D&D Encounters, Dead in Thay, part 11

Previously on ‘Dead in Thay’: The party had found and saved the life of their friend, Kelson Darktreader, and managed to clear out the Hall of Necromancy zone in the Masters’ Domain. Having returned to the gatehouse for a momentary reprieve, they begin preparations to return to the Masters’ Domain and conquer the Hall of Obedience. But before they begin, Kelson Darktreader emerges from the Seclusion Crypt, fully recovered from his wounds.

Kelson speaks with Hadar, Jek, and his sister Shalendra momentarily, thankful to see his closest friends and eager to get back up to speed. He proceeds to thank the party for saving his life, and provides some key information he learned while surviving in the Doomvault. He shares that Mennek Ariz, the red wizard who betrayed them at the Bloodgate is in the Temples of Extraction, and that the Temples themselves can only be accessed via black gates, with the glyph keys for that area trusted to Szass Tam’s most loyal servants, as it is the most secure, guarded area of the Doomvault.

Our damned heroes for the week include:

  • Granath, a Dwarven Paladin
  • Livulcan, a multiclasser; at least one level of Mage, and mostly levels of Rogue, I believe. I also know for a fact I’m mispelling his name, but have no clue how it’s properly spelled. C’est la vie.
  • Moonbow, a Monk Rogue, previously known as Goodnight
  • Sam, a Human multiclasser (Level 1 Fighter, Level 7 Cleric)
  • Waxon, an Elven Cleric of the Wood Elf variety

So our heroes proceed to the Hall of Obedience, where they come to a room with strange silver pillars, undead Thayan Warriors chained to them and while their eyes are wide open, they appear unmoving. There are several doors in this room, each leading to small rooms, some unoccupied while others are not. Naturally, battle eventually ensues, and I’m disappointed to say not a single party member was rendered unconscious by me. Clearly, I’m getting soft as a DM. 😉

They proceed to a room to the south, apparently a training room, where six Thayan Warriors are engaged in combat with a Dread Warrior and seven Skeletons. Overseeing this combat exercise is a Red Wizard named Lahnis, who thinks the party is here to test his loyalty to Szass Tam. After a few rounds of combat, he orders everyone to stop and questions the party’s true motives. After seeing that they have managed to acquire three of the four possible glyph keys required to enter the Temples of Extraction, he’s convinced to join the Thayan Resurrection in truth, his loyalty has in fact been flagging. He joins the players in defeating the rest of the enemies and gives them quite a number of goodies. Magical weapons can be found in this room, as well as a very peculiar suit of “heavily scarred” of plate mail armor, immediately donned by Sam, the level 1 fighter / level 7 cleric. This is actually a detail I’m going to have to remember for future encounter sessions.

Lahnis also gives them a number of scrolls, and shares the following information with the party: Szass Tam’s latest plan is to acquire godlike power; he believes this can be accomplished by feeding the souls of the Chosen into his phylactery. He currently uses the Temples of Extraction to do just this. By the way, the Chosen refer to mortals chosen by deities to represent their best interests in the mortal realm. A handy list of deities found in the Forgotten Realms can be found here. Other information shared is that the phylacteries of Szass Tam’s highest-ranking liches reside in the Phylactery Vault, protected by powerful magic. Szass Tam, in fact, keeps everyone’s phylacteries there to keep them in check. Perhaps the most important information Lahnis shares is that if enough black gates across the Doomvault are disrupted, the black gates in the Temples of Extraction can be forced to connect to the Phylactery Vault. Almost as important is that he shares a ritual, written on a scroll, that can be used to turn soul-bound undead back into living creatures. Anyone that has been killed can be turned into a soul-bound undead by Syranna, but with this ritual they can be brought back to life, though it requires the use of the undying laboratory room where they find Kelson. Even though the party cleared out that room, there is the potential for finding random patrols if they were to return.

And so the journey in D&D Encounters ends this week having found several key pieces of information and gaining an ally. For the moment, the party has three glyph keys that will allow them to access three areas of the Temples of Extraction. Technically speaking, they don’t necessarily have to find the fourth, though from a real-life DM-ing perspective, since we have two DM’s, it’s easier to keep things divisible by two. In other words, the other DM will run two sections of the Temples of Extraction while I run the remaining two. Since there’s only three total at the moment, I’m currently thinking of ways to have the party acquire the fourth quickly. Though from what I’ve read about that encounter, it’d be anything but quick. I need to think about how I want to handle this for next week. I have a few ideas that I think would make for good narrative, and accomplish everything I want.

