It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done one of these posts but to get back into the swing of things I’m going to kick things off with a deluxe edition of Learning to Dungeon Master! WOOOO! The post is neatly divided into two parts the first (sadly split over the jump due to length) detailing the end of The Twisting Halls and the second for the epilogue to TW and messing with the players’ heads! So if you are skim reading this please skip to the Kill the Messengers part because that is where things get….interesting!
The first session I will be covering happened two weeks ago at this point (which I forgot to take any pictures of yet again!). It was fairly straightforward as the players ventured further into The Twisting Halls. Except for this session they where down a player and that player was the Cleric, Lucant, he was struck down by the dreaded and deadly man flu! Even without a healer the group bravely continued on. To make up for this I gave them all an extra Action Point and Second Wind to spend during encounters. It seemed to balance things out nicely and negated the need for me to adjust the difficulty. There where a couple of moments were it looked like things could all go horribly wrong but the players always stepped up and eventually overcame the challenges. The two encounters the players battled through where encounter 5, The Hidden Shrine and 6, Storage Area from the Twisting Halls adventure that comes with the Red Box Starter Set.
I approached encounter 5 as a normal battle that quickly escalates. The escalation came from the addition of skeletons, lots and lots of skeletons! To the pre-made adventure to adjust the difficulty. Then things twisted a bit once the Doppelgänger switched sides part way through the encounter which kept the players on their toes. Despite the steady stream of skeletal minions flooding the room the players held their ground and slowly whittled down their numbers. This session also saw the group’s wizard, Engine, step up and deal some serious damage flinging spells across the room. In the next encounter the players figured out what Kurrash the Bugbear would be doing for his grande finale and got the wizard to pick him off from a distance with everyone else standing ready to move in if needed. I decided to use one of the more menacing looking Warhammer Orc miniatures I had made to stand in for Kurrash and he was a big hit with the players.
It was a good moment of teamwork and tactical play on the group’s part. The group has quickly moved from the initial confusion of learning the ropes to being able to quickly assess a situation together and come up with plans on the fly. Which is all good in my book! It also means that I can start making encounters a bit more tactical which is cool. I will slowly ramp it up though because even though they performed well there were a lot of cases people entering the dying state, quickly. Still it means I can start making things a bit tougher for them.
Continued after the jump!
One thing I picked up on and the players mentioned was that the rooms on the battle map for the Twisting Halls are a bit too tightly packed for the size of our group. With a couple of players having to wait multiple rounds before they can move out of a room’s starting position and into the fray. I have tried making the movement rules a bit looser to allow the players to get into combat quickly and around the rooms with little trouble. With the odd skill check thrown in to keep things interesting. It has actually made me a fan of random skill checks and using them regularly. It is a simple and easy way to add an extra element of chance to an action or encounter. It is something I will be incorporating more into further sessions. As for the overall room size issues I had an opportunity to combat them head on in this week’s session. (Which I remembered to take pictures of!)
In the planning for this week’s session I realised that the room for the final encounter was way to small for the number of players and the additional monsters I would need to add to make the battle challenging enough for the players. If I stuck with it the encounter would have been disastrous, mainly because both the majority of the players and monster would get stuck waiting multiple rounds before being able to do anything. So I turned to my shiny new Dungeon Tiles for help after I realised on of the tiles was actually an exact copy of the main area of the room on the battle map!
So I spread things out a little bit more added the extra tomb area to the room. It worked well and spread out the encounter splitting it into two parts. With hindsight I would have brought Malareth and his guards into the fray a bit quicker but overall it worked well. The Cleric, Lucant was back for this session so I returned the healing and death rules back to normal, sadly one of the fighters, Corvus was unable to make it but while he missed out on the action and adventure he will still get the XP for the encounters run so that he doesn’t fall behind.
The players quickly dispatched the minions and the Hulking Zombie. They also dealt with Malareth easily with Engine turning him into a frog for most of the encounter. They then surrounded and beat the crap out of him in one turn to finish of the encounter and their first adventure. The only things they had trouble dealing with were Malareth’s skeletal guards. Here be their stats that they had trouble overcoming:
I increased their numbers from 3 to 5 to increase the difficulty of the encounter but it was their 19 AC that proved to be their most annoying feature with the players routinely missing them. I get that because it is the final encounter of the adventure it should have an element of challenge to it but the 19 AC define by Wizards is a bit to much for level 1 players I think. After a long time they managed to dispatch the skeletons, with one of the fighters, Mithrandir, acting as the world’s luckiest battle medic picking up the other players as they dropped to their skeletons’ weapons.
