Well, last night finished off the current adventure for the party in Storm Point. They made their way down to the last two big set-piece fights, and killed the baddies.
I stole the last two encounters from H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, changing a few details of the monsters to make them fit the current storyline of the game. This is remarkably easy, as I was able to keep most of the cool mechanics of the main characters’ powers, but changed the jazz a little to reflect a dedication to Vecna instead of Orcus. I also swapped out some of the monsters, trading the pair of human berserkers for a pair of bugbear warriors and the Orcus priest for a Shadar-Kai witch. That meant I had to drop one of the vampire spawn to keep the encounter in the right xp range I wanted, but still very easy to do.
I used the first encounter to deal with a concern I sometimes have with the heroes going to fight a tribe of humanoids: when they get to the lair/village/stronghold, what do they do with the non-combatants? What do they do with the goblin women and children in this case? Do they let them live, or do they slaughter them all like genocidal lunatics? Sell them into slavery?
Now, in some games, this can be very interesting roleplaying ground to explore – what are the heroes willing to do? Where do they draw the lines? How do the handle the aftermath of whatever choice they make?
This group, not so much. We play, in this game, pretty much a beer-and-pretzels game, focusing on the fun, cinematic aspects of the game, not on the introspective soul-searching. And I’m fine with that. I’ve got other games where I can explore questions like that.
But I dislike just ignoring inconvenient practicalities. So, I decided that the best thing was to take the choice out of their hand, and have the Shadar-Kai witch and the scion of Vecna sacrifice all the non-combatants in the ritual to open the portal in the temple. This did two things: one, it eliminated the non-combatants without forcing the heroes to make a choice that I don’t think was warranted in the game, and two, it showed that the bad guys were really bad.
Everyone was running short on healing surges by this time, and several had already used their daily powers, so these two big boss fights were pretty challenging. The Shadar-Kai witch’s aura power turned out to be pretty useful for me and frustrating for the party, and the toughness of the bugbears made them very good meat-shields*. The deathlock wight on the lower level didn’t even get a shot off, because everyone decided it was the best initial target. The scion of Vecna and the thing in the portal that he was summoning gave everyone a run for their money, what with the 3-square threatening reach of the thing and its ability to drag people toward the portal and heal the scion. And the skeletons were surprisingly resilient and hit pretty hard.
It was a good couple of fights, and everyone got to do something cool, which made me happy.
It also got a couple of the players trying to figure out what the connection was between the Shadar-Kai, the halflings, the goblins, and the black dragon from the first adventure. It looks like there’s a bit of a direction manifesting in the campaign**.
*One got lightning-lured into the open pit down to the next level in the first round of combat, and everyone grinned at how clever they were. Until he climbed back up a couple of rounds later and ganged up on the rogue with his buddy, putting him down in a single round.
**In most campaigns, I plot out an overarching story. In this one, I didn’t because the players wanted somethng a little more episodic, with more freedom of choice. So, I’ve built a number of different threads and starting points into the game, and I elaborate on the ones that the players pick up and pursue. This allows them to have more control over their choices and options in the game, while still building in some ongoing mystery and narrative direction. But it’s player directed instead of GM directed, which I think is important.