As an aside, there was some confusion for the initial room. The text description to read to the players clearly states undead are manacled to the silver pillars, but there’s no undead version stat block for Thayan Warriors; they’re described as medium-sized humans…oh well, c’est la vie. There are other strange discrepancies with this area, strange behaviors that I won’t get into because they could potentially constitute spoilers for players. Needless to say though, I could be wrong, but at least this area could have used stronger editing, and I’m not talking in terms of grammar.

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set Opinionated Review

So let’s talk the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, released to game stores early this month, and everywhere else last week. The cover art for the box looks awesome, calling back to the cover of the original red box, which will always have a special place in my heart. I mean, let’s take a peek of the two to get my point across.

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules

Old School

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

New School

Warrior in battle with a dragon. Granted, the dragon colors are different, and one is much larger than the other, but it’s still a callback in my book. Awesome!

Also contained in the box are:

  • Six game dice, the standard d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20.
  • A D&D Starter Set Rulebook, 32 pages in length and split into four chapters detailing how to play, combat, adventuring, and spellcasting, as well as a one page appendix of the various conditions one can be afflicted with and how they alter one’s abilities (blinded, charmed, prone, etc.)
  • The D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, suitable for taking a party of adventurer’s from 1st to 5th level. Weighing in at 64 pages, it’s split into an Introduction, the adventure proper divided into four parts of unequal length (as the adventure progresses, it takes longer to get through each part), an appendix of magic items, a second appendix of monster stat blocks, and a one page index for knowing which page to look up rules quickly in the rulebook.
  • There’s also a sheet at the bottom advertising D&D Encounters, which I believe is going to be re-branded D&D Adventurer’s League. On the back of the sheet is a character sheet with the D&D Encounters logo, but there are updated character sheets for download from Wizards here.
  • There are also five pre-generated characters to play with, all with specific ties to the adventure, as well as specific directions on what to do when you level up. Among them are:
  1. A Human Fighter with a Folk hero background, specializing in ranged combat
  2. A Human Fighter with a Noble background, specializing in melee combat
  3. A Dwarven Cleric with a Soldier background
  4. An Elven Wizard with an Acolyte background
  5. A Halfling Rogue with a Criminal background

Kudos to whoever designed these character sheets over at Wizards (or if the task was outsourced.) They have a great, clean, crisp, cool look (Could I have used anymore adjectives beginning with the letter C?) The paper quality of these character sheets is also pretty good too. A part of me wishes they were able to get the space for ‘Inspiration,’ which they added to the downloadable character sheets, but my guess is these went to the printer before that was added. Perhaps a second printing will address this?

Also, I’m not sure people realize that the cardboard platform at the bottom of the box can be removed, increasing its depth, so that more stuff can be put in it if need be. So bonus points for the intelligent design there.

So I ran this adventure at Connecticon, mostly parts one and two, and I have to say it was a blast. I went old school, deciding not to use miniatures and went 100% theater of the mind, and everything worked really well here, with minor hiccups. Also, the adventure is pretty flexible for making on-the-fly decisions. I had one group of five shrink to two (three had another event they had to attend), and I was able to make scale things back without too much trouble. While I haven’t DM’d parts three or four, I’ve obviously read and prepared them in case I needed to run them, and the adventure it’s solid, and not entirely linear; during part two, one could skip to sections of part three, then return to part two depending on how the players…well, play it. It’s really solid, fun, and a great introductory adventure for newer / experienced GM’s and players alike.

There are some constructive criticisms I have though:

  • I’m unsure why the Rules index is on the last page of the adventure, while the last page of the Rules has conditions listed. Since the DM will likely need to look those up when those conditions occur, it makes more sense in my brain for the conditions to be the last page of the adventure, and the rules to be the last page of the rulebook. I mean, one wouldn’t look up another book to look at an index that pertains to a second book entirely, right?
  • The adventure has various maps, including (SPOILERS!): the Northern Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms, Cragmaw Hideout, the village of Phandalin, the Redbrand Hideout, the Ruins of Thundertree, Cragmaw Castle, and Wave Echo Cave. I would have appreciated various versions of the maps that the DM could show players. Player friendly maps, as it were, untagged. A cartographer already made these types of versions, but I think it’d be neat if Wizards took the time to alter their maps and provide player-friendly versions. That is, without the locations marked, numbers shown, etc. Assuming the artists worked in layers (is there a digital artist that doesn’t?), it would be a task that wouldn’t take a lot of time, and I’m confident DM’s and players would be grateful.
  • Creature cards / photos / postcards, or some type of visual aid to show what monsters look like, to help newbies spark their imagination. I realize the onus of this task is up to the Dungeon Master, but it’s always nice to provide a degree of visual aid to the players. Heck, even Chris Perkins in his latest foray with Acquisitions Incorporated, at some point, had the players take a peek at his MacBook instead of relying on purely verbal descriptions.  (Go to about 1:52:00 if you want to skip to this part.) This, of course, led to the line of questioning concerning what could possibly be in Chris’s ‘poop’ folder. (As an aside, yes it’s true, one could hold up the adventure book with the monster on page X, but that’s at the risk of revealing information to the player’s they shouldn’t know.)
  • (MORE SPOILERS!): There is one item that could serve as a handout during the course of the adventure; a note the players find (or should find, at any rate.) It would have been nice to provide this in the box.
  • Related to the idea of creature cards / NPC cards, it’d be awesome if the starter set art was put up on Wizards website for download. I use Hammerdog Games ‘World’s Greatest Screen’ and make my own inserts, and those art assets would be invaluable for me personally in terms of saving time preparing, instead of me scanning / cropping away.
  • I’m a tiny bit annoyed (emphasis on the word tiny) that I have to look up the Basic Rules to find out how many hit points to add per level if someone preferred not to roll, but to take the average. Just as an FYI, in the newly released D&D (and it was like this in the playtest rules, at least the later versions), when leveling up, one could choose to roll their hit dice or take an average. Using the fighter as an example, when going to level two, a player could elect to roll 1d10 + their Constitution modifier, or take 6 + their Constitution modifier. Personally, since the pre-generated character sheets actually reveals what’s gained per level up, I think this information should have been there as well, as it was notably absent.
  • I know percentile dice are not the most used dice in D&D, and they are absolutely not required; one could roll the d10 twice or two d10’s together. The latter, I used to do when I played the Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game as a kid (FASERIP anybody?), but I personally always appreciate a percentile die, and would have liked to see one here.
  • The most minor nitpick of all, but I would have liked to have seen a 6th pre-generated character. At Connecticon, I ran a number of six-player tables, and thus some people had “twins.”
  • The second most minor nitpick of all; both the rules and adventure books are entirely made of the same semi-glossy paper, including the cover pages. I personally would have liked both to have some type of cover made of a different, thicker material. It doesn’t have to be a really thick cardboard, it could be thinner, but it would have been nice to see.

I realize that at least some of my suggestions may have raised the price point, and in the end, they’re minor nitpicks for would could be my favorite edition of D&D…ever? I need to reserve judgment for when the core books are released. August can’t get here fast enough.

Some final kudos: Wizards has made the pre-generated characters available as a download, which you can get here.

People seem to love scores, so if I could score it, I’d give it a 4.5 / 5, or 90 / 100 if you prefer. It’s almost everything I love / want in a roleplaying game: a medium amount of crunch / rules, with emphasis on roleplaying your character and a strong introduction to the hobby for newcomers.

 

Connecticon 2014

aka Surrounded by cosplayers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; lots of cool costumes on display. A simple favorite was someone dressed as Spock, carrying a tribble that made tribble noises.

So I volunteered to judge / DM tables for the adventure found in the recently released Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, the Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s a pretty neat adventure, but I’ll save most of my thoughts for a separate post I’ll write reviewing the Starter Set as a whole, as well as the free Basic Rules one can download here.

I was scheduled for five tables, but ended up running six. I must admit, it was a bit of a blur, but I didn’t mind running the extra sessions. Heck, I would have been bored out of my skull otherwise.

It was actually a pretty nice deal; free Starter Set, free hotel (which included breakfast), free ride into Hartford (though I’m going to buy the driver a beer one of these days; he deserves it!), and eventually, free playmats for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. How did I get these playmats? Basically, everytime someone ran a table, one got $5 worth of tickets (players got $2 worth of tickets) that could be redeemed for board games or RPG books. The strange thing about the ticket system is that there are some items that are literally impossible to get, even if you ran all eight possible sessions, as they’re simply priced too highly. And there’s also misinformation about whether tickets from previous years will be accepted. It seems like it depends on who you talk to; some people say yes, others say no.

There were two restaurants in Hartford that we fellow volunteer judges frequented. Really nice people, everyone, with good senses of humor and good attitudes. The first night, we went to City Steam Brewery, a place that brewed their own beer and cooked with it. I had a really delicious beef stew for a late dinner, according to their menu their most popular dish. Honestly, I believe it. It hit the spot. It really hit the spot. The other place we went to, I think was called Arch Street Tavern, within walking distance of the Connecticut Convention Center, that serves a terrific corned beef reuben sandwich, as long as you like thick chunks of corned beef, which I totally do. Also, the fries and beer were pretty good too. Unfortunately, the service is hardly award winning, though to be fair, they were swamped from convention traffic and what not. I’m under the impression that no one warned them that they may be assaulted by gamers, cosplayers, and nerds alike on these dates. I’m thinking next year, they should mark it on their calendar to be prepared for a ton of business, and potential tips, so that everyone working can be mentally prepared for the extreme business.

As for the Dungeon Mastering side of the equation, since that’s what I mostly did, it was fun. I had never judged convention tables before, and was curious how it’d end up. I must admit, I was a bit concerned I would have to deal with some immaturity and social awkwardness, but it honestly ended up being lots of fun. Everyone was really nice and most people really got into the game. It was fun to see some newbies really get into things, and when situations became dire, they would massage their dice like a gambler in Vegas hoping for some divine karma to get them out of a jam.

Some other things that come to mind, in no particular order:

  • I eschewed miniatures and the battle map. Mind you, I brought both just in case, but ended up doing theater of the mind 100% of the time. Once or twice, I quickly drew out an area, not to scale, to aid in my descriptions, but it wasn’t used for battle. It ended up being fine; both newbies and veterans had fun, as far as I can tell. With some people I had coming back for multiple sessions.
  • Being prepared is key to convention play; have multiple sets of dice and writing utensils ready to loan out. Also, I had a bunch of photocopies of the pre-generated characters ready to go.
  • I don’t work for these guys, but Hammerdog Games DM Screens are totally worth the investment if you’re willing to make your own inserts. Highly recommended.
  • While creating your own character is cool, pre-gens are much better to run with in these situations. Just hand out a pre-gen and we can be playing in minutes.
  • I kept rules explanations in the beginning to a minimum. The only things I mentioned was advantage (under x circumstances, your character has advantage, where they roll d20 twice and take the higher of the two), disadvantage (the opposite of advantage; roll d20 twice and take the lower of the two), and inspiration (your character has unique traits, flaws, bonds, etc. roleplay these well, and I may give you inspiration. It’s not something you can stockpile; you either have it or you don’t. At any time, you can say you’re using it to give yourself advantage on a roll, or cancel out disadvantage if you have it.) That was it; otherwise, it was go time.
  • I don’t even know if I’ll be in CT next year (it’s looking like I won’t), but I wouldn’t mind running tables for these types of events again. I’m going to be attending Gen Con Indy as a consumer this year, but maybe next year I’ll be judging tables and what not.
  • And that’s about all I can think of for the moment. I was going to talk about how I felt the Starter Set adventure is a good adventure for beginning DM’s to sink their teeth into, but I’ll save that banter for a separate blog post when I talk more in-depth about the product itself.

D&D Encounters, Dead in Thay, part 10 Multi-Session Extravaganza

Well, it’s been awhile, but there are reasons for that. Over three weeks ago, I wasn’t able to attend D&D Encounters due to quite a bit of work on my plate. Two weeks ago, I was able to attend, but it was as a DM (that’s Dungeon Master for you new kids,) not as a player, for reasons I’ll get into in the following paragraph. Anyways, after that play session, the next day, I went to Connecticon for the first time ever, judging / DM-ing tables of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set adventure, the Lost Mine of Phandelver. I’m going to write a separate blog post on my Connecticon experience, so I’ll leave that alone for a bit. This past Wednesday, it was more DM-ing Dead in Thay for Encounters, so let’s catch up on that.

First, why the change from player to judge? Well, we have more than enough players to run two tables for Encounters. Our second DM had to drop due to school engagements, so I took over the second table, and with that came the end of the adventuring career of my Elven Mage. It was sad, and I blame sfdebris for sticking this song in my head when it comes to things coming to an end.

FYI, sfdebris does science fiction reviews, mostly Star Trek stuff, but he’s branched out to other stuff like anime and non-Star Trek related science fiction. Very amusing videos, and for the record, I’m a fan of his and nothing more.

Hence, the sad, yet fond retirement of the Elven Mage Gavan. I mentioned that the player characters have access to the Seclusion Crypt, more or less an extradimensional space where time passes differently. The only pop culture reference I can think of that even resembles what the Seclusion Crypt is, is the Hyperbolic Time Chamber from Dragonball Z.

Anyways, the way I like to imagine it, Gavan discovers a peaceful community living in the Seclusion Crypt, discovers the woman of his dreams, has kids, and decides to leave the Doomvault business to everyone else and enjoy retirement raising his family.

Hey, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

So two weeks ago, in Dead in Thay, we were still, inexplicably, in the Ooze Grottos. Third session there…I’m not sure what happened the week I wasn’t there, but apparently not much in the way of progress was to be had. The PC’s I had at my table included:

So in this extremely battle-heavy adventure, our heroes…immediately get into battle with a red wizard, two dread warriors, and a classic D&D monster, a gelatinous cube. They end up saving the lives of some Thayan warriors, forced into battle by their masters, with the gelatinous cube. In one of the more hilarious moments of the night, Raven successfully pickpockets the left-out-to-dry Thayan warriors. It’s not like they had any wealth on them to steal. The only other thing of note is that they end up in another battle with a red wizard named Sarkalla. The adventure describes this red wizard as “quite mad,” and thanks to some strong deception by Raven, they manage to convince the red mage that they will become servants of the Ooze Master. Naturally, the PC’s are lying like crazy and take her down in a surprise round. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

Fast forward to last week, and having finally completed the Ooze Grottos, our heroes move on to a section of the Doomvault known as the Masters’ Domain. The PC’s at my table this week include:

  • Crassus Gaius, a Human Fighter
  • Livulcan, a…a…actually, I’m not sure. This person used to be known as Joefornow, and that player was a rogue. However, I seem to recall Livulcan casting Burning Hands at least once. Maybe he’s a rogue that multiclassed into mage? Or changed characters? I need to remember to ask him when I get a chance. Also, I probably got his name wrong. To be fair to me, oftentimes running a game at my FLGS is like being at a bar at peak hours. It’s loud, and difficult to have a conversation.
  • Maven, a Mage of an unknown race (I totally didn’t write this down), and newcomer to the party
  • Moonbow, a Monk Rogue, previously known as Goodnight
  • Sam, a Human multiclasser (Level 1 Fighter, Level 6 Cleric)
  • Selwyn, an Elven Ranger; unsure if he’s a Wood elf or High elf

So I ran my group through one of the zones of the Masters’ Domain, the Halls of Necromancy, which consist of two rooms. In the first room, they managed to save the life and soul (quite literally) of the long lost, but now found, Kelson Darktreader, an NPC friend from the Scourge of the Sword Coast adventure, which ran previous to this dungeon delve. Instead of “wasting” healing magic on him, the PC’s dragged his unconscious body back to the gatehouse and threw him into the Seclusion Crypt. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen! Also, in this room were ivory urns “set with gold, silver, and precious gems,” which the party gleefully took. It’s interesting, because no one has been able to discern anything special about them…

The second room they invaded was more or less a battle of attrition with Red Wizards and Thayan apprentices. Yep, battle-heavy adventure. But at least they did save Kelson’s life, and I’m curious to see how they’ll do in the Halls of Obedience this coming Wednesday. They should be able to finish up the Masters’ Domain and move closer to the endgame by the end of the month. In theory, at least.