After the fight was over the players explored and looted the room and then we went through the levelling up process detailed in the adventure. There was a bit of confusion but we got our heads around it in the end and the players seemed happy with the ability choices on offer. We also decided that levelling would be counted as an automatic extended rest so all the players’ health, healing surges, action points, etc. would be restored. Once everyone was ready and after a brief break I started the epilogue to The Twisting Halls.
Kill the Messengers is a short encounter (which you can grab here) that neatly wraps up The Twisting Halls. It also provided me with the perfect opportunity to set up my first custom made adventure which the players will be going through for the next few weeks before moving onto the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure included in the Dungeon Master’s Kit. The other big change that made this encounter unique was that I wouldn’t be DMing this one!
Early on when we started putting the group together one of the players, the cleric Lucant, expressed an interest in DMing an encounter or two. Instantly a plan was formed in my brain. It would be the perfect opportunity to start introducing the larger story ideas I have for the players and to give the game a go from the player’s perspective. The key to the plan was to make a few changes to the Kill the Messengers encounter and to, more importantly, keep it a secret from the other players. I’ll be detailing the changes to the Kill the Messengers encounter at a later date once the players have finished the adventure it sets up. The basics of though were simple, me and Andrew (Lucant’s player) wanted a novel way to swap places on the table rather than just swapping seats and carrying on as if nothing had happened.
I came up with the idea of having Lucant disappear in a sudden flash of light and being replaced with my character. The process would be staggered and scripted to begin the process of messing with the players’ heads. It went a little something like this:
(DM spoken text in Italics)
You all look around the cave where you first started your adventure as the sounds of rain and thunder echo through the dark. As you all start making your way towards the entrance Lucant stops in his tracks, looks down at his body and says…
[Andrew] “Guys, something isn…..”
A blue light surrounds him and goes in on itself disappearing out of existence with a loud and unearthly pop. [Andrew stands up]
Suddenly, there is another pop and a flash of a blue light. [Callum stands up]
[Andrew and Callum swap places]
(Andrew starts reading out DM spoken text)
A confused looking halfing appears where Lucant was previously standing and says,
[Callum] “What do you mean, spell of transfer?”
From that point on Andrew was the DM and I was Crukal Milltall of Many Spells! Halfing mage of wonder, mystery and mischief!
I tried my best to stay in character as much as possible and to take a back seat to the groups’ choices seeing as I knew what was coming. I started dropping hints at the upcoming story I have a loose plan for the players and allowed them to get acquainted with Crukal who will be a recurring character they will be bumping into on a semi-regular basis. The rest of the encounter played out well and Andrew took to DMing like a fish to water. The genuine shock and confusion around the table when the switch happened was awesome and turned a standard session into the best game to date for our group!
Aside from all the surprise and story based stuff it was a very useful exercise for me to play as a player for a change. Mainly because I haven’t played as a player since I first encountered Dungeons and Dragons many years ago. It certainly gave me food for thought. Mainly on how to handle turn lag with a group the size of ours. It was something I was aware of but now that I have experienced it I will be trying various ways and means to keep my players involved in the game when it is not their turn. I got the worst of it when I rolled a 1 for my initiative roll so I was in pretty much dead last in the turn order for the encounter. While I took an interest in what was going on it was hard not to switch off and start stacking my dice to occupy my time. As DM you are constantly having to do something. Wether it is controlling creatures, setting the scene, dealing with rule issues, etc. etc. The players typically have their turn then have to wait a long time before they get to do something again. I now have a new found respect for their patience during the game and I am already planning a few things to keep them occupied between turns. Although it might take me a few weeks to actually put these ideas into practise. Also if anyone has any suggestions feel free to drop them in my Ask Box.
At the end of the encounter me and Andrew wrapped things up with me giving brief explanation and hook for the next session then ending with a reversal of the swap sequence to close things off. It was a great encounter that re-lit the magic of Dungeons and Dragon in both myself and the players after a couple of weeks of just running the pre-made encounters. It has galvanised me into action. I have several surprises in store for my players now. Even the thought of them makes me excited! They are going to to love it!