Dateline – Storm Point

Ran the latest session of Storm Point last night. It went quite well, but prompted a bit of a change of focus for the group.

Up until the game last night, they were planning on riding one of the floating islands in Lake Thunder through the perpetual thunderstorm in the centre of the lake to see what was inside the swirling clouds and lightning. However, when they got back to town after their explorations of the Arkhosian ruins, they found that Jemmy Fish, the halfling gangster they had embarrassed way back in the first session, had gone out of his way to mess with each of their lives in some fashion.

This, they decided, would not do.

So, they got together to discuss what to do about it, and were ambushed by a gang of halflings. They defeated them all, knocking most of them unconscious*, though a lucky critical by Ssudai** caused one to fall to his death. As they were tying up their prisoners, they noticed another halfling run off from a hiding spot, and gave chase.

What followed was a very successful skill challenge, if I do say so myself. Ssudai was using Acrobatics to run, leap, and swing across the rooftops and Stealth to sneak up on her; Soren was using History to remember shortcuts through town; Faran used his Perception to keep track of the target and his Diplomacy to convince her to stop; Milo and Thrun just poured on the juice with Athletics to catch up and Intimidate to slow her down; and Galvanys used a number of skills plus his Fey Step power to close distance. It all ended with a well-placed, leaping Thrun landing on their quarry on a barge in the halfling quarter of town.

What made the challenge work, in my opinion, was that everyone not only picked different skills to try, but also narrated what it looked like in game. It changed it from a simple exercise in rolling dice into an interesting, gripping chase scene. People got into it, and kept scouting their character sheet for different skills they might try. This is, I believe, the real strength of skill challenges. When everyone gets into them and lets themselves go with it, it turns into a very entertaining part of the game.

Anyway, rather than interrogate her in the midst of a crowd of increasingly hostile halflings on a halfling barge in the middle of the halfling neighbourhood while looking for a halfling gangster***, the party prudently decided to take her back to the militia’s holding cells for a little talk. Using Diplomacy and Intimidate to do a good cop/bad cop routine on their prisoner, they got the name of Jemmy’s boat, the fact that he was holed up there with about a half-dozen of his men, and that he had hired some extra muscle from the goblins.

So, they stormed the boat. Turns out the goblins Jemmy hired were a couple of bugbears. They gave our boys some tight moments****, what with their ability to dish out huge helpings of damage, along with knocking folks prone and dazing them. Really, the fight on the boat was everything I could have hoped for, with a couple folks (on both sides) going into the drink, and Jemmy taking to the rigging and sniping at the party, and others following him up. It was a blast, and showed off the cinematic quality of 4E combat*****.

Now, with the missing goods recovered, and Jemmy out of the way, our heroes are talking about postponing their little trip on the floating island in favour of trying to figure out what’s going on with the halfling-goblin alliance that Jemmy seems to have been building. I’ve got them discussing it over on our message board, so that I have some idea of what sort of adventure to build around their intentions.

And this is why I’m glad I’m not running an Adventure Path campaign with Storm Point. The party can explore whatever interests them in the setting, instead of following a breadcrumb trail from one dungeon to another. Depending on how they decide to proceed, we may wind up with an urban investigation and gang war, or a wilderness hunt for goblins, or some combination of the two.

I’m looking forward to it, whatever it is.

*And we all liked how easy this was in 4E. When you reduce someone to 0 hit points, you get to decide if they’re dead or just knocked out. No more fussing with nonlethal damage and stuff. Some things, though, I’ve ruled can’t be turned into a knockout: crossbows, arrows, secondary effects of spells, stuff like that.

**And when I say lucky, I mean lucky! He rolled a natural 20 to hit, and I invoked the halfling’s reroll power. He pouted at me, but rolled again. Another natural 20! Right there, in front of God and everyone! So, that was the Trick Strike power, which reduced the target to 1 hit point, and slid the target right off the rooftop for a 1d10 fall. Dead.

***I don’t know what it is, but pretty much everyone I game with just hates halflings, so I find they make a good underclass, outsider society in most of my games. It lets me riff on prejudice and ostracism.

****And I find my self consistently impressed by the way the healing system in 4E changes the resource management model. I don’t have to pull as many punches as a DM, because I know the characters have the hit points and healing surges to take it, but they still have to be careful because they may not have the time or the ability to spend a healing surge when they need to. I was worried that the prevalent healing might remove the risk from combat, but it doesn’t. It just changes it.

*****Which, I am the first to admit, may not be to everyone’s taste. There’s something to be said for the grim, gritty style of fantasy play. But I gotta say, for my money, I want the high-flying, swashbuckling, crazy-magic-wielding 4E feel.

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