It’s been a long while since I’ve done an adventure write up, also it’s been around two weeks since the adventure itself actually happened so the details are starting to get a bit fuzzy. Still I will try my best.
Anyway since my last time running any kind of tabletop RPG I’ve made a couple of major changes. One being I’ve moved systems from D&D 4e to Pathfinder and the other is to be a bit more relaxed with the rules. Both decisions have been great so far. Pathfinder being derivative of the 3.5 rules has taken me back to my youth and has allowed for better adventures, this is mainly because combat encounters no longer take hours to complete! The being less of a slave to the rules thing is more about everyone spending less time flipping through rule books and more about engaging with what’s happening on the table. Which again has proven to be a good decision especially with a group of new players.
The group I’m running with is made up of lifelong friends and my wife when she feels like jumping in. There are also a couple of other people who jump in and out of the fray if they are available to play. All of them are new to tabletop play and in particular pen and paper RPGs. Why I’ve never played RPGs with them until now is an oddity seeing as everyone has wanted to play them for as long as I’ve known them. The first session we had several months ago was spent running through the Pathfinder Starter Box Adventure with characters I had made for them. The second session on my birthday was a short and comical adventure involving a goose, a magic orb and a mage’s tower.
For the third session however we collectively decided to step things up a couple of notches. We’ve grabbed a print and PDF copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and I’ve kicked off the first proper campaign for the group. The players were given the choice to make new characters if they wanted using the Core Rulebook and half the group took up the offer. So there is now a nice spread of characters both old and new of around the same level. The only downside is that seeing as we have only had the Rulebook for this session the newer characters were a bit rushed and I realised mistakes were made after the fact when I started making my own character. (More on this later) My current plan is to go through each character both old and new with each player and get them all righted and inline with their class entries in the Core Rules. Still despite the slight disadvantage the group faired well as they started on their first grand campaign, Midus’ Treasure.
The main thing about this campaign is that because it is the group’s first one I wanted to make it special so I set myself the very time consuming task of handwriting letters to each player that would serve as the inciting incident to get the ball rolling a week before the session.
Here’s the text for the letters that I had to write five and a bit times:
The name’s Grom, Grom Bridgeburner and I’m writing to you about my brother, Harkom Deepfist.
I’m sending this to you because I hear you’re a person who can get even the most impossible of tasks accomplished.
Ya see several moons ago Harkom was captured by the Stone Guard as part of a sting operation due to him being found guilty of the highest crime in Dwarven Society, Dwarven Tax Evasion. Currently he is being held in the deepest dungeon of the Dwarven prison, Gauntlgrym waiting for his inevitable death at the hands of the Stone Guard’s executioner.
The thing is though, before he fled the city Harkhom told me something very interesting.
He said he new the location of Midus’ Treasure and that it was hidden within the walls of the city of Kharkuldor! He told me that he would return once the Stone Guard had given up looking for him and that we would obtain the treasure together. What he didn’t count on though was the Stone Guard chasing him down for the tax avoiding rat bag that he is!
So adventurer, I am writing to you with a request that comes with the promise of untold amounts of fame, fortune and gold.
I need you to help me break Harkhom Deepfist; Scourge of the Dwaven Kingdoms, Tax Evader and Public Nuisance out of Gauntlgrym. The toughest and most impregnable prison in all The Twelve Kingdoms.
Then following the breakout we will find Midus’ Treasure under Harkom’s leadership and haul it out of the city before the Stone Guard capture or kill us or both!
Meet me at the Inn of Damaged Donkey in the small township of Kharkel that lies before the Brdg of Delbuldur, the gateway to Kharkuldor in Half a Moon’s Time.
Included with this letter is a map and a small briefing pack with my plans on how we are going to bust Harkom out of Gauntlgrym.
[DWARVISH] <Great Fortune, Strong Stone>
May the Stone Gods Guide You to Great Fortune.
ps. The mage Crukal Milltall of Many Spells recommended your services to me, he said to tell you that the new tower is looking “spiffy” and that you were a great help.
I will cover the finer details of the plan when we meet but for now here is what you need to know.
- The plan is in eight stages:
- Meet your fellow adventurers at the Boarder Gate and acquire Kharkuldor Boarder Passes.
- After passing the first gate you have two choices. One is to take the main drop down to Kharkel which is heavily protected by the Stone Guard. The other is to brave the Grim Caverns allowing you to circumvent customs and remain under the radar of the Stone Guard.
- In Kharkel meet me in the Damaged Donkey and we will discuss the plan.
- Reach Gauntlgrym.
- Break into Gauntlgrym.
- Rescue Harkom Deepfist.
- Find Midus’ Treasure.
- Escape Kharkuldor with the treasure and our lives intact.
You will need the following before you meet me at the Damaged Donkey:
- Thieves tools
- Several blankets
- Floatation Devices
- Dwarven Coin
- Kharkuldor Boarder Passes
- A Barrel of Mead
- Food for a few days
Things like Floatation Devices, the Boarder Passes, Dwarvan Coin and Thieves tools can be acquired at the Boarder Gate. The rest you and your fellow adventurers will have to arrive with.
Knowledge of the Dwarven Language will also help you in this venture. So if you have a mage or any fellow Dwarves among your number pester them to brush up on their Dwarvish!
