the group that I was going to be a bit of a dick about running this combat to keep things moving, and that they should be thinking about what their characters are going to be doing before their turn comes up, and that that I was going to limit their waffling time.

In truth, I had to make some noises about hurrying up during the first couple of players’ turns, and they decided I was serious. We got through that combat in about an hour, rather than the two I was fearing it would take. These guys can focus when they want to.

So, we got them to the upper city of Silverfalls. Along the way, they fought drow and troglodytes – and a few demons – and found on the corpses little chits of stone carved with Deep Speech symbols that lead the party to believe that there are aberrations pulling the strings.

I count this session as a huge success for the game, based on the following facts:

  • Effectively three encounters completed.
  • Got through the tougher combat in about an hour.
  • Interest from the players in the non-combat stuff, including some discussion of the history of Silverfalls.
  • Laid some groundwork for possible roleplaying encounters with some of the monsters.
  • Less-challenging opponents allowed the characters to shine, doing some very cool stuff, including a nice teleport bait-and-switch by the fighter and the swordmage, and a very wuxia-style attack by the monk that wound up putting down the boss monster in the first round (assist by the ranger softening the target with a couple arrows).

So, thanks and congratulations to my players. I think this kind of adventure structure is going to make our games more fun.

Oh, and yes. I wasn’t just taunting you with the beholder mini. Fair warning to Milo “GM Weaksauce” Tarn.