[Note: The map is the first one I made for my own usage. The one given to players is a lot nicer 😉 ]
In the letters and on the map and envelope are dwarven runes that the players had to translate after receiving the key. (After making the required knowledge check of course!) this got everyone excited and ready to get playing. With most of the group asking questions about the letters and the adventure. I found it also helped everyone get into the setting quickly once we started playing.
Part 1 of the campaign was a fairly simple introductory session with a semi-optional dungeon crawl to beef up the party a bit and to add extra elements to the story before the group reaches the township of Kharkel.
Here’s the encounter breakdown for the session:
E1 – Arrival At the Boarder Gate – Combat CR3 1000XP
E2 – Cavern Skirmish – Combat CR4 1200XP
E3 – Cavern Dweller – Combat CR4 1200XP
E4 – Left or RIGHT – Puzzle 800XP
E5 – Welcome to Helk! – Trap 1600XP
E6 – Last of the Old Guard – Puzzle/CR4 Combat 1200XP
E7 – Push The Button To Save The World – Puzzle 600XP
E8 – Cavern Crazies – Combat CR3 1100XP
E9 – Grim Fourtune – Roleplaying 800XP
E10 – Down Here There Be Monsters – Combat CR5 1600XP
One new tool I have in my bag of tricks when it comes to DM-ing is the Pathfinder d20 GM app from Lion’s Den (App Store Link). It really sped up the planning and organising of the session but I found that the app fell down a bit for me when managing combat encounters. Which oddly is the main focus of the app.
Enemies I created within the app kept starting with 0HP no matter how I set them up. Also it is a bit fiddly for managing the turn to turn changes. I quickly fell back on tracking things in a notebook and using the app as an overview, general progress tracker and adventure planner. Which to be fair is exactly what I got the app for. So I’m happy, I just have to work around it by starting the encounters with whatever is there before being able to access the monster stats and notes I’ve written.
Anyway, the general flow of the session was good and I felt I got a good mix of encounters in there. The only type under represented was Roleplaying which was semi-intentional because these will be more numerous in future sessions. Also I wanted to get the group working as a team a bit more and I find the best way to do that is to throw things at them with deadly intent.
There were a couple of times during the encounter that players were downed and the group had to try and keep them alive. Previously they had been good at getting people back on their feet and back into the fray but they seemingly dropped the ball this time with the downed players lacking something to do for multiple turns. So that is something that will be addressed in future sessions. The combat encounters were relatively straight forward with the monster patterns either being random attacks or going for those with the most threat. The times when the group had to think more during combat worked out well and even lead to an awkward situation were one player tried and failed to reason with an ogre at the pushing of the group.
I decided to put a few more puzzles in this session then I usually do and it’s had both good and bad effects. The good was that the group really did start working together to solve the various conundrums sent their way. From translating runes,
Which then lead to solving a riddle. To quickly sussing out my Lost like button puzzle to figuring out a false trap that hid a real trap. They also ended up playing a mini game of minesweeper to avoid a combat encounter which I put in at the last moment because they managed to avoid the initial trigger for the encounter.
The bad was the usual problem of the group now being overly cautious when entering any room which forced me to push them all into certain chambers of the dungeon to speed things up as the session went on.
The highlight of the session though came at the end and was actually a last minute inclusion. After taking on two dragons which had linked health (to make things fair!) the now fully grown Black Fang (from the group’s first adventure) emerged to get his revenge. The group sizing up the humongous miniature quickly realised they are currently nowhere near strong enough to take him on and spent the seven rounds of combat he was to stay in the chamber trying to reason with him. The end result being they now have to obtain Midus’ Treasure and give it to him lest they be hunted down by Black Fang and his minions.
Like I said this was a very last minute decision that I threw in to add an extra element to the story I am starting to build for the players. It seemed to work well and now the group are scheming about how they can get the treasure and not have to give it to Black Fang.
Another development I gave the players came in the form of encounter nine. This was another big story moment but it wasn’t the usual moment of the big bad appearing and chewing the scenery for a bit style story beat. (That was the encounter with Black Fang!) My aim for this encounter was to make the players feel connected to the story on a personal level. So encounter nine featured a mysterious fortune teller who had two tasks. One was to foretell the the grim future of the group as a whole,
The future is marked with darkness, you seek that which must not be found. You will journey into the depths to recover a lost friend but only hardship, betrayal and death waits there for you.
One of your number will die.
One of your number will betray you all.
One of your number will save you all.
All fairly standard stuff with a couple of clues for what is to come in the campaign. The other task was to give each player an insight into their own future. Each player received a folded piece of paper that only they can read. On it is a point in the campaign and an action they have to do when the group reaches that point. They have been told that if they do not fulfil these futures there will be dire consequences. The interesting thing is that outside of a couple of players asking me questions about their future I do not know which one every player has. It is something that will be interesting to see play out over the rest of the campaign.
Also I would detail them here but some of the players might read this and it would spoil the fun. The plan now is to reveal them as and when they pop up during future sessions.
Overall the session was a huge success and it got the ball rolling nicely. The aim for the next session is to introduce more Roleplaying elements to the group with the aim of getting them properly immersed in RPG style play. All before they head into the third session which will really test their abilities, luck and skill. I will also be swapping seats with one of the players during the session so that they can have a turn in the DM’s chair. This is why I have been making a Pathfinder version of my Halfling character, Crukal Milltall of Many Spells. I rarely get to play from the perspective of a player so it should be fun trying it out for part of a session. I’ll give a break down of his character sheet closer to the